QUICK CORRECTION TO LAST WEEK: In changing Earthquake (from a previous edition) to Crater Hellion, I managed to keep the description for Earthquake. Crater Hellion is a 6/6 creature costing 4RR with echo, which does four points of damage to every other creature as it comes in.
I am likely to get in the artwork for this article late. If you see card art here, consider the Ferrett an absolute master of time and space. If you don’t, consider him human and check this article out again Monday or Tuesday, when it might look prettier in archives. (Hold on, Ferrett, I’ll handle this aside for you: "Don’t ALL of Alongi’s article look better after they’re off the front page and archived?" Ha ha, Ferrett, real funny. You’re a real jokester. You know, one of these days you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings with that razor-sharp tongue of yours. And when that person is crying their heart out, I… er, I mean, whoever it is… just might not accept your tepid apology. You know, you never feel you’re sorry…in here. *taps chest.* That’s what I’m looking for in a relationship.)
OVERALL COMMENTS: If red and black are jammed with good multiplayer cards, artifacts are simply overflowing. So I made this a list of twenty-five, just so I could cram five that I really did not want to leave out. I could come up with another ten or fifteen pretty easily; I am sure many of you could too.
SPECIAL HALL OF SHAME FEATURE: I personally hate LIFELINE (5 cc artifact that essentially bounces dying creatures back from the graveyard) and do not believe it is a well-designed card. I think that the interesting things that it does in multiplayer are more than offset by the horrible error(s) in card wording, as well as the card’s huge potential for confusion around end step timing, infinite loops (or lack thereof), etc. Much like Pete Rose was an obviously celebrated baseball player who will never make his sport’s Hall of Fame because of his negative qualities, so too Lifeline will sit out in the cold, punished for its baser qualities.
For this part of the Hall, I am testing out a new feature I am considering for the next time I update it. Instead of a "Signal" section, I put in an "Attention Rating" section that rates how much attention the artifact gets, and whether it is negative or positive. Scale is +10 (everybody loves you) to -10 (everybody hates you), with a 0 indicating that no one much notices. The "Attention Rating" has NO effect on the overall rankings… I’m just toying with this idea, for now, to see how useful readers find it, and to get a sense of how much I like doing this sort of thing. My personal theory has typically been that ANY card can be a +10 OR a -10 under the right circumstances…depending on the other cards you use in conjunction with it, whether you’ve used the card in a deck effectively in the past, and how smart your opponents are.
That said, each card does carry a certain amount of baggage to it to start. I try to measure that raw reaction most players have when they see something hit the table.
25. TANGLE WIRE
[3cc Artifact. Fading 4. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player taps an untapped artifact, creature, or land he or she controls for each fade counter on Tangle Wire.]
WHY: Tangle Wire is an increasingly well-known Type II powerhouse card for duels, but it has a certain potency in multiplayer as well. In the early game, it has a very strange effect on slow-developing opponents, since it both frustrates the land-screwed yet also gives them a bit of time before rush decks can tick off any early points. By the mid-game, most decks can handle the tapping requirements of the Wire, and it works at most as an annoyance.
ATTENTION RATING: -4 if it hits before turn six; 0 after that.
ENHANCEMENTS: You can increase its late-game effectiveness by using board-clearers like Wrath of God or Armageddon, thereby forcing opponents to tap things they might not want to. Of course, you can keep things tapped with Stasis. You can also enhance the Wire by simply making your deck take advantage of tapping: Goblin Medics are a clear example of this approach.
COUNTERMEASURES: Tangle Wire self-destructs after a few turns. If you cannot wait that long, you can pack Horseshoe Crabs and Morphlings. Other anti-Stasis styled cards will also work well.
24. WORRY BEADS
[3cc Artifact. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard.] SIMILAR CARDS: Whetstone is a universal miller that you can pay 3 to activate. The original miller is Millstone, which must target one player at a time.
WHY: Milling decks are more common in casual groups than they should be. Milling is an awful strategy for multiplayer, and it is hard to withstand the assault of more than one deck for the time it takes to get rid of everyone’s cards. Worry Beads makes group milling actually look viable, by making everyone’s deck half as thick. It is not card advantage at work here; it is time advantage. (And if you manage to mill the white mage’s Disenchants, good for you.)
ATTENTION RATING: -1. It grows more negative the longer it lasts, and everyone sees what cards they are losing.
ENHANCEMENTS: If your deck is an effective miller, you may be surprised to learn that games actually go faster, not more slowly, as you might expect out of a milling deck. With that in mind, your best enhancements are cheap and effective blockers like Wall of Glare or Fog of Gnats. Plus, of course, Whetstone, Millstone, Crumbling Sanctuary, and so on.
COUNTERMEASURES: If you have a Bosium Strip in play and rely on instants to get you through the game, you may actually thank the player who puts down a Worry Beads. Whoever plays Exhume gets extra points.
23. NOETIC SCALES
[4cc Artifact. During each player’s upkeep, return to owner’s hand each creature that player controls with power greater than the number of cards in his or her hand.] SIMILAR CARDS: Umbilicus, which requires each player to pay two life or bounce a permanent he controls, is not as capable of mass effects but often leads to the same combos.]
WHY: A sneaky Evacuation that can turn the tables quickly against powerful players. Played at a table with inexperienced mages who empty their hands, the Scales crash through each in turn like a rolling Evacuation.
ATTENTION RATING: -5 as it is played, moves toward 0 over time. Hampers all but the weeniest decks right away. If you play in a group with lots of creatureless decks, this comes in a lot closer to 0. Even if you play with creature-freaks, this card is not among the nastiest, since after a few turns many players can simply hold more cards back.
COUNTERMEASURES: Hand replenishment, like Prosperity or Howling Mine. Trickier cards include bounce. If you play Disenchant, please be sure to do it at the end of your last opponent’s turn, so you can attack with your own (saved) army.
22. NULL ROD
[2cc Artifact. Players cannot play any artifact abilities requiring an activation cost.] SIMILAR CARDS: Cursed Totem does the same thing for creature abilities.
WHY: Lots of innovative multiplayer decks use creatures and artifacts that require activation costs to make beautiful things happen. The Null Rod and Cursed Totem "re-uglify" everything, turning the world plain vanilla.
ATTENTION RATING: +4, but this is VERY conditional. Most artifacts with abilities tend to wreck the table (e.g., Masticore) and you are likely to get applause more often than not. But of course, the Masticore’s controller will not appreciate this the same way. As with most cards, the more useful it is (i.e., the more opponents who play Masticore), the more negative the attention rating gets. I will push this point further with Cursed Totem: Perhaps a more useful card in many circumstances, and it shuts down Flowstone Overseer and Alexi Zephyr Mage; but it also shuts down Skyshroud Elf. So everyone’s mad at you. The blue mage. The red mage. The Elf.
This, folks, is the problem with rating a card based on "the reaction you get." I’ll grant my ranking cards on Breadth, Depth, and Length of impact still leaves a good deal of subjectivity in the equation. But ranking on how much attention you get with a card – or deciding whether or not would be pure madness. I’d be revising the Hall every week, based on how much The Ferrett got his butt kicked last Saturday for daring to play anything but Blood Pet and Wall of Stone.
ENHANCEMENTS: Right, I was talking about Null Rod. Honestly, this is a metagame choice that does not have much to say about enhancements.
As for Cursed Totem, a Totem deck is a great one for creatures with abilities that are NOT activated, but rather triggered or continuous. Think Urborg Stalker, Wall of Blossoms, that sort of thing. What you are trying to do here is make your creatures as good as possible, so that you get all possible advantages over other players’ greying ogres.
COUNTERMEASURES: Like the mage who plays it, you want continuous or triggered abilities (Junk Diver, Winter Orb, etc.).
21. MAGNETIC WEB
[2cc Artifact. If a creature with a magnet counter on it attacks, all creatures with magnet counters on them attack this turn if able. Whenever a creature with a magnet counter on it attacks, all creatures with magnet counters on them block that creature this turn if able. 1,Tap: Put a magnet counter on target creature.]
WHY: Time intensive and easily disruptable, but the potential for multiplayer manipulation is definitely there. You can set up very favorable attack or defense conditions for virtually any player on the board, and then let them make their own decisions as to what they do with affected creatures.
ATTENTION RATING: Strict zero. What matters is what creatures you polarize.
ENHANCEMENTS: Familiar Ground disallows blocking with more than one creature. If you’re using the Web to improve you own battle conditions, use both to ensure that only one creature per opponent can block your stuff. There are creatures with this built-in feature: Charging Rhino, Stalking Tiger. Instant untapping such as Voltaic Key, Twiddle, and Mind over Matter will let you put magnetic counters on multiple creatures in the middle of combat.
COUNTERMEASURES: The Web itself is typically not a threat. Bouncing your own creatures, or destroying others’, takes care of the problem nine times out of ten.
20. THRAN WEAPONRY
[2cc Artifact. Echo. You may choose not to untap Thran Weaponry during your untap step. 2, Tap: All creatures get +2/+2 as long as Thran Weaponry remains tapped.] SIMILAR CARDS: Infinite Hourglass works in similar fashion to pump all creatures, but works only for offense, and allows other players to de-pump with mana.
WHY: Garbage, absolute garbage, in just about any other format. But it can speed up a multiplayer game nicely, and the ability to influence other people’s combat is a valuable commodity. Don’t pack four, though, unless you are really trying to prove something.
ATTENTION RATING: +5. It hurts no creatures; and while it makes life difficult for the red mage at times, it usually also helps such aggressive players by making their offense more imposing.
ENHANCEMENTS: The ability to UNTAP the Weaponry at inconvenient times for your opponents (e.g., when pumped combat damage is on the stack) can be more valuable than the boost it gives your own creatures. Another enhancement: creatures that gain a bit from receiving damage, such as Saber Ants and Walls of Resistance.
COUNTERMEASURES: You will only want to stop the Thran Weaponry if you are at a significant creature disadvantage. Decks at such a disadvantage are usually white and/or blue, and both colors have plenty of conventional means for dealing with an annoying artifact that only affects creatures.
19. STORM CAULDRON
[5cc Artifact. Each player may play an additional land during each of his or her turns. Whenever a land is tapped for mana, return it to its owner’s hand.]
WHY: The first card on this list that really has a long-term, universal impact, as everyone must use lands.
ATTENTION RATING: -2. One of the best things about this card is that no one knows exactly what that effect will be, other than a moderate slowing of the game’s pace. Often, players who think the card will hurt them end up benefiting most from it. The more experienced your group is, the more this card will tend toward zero, or even positive rating.
ENHANCEMENTS: Artifact mana for yourself. Dirtcowl Wurm. Ankh of Mishra.
COUNTERMEASURES: While the Cauldron is as easy to remove as any artifact, a better strategy is working alongside it. The less the spells in your deck cost, the more the Cauldron works to your advantage as well as the controller’s. Avoid X spells, seek mana efficiency at all costs. And use elves and artifacts where possible.
[4cc Artifact. At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a soot counter on Smokestack. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player sacrifices a permanent for each soot counter on Smokestack.]
WHY: A slow, grinding control card that works best early, and too often doesn’t stop the guy with 197 squirrel tokens on turn eight. The key word in this card is "may." Do not put a soot counter on the Smokestack unless you are certain you can deal with the devastation yourself.
ATTENTION RATING: -6, and all from the players who want to hurt you anyway. You in turn are probably hurting the other control mages who are in the best position to help you achieve your goals. Bear that in mind.
ENHANCEMENTS: Night Soil will help you turn dead creatures (which other players lose through the Smokestack) into tokens that you can sacrifice. Other token generators will also work well, as long as you keep your Smokestack with a reasonably low number of soot counters. Abyssal Gatekeeper will ensure that opponents lose creatures.
COUNTERMEASURES: Land Tax lets you get extra lands from your library so you can afford to lose them. And as much as I hate to say it, Lifeline will assure that people who lose creatures will get them right back. (Another good reason for the Smokestack mage to use Night Soil!)
17. ANGEL’S TRUMPET
[3cc Artifact. Attacking does not cause creatures to tap. At the end of each player’s turn, tap all untapped creatures he or she controls that did not attack this turn. Angel’s Trumpet deals 1 damage to that player for each creature tapped this way.]
WHY: A great "get off your duff" card for your opponents. Players who hide behind walls get saut?ed by this.
ATTENTION RATING: +1. Just a smidge positive, since the main reason most people hold back early is because they do not want to offend anyone. Now, they can say, geez, that Angel’s Trumpet is out, what can I do, eh?
ENHANCEMENTS: As with Serra’s Blessing in white, you do NOT play with creatures that already do not tap to attack. When you do this, you give up card efficiency. You don’t NEED Serra Angels in this deck; Sengir Vampires are better here.
COUNTERMEASURES: Regenerators are solid enough; you give up the untapping advantage, but they will survive any unfavorable matchups you are forced into. If you like walls and a Trumpet deck is dominant in your group, try to use wall-like creatures instead (e.g., Tormented Angel instead of Wall of Swords).
16. TEFERI’S PUZZLE BOX
[4cc Artifact. At the beginning of each player’s draw step, that player counts the cards in his or her hand, puts them on the bottom of his or her library, and then draws that many cards.]
WHY: A linchpin of a few nasty combo decks, the Box can simply be a moderately disrupting influence on everybody, just to keep things interesting.
ATTENTION RATING: -3 and sinking. It is usually not enough to get people really angry at you at first, but the more hands they lose, the more they want to get rid of the artifact…or its controller.
ENHANCEMENTS: As a broad disruptive strategy, you want to have plenty of instants and cheap creatures, as well as readily-available mana (so the Cameos may be better here than the Diamonds, for artifact mana). Cards that help you cycle through your deck faster are also helpful… cantrips, cards like Impulse, and/or pure cyclers like Repopulate.
COUNTERMEASURES: See Enhancements.
14. JINXED IDOL
[2. During your upkeep, Jinxed Idol deals 2 damage to you. Sacrifice a creature: Target opponent gains control of Jinxed Idol permanently.] SIMILAR CARDS: Jinxed Ring penalizes cards going into graveyard; you ditch it the same way as the Idol.
WHY: I think our group has had more laughs about this card than any other single artifact card. You do need more than two players to have three or four creatures for it to really take off; but what a terrific exercise in poetic timing this card can be.
ATTENTION RATING: +5. Really, if it is less than that, your group has no sense of humor. People expect to lose creatures in multiplayer, and they get to choose what they lose. And if it sticks on a guy with a creatureless, deck, well, really, isn’t that even funnier?
ENHANCEMENTS: Grave Pact is my current favorite…Jinxed Idol now reads: "Force all players to sacrifice a creature: Target opponent gains control of Jinxed Idol permanently." Bone Shredder is another obvious choice, especially in recursion decks. If you don’t care if you get your creatures back or not, try token generators like Verdant Force, Hornet Cannon, or Breeding Pit.
COUNTERMEASURES: If you don’t want to stoop to CoP: Artifacts, your best defense is a swarm of creatures that you can spare. Most people will not even bother to give you the Idol if you have a creature advantage over them.
Sometime soon, I am going to do an article that rates various expansions and their friendliness to multiplayer. One of the reasons I want to do this is because I think Stronghold as an expansion on its own gets razzed so much by Pros, newer players never realize what amazing cards there are in it. (Two of the top three cards on this list are also from Stronghold.) Jinxed Idol is from Tempest, but the Jinxed Ring is also in Stronghold. See also: Reins of Power, Shard Phoenix, Grave Pact, Awakening, Evacuation, Sliver Queen, Silver Wyvern, Heartstone, a fantastic set of early-drop walls, and the famous Megrim/Bottomless Pit tandem. Only three of those cards had any kind of impact on the Type II tournament scene (the phoenix, the latter half of Trade-Awakening, and the slivers’ centerpiece.) Yet I would need some convincing that there has been a better multiplayer expansion since that one. (And yes, I am considering Prophecy and Invasion.)
[3cc Artifact. Whenever a creature attacks, Caltrops deals one damage to it.]
WHY: The bane of small swarm decks, Caltrops keeps the early action from getting out of hand.
ATTENTION RATING: -1. With a Caltrops on the board alone, most players can simply wait for their larger creatures to show up, or use a variety of tools to get around it.
ENHANCEMENTS: Death Pits of Rath is the strongest combination. Fatal Blow is a good spot removal card that works much the same way. Repercussion would make people think twice about attacking en masse. You can also play tricks with your own army of En-Kor creatures, redirecting damage to a large creature that can handle it, or to a creature that gives you an advantage going to the graveyard (e.g., Junk Diver, Abyssal Gatekeeper).
12. WINTER ORB
[2cc Artifact. Players may not untap more than one land during their untap phase.]
WHY: The classic slowdown stick, Winter Orb
ATTENTION RATING: -9 and sinking.
ENHANCEMENTS: All of the rhystic cards gain twice their value with an Orb out. (I highly suggest Rhystic Syphon, since you will need the life swing.) Ditto Mungha Wurm. Stasis and Winter Orb are a classic combination, and one that buries the attention rating needle at -10.
COUNTERMEASURES: Artifact and elf mana are always excellent countermeasures to mana-denial strategies that focus on land. Alternate casting cost cards are also a lovely way to get around the problems with Orb.
Winter Orb used to be the sole resident of my Hall of Shame. Then Lifeline moved in. I think the Hall of Shame really should be a single-card household, so I have grudgingly let Winter Orb on the list. There is little sense in denying that it is one of the most powerful multiplayer cards around.
Derek, an occasional member of our group, one made a deck on "3cc or less night" that included a Winter Orb, Citadel of Pain, Spellbook, Spiketail Hatchling, Howling Mine, and Stinging Barrier. No, you’re not supposed to get it, either. The whole point was to distract us into trying to figure out what was up until he could cast a Firestorm and kill the table. Like most Winter Orb decks, this was a shooting-star deck that was only meant to work once.
As it turned out, once we all saw the Orb, we all started pounding on him and he was dead before he could find a Firestorm. (I think it was four turns.) Lesson here is NOT that you should not play Winter Orb. Lesson here is that you should mulligan until you get the Firestorm in your hand. (Actually, the lesson is not to play shooting-star decks; but we’ll handle that another week.)
11. PHYREXIAN SPLICER
[2. 2, tap: Choose flying, first strike, trample, or shadow. Target creature with that ability loses it until end of turn. Another target creature gains that ability until end of turn.]
WHY: Tapping in multiplayer is bad. But this is still very, very good. The Splicer is the highest artifact on the list, aside from #1 (which has a great deal more going for it), that taps to get its ability. The power to interfere in any random combat is a valuable commodity, and having that power plainly on the board is even better. It can gain terrific card advantage, sweeping up to two cards out per combat (using first strike) if people are not paying attention.
Phyrexian Splicer foils both prey and predator equally nicely, and gets the "MASTER OF THE HUNT" award for artifacts.
ATTENTION RATING: +1. On attack, experienced players know that if they plan carefully, the Splicer cannot hurt them overmuch, and may possibly help them. On defense, experienced players will have more than one flyer, or instants, to make the Splicer useless in trying to disarm them. So these players will relax about the Splicer, and enjoy seeing it work.
ENHANCEMENTS: Make sure your deck has first strike and shadow creatures. Flying and trample are usually common enough that you can borrow the abilities from other players’ creatures. With all four abilities represented at the table, you can have a lot more fun.
COUNTERMEASURES: You can foil a Splicer’s plans by having instant means to readjust battle conditions back to your favor: Flaming Sword, for example, or Jump. If really desperate, you could use Angelic Curator or another bad creature with protection from artifacts.
10. ARMAGEDDON CLOCK
[6cc Artifact. During your upkeep, put one doom counter on Armageddon Clock. At the end of your upkeep, Armageddon Clock deals X damage to each player, where X is the number of doom counters on Armageddon Clock. During any upkeep, any player may pay 4 to remove a doom counter from Armageddon Clock.] SIMILAR CARDS: Copper Tablet is an automatic one to everyone, unadjustable.
WHY: It’s not a great multiplayer card because it deals damage to everyone, although that is nice. It’s not a multiplayer card because the number of counters go up, although that’s a neat effect, as well. No, this is a great multiplayer card because on each player’s turn, you get to watch them figure out whether or not they want pay four mana to take a counter off. In a group game where some players want to see the Clock succeed and others do not, you get a great dynamic going.
The Clock would probably top the list, if it didn’t have an inherent disadvantage from multiplayer: the more opponents you have, the more likelihood that one of them will pay to take a counter off, which means you have an uphill climb to get it going.
ATTENTION RATING: -2. It’s not good news for anyone, but since the damage is reducible, it should not ruffle feathers too much.
ENHANCEMENTS: The best way to go is another Armageddon Clock, which makes it more difficult for opponents to keep up with the ticking.
COUNTERMEASURES: A good supply of mana is sufficient to handle one, even two, of these.
9. BARBED WIRE (best team artifact?)
[3. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, Barbed Wire deals 1damage to that player. 2: Prevent the next 1 damage that would be dealt by Barbed Wire this turn.]
WHY: While very similar to Armageddon Clock, the self-contained ability to prevent the damage to its controller sets Barbed Wire apart and above the Clock. Note that you can prevent damage to ANYONE, which lets you protect teammates. It also lets you make "friends," if you’re into that sort of thing.
ATTENTION RATING: -4. More serious than the Clock in opponents’ eyes, since the damage is automatic to them and optional for you. If this is your only path to victory, expect the rating to sink considerably; no one likes to die ping by ping.
ENHANCEMENTS: You can magnify the damage with a Furnace of Rath. Other than that, what is there to do? More often than not, the Wire is used in conjunction with extremely heavy control decks that are content to just lock down the board and then ping away. What you use to actually establish that control is pretty irrelevant.
COUNTERMEASURES: The Barbed Wire is not the problem; there’s often no need to get rid of it. The problem is the control strategy that accompanies it. Thwart that strategy, and laugh at the Wire. Packing very modest lifegain like Bottle Gnomes or Spike Feeder doesn’t hurt, either.
[4cc, 2/2 Artifact Creature. During each player’s upkeep, that player takes one damage for each card in his or her hand minus four[V]/ fewer than three[R].] SIMILAR CARDS: Wheel of Torture and Iron Maiden are the non-creature artifact versions of these cards. They are both based on classics, The Rack and Black Vise.
WHY: Ever since these came out, I have received more deck ideas from readers using Viseling and (to a lesser extent) Rackling. They really did bring back a certain kind of deck, one based on manipulating the number of cards in people’s hands. Both of these cards truly shine in team play, since they only affect opponents. So the two "-lings" share the GOOD TEAMMATE AWARD for artifacts.
ATTENTION RATING: -3 for both. They typically do not come out until they are ready to do damage, so they get a bad reputation right away. However, since they are relatively easy for all five colors to get rid of, the table’s energy will usually be focused on killing the creature, rather than killing you.
ENHANCEMENTS: For the Viseling, use Prosperity, Indentured Djinn, Evacuation, and Howling Mine. For the Rackling, see black’s discard contributions to the Hall of Fame. For both, I think the card Liberate is terrific, since it allows you to save the creature and then get it back into play without having to cast it again. So consider splashing white.
The "-lings" are not the highest-rated creatures on the artifact list; but they are close. Artifact creatures are a very mixed bag in multiplayer. There are very few that truly give you the kind of edge that you can easily find in any color: Crater Hellion, Verdant Force, False Prophet, Thrashing Wumpus, Alexi Zephyr Mage. And they are typically VERY fragile things, since everything from Disenchant to Dark Banishing to Splinter can take care of them quite handily.
Our group has been plagued by artifact decks for the past few months, but amazingly enough has yet to metagame against artifacts. There are games when I would swear we are playing on a table with a fine oak finish because of all the brown you see, and yet no one has brought out the Shatterstorm. No one has brought out the Kill Switch.
Well, you may ask, what about you, Alongi? Why don’t you pick up the slack? Why don’t you practice what you preach? Why don’t you shut up and put up? What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? Huh huh huh huh huh?
All right, all right, don’t be so freaking rude, give me a chance to talk. Actually, I DID try to metagame, very early on. In my red/green Furnace of Rath/Lone Wolf/Might of Oaks Deck, I did pack two Viashino Heretics. Heretics are wonderful, reusable artifact destruction. They also make good blockers, and with the Furnaces in my deck can really spell trouble for an artifact-dependent mage. They are also rather unassuming to the non-artifact player, and so they stay on the board. (How Ferrett-like of me. No doubt I shall sprout whiskers, wrinkle my nose, and start interjecting comments into everyone else’s articles, soon.)
In the midst of a rather tight five-player game where both Pete and Theo are playing heavy artifacts, I lay down a Heretic. Neither Pete nor Theo are playing heavy removal, so I expect this baby to hang around for a while. A few rounds. Possibly go the distance, or at least until I die.
So the next guy starts his turn. (This is maybe Toim, or Gary, or Carl. In my blind rage, I have forgotten such detail.) He plays a Bone Shredder, and targets…my Viashino Heretic. This, with other perfectly good targets on the board such a 4/4 fatty, a blue flyer, and heck, even my own Lone Wolf.
Our group needles the heck out of anyone who whines too much. So I try to stay calm. "NOW WHY WOULD YOU GO AND MAKE A PERFECTLY GOOD PLAY LIKE THAT," I say calmly but loudly.
Whoever it was shrugs. "I have artifact mana coming up. I don’t want you to kill it."
"WHY WHAT A WONDERFUL STRATEGY," I reply with a tight smile on my face. "YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT TO THINK I WOULD GO AFTER YOUR CRAPPY LITTLE CHARCOAL DIAMOND WHEN THERE ARE FAR LESS PERFECT TARGETS ON THE BOARD, LIKE PETE’S IRON MAIDEN AND THEO’S LONELY TIN-WING CHIMERA. GOOD PLAY, GOOD PLAY."
"Oh, stop whining," the guy says. "I’ll play another Bone Shredder, target your Lone Wolf."
As you can see, our group maintains an emotionally supportive atmosphere.
The next three entries form the "everybody-loves-me!" core of the artifacts list. There are combos that serve as enhancements, but they are typically unnecessary. Ditto countermeasures. So I am following a freer format for these three entries.
7. HORN OF GREED
[3. Whenever a player plays a land, that player draws a card.]
ATTENTION RATING: +8
You can combo this with Ankh of Mishra and CoP: Artifacts, if you really want. But honestly, you play this card just to get brownie points, move the game along… and reward players who overextend their lands.
If you see this card, you can probably trust it, but watch for the Armageddon. It’s more likely that the controller is simply looking to play stuff like Land Tax, Exploration, and/or other strategies to assure herself of more cards than everyone else.
6. HELM OF AWAKENING
[2. All spells cost 1 less to play.]
ATTENTION RATING: +10
A great card to move the game along quickly. There is really no way to penalize people for using this card. You can, of course, take greater advantage of it than other people: I once had a Viashino and Dragon deck that used Urza’s Incubator, Ruby Medallions, and Helm of Awakening. Cutthroats cost RR, and even the Shivan Hellkite once came out for a bargain 2RR. (I did have one Heartstone in the deck so that the Hellkite could ping creatures/players for a mere R, but I never saw it. Curse the luck!)
5. HOWLING MINE
[2. During each player’s draw step, that player draws an additional card.]
ATTENTION RATING: +7
One of the first cards that group players learn about. About 50% of the time, the controller is just being nice to everyone and feels her deck can win an aggressive, fast-paced game. The other 50%, there is a more sinister motive: milling, Viseling, that sort of thing. If you face one of these decks, try to avoid getting rid of the Mine. Instead, try to stop the collaborative cards that make the Mine dangerous.
Okay, back to cards your opponents may not be so thrilled to see.
4. BEAST OF BURDEN
[6cc, */* Artifact Creature. * equals the number of creatures in play.]
WHY: The Beast of Burden works inversely to Multani Maro-Sorcerer, growing larger as the game goes on while super-green-guy gets weaker.
ATTENTION RATING: -7. If you played this turn one somehow, I suppose folks wouldn’t mind so much. But who are you kidding? You’re playing this after there are twenty creatures on the board and you’ve seen a couple of Disenchants go by.
ENHANCEMENTS: The best friend of the Beast of Burden is the Wishmonger, who blesses the large fellow before every unbroken trip taken across the battlefield to smack some mage upside the head with upwards of fifteen or twenty damage.
I also like the Beast with Verdant Force, since you’ll often get the group to focus hard on getting rid of the Force for a few turns; and then you plop down the Beast as a second "deal-with-this-or-die" threat.
COUNTERMEASURES: An Earthquake that takes out everything but the Beast of Burden will then kill the Beast as it shrinks. Try to look out for that opportunity; it’s a real hoot when you can do it. Much more elegant than a Dark Banishing.
I mentioned Wishmonger as an enhancement; and I have mentioned in past articles the deck I have built using virtually all artifacts, with just a splash of white for Wishmongers and Disenchants. I have played it four times; it has won three of them. Yet another deck begging for a Shatterstorm! But if you think I am going to feel sorry for everyone else in our group because they’re not metagaming correctly, you didn’t read that earlier bit about the Viashino Heretic carefully enough.
[4cc Artifact. Whenever a creature comes into play, if there are two or more other creatures in play, remove that creature from the game. When Portcullis leaves play, return to play under their owner’s control all creatures removed from the game with Portcullis.]
WHY: A great, innovative way to get control of the board. Portcullis almost creates a "game within a game" for everyone: there are the creatures (usually two, but perhaps more if the Portcullis comes out late) that are on the board that you have to worry about now; and then there are the creatures that you have to think about if the Portcullis suddenly gets removed, say, in the middle of combat.
ATTENTION RATING: -6. Even if you are really creative and make people laugh at the way you manipulate this, inside they’re seething and want to kill you for messing with their stupid infinite-squirrel combo.
ENHANCEMENTS: It depends on what you want to do. If you are playing Portcullis because you want to control creatures coming in and out multiple times, use Hurkyll’s Recall and a bunch of "187-style" creatures like Ghitu Slinger and Wall of Blossoms. (Yes, if you call the stack correctly, you can get the comes-into-play ability to happen before the creature disappears… so if the Portcullis leaves, you can get the ability twice for the same creature.)
I’ve been thinking lately about what this thing could do together with Parallax Wave. A good reason to have Sheldon Menery in your play group, I suppose.
COUNTERMEASURES: Speaking of 187-style creatures, the Uktabi Orangutan can target the Portcullis, get set aside by the triggered ability, and then come BACK into play, along with all the other creatures, to whack another artifact-most likely something else the Portcullis mage had to grind down opponents in a slow game, like Barbed Wire.
Of course, you can also decide to forgo creatures, and just burn the heck out of the guy with the Portcullis.
As a public service, I now present to you all of the official rulings on this occasionally confusing card:
* If the creature that triggered Portcullis is no longer in play when the ability resolves, then it fails to do anything. [Duelist Magazine #25, Page 31]
* Creatures which are phasing in will not trigger this card’s ability. [D’Angelo 98/04/13]
* You only check the count of the number of creatures in play during resolution. The creature will not be removed if the count is 2 or less. [D’Angelo 98/04/17]
* If Portcullis phases out, and something prevents one of the creatures from coming into play (for example, a Clone has no target), then the creature remains out of play and can try to enter play again the next time Portcullis leaves play. [bethmo 98/05/02]
* The "when Portcullis leaves play" is not part of setting the creature aside, so it does not happen if Portcullis’ abilities are at the time it leaves play. [D’Angelo 99/06/01]
* If multiple creatures come into play at the same time, Portcullis triggers for each creature. [bethmo 99/05/26]
* If multiple creatures come into play at the same time, Portcullis sees the creature count as being the new total after all the creatures are in play. Don’t handle this like creatures coming into play one at a time. [bethmo 99/05/26]
* If multiple creatures come into play at once, due to Living Death for example, then Portcullis will trigger on all of those creatures. The player controlling Portcullis decides the order to resolve the Portcullis triggers and therefore chooses which two creatures stay in play (assuming that none were already in play… if some were already in play he might not really get a choice). All the others get yanked by the Portcullis. [D’Angelo 98/06/11]
* If any creature comes into play which has a "comes into play" ability (see Rule E.3), that ability is still applied even if Portcullis removes that creature from play before you resolve the ability. [D’Angelo 98/06/11]
* If any creature comes into play which has a "comes into play" ability (see Rule E.3), you need to use the timing rules for triggered abilities (see Rule A.4) to determine the order to put the triggers on the stack. The rule is that first the current player does all of their triggers in any order they choose, then the other player does all of theirs in any order they choose.
* [D’Angelo 99/06/01] The result is that if the current player controls Portcullis, they can do their creatures’ "comes into play" abilities before or after Portcullis removes creatures from play, while the other player always resolves their creatures’ "comes into play" abilities before Portcullis. If the other player controls Portcullis, the current player always does their creatures’ "comes into play" abilities after Portcullis, then the other player can do their creatures’ "comes into play" abilities before or after the Portcullis removes creatures from play.
* Note – Also see Comes Into Play Abilities, Rule E.3.
Cripes. Did you see that bit about Living Death? "If it’s Tuesday, and only partly cloudy, and you’re wearing blue underwear, then put two creatures you like into play…" But even though it’s a little confusing at times, the card itself is clear (unlike Lifeline), and infinite loops are virtually impossible. So go ahead and slam that gate down!
2: ENSNARING BRIDGE
[3. Each creature with power greater than the number of cards in your hand cannot attack.]
WHY: A top-notch show-stopper that will absolutely wreck at least half of the players on the board. Even better, it stops Multani and other untargetables, rendering them completely useless.
ATTENTION RATING: -9. You are really pushing your luck with this card.
ENHANCEMENTS: You were going to do this anyway, probably; but self-discard (and perhaps group discard) is absolutely essential. You may want to consider Drain Life or other "over-the-battlefield" strategies as your path to victory. Also, I believe I have bored everyone to death with my Birds-and-Bees deck, which uses zero-power creatures to attack and then pump.
You know what’s really funny? Waiting for someone to announce their intention to attack (you can’t do this after attackers are declared), and then pumping one of the few low-power creatures they have so they can’t use it. That’s really, really funny. Really!
COUNTERMEASURES: Of course, as with Portcullis, you can skip the creatures and deal damage right to the head. Ditto with milling. You could also force the Bridge’s controller to draw cards with Prosperity, Opportunity, etc.
To follow up on that blurb beneath Jinxed Idol (though I guess I was digressing on Jinxed Ring), Ensnaring Bridge and Portcullis are the exclamation points on Stronghold as one of the best multiplayer sets ever.
Okay, I have to talk about that Birds and Bees deck one more time. Sorry. My latest addition to the deck? UTOPIA TREES. Yes, two copies of that new Bird of Paradise attainable the low, low price of $16 are now featured in the deck. I haven’t been able to test it yet, but since I’ve already had fun smacking someone down with an Invigorated 0/1 bird, I am absolutely certain it will be ten times as great kicking someone’s butt with an Invigorated 0/2 PLANT. I mean, that’s why they made the card a Plant instead of a Wall, right, so we could find a way to attack with it?
1. NEVINYRRAL’S DISK
[4. Nevinyrral’s Disk comes into play tapped. 1, Tap: Destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.] SIMILAR CARDS: POWDER KEG is a more skill-based, focused card that sweeps a particular subset of creatures and enchantments.
WHY: The Disk kills everything but lands. Perfect.
ATTENTION RATING: -7. Granted, everyone gets a turn’s warning, but it is still a nasty shock to anyone who has overextended. Expect them to use their grace period to come at you hard. You do often get some relief from players who are just as eager as you to clean up the board a bit, but you can’t depend on that.
ENHANCEMENTS: Beyond Voltaic Key or Twiddle, not much. Well, okay, you can Capsize the Disk after activating it and have it in your hand when chaos hits. Then you lay it back down again and own the board.
COUNTERMEASURES: You could design a deck to withstand the Disk, using regenerators and bounce and whatever else. But typically, you just let the storm pass. You still have your lands. And try not to overextend!
And so we come to the end of the Hall of Fame. Questions, comments, additions, subtractions, and other such things are always welcome at [email protected] I AM keeping a folder of the best suggestions, as well as the occasional correction.
With luck, the Ferrett and I will have a downloadable Word document that contains the entire Hall of Fame within the next couple of weeks.
COMING SOON: Lots of stuff has been piling up! The Connect the Dots winner, some new group deck ideas based on Invasion, thoughts on auction draft. Et cetera, et cetera. Also, I am still considering doing a regular "reader mail" feature based on group dynamics and/or anything else of interest to people out there. Go ahead and write in on whatever amuses you, and I’ll try weave the better ones together into an article that benefits the intrepid on-line community.