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The game would be short, or so I thought. My opponent was at less than 10 life, while I was at 20, commanding an army of burly creatures with nothing to block them. Victory was mine.

And then they played something. Maybe it was Doomskar, or Extinction Event, or Blood on the Snow, or Shatter the Sky, and those are just the ones I know by heart. The point is, now I had no creatures, while they could spend the rest of the game taking their sweet time and killing the few creatures I managed to play with spot removal.


Seriously, board wipes irritate me to no end. Especially because they're so cheapDoomskar, for example, costs just 3 mana if it's foretold. That could allow you to build a substantial board presence afterwards!

At this point I wonder if I need to build my decks around the possibility of board wipes to have a chance of surviving. Packing along a few counterspells and cards that grant indestructible seems reasonable.

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    Are you playing Bo1 or Bo3? (It doesn't fundamentally change the answers but there are a bunch of things that apply to post-sideboarded games) – Philip Kendall Jun 15 at 7:53
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    Is this a midrange creature deck or an aggro creature deck? – eyeballfrog Jun 16 at 13:10
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Ah, Wrath effects, the bane of creature decks everywhere. Named for the great granddaddy of them all, Wrath of God, they can eliminate all your hard work in an instant. But there are a few ways to work around them.

Don't overextend

If playing a deck likely to have a wrath, don't play all your creatures. Keep one or two powerful creatures back in your hand to play once the creatures on your board get wiped. It will slow down your ability to crush your opponent, but you won't be left completely high and dry if they kill your existing board.

Protect your creatures

Selfless Savior can protect one of your creatures from destruction. Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate can protect all of them, as can Heroic Intervention (assuming you kept 2 mana open). Some cards, like Seasoned Hallowblade and Toski, Bearer of Secrets protect themselves. That said, black -X/-X effects and exiling wraths can still kill these.

Use death triggers to get revenge, or refill your board state

Creatures like Beskir Shieldmate or Garrison Cat replace themselves with tokens when they die. Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Basri's Lieutenant, and Hofri Ghostforge can replace your entire board. Luminous Broodmoth brings your creatures back from the grave, and Bastion of Remembrance punishes your opponent for killing them. Exiling wraths dodge death triggers, though.

Use non-creatures that survive wipes to refill your board

Crawling Barrens and Faceless Haven will survive most wipes on account of not being creatures at the time. Castle Ardenvale can refill your board and Castle Locthwain can refill your hand. Vivien, Monsters' Advocate will keep churning out tokens turn after turn, and doesn't die to Wraths.

Use creatures that can come back

Creatures that can return themselves from the graveyard to hand or battlefield can keep you from ever running out of creatures. Exiling wraths dodge this technique as well.

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  • More common than -X/-X effects, are exiling wraths (Extinction Event, Ugin, Shadow's Verdict). – Noah Snyder Jun 15 at 17:57
  • Similar to death triggers, ETB effects to gain value even after the creature is gone. – JonTheMon Jun 15 at 20:52
  • One more option: use burn or creatures with haste to just kill them even after the board wipe. – eyeballfrog Jun 16 at 13:22
  • Also, I find that Shepherd of the Flock is a very cost-effective way of gaining some protection from wipe effects. – RBarryYoung Jun 16 at 15:37
  • I'm glad you put "don't overextend" at the top --- that is the best method IMHO, since it does not require you to splash any counters. – Ben Jun 17 at 6:54
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If your deck includes blue, counterspells are generally good solutions for stopping your opponents' most dangerous spells, and if you are playing a creature-focused deck, board wipes certainly qualify. In addition, if your deck has "bounce" spells like Unsummon, you can cast them on your own creatures in response to the board wipe to save them. In other colors, you could respond to the board wipe spell by giving your creatures indestructible, or regenerating them.

However, the simplest way to handle a board wipe, in any color, is to keep some of your creatures in your hand instead of playing all of them. That way, you can play them after the board wipe resolves and rebuild your own substantial board presence. You will have to figure out the right balance of real board presence on the battlefield vs potential board presence in your hand during the game.

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    Good points, though I'd say bouncing your own creature is kind of a significant card disadvantage. I'm not sure how relevant that is at the level of play the question is asking about, but it might be worth a brief mention to help players who would benefit from caring about such things. – David Z Jun 15 at 6:45
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    It's card-neutral at worst. It's essentially equivalent to playing an Opt and drawing a powerful creature. – murgatroid99 Jun 15 at 6:51
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    Whether or not the creature is powerful, the action is still card-neutral. In both cases, you're spending a card to get a different card in hand that you otherwise wouldn't have at all. And you can always just not play the Unsummon at all if none of the creatures are worth saving with it. Of course, if the board wipe is coming down on turn 4, it's probably not setting you too far behind anyway. – murgatroid99 Jun 15 at 6:58
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    It's not that I'm "not making that clear", but rather that I don't agree with it. If a bounce spell on your own creature at the right time prevents you from losing the game, then that is a very desirable use of the card. Sure, in another situation you might have been able to get more value out of bouncing a blocker, but you play with the board state you have, not the one you wish you had. – murgatroid99 Jun 15 at 18:44
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    In what sense is it relatively undesirable, in the context of "there's a board wipe on the stack"? At that point, if you happen to have an Unsummon that you can cast, what better use is there for it? – murgatroid99 Jun 15 at 18:56
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Three more strategies that haven't been mentioned yet:

  • Just get under the wrath. This is what mono-red usually tries to do. You either win on turn 4, or you have some reach to get the last few damage in after the wrath (Stomp, Faceless Haven, Anax tokens, Phoenix, etc.).

  • If you're playing black you can use discard spells to remove the wrath from their hand (Duress, Elspeth's Nightmare, Kitesail, etc.)

  • If you're playing white you can use taxing cards (Reidane, Elite Spellbinder) to delay the wrath by a turn or two and get under it.

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See also the answer I wrote to another question. Note there are a lot of different sweepers, and some of them work differently. I base this answer on the generic "destroy all creatures" sweeper; you might need different weapons against exiling (e.g. Descend upon the Sinful) or -X/-X sweepers (e.g. Languish) or unusual sweepers (e.g. Terminus).

  • Don't overextend. Don't play more creatures than you need. Think about what your opponent might do on their turn (this is when familiarity with the meta is at its most helpful). For example say you have 10 power worth of creatures and opponent is on 10 life. Should you play more creatures? You can attack past blockers if you do, but open yourself up to a sweeper. Now is when you consider what opponent might do if they don't have the sweeper. For example, suppose opponent's best play if they don't have the sweeper is to cast Lyra Dawnbringer and hope to block with her. However, you are holding Murderous Rider, so Lyra is irrelevant and you win anyway. In this case you don't need to play more creatures and you can hold any further threats till after the sweeper.
  • Play creatures that are effective against sweepers. Some creatures simply live through these wrath effects. Examples are Rekindling Phoenix and Conclave Cavalier. In the latter case, Cavalier itself dies, but it still leaves behind 4 power. You can also use cards that protect your other creatures, e.g. Selfless Spirit.
  • Play non-creature threats. Examples are planeswalkers and vehicles. These simply survive the sweeper on account of not being a creature, and you can use them the next turn to keep generating value. Planeswalkers are some of the most threatening cards against control decks for this reason.
  • Play recursive creatures. These threats come back from the dead, so to speak. Examples are Gravecrawler and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. You'd still rather they not get swept, but even if they do, you can replay them.

There are other things you can do during deck construction:

  • Play counterspells. Sweepers usually cost quite a bit of mana, more than typical counterspells. You could play Negate, Spell Pierce, Disdainful Stroke, or any of the many options. Warning: counterspells are not threats, and if you draw all counterspells without drawing threats, you are still going to lose. Don't play too many counterspells.
  • Play discard. Something like Duress can get rid of the sweeper before it's cast. It'd also tell you if the coast is clear to keep playing more creatures. Warning: discard spells become weak once opponent has no cards in hand. Don't play too many discard spells. If you choose to play discard spells, I recommend reading this classic article by Hall of Famer Reid Duke.

Speaking of classic articles, here's another classic article by another Hall of Famer PVDDR on how to beat control decks as an aggro deck. I quote the most relevant part.

In aggro versus control, keeping some semblance of a curve is paramount. You cannot make your deck too slow because, if you do, you can’t compete. What you usually do in those matchups is take out whatever interaction you have in your deck (removal, burn, pump) for threats that are hard to deal with. Planeswalkers like Gideon and Tamiyo are perfect because they are cheap enough that they won’t disrupt your curve too much, threatening enough that they have to be dealt with, and different enough that they won’t just be swept away by whatever answer your opponent has. In general, I always like to have cards that survive the sweepers (such as Languish or Kozilek’s Return) but I try to avoid cards that do nothing unless they have the sweeper (such as Eerie Interlude), and planeswalkers match this description perfectly (as do Vehicles from Kaladesh).

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