CASUAL FRIDAYS #105: Odyssey’s Ups And Downs

Only the very best (well, and the very mediocrest) for your perusal this week. And a graceful Break this Card is born!

Every time a new set releases, I print out a copy of the card spoiler and make little notes in the margins next to the ones that catch my eye. I might put card titles there, like”Planar Void” next to Gorilla Titan; or I might just put in commentary, like”????” (my shorthand for”completely useless, remember to smack Rosewater upside the head”) next to Battle of Wits. And I’ll put”!!!!” next to cards that I will absolutely try to use in decks.

And once in a while, I’ll put a”BTC?” next to a card name. Break this Card nominees have to fulfill at least five requirements:

  1. They can’t be obviously good. (So you won’t see Haunting Echoes on the list.)

  2. They can’t be completely useless. This does not mean that they have to be considered widely playable; this simply means that there must be a potentially positive benefit.

  3. There can’t be an obvious solution to the card (e.g., with Chance Encounter, all I’ll get is a bunch of coin-flipping cards).

  4. No one in our group can have gotten their hands on it, yet.

  5. It has to be a rare, to properly motivate us to action.

From this pool, I pick the one (or sometimes two) that I’ll use in Break this Card. Sometimes, I’ll try to pick the worst one (e.g., Oath of Mages) that is still minimally useful. Other times, I’ll pick one that could conceivably be solid, and even show up with a straight face at various Block Constructed tournaments (e.g., Guided Passage). Of late, I’ve been pushing more toward the latter category, simply because I find mysteriously good cards more interesting than mysteriously bad ones.

But first, a quick breakdown of each of the colors in Odyssey, and what they do for multiplayer. For each color, I list the top candidates for groundbreaking multiplayer games, as well as”break this card” candidates.


Despite the continued presence of annoying lifegain cards, white has a great deal to offer group play. The Nomad Mystics are decent creatures, by and large – and since virtually all of them get better with threshold, you should be embracing old-school white such as Wrath of God and Armageddon.

Foremost among the white cards is Aegis of Honor, a cheap white enchantment that threatens deflection of sorcery or instant damage. This is, essentially, a way to confound black and red mages that can’t get creature damage through. It also, for reference’s sake, protects you from a Hurricane. At least one player in your group will try to use the Aegis at least once: Count on it. But it may be seen as too much of a color hoser, after a while.

Balancing Act, Embolden, and Karmic Justice are the other three worth noting. (Lieutenant Kirtar is also a nice”Seal of Swords.”) Balancing Act will benefit mana-efficient, permanent-efficient decks. Embolden will be an absolutely stellar combat trick – expect to see this in the next version of the Hall of Fame. Karmic Justice is rather conditional, but its”rattlesnake” message is fairly clear.

If I were to pick a Break this Card entry from white, it would be Graceful Antelope. The historically low presence of plainswalkers (“it’s original!”), combined with the land-shifting power of this mighty 1/4 (“it should stay that way!”), creates a nearly irresistible blend of Break this Card material.


Blue contains some of the best, and some of the worst; Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor definitely got a”!!!!” in the margin of my spoiler sheet. It’s the kind of”casual” card I wish Wizards would focus on, rather than the intentionally silly stuff like Atogatog. I like to have fun during multiplayer as much as anyone else, but I’d much rather see it done with a decent card that can be used in ridiculous, funny ways (“tap all my squids to tap all your squirrels!”), rather than a ridiculous, funny card that can never be used decently. What I also like about Aboshan is that he encourages players to put cephalids in their deck, and currently they all are solid creatures that teach the value of card advantage and card quality. They’re also an interesting way to work toward innovative milling strategies (and in fact, Wizards staff admits that they had milling as a major theme of Odyssey early on, before they decided graveyard manipulation was enough fun). So while a few Aboshan decks may look similar, many of them will be trying to do different, creative things.

Standstill, Cognivore, and Cultural Exchange are the other three cards I’d prepare for. Standstill will reward good board position far better than Hesitation ever did; the Cognivore benefits greatly from the efficiency of instants in multiplayer; and Cultural Exchange is just plain mean.

Some joker in your group is also getting an Upheaval deck ready, too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The best BtC candidate from blue is Shifty Doppelganger, a low-rent blend of Unstable Shapeshifter and Sneak Attack. Bear in mind that you only get to put the Doppelganger back into play if you manage to get your hasty creature all the way to the end of the turn in time to sacrifice it. If the creature is killed, bounced, or even removed from the game… You will never see your Doppelganger again. But many players will still consider this a risk worth taking, since it would be great fun to respond to an attack by plopping out a Multani, or some such.


Black, I think, gains the least in multiplayer within Odyssey. At the same time, it loses almost nothing. All of the cards are within a”fair to strong” band, with few standouts in either direction. I like the new Pestilence (Screams of the Damned); but realistically, Thrashing Wumpus and Pestilence (and even the Infected Vermin, at threshold) are probably more efficient for what you want to get done. Malevolent Awakening won’t win you the game, but the creatures you throw in and out of it will. It’s combo-dangerous, but I still like its rattlesnake value in a simple multiplayer beatdown deck.

But my favorite black card from the new set is Mindslicer, which threatens instant-speed, universal discard. Group discard is getting less and less difficult to pull off; this is a major push in the right direction. Another excellent creature (and perhaps in the same deck) is Mortivore. Lhurgoyf is now the correct color.

Let’s look at the base of a multiplayer, mono-black discard now:

4x Megrim

4x Bottomless Pit

4x Unnerve

4x Dark Ritual

2x Innocent Blood

2x Umbilicus

3x Mindslicer

4x Bottle Gnomes

4x Fog of Gnats

3x Mortivore

2x Painbringer

Looks pretty tight. Not as much”what do I do with creatures on the board?” anymore.

A Break this Card candidate for black? Not many, truthfully. Black does have its share of challenging cards; but most are uncommon or common. I might put forward Braids, Cabal Minion as a really interesting card that probably isn’t as good as we’ll wish it would be. I do hope I’m wrong; I’ve heard muttering in some corridors that there may be a solid OBC deck using Braids and various threshold cards. Meantime, Braids is a girl who’ll scare off group players who don’t want to see themselves punished by the group, and locked into a worse board position from where they started. A worthy challenge for the more heroic among us. (She might fit all right in the discard deck above…)


With its decent direct damage, the best red card in Odyssey may, in fact, be Mirari. So many players are going to try and show off this artifact, however, that it will be old hat by November. Show some originality, and stick to some of the other spells I’m about to mention.

Okay, Ashen Firebeast is not terribly original, but Tremors on demand can never be bad. Like Aboshan, the Firebeast is a decent (if overcosted) card that can be used to do silly things: If nothing else, it’s another way to get rid of the tokens generated by Varchild’s War Riders. Battle Strain will punish block-and-regenerate-happy mages; and the Bomb Squad will be great fun, especially with Awakening, for as long as it survives. Epicenter (new Armageddon), like Mortivore, is now in the right color; and Price of Glory is not just tournament-worthy; it’s also going to wreck half the table on a consistent basis.

For Break this Card in red, I’d nominate Obstinate Familiar, the ultimate in anti-milling technology… But not much good for anything else. But hey, that little lizard is a twenty-turn clock…


What I love most about the New Green (as I’m calling it) is the reappearance of instant-speed creatures – with a vengeance. (Beast Attack is a great card, with great artwork and a great name.) What I like second best is the emergence of insect druids, a really neat cross that may falter a bit when you try to build your insect deck with Nantuko Disciple and various 3/1 and 6/1 untargetables from past blocks.

New Frontiers will see a decent amount of play, even though this Veteran Explorer variant only works at sorcery speed and nearly always will put you at a slight tempo disadvantage. Wild Mongrel will compete with Gaea’s Skyfolk for the”Best Bear” title in any format (and let’s pause a moment to think of the deck in Standard that will use both, along with the Blurred Mongoose and Nimble Mongoose…). (Yay weasels! – The Ferrett)

I’m also looking forward to harder-to-spot cards such as Twigwalker and Bearscape, either of which has clever instant-speed applications in multiplayer.

For Break this Card in green, the nominee was easy: Zoologist, who is interesting in a”boy, I miss Oath of Druids” kind of way.

Gold, Artifact, And Land

Here is all you need to know about gold, artifact, and land cards in Odyssey, in five simple principles:

  1. If it’s a rare with exactly two colors in it, it’s good. (Vampiric Dragon, Iridescent Angel, etc.)

  2. If it’s an atog, you’ve got to work for it.

  3. If it’s a non-creature artifact, you’ve got to work hard for it.

  4. If it’s an artifact creature, you’ve got to work really, really hard for it.

  5. If it’s a land, it’s worth trying.

The Break this Card in this category would probably be Junk Golem, which is a Hill Giant with a consistency problem.


And The Nominee Is…

It was very, very tough picking a single nominee this time. While Obstinate Familiar and Junk Golem were fairly easy to set aside, and Zookeeper just works too much like Oath to be any fun for this contest, the remaining possibilities – Graceful Antelope, Shifty Doppelganger, and Braids Cabal Minion – are all rather juicy.

In the end, I decided to go for originality. Shifty Doppelganger works a bit too much like Sneak Attack. Braids, Cabal Minion works a bit too much like Umbilicus. I might use one of these in a later contest, though.

And thus, head and antlers above the rest, we have our nominee:

Graceful Antelope


Creature – Antelope



Whenever Graceful Antelope deals combat damage to a player, you may have target land become a plains until Graceful Antelope leaves play.

The challenges this card faces in becoming a viable path to victory are numerous: how does it pull off that first”critical” point of damage? Who cares if an opponent has a plains? If they care, why can’t they just get rid of the antelope to stop the madness? And so on.

I leave it to you all to answer these questions. Here are the rules:


  • A real name.

  • An internet address where I can respond to you.

  • A deck that is legal in some widely recognized format (Type I, Standard, OBC, etc… I’ll accept 5-Color decks, but you had better have a really, really good reason for making me look at 250 cards, buster…).

  • “Break this Card” in your subject line.

  • At least one Graceful Antelope in your decklist

  • Absolutely no attachments that you expect me to open.

  • A”sent” time of no later than midnight Central Standard Time, Thursday, November 1, 2001.


  • Provide a short (150-200 word) explanation of how the deck works;

  • Include cards that will help the Graceful Antelope serve as your primary path to victory;

  • Not expect four Righteous Avengers on their own to count toward the above condition;

  • Stay as close as possible to the minimum number of cards allowed in the given format;

  • Include the phrase”4x I read Anthony’s instructions” in the decklist, so that I know you’re paying attention when I talk to you, little missy;

  • Take it easy on the Power Nine cards;

  • Feel free to use Magical Hack, Whim of Volrath, or Mind Bend…but recognize that I am likely to favor decks that do not depend solely upon them.

Prize support? Glad you asked. I like giving out multiple prizes so I’ll set the bar a bit lower than I historically have. If we hit up to 39 deck entries, I’ll provide a scribbled Graceful Antelope to a single winner. If we hit 40 to 79 entries, I’ll provide a scribbled Graceful Antelope to two winners, and a scribbled Odyssey rare of choice to the designer of the better deck. If we hit 80 to 119 entries, I’ll provide a scribbled Antelope to three winners, scribbled Odyssey rare of choice to the designers of two of them, and a scribbled foil Odyssey rare (of my choice!) to the best. Over 120, the prizes will get even more widespread and better, depending on the pool of entries and originality of the top five or six. I’ll count multiple entries within the same email as multiple, not just one.

Also, all previous winners are now eligible again to win! After a couple of years of doing this, I believe I’ve spread the wealth enough to avoid any appearance of favoritism. Besides, Nathan Long is getting too close to winning; and I need to replenish my defences against his quest. Also, fellow featured Star City writers can get honorable mentions, but not prizes.

So, to recap: Use Graceful Antelope, build lots of good decks, send them by November 1, make me proud!


Anthony Alongi

[email protected]