In the previous article of this column, we looked at some of the outstanding cards from Alliances. Well, my friend, there are many more. There are more outstanding Alliances cards than there are worms of the earth, and by golly, we’re going to look at each and every one of them.
If Errand of Duty looks familiar, you’re stuck in the past and ought to get a real life (Half price, while supplies last!). No, seriously, according to my in-depth research, Errand of Duty is the earliest extant version of Raise the Alarm. And have you seen the size of that horse? Speaking of earliest extant versions, Exile is none other than the older brother of Chastise, and Kjeldoran Home Guard is the honored relative of absolutely nothing. It’s true, take a look at Kjeldoran Home Guard and tell me that it isn’t one of the cleverest, snookiest little bundles of Whiteness you’ve ever seen. With hints of Spiny Starfish, it’s especially irritating if you have some kind of permanent pump on it, something like Vulshok Battlegear. So far as hints go, Sworn Defender niggles at the brain in way similar to Phantasmal Fiend, and if you like the one, you might just start cracking your knuckles about the other.
The fact that there’s so much eye candy in Alliance’s White alone is a good sign since, as we all know, White tends to be as dull as a third-string Third World dictator. More fun is usually brewing in Blue, and Alliances doesn’t disappoint in this respect. Phantasmal Sphere (frighteningly, only the second most confusing Phantasm in the set) is a realio, trulio, little, bad card. The only way it could work would be if you had land running out of your ears (Don’t even think about messing with TurboLamb v. 1.1, buddy.). On Turn 2. Still, I can imagine casting it in a multiplayer game and waiting to see what happened. After all, whoever attacks you is not going to be the recipient of the Orb token. If you wanted to ensure that you always had a Phantasmal Sphere around to taunt people with, you could enchant one with False Demise. I have a general love for multi-use cards, and False Demise is flexible like few other non-Phyrexian Boon (a remedial Clutch of Undeath) creature enchantments. Cast it on your opponent’s creature or cast it on your own! It’s up to you!
So far as multi-use cards go, it’s tough to find a spell as slithery as Feast or Famine. This was the first creator of a Zombie token and can thus be seen as a vague precursor to Sarcomancy. If you’re at a loss as to what to do with your Zombie token, you could always consider the ultra-evil Ritual of the Machine, one of the few non-vampiric means Black has of stealing creatures. Back in the old days, I’d always tread carefully before casting a beloved Serra Angel, just out of fear of Ritual of the Machine. The traditional problem with cards like Ritual of the Machine and Feast or Famine is deciding whether or not to cast them early. Who could know what hideous monsters could be hiding in your opponent’s hand? You could know if you played Stromgald Spy. Then, before your opponent could scream, “Steal the Angel, but for the love of God, leave Leviathan alone!” you could circumvent her ploy, touch neither of them, and instead, steal Pit Spawn (Warning: Pit Spawn is a Beast, not a real Spawn).
Far and away the most played creature stealer to come out of Alliances is Helm of Obedience. One has to remember that, at this time in Magic history, Millstone-style decks were popular, and against creatureless decks, Helm of Obedience can mill faster than the miller himself. Against Control, the artifact can also be guaranteed to snatch a big, Blue flyer.
This, helpfully, brings up an important theoretical point: Back in the days of Alliances, undrawn cards were accorded much more value than they are today. Whereas now, our fearless strategy writers suggest that an undrawn card might as well not exist and that the only important undrawn card is the last one you’ll ever draw, during Ice Age Block, undrawn cards were significant. I can almost hear the writers at Inquest Magazine running down Arc-Slogger. A prime example of this different mindset is Whirling Catapult, a card for which the library some kind of sacred tome that, like Mr. Rogers, ought never to be defiled. The terrible Storm Elemental works the same way, and if you ever lose a game because you over-partook of Royal Herbalist, you deserve what’s coming to you. Some of these cards are better than others though. Browse is a super-duper-strength Treasure Trove, and Seasoned Tactician looks creepily like Margaret Thatcher even though the two would have had different Falkland strategies. As final instances of library manipulation, consider the unreasonably odd Lodestone Bauble and Foresight. Foresight, at least, isn’t completely pointless; you could use it to remove some of the Lodestone Baubles from your library.
Although difficult to cast, playing Misfortune (hilariously illustrated by Ron Spencer) is like forcing your opponent to read a really difficult choose-your-own-adventure novel, the kind of book in which, whatever you do, your character ends up being eaten by the Slime Women or roasted by dragons. To that end, Alliances also gives us Phyrexian Portal (a truly primitive Fact or Fiction).
Yavimaya Ants, meanwhile, is Green’s take on Ball Lightning, and you can thank your lucky stars that it worked out better than, say, Green’s take on Marjhan. While it may only be once in a blue moon that Yavimaya Ants survives to die another day, it still acts as a great means of semi-direct damage. Hopefully, by playing Craw Giant, you’ll have already gotten your opponents out of the habit of putting Tundra Wolves in their decks. And who knows, some decks could even pay the Swarm’s (yes, Yavimaya Ants is of the creature type Swarm) cumulative upkeep. In fact, after a few, insubstantial tweaks to [author name="Mike Flores"]Mike Flores[/author]‘ award-winning Mono-Blue Control deck, we get:
G/R Ant Farm
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Bloodfire Dwarf
2 Electrostatic Bolt
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Elvish Ranger
4 Yavimaya Ants
4 Hungry Mist
The idea behind the deck is simple: Slash and burn opposing creatures to make room for an early Yavimaya Ants or Hungry Mist. If you’re hankering for a 5-drop, you can try Deadly Insect (even worse than Hungry Mist!). And they say God is a myth.