A lot of casual players can’t see spending $12.00 for a playset of cards. “Why should I pay that much when I can just get packs?” they ask.
The honest answer is that what’s in those packs is quite often junk to you. Sure, you’re happy to get a Gustrider Exuberant in the early days of your Magic collecting, when just having any White creatures is a thrill…. But shortly after that, every pack is often fourteen cards worth of guys that don’t do much for you, and one card that doesn’t seem to fit in any deck you have now.
The problem is that it’s easy to get ripped off in buying cards. Hell, it happens with every new set release: You think man, Countryside Crusher is going to be the card to beat in Standard, and then it turns out that it doesn’t play nearly as well as it looks.
So what I’m here to do is tell casual players which older cards are worth getting and which aren’t. And I’m only discussing older cards that haven’t been reprinted; there’s no sense telling you how good Wrath of God is when you might just get it in your 10th Edition Booster Pack.
No, this is going to discuss cards that are no longer in print — the cards printed back before Wizards knew what they were doing. And there are quite a few cards there that every casual player not only should own, but can own for a low investment.
I’ll be ranking every card in three ways:
- Flexibility, which is a subjective measure of how many types of decks this card can fit into. A card like Nevinyrral’s Disk can be played in any deck, and usefully; a card like Animate Wall will only go into a deck that wants to, well, bring walls to life.
- Price, which gives you a measure of bang for the buck. In general, if a card costs over $3.00 apiece, I’m going to knock it down on price, because we’re looking for bargains.
- Overall Rating, which is my measure of how much you need to have this in your collection. Quite often, a card’s Flexibility and Price will be right, but there’s some other hidden factor that makes this card not quite as good as advertised.
I will also tell you what the lowest-price card cost at StarCityGames.com at the time I wrote this. Be warned that prices can change at any time, though it’s not terribly likely since we’re discussing older cards whose values don’t tend to fluctuate.
Before we begin, though, let’s talk about the big, expensive investments and why they’re not worth it:
The Power Nine (A Lot)
Flexibility: 8 (Moxes 10, other cards 7)
Overall Rating: 2
Surprisingly, the Power Nine (Mox Jet, Mox Emerald, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Time Walk, Timetwister, Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus) are great cards, but a poor investment for casual players. Sure, you can drop a Mox into any deck, but the expense involved means that you’ll then be afraid to breathe on that deck.
Plus, just as a psychological issue, dropping a Mox of any sort makes players think your deck is far more cutthroat than it is. You can try to convince them that you just had this Mox hanging around, heh heh, it was just a good fit… But secretly, they’ll think that if you brought heavy artillery like a Mox to the table, you must be packing the Uber-Deck Of Absolutest Mostest Death. And in a multiplayer game, they’ll team up to kill you stat.
They’re good cards. But they’re so hotly-contested that they’re really not worth dropping several hundred bucks on them unless you really want to play competitive Vintage decks. (And even then, you can often do without Time Walk and Timetwister.)
The Dual Lands (Badlands, Bayou, Plateau, Savannah, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author], Taiga, Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea) (A lot)
Overall Rating: 5
I have a full set of dual lands. They are awesome. They go in everything, they make every deck better, they make my mana bases a thing of beauty.
But they’re as expensive as all hell. I can’t deny that. And they’re not particularly sexy; if you spend $80 on a set of cards, you want to attack with them, not just tap â€˜em for mana.
That said, once you have duals, you’ll find your decks become a lot easier to play. And you will never, ever have a set of duals hanging around useless if you have any kind of deck collection whatsoever. So when you see a dual land at a reasonable price, pick it up. You will use it. I promise.
…okay, we’re done with the stupidly expensive cards. Let’s move on to something more reasonable.
Overall Rating: 4
For years, this card’s reputation hovered just outside the fringes of the Power Nine, being widely viewed as one of the most powerful two-mana spells of all time. Then as more powerful cards supplanted it and Vintage decks became more refined, it dropped from view, to the point where it’s almost a footnote now.
(I searched Vintage decks to see if any of the notables were playing it; no results were found. What a drop!)
In any case, this is a fine card for the casual player, if a little narrow; you can just drop it into a White-based deck, but then the stars have to align properly for it to be a rather nasty two-mana Wrath of God/full-tilt Mind Twist. Fortunately, since you get to choose when you cast it, you can make sure it’ll benefit you.
If you want to build a deck around it, however, then you’re in sorta-luck; there are a lot of decks that use Balance and a bunch of sacrifice effects to leave some ghastly enchantment/artifact on the board for an excruciating blowout. But because it’s restricted in Vintage, if your group plays with Vintage legality (which is generally a good idea), you’ll have to have a bunch of tutors to find it, making it harder to focus a deck around a single card.
But in terms of mana-to-power, it’s hard to find a card with more punch.
Overall Rating: 3
Another former slugger in Vintage — and another card that’s fallen off the map. But Braingeyser is a great card in a heavy Blue deck that worries about running out of steam in the late game. If you can afford to tap out — yes, at sorcery speed — you can often draw six cards right off the top of your deck. In terms of refilling a hand and getting back in the game, this is very nice.
The problem with Braingeyser is that while it was once the top of the heap in terms of Blue card-drawing, we now have tons of solid options. Accumulated Knowledge, Stroke of Genius, Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven — and all of those are instant spells. Braingeyser can be more potent than anything there except for Stroke of Genius, but you need mana to do it.
Ultimately, it’s time that’s rendered Braingeyser a “nice to have” in terms of casual cards — it’s strong, but slow. If you play a lot of Blue Casual decks where the games go long and you get into wars of attrition where you’re hoping to topdeck the answer, it’s probably worth it to fork out the seven dollars for both this and Stroke of Genius ($5.00) to plop into your deck to get back in the game.
As it is, for $2.00, it’s a good card to have if you have a very shallow collection and have no other options. But if you have a decent collection, you may be able to work around this.
Counterspell. ($1.00, sorta)
Overall Rating: 7
Come on. If you play Blue at all, it’s time to stop messing around with inferior also-rans like Cancel and Mana Leak. You want this in your deck, because for two mana it stops pretty much anything, no questions asked.
And, I should add, the $1.00 price tag at StarCityGames.com is only because they’re in such hot demand. They’re not hard to find in any older player’s collection; hell, I have a basement full of Counterspells that, if I knew you in person and you were to ask me nicely, I’d just give you. Barring that, $4.00 will get you Evil Blue Power in your fist.
There’s really no excuse not to have four of these hanging about. You may not turn to the dark side of Blue Control today, you might not tomorrow, but some day you will want to say, “Wait….” as that decimating spell hits the stack. And for that, my friends, you will want the original, two-mana power of Counterspell.
Dark Ritual? ($.75)
Overall Rating: 2
You know, if the overall rating was simply a matter of flexibility and price, this would be a home run. But the thing is, in Casual Multiplayer games, Dark Ritual doesn’t get you all that much.
Sure, you can feel wonderfully classic by whipping out the old-school, “Swamp, Dark Ritual, Hypnotic Specter” and show off your shiny new 10th Edition Hippie and be cool. But two damage, even with a discard attached, is not going to win you the game even in a small three-player free-for-all, and you’ve invested not one card but two cards for the privilege.
Dark Ritual was scary because it could fuel combos, getting you mana to go off in one shot. And if you’re a combo-crazy dude, well, Dark Ritual is an awesome card to have. But most of the time, you’re going to see the card disadvantage inherent in Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter when someone spends a single Shock to get rid of it, putting you down two cards to one.
Trust me. It can be fun, but generally slow and steady wins the race.
Demonic Tutor. ($9.00)
Overall Rating: 8
In these days of crazy mana bases, it’s not too hard to get some Black mana out there… And in return, for two mana, you can get any card in your deck and put it straight into your hand.
You don’t have to reveal it, so your friends can’t prepare for what you’re getting for them. Heck, if you have the mana — which is likely, because it’s only two mana — you can cast it that turn. It’s a great friggin’ card.
Thing is, there are a lot of other cards that do the same thing for more mana; heck, you can try for Diabolic Tutor (at twice the price) or Beseech the Queen (though you have to reveal it). None of them are quite as good, though you can half-assedly replace them.
But for $9.00, you have a card that basically gets the best card in your deck — and not just the best card, but rather “the card that’s going to save your butt or crush their heads at this very moment.” That’s a great investment, and any deck that plays Black should have this.
$9.00’s a bit much for a card, but in the end it’s totally worth it because it allows you to fetch all of those other pricey rares you put into your deck. Ideally, it’d be $3.00 so we could have one for every Black deck we own! But I suppose that’s a bit too much to ask for.
Overall Rating: 3
Fastbond is a card that’s good for one thing: Combo decks. If you like decks that explode in one gigantic, game-winning turn, this is for you — after you draw half your deck, you can use Fastbond to lay the land to draw the other half of your deck and then go off.
That’s it. It’s not particularly great mana acceleration otherwise, since it both hurts you and requires you to have mondo land in your hand. And at $6.00, it’s a fairly pricey card to get just one of, since it’s restricted in Vintage because it’s a combo-enabler.
So if you love combo, sure! Pick it up and put it into your annoying Walk the Aeons/Crucible of Worlds deck! If not, skip it.
Overall Rating: 10
Folks, I really don’t understand why more people aren’t playing with these. They get you endless amounts of mana, they’re cheap, and they enable some of the most broken spells in the format. You really should pick up… Well, get like a hundred of them. You’ll use â€˜em.
Overall Rating: 6
Chances are good that in a large game, someone will be playing with Forests. In fact, chances are good that several players will be Forestal. And if you’re the guy with Islands, well, you can gain a lot of stupid life off of this card early on and then float to victory.
However, some tables will see you gaining a bazillion life and then kill you. But for the low, low price of a dollar, isn’t it worth it to see whether it works or not?
Lightning Bolt. ($3.00)
Overall Rating: 8
Lightning Bolts are so much better than Shock it’s not even funny. If you play with just Shocks, you may not realize how much a difference it makes.
But the difference between killing two-toughness critters for one mana and three-toughness critters for one mana has to be seen to be believed. Also, two Lightning Bolts can remove your bog-standard Dragon or an Angel, whereas a Shock? Not so much. And if you get lucky, three Lightning Bolts puts a nine-life player at nada.
All for a single Red mana. It’s incredibly worth it to upgrade if you play Red decks at all.
If this was $2.00, I’d be telling you to buy two playsets. At $12.00 a set, though, it’s just a little harder to justify the expenditure. But if you can spare $24.00 to get eight of them, then man you can go to town.
Also, like Counterspell, older collections frequently have tons of these, because they were commons once upon a while. If you can find some college kid giving away his collection, you can often find a secret hoard of Lightning Bolts, so it’s worth it to look.
Mind Twist ($3.00)
Overall Rating: 4
Mind Twist is far better in casual duels than it is in multiplayer, since stripping one person’s hand for three random discards on turn 4 will leave you with a crippled enemy. However, in multiplayer, you’ll cripple one enemy but leave two or three other enemies standing by.
Plus, if you’re into that sort of thing, Mind Shatter is now available for $2.00, and it’s almost as good. And if you’re playing Mono-Black, in the long game Mind Sludge can often be equally as good if not more devastating… And it’s only a quarter.
It’s a solid card, and if you play duels a lot with Black spells, this is an invaluable one-of to have. In multiplayer, though, there are better options.
Nevinyrral’s Disk ($2.50)
Overall Rating: 6
Here’s the deal: For $2.50 you can get the Disk, which for a total of five mana and a turn can clear the board. And for the same $2.50 you can get Oblivion Stone, which comes down a turn sooner, can be used on the same turn in an emergency if you have eight mana, and can mark certain permanents to be saved from its wrath.
The O-Stone is my weapon of choice. The Disk isn’t bad, mind you, and if you can find a deal on it, get it; it fills in gaps in Blue, Black, and sometimes even Green decks that need it badly. A card like the Disk will solve all sorts of problems for you. But to my mind, get the O-Stone instead.
Red Elemental Blast ($.25)
Overall Rating: 8
This does one thing, and does it well: it hoses Blue, serving as a Counterspell for all sorts of Blue trickery. Is it narrow? Sure. Is it something that’s going to sit in your hand if nobody’s playing Blue? Sure.
Can you get four for a dollar? Absolutely. So why not? In these days of multicolored and hybrid cards, I guarantee you, there will be Blue. And when that day comes, you’ll be glad you have four of these hanging about.
Overall Rating: 8
If you have a Green deck, you want Regrowth. It gets something good back every time, and helps you win the wars of attrition. And for two mana at less than a dollar, it’s worth picking up four of them even — sure, you can only have one in a deck at a time if you’re playing with Vintage legality, but it’s the sort of card you’ll definitely use in multiple decks.
The only problem is that there’s actually a better card available: Eternal Witness ($4.00). You can play with four of her, and you can chain her for endless shenanigans, and if you have some sort of Momentary Blink-style effect then it gets ugly. But she is $4.00 apiece, and I’ve tried to trade for her; casual players love her, and rightly so.
So the rule is, “Get Regrowth if you can’t get four Witnesses.” Because man, Witness is worth it.
Sol Ring ($10.00)
Overall Rating: 8
How serious am I about Sol Ring? Last year, I gave out Sol Rings as Christmas presents to my Magic-playing friends.
Sol Ring makes any deck better. For one mana, you’re effectively ahead by two land drops, allowing you to drop a turn 3 Wrath of God, a turn 4 Dragon, or a turn 6 Hellkite Overlord. Yes, it’s $10.00, making it a pricey investment…. But there is scarcely a Casual deck out there that won’t benefit from this sucker.
Seriously. This is one of the best cards you can own. It fits anywhere, helps everything. Pick up a copy and put it in just one deck…. You’ll want more.
Swords to Plowshares ($3.50)
Overall Rating: 7
Swords is the best single-mana removal spell ever, and as such it’s a prime target of importance for any casual collection. It takes a guy out of the game without fear of recursion shenanigans; barring a Wish, there’s no way you’ll see that ugly creature again. And while there are a ton of guys who have protection from Red and Black, hardly anyone has protection from wimpy ol’ White.
Back in the day, we hated to give life to our opponent, so we thought this was terrible. And then we realized that we could either eat twelve damage from a Serra Angel flapping her beautiful wings around our face, or we could let them have four life and then hit them. It seemed a better deal.
As it is, it’s even pricer than Lightning Bolt, and rightfully so — it’s that good. But if you can lay your hands on a playset, you’ll see how it tunes up almost any deck; large creatures just aren’t a problem any more. I have eight, and I want even more.
You may have to save up, but get them.
Time Vault ($175.00)
Overall Rating: You’re kidding, right?
No. Just… No.
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