Bringing Portal into your Casual Game, Part I

When I first joined our multiplayer and casual Magic circle, I probably owned all of five Portal cards. Why would I need Portal cards, after all? I had a highlander Five Color deck with over 300 cards, several decks for each major sanctioned type, a more competitive Five Color deck, and a variety of casual decks. And yet, no Portal cards. Recently, Wizards of the Coast released official Oracle rulings for all Portal and Starter cards. However, there are some issues that need to be addressed before your playgroup uses these fine cards. Let’s go over them:

When I first joined our multiplayer and casual Magic circle, I probably owned all of five Portal cards. Why would I need Portal cards, after all? I had a highlander Five Color deck with over 300 cards, several decks for each major sanctioned type, a more competitive Five Color deck, and a variety of casual decks. And yet, no Portal cards.

Occasionally the Five Color Mailing List on Yahoo! starts discussing whether or not to allow Portal cards into the environment. Invariably, we get bogged down in several issues: What do we do about Horsemanship? What do we do about tutors? What about redundancy? What about creatures without creature types in Portal One?

Recently, Wizards of the Coast released official Oracle rulings for all Portal and Starter cards. This cleans up a lot of cards like the infamous Zodiac Dragon. Previously, the Dragon read that whenever it was placed in the graveyard, you returned it to your hand. A literal reading is that you can discard it to pump a Wild Mongrel, then it returns to your hand, so that you can discard it again and again. You could do the same with many abilities to break the card in half.

Of course, now the Zodiac Dragon reads as it should: whenever it goes to the graveyard from play. In addition to our draconic friend, creatures now have creature types, and wordings have been cleared up. Many obstacles to Portal inclusion have been removed.

It’s about time. These sets have been released for years, and they have finally released Oracle wordings. Sheesh! Now, where was I in my story? Ah yes, I had just joined our group.

Slowly, over time, we added cards to our decks. 400 cards, 450, 500 cards – they kept getting bigger and bigger. 550. 575. 620. 650. 700. 720. 755. 780. 800. Just. A. Little. Bit. More. And throughout all of this, adding cards from non-legal sets slipped in.

At first, it was a Temple Acolyte. I picked up several for some Peasant Magic decks and I wanted to add one to my control-ish Highlander deck. Temple Acolyte, known affectionately as Taco, is one of the strongest commons in the Portal sets and makes a big splash in Peasant Magic.

I played with the Taco for a while and my group didn’t seem to mind. Meanwhile, another player was experimenting with Mine, Mine, Mine from Unglued. My argument was simple – if he could use Unglued, then I could use Portal. The following week at my local card store’s tournament, I browsed their Portal box of cards for commons, uncommons, and rares to add to my deck for a cheap price.

Several months later, I created a master list of Portal cards that I wanted to try out. I browsed the sets, priced the cards, and then hit up StarCityGames.com to acquire many of the cards that I needed.

Portal Cards add a lot to one’s deck. Highlander decks, especially, can really use the redundancy. My deck, for example, now has Time Warp from Tempest, and Temporal Manipulation from Portal Two. Yet they are the exact same card.

Some Portal cards are underpowered, watered down, and underwhelming. However, there are some very potent gems running around. Having these cards can really help your deck, and also have a lot of fun.

However, there are some issues that need to be addressed before your playgroup uses these fine cards. Let’s go over them:


Without a doubt, the most confusing ability in all of the Portal sets is Horsemanship, from Portal: Three Kingdoms. For those who do not know, Portal 3K did not include any creatures with flying, instead having cards with Horsemanship. Horsemanship works exactly the same as flying does. In its own environment, then, there is little confusion. Creatures with horsemanship can only be blocked by another creature with horsemanship, but they can block both creatures with horsemanship and those without. Just like flying.

The confusing part is trying to figure out what the interaction between horsemanship and flying is. In Magic, we have three fronts to defend. The ground, the air, and Shadow. You need to be able to stop flyers, and you can exploit flyers by sailing over opponent’s defenses. You sometimes need to be able to block creatures with Shadow, and you can exploit Shadow. However, creatures with Shadow can only block and be blocked by other creatures with Shadow, making that front exclusive unto itself.

How does horsemanship interact with the current Magic system? That’s the issue with horsemanship. There are four different ways your group can handle horsemanship:

Ban Cards with Horsemanship: The easiest way to deal with horsemanship is to ban it. No creature may have it, no spell may mention it. This deals with the problem in the most inefficient way, but it stops all problems. Horsemanship can be a lot of fun, though, so why throw out the baby with the bathwater? Sure, there are issues with the ability, maybe, but that’s no reason to ignore the problem.

In my rarely humble opinion, the goal of a Magic playgroup should be to have fun. Horsemanship is a lot of fun. Why ruin that? Sure, not every player has a bunch of horsemanship cards sitting in their binder, but they are also not that expensive either. So, even if players do not have horsemanship cards right now, they have access to them. They may want to play them. They may even be reading this article right now thinking,”Horsemanship rocks! I want some now! Horsemanship, I choose you! (Or something to that effect).”

I think that simply banning horsemanship and moving on does a grave disservice to the group and the ability. There are three other ways of handling it, take a look at those.

Treat it as Written: Another idea is to literally interpret horsemanship. Take it literally at face value and create an additional front. This might be really interesting, for a while, but I suspect that many playgroups would quickly grow tired of one or two players having these unblockable cards and no one else.

Plus, it does make the card a bit more powerful. These cards were designed with a specific environment in mind, and to simply take the cards at their face value is a bit unfair to the rest of the players. It’s also unflavorful. (Unflavorful? Deflavortized? Misflavored? Anti-flavorific? I figured that unflavorful was the best one)

Imagine a flying Beast of Death and Doom! Let’s say, a Storm Crow. Now, our Storm Crow can block any flying creature – that makes sense. Storm Crow can take on a Bog Imp, or a Kyscu Drake, or an Archangel. And our increasingly hypothetical Storm Crow can block a ground creature – running in the way of Juggernauts and Uncle Istvan alike. Now, how can our supremely hypothetical Storm Crow not block a guy on a horse?

I mean, I can understand how a Storm Crow has difficulty stopping a Force of Nature, and thus there is spillover damage. I understand how a Storm Crow can’t find a creature enchanted with Invisibility. I understand how a Storm Crow would never be able to sense a creature with Shadow or draw out a tunneling Cave People with their mountainwalk ability. But a guy on a horse? Storm Crow can’t block him, because he is really good at riding a horse? What are Black Knights and Suq’Ata Lancers? Neophytes? Greenhorns? Is Black Knight fresh out of riding school and Suq’Ata Lancer just getting his boot straps on?

It doesn’t make sense. This idea is almost as bad as the one to ban horsemanship. Neither really fit the horsemanship cards in with the current Magic universe.

Treat All Creatures with Horsemanship as Though They Had Flying: This idea is very simple – every creature that says it has horsemanship really means flying. Whoops, misprint. As is, there would still be a few worthwhile cards to add to your decks with horse… er… flying. The solution is simple, but also inelegant.

Instead of trying to fit horsemanship into Magic mainstream, we simply change it to fit the current wording. Not that great an idea. Plus, there are several horsemanship creatures in Green and Red – colors that do not normally get flying. If we errata horsemanship to flying, we add several powerful flyers to these colors. That’s not our goal.

Again, we want to combine the flavor of horsemanship with the Magic multiverse. This plan, although better than preceding ideas, still lacks pizzazz. There is, however, one final solution.

Allow Horsemanship Creatures to be blocked by Flyers: A creature with horsemanship cannot block a flyer; that makes sense. Just because you are on a horsey doesn’t mean that you can stop a birdie flying overhead. Nevertheless, a birdie should be able to stop a horsey. As such, creatures with flying can block creatures with horsemanship. Additionally, cards which affect horsemanship creatures still affect only horsemanship creatures. Taoist Mystic is still unblockable by creatures with horsemanship, not also unblockable by flyers. Trip Wire destroys creatures with horsemanship, not creatures with either horsemanship or flying, and so forth.

So, an attacking creature with horsemanship can be blocked by flyers and other creatures with horsemanship, and a creature with horsemanship can block creatures with horsemanship and ground pounders. This turns horsemanship into a pseudo-evasive ability that fits perfectly with the established Magic game.

Oh yes, and it makes sense flavor-wise (Flavorish? Flavortastic? Flava’liscious?). Storm Crow can now block Lu Xun, Scholar General. Just because good ol’ Lu Xun has a horse, doesn’t mean he can outrun the omnipotent Crow of the Storm.

So, my recommendation is simple – use this last solution to your horsemanship problems.

Those Silly Sorceries

Now with horsemanship out of the way (and wow did it take a while), we can look at a few other objections. Nothing else is as long as horsemanship. Shoot, I don’t think that all of the remaining problems combined are as big an issue as horsemanship. Still, people keep saying and espousing them.

The number one issue, after horsemanship, that people say, is that the Portal Sorceries are stupid. There are sorceries that are cast during combat, sorceries played only in response to other spells, and so forth. What is with all of these sorceries acting as instants?

It’s a big issue, apparently, with people, that cards should say”Sorcery” on the left of the card, but clearly be”Instant.” My response, simply and factually, is”Who Cares?” When Blessed Reversal was ported to Urza’s Broken Block, it was an instant. Read the Portal card and you will see that it is still an instant, despite the sorcery type. This is really not that big of an issue.

If you don’t like sorceries that can be played as instants, do you like King Cheetah, Tooth of Chiss-Goria, or Latulla’s Orders? After all, those are creatures, artifacts and enchantments that can be played as instants. Are they the end of Magic? Can’t your group figure out that Benalish Knight is pretty spiffy? Has your Magic group spun off into an alternate universe because someone used Winding Canyons to, gasp, play a creature as an instant? Of course not.

Like I said, it’s no big deal.

No Creature Types

Another objection some use is that cards from Portal the First do not have creature types. Some creatures had been reprinted, so you knew that, thank heavens, Raging Goblin was, in fact, a goblin. Whew! Are you still really stuck on whether Goblin Bully is as well? [Bully? – Knut, asking the obvious]

Most creatures in Portal have an obvious type – Starlit Angel, Arrogant Vampire, Hulking Goblin, Whiptail Wurm, Cloud Dragon, and Owl Familiar. (They are, in the same order, Angel Vampire, Goblin, Wurm, Dragon, and Bird).

A few are beasts and a couple have unusual types (Noxious Toad is a toad, for example). Not that hard to figure out, but this argument has really disintegrated in the past couple of months. Oracle has added creature types to all of these creatures, so you can rest knowing that finally, Thing from the Deep can finally be to be a beast. [And here I was thinking wurm. – Knut, driven by a deeper force]

So, once again, a complaint melts away in the sunbeams of reality.


Some people have mentioned that they do not like the idea of adding Portal cards because it increases redundancy. I can understand that for sanctioned events. Cards like Imperial Seal and Personal Tutor (Your own! Personal! Tutor! (A Depeche Mode reference)) are pretty powerful. Not as powerful as Mystical Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, but if those are restricted, then you could play a bunch more tutors. So sure, that’s a problem.

I guess. I am not talking about allowing Portal in your local Type One tournament, though. This is casual night. Your group may feel the need to restrict Personal Tutor, Imperial Seal, Cruel Tutor (It’s a Cruel! Cruel Tutor! (A Bananarama reference)), and so forth. Not a problem.

If your group restricts the few major tutors in the sets, you still are allowing hundreds of new cards into your cardpool – some of which are very unique and interesting. Surely that is worth restricting a handful of tutors.

On the other hand, this is Kitchen Table Magic time. You may not feel the need to restrict tutors at the table. On the other hand, maybe your tutors are self restricting (i.e. Highlander, where you can play only the one copy).

You do allow the occasionally redundant card. There is another Envelop (that costs an extra mana). There is another Fallow Wurm. There are a bunch of vanilla creatures. Ultimately, this sort of redundancy is hardly worrisome. So what if you get an extra Wildfire?

Again, this is not the major problem that people think it is.

In the end, there are a host of reasons to add Portal to your casual Magic night. One for every card in the sets! And the problems with adding them have been minimized now that we have official Oracle wordings for the cards.

Next week, I will examine some of the best cards that Portal has to offer. You’ll get the Oracled version of each card that I mention in the article itself, so you do not need to go traipsing through the Oracle documents and Portal sets to find the best cards, I’ll do that work for you!

Until Later,

Abe Sargent