It happens about once per draft. There’s a stalemate, a board stall I could break through if I cast the removal spell in my hand. I’m in no danger of losing, but if I cast the removal spell I can win in … two, maybe three turns. Provided my opponent draws just normal cards. Provided they don’t draw a bomb.
They often draw a bomb. You think I’d learn.
I just did it again, drafting Hour of Devastation on Magic Arena. I drafted a mediocre Blue-Black deck that had some removal and some fliers (as well as my underdog favorite card Scrounger of Souls).
I figured this deck might pick up a game or two. It stood no chance of going the distance, but it was reasonable.
I quickly lost my first round and settled in to play against a Black-Red deck that appeared to be splashing Blue off Crypt of the Eternals. This should have been my first clue. I’d locked up the ground using conditional removal and the aforementioned Scrounger. I’d taken some damage, but was now attacking for two damage per turn via my first Aven Reedstalker. I had another in hand.
My opponent played a reasonable creature. Nothing insane, just reasonable. But with my life total already low, and victory in sight via my two fliers, I decided to use Final Reward to exile that creature, so my Scrounger of Souls could get in for damage as well.
I did not need to do this. I could have depended on my fliers to carry the game and avoided the temptation to chip in for extra damage. The board was locked up; I was not losing. I was, in fact, winning.
And if I’d saved that Final Reward for The Scarab God my opponent played next turn, I would’ve won the game.
As is, I lost. I can sit here and tell you the game actually ended up being close, but that’s only because my opponent didn’t use their Scarab God to its full potential. Or they were just more careful than I (the person who lost that game) would’ve been. But one used-and-then-eternalized Banewhip Punisher later, I lost. Because I wasn’t patient with my removal.
Outside of bombs like The Scarab God, pieces of unconditional removal are usually the very best card in your draft deck. You (most often) should not use it to tempo your opponent out, like I did. Your opponent likely drafted a bomb. You should play as if they did and as if they WILL draw it. Because otherwise, if you just play to the board and don’t assume that your opponent can draw a card that will beat you (it didn’t have to be Scarab God here, though it being exactly Scarab God is an extra twist of the knife), you leave yourself open to lose games that you should’ve won.
With Scarab God exiled, I would’ve chipped in for two damage for the rest of the game and likely killed my opponent. With it on the board, I could not win.
So this is a message to myself. Next time you want to use the best card in your deck to get rid of an average creature out of your opponent’s, think it through. It’s likely not the correct choice. It’s more likely that you should save your goshdarn removal.