This week, we’re looking for bargains in Mirage Block through Tempest — which was tricky for a variety of reasons!
First off, a lot of the cards have been reprinted. That’s not a bad thing, since it makes solid cards like Wall of Roots much easier to pick up, but the goal of the Casual Player’s Bargain-Hunting Guide is to find cards that haven’t been widely reprinted since. I mean, everyone knows that the painlands like Adarkar Wastes are pretty decent multilands, but it’s not exactly a “hunt” to find them.
Second, finding bargains gets harder here, because more of the cards are well-known. These cards are back from when Magic became — well, for lack of a better term, more mainstream, picking up enough popularity when it became obvious that it was going to survive. Sliver Queen is a great casual card, but everyone’s looking for it now.
Third, I got a fierce cold on Sunday, when I’d planned to write this article, and I just plain ran out of brainpower. So what we have here is A through K, and I’ll deal with L through Z next week, when hopefully I’ll be, you know, alive.
That said, I think I’m going to be ending the Bargain-Hunter’s Guides with Invasion Block — after that, everything was available widely on MODO, and everyone pretty much knows the good cards in Onslaught. Feel free to give arguments for ending later or sooner in the forums, if you wish, and if you think I’ve missed a great card thus far — assuming it meets the criteria of “Tempest Block or earlier,” “Hasn’t been widely reprinted since then,” and “Relatively cheap and flexible,” let me know!
Abyssal Gatekeeper ($0.25)
A classic creature that’s just perfect for your Jund devour-based deck, it’s also a solid two-drop for Black decks that are looking to discourage attackers. G’wan, attack — and lose a guy, guaranteed.
While many go, “Oooo! Aluren is a classic combo deck! I must have it!” what they fail to realize is that Aluren is pretty much useless outside of the classic Aluren-based deck (which involves tricks like, say, casting Cavern Harpy and Man O’War a million times to bounce Raven Familiar, Spike Feeder, or Wall of Roots for infinite amounts of cards, life, or mana). If you try to use it in a non-combo deck, you’ll probably find that your opponents gain benefits from Aluren almost as much as you do.
Which is not to say that having an Aluren deck is a bad thing — aside from Aluren, an Eternal Witness, and the mana base, it’s a cheap, extremely effective combo deck — but spending $20.00 on a card that’s going to go in precisely one casual deck does not count as a “bargain.”
Arcane Denial ($1.00)
Overall: 4 (but maybe more….)
For years, casual players have espoused Arcane Denial as the perfect multiplayer counterspell. “It’s cheap and easy on your mana base!” they say. “And your opponents won’t get mad at you, because they’ll draw two cards as a consolation prize!”
You know what? I want my opponents mad at me… Or at least, I do when the alternative is giving them two more cards. I am not a fan of spending a card to counter someone’s spell and then being three cards down when all is said and done.
Yes, this can be effective when the one spell is the only one they have in their deck, making this a better card when your friends have either Highlander decks or are impoverished enough that you know that Predator Dragon is the only one they own.
In the end, I don’t think this is worth it — but if you have a different philosophy, then this is a solid deal and you should pick up four immediately.
It’s restricted in Vintage-legal decks now, but it’s still worth it to throw a singleton copy of this into almost any Blue deck — and if you have more relaxed deckbuilding rules at your table, Brainstorm’s an automatic four-of. Who doesn’t want to spend a single Blue at end of turn to draw a card and set up your next two turns’ worth of drawing? It’s a great deal.
And when you throw in the fact that it a) lets you “hide” cards from discard effects (“In response, I put my two best cards back in my library”) and b) when combined with shuffle effects like fetchlands, it allows you to know when to shuffle and when to keep, and it becomes just a solid card that should be in every Blue deck. Pick up four, you’ll want them, trust me.
Bubble Matrix ($0.75)
Bubble Matrix is one of those rare things — a card that seems like it’d be universally useful, but really turns out to be fairly narrow. The “creatures can’t be damaged” line would be great if it was only for you, but for four mana you get to benefit everybody.
Admittedly, there are any number of decks that want critters that can’t be destroyed by damage alone — wither, decks that are sick of Dave’s Stupid Red Deck burning all their blockers, et cetera — but realistically, trample is still a popular mechanic and you’ll be hindered by this just as much as you’re benefited.
That makes this more of a combo piece for an odd deck — and at four mana, it’s an expensive combo piece. Someone will doubtlessly look at this and get a thousand ideas, but I’m not one of them. And as such, I’m showing it to you so that one guy can go, “Aw, man, this is great!” and the rest of you can walk on by.
Voted “Most Annoying Bounce Spell In The History Of Magic” by casual players everywhere, Capsize is perhaps the king of all buyback spells. For six mana, you can bounce any permanent and still have the spell ready for the next turn. What a deal!
Of course, the problem with Capsize is that novice players tend to fall in love with it, losing incredible amounts of tempo as they spend six mana every turn to neutralize a single threat while their opponents bank cards and eventually break out of the stall. Also, it’s fairly easy to get rid of a Capsize — “In response, I destroy target permanent.” Capsize fizzles, no more Capsize.
Still, it’s flexible, and a solid thing to have four of them around when you need them. And for the low, low cost of a buck, why not have four of them? I mean, come on.
Chaos Lord ($1.00)
This is a great card if you’re an anal-retentive accountant. On the other hand, it’s an awesome card to piss off your opponents come each one of your upkeeps.
Constant Mists ($0.25)
Another great buyback card, a reusable Fog isn’t terribly helpful in the early game — but in the late game, when you have enough land to get by and you need to shut down an opponent’s attack phase for a few turns until you can recover. And again, for a buck for a set of four, it’s a solid card at a great price.
All the attention goes to Force of Will, but the other cards in the “Alliances Free Spells” cycle aren’t terrible, either. It’s an expensive combat trick at 3BB, but the alternative casting cost can often save your bacon — and considering you’re in Black, the secondary color of drawing excess cards, tossing away some other Black card isn’t the worst thing.
Not my first choice as a Black removal spell, but it can do any number of neat tricks when people think you’re helpless.
Debt of Loyalty ($0.50)
This is one of those cards where I’m going to have to let you know. I just stumbled across this little gem while researching the article, and I want to take it for a spin!
Okay, at three mana it seems a little pricey for a combat trick, but getting someone’s Krosan Cloudscraper after it falls prey to someone else’s Might of Oaks seems like a fine, fine play in a heavy White deck. And for two bucks, I can certainly afford to see how it works….
Dirtcowl Wurm ($0.75)
My friend Paul calls this “Moo cow.” I have no idea why, but he giggles every time I play it. Go figure.
That said, the Dirtcowl Wurm seems like an awesome card for multiplayer, getting a +1/+1 counter every time someone drops a land — which is cool. But at five mana, it comes too late in the game to really benefit from the surfeit of land-drops you want — and lacking any other abilities, it frequently either gets stolen by Blue or Terrored by Black. I like the Wurm, and I have two copies in two of my Highlander green decks, but it’s not something you want a four-of.
Eladamri, Lord of Leaves ($5.00)
I said last week that everyone has a Goblins deck. Likewise, everyone has an Elves deck. And for five dollars, you get one of the best Lords in existence — and though he hasn’t been errataed to affect himself, and he does shut down Elf-centric targeting effects like things like Timberwatch Elf, he’s still almost as nice as Elvish Champion. And Elvish Champion goes for the exact same price!
If you’re sprucing up a top-tier casual Elves deck, you should have at least one copy of Eladamri in here.
For six mana, this is a solid situational card — it destroys an entire tribe at sorcery speed, making it your silver bullet against slow-building Tribal decks like Slivers and Beasts. (Elves and Goblins will frequently have just killed you before you can cast it, whereas Faeries will probably just counter it.) Coming hot on the heels of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, there are a lot of tribal decks still in play, and Extinction eliminates one of them for a cheap physical price and a large mana price.
That said, it’s a three because for six mana, you get the instant speed (and hand-stripping) potential of Tsabo’s Decree, which affects only one player but pretty much devastates him. Still, it’s a good silver bullet in certain metagames.
Fade Away ($0.10)
If your metagame is prone to large numbers of creature stalls, where everyone has seventy guys on the board and then can’t break through, this is a situational Wrath of God. You have to pay a mana to keep each creature, which makes it hard to use correctly, but the point is that after someone’s tapped out to make a million Saproling tokens, you then slam this down and watch â€˜em weep.
Is it the best card? â€˜Course not. But forty cents! Come on, add it to your arsenal.
The premiere finisher in many older Goblin decks, Fireblast isn’t quite as good in multiplayer — six mana is too expensive for most cheap critter decks to cast consistently, and four damage isn’t that much when you consider you have to do at least forty damage to kill your two other opponents. It’s a nice emergency button, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.
Goblin Bombardment ($0.75)
This is one of those rare combo pieces that’s useful in non-combo decks. A lot of decks want to enter into an infinite loop where they cast a critter, sacrifice it for a damage, then cast another critter. But Goblin Bombardment is often useful as one- or two-of in normal decks — it allows you to punish someone’s Wrath of God with a string of pings to the head, makes sure that the Blue players can never steal your men, and allows for a free damage anywhere you’d like whenever you’re about to lose a combat.
Plus, if you have a deck where you want to sacrifice things for effect, it works well — I have two copies in my Lifeline deck, and it works wonders.
You do not want to play this card without a judge handy, whether that’s an IRC chat window open or an actual Level Two at the table, because Humility is one of those cards that confuses the hell out of everyone. How does it interact with Glorious Anthem? What happens when a critter has a “comes into play” effect? People get confused as all heck by these sorts of things, and they don’t believe you unless you’re a judge or you have one.
That said, though it’s pricey as hell, Humility is one of those cards that just shuts down whole decks. The watchword of multiplayer is “reusage,” and as such a lot of decks have creatures with effects that spells would normally do. I mean, why bother with Naturalize when for three extra mana you can cast an Indrik Stomphowler and get a 4/4 body with it?
Humility destroys decks like this, often rendering them completely useless. They should have Overrun, instead they have Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. They should have a Terror, instead they have Nekrataal. And Humility gives them all a bunch of 1/1 dorks.
Building a deck to take advantage of Humility is slightly tricky, but a fairly simple exercise for even a moderate deckbuilder. I used to mess around with Orim’s Prayer to effectively shut down all attacks, but any token-generating effects will frequently overwhelm your opponents… Assuming you can protect the Humility.
In any case, $20 is pricey. I won’t deny that. But as far as the centerpiece of an entertaining deck goes — people love to hate Humility decks, because it’s not totally unbeatable, just very tough — it’s worth it.
Kaervek’s Torch ($0.25)
A mostly-forgotten burn spell, the Torch is the perfect answer to a Blue-heavy metagame where everyone thinks that leaving two mana open will protect them from your furious burn. Like Dre, everyone seems to forget about Torch; use it.
Kjeldoran Outpost ($3.00)
If you like generating tokens — and who doesn’t? — the Outpost is a wonderful way of making soldiers at a cost far cheaper than City of Vitu-Ghazi. Yes, you’re down a land drop for it, but this isn’t an early-game card — it’s a thing to have one or two copies in your deck for the late game, when your opponents have exhausted their resources and you want to keep pumping out tokens.
Next Week: L through Z!