Bonjour mes amis! Welcome back to the column that explores the casual. I am your host and writer, bringing you news and articles for the casual players out there. Whether you are a tournament player that likes to sit back and sling spells at the kitchen table, or a devoted multiplayer fan, this column has ideas for all of you.
Today I want to talk about some clever, older, largely unknown cards that you can unveil on your playgroup to a great surprise. No one will claim these cards are amazingly powerful, or brokenly good… they are just unexpected or subtly strong.
I love Scarwood Bandits, and I love cards like Scarwood Bandits. I love Living Airships and Rootwater Alligators and other cards that make up the backbone of the 9,000+ cards in Magic’s history. There are tons of these cards languishing about the game, and they have virtually no play value. The stuff that gets played are the cards that are four or five stars, or cards that work well with four and five star cards. Imperious Perfect is a four or five star card, and it needs some three star elves to make it truly sing.
The simple fact is that there are scads of cards out there that are under the radar of most Magic players. One of the things I am personally motivated by is bringing these various cards to light through different mechanisms in my articles. However, in today’s article, I am going to steer clear of cards I’ve mentioned before, so there will be no love for cards like Tortured Existence and Phyrexian Splicer, although both might fit. Instead, we’ll look at other cards.
Today I want to begin by looking at what I call the Baton of Morale Syndrome, and then move from that into other cards that have similar power.
First of all, understand that only a handful of readers who are reading this article know what Baton of Morale was prior to clicking on a link. The Baton of Morale is an artifact that can give banding to a creature for two mana each time.
Now, ask yourself this question. How many players in your playgroup have played with a creature with banding outside of Limited environments in the past six months? How many could tell you what banding does? I suspect that many players are not familiar with the complicated mechanic or comfortable with the strategy to use banding effectively.
Giving creatures banding for clever attacks or strong blocks can really change the shape of the game when used against players who may not be overly familiar with the mechanic. Plus, banding has always been more pertinent on defense than offense, and multiplayer favors the defender, as opposed to duels which favor the attacker. Therefore, banding is better in multiplayer, and gives you additional options, while also being an ability that can elude newer players or those who might have forgotten the specifics of it.
You could drop a Baton of Morale in multiplayer and get a lot of mileage out of it. Let’s take a closer look at the ideas I mentioned above.
1) Some people might forget the details of banding, such as requiring just one bander in a gang block to work, or that an attacker on the ground banded with a flyer can be blocked by non-flyers.
2) Some people might not be familiar with the mechanic, and as such, might be surprised by it, even at a basic level.
3) Some people might be surprised by the multiple activation aspect of the Baton.
4) It can also be used strategically in attacking or defending.
5) You can use it politically to give opposing creatures banding.
6) Banding is better in multiplayer than it is in duels, and older players who might have dismissed the ability from their dueling experiences might be surprised by the power it has today.
Now, I believe that a Baton of Morale is the best at demonstrating this. Therefore, I call it the Baton of Morale Syndrome, where unknown cards can cause havoc at the multiplayer table. What other Batons are out there? Let’s take a look at some other subtle cards that you might want to dust off for your next game at the kitchen table.
Molting Skin/Broken Fall – These enchantments can be played whenever you have mana, and then later are returned to your hand in order to regenerate a creature. This allows you to tap out on subsequent turns for a variety of things, and still have the ability to regenerate a creature. You can save a creature’s life multiple times, while also avoiding Disenchant effects by bouncing it back to your hand when they are targeted. How many lives can your enchantment save? It might make your creatures immune to targeted removal like Rend Flesh, which allows for regeneration. It can also save a creature attacking or blocking. Since you can replay it every turn, you can play it, then chump block a massively large attacker with a creature regen it, and keep replaying the Broken Fall or Molting Skin and keeping your defenses up permanently.
Bullwhip – Here’s an underutilized card from Stronghold. Tap it for two mana to deal a damage to a creature, and that’s better than Rod of Ruin, which requires three mana to use (although the Rod can ping players too.) Then, the creature that has been Bullwhipped must attack this turn if able. In addition to killing smaller creatures, you can force creatures to attack. This is a great way to open up someone’s defense. If they are relying on a particular creature for defense, force them to attack with that creature. It works wonders against creatures like Commander Eesha, Silklash Spider, or Indomitable Ancients. This is a spicy card to unveil when needed.
Hornet Cannon – Another Stronghold goodie is the Hornet Cannon. I used to have 70 of these or so, but I sold them for five bucks when I moved last year. This gives you the ability to create a 1/1 flying Hornet token with haste that dies at the end of the turn. What can you do with such a creature? Well, you can attack with it and get in a hit. That’s a minor ability, but it works. You can also make a creature and chump block, turning it into an expensive Horn of Deafening that only works if the creature can be blocked by a flyer. You can use the creature as fuel for various effects, such as the sacrifice to a Stronghold Assassin. Finally, you can use it to protect your creatures from Edicts, making a creature whenever someone casts Innocent Blood or target’s you with Chainer’s Edict. That’s a lot of uses from such a minor thing.
Cold Storage – There are several cards out there that duplicate this ability, but Cold Storage is the cleanest. For just three mana, you can remove one of your critters from the game, then bring them all back later by sacrificing the Cold Storage. You can use this for a variety of things. Put a chump blocker here instead of letting it die. Put damage on the stack in order to kill an attacker or blocker, then put your dying creature here. Save a few creatures from a Wrath of God, or just one creature from targeted removal like Swords to Plowshares. Or perhaps you just want to remove one of your 187 creatures from the game so you can bring them back later and get their effect a second time. Once you have a nice stack built up, sac the Cold Storage, and bring back your lost friends. Fun for the whole team.
Safeguard – I have regularly proclaimed the value of cards like Kor Haven and Maze of Ith such in my articles, so allow me to show you what is arguably the least-known card that prevents damage from attackers. I even mention Horn of Deafening or Trap Runner from time to time, but I have never mentioned Safeguard in an article until now. Safeguard is a very strong way to keep creatures off your back. Face it: in multiplayer, someone is going to have a creature that can get by your defense, with all of the evasive abilities running around today. From shadow to fear to landwalk to flying to horsemanship, your defense might falter at any moment. Be prepared with cards that can save you from whatever creatures come your way, from Deep-Sea Kraken to Dread, you will be prepared. That’s where Safeguard comes in, being able to be used multiple times to stop multiple attackers as long as you have mana. Use this to supplement your defense, and you become a hard nut to crack.
Horror of Horrors – This card is obviously only useful in mono-Black decks as a way to save a few creatures when needed. It was so flavorful for Black that it made the cut in a basic set a few years ago, and from that, more players might know the card today than would otherwise have known. Horror of Horrors is similar in power to Broken Fall and Molting Skin, mentioned above. However, it does not have the true power than those have, since it requires a sacrifice of a Swamp each time. On the other hand, it does not require you to play and replay it each time either. In a Green deck, there are other options for saving your creatures, but in straight Black, this is about it. That adds significantly to the value of this card. Many players will overlook the Horror of Horrors and its power, and you can use that to your advantage, keeping a few key creatures alive.
Kry Shield – One of the problems of Kry Shield is that it is not obvious how to use it. As I see it, Kry Shield is great for two things. First, it can allow you to block a big creature with a smaller creature and survive. Watch as Indomitable Ancients now fully block a Darksteel Colossus and live. See a humble Giant Spider stop an Akroma and live. The other value in Kry Shield is in saving your creatures from damage based removal. Your Temple Acolyte no longer dies to a Lightning Bolt. Spike Weaver cannot be destroyed short of dealing six damage to it. From Earthquakes to Pestilence to Burn, Kry Shield can keep a creature alive during the damage. So, it can keep a creature alive in combat especially on defense, and keep a creature from dying to damage based removal. That’s not a bad selection of abilities.
Nova Pentacle – The people at my table are not fans of this card, because I have won numerous games with Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy while playing the Pentacle. This card is awesome. It can kill some of your creatures, so beware. If Akroma attacks you, and you use Nova Pentacle on the damage, someone might deal the six damage to your Tor Wauki. Things like that happen. In a duel, your opponent will always choose one of your creatures with a Nova Pentacle. In multiplayer, however, you can choose any opponent. If I am getting attacked by Akroma, I can simply Nova Pentacle the damage, and have a different opponent choose what takes six White damage. Oh, you dealt it to Akroma herself? Guess she dies then. And this works on creature damage as well as Fireballs, Disintegrates, and so forth. You can Nova Pentacle damage from any source, so you feel protected with it out, trust me.
Pentagram of the Ages – Now, if you do not want to play with the creature oriented flavor of the Nova Pentacle, then perhaps you want a simpler way to prevent all damage from one source. Pentagram of the Ages, from Ice Age, 5th and 6th can come to your beck and call. It will prevent damage from any one source to you, whether that source is a sorcery, instant, Planeswalker, creature, artifact, land or enchantment does not matter. From Death Grasp to Chandra Nalaar to Darksteel Colossus, you can prevent the damage, so again, you can feel comfortable behind your wall of defense.
Armistice – In a duel setting, this card compares very unfavorably with other cards such as Treasure Trove. It costs five mana to activate and you have to give an opponent three life. Ick! It’s listed as a one star card in Duelist, and they are right to ding it in duels. However, in multiplayer, it’s a different thing altogether. You need card advantage because your opponents are outdrawing you by virtue of having more opponents. Toss down a Treasure Trove, and you might see it get Disenchanted. On the other hand, this card costs more to activate and helps your opponents. They probably will not destroy this, choosing instead to go elsewhere and allow you to give various opponents life. That makes this a card advantage engine that opponents don’t mind, since they are getting something out of it too.
Puffer Extract – Having the ability to massively pump one of your creatures, even if it dies at the end of the turn, is powerful. Many players will see that it kills the creature you pump, and leave the artifact alone. Puffer Extract can turn a chump block into an exchange, and an exchange into a win. Note that you can regenerate the creature, and indestructible creatures will not die, so you have an ability to build around the Puffer Extract when needed.
Task Mage Assembly – If you play this bad rare in a duel, then your creatures will die to activations and you might kill opposing creatures too. It’s weird, and unreliable. In multiplayer, if you play this, then it is basically a Red Wrath of God, because everyone will tap their mana to kill creatures. In a duel setting, your opponent might have out a creature with a toughness too high for you to kill, which is a bad thing, keeping the Assembly around to off any creatures you might throw down. However, at a multiplayer table, someone will have enough mana to kill just about any creature short of Indomitable Ancients. The only creatures that survive this are those with shroud, protection from Red or enchantments, the inability to take damage, regeneration, or indestructible. Thus, when you play this, it is like a slow Wrath as creatures die. If any creatures remain that are unkillable by the Assembly, other players are likely to kill the offending creature so that the Assembly goes away.
And there you have a nice set of cards that fulfill the Baton of Morale Syndrome. Although none are as good as the Baton, they all offer something new (or old) to your decks that you can use to your advantage. I hope you enjoyed the article, and I’ll catch up to you next week.