Springboard 22

Mike Flores strays from his usual Top 10 list into a Top 22 list for Dark Ascension. These cards are the best for launching new decks, shaping the metagame, and providing food for thought.

I managed to cut my list to 22 cards.

If you don’t write articles, you probably don’t know this, but one of the more challenging parts of doing it—especially in a sustained fashion—is to figure out some way to give your narrative form, or to figure out some way to make something that should be commonplace interesting (whether or not it is useful, which is always the end goal, of course). One template that proves a crowd pleaser time and again is the Top 10 list.

As much as I can, I try to align my writing with what I think Patrick Sullivan will like, but the Top 10 list is my most obvious disconnect. Why? Most readers absolutely love Top 10 lists; Top 10 lists are like opening a present, and then finding smaller gift box inside, and then unwrapping that, and so on and so forth, until you find a nugget of gold and / or poop upon unraveling the final purple ribbon. Top10 lists give readers the opportunity to nod enthusiastically (a reader—anyone really—typically loves anything that he or she can agree with); and conversely (and believably), readers interact perhaps even more excitedly with things they don’t agree with, which also sparks discussion, interest, and the inflammation of passions… So, Top 10 lists.

Anyway, I originally wanted to do a Top 10 list, but I had more than 10 cards I wanted to talk about. I actually had close to 30 cards I wanted to talk about. After a couple of pass-throughs, I made it down to the trim 22 cards herein.

It dawned on me fairly quickly that many writers have many of the same cards in their respective piles of playables, but if you bear with me I tried to do something a bit different. While the present article does comprise many obvious Top 10 cards, this “Top 22” list is more just the stuff that I want to think about, that gets my creative deck design juices flowing, or that just gives me a signal that there is some underpriced opportunity available. That said, you can’t think of any decklist here as a final product; or, you can…but you will end up deeply unsatisfied. Rather, they are presented as first passes on the backs of crumpled late-nite napkins, the fetuses, zygotes, even moments of release of some future something-something’s.

And before we start—I am not going to talk at all about the non-Lord / Lord cycle of three-drop 2/2s; I don’t know which (if any) are going to be that good / relevant in their respective linears, but more importantly, I don’t actually find any of them particularly interesting. Sorry Immerwolf. Even more sorry, Drogskol Captain; I am sure you are mighty.

Let’s begin!

#22 – Burning Oil

Last week I lost a 1v1 queue on MTGO (Magic Online) with my B/R Bump deck to Five-Color Control. He was all Vivid this and Jace Beleren us both (which is like being handed a scratch-off lottery ticket if you grok). My intuition—and my experience from playing Blightning-type decks in years past against the Toast and Cruel variations various—had me believing the burn deck would be a heavy favorite.

Aside: This is what passed for SCGLive in 2008. End aside.

Anyway, my 2012 opponent seemed to be working very deliberately to eke every drop of value out of cards like Cryptic Command (where I would have just been using it to stay alive). Anyway—my initial thought was that I was going to drub him.

He ended up 2-0ing me pretty ho hum.

My draws were fine, pretty good actually. He didn’t put up a lockdown counterspell wall, and he didn’t do much proactively for like ten turns in either game. What he did do was just raw open 2-3 Lightning Bolts in each of his starting hands, both games. I was on the draw, gave him some free lands with my Goblin Guides, and he just Bolted them. I didn’t draw many extra cards with Dark Confidant—he had the Lightning Bolt where necessary. “Whatever!” Mr. All-my-lands-come-into-play-tapped; Lightning Bolt costs one. In the deciding turn of the second game, I played to stay alive even if he did have a Cruel Ultimatum (he pretty much telegraphed that he did) and set myself up for a respectable topdecker’s chance to win in two turns in the unlikely event that he didn’t have some resistance with all his extra-cards-in-hand advantages.

But he had a pair of Lightning Bolts (maybe he drew some off his Cruel Ultimatum?) and 11’d me all in one turn.

The card Lightning Bolt is, in case you missed it, very good.

Like I said—ho hum.

When the Alpha Boon Lightning Bolt was spoiled as a returning Core Set card a few years back, my first intuition was that it would be a high-impact control card. Yes, of course Lightning Bolt would see play in RDW, probably make Jund look efficient, but the real juice there was going to be in control. Just think about how much defensive deck speed Lightning Bolt is going to give them, I thought to myself. Okay, I responded (so I did think about that).

Now I don’t think that Burning Oil is going to be redefining a whole lot of main decks—at least not in either of the main formats I am thinking about, and certainly not to the degree of a Lightning Bolt—but I do think that it could be a relevant sideboard card in not only control (for fast beatdown) but a deck like Boros (i.e. for the mirror).

Not that long ago, a card like Volcanic Hammer was plenty good enough to sideboard in control against beatdown; Burning Oil—just on the front side—is probably a better creature defense card for the cost and color. The flashback is just a “mise” bonus. A recurring theme of this set is that you can just get some extra value off of flashbacks for no other reason than you are playing cards like Thought Scour or Desperate Ravings.

If you are pretty sure you are going to be attacked by small creatures (safe bet, especially if you are positioning Burning Oil as a lockdown sideboard card), it should play like a slightly worse Ancient Grudge; and that compliment really isn’t all that backhanded, considering Ancient Grudge is far and away the best flashback card of all time (more on that later).

In fact, the card seems semi-hellacious against a blue beatdown theme where every threat is a 1/1 | 3/2 and/or 2/1 (you know who you are).

#21 Increasing Confusion

I suppose the Millstone-inclined among you can play this card in, you know, some kind of Millstone strategy; or you can self-Millstone for purposes of Splinterfright (or whatever in larger formats: Vengevines, Stinkweed Imp, etc.), but that kind of pedestrian, if possibly viable, thinking isn’t what made it impossible for me to cut this card from my already-bloated Top 10 Top 20 Top 22 list.

I think you can just singleton / double up this card to run with Chandra, the Firebrand, in the “Sorin’s Vengeance” slot.

No, the card doesn’t do as much as Sorin’s Vengeance (a Sorin’s Vengeance for seven mana, doubled up by Chandra, is basically death), but it has a fair amount of flexibility. Plus, I like anything that lets you improve your results by cheating on the math / increasing the complexity.

What is a seven-point Increasing Confusion “supposed” to get you? Six cards?

Did you think about maybe burning the front side for U and then flashing it back for 5U instead? Now you have graduated to 10 cards exhausted already! And combined with a conjectural Chandra double up? That is 20 cards… Maybe not “as good” as 20 life (especially a slurpy, healing 20 life), but at the point you can play this card, it could actually be pretty close (especially when considered strategically).

So, where and why?

I think the most seamless place to try is a U/R deck with Chandra, the Firebrand. You can try it in a Grixis deck (replacing Sorin’s Vengeance), but there might not be a lot of point in that because 1) gaining DI life can actually be quite useful, and 2) you need a fairly busty amount of mana to get there anyway.

So…maybe the same model but conserving black. One criticism of my U/R Satchel deck from States was that it didn’t have a lot of ways to win quickly. Increasing Confusion might be able to fill such a role in a two-color deck…potentially super high impact and capable of weird wins when we “burn” the front side and / or complement with Thought Scour.

#20 Hellrider

I think of Talruum Minotaur as a Constructed playable card; not in 2012 of course, but it was a solid, underrated option back in its own day.

Hellrider—and this is about as useless a term as you can use, I have recently realized—is “strictly better” than Talruum Minotaur. Hellrider is actually pretty good, contextually. Three toughness is nothing to sneeze at when Magicians play a Shock—and against a Vapor Snag? Not much better than haste.

Hellrider—if it is going to be a viable card to play—is most likely to bump up against Hero of Oxid Ridge at the four. The two cards have some similar qualities: casting cost, haste, even a way to get around token defenders. Hero of Oxid Ridge of course ignores 1/1 quasi-cards; while little guys can in fact block a Hellrider, it has its own semi-reach. It is probably unrealistic to expect a Mage to run two different kinds of four-drop red hasters, but I think that one of the areas where Hellrider can excel is working in concert with other haste creatures; that’s probably a mite redundant, as Hellrider seems a creature that is designed to be played with other creatures.

On the subject of four-mana red hasters…

#19 Falkenrath Aristocrat

Interesting world we live in where Falkenrath Aristocrat is a hair’s breadth from being out of my Top 20.

The card seems a bit better than Giant Solifuge (which was a stud in its day, immediately won its debut Pro Tour, and more importantly, helped me Q).

One cool thing about Giant Solifuge was how flexible it was in terms of mana and colors. Falkenrath Aristocrat is essentially the opposite. Not only is it two different colors of mana but is (at least ostensibly) begging to be played with white. Like Falkenrath Aristocrat + Loyal Cathar is a full-on combo, but WW on the second turn into B/R by the fourth is a mite challenging.

Is there another option?

This is just a thought experiment, obviously.

I just did a Gatherer search for Humans in Standard, and all these awesome Human Wizards came up. Stormblood Berserker would probably fit, too.

You can play a pretty tight, super low curve of all 0-2 CMC cards (and Brimstone Volley) and run it off of Evolving Wilds to help hit your colors early…and then clean up with like two Falkenraths. You get the whole Thought Scour + Desperate Ravings + Geistflame (or whatever flashbacks seem relevant), and you can sideboard black removal.

What is cool is that the mana actually seems better than a previous-format U/R Delver deck… Though this might be one of those thought experiments that have you scratching your head and wondering if you really need black just for Falkenrath Aristocrat.

#18 Huntmaster of the Fells

Pretty obvious mash-up of Iyanaga’s Worlds winner and a Birthing Pod deck.

Huntmaster of the Fells is very Ravenous Baloth / Obstinate Baloth / Loxodon Hierarch-ish (four-drop that gives you extra life, four power, and four toughness), but the double bodies actually make for some Birthing Pod springboard value (even if the deck only has the one Birds of Paradise). Life gain on a value creature, plus Birthing Pod for that matter, go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Have you ever wondered what Thomas Keller, America’s finest chef (by the way, literal tons—metric tons—of New York restaurant reviews include the phrase “Thomas Keller, America’s finest chef” I spit you not), would do with the simple peanut butter cup? Someday I am going to write like a blog post on this topic, but the short / simple answer is THIS THING.

A Bouchon Bakery peanut butter cup is so far and away better than any other kind of peanut butter cup it is like the step change delta between a pair of Old Navy slacks to The Gap slacks to a pair of Banana Republic ones. All three retail stores are sisters to one another but are increasingly expensive (Old Navy being more geared towards savings or younger buyers, The Gap in the middle, and Banana more high end without being a true luxury brand). The cut of a pair of pants that could look kind of the same across the three stores is wildly wide. The Old Navy pair is made of cheaper cloth, is more likely to fray, might be a bit big in the cut, as though it was meant to be clasped at your waist with a spot of old rope. The Gap pair is more of the same, maybe some better material, probably has metal buttons instead of plastic ones, but still doesn’t fit “great” great (might err long instead of just “big”)…

But the Banana Republic ones? First off all the material is like 100x more durable, more nicely dyed. The detailing is absurd. The Banana pair has features that you would never think of by yourself. Extra buttons (the experience of which are tactile and visual as well as functional), snaps, or hooks; extra pockets-within-pockets for change (or other); a fit that is simultaneously more snug, and not uncomfortably so (emphasis in “fit”).

A Bouchon peanut butter cup costs perhaps 20x what a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup costs for a reason. It is like the Banana Republic pair to the Old Navy one but magnified in flavor, texture, consistency, and unexpected features (there are like little flecks of mashed up Oreo in the ultra-smooth whipped peanut butter center), yet screaming “peanut butter cup!” with every luscious bite.

Anyway, Huntmaster of the Fells fits into existing Standard G/R strategies kind of like peanut butter and chocolate snap together. What remains to be seen is how close it is to the Bouchon model versus a discount brand.

#17 Thought Scour

What might be truly embarrassing would be if I went back—that is BDM and I collectively went back—and recounted all of the hands we didn’t mulligan…because we had, you know, a Mental Note.

Is Thought Scour “strictly better” than Mental Note?


Functionally, that is pretty much the case.

Mental Note was a card that was good enough to win an Extended Pro Tour in a non-graveyard centered deck (Antoine Ruel Psychatog; admittedly I thought Richard Feldman PTQ swap to Peek was a fairly unambiguous upgrade), though it is much better remembered for its interactions with cards like Werebear and even Centaur Chieftain.

What is interesting today is the possibility of playing a deck that includes Thought Scour, Faithless Looting, and Desperate Ravings all at once. You’ll be able to keep so many opening hands!

Here’s first pass at a Modern update:

So my thinking is that you often want to flash Past in Flames anyway; Thought Scour and Faithless Looting are such serious dig I think a cut to one copy might be justifiable. I like a one-mana dig spell, but might have gone overboard slashing the Pyretic Rituals.

#16 Tragic Slip

Basically an upgrade to Virulent Wound in non-infect sub-themed B/U Control decks; contextually quite good in many, many other places.

You very likely already understand that this card costs one mana, and given the right block or setup card, it can trade with, like, a Titan (or an allegedly indestructible Blightsteel Colossus). Not a big leap that this could / should be in the playables pile.

Here is an update to my Destroy All Monsters B/U from a handful of Flores Fridays ago:

Pristine Talisman tech is awesome for 1) accelerating three-to-five for purposes of Curse of Death’s Hold, 2) making up for lost land[s] (also somewhat accommodated by the addition of 4x Thought Scour, and 3) keeping yourself alive.

Again, just a first pass. I still like killing lots of guys more than actually pretending towards controlling a format full of an excess of threat power in most decks. I especially like managing time with cards like Tragic Slip in a format where tons of the main threats are x/1 base creatures.

2 Lillies might be too few, though.

I am not sure where exactly on the line we are between “keeping the opponent honest” versus “not bothering” with the one counterspell.

#15 Young Wolf

So…this is the exact same Birthing Pod mashup I posted earlier this article but cutting one Huntmaster of the Fells for one Young Wolf. Young Wolf gives you a pretty good catalyst to two—undying into undying if you grok.

Only one Huntmaster of the Fells is kind of weird, though. Three Green Sun’s Zenith?

#14 Loyal Cathar / Unhallowed Cathar

Solid White Weenie drop here (pretty obvious).

That said, the competition at WW is equally fierce.

Just as Tsuyoshi once counseled myself and psulli that the correct choice of Volcanic Hammer versus its disparate competitor Leonin Skyhunter “depends on the metagame,” so too does a decision on Loyal Cathar versus other two power attackers in Humans. Do you care more about disruption (Thalia), controlling the opponent’s options (Grand Abolisher), or winning an attrition war (this guy / these guys)? None of them are remarkable combat creatures; all of them do about the same damage.

So “solid drop” is at once a compliment and a question mark; white, after all, has an excess of solid drops at this CMC that red would drool over.

#13 Ghoultree

In the right spot, this is a Tarmogoyf.

You know, ish.

For BDM:

So a couple of ideas going on here…

To what degree is Tracker’s Instincts a replacement for (or upgrade to) Green Sun’s Zenith? This being the alpha stage, I am trying it, but it is important to note we lose Green Sun’s Zenith for two mana as a pseudo-Rampant Growth for Birds of Paradise. Is mashing a Primeval Titan theme onto a creature / graveyard one productive anyway? If we’re really going to go that way…probs more accel, amirite?

Boneyard Wurms and Ghoultrees, Splinterfrights and so on are all nice, but while we’re at it, the real fun is sitting behind 100 Spiders so we can set up Karn Liberated. Again…might be lacking in the accel department.

Ideas at this point.

I know I like Karn in Primeval Titan decks.

I know I like Mulch in non-Pod Titan decks.

I know I like Karn hiding behind Spiders.


#12 Predator Ooze

I really like this card. It does lots. You can’t get through it easily, and if it sticks, barring specialized reactive cards, control decks pretty much bend over to it. Kind of a flat tire to Vapor Snag—seemingly inevitable whenever the opponent can’t race. Predator Ooze is obviously super green-intensive, so playing it effectively (that is, early enough to matter) might give us an opening to reinvigorate the Dungrove Elder style of ramp. Dungrove Elder is a card that is super good in one kind of deck and pretty worthless everywhere else; luckily, the kind of deck it gets on with is the kind that can easily accommodate a turn three two GGG.

You know, GG.

I started with Owen’s States deck, minus Beast Within / plus Predator Ooze. I have never been a huge fan of Beast Within, and the mono-green build doesn’t trump it(self) with Slagstorm.

#11 Gather the Townsfolk

Sadin had this card as “changing the way the format is played” when we did a podcast a few weeks ago that has inexplicably never gone up (blame BDM!).

I like it fine but am a bit worried that B/W Tokens is a trap.

What do you mean a trap?

Like, everyone has these memories of B/W Tokens being Tier One in a format with seemingly more powerful opposition than we have in Standard today (e.g. B/U Faeries). The truth is, we (that is B/W Tokens in this case) don’t have Bitterblossom either. It’s not like we have some kind of absolute card quality advantage over the field.

B/W Tokens is a midrange offensive deck, which is the definition of a deck that gets annihilated by Tinker decks (i.e. Primeval Titan-driven “over the top” decks). And while the card Liliana of the Veil unambiguously stinks against it, control can beat tokens if they really try. A judicious application of Ratchet Bomb, Buried Ruin, and Curse of Death’s Hold can overwhelm even an eight-pack of Crusade effects. If control really wants to kill small creatures, they can.

That said, there is no denying the obvious synergies of cards like this one, Lingering Souls, and the new Sorin. I mean Magicians are going to go that route.

Here’s a different wrinkle: green.

Without skipping ahead to what I have at #1 for Dark Ascension (I am pretty sure this is a different #1 than what anyone else has), I think Tokens really wants to be green for Ray of Revelation (oops). You can fight other white decks’ Oblivion Rings and Crusade cards, and you can take out both the Curses that most B/U decks play (where Curse of Death’s Hold is one of their best cards against Tokens, B/W, or other).

So from my position, the strat you want 1) includes green, 2) plays all four Rays after sideboarding, 3) exploits Phyrexian mana to set up the bonuses on both this card and Timely Reinforcements.

Another first pass:

So a de-emphasis on consistent turn-one green pulls the possibility of a Paradise and / or Pilgrim opening strategy; Sphere of the Suns can produce whatever we want and jump us two-to-four for various planeswalkers, Hero of Bladehold, etc. It also opens us up a bit for the Evolving Wilds open or one of the Plains-reliant dual lands on turn one with no Plains in play. Subtly, it also casts Gut Shot at no penalty.

A tokens strat uses up hella ongoing mana, so I am a bit worried about potentially running out.

Okay, actual Top 10!

#10 Wolfbitten Captive

PT great Tomi Walamies once said that he had never lost a game where his opponent pumped his Basking Rootwalla before turn five.

It is notable that Walamies is now a full-time standup comedian.

Wolfbitten Captive gives us a very playable offensive one-drop for green and possibly a pair to Young Wolf.

It / they can potentially pair with the next card (which I have at #9)…

#9 Strangleroot Geist

…and Sadin (again on that apocryphal Top 8 Magic podcast) said it was his call for potentially the #1 overall card in Dark Ascension.

Bold boost, certainly, for Strangleroot Geist, but Steve is hardly alone in his praise for the card. Lots of very respectable Magicians have tried to build decks including this spell.

Major downsides: the mana cost. We just aren’t used to this kind of an offensive two-drop with GG. What is the best analogue? Whirling Dervish? RR, sure! We can wrap our heads around a Slith Firewalker. That’s great! But who even knows what the green Slith’s name was?

Neither do I.


Looking at that mana, maybe there is a reason we aren’t used to a GG offensive two.

#8 Geralf’s Messenger

Done to death.

Beyond(!) death, even.

Probably more synergies than “useful” just now:

(Though I am proud of a deck where Arbor Elf is potentially better, for the first time ever, than Llanowar Elves.)

#7 Dawntreader Elk

I haven’t seen a lot of mages talking about Dawntreader Elk.

Really, here is the question: How much does one mana in activation cost mean when doubling the power of what was the best creature in Standard for two years (and a Standard of a pretty high power level, at that)?

Sakura-Tribe Elder was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. In 2012 I don’t know if it would be #1 overall still (remember at its debut, STE’s main job was soaking up Ravager attacks, back when damage still went on the stack), but I have to believe in a format where Rampant Growth is so commonly played, it could contribute substantially.

Maybe even go over a handful of the decks presented here and pepper in some Dawntreader Elks. It isn’t a nearly strict upgrade to Rampant Growth the way Sakura-Tribe Elder was, but the fact that it can just start beating, Limited style, at a high level of effectiveness and efficiency can’t be discounted.

How about so…

How much better is this deck than the one immediately before it?

Is it possibly worse?

We basically chop Young Wolf (a marginal but potentially very annoying one-drop) for a much slower two-drop…that we might be able to hit on-curve with much greater consistency. Put a different way, would you rather have a second-turn Young Wolf (because you opened on Rootbound Crag or Evolving Wilds) or a second-turn Dawntreader Elk in the same spot?

Is Dawntreader Elk legit in the Top 10, over say, Gather the Townsfolk? Pretty controversial call there, I would assume.

I think I will have to put a lot of elbow grease into uncovering the answer.

If you’ve read any of my recent stuff, you know how much of a premium I put on just one mana; on the other hand, this card’s power level is extremely close to one of my favorite creatures of all time… and it beats.

Not for nothin’.

#6 Faithless Looting

Just one of the awesomest possible cards. Careful Study was a format-defining card across Odyssey Block, Standard, and even a major contributor to Extended (big Extended) via Reanimator as well as Madness and Threshold.

Faithless Looting—if you ignore the swap of U to R—is not just a nearly strict upgrade but a massive upgrade. If there was one thing people didn’t like about Careful Study… Well, in a semi-long game (or a game full of lots of mana explosions, as with the Storm sketch posted above), you really don’t have that issue any longer.


Lots of readers seemed to love Ben Seck’s Burning Vengeance deck…

How does Faithless Looting contribute to a build like Ben’s?

The way I see it, you want to be able to do stuff like bin Haakon and set up Nameless Inversion. The deck doesn’t have the old cycling engine to draw raw cards, though it has Life from the Loam all it wants. You can therefore proxy the flashback on inevitably dredged copies of Faithless Looting to draw extra and then re-dredge or filter your hand however you want with your Loam-driven cards and mana advantage. Faithless Looting in fact works quite nicely with Burning Vengeance!

More than anything else, Ben’s deck is a collection of powerful unique effects that have synergies with each other but all do completely independent things. Burning Vengeance and Life from the Loam are two examples…in a sense they are both disparate flagships. You can almost put Haakon in a third column. He gets dredged by Life from the Loam and turns on Nameless Inversion; conversely Nameless Inversion is weaker than we would expect for Modern, for its cost, independent of Haakon.

A card like Faithless Looting is great here because it can increase the frequency of drawing any given part (think of how brutal Raven’s Crime is with Life from the Loam and how mediocre it is without Life from the Loam). Again, this matters in a different way than when we consider, say, Storm because all the cards do synergistic but independent things, rather than all the same thing (but to different degrees).

Thoughts on -1 Tarmogoyf, Liliana, Raven’s Crime, Death Cloud? How about the solo Garruk?

#5 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

I have this so high because I figure it will be high impact—but decidedly high impact—in formats I know relatively little about.

I can see it having an impact in Standard but not one I really care about on average.


#4 Grafdigger’s Cage

See #5.

Remember: Also stops stuff like Tinker!

Leading Irony: Ancient Grudge :(

#3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Steve Sadin specifically said not to focus on this card (in anticipation that every writer would).


Never mind.

Just one thing to note (especially in the Sorin v. Elspeth fights)… Sorin offers a very desirable, unique functionality in lifelink. Lots of decks that don’t normally want to “waste” cards on life gain get to piggyback on a semi-throwaway ability that can, in certain matchups, prove brutal or at least relevant.

Obviously he does lots of other stuff you might want to do, but the lifelink add-on to his token generation is what I like the best.

I think playing Sorin off-label, say in a “U/W” Delver deck (even as a singleton), offers some intriguing incentives.

Like, all of a sudden you have inevitability instead of being forced into the beatdown role in many matchups. Or you get this great stall / life gain option that can defend against other pressure decks (that also have removal).

#2 Lingering Souls

See below.

#1 Ray of Revelation

I know many writers have Lingering Souls as the #1 card in Dark Ascension, and maybe it will be the most high-impact new card, but I would like to make a case for the only flashback card in the history of the game to rival the speed, potential relevance, and power level of my favorite, Ancient Grudge.

Cosmetically, Ancient Grudge and Ray of Revelation are, if not “the same,” two sides of the same coin, and each of them is much better than the other given the right conditions. Ancient Grudge’s position as the #1 card overall in some formats (e.g. certain incarnations of Extended) was largely a product of everyone else’s choices. If players insist on running an Isochron Scepter or trying to win Jitte fights or overloading their ‘Tron manabases with things like Moxes and killing with five-drop Masticores, then of course Ancient Grudge is going to look good…and it certainly did, at the time.

But there is no absolute reason why the ability to cheaply kill artifacts is inherently more valuable than the ability to cheaply kill enchantments. For instance if we lived in a world defined by Hive Mind, Pyromancer Ascension, and Bitterblossom instead, Ancient Grudge would be a fringe card. Was Ancient Grudge the backbreaker that catapulted Iyanaga to the 2011 title? Probably. But, again, he had the fortune of taking a road where even a non-four number of Grudges was exceedingly relevant.

Now let’s imagine the today of not-that-much-further-in-the-future, today.

What kinds of cards are going to bubble up, given the kinds of cards we talked about in this article?

Is Lingering Souls super good? How about Gather the Townsfolk? Might these cards give rise to increased numbers of Honor of the Pure and / or its token-centric analogue? Have we seen, earlier in this season, a reliance on cards like Oblivion Ring as a defensive front line? Is Oblivion Ring in fact one of the main ways that white decks deal with enchantments today? What is the worst possible thing for tokens? Where on that list does Curse of Death’s Hold rank?

How about you can answer most of these questions, ho hum, with a two and a one; do it, do it all over again?

That is the power of Ray of Revelation.

No, I don’t see it as an unconditional maindeck four-of. It is not Snapcaster Mage. However, it is going to be hard to deny its relevance at least “lots and lots of the time.”

That’s why I have it #1.

Now how about Lingering Souls?

Lots and lots of people have already written lots and lots of words about Lingering Souls. Suffice it to say the card is probably very good on its face. It is even better when you consider the possibility of playing it with a Thought Scour or even Desperate Ravings (yes, we live in a world where this is possible).

I would like to talk about it in a different light.

Earlier in this article, I touched on the idea that being “strictly better” is kind of useless. Strict better-ness is one of the first things that I learned as an up-and-coming player that has colored my analysis for going on two decades of Magic: The Gathering.

Another thing that I decided (or picked up on) early on is the idea of instants being better than sorceries.

Have you ever thought to yourself why this might be?

I suppose that it has to do with the ephemeral concept of “options.” Instants—all other things held equal—give you more options. That is, you have more options as to when to play basically the same thing. And no, there is not much denying that Incinerate runs laps around Volcanic Hammer.

In practical terms, this mostly matters when you are playing against blue. Not that it doesn’t matter otherwise; and obviously blue is the best, so it matters most against the best, but it’s not like there is this unconditional wall of mattering more that doesn’t exist in any other context.

It’s not like an instant is worth five dollars out of the ATM, and a sorcery is only worth four dollars; more like instants have more ATM availability. Nice, but it doesn’t really change what you can take out.

I have written on many occasions that the best time to play your removal—even instant removal—is often your own main phase. All of us have the experience of trying to cheat our last two mana during the opponent’s end step for the removal spell, only to bite a narrowly cast Spell Pierce (or the equivalent)…something that would not have mattered if all our lands were untapped.

So really, this notion of options—of better-ness (and I will admit instants are better, though not as better as often advertised)—is the option to play worse Magic.

What we get—it is becoming clearer and clearer to me—is what we pay for. When we pay for it will often matter, but that matters much less than most of us think it does, at least for most of us. We can’t let it color our evaluation of cards to the degree of radical mis-pricing (which I think is a major culprit today).

And the notion of strict-ness?

How much does it matter that a Shatter is worse than several options we have been allowed to play, past and present…when what we need is a Shatter? Do we let Ancestral Recall’s mistake in existence color our willingness to embrace a Brainstorm?

Like many things you grow up with, this is hard for me to get past, but I’m trying.

All of this together: Midnight Haunting was already good enough. Lingering Souls—when colored in the light of “instant versus sorcery matters less than you think it does”—is even better than you thought it might be. Put another way, this card is all four Squadron Hawks in one card…for 62.5% of the mana.

Play it.