From Right Field: Oh, Dang, I Missed Again

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With a Standard rotation much closer than we’d perhaps like, Chris takes a timely look at the cards of Kamigawa that have passed us by. With a little re-evaluation, and maybe a kick up the rear from Coldsnap, are these forgotten gems now ready to shine on like crazy diamonds?

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Dark Confidant, Sacred Foundry, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks “set in stone” or “done.” If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

As you may know from reading my previous columns, I was a writer of some renown back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Even if you didn’t know my name, you knew something that I created. I had a number-one, best-selling, young-adult, fantasy novel (The Dragon in My Pocket) as well as a top-selling self-help book (How to Get Your Schwerve On). I was one of the writers for two Emmy-Award-winning comedies, Not in My Backyard and Whachoo Talkin’ ‘Bout, Wilford?, the latter starring the not-yet-late Wilford Brimley as a veteran reincarnated as an “inner-city youth” adopted by Montana ranchers. I was also the head writer and producer for the Golden Globe-nominated political drama The Showdown, about a presidential election that lasted for five years. Thanks to my successful writing career, I am supremely qualified to write about Magic. Makes sense, right?

Some people don’t see the connection, though. “Uh, hullo? How are you qualified to write about Magic? You’ve never done anything remotely successful regarding Magic. Heck, you couldn’t even win your Battle Royale match even though, as Talen Lee put it, that whole thing ‘[o]riginally started as a kick-start to Chris Romeo‘s ego.’” Ouch, huh? Ha ha ha ha ha! Feh.

Uh, hullo? I’m qualified to write about Magic because it’s writing. Duh. I’m a writer. I’m qualified to write. Subject matter isn’t the concern. I could write microbiology text books, scripts for Outdoor Life Network shows about the best way to live off of the land for free, or jokes for the stand-up comedians on Last Comic Standing. It’s all writing. Not a tough concept. Sheesh.

This writing expertise — or, as we in the biz call it, “know-how” — is why I often have seemingly random quotes (of course, they seem random to you, but that’s because you’re not A Professional Writer) peppered throughout my columns. You probably can’t tell from some of my own rambling writings, but I am impressed with brief, witty quips and dialogue. Eric Clapton once said that his perfect concert would be one in which he played only a single note, everyone cried, and he walked off the stage. I want to do that. Some day, I’ll write a perfect, witty remark and then just walk away. Until then, I’ll quote other, better, wittier writers.

Part of the reason that I like to flash these quotes is to impress you with my knowledge of a broad range of subjects. (Really, it’s as easy as copying and pasting, but you didn’t know that until I told you!) Another reason is that a lot of great witticisms go virtually unread Into the Aether. I feel it’s my job to let you know about them. For example, Mike Berardino, writing in The Sporting News about how good rookie Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon’s been in 2006 said “[i]n his first 29 outings, Papelbon had an ERA of 0.30. That’s not an ERA; that’s a blood-alcohol level at spring break.” Now, that, my friends, is true wit. And if you’re, say, an Esteemed Editor from England, you’ll just have to trust me. That’s good stuff.

I don’t like it when talent and wit go to waste. Just like I don’t like it when certain cards run into and out of Standard without anyone ever really using them. Kamigawa block is about to rotate out of Standard. Okay, in about two months. Still, it’s going to go away. Yes, it’s going to take with it the Dragon Legends and Sakura-Tribe Elder and Sensei’s Divining Top and, um, I’m sure there are others. Often, the reason we don’t even look at the other cards is that the ones at the top of the heap are so shiny and wonderful that we simply don’t try to make the others work. Other times, it’s simply that a Block has one of two decks in it that are so completely overwhelming, like the Mirrodin-inspired/heavy Tooth and Nail, Ravager Affinity, and MUC decks, that the other cards literally have no way to compete. (Man, was it tough to come up with decks for this column back then. *whew*) Kamigawa Block, though, is the former. In other words, there are a lot of diamonds in the rough.

Why bring this up now, though? Don’t I normally do this right before a set rotates out of Standard? You are correct! I see that someone pays attention to my columns. I’ve decided to do this now because Coldsnap becomes Standard legal in a few days. While Coldsnap and Kamigawa won’t spend much time together in Standard, it’s still two months. Why, that’s longer than some of Britney Spears‘ marriages lasted! (See? I tolja I could write stand-up.)

The fly has nothing to fear from the spider’s web. Only from the spider. — Japanese proverb

Sometimes, when I write these columns, people post in forums something like “It’s not true that no one used that card. Why, I played it in a deck once, right after the set was released at a Friday Night Magic tournament.” Obviously, somewhere, someone has used every single Magic card ever, including Aven Trooper. What I’m talking about are cards that rarely got used regularly in tournament decks but should have. Cards like these…

Akuta, Born of Ash
I would think that a nearly eternal (remove-from-the-game effects aside) 3/2 with Haste would have been used a lot more than it was. True, you had to have more cards in hand than your opponent (is that hard for Black to do?) and you had to sacrifice a Swamp to reanimate it. I just don’t think it should have been that hard to make this work.

Ashen Monstrosity
Isn’t a 7/4 with Haste for seven mana a good deal? I thought that it was. I guess it flopped because of the “drawback” that it has. You know, the one where it has to attack each turn. Huh? Drawback? If you ever drew this guy and thought, “dang, I wished he could block,” then you were in a very bad way already. It wasn’t this guy’s fault that you were already getting mauled.

Ashes of the Fallen
Obviously, this card was designed for Kamigawa Block so that you could call “Spirit” and use Soulshift to bring back non-Spirits like Sakura-Tribe Elder, Eternal Witness, and Helga. No one bit. Now, you have two months to use it with Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, calling “Knight.” FWIW, as the ‘net kids would say, I’ve tried it. It’s as nuts as Tom Cruise.

Ayumi, the Last Visitor
“Wow, with that Legendary Landwalk ability, she’s a really good sideboard card!” Wow, with that 7/3 body for five mana, she’s a great maindeck card!

A great Magic player named Matt Frazier once suggested that, whenever I was building a Green deck and couldn’t figure out the last couple of cards to add, “Use Creeping Mold. It will always have a target.” Befoul will always have a target, too. In addition, with the advent of the Legendary lands in Kamigawa Block, the Ravnica dual lands, the Ravnica Karoo lands, and the Ravnica Annoying Uncommon lands (e.g. Bitchu-Ghazi, Prix Maadi), there are a ton of lands to hit. And that’s only half of what this card does.

Blind with Anger
This one is a borderline call. It was actually used in some sideboards during the Summer KBC season. It tended to be eschewed, though, because of the fact that it had to grab a non-Legend. Often, the only non-Legend on board was a Sakura-Tribe Elder, and that would be quickly sacrificed to the cause in response. Interestingly, Blind with Anger, an Instant, isn’t played at all anymore, but the Sorcery Threaten is. Is one mana really that big of a deal when it’s the difference between “any time” and “only sometimes”? I guess it is.

Blood Clock
As far as I know, only Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar even tried to make a deck featuring this card. It wasn’t easy to make it work; but then again, clock building is never easy. It should have been a great control card. It just wasn’t worked on enough.

Call to Glory
This card points to one of the problems that many unused and unloved cards have. Its very wording makes it seem like it can only be used by Samurai decks. Untrue. It untaps all of your creatures. Samurai, however, get a bonus. Let’s be honest with ourselves, too. It’s not like making a good Samurai deck was hard.

Chisei, Heart of Oceans
Dissension gave us Graft which is a Blue and Green ability. Graft gives you +1/+1 counters. This guy eats them in return for being a 4/4 flier for four mana. Looks like a match made in heaven to me.

Cunning Bandit
Maybe I’m just a sucker for Red cards that steal creatures. (“Ya think?!?” — Chris, beating Craig to the punch). I mean, the other guy almost always has better creatures than I do. Might as well use them if I can. I know that this guy needs several SpArc cards around him to really make him hum, but those shouldn’t have been hard to find. Red, after all, was the color of Glacial Ray and Blind with Anger.

Curtain of Light
I thought that this was one of the most elegant cards in the Block. Simple and cheap, Curtain of Light did something that your creatures sometimes couldn’t do. It could stop an unstoppable creature without costing you anything because it replaced itself by drawing a card. Great against landwalkers.

Death Denied
Any spell with X in it should be looked at more than once. Death Denied may be the best Raise Dead revision ever. Unlike Raise Dead, it’s an Instant. Unlike Raise Dead or other Instant-timed versions, you can bring back as many creatures as you can afford to pay for. I need to remember this next time I come up for the Battle Royale (presuming Kamigawa is still Standard legal).

Final Judgment
This was the first Betrayers rare that I made sure that I got four of. Yes, it’s fifty per cent more expensive to cast than Wrath of God. In return, the creatures it kills go away forever. At a time when a bunch of creatures (mostly Dragon Legends) have goes-to-the-‘yard triggered abilities, it’s worth the extra two mana.

Forked-Branch Garami
In a game of resource management like Magic, anything that negates a disadvantage is an edge. Creatures dying is a disadvantage. You had a creature, and then you didn’t. Soulshift helped negate that by allowing you to bring back a creature to your hand. One dies, and it can be replaced by one that’s (usually) a bit smaller. Forked-Branch Garami upped the ante by using double Soulshift to not only negate the disadvantage but to create an advantage. “Kill me, and I might bring back two creatures, not just one.” Countless times, people let this guy through because killing him was worse, knowing what I had in my ‘yard. Letting a 4/4 waltz on through is not a good idea for very long.

The Hondens
If you don’t know how I feel about these then you clearly don’t read my column regularly and should be doomed to read nothing but Richie Rich and Maxim for the rest of your life.

Jetting Glasskite, Shimmering Glasskite, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Creatures that can protect themselves are A Good Thing. Look at how much play Eight-and-a-Half-Tails got. Don’t even worry about mentioning Morphling. Those two, however, needed mana to protect themselves. Kira & Co. do it once per turn for free.

Jiwari, the Earth Aflame
I love Arashi, the Sky Asunder. So did a lot of folks. It even got some maindeck love. Jiwari, though, not so much, and I still can’t figure out why. It can wipe out hordes of ground troops in an essentially uncounterable manner. Yet, it was rarely used even in sideboards. I don’t get it.

Kiku, Night’s Flower
Tiny 1/1 creatures with huge abilities are part of Magic’s mythology. Still, I keep forgetting about them just like you do, mostly because they’re so fragile. Whenever I think that, though, I’m reminded of what my friend Karl Allen said when I belittled Grim Lavamancer.

“He’s a 1/1. He’s so very easy to deal with,” I said, resolute in my argument.

“Yeah,” he replied with that impish smile of his, “but they have to deal with him, don’t they?”

Right then, it clicked for me. A creature might be small or easy to deal with, but, if it’s dangerous enough, your opponent must use the resources he or she can to get rid of it or risk defeat. To me, Kiku was one of those. For her entire life in Standard, there weren’t but a handful of creatures that she couldn’t kill. Some, like Kodama of the North Tree, were untargetable and weren’t going to get killed by targeted removal anyway. Another small group consisting of the likes of Birds of Paradise, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, and Arc-Slogger, had toughness greater than their power. The vast majority of creatures, though, from Kokusho down to Llanowar Elves, simply wither at her touch. Deal with Kiku, or she will rule the board.

Masako the Humorless
Masako is possibly the best and most-underused trick that White had for two years. What’s interested me most in those two years is that a single Masako usually tricks my opponents twice. To set the stage, my entire team is tapped having swung through untouched during my turn. (They let the 1/1’s and 2/2’s through because, well, White has tricks up its sleeves.) My opponent swings back, thinking their whole army is getting through unimpeded, when down comes Masako. All of a sudden, my team of sleeping Samurai, some with Bushido, some with first strike, can take some of his out on defense. OMG WTF?!? Trick number one was that Instant play of Masako. On my next turn, I swing again. Of course, the other team is quite diminished, and what’s left is tapped. So, we’re getting through again. On his turn, seeing that my hand is empty, he swings back. Hellooooo? Masako’s still on board. My tapped guys can still block. Surprisingly, this happens very often.

Molting Skin
When I got into the game in December of 1999, Rath Block (Tempest, Stronghold, and Exodus) had just turned a year old, kinda like Ravnica Block will be in a couple of months. Tempest contained a card called Broken Fall, of which Molting Skin is an exact reprint except for the name. I loved Broken Fall. It was nearly impossible to remove. As long as there was a creature in play that it could target, you could return it to your hand. It also played very nicely with Verduran Enchantress and Argothian Enchantress. Cast Broken Fall, draw two cards, bring it back by regenerating the Verduran Enchantress, cast it again, draw two cards, and keep going until you draw out your deck. Where was I going with this? I forget.

Murmurs from Beyond
Good, Instant-timed card drawing is going the way of “God-given talent,” high-carb diets, and two-dollar-per-gallon gasoline. This one, though, ain’t too shabby. For three mana, only one of which is Blue (can you say “splashable”?), you get to dig three cards deeper into your library. The drawback, of course, is that your opponent is going to dump the best one into your graveyard. You know what’s so sad? There’s no way to get stuff out of the graveyard anymore nor any way to make cards in the ‘yard work for you. :frowney face:

Oni of Wild Places
If this guy was just a 6/5 with Haste for six mana, he’d have been underutilized. The fact is, though, that he’s much more. That requirement to return a Red creature to your hand during your upkeep allows you to do as many st00pid tricks as Stampeding Serow does. The difference is that, while Green’s creatures are digging out Forests when they hit play, Red’s like to deal damage and kill things they come into play.

Ornate Kanzashi
I remember the first time that I played this against somebody. He seemed very happy, for some reason. “That’s a waste. You won’t be able to deck me before I beat you, and we’re playing completely different colors.” (I was in Blue and Black. He was White and Red.) “You won’t be able to play any of my spells. What a horrible card!” Until I hit one of his Sacred Foundries. That’s when he realized that I could play both my spells and his.

Orochi Hatchery
This is the kind of card that is deceptive because it names a creature type and a color, but it’s an artifact. I think most people saw “Green Snake” and disregarded it because Green had better, faster ways to make Green Snakes, Snakes that actually did something, like Sakura-Tribe Elder and, um, others. I’m sure there are others. I found this card to be best not in a Snakes deck but in a control deck, one that could deal with everything and then lay this out with X at five or six.

Pain Kami
Any creature that can kill any other creature has to be looked at twice. I don’t think anyone gave this li’l guy that kind of fair shake. That’s especially disappointing since he can be used the turn he hits play. To paraphrase the great Phil Collins’ album title, No Tapping Required.

Patron of the Nezumi
All of the Patrons were pretty sweet. The Patron of the Akki, for example, was a huge boost to Goblins on the attack, something that Goblins like to do a lot. The Rat Patron, though, is the one that I feel was most underrated. It could end games while just sitting there as an opponent’s stuff died. That’s just too good.

Plow Through Reito
I found this card to be useful in two cases. First, the most obvious: pumping up a dude as a surprise. Second, I also found it was excellent anti-Wildfire tech on two fronts. Not only could it save a creature from the damage, but it also allowed you to snatch back up lands that could be played on upcoming turns. Any card that can do both of those things is one that should have seen more play.

Ryusei, the Falling Star
Ryusei was one of the two Dragon Legends (along with Jugan, the Rising Star) who didn’t get much love. Frankly, I don’t get it. When he dies, Ryusei is going to take out any of the ground forces with a power of five or less. He fights well with the other Dragon Legends. I just don’t get it.

Sire of the Storm
I know that six mana for a 3/3 flier is not a good deal at all. In contrast, Mahamoti Djinn is a 5/6 flier for the exact same casting cost. Heck, the card I listed right above this one is a 5/5 flier with Earthquake for five when it dies, and it only costs six mana, too. These negatives were why I’m sure this only made a splash in Limited. It shouldn’t have been restricted to being good in only that format. Look at that second ability: “Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, you may draw a card.” (Now you get why I threw that in on my review of Kjeldoran Gargoyle last week.) Drawing cards is A Good Thing for reasons that we all know. I will trade recurring card-drawing for a little bit of power and toughness any day.

Stampeding Serow
I’ve beat this particular drum a lot. So, I’ll just reiterate: a 5/4 Trampler for four mana. With a “drawback” that isn’t.

Swallowing Plague
I know that it’s not Consume Spirit because it only hits creatures. However, you can use any color of mana for X. I fear, though, that I did more harm than good for this card’s future when I used it during my mana-hosed match with Richard Feldman in round 1 of the SCG Writers’ MTGO Battle Royale. Oh, well. If you’re not using a card because Chris Romeo lost to a Pro Tour Playa while playing a deck that used said card, you’re a d00fus.

Wear Away
I still see people playing mostly – or all – Green decks who use Naturalize instead of this. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Joshua X. “Kentucky State Champ. And You, Mr. Romeo?” Claytor.) Even if you only get to do the Splice thing once in a match, that’s still better than you’ll ever be able to do with Naturalize.

Wicked Akuba
Grizzly Bear: that’s the term we Magic folks like to use for 2/2 creatures that cost two mana. It’s usually modified, though, since a 2/2 alone for two mana isn’t all that great. It’s efficient. It’s better than being a Gray Ogre (a 2/2 for three mana). Not great. We like to add other abilities. Gaea’s Skyfolk was a Grizzly Beat with flying. This guy is one of the strongest Grizzly Bears ever. All he has to do is hit the other guy, and some major pain ensues. Of course, he needs to get through the other guy’s defenses. Gosh, if only Black had a way to kill creatures…

Yamabushi’s Flame
This card actually suffers more from The Shiny New Syndrome than from not being used enough. When it was released in Champions, we liked it just fine. Three damage to a player or creature for three mana with Instant timing and which removed a creature from the game was very, very good. All this was wrapped up in a common. Then, we got a Shiny New Toy in Char. It was four damage to a creature or player for the same three mana, and with the same Instant timing. So what if it dealt two damage to us, too? Actually, that’s what. (Also, Char’s a fairly expensive rare.)

Now, you have two months to use and abuse these cards in Standard. You can even play them with Coldsnap come August 20th. As cards that haven’t been given much attention, they are surely going to reward you with tricks beyond your wildest dreams. I can feel it.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. In case it slipped by you as it did me, both Pinky & The Brain, Season One and Animaniacs, Season One are now out on DVD. Go get ‘em. What are you sitting there for? Run!

Chris Romeo