First off, a brief apology for last week’s article; I generally write articles in three stages. The first is when I write up a skeleton of the ideas I want to hit, and then I come up with the full article, and then the third part is where I go through it and double-check for accuracy just before I post.
I was whacked out with a cold last week, and my deadline was looming. I wrote the entire thing sneezing and barely able to think, and part of me said, “I should wait an extra day to turn this one in and double-check it.” But it was already ten o’clock because it had taken me four hours to struggle my way through it, and I’d missed my Monday deadline too many times before this year, so I said, “I’m sure it’s fine.”
It wasn’t. That’s not good for me, and it’s not good for you, so thanks to everyone who pointed out the errors. I’m not saying I’ll never make errors — since as an old-school casual player, I talk about little-played cards an awful lot — but I can at least reduce â€˜em.
Anyway, I’m mostly well this week, which means hopefully I’ll have just one major blunder. It’s your job to find it!
Given that Undermine, its evil counterpart, goes for $5.00, most folks think that Undermine is the better spell. And it certainly is in duels, where knocking three life off of your opponent’s total is more vital than gaining a measly three life yourself with Absorb!
But it’s not as great in multiplayer, where — say it all together, class — doing three damage to a single opponent is not that impressive when you have at least one other person and twenty more life that you need to burn through. Gaining three life, however, gives you a little more of a cushion — which, given that you’re countering someone’s spell, you’ll most likely need.
If you have any U/W decks at all, you’ll most likely want this in there, even at the expensive price of $3.50. Give it a shot.
Academy Rector ($6.00)
Back in the day, Academy Rector was feared for its amazing combo potential — sacrifice it, get Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and go to town with card drawing. This got even better when you added in Cabal Therapy as a sacrifice outlet.
You can still do that, of course… But if you’re not of a combo mind, for four mana you get a lovely little blocker that threatens to get very expensive enchantments when you’re forced to use it to chump block. This often stalls ground attacks for a long period of time until they can zap it with a Swords to Plowshares effect or gank it with a Magma Spray.
What can you get with your Rector? Any enchantment in your library. I’m sure you can come up with something. Unfortunately, at six dollars, getting four of them is just a little prohibitive, but even getting a one-of can be a useful addition.
Accumulated Knowledge ($0.50)
One of the best budget card-drawing spells, you can gain some massive card advantage in the late game once you draw into more copies of this. Unfortunately, Wizards’ affection for graveyard strategies like Unearth and Dredge means that more folks are packing â€˜yard hate maindeck… But if your group is light on loathing for the soil â€˜neath the tombstones, then for two dollars this is a solid way of putting instant-speed card drawing into a low-cost deck.
Acidic Soil ($0.25)
This is one of those cards that nobody expects to see. And then, in the late game when everyone’s put out twelve lands, they discover that hey, there’s a three-mana spell that can KEEEL THEM.
The only problem is that it’s just as likely to kill you. But you Johnnies out there should be able to come up with a cleverer solution than Circle of Protection: Red. Right?
Armadillo Cloak ($0.75)
If the words “+2/+2, lifelink, and trample for three mana” aren’t enough to convince you that this is one of the best enchantments you can drop on any creature, then I don’t really know what to tell you. If you don’t like this, you don’t like creature enchantments. Or multiplayer. Or life itself.
The only way this could be better was if the mana was colorless. Or nonexistent.
Aura Shards ($0.75)
One of the classic toolbox enchantments for multiplayer, this allows you to do horrendous things with token generators. One Scatter the Seeds and an Aura Shards means that you’ve just destroyed three enchantments/artifacts at instant speed, keeping the board clear as you’d like it.
This used to be a lot harder to play in multiplayer, because everyone I knew played with Aura Shards when they had a G/W deck, meaning that games often mostly consisted of mirror match talk like, “I Shard your Shards. What? You Shard my Shards in response to my Sharding? Shardly you’re not serious.”
Those days are probably gone, as Invasion is a distant memory for many and a legend for others. The Shards is going to be a target for everyone else’s enchantment hate, of course, and you probably don’t want a full complement of four in your deck, but it’s definitely worth forking out three bucks to get them all.
Avatar of Fury ($3.00)
This card is the perfect fit for a control deck that wants to keep its mana open. Wait until the late game, when someone’s sure to have seven land, then spend a measly two to drop a MONSTAR onto the table. You’ll have enough mana left to counterspell whatever the heck you want.
What? It’s Red, not Blue? Well, I’m sure you guys can make a U/R deck, right? Right.
Captain Sisay ($1.75)
I do not like the Sisay, because I am not a fan of decks whose whole theme is “I get a bunch of legends.” Generally, said decks are weak and not terribly fun. However, Sisay is a great way to Tutor up a legend every turn if she lives, which she probably won’t, but hey, give it a shot.
I scorn Sisay, but I don’t write this column just for me. I know someone out there is going to look at her and go, “This is a perfect fit for my Coalition Victory deck!” And they’ll be happy.
Coalition Honor Guard ($0.10)
This seems like such a great mechanic — anything that has to target the Honor Guard, does? How insane. Surely, my table will forget that the Honor Guard is on the table, then cast Armadillo Cloak, and I will have this tremendously beefed-up dude!
Unfortunately, nine times out of ten anything that targets creatures is a removal spell, even if someone was trying to target the Dragon that’s flying merrily overhead. And as for the good spells, most players are a bunch of whiners who’ll say, “I forgot that was on the table! I wouldn’t have cast that if I remembered!” and want to take it back, meaning that you have to play pretty cutthroat to make it work.
I want to like the Honor Guard. Let me know if you manage a way to use it well, okay?
Wanna know how good Congregate is? I know many multiplayer groups that still have it banned. If it’s not the best lifegain spell ever printed, it’s probably in the top three, because I personally have gained upwards of a hundred life in any number of eight-man games.
And I did it at instant speed, usually in response to a Wrath of God plopping into the stack, gifting me with all that life just before the threats go bye-bye.
Obviously, Congregate is useless if your metagame isn’t creature-heavy, but the good news is that thanks to Wizards’ efforts to make the little dudes with numbers in the corner matter, Congregate’s only gotten better. And there’s always some chump churning out Saproling or Goblin tokens who has a dork army, which you will benefit from.
Yet gaining a hundred life generally gets you the breathing room to cruise to victory, even if eight people are hating on you simultaneously (and especially if you do it while some Damnation’s on the stack!). Four Congregates in a deck may be enough to get it banned in your group.
Crater Hellion ($1.50)
Basically, this is a double-Pyroclasm with a 6/6 dude attached. You have to play twelve mana for it over the course of two turns to keep it around — stupid echo — but as a cheap board-clearer-with-a-threat-attached, this is a great utility card that belongs in a lot more Red decks than it’s currently in now.
Crusading Knight ($1.25)
Marauding Knight ($0.75)
I mention these because they’re mirror images, the Knights are the epitome of the “Win big or go home” theory. Each of these keys off the total number of Swamps/Plains your opponents have in your deck, so sometimes you have a 30/30 that has protection from their deck, and other times you’ve paid four mana for a measly 2/2 that doesn’t even have first strike.
That said, the Marauding Knight is better, mainly because Black has so many non-targeted ways to destroy colors with protection (in the form of sacrifice effects like Innocent Blood), and White generally is restricted to just the WoG.
Me? I usually will put one or two copies of the appropriate Knight in my deck; I don’t want four-of, but sometimes that one-of will win me the game. Then again, I’m a notoriously erratic deckbuilder, far preferring “variety” to “consistent winning.”
Dismantling Blow ($0.10)
One of the best artifact/enchantment killers for multiplayer (I’d argue that Fracturing Gust is the best), for six mana you can get two cards when you destroy someone’s Opposition at end of turn. At a measly dime per card here, there’s no excuse not to have one or two copies of Dismantling Blow in your U/W decks.
The great thing about Dominate is that you get the creature — no stupid “I Naturalize your Persuasion and get it back” tricks, no “I have to give it back to you at end of turn” stuff, nothing. You keep it. Until it dies or gets bounced. And you can steal it at instant speed. Whatta deal!
The downside is that mana cost. When I first started playing with Dominate, I was like, “Three mana isn’t that bad,” but as time went by and I didn’t have enough mana to yoink someone’s Hellkite Overlord or their Darksteel Colossus or their Akroma, paying three mana on top of eight mana-plus became the thorn in my side. Generally, there’s an upper limit as to what you can steal, making this one of the better “I jack yo’ dude” spells, but not perfect.
Also, it’s completely useless until like turn 6, and even on turn 6 it ain’t that impressive. Mostly, the stuff you want to steal is four mana and up.
Empress Galina ($0.50)
Like the Knights above, the Empress is a one-of gamble — if your opponents are playing with Legends, and if she lives to untap, you can steal some very powerful cards. When she fires, the Empress is beauty itself… And to be fair, Wizards has encouraged the use of Legends to the point where I’m advising people to maindeck Karakas just because.
That said, she does have to live long enough to start tapping, and the guys who have Legends will generally wage a war against Galina. She rarely makes it to your next upkeep, except when nobody has anything good to steal.
But for fifty cents, I do include her in a lot of my Blue decks, just because when she does fire, she makes your life a whole lot easier. It’s worth having her around as a just-in-case.
Fact or Fiction ($2.00)
Restricted in Vintage (yes, I checked the right places this time), the FoF gets even better in multiplayer. Why? Because in duels, you have to choose your opponent, who will divide the cards to the best of his ability. In multiplayer, you can task your dumbest opponent with the job of dividing the cards up, increasing your chances of giving you better cards than you thought. This comes in especially handy at places that look down on table talk.
(Though unfortunately, it does inform the table who you think is the stupidest, which is why sometimes I choose a competent player.)
You can also be a right bastard in politicking with the FoF. Is someone about to die thanks to a spell on the stack? Fact or Fiction in response and tell him, “You may divide them. If you give me all five cards, then I will counter that spell for you. If you do anything else, you can die.”
I’ve done it. I don’t feel clean afterwards. But I have five cards to wash up with.
False Prophet ($0.75)
Also reads: “2WW: Nobody attacks you on the ground or everyone loses their creatures permanently.” The fact that they’re removed from the game makes it extra-spicy, shutting down any hope of recursion.
Unfortunately, as you’d expect, it does nothing against fliers, which means that sometimes your Prophet is stuck on the ground, railing about impending doom while avian guys with fireaxes smash your face. But combine it with some sacrifice outlet like Goblin Bombardment to make a makeshift Final Judgment.
Flame Rift ($0.40)
Four damage to all players, including you. For two mana. That will put a dent in most people’s life totals, making this a solid choice for a Suicide Burn deck.
I also play this in my Hostility deck. Yes, I take the four damage myself while everyone else has it prevented…But getting twenty hasty 3/1 attackers is generally worth it.
Fog Bank ($1.75)
As a writer, one of the most irritating things in Magic is how people use “expensive” and “cheap” to refer to a card’s mana cost, not its actual price. So when I say that Fog Bank is “expensive,” it’s a lie, and when I say it’s “cheap” it’s a lie.
For two mana, you get a killer critter; it blocks just about anything outside of critters with fear, shadow, or trample. And it can do it all day, because it takes no combat damage. Sure, it’ll die to the smallest Red spell, but in the meanwhile it’s two mana.
For a buck-seventy five, it’s slightly expensive moneywise. I mean, you’ll spend roughly seven bucks to get four cards, which isn’t the ideal. And it’s not a flashy card. On the other hand, this is the sort of card that good multiplayer decks are built out of; cheap, utility guys who can hold the fort effortlessly until your big threats come online.
As such, Unca Ferrett says this is a must-buy.
Frantic Search ($0.25)
You can have only one of these in a Vintage-legal deck, but you totally should. One of the best free spells even if you’re not playing a combo deck (and absolutely vital if you are, particularly a Storm deck), this cheapie little number lets you filter through your deck for free, often giving you extra mana if you have a Ravnica bounceland or one of Shadowmoors double-lands.
Novice players hate to draw cards and then discard them. But not every card is precious, and drawing to your best cards is more important than having a full grip of cards that are weak now.
I’m going to admit to a big, sloppy love affair with this card. The instant-speed, targeted version of Humility, it has all the same problems of causing hideous rules disputes at interrupt speed. You’d better know your layer-based effects, boy-o, or you can be severely surprised by a correct ruling.
That said, there’s nothing better than having someone run his Darksteel Colossus into your Samite Healer. Nothing.
Karmic Guide ($2.00)
One of the more impressive Echo effects, this one yoinks a guy straight from your graveyard and dumps it onto the field. That’s a nice effect if you can get something worth more than five mana, making this either a) a great card for the late game, or b) a killer card in a Lifeline deck.
Kor Haven ($0.75)
The great thing about lands is that nobody pays attention to them. They’re lands. And so when someone attacks you with their OMG HUGE creature and discovers that lo, you have a nigh-uncounterable, reusable way of shutting their largest threat down every turn, well….
It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like a parka made of ducks.
Like most Legendary lands, you don’t want more than one or two in your deck, but I guarantee you that people will forget, usually when they’re most disadvantaged from it. Which makes this a sweet steal.
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