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Top 9 Forced Losses in Magic: The Gathering

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Forced Losses in Magic

Players can lose Magic duels in a variety of ways. Most commonly, they'll run out of life, but they're also vanquished if they must draw when their library is empty or obtain ten poison counters from infect cards.

But you can skip the gradual buildup to these conditions with today's array of insta-kill effects. Many require hefty sums of mana and often require a direct attack with a creature. But when they hit, they hit, and your victim will be immediately removed from the game (which wins 1v1 matches). Spells bearing these effects are a rare bunch, ranging from mediocre to excellent; which reign supreme? These are the ten best forced loss cards in Magic: The Gathering!

Amulet of Quoz mtg

Amulet of Quoz mtg

9. Amulet of Quoz

CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 6

Quoz's first hurdle is that it's only usable in ante battles (where players wager cards for the victor); if playing another format, Quoz requires you to remove it from your deck.

Even when legal, Quoz requires a hefty sum of six mana. You can tap and sacrifice it to make your opponent either ante another card or have you flip a coin. If you call it right, they immediately lose, and if wrong, you immediately lose. While potentially deadly, this is just too unreliable to count on, as it requires your opponent ignore the extra ante (which won't hurt them if they win anyway), and you win a 50-50 coin toss. If you lose, it's your head on the chopping block, so exercise caution.

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon mtg

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon mtg

8. Vraska, Scheming Gorgon

CMC: 6

Many insta-kills stem from Vraska's various planeswalker forms. Unfortunately, her Scheming Gorgon rendition isn't great, needing six mana and only entering with five loyalty. While she can add two loyalty per turn with her +2, the effect itself is weak, granting your creatures a minuscule +1/+0 for the turn.

-3 destroys a creature, a nice removal (though one you can find on cheaper planeswalkers like "Ob Nixilis Reignited"). Ultimate -10 is the prize, giving all your creatures deathtouch and the ability to inflict instant defeat to any player they directly damage that turn. A powerful effect, and one that can potentially unravel multiple rivals, but you'll rarely see Vraska live long enough to activate it.

Triskaidekaphobia mtg

Triskaidekaphobia mtg

7. Triskaidekaphobia

CMC: 4

Unlikely number 13 strikes with this black enchantment. It needs a moderate fee of four mana, and during your upkeep, it automatically has each player with 13 health lose the game, then you can either add or subtract one life from everyone.

Thus, you can edge foes closer to their inevitable doom (even moving their life up if necessary), but be careful, as the effect isn't optional and can potentially annihilate you as well.

Etrata, the Silencer mtg

Etrata, the Silencer mtg

6. Etrata, the Silencer

CMC: 4

Legendary Etrata carries a fair 3/5 power and toughness, and she can't be blocked, ensuring easy direct hits. Whenever she deals combat damage to a player, you exile a creature they control and place a hit counter on it. A player loses when they control three exiled cards with hit counters; however, you also have to shuffle Etrata into your library, so you'll need to search her out and cast her again to reactivate the effect. If she's your commander, you can place her back into your command zone, but remember she'll need an additional two mana each time you cast her.

Still, in non-singleton formats, you can include multiple copies in your deck (just field them separately to avoid sacrificing) to hasten the process, and even if you never get to trigger the insta-loss, you're still gaining easy damage and creature removal. Etrata also carries the useful vampire subtype, blending with one of black's most abundant factions.

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God mtg

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God mtg

5. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God

CMC: 5

Bolas's Dragon-God form admittedly carries some disadvantages. He's very mana-restrictive, specifically needing three colors in a certain combination, and he enters with one less loyalty than his overall cost. However, he automatically acquires all loyalty abilities from other fielded planeswalkers (even opposing ones), granting incredible versatility.

His own traits are so good you might not need the borrowed effects. +1 both draws a card and forces each opponent to exile a card or permanent, -3 destroys a creature or planeswalker, and brutal -8 instantly slays each opponent who doesn't control a legendary creature or planeswalker.

Vraska the Unseen mtg

Vraska the Unseen mtg

4. Vraska the Unseen

CMC: 5

Needing five mana, Vraska's Unseen form enters with as much loyalty, and she discourages attackers with +1, which destroys any creature that deals her combat damage until your next turn. She also bears an impressive -3, which can destroy not just creatures but any non-land permanent, and her ultimate -7 creates three 1/1 assassin tokens. While weak, these tokens kill any player they deal combat damage to; if your foe doesn't have three blockers ready by your next turn, their fate is sealed.

Door to Nothingness mtg

Door to Nothingness mtg

3. Door to Nothingness

CMC: 5

Nothingness requires five mana to cast, and if you thought that was expensive, actually activating it requires ten mana, two from each color. Sure, it's incredibly taxing, but when you pay the Door's price and sacrifice it, this artifact immediately inflicts a loss on a target player.

This avoids the combat-damage requirements of many insta-kills and offers a powerful outlet for infinite mana. Just note Door enters tapped, so even if you have the resources, you'll need to wait a turn for it to refresh before you can trigger the ability.

A handy finishing blow for rainbow builds, Nothingness is also cheaper than today's other aces, costing less than three dollars!

Vraska, Golgari Queen mtg

Vraska, Golgari Queen mtg

2. Vraska, Golgari Queen

CMC: 4

The cheapest of today's Vraska spells, Golgari Queen only needs four mana and joins with four loyalty. She can quickly add more with +2, which lets you sacrifice another permanent to draw a card and gain one life. That's a great way to expend weak tokens you've amassed, and the effect is optional, so you can simply use it for two more loyalty if you don't want to forfeit anything.

-3 destroys any non-land permanent with CMC three or less, and ultimate -9 grants you an emblem that has your creatures inflict immediate defeat on any player they damage in combat. Since this applies only to units you control (not own), it won't work if a foe steals your creature, and because your emblem remains fielded, you have as much time as you need to score a direct hit.

Phage the Untouchable mtg

Phage the Untouchable mtg

1. Phage the Untouchable

CMC: 7

Phage demands seven mana, and four of them have to be black, so she can be a bit unwieldy. Additionally, she only enters with 4/4 stats despite her price, and if you didn't cast her from your hand, you lose the game, so you can't gimmick her with graveyard revivals or other tricks.

However, she has "super deathtouch," killing any creature she damages in combat and preventing it from regenerating. Better yet, like many of Vraska's minions, when she damages a player, they lose. Use blue's assortment of unblockable auras to land an easy hit, or apply blocker-hindering traits like flying, menace, and trample.

More Loss-Related Cards in Magic

In addition to today's cards, some spells gain power when a player loses, like "Blood Tyrant." These are negligible in 1v1 but can be daunting in multiplayer, though be careful not to draw too much attention. Alternatively, you can stave off defeat with cards like "Platinum Angel," who prevents you from losing as long as she's fielded.

Alternatively, some spells actually force a loss on you, but first provide a powerful benefit. For instance, red's "Final Fortune" grants an extra turn for just two mana, though you lose during that round's end step, so watch the timing of these last resorts. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of insta-kill spells, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2019 Jeremy Gill