Challenge the Stats – Reclamation Sage

(Reclamation Sage | Art by Clint Cearley)

Reclaim the Stats

“What was once formed by masons, shaped by smiths, or given life by mages, I will return to the embrace of the earth.”

Welcome to Challenge the Stats! This series is based on the awesome EDHRECast segment where we pick out cards that might be overplayed, underplayed, or sleepers to challenge EDHREC’s data. Remember, these are merely comments on the data, and card choices made by you, the brewer, for any reason such as flavor, budget, art, or fun are always most important and are what keep our format unique and awesome.

Reclamation Sage (Rec Sage) is a hallmark single-target artifact and enchantment removal card, and it's only in 22% of decks that can run it. Is it perfect for every deck? No.

However, this opens up a bigger question: are artifact and enchantment removal cards as a whole underplayed?

Let's dig into some data to find out.

The idea for this article started when user dibles420 on the Challenge the Stats Discord suggested Barrier Breach as a challenge. It hits three target enchantments, exiles instead of destroys, and has Cycling for the moments when it's a dead card in hand - that's fantastic! It's only in 1,700 decks. Way underplayed. Enchantments (and often artifacts) can be game-winning and hard to deal with. I started poking around at numbers for other pinpoint enchantment and artifact removal cards, and overall, I observed pretty low inclusion rates, even for something considered a "staple" like Rec Sage.

Thus, we're going to take a look at a whole bunch of them to see how often they're seeing play. As you read, I invite you to think critically if you're playing enough of these!

Choosing which artifact/enchantment removal spells to play depends on our deck, and it's always good to synergize the removal with the overall goal of the commander. Sure, we could jam a Rec Sage in every green deck, but we can maximize our efficiency by playing removal more tailored to our deck, such as a Token deck using Pest Infestation (which only appears in 4% of decks that can play it), or using Steelbane Hydra (in 2% of decks) in a +1/+1 Counters deck.

We'll measure by general percent inclusion (in parentheses), rather than strict numbers. So for instance, keep in mind that a colorless card can go in any deck, a mono-green card can be included in a green-inclusive deck with any number of other colors, but a Simic card can only be included in decks with both blue and green. This helps sculpt our understandings of the relative rates of play a little better, in ways that raw numbers alone might disguise.


Signpost Permanent Removal

There are several removal spells that can take care of any permanent, and they're worth mentioning for comparisons to the other cards we're about to discuss. The mono-colored ones are: Beast Within (36%), Generous Gift (19%), and Chaos Warp (28%). While deck diversity is fantastic, it's hard to find a reason not to include these if you can play them, so I'm a bit surprised at the relatively low inclusion rates. This was another clue that removal might be a completely underplayed category of card.

Alright, now let's get to what we came here for: artifact and enchantment removal. We're going to separate them by where they mostly reside: the green cards, the white cards, and then the multicolored cards.


Green

Reclamation Sage is in 22% of decks that can play it, making it the top played artifact and enchantment removal spell in the format. Being tacked onto a creature means we can get additional use out of it by bouncing, flickering, or recurring the creature. In creature-based strategies, we also might want a creature to attack, block, sacrifice, or hold Equipment.

However, not all decks care about the creature, and might prefer other options.

The top green instant for artifact and enchantment removal is Krosan Grip at 16% inclusion, and this one is probably a meta call. Are you tired of someone in your playgroup blasting you out of the game with Aetherflux Reservoir? Get 'em good and pack a Krosan Grip so they can't activate that ability in response to your removal. Otherwise, the cheaper our removal is, the better, especially as we've seen the Commander format get faster and mana curves get lower over the last few years.

Those lower mana curves love Nature's Claim (16%), which is a close second to Krosan Grip. Giving an opponent 4 life is trivial in our format, and that one mana is really easy to hold up. Impressively, Nature's Claim has been able to keep up with Krosan Grip, despite being printed in zero precons compared to Krosan Grip's four precon printings. If you haven't thought about Nature's Claim in your green decks, definitely consider it, as it's a premium removal rate.

Now let's look at some lesser-played options in green!

Return to Nature (8%) was a nice upgrade to Naturalize (3%), letting us get some graveyard hate tacked on there for free! That's really helpful in today's game where an unchecked graveyard can be just as dangerous as an artifact or enchantment.

I've been a fan of Broken Bond (4%) recently, where I can use it to ramp early in the game and take out a greedy player's Sol Ring, and it's not nearly as dead as a Rampant Growth later in the game.

Masked Vandal (3%) is a new Rec Sage-esque option we got in Kaldheim for one mana cheaper, but which asks us to exile a creature from our graveyard. The one-mana reduction is a big improvement, and asking us to exile a creature isn't a high price. Every once in a while it will be dead if we try to reuse it too many times and don't have any creatures left to exile, or if we just got hit with a Bojuka Bog or even worse, a Scavenger Grounds in response to us casting the Vandal. I don't think that warrants the low inclusion rate, though, and folks might be sleeping on this one. In addition, it's a Changeling, so can happily go in every green tribal deck.

Deglamer and Unravel the Aether are often more permanent forms of removal than simply destroying the target, preventing any kind of graveyard shenanigans. EDHRECast cohost Dana Roach has been touting the benefits of these cards for years, and I can confirm that they are a very satisfying "gotcha!" Every time you hear, "Wait, it shuffles in? That's so much worse!" feel free to send me and Dana handwritten thank-you letters.

In a color that often has a big creature that loves trample or has trouble blocking fliers, Gemrazer (3%) is a really nice alternative to Rec Sage that has extra utility if we're not trying to do Rec Sage shenanigans to destroy multiple artifacts or enchantments. Beefing up a utility creature to a 4/4 (and out of incidental damage range) can also come in handy. Don't be afraid to rock Mutate cards in non-Mutate decks. I, for one, cannot wait to Mutate Mindleecher onto Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer in my Prosper, Tome Bound deck.

Foundation Breaker (2%) is another Rec Sage alternative, giving us the option to Evoke it for two mana or keep the creature for four mana. Having that option is really nice, and we keep the enter the battlefield ability, which lets us take advantage of bouncing, flickering, or recurring the breaker just like we can with Rec Sage.

Nullmage Shepherd (1%) really shines in token decks where we have a lot of creatures sitting around. The ability on the Shepherd doesn't care if the creatures have summoning sickness, either. If you saw one of my recent articles, I also talked about another Nullmage, Nullmage Advocate (342 decks, 0%), which can be good if we like playing politics.


White

Return to Dust is the most-played white artifact and enchantment removal spell, appearing in just 11% of possible decks. At four mana, most of today's Commander metas can't afford to hold the mana open for this one, and for that reason I think it's falling out of favor. Heliod's Intervention (7%) puts Return to Dust to shame. Perhaps the lifegain mode is throwing folks off, or people are very attached to the exile option instead of the destruction, but that rate for the removal mode in any deck is *chef's kiss*.

Let's look at some less-played options in white!

If you like the exile of Return to Dust, consider this one as an alternate. It's only in 3% of possible decks that could play it, but the instant speed seems more realistic here. It can't mix and match like Return to Dust, but the Dust can only mix and match when it's cast at sorcery speed, which could mean we're tapping out and leaving our shields down. That trade-off is probably worth it when you want to actually hold up interaction at instant speed.

Dismantling Wave was a EDHRECast preview card, and Matt Morgan has been shouting its praises since they previewed it. At three mana to hit three things, we have a great rate for removal, but at sorcery speed. The Cycling mode on Dismantling Wave can also hose an Enchantress deck, like Tuvasa, the Sunlit or Sythis, Harvest's Hand, and as a back-up mode, that's a really nice option to have. Sure, it's awesome in Gavi, Nest Warden, but don't forget about it in other decks, too!

Grasp of Fate (4%) and Oblivion Ring (5%) are good options for enchantment or blink decks. I find myself staying far away from them in any other strategy, though. I want things to be permanently gone, and sometimes when you thought you took care of the problems with these choices, one board wipe that hits enchantments brings them all back again.

Council's Judgment in only 2% of eligible decks seems critically underplayed to me. Okay, I know politics aren't for everyone, but this is three mana to at least exile one thing that you want, up to four things in an ideal situation, and it gets around hexproof and shroud! Try it out, and if you don't like it, I'll mail you a handwritten apology letter.

Devout Witness (192 decks, 0%) is a pet card of mine, and we are seeing more white-inclusive decks these days that would love to pitch things to the graveyard with this Spellshaper like Osgir, the Reconstructor, Sefris of the Hidden Ways, Extus, Oriq Overlord, and Quintorius, Field Historian.


Multicolored

Just like the monocolored Beast Within and friends, we have signpost permanent removal cards in multicolored, like Assassin's Trophy at 27%, and Anguished Unmaking at 28%. We saw similar inclusion rates to their monocolored counterparts (Chaos Warp and friends), so how do their multicolored artifact- and enchantment-focused cousins stack up in comparison?

Aura Shards (12%) is an oppressive way to get rid of our opponents' artifacts and enchantments. It makes sense that it shows up in the top 100 saltiest cards on EDHREC.

Cindervines (4%) has quickly become one of my favorite removal spells in Gruul colors. You all know I love rattlesnake effects, and this one stole my heart. If this is sitting out on turn two, nobody wants to play their haymaker artifacts and enchantments into it. Plus it can do a good amount of damage because nobody wants to waste their removal on it, either! It's also made me start running Seal of Primordium and Seal of Cleansing in a handful of decks, too, and I've been happy with the results.

Rip Apart (8%) has the awesome upside of being able to potentially take care of 4 different permanent types, but comes at sorcery speed. I personally haven't gotten to try it out yet, but I can't imagine being disappointed seeing it in hand in a Boros deck. However, once we add any colors outside of red and white we get access to many other options, so I expect to see it relegated to the guild. Have you had any experience with it? Let me know in the comments.

I was surprised Sultai Charm (8%) doesn't see more play, but looking at the modes and mana cost, it's a jack of all trades but a master of none. It's probably the 105th card in a lot of lists, and ultimately getting bumped for something more efficient.

Klauth's Will (4%) is a brand-new card out of the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms preconsLet's see how it stacks up. Getting an X-damage board wipe is a nice option, and we'll have lots of mana to sink into it in Gruul colors. I'm a bit sad it doesn't hit fliers, though, which Gruul can have trouble blocking. The removal mode doesn't have the best rate, but if we control our commander and get to wipe out a bunch of creatures and a bunch of our opponents' artifacts and enchantments at the same time, this can feel like a mostly one-sided wipe.

I'm surprised Duergar Hedge-Mage (2%) isn't in more decks. We probably need to be in Boros/Lorehold because it's asking us to have basics, but in that situation it's even better than Rec Sage! We get to blow up both an artifact and enchantment if we have two plains and two mountains. That's also an enter-the-battlefield effect, so we can blink, bounce, or recur it, all of which are possible in these colors.


Anarchy Comes in Many Forms: Social, Individual, Gruul…

Do you think pinpoint artifact and enchantment removal is underplayed? Are there any other cards you like that I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments below! As always, you can find me on twitter @jevin_mtg.

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He is a nutrition science grad student, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramples and drawnanas.