Bringing Portal into your Casual Game, Part II: The Cards

Last week, we looked into the issue of adding Portal cards into your casual metagame. A lot of players have historically had questions about allowing cards from non-legal sets into their play circle. However, Wizards of the Coast recently released Oracle rulings for all of the cards from Portal sets. As such, many concerns about Portal have melted away. Today, I have listed the 32 best Portal cards to bring to your casual game.

Last week, we looked into the issue of adding Portal cards into your casual metagame. A lot of players have historically had questions about allowing cards from non-legal sets into their play circle. However, Wizards of the Coast recently released Oracle rulings for all of the cards from Portal sets. As such, many concerns about Portal have melted away.

Also in the last article, I discussed the remaining issues about card compatibility. The most important and pressing issue concerning Portal cards revolves around the ability named horsemanship from Portal Three Kingdoms. I suggested that creatures with horsemanship can be blocked by creatures with horsemanship or flying, but cannot block flyers, just creatures with horsemanship and, of course, those without any evasive abilities. This article assumes that horsemanship will work that way.

Another issue seems to be just as important as creature types and horsemanship – Sorceries that can be played at instant speed. However, these erstwhile”sorceries” have play restrictions, such as”play only in response to your opponent playing a creature” or”play only after you are attacked before you declare blockers.”

Below I have the 32 best Portal cards to bring to your casual game. Included with each card is the official Oracle version. Only one of the cards below has the”sorcery” problem, and Oracle has actually changed it to an instant.

In order to be considered for this list, a card must be exclusive to Portal, and not be printed in any tournament legal set. Additionally, cards that are functional reprints or virtually functional are either not included at all or drop down the list significantly.

Of the 32 cards below, a full 15 are from Portal Three Kingdoms. As such, they may have names that you may find difficult to pronounce. I just make my best guess and move on. Oh yes, and you may be surprised to learn what card from all of the Portal sets I consider to be the best. Anyway, without further ado:

The Top Thirty-Two Cards From Portal

Burning Cloak

R, Sorcery

Target creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn. Burning Cloak deals 2 damage to that creature.

This common from the original Portal set is included, not so much for its sheer power, but for its versatility. For an investment of one Red mana, you can Shock a creature at sorcery speed. You can also pump its power for an extra two damage to the head. The ability to play around with this card on several levels is a lot of fun. I’d love to see an instant version of this card printed in a set. It’d probably cost 1R, though.

31. Ancient Craving

3B, Sorcery

Draw three cards. You lose 3 life.

You may know this card as Ambition’s Cost, from Eighth Edition (er….Core). If you want a different picture, or another version for your Highlander deck, here ya go. This is the only functional reprint that is included on the list.

30. Ravaging Horde

3RR, Creature – Soldier


When Ravaging Horde comes into play, destroy target land.

Ogre Arsonist

4R, Creature – Ogre


When Ogre Arsonist comes into play, destroy target land.

These two creatures give you several things to work with, all of which are good. Historically, land destruction decks play few creatures early. The exception is usually given to creatures like Avalanche Riders and Orcish Settlers. Here you have two options for another creature. They give you a larger body up the mana curve while also allowing you to continue applying pressure. The Horde is a Red soldier and benefits from any soldier action that may exist in your multiplayer group post-Onslaught. The Arsonist is more splashable. Use whichever fits your deck better.

29. Sylvan Tutor

G, Sorcery

Search your library for a creature card and reveal that card. Shuffle your library, then put the card on top of it.

Another card that really shines in Highlander, Sylvan Tutor is strictly worse than Worldly Tutor. In Highlander, this card is valuable because you have another creature tutor to help out, and that is always a useful thing.

28. Sylvan Basilisk

3GG, Creature — Basilisk


Whenever Sylvan Basilisk becomes blocked by a creature, destroy that creature.

Sylvan Basilisk does not work on defense, and that just does not matter at all, because Sylvan Basilisk is a broken piece of machinery. Note that this Basilisk does work on walls. And, oh yes, it works as soon as a creature blocks, not after combat. Basilisk abilities and Lures have been a mainstay of Casual Magic since 1994, but this Basilisk will not die because it will never take damage. That’s a pretty powerful thing, when you wrap your head around it.

27. Magma Giant

5RR, Creature — Giant


When Magma Giant comes into play, it deals 2 damage to each creature and each player.

An expensive friend from Portal Two, the Giant is essentially Pyroclasm on a stick. In reanimation decks, I run him when I expect weenies to come calling. On the first turn or two, I use a way to get him in the yard (Entomb, Bazaar of Baghdad, Careful Study, and whatnot), then on the next turn, reanimate him and clean the board of annoying pests. It can be pretty handy. If Decree of Justice or other token makers play a big part in your casual metagame, then Magma Giant can be worth his cost as a beater that sweeps these guys off the table.

26. Harsh Justice

2W, Instant

Play Harsh Justice only during the declare attackers step and only if you are the defending player.

This turn, whenever an attacking creature deals combat damage to you, it deals that much damage to its controller.

Originally printed as a sorcery, Harsh Justice has been errata’d to an instant. It seems like a really powerful Eye for an Eye that affects just attacking creatures. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card printed in a regular set someday (assuming that the ability hasn’t been moved to another color in the Color Pie reshuffle that R&D does). This card can either kill your opponent as well, or be used as a deterrent to attack you. Either way, it seems well suited to multiplayer.

25. Denizen of the Deep

6UU, Creature — Serpent


When Denizen of the Deep comes into play, return all other creatures you control to their owner’s hand.

Denizen of the Deep is a cheap 11/11 with a small drawback. However, his drawback appears to be a bit abusable. Use him with Winding Canyons and Evacuation just your creatures in an emergency. Reanimate him as an instant with Necromancy to do the same. Sneak Attack him into play to return your creatures to your hand and have a surprise 11/11 beatstick. Reuse abilities on creatures that trigger on coming into play. On and on the list goes, with many possibilities coming into view.

24. Zhuge Jin, Wu Strategist

1UU, Creature — Legend


{T}: Target creature is unblockable this turn. Play this ability only during your turn, before the combat phase.

Simple and elegant. Zhuge Jin doesn’t just give his ability to small creatures, or require a sacrifice to make a creature unblockable. Just a simple tap and any creature becomes unblockable. That’s a pretty potent ability when you stop to think about all of the things that you can do with it.

23. Riding the Dilu Horse

2G, Sorcery

Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains horsemanship. (This effect does not end at end of turn)

This card is just weird, but that Oracle wording is correct. A creature gets +2/+2 and horsemanship permanently. No counters to remove, no enchantment to Naturalize, just an effect that pumps a creature and cannot be removed except by removing the creature. This seems like one of those odd abilities that Wizards prints occasionally just to test the waters. Yet, it seems pretty good compared to enchantments and counters, so why not try it out?

22. Jungle Lion

G, Creature — Cat


Jungle Lion can’t block.

Jungle Lion is arguably the most talked about card from the Portal sets when people discuss the possible impact of legalizing the sets for Type One play. They are certainly right in assessing Jungle Lion’s power. Here’s a 2/1 with no offensive disadvantage for a single mana. I think that Imperial Seal would create more of a noise in Type One than this, but it would still be one of the best additions for competitive play. If you read the title of this article, however, you will note that I am not concerned with a card’s power in tournaments, but in casual play. Here, the Jungle Lion is a fine one-drop, but the environment is a bit slower, more creature removal is played, and in multiplayer, the ability to block is much more important than tournament play. As such, the Lion is lower on the list.

21. Sun Ce, Young Conquerer

3UU, Creature — Legend



When Sun Ce, Young Conquerer comes into play, you may return target creature to its owner’s hand.

For 1U more than a Man-o-War, you can have a creature that gains +1/+1 and horsemanship. That’s a pretty even deal, I’d say. As opposed to a chump blocking 2/2, you now have an evasive 3/3. The ability to bounce a creature is useful, but rarely gamebreaking. It’s nice to have the ability on the body of a creature that’s a bit more of a threat than Man-o-War.

20. Sea Drake

2U, Creature — Drake



When Sea Drake comes into play, return two target lands you control to your hand.

Ah, now we have hit the top twenty and the quality of cards increases tremendously. Here we have what appears to be a rather innocent creature on first glance. So, check out the casting cost and power again. That’s right, a 4/3 flyer for 2U! Sea Drake will lose you tempo, but he is arguably up there with Serendib Efreet for best cheap, splashable, flying beatstick. The only disadvantage is that you cannot get the Sea Drake out on the first turn due to artifact-oriented mana acceleration. If your deck does not mind the loss of tempo, then this creature is amazingly powerful.

19. Rain of Daggers

4BB, Sorcery

Destroy all creatures target opponent controls. You lose 2 life for each creature destroyed this way.

I sure love Wrath of God effects. One-sided Wrath of God effects are even better. This Plague Wind costs three less, but has the disadvantage of dealing you some damage. Because it only hits one player, it is just as powerful as Plague Wind in duels. In multiplayer, Wrathing just one player opens him up to the entire table, thus leading to the likely death of that player – often at another’s hand!

18. Dong Zhou, the Tyrant

4R, Creature — Legend


When Dong Zhou, the Tyrant comes into play, target creature an opponent controls deals damage equal to its power to that player.

I killed an opponent the other day by playing Dong Zhou and targeting his Avatar of Woe. He took six, then promptly killed Dong Zhou. I then played Loyal Retainers (see below), sacrificed them, and Dong Zhou’ed him again, killing him. Dong Zhou has several things going for him – he’s splashable, he doesn’t kill creatures, therefore making him less threatening in multiplayer, and he has a really cool name (I don’t care how I am supposed to say it, I pronounce the name as written.) Dong Zhou is a fun card, and you’ve just got to love him.

17. Devastation

5RR, Sorcery

Destroy all creatures and lands.

At first glance, Devastation might look like a watered down Jokulhaups that costs one more mana to play. However, Devastation is also much more easily broken. Artifact mana sticks around, so you can have scads of mana available to you, even after you cast Devastation. Get Red mana from Fire Diamonds or Talismans and you’ll be fine. A few artifacts that turn into creatures, like Chimeric Egg or Chimeric Sphere, and you have the makings of a very powerful deck that plays a bit like Wildfire, but may very well be stronger.

16. Cao Cao, Lord of Wei

3BB, Creature — Legend


{T}: Target opponent discards two cards from his or her hand. Play this ability only during your turn, before the combat phase.

This guy taps to make an opponent discard two cards. No mana, no sacrifices, just tap and you discard two. In a duel, he probably won’t get as many cards as Fugue, because your opponent will play spells as quickly as possible upon seeing Cao Cao. In multiplayer, however, Cao Cao will shine, and you should be able to get several hits in. That’s assuming that Cao Cao doesn’t die quickly to removal, since he is a scary target.

15. Virtue’s Ruin

2B, Sorcery

Destroy all white creatures.

Hoser cards exist so that you can spank somebody for continually playing an abusive deck or strategy. A lot of Green is played in casual circles, and you can add cards like Perish and Hibernation to your deck in order to counter it. Until this card, your anti-White measures consisted of Anarchy and cards that go after Plains. Now you can play a Perish for White. In some casual metagames (like mine), White is the most commonly played color, and Virtue’s Ruin is never a dead card. In other environments, it becomes a potent tool that you will be glad to have access to.

14. Loyal Retainers

2W, Creature — Advisor


Sacrifice Loyal Retainers: Put target Legend card from your graveyard into play. Play this ability only during your turn, before the combat phase.

Loyal Retainers are a nice card to add to a Legend deck. Even if you are not playing Legends exclusively, they can still complement the strategy very well. Additionally, they are a very powerful card for a reanimation strategy. If your reanimation targets are Reya Dawnbringer, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, or Bladewing the Risen, then you now have a permanent reanimation ability in White for just three mana – one cheaper than Zombify and Breathe of Life.

13. Temple Acolyte

1W, Creature — Cleric


When Temple Acolyte comes into play, you gain 3 life.

Temple Acolyte, often referred to as Taco, is a very powerful card, and I always expect to see it a lot in casual metagames that have access to it. For two mana, you get a 1/3 body that gains you three life: A perfect early drop in multiplayer. It’s not too threatening and the life gain is not too noticeable. It serves as a lovely blocker for a good, long while. Additionally, it is a perfect card to include in your cleric deck, with a larger butt than many early-drop clerics have.

12. Yuan Shao, the Indecisive

4R, Creature — Legend



Each creature you control can’t be blocked by more than one creature.

Red doesn’t get this kind of evasive creature often, so Yuan Shao’s value increases as a result. Yuan Shao also gives your creatures a reverse Goblin War Drums effect, more akin to the green enchantment Familiar Ground. A lot of players have combined Goblin War Drums and Familiar Ground in the past to make all of their creatures unblockable. Now you do not even need to add Green to the mix, you can do it all in Red. The combination of an evasive creature with a really strong ability makes Yuan Shao a pretty strong card overall.

11. Overwhelming Forces

6BB, Sorcery

Destroy all creatures target opponent controls. Draw a card for each creature destroyed this way.

Decree of Pain is a great spell. In multiplayer, a resolved Decree of Pain will almost always win the game. The card advantage is often insurmountable. Any card that lets you have that ability scores highly. Because Decree of Pain already exists and is cycle-able, Overwhelming Forces drops somewhat in power. Note that creatures destroyed by Overwhelming Forces can be regenerated, also unlike the Decree. These weaknesses keep the Forces out of the Top 10.

10. Cruel Tutor

2B, Sorcery

Search your deck for a card, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it. You lose 2 life.

Cruel Tutor is a fine tutor that will suffice in a pinch. As far as tutors go, it’s perfectly alright. However, Cruel Tutor is much weaker than a lot of other Black tutors, and that causes its value to fall significantly.

9. Personal Tutor

U, Sorcery

Search your library for a sorcery card and reveal that card. Shuffle your library, then put the card on top of it.

Another tutor reprint, Personal Tutor suffers much like Cruel Tutor suffers. It is a much weaker version of an already existing tutor. However, Personal Tutor is still so powerful that it would likely be restricted if Portal were allowed in Type One. It would also be restricted if we allowed it in Five Color. It’s is still a humdinger of a card, even as a watered down version of an already restricted card.

8. Meng Huo, Barbarian King

3GG, Creature — Legend


Other green creatures you control get +1/+1.

Meng Huo is a pretty powerful guy, all things considered. He is a 4/4 for five mana, which is par for the course. In addition, he adds a very powerful ability that affects only your creatures. In a straight Green deck, he is brokenly good. Even in a deck that is partly Green, he is pretty good. Meng Huo simply is very, very strong, and is the fourth highest rated creature on our countdown.

7. Imperial Recruiter

2R, Creature — Advisor


When Imperial Recruiter comes into play, search your library for a creature with power 2 or greater, reveal that card, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

I love Imperial Recruiter because he can get so many cards. He’s a creature himself, so he can be sacrificed for an effect or used to chump block. And he gets a sizable creature – which normally may not seem like that much. If you like Fierce Empath, then you should love Imperial Recruiter, a perfect target for decks that continually keep bringing creatures into play (i.e. Astral Slide). He can get practically anything you need. There are creatures that destroy every type of permanent for that power. You can get tempo creatures, evasive creatures, landcyclers, reanimation targets, a whole cornucopia of treasure! That makes Imperial Recruiter pretty powerful and very useful.

6. Gift of Estates

1W, Sorcery

If an opponent has more lands in play than you, search your library for up to three Plains cards, reveal them, and put them into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

The highest rated card from the original Portal set is Gift of Estates. This card allows you to get three Plains for one card. In multiplayer, this card is usable so often that it becomes quite reliable. If you have dual lands, then you can really abuse this card. Otherwise, it still remains a super Tithe.

5. Imperial Seal

B, Sorcery

Search your library for a card, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it. You lose 2 life.

Our highest-ranked pure tutor card, and boy is it a pure tutor. Imperial Seal is a sorcery Vampiric Tutor with no other additional drawbacks. None. Restrictable in any tournament environment that allows it, Imperial Seal, despite being a watered down Vampiric Tutor, is still one of the most powerful tutor effects ever printed. I’d argue that only Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor are more powerful.

4. Kongming, Sleeping Dragon

2WW, Creature — Legend


Other creatures you control get +1/+1.

Glorious Anthem is pretty good. For one more mana, you get a Glorious Anthem that attacks and blocks to the tune of a 2/2. The problem with Glorious Anthem has always been that it does not affect the game status; you do not add a creature to play, you do not remove an opponent’s permanent from play, nor do you remove your opponent’s resources or add to your own. Glorious Anthem is often dead. But a 2/2 is rarely dead, and its bonus to all creatures you control is so powerful, that Kongming is our second highest rated creature from the Portal sets.

3. Rolling Earthquake

XR, Sorcery

Rolling Earthquake deals X damage to each creature without horsemanship and each player.

Imagine a card that essentially deals X damage to every creature and player for just XR. Sound too good to be true? Well look no further than Rolling Earthquake, the most powerful mass removal spell in all Portal sets, and possibly the second best mass removal spell in Magic after Wrath of God. Cheap, efficient, and it also hits your opponent. It is just one more reason to play horsemanship creatures. The combo with our number one overall card is just too sweet not to mention.

2. Piracy

UU, Sorcery

Until end of turn, you may play mana abilities of lands you don’t control, putting the mana they generate into your mana pool. Use mana produced this way only to play spells.

Our highest rated card from Portal 2 is also a card that oozes power. Listen to me for a second, because what I am about to say will change that way you play Magic. In multiplayer Magic, Piracy is just as broken as Yawgmoth’s Will is in tournament play. In fact, Piracy is more broken in multiplayer than Yawgmoth’s Will.

For the simple cost of two Blue mana, you can have access to over twenty or twenty-five mana, all while shutting down any tricks your opponent’s may have from countermagic to Kor Haven. The sheer broken things that you can do with this card and its abilities are simply unimaginable. Combine the shutdown power of Orim’s Chant for everybody with the abuse-ability of Yawgmoth’s Will and you have Piracy. Games will end when Piracy resolves, as long as you are playing multiplayer. In duels, Piracy is a decent card, which is why Piracy is not number one.

1. Sun Quan, Lord of Wu

4UU, Creature — Legend


Creatures you control have horsemanship.

Sun Quan is so elegant. Our highest rated creature, the highest charting card from Portal Three Kingdoms, and all it does is have a card text five words long. Oh what powerful words they are, though. Imagine what would happen if this creature was printed in Fifth Dawn. A 4/4 Blue legend for 4UU that gave all of your creatures flying? For one more mana than Air Elemental, you get the Broken Machine of Doom.

Sun Quan will end games faster than Piracy. Give all of your creatures horsemanship, then swing. He’s harder to kill because he has a good defense. Remember that combo with Rolling Earthquake, because you can kill all of the creatures in play, except your own, of course. Sun Quan is simply amazing. At first, I thought he was pretty good, but nothing special, but then I played him, and everything changed. He has become one of my first targets with Captain Sisay and draws more removal and countermagic from my enemies than Arcanis, the Omnipotent. Sun Quan is broken beyond compare, but subtly so, and that makes him all the more powerful.

That concludes our list of the top 32 cards in Portal. Remember, before you use any Portal card, look them up in Oracle. Also, make sure your group has a standard guideline for horsemanship. Expect to have a lot of fun with these Portal cards. Exploring them is a lot of fun, and well worth the effort.

Until Later,

Abe Sargent