I was away from home last week and my Internet connection failed. Miserably. Sorry, all.
I really enjoy this part of Casual Fridays the most. Every two expansions, I update the Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame, a tradition dating back to my Dojo days. The amount of mail I get about cards I did put, should have put, never thought of putting, or put and then took off and then put back, on the list is second only to Break this Card in volume. (Well, that and fan mail from Kai Budde. I get, like, twenty emails a day from that guy. Some are in German, some English. First it’s”I really liked your deck with Jangling Automaton…what a great card, Herr Alongi!” Then it’s”What’s your advice for Invasion Block?”…To which I suggested he keep wearing that lucky sweater! Finally, he’s claiming”Ich bien ein Minnesotan!” and I’m just getting really uncomfortable with the whole thing. Talk to mein hand, Herr Budde. But I’ll still be cheering for you at Worlds next month.)
The claim to the Hall of Fame cards is that they’re the ones that”make multiplayer games great.” I’ve defined what exactly that means over time, and I have a variety of articles strewn all over the web if you want to research it all.
But this time around, you really don’t have to. Instead of just a few lazy sentences around each card, I rate these beauties on five aspects, named after animals:
- Rattlesnake, for its ability to warn off opponents;
- Gorilla, for its ability to smash the board;
- Spider, for its ability to bait and surprise into card advantage;
- Pigeon, for its feeding off of large groups of people; and
- Plankton, for their general willingness to supply the entire animal kingdom with sustenance.
The list below comes with several caveats. I’ve gotten pretty good at summing these up; let’s see if I can do it in fifty words or less:
- The cards are powerful. That’s good. Back up your threats.
- Chaos format, unless noted otherwise.
- With limited space, I group similar cards in the same color under what I feel is their most dynamic representative (e.g., Thrashing Wumpus and Pestilence).
- No strict color hosers are allowed.
Did you know that word counts the list numbers as words? That’s just plain mean. I wanted to say so much in those last four words.
I always start with black and blue. To change things up, I’ll tackle artifacts and green cards here.
Artifacts in multiplayer are a risky proposition. Smart groups play with cards like Viashino Heretic and Pernicious Deed, which are decent (or even great) even if there are no artifacts on the board. Plus you still have to deal with the white mage, who will ALWAYS pack at least two Disenchants because white mages are blithering heaps of anxiety who can’t stand the idea of a permanent that might outwit their little color-protection, life-gain heaven.
That said, the right artifact in the right deck can really get your deck working right. The artifact box is often the last place we look, when we’re trying to fill in a slot or two with cards that won’t mess up our mana. But for these cards, we should be looking in that box a lot earlier.
Much of this list is similar to last Hall’s list, with three new cards in the mix. It’s a good, stable set of cards to get everyone used to the whole”animal” thing. Much bigger changes are imminent in black, green, red… And, of course, gold. If change is what you’re after, just sit tight for a spell.
We start off this category with the one card that will never get a place in the Hall: Lifeline. As I say in every version of this tradition (so that I spare myself the hurt emails), Lifeline may have a big, fun effect on many multiplayer games. But its egregious misprint and extraordinarily complex interactions with many graveyard effects often lead to more rules interpretation than actual fun. For its overall negative impact on the game, Lifeline will continue to be the Pete Rose of this Hall.
25. 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 multiplayer miller that you pay 3 to activate. Millstone is the single opponent original.
With low ratings across all aspects, how on earth did this card make the list? Because it represents a watershed in multiplayer milling decks: It cuts everyone’s deck size in half, which means a general maximum of thirty turns to reach your win condition. Add a Howling Mine, and you’re down to fifteen. As mediocre as it may seem at first, Worry Beads’ effect is a”gorilla” effect, because of this depth and breadth of impact. It has the decency to put everyone in the same boat (thus the slightly less low Plankton rating).
If this card leaps out and surprises anyone who knows you’re playing a milling deck, do write and let me know. Similarly, Worry Beads makes a lousy threat. You need to back this up.
Enhancements: How lovely that we now have an artifact that can remove any permanent, and shuffles right back into your library to save yourself from milling. Even if you’re not playing a five-color strategy, Legacy Weapon may make you think about getting all five colors of mana into your deck, anyway.
Countermeasures: Gaea’s Blessing is the ultimate anti-milling card. Other staples include Feldon’s Cane and Thran Foundry, as well as the well-known Serra Avatar.
24. 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.]
Gorilla: 6, goes down to 3 or less in the late game
Tangle Wire is one of those magnificent bastards that gets a bit less magnificent the longer the game goes on. If you play it on turn 3 or 4, you can build a deck that takes heavy advantage of that. If you play on turn 22 or 23, you have to have something really creative happening. (My personal favorite is Goblin Medics, which also look good sitting next to Tradewind Riders.) With no warn-off effect, nothing that benefits from having more warm bodies in the room, and little chance for surprise, the Wire has nothing going for it but its tapping – and that’s not a lot.
Enhancements. Of course, if you’re playing with Stasis, then things that get tapped stay tapped. Late game sweepers like Wrath of God and Armageddon will also make a late-game Wire look a bit more respectable.
Countermeasures. Usually you don’t need to bother; the Wire just annoys you and you wait a couple of turn to pummel the jerk who made you wait. Better to have a solution for the accompanying card that might really hurt you (e.g., Stasis).
23. CHIMERIC IDOL
[3cc Artifact. 0, Tap all of your lands: Chimeric Idol becomes a 3/3 artifact creature until end of turn.]
Similar cards: Chimeric Staff and Chimeric Sphere are ancestors of the superior Idol.
Chimeric Idol is one of those rare artifacts that seems to last a long time on the board. It inoculates its user against all sorcery-speed mass removal – even Armageddon makes the Chimeric Idol look a bit better. It surprises the occasional unwary player into a bad combat decision, and it warns off others who don’t want to waste time and cards fighting against something that may or may not fight back.
Enhancements. The official, tourney-approved combo is Rout. I will also accept for an answer here: Evacuation, Thundermare, or Tainted Aether.
Countermeasures. Instant-speed removal. It’s amazing how many newer players have never seen an old-school Lightning Bolt work properly.
22. CURSED TOTEM.
[2cc Artifact. Players cannot play any creature abilities requiring an activation cost.] Similar Cards: Null Rod does the same thing for artifact abilities.
This is one of those cards that demonstrates that a high gorilla rating doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pounding on the table and scratching your armpits. (Well, you can do that when you play this card. But people will wonder what point you’re driving at.)
Cursed Totem is a response to a world where special creature abilities are ever more abundant. From Birds of Paradise to Spiritmonger (yes, Spiritmonger!), more players will fall to this card than you may imagine. It is an excellent metagame choice for 90% of the groups out there.
Enhancements: Most Star City readers will already be familiar with Mike Mason excellent”God” deck, which paired Cursed Totem together with Glittering Lynx and Glittering Lion for an impressive army. Also, consider some creatures from the countermeasures list below.
Countermeasures: Please note that comes-into-play abilities (including those paid for by kicker cost) are NOT activated abilities, and Cursed Totem does not affect them. Ditto triggered abilities, like the one on Plague Spitter.
21. LEGACY WEAPON
[7cc Artifact. WGRBU: Remove target permanent from the game. If Legacy Weapon would be put into the graveyard from anywhere, shuffle it back into your library instead.]
The first true”rattlesnake” card on the list, Legacy Weapon is a late-game nightmare. You need a large amount and a very specific type of mana to make this card as truly frightening as it can be; but as soon as you hit two of every color, you are sending out a blistering signal. Of course, like several of the cards low on this list (including the next one), its activation cost essentially limits you to one activation per round, 95% of the time. That means you will have to choose wisely from a wide assortment of permanents that are all looking at you rather unfavorably, now.
Enhancements: Really, the only thing this card wants is lots of colored mana. Your best enhancement is Harrow. See also milling possibility in Worry Beads, above.
Countermeasures: Orim’s Thunder is cute, but you need to get this thing out of the game. The easiest way is direct damage: Make the Legacy mage remove your lands, one by one, and maybe another threat will punch its way through and eliminate both player and artifact for good. A less satisfying but still effective method is Confiscate; you’re unlikely to activate it yourself, but at least you’ve taken the beast out of the running. Splinter is, of course, the universal solution (and is rather obviously good for everything else on this list).
20. DRAGON ARCH
[5cc Artifact. 2, Tap: Put a multicolored creature card from your hand into play.]
Similar cards: Quicksilver Amulet and Belbe’s Portal also, for differing conditions and mana costs, put creature cards into play at instant speed.
Here is a card that knows exactly how it wants to be played in group. You lay this down when you have seven mana, so that the two remaining mana are ready to activate. And then you wait. Dragon Arch threatens everything from Nebuchadnezzar to Mystic Snake. You might put out something board-clearing, or incredibly surprising, or something as mundane as a Llanowar Knight to stop the Phyrexian Scuta heading for your skull. The point is, no one attacks you when you have this in play, two mana untapped, and a card in your hand. Not unless they’re the mad chemist type, or are attacking you with Cromat. Speaking of which…
Enhancements: I normally don’t use one column to promote another, but I’m really proud of the Cromat deck I built for Scrye 8.6 (forthcoming). If you have the time and inclination, check it out. I do need to let them keep SOMETHING for their first-print rights, though, so I’ll have to leave it at this teaser.
Countermeasures: Since the Arch must tap to activate, a little baiting is in order. Don’t be afraid to attack if you’re the first player to the Arch’s left and have an answer or two: the Arch player has to account for several opponents, and has to pick the best moment for the activation. A Waterfront Bouncer or Erratic Portal, of course, sends your own special signal back to the Arch player.
19. 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 allows for offensive, mana-reducible pumping.
Plankton and Rattlesnake elements don’t often go together. But here it is:”Hey, man, if you tick me off, I’m gonna… I’m gonna… I’m gonna HELP EVERYONE!”
Of course, Thran Weaponry is best considered garbage in any format; but in chaos, it’s interesting garbage. In coordinated team play, it could be downright decent.
Enhancements: The ability to tap (or, more to the point, untap) Thran Weaponry at instant speed would be valuable. See Mind Over Matter, Icy Manipulator, Voltaic Key, and so on. Also, trampling creatures hold the complicated Thran Weaponry at better angles than do non-trampling creatures.
Countermeasures: You only want to stop the Thran Weaponry if you have a creature disadvantage. Most decks that regularly have a creature disadvantage are white-blue control decks. I’m sure they can come up with something to stop a creature-enhancing artifact, somewhere.
18. STORM CAULDRON
[5cc Artifact. Each player may play an additional land during his or her turn. Whenever a land is tapped for mana, return it to its owner’s hand.]
Everyone has to use land. And you set some interesting rules about land use when you lay down this card. Incredibly unpredictable, and lots of fun, the Cauldron does occasionally annoy players enough for them to resent you a bit. Be ready for an eventual backlash.
Enhancements: Dirtcowl Wurm is very exciting with this card. So is Burgeoning. Ankh of Mishra will get you a few looks.
Countermeasures: The Storm Cauldron should be an opportunity for you to practice good deck-building skills. Seek alternate sources of mana. Keep your spells cheap and efficient. Play X spells sparingly. And use instants over sorceries 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.]
A miserable plague on most multiplayer groups, the Smokestack can be put to creative use. I mean, if you just want to get rid of creatures, just play a Wrath of God and be done with it. But if you want to watch creatures, and everything else, go away slowly and with some sort of purpose, then edge up the number of counters on Smokestack until you get to the critical point: Where no one can do more than play a land and enough permanent to keep pace with your little sadistic exercise machine, and you have enough of an advantage to get your work done. And if someone feels like catching up, they have to contend with the prospect of having you put ANOTHER counter on next turn.
Enhancements: Breeding Pit and Night Soil are probably the best way for you to generate tokens. Nice one-off generators include Artifact Mutation and the other Invasion block”Saproling mutation” cards. The question remains: Why are you playing with Smokestack? To kill tokens one or two at a time? You need a card that triggers upon a permanent going into the graveyard, or coming into play. That’s why I wouldn’t mind seeing Abyssal Gatekeeper, Grave Pact, and/or Tainted Aether with this card. These cards will give you an advantage upon each occurrence of Smokestack affecting you. That gives it some added value.
Countermeasures: Land Tax will probably come in handy. Also for consideration, though I am loathe to say it: Lifeline.
16. 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.]
The more people there are in a game, the more impact Angel’s Trumpet has, because it gets everyone attacking just so they can avoid damage. Weaker players get hit repeatedly, and leave the game early. Players with walls get fricasseed by their own inactivity. A truly aggressive artifact, which is a rare and beautiful thing.
Enhancements: Do not play with creatures that already do not tap to attack – that is an inefficient use of the mana you spent on that ability. Haste is a far more important ability. Play this in a red deck, where it belongs.
Countermeasures: Regenerators are a somewhat poor solution (since you’ll be the only person with tapped creatures), but they’re superior to walls in that you can attack even the most imposing barrier and survive, without taking damage. Otherwise, note that Tormented Angel is better than Wall of Air.
15. 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.]
One of the truly unique cards in Magic. That doesn’t mean it’s good; it just means it does things that other cards typically don’t. At its base, it punishes those decks with expensive spells and sorceries, and rewards those decks with cheap spells and instants.
And it’s a real boon to those freaky people who can memorize every card they’ve drawn in their deck so they can eventually calculate the entire card order of their deck. But most of those people have been run over by runaway carnival geek caravans, ironically enough.
Enhancements: Cards that penalize card-drawing (Underworld Dreams, Phyrexian Tyranny) are the first place to look.
Countermeasures: Worth investigating: Cantrips and cyclers that let you get BACK to those good cards you just put at the bottom of your deck, faster.
14. JINXED IDOL
[2cc Artifact. During your upkeep, Jinxed Idol does 2 damage to you. Sacrifice a creature: target opponent gains control of Jinxed Idol permanently.]
Similar cards: Jinxed Ring penalizes losing cards to the graveyard; you sack a creature to donate it as well.
If you are in the right board situation, you can foist Idol off effectively over and over again. But you need that board position. Otherwise, you’re just playing the Idol for fun, and the more players you have the better: Who will player A hand it off to? Where does it go from there? Usually it settles down between two or three players pretty quickly; but in the meantime everyone is benefiting from the lesson in instant speed effect resolution.
Enhancements: Grave Pact is my perennial favorite with this card. Also for consideration: Echo creatures like Bone Shredder and Ghitu Slinger. Token generators from Verdant Force to Aether Mutation are also good deals.
Countermeasures: Having at least one more creature than most of your opponents is usually sufficient. Creatureless decks (especially black creatureless decks, and yes, I’ve seen them stuck with an Idol), beware! This is a humiliating way to die.
[3cc Artifact. Whenever a creature attacks, Caltrops deals one damage to it.]
People are paying attention to this card again since Powerstone Minefield was released in Apocalypse. (The Minefield is, actually, more interesting.) I do prefer cards that let you decide for yourself when you deal damage to creatures; but this is still a terrific card.
Enhancements: Make each hit mortal with Death Pits of Rath, or Fatal Blow. Add Repercussion to hold back large swarms. Throw in a Bullwhip or Imp’s Taunt to induce unfavorable attacks.
Countermeasures: Lashknife Barrier isn’t just good in Sealed deck.
12. WINTER ORB
[2cc Artifact. Players may not untap more than one land during their untap phase.]
An absolutely gut-spinning slowdown for virtually any game where it’s played. While my group doesn’t ban legal Type I cards, it has been a long time since anyone felt it necessary to put this monstrosity on the board. Unsubtle, unforgiving, and unbelievably effective. It’s occasionally difficult to time it so that you can surprise every single opponent when their mana is completely tapped; but it’s good enough to trap half of them, and let the other half sweat out how they’ll play the rest of the game.
Enhancements: Stasis and Winter Orb is the classic, highly-despised combo. Many Prophecy cards look a bit cleverer with an Orb out – particularly Mungha Wurm, Rhystic Syphon (you could use the life), and Chimeric Idol.
Countermeasures: Like most mana denial strategies, Winter Orb decks roll over and die to players who are smart enough to keep a few artifact or creature sources of mana. Alternate casting cost spells like Fireblast were designed to sack tapped lands. Also, bear in mind that creatures can keep swinging. Awakening is green’s ever-popular solution to many”Stasis-style” effects.
11. PHYREXIAN SPLICER
[2cc Artifact. 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.]
The Splicer is an often underrated card that is great even if there’s only one of the relevant abilities represented at the table. It makes combat situations unpredictable and fun, and is best used on someone else’s turn.
Enhancements. Flyers tend to come streaming at you when the Splicer is tapped; be ready with Emerald Charms. Also, if it’s your own creatures you are gracing with new abilities, you’ll probably benefit from pumping them; the best tool here is Ghitu War Cry.
Countermeasures. Careful play is the best remedy. Attack only when your creatures can afford an ability setback, even if you’re leaving the Splicer mage alone. Working around the Splicer is not horribly difficult; you’re only on a clock if you’re being relentlessly pounded by a large creature with”neo-shadow.” Spot removal is typically sufficient.
Pre-Top Ten Stretch: The Artifact Deck In Multiplayer
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve cut down on the number of play anecdotes and decklists. I’ll still do a few throughout the Hall; but after nearly 100 Casual Fridays columns, it becomes hard to continually come up with new play situations to share with everyone. Fortunately, one thing I can still do is give some fresh ideas, before we hit the top ten, on how to best leverage artifacts in group decks.
To understand artifacts, you have to understand, of all things, Invasion block gold cards. Cards like Spiritmonger, Death Grasp, and Meddling Mage offer low converted mana costs for the ability(ies) you get with the spell. Since you need very specific mana, you get rewarded with a better result.
With artifacts, the reverse is true. You can throw any old mana at it. So why should you get something so special? Artifact creatures like Phyrexian Hulk and Hopping Automaton are often truly pathetic, serving as Grey Ogre-style benchmarks to make colored creatures look better by comparison.
The reason Urza’s Block artifacts like Masticore annoyed so many people wasn’t because they were so powerful (although they were). The reason was, every deck could run four. Green beatdown or blue control, red land destruction or black recursion, it didn’t matter. Masticores became staples, like basic lands.
This is important to understand when building a group deck that uses a lot of artifacts. Your artifacts either have to buck the underpowered trend, like Masticore and Bottle Gnomes, or serve a very specific purpose, like Teferi’s Puzzle Box or Caltrops. There are some wonderful multiplayer artifact deck possibilities, and as long as you are comfortable with the possibility of a Meltdown, Aura Shards, or Purify wrecking your day, you could try one of at least three avenues:
First, you could try mixing with blue for control. Strategies here range from creatureless Caltrops decks to retreads of old Type II Masticore–Morphling decks to funky Evacuation decks combined with zero-casting cost creatures.
Second, you could try mixing with white for color games. My favorite trick here is using Wishmonger with artifact creatures. But you can also envision decks that give your creatures protection from white (to make them Disenchant-proof), or using Fountain Watch or Hanna’s Custody to give your army an invincible tinge.
Third, you could try a pure artifact strategy. Here, stacking up the mana with Urza’s lands and Mishra’s Workshop is key. You’ll need it for your Rocket Launcher, Masticore, and even to untap your Colossus of Sardia.
Of course, you can mix artifacts with any color. There are more ideas out there; let’s look at a few of them as we enter the top ten:
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.
While Copper Tablet is a more ruthless and reliable solution for many decks that want to deal universal damage, Armageddon Clock is a more fun multiplayer option. It serves as a threat, opportunity, and chicken game, all in one piece. It even contains a tiny element of surprise value, depending on how players react to it.
Enhancements: Folks will guess Circle of Protection: Artifacts rather easily – but honestly, I’d rather see a deck that’s less fragile in the face of flexible permanent removal. Adding an old-school Bottle Gnomes/Corpse Dance combination will help you stay ahead in the life game, without worrying about whether your on-board combo can stay put. Then you can focus on getting multiple Clocks out, so that opponents have a harder time paying enough mana to stop the ticking.
Countermeasures: Beyond having plenty of mana, simple life gain will help you compete with the wily artifact mage.
9. BARBED WIRE
[3cc Artifact. 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.]
Because of its fantastic versatility in team play, Barbed Wire stands a notch ahead of Armageddon Clock (and Copper Tablet). A mark of pure control decks, the Wire likes to ping away at opponents while another lock is in place.
Enhancements: A Furnace of Rath will increase the damage nicely. A Sol Ring is the perfect way to pay the prevention cost.
Countermeasures: Barbed Wire, on its own, is not dangerous. Whatever is being used to lock down the board so that the Wire can outrace your own strategy…that’s the dangerous part. It’s usually better to stop those complex machinations, anyway, and completely remove the Wire player from the flow of the game.
[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.]
Similar cards. Rackling is the opposite number, penalizing empty hands. Iron Maiden and Wheel of Torture are the non-creature artifact versions of these cards. They are both based on classics, Black Vise and The Rack.
Viseling and Rackling gave hand-size manipulation decks the final tools they needed to thrive in multiplayer environments: A creature that can fill four slots and still fit the theme of the deck. While hitting all opponents, they hit unevenly, and so are ranked highly less for their actual effect on the game than they are for the possibilities they open up, and the other cards (Prosperity, Bottomless Pit) they make better.
Enhancements: I’ve documented Pete’s Viseling deck before (Prosperity, Indentured Djinn, Evacuation, Howling Mine). Black discard works well with the Rackling, of course. Liberate and Parallax Wave are both interesting ways to save these valuable but fragile creatures; consider a splash of white.
Countermeasures: Artifact creatures are perhaps the most easily removed permanents in Magic. Your own instincts will serve you just fine, here. (But if you want an fun hint, why not steal the damn things – Dominate should do nicely – and let them hit their owner?)
7. HORN OF GREED
[3cc Artifact. Whenever a player plays a land, that player draws a card.]
The first of three”big plankton” artifacts in the top ten, Horn of Greed rewards players simply for playing lands. Looks innocent enough, right?
Enhancements: Well, let’s see, we just got through talking about an artifact creature that penalizes people for having too many cards in their hand… Or, you can play Burgeoning and take extra advantage of the party. Pete is experimenting with a deck using Horn of Greed as a complement to the Sunder – Blood Oath combo that some people toyed with back during the release of Masques.
Countermeasures: You don’t want to fight this; just make it work for you. Now’s a good time to play Land Tax, or lie in wait with an Armageddon as everyone overextends their lands.
6. HELM OF AWAKENING
[2cc Artifact. All spells cost 1 less to play.]
Arguably a greater impact on the game than Horn of Greed, the Helm gives people the ability to play two spells per turn more often than they should. That speeds things along nicely, and wreaks havoc on control players’ schemes. I suppose I like that.
Enhancements: There is no obvious route for abuse of the Helm; 95% of the time you’re playing it just to speed the game up. The other 5% of the time, you’re playing an obnoxious combo deck that requires being able to play 1,000 spells in a given turn. Bear in mind that the more splashable the spell, the more reliably its cost goes down further with more than one Helm out.
Countermeasures: Just enjoy the ride.
5. HOWLING MINE
[2cc Artifact. During each player’s draw step, that player draws an additional card.]
Similar cards: Well of Knowledge gives each player an opportunity to pay mana for more cards.
The last of the three”big plankton” cards on the list, Howling Mine is one of the first cards new players learn about in group play. Who Disenchants a Howling Mine? Crochety old men and ne’er-do-wells, that’s who.
Enhancements: Accelerates decking strategies, and improves Viseling decks. But many decks are just content to let it get the game moving, independent of the rest of their deck.
Countermeasures: Look at the Mine player, not the Mine. If there’s no decking or Viseling there, just let it be.
4. BEAST OF BURDEN
[6cc, */* Artifact Creature. * equals the number of creatures in play.]
The best artifact creature in the group game. Still obnoxiously fragile, the Beast is a deal-with-me-or-die creature. Controllers, please attack correctly: Kill the opponents WITHOUT creatures first, and save those with lots of squirrel tokens for later.
Enhancements: Creatures or other spells that create more creatures are best. Verdant Force is a nightmare, even without a Beast on the table. Liege of Hollows, Questing Pheldagriff, Mogg Infestation, and many other token-generators are excellent choices.
Countermeasures: If you calculate an Earthquake correctly, you can take out everything but the Beast, and then watch the Beast die as it shrinks after damage is dealt and its groupies die.
3. ENSNARING BRIDGE
[3cc Artifact. Each creature with power greater than the number of cards in your hand cannot attack.]
Guaranteed to stop at least half of the players you face in any given chaos game, the Bridge is moving to cult classic status rather rapidly. Since it stops even untargetable creatures (as long as they fit the card’s criteria), it even stops the mighty Multani.
Enhancements: Self-discard like Patchwork Gnomes and spellshapers. Consider group discard, as well. The Bridge is not a path to victory in and of itself; you’ll need to use routes like Angel’s Trumpet. Pumping low-power creatures (Vampire Bats, Killer Bees, Dragon Engine, and my latest favorite, Utopia Tree) is a dirty but effective trick.
Countermeasures: Red is fantastic against so many artifact decks, even if you never pack a Viashino Heretic. Since so many of these artifacts reinforce control strategies and focus on creatures, a direct burn approach can do wonders. Blue mages could try Prosperity or Opportunity to enlarge the Bridge controller’s hand. Green mages could try to sneak through with squirrels or Saprolings.
[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.]
The other half of the amazing Stronghold artifact duo (along with the Bridge above), Portcullis is a bit of a beneficiary of my new rating system. I had the Bridge ranked higher in previous lists; but upon seeing all of the amazing ways that the Portcullis can be used, I have to admit it is a more versatile, and in many ways superior, card to the Bridge. The main difference, of course, is that the Bridge can deal with creatures already in play, while the Portcullis does nothing against a pre-existing army. Do not be afraid to play it early; and have a way of protecting it, bringing it back, or finding another one in a hurry.
It has become something of a Hall of Fame tradition for me to present all of the official rulings on Portcullis. Really, the card isn’t that difficult to understand – and unlike Lifeline, most of what you need to know is printed on the card. Savvy players can do amazing things with the stack.
* 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.
The most amazing thing I’ve seen with Portcullis in play happened only a month ago. I’m in a five-way chaos. Pete’s got a Portcullis out. I’ve got a Pernicious Deed out (and enough mana to blow the Portcullis, and a great deal else).
Toim plays Ghitu Fire, or some other horrific burn spell, on me. I counter it with Mystic Snake. The Snake comes in, counters the Fire, sees the Portcullis (along with a slew of Goblins already in play, and then slithers off to the sidelines.
I now realize what a wonderful situation I have. Not only can I blow up the board when I get uncomfortable, but I can do it in response to a spell I don’t like! If, say, Armageddon were to be played, it would go on the stack. I would blow the Deed for at least four, triggering the collapse of the Portcullis and the return of all removed creatures back into play. The Snake would come in and dutifully look for a spell on the stack to counter – say, the Armageddon. How delightful!
Enhancements: What, weren’t you just listening?!?! Also consider Hurkyll’s Recall or Vision Charm to play games with the Portcullis. Comes-into-play creatures are, of course, your basic staple.
Countermeasures: The most elegant is the Uktabi Orangutan, who with careful stack management will come into play, smash the Portcullis, leave play, come back into play immediately, and smash something else the Portcullis mage had that you didn’t like.
Or just burn the guy out.
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.
To me, the rattlesnake and gorilla aspects are the two most important aspects in multiplayer: what threats can you make, and how big are those threats? Few answer these questions as fully as Nevinyrral’s Disk. By wiping out everything but lands, the Disk clears the board without destroying the fun of the game. More mature players who held a few cards back will be fine, in time. Newer players who overextended will learn a valuable lesson. Often, the Disk doesn’t slow down the game as much as it accelerates it, by getting rid of a lot of unnecessary noise. It’s a shame it comes into play tapped…if only Wizards had made a version that came into play untapped!… Hmmmmm….
Enhancements and Countermeasures. They’re identical for the Disk: bounce, regeneration, and conservative play. That’s all you need to know.