Magic is a game where the true fan can revel in the minutiae.
Well, it seems that the omnipresent mister Tait has written a list that inspired me to an entire article. Oh, wait – he doesn’t like to be called a mister. That’s a great start for a story that was meant as part opinion, part compliment. The daily man has written on what he believed is the top ten most influential three-mana creatures in tournament play. The fact that the list was focused merely on tournament play became clear to me by the absence of the Royal Assassin.
The first creature that entered my mind when I read the line”How many good creatures have there been for three mana? What other three-mana creatures have influenced environments?” was Royal Assassin. Well, maybe it didn’t exactly define an environment, but it surely was a force to be reckoned with back in the days while we still played quick duels in between arithmetic lessons on elementary school.
That absence made me want to mail the writer, asking him whether he considered it, or not at all. Then I just thought:”Why not write an article on such a silly subject myself? After all, it is silliness that keeps my articles digestible.”
And to appear as a dedicated list maker, or maniac, I will also give you the top five black enchantments of all times, also in multiplayer style; that way we cleverly exclude Necropotence. But I will only give you that list because I was encouraged to throw in my two cents.
First off, the creatures, in no particular order. Because when I have to order them, I will have to think way too long, and it will still end up wrong anyway.
- Bone Shredder
- Hypnotic Specter
- Ertai, Wizard Adept
- Prodigal Sorcerer
- Time Elemental
- Monk Idealist
- Venerable Monk
- Sunscape Battlemage
- Wood Elves
- Uktabi Orangutan
- Chimeric Idol
- Squee, Goblin Nabob
- Viashino Heretic
- Goblin King
He is a character who has entered a very desirable prestige class. He can make death attacks with a very slim chance of its targets making their fortitude saves. He also has a way of hanging around pubs and bars. Tap. Please clean up your dead body. That’s just cool.
Of course the small numbers in its lower right corner make it quite vulnerable. But who wants to kill your Royal when you promise the one who threatens it to not use it against him or her? Have you got a Seal of Fire in play? Then I just won’t kill your creatures. Later, I can still just kill one, making you angrily sacrifice the Seal on the Royal, and I have still gotten a two-for-one out of the events.
This guy has no notable toughness, but he blocks all attacks.
He must be a very lonely man, for his best friend is a cold machine. Besides Icy Manipulator, the Assassin’s best friend, Puppet Strings will also have a positive effect on your Royal’s headcount. Master Decoy and his friends from Invasion and Odyssey could also become friends with the man with the eye patch – but they are white, or at least need it, so those bonds of friendship aren’t as tight as they may seem on paper. Cephalid Retainer and Flood can do their things quite well. And they are blue, which is generally a good color to combine with Assassin, which contains black.
Are you beginning to notice the trend of”creature-killing black guys” that make it into this list?
This creature isn’t really a creature. It’s just a weakened Terror that can be neutered by regenerating. But it can also be sacrificed after use, or be easily recurred after use. And it’s easier to find a Bone Shredder in your deck than it is to find a Terror. It fits in Survival-based decks. It can be Called. It loves to visit Volrath’s Stronghold, and he’s always game when it comes down to a throwing competition down at the old Keldon Necropolis. He gladly volunteers to steer a rock in a Goblin Bombardment and frequently has Recurring Nightmares.
I think you’re getting the gist by now.
It’s not that this card is so all-powerful; it’s just that it sees play such a great many number of times, that I can’t help but include it here. I could also mention the Nekrataal and the Dark Hatchling, but those have casting costs that keep them off of this list.
But not his baby brother, the Chilling Apparition.
When you think about creatures that stabilize your strategic position, you had better not think about the Hypnotic Specter – for there is no trace of ought on that illumined face. His presence on your side of the board will attract big heaps of verbal hate mail. Everyone is afraid of him.
And that’s why he is in this list. When you’re so scared of it yourself, then why shouldn’t it be good? Maybe you can even make friends with it, by promising players not to attack them. When this hits play, everybody needs to consider it. When you don’t pay attention to it, your chances of victory grow slim.
And besides, he has such a large role in casual black decks that I’m just forced to put the hippie on this list
And his wannabe, the Daring Apprentice.
This is such another high-impact card, just like the Assassino Real and the Hypnotic Specter. This card never goes unnoticed by anybody once it gets active. And before it becomes active, it will get targeted a lot of times, with cruel intentions.
“If you do not counter my spell, I will do this and that for you. Deal?”
That’s an oft-uttered phrase when Ertai is up and at them. Ertai gives you power, in almost the same way that the Hippie does. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of their effects, so that gives you some new friends. And remember that the counter ability from Ertai cannot be countered itself, except by random Interdicts or Binds.
Is it better to be loved or feared? That’s a good question. But I’d say it’s better to be feared. People who love you can forsake that love at any time… But the fear you cause is in your own hands. Of course, people can also decide to stop being afraid – but in that case you can just use the stuff that should make them afraid in the first place against them. That should get them back to the rank of”friend” again pretty quick – or it will just kill them, which also solves your problem.
And his vast family of pingers.
Yet another card that everybody immediately adapts his or her game play to. Small creatures cease getting played and combat is entered with a lot more care. Sometimes, four-toughness creatures will spontaneously get Bolted, followed up by an asking smile in your direction.
And do you know what the fun thing is? Once you have the first Tim in play, you will be the only one to get future Tims, unless something inconvenient happens – for all Tims have a toughness of one. There are, of course, situations in which opponents suddenly appear to play with Mawcor or Shivan Hellkite, but those situations can be covered by using Ertai, just to stay in theme.
A deck with a lot of pingers and with Bubble Matrix, High Ground, and Ivory Mask is difficult to play against. Their Tims block everything that doesn’t trample too hard, and they ping relentlessly at end of each turn. Ivory Mask keeps them from following the same road to oblivion as you are about to descend on.
And his loyal sidekick, the Temporal Adept.
The Adept may be cheaper in its activation cost, but it is more vulnerable and much more color intensive. Besides, the Time Elemental looks better and has much more flavor and style. And it’s a legends rare, which appeals to our male desire for showing off.
Once again, this is on this list for the attention it draws. With working Elementals, people can’t be sure of their board positions, for an end of turn step and a main phase later, they have lost two of their key defense cards.
Time is on my side, yes it is. But the Elemental can also serve a cooperative purpose: He can bounce other people’s Bone Shredders, so that they can, in turn, destroy a creature you both agreed on. That’s good. He can also bounce permanents that are on their way to the graveyard, thus turning certain death into just an inconvenient sabbatical.
A little side-story illustrating the benefit of the Adept over the Elemental:
Once upon a Tribes tournament, I was playing a heavy weight blue/green elemental deck. It packed, amongst other notables like Maro and Verdant Force and Thorn Elemental and Child of Gaea and Blizzard Elemental, four Time Elementals. I had one in play, and had cast a large other guy during my last turn. Then, all of a sudden, this guy playing Elephants lays down Concordant Crossroads and Trumpeting Armodon. He attacks me with the Armodon and forces my Time Elemental to block it! Damnation, that’s one dead Elemental, and five damage to boot. That action certainly asked for the undivided attention of my two Air Elementals.
I notice that I’m already at number seven, and have only covered two colors this far. So why don’t I expand to fifteen cards, and give each color three slots?
At last, a guy who doesn’t draw attention or influences play styles. What did I say? Does he not influence play styles? Well, he doesn’t influence them once he is in play. But I certainly know that players sometimes hesitate to destroy a Survival of the Fittest when its controller has some mana open, just because they expect an Idealist to turn up. Or an Auramancer, but that’s more modern and hence less stylish. The Idealist has a thousand uses; admittedly, in all of those uses there is an involvement of regaining enchantments from graveyards, but hey.
You can’t remember Venerable Monk? Maybe that’s because you don’t play enough Mind Magic. Venerable Monk really shines there, because each creature often gets in only a single hit before it gets killed one way or the other. And because he is a 2/2 creature for 2W that gives you two life upon entry, he leaves behind something vaguely substantial when he gets killed. Something vaguely substantial that neutralizes an opponent’s next attack, or something like that. The monk gives a bit of a momentum swing, and that’s good.
In multiplayer, though, he doesn’t really shine. That’s because that’s the domain of the Bottle Gnomes and of the Spike Feeder. You all know why they are good, so I’m not going to elaborate on that. I’m only going to tell you that my fondness for them finds its roots in them being able to roll over and die on command, which is a priceless ability here at the Labyrinth.
And his friends, the other battlemages.
All five battlemages have great effects. Some of them may have been too slow or narrow for serious use in tournaments, but I still remember the look on Scott’s face when I executed his Rith, the Awakener, by playing a dude and drawing two cards. The white one almost always finds a target for his green kicker in multiplayer, so he’s a virtual Ancestral Recall.
The Thornscape Battlemage offs almost all other creatures on this list, while taking a nasty Jayemdae Tome down with it. Not an Ancestral, but cheap. The red one punishes an opponent for past misbehaviors and also opens creature combat back up by tearing that Moat away. That’s an Ancestral. The blue one give the least card advantage, but does give the biggest Tempo swing by giving you life and banishing a man. The black one becomes especially weird when one tries to play Celestial Dawn and then repeatedly tries to cast the Mage, bouncing itself and another creature, then destroying a land. That’s very mana intensive, but it wins for you when it’s left unchecked.
Did you see how all three of the white choices could have been from another color? Heh.
And his party of other good mana accelerators.
Now don’t start screaming at me. They fetch a dual of choice from your deck. That’s very solid mana acceleration. And then it serves for two or three, when you’re lucky. Later on, it chumps. Or it fuels some sacrificial effect. Then, it becomes an easy target for opposing Advocates.
“Oh my, what shall I give back to whom? I just want to activate this ability.”
“Feel free to give me back my Wood Elves. That’s pretty harmless, isn’t it?”
“Great Idea. Have it.”
And presto, you have furthermore strengthened your mana base. And your deck has gotten thinned in the process. You don’t want to draw lands later in the game? Go nuts with your Wood Elves. He fends off Cephalid Constables that otherwise would have wreaked havoc upon you.
And about those other good mana accelerators: I do not use them myself, but there are hordes of people that swear by Fyndhorn Elder or Nantuko Elder. They do not see little play. So they deserve a mention.
And his partners in crime, the Keldon Vandals.
This monkey is so elegant and simple, he is a central piece of almost all toolboxes. Pay three, break stuff, and get a nice ogre souvenir. Unlike the Thornscape Battlemage, this also works when it is put into play. (The Battlemage doesn’t allow for kicker in such a case.) This makes the ape great in combination with Reya, Dawnbringer, Hell’s Caretaker, Coffin Queen, Hunted Wumpus, and Oath of Druids.
This also saw play in tournament-winning decks, so this list must have a ring of the truth to it.
….Which, combined with a Lifelace, is very green.
I wanted to fit this in somewhere, so green gets the shaft because I cannot think of a green creature fast enough to save green’s slot. I mean, when a creature does not spring to mind, it cannot be important, can it?
Chimeric Idol prevails. We all know that. He has the uncanny ability to dodge almost all removal. And he fits into lots of decks because he is only colorless. And being 3/3 for three also contributes to its popularity. I don’t think that I need to illustrate this any further. I don’t play it myself, but I often see other people use it; often enough for the Idol to make it to this list.
Only two days ago, I was playing in a match where Squee was attacking and blocking all the time. Most people don’t even know that Squee is a creature, but this guy was beating around with it, and chumping large attackers like there was no tomorrow. He wound up second, so probably his tactics were quite solid.
There’s also the shady part of Squee; the part that likes to get discarded or Buried Alive. The part that doesn’t give you card advantage because you have an undying 1/1 guy, but that gives it to you because your Masticore has all he can eat, or because you Pyromancy deals three every turn. Or the part that sees Squee as a little thief that lifts the Bazaar of Baghdad. He can even become the perpetual target of a General’s Regalia, or Nova Pentacle. Squee is sometimes discarded to Squeebind, Stormbind, and to Peace of Mind, just to lay a lock with Zur’s Weirding and Wall of Glare with Inviolability. I refuse to mention Survival of the Fittest here.
In function, he is very similar to Uktabi Love Monkey – but in practice he is much more threatening. He can destroy one thing every turn, and as a result of his rage against the machine, he also deals a nice amount of damage to random controllers of said random artifacts.
Here, near the end of the list, we revisit the theme of high-impact creatures that so dominated the first six entries… Or that so dominated black and blue, for that matter. The Heretic is a permanent treat. Do you not play your Sol Ring because there’s an Uktabi over there? No. He has already done his thing. But do you fear to lay down your fiery donut because you see a Viashino Demolition Man? Yes, you do… At least, I hope you do. Don’t get wise with Fountain Watch or Hannah’s Custody.
For obvious reasons, these men of high position enjoy high popularity. They give big boosts to theme decks, or they make devious combo pieces in Conspiracy decks. They might be good inclusions when you find out that you are already playing with four different zombies, by chance. The Lord of the Dead can even function as an original card advantage engine, besides Pyre Zombies and Deadapult.
I guess that a great many of you have used some of these lords in the past. You know what I mean when I place them on this list.
The list endeth here…
A honorable mention goes to the Paladin En-Vec, which is very nasty in Mind Magic because it is so tough to remove it. Same with Mystic Crusader. They just ask for Edicts, Unyaro Bee Sting, or global removal, which is hard to come by, or which is a waste for only a single creature.
Now let’s quickly get to the black enchantments, so that this shenanigan is done with.
- Pernicious Deed
- Infernal Tribute
And its lookalike, Gravestorm.
Necro is not good in multiplayer, because of its delay in card drawing; in multiplayer, where casting cost is much less relevant, Yawgmoth’s Bargain takes over. I hope I need not explain why Necropotence is good. Y’all can probably think of why a better card, once in play, is then also good.
And Gravestorm is very funny not in multiplayer, but in ordinary casual play. Your opponent does not want you to draw cards, so he removes cards from his own graveyard. This keeps him away from Threshold, but it also keeps him from any benefits that your Ill-gotten Gains might give him. Or you Oath of Ghouls, or Living Death. It’s easy.
Black’s famous reanimation deserves a mention in this list. And to represent it, I chose Necromancy – not only because it can be played at instant speed to surprise block an invaluable creature, but also because its name closely resembles Necropotence.
Although of late I noticed a trend of reanimating sorceries like Zombify and”Let’s stitch together.” I fear that these cards will repress the enchantments with the same effect, even though the sorceries can’t be found with Academy Rector, recovered with Monk Idealist, or cantripped with Verduran Enchantress.
2.5 Oath of Ghouls
And its more situational cousin, Dawn of the Dead.
Like Necropotence, this card gives you card advantage. I have had an Oath of Ghouls deck that abused Smokestack and Sengir Autocrat. It worked very, very well. The Oath also makes you some friends, or gives you some kind of monopoly when combined with Night Soil. It only costs two mana – cheapness….
Dawn of the Dead is one of the few new cards that I use in a deck, so it must be good, is it not? This is one of those cards that wins games when left unchecked. It is 2.5 on the list because it also reanimates, just like 2.
Yes, this is black. With an Opalescence in play, it cannot block a White Knight, so it must be black. At first, I wanted to name Attrition as the headline for this slot, and I planned to play heavily on the part where it allows you to sacrifice your own dudes… But then I found out that I had the same plan for the Infernal Tribute, so I allowed Pernicious Deed to strike with the honor.
Once in play, everybody dances to your tune. That’s good. It clears the board when people refuse to dance. That’s good. The Abyss allows for much synergy with artifact creatures and kills all other creatures in the progress. Even the best creature in play isn’t safe. Unless, of course, that creature is a Zephid, but we don’t get that here very often.
As I said, this allows sacrifice. It also cycles unwanted lands, or eats Thawing Glaciers that are not needed anymore because the deck is void of remaining basic lands. It also works wonders when accompanied by the last enchantment on this list.
Everybody dies when they try to make you die. Don’t tread on me.
Everybody dies when you throw away all your tokens through Infernal Tribute.
Everybody dies when a Wrath of God is played… But this also kills Penumbra tokens, or Kirtar’s Wrath tokens. Or Field of Souls tokens. Or whatever. That’s not even a good reason for why this card is good.
Here endeth the list….
How I would love to mention Subversion, Black Market, and Death Pit Offerings in the above compilation. And Conspiracy. But just because I play with them doesn’t make them good. I’ve tried to remain as objective as possible, not giving in to personal preference and other forms of nepotism.
Well, that was useful, wasn’t it? May it help you win the next qualifier you play.
Stijn van Dongen,
Send impulsive Love Confessions to [email protected]