What do cards like Scarwood Bandits, Choking Tethers, Improvised Armor, and Living Airship have in common? If you ever knew what they were, you have likely forgotten about them. If you started playing after they saw print, you might not even have known what they were. What do they have in common? They are in the great divide.
On one side of Magic lie cards that are so bad they have an epic reputation among Johnnies and players. You likely know cards like One with Nothing, Chimney Imp, and Sorrow’s Path. They are on top of a peak to your left. As you go down the hill, you pass through other quite bad cards that have similar reputations, and then you enter a great valley in the middle. As it rises again to the right, you begin to pass through good cards. You’ll spy many friends here (such as Rend Flesh or Mortify) before arriving at the peak and finding yourself surrounded by the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me (such as Tarmogoyf and Wrath of God).
We have two peaks, one of great and good cards and the other of bad and awful. Yet, we have a wide valley down the middle, with the yawning pit of most cards. In this large area hide the cards that are serviceable. These are perfectly fine cards, and yet they are forgotten. Little light shines on them in the valley. If you play Living Airship in your U/G deck, I won’t laugh at you. Sure, there might be better choices, but it will work.
What happens behind the scenes is that we often find a card in one of these areas and realize that it must be winter. That’s the only way to explain why it has migrated to a new location. Splinter Twin was a chump card, until someone talked about using it with Pestermite, and then a similar card got printed. It was found in the valley, but people realized that it really belonged on the right peak, and they escorted it over.
Similarly, Stoneforge Mystic wasn’t played much of anywhere for weeks after print, and people thought she was just good. Then she got a one-way trip to the top of the peak. There was a time when Morphling was the single best creature ever printed, according to many. Then people realized it just wasn’t that superlative and walked it down to the side of the mountain, where it hangs out with the other “Good, but not Great” creatures.
That’s where this article comes in. Throughout history we have creatures in zones they shouldn’t be in. I like to grab a flashlight and shine it on them, so you can see and perhaps move them back over. This series is dedicated to the best underused cards of all time (in a casual sense). What valuable treasures can be unearthed in the valley?
The funny thing about this series is that I began it in July 2004. When I began it, there was no such critter as Commander on most people’s screens. Casual Magic was a lot less formal, as a result. With traditional deckbuilding transpiring, people were building a lot of their 60-card decks with all of these four-ofs and three-ofs. There was a lot less space in decks to find these powerful cards and play them. Today, with the need for redundancy and a lot more cards in Commander decks, many of the original cards have found a home.
Take Desertion, for example. It was a card retired in my very first column, as a criminally underused card. Now it’s a five-dollar card due to Commander usage. It’s not underused anymore! In my second column, I retired Yavimaya Hollow, and now it’s a six-dollar card. In my third, it was No Mercy; in my fourth you saw Aura Shards. Then there was a four-year pause where I didn’t write any more entries because I had to figure out a new way to write themâ€”they were too time intensive (at the time, I put 30 cards per article in the Hall).
In 2009, for my 300th article, I went back to this series, one of my most popular. Another 30 cards entered the Hall. (Including those you’ve seen at Commander tables like Wild Ricochet, Stonehewer Giant, and Draining Whelk). Note that one card, Blood Frenzy, now sucks since the card was given errata to stop it from working, which made it no longer underused, but its place remains in the Hall since once you are in, you remain.
I finally figured out to do these ten cards at a time, and I began writing the next entries. Enter cards like Decimate and Sudden Spoiling in one, and Acquire in the other. Many of these cards are seeing a lot more play now, and that’s great! However, I’m sure you’ll find some gems from the past in these articles, and in the appendix I’ll link to the previous editions as well as have the full Hall of Underused Fame sorted by color.
Please note that this is not a list of the most underused cards in multiplayer exclusively, but in casual Magic. That includes multiplayer, and powerful cards in groups are considered (such as Wilderness Elemental), but this is not solely their realm. Lots of cards that rock in duels have been included, such as Dark Suspicions. This is an equal opportunity honor.
With that said, let’s take a look at the ten cards that will be inducted today!
10. Deep-Sea Kraken, Rare, Time Spiral
I think we need to start taking bets now for which of the handful of blue rares from Time Spiral will be the next to make the Hall of Fame. I swear; between it and white Morningtide rares, I’m not sure which color/rare/set combo I’m more in love with. We already have Draining Whelk, Magus of the Jar, and Ixidron in the Hall. I’m not sure what else would even be eligible. Not Teferi, Mage of Zhalfirâ€”there’s no way I could say he’s underused with a straight face. Ditto Ancestral Vision. Perhaps Trickbind? That’s probably the smart money card.
Anyway, let’s talk about the awesomeness of the DS Kraken. First of all, it’s about as big a creature as you need to win the game quickly once you establish the awesome control you want. It’s a three-turn clock on anyone with eighteen or less life. It will swing past any defense. In a color without much in the realm of creature removal, you don’t need to waste cards bouncing, countering, or Pongify-ing their defenders in order to get your beater through. Any creature-based defense is purely card disadvantage against you.
What scares people is the giant suspend number. I get that. Nine is a big number. What you do is use three mana when you can get away with it and still have counters lined up (which will happen a lot sooner than when playing more expensive finishers). Then you can sit back and wait till it resolves. Because playing spells will drop your Kraken in play a lot faster, there is a real incentive to not play stuff. While suspended, it can still affect your game for the better. Once it resolves, you have one of the best beaters you’ll find for blue, for just a three-mana investment and some time. This is a very strong card for any blue control deck (or any Kraken deck I suppose).
9. Dread, Rare, Lorwyn
I honestly don’t know what’s going on with Dread. Here is what Dread is worth, NM as of the writing of this article, $1.50. Some of you are picking it up and playing with it. Here are what many other casual rares from Lorwyn are worth: Austere Command (reprinted in Commander), $3; Deathrender, $3; Immaculate Magistrate, $4; Mirror Entity, $3; Primal Command, $3; Timber Protector, $3; Vigor, $6.
Dread is better than any of those cardsâ€”the only one you could argue is Austere Command because it’s a sweeper of significant flexibility. I’d argue Dread is better, but I’d grant you the point. Dread is hard to block, a 6/6 beater for just six mana, and has one of the cards already in the Hall of Underused Fame on its back (No Mercy).
The only reason it’s not #1 on today’s countdown is because it has some value. Its foil is just $4, so it’s not even getting a possible plethora of pimp play in Commander. Despite the lack of play by many of you, this card deserves it. Like Avatar of Woe, it makes to cut it virtually every black Commander deck I play because it’s just so frickin’ awesome. There is no way I can undersell how rocktastic it is to have both a beater and a way to defend yourself while swinging away.
It’s just as good in duels. In multiplayer, cards of a certain power have targets painted on them; in duels, everything already has a target painted on it, so why not play the best? However, it has less value because it won’t send opposing creatures elsewhere due to a fear death.
8. Fight to the Death, Rare, Alara Reborn
One of the things I like to do with this list is wait until cards are no longer Standard eligible before retiring them. At that point, I have a great idea of who is actually playing the card, and more importantly, who isn’t. Knowing if a card is getting a ton of play based on the value of a casual card like this is usually easy. What is it worth? What about its foil?
However, after the Mythics came out, the price on rares became very depressed. People bought a lot more packs, and there were fewer numbers of rares in them. The combination of the two means you have rares that have little value.
I have to use my own experience with these cards. How often do you see this awesome card in decklists? At your kitchen table? In decks at your local card shop? If I’m not playing it, I don’t see it. That tells me it’s underplayed and thus a good entry for today’s article.
Fight to the Death is a strong card, but its power is really more multiplayer oriented. It’s like Wilderness Elementalâ€”likely just a 3/3 trample under the best of circumstances in duels, but a 9/3 trampler and growing by the time it attacks on turn four in multiplayer. The best use of this card is to absolutely destroy two armies, both blocking and attacking.
Jerry attacks into Bob, and you make sure that nothing survives the chaos. You can use it offensively or defensively as well. Attack with some small creatures into some big defenders, and then play this to wipe them out. Chump block a few big attackers and then Fight to the Death to annihilate them. As a result, it works wonders in a token deck or a multiplayer oriented aggro deck; and that’s in addition to its normal use as a two-sided virtual Wrath.Â
7. Drift of Phantasms, Common, Ravnica
I have to admit that I have underused Drift of Phantasms too. For about two years after Ravnica was released, I would regularly put the transmute cards in my decks and in my articles. Then New Shiny Syndromeâ”¢ struck, and I moved on to cards that were newer and shone with the glow of virginity. Of the transmute cards, this was clearly the case, and the one that least deserved its spot in that valley in the middle of the mountains.
We’ve all forgotten Drift of Phantasms, and we suck. Tons of combo pieces and valuable cards cost three mana, so you can tutor for them. Then you can also play it as a blocker for all creatures both ground-bound and soaring. This is a dreamy card for our toolbox, so let’s dust it off.
6. Crime/Punishment, Rare, Dissension
With all of the wedge decks rocking Commander right now, this seems like an obvious choice for your Counterpunch rebuilds. How many cards in the game allow you to recur, to play an opponent’s enchantment? That’s not something you see every day.
Getting a creature is solid, and playing it as a sorcery to wipe out stuff of a certain casting cost has a lot of power too. You’d be surprised at how often you can get three or four nasty things sitting at the same casting cost. Possible card advantage of significance, plus the ability to grab a creature or enchantment from a foe’s yard is a really interesting slate of abilities. Outside of Commander, I like this in any G/B deck, where Punishment is basically a pseudo-Void that takes out enchantments but nothing in hands. Note that planeswalkers survive, and this is one of a small number of cheap answers to a token deck.
5. Guardian of the Guildpact, Common, Dissension
Prior to this list, do you know how many Dissension cards were in the Hall? Zero. In fact, only two cards were from the entire block (Sins of the Past and Sunforger). We’ve already added three cards in the last three entries. I think part of the issue is that everybody knows the block so well. It’s beloved, and a super popular block, so the cards are still on people’s radar.
Anyway, in a previous article, I mentioned the top protection from abilities of all time. On my top five list, and either #4 or #3 depending on where you feel protection from creatures goes, lies this guy, and his protection from monocolor. The ability to stave off damage from any monocolor source means less post-Alara and artifact blocks, but it will arise again, in time. You’ll dig to find those Terminates and Unmakes in order to blast it.
Meanwhile, it can block a giant chunk of creatures with impunity, swing through them with a dodgy-ness that outdistances intimidate and flying, and can ignore damage-based removal from many sources, such as Pestilence, Earthquake, and the powerful and highly played Volcanic Eruption. It has shroud from most removal and auras, and you will find it quite handy at fixing things, like your board position. It doesn’t have the odor of Iridescent Angel, or the sultriness of Progenitus, but it is easy to cast, hard to take out, and happy to duck and cover to avoid the bigger creatures and removal that will come down the pike. There is no question in my mind that this deserves its place in the Hall.
4. Loaming Shaman, Rare, Dissension
I swear, it was not my intent to make this list my Cards from Dissension that Are Cool list. I put about 20 cards from each color into a master list of cards I like to retire eventually. I pulled the ten best from that list and just happened to grab three Dissension cards. Sorry! (Not really).
Dissension isn’t even my favorite set from that block. Hi Ravnica, you are my best babe and you know it! That’s right, daddy’s favorite four guilds are Selesnya, Dimir, Simic, and Golgari; in that order.
Loaming Shaman is just a cheap, ETB creature that costs three mana, rocks a useful 3/2 body, has a splashable cost, and has an ability which is unique among ETB abilities. That’s not that much, right? There is nothing not to like here. On the curve? Play it in any deck with green? Reshuffle someone’s graveyard back to their library? It’s your Feldon’s Cane of graveyard hate and your Gaea’ s Blessing of graveyard loveâ€”whichever you need. There’s no question that it’s a strong card through and through. It’s exactly the sort of card that lingers in no-man’s land, but which is much better than appearances seem.
3. Saffi Eriksdotter, Rare, Time Spiral
You’ve made Saffi sad. You see, Saffi is a classic case of a person with a martyr’s complex. She wants to sacrifice herself for you or someone you love. And you won’t let her. You don’t put her in your decks and play her. You don’t play her and let her jump in the way of a figurative bullet for one of your own. You don’t let Saffi do the one thing that she was made forâ€”to help others. Without helping her fulfill her destiny, you sadden her. She doesn’t want much. She wants to see her fate completed, and she’d like you to remember her once she’s gone. Is that really too much to ask from you?
2. Arc-Slogger, Rare, Mirrodin
This comment is reserved for any format with a large deck. This is a virtual essential. In Five Color casual, this was game when it hit play. I remember Aaron once getting this out when he had a Prismatic Omen out; everybody died in two turns. Even in a 100-card format, this is a powerful card. Getting four or five activations from it is quite useful for clearing out creatures and players. Add to that a solid enough body for the red zone, and you have a card that I would expect to see a lot more of in decks. With just two or three activations in a 60-card deck, you saw this a lot in Standard, so I imagine you can find a use for this underused card.
1. Whirlwind, Rare, Urza’s Saga
One of the things I have to ask myself each time I do one of these articles is which card is my #1? What card feels truly underplayed? I want a card in the top slot that is a banner for what I am talking about. There are times when I will debate the #1 card, but not this time. I take a look at this list, and there is no question in my mind that Whirlwind deserves to be here. Let’s discuss why.
There are a lot of powerful hosers for flying creatures. Two are already in my Hall of Fameâ€”Arashi, the Sky Asunder and Silklash Spider. Both have quite a large amount of power in their arsenal for taking out the fliers. We’ve recently seen an upsurge in instant Wing Snaresâ€”cards like Plummet and Gloomwidow’s Feast. These are great cards for play in your decks. But one flying hoser is better at killing flyers than any other. There is exactly one card that has ever seen print which is a Wrath of God for fliersâ€”Whirlwind.
Here is why Whirlwind and other cards are so good. In casual Magic, people don’t play the same cards they always do in tournaments. You don’t see as many Elite Vanguards and Watchwolves (you do see them, certainly, just not as often). Timmies embrace their ability to play big things. Johnnies embrace their ability to play cards with synergies and combos. Spikes embrace their ability to play the best things in the format, and those aren’t the same cards they are in tournament-land.
Because of this, there is a tendency for people to play iconic and awesome cards, and those tend to be fliers. Playing Angels and Dragons and Demons and Sphinxes and more is not just about Timmy getting to play with really big things. It’s also about Spike playing good cards for the format (which just happen to include many of the same cards) and Johnny embracing fliers against the others to block or combo with (such as Drift of Phantasms aboveâ€”it’s all one circle baby!).
With all of these fliers running around, flying becomes even more valuable, and the likelihood that a creature will see play is proportional to the amount of flying it has versus how much flying is played at the table.
And this is where flying hosers like Stingerfling Spider and Sunscape Battlemage come in. They hose this natural tendency. You can easily build around Whirlwind by not having fliers, but instead having hoppers (that gain flying, such as Canopy Dragon) or reach or some other form of evasion. If you are killing their fliers while hitting them with shadow creatures, then you will likely win. The board is cluttered with fliers, so Whirlwind’s power is amplified. It is a brilliant answer to a lot of problems all wrapped into a neat package I like to call, “Green’s Only Wrath.”
Whew! Ten cards of awesomeness for you and yours to contemplate. Mayhaps you’ve found the card for your next deck. I had a blast of fun writing this thing, and I can only hope that you’ve had as much fun reading it!
These are the previous entries in the Hall of Fame
The Fake Fifth — This an April Fool’s Day Column making fun of my articles. It includes some subtle jokes such as inducting a card already on the list with a cut and paste (Arboria), and it includes some cards I actually like for the list later on, just to throw you. Like for example, my comment for Moat? 100% pure.
And now, here is the Hall of Fame in all of its glory. Every card ever inducted, including the ones in this article, by color.
Bane of the Living
Do or Die
Gate to Phyrexia
Predatory Nightstalker / Wei Assassins
Sins of the Past
Alexi, Zephyr Mage
Drift of Phantasms
Homarid Spawning Bed
Kaho, Minamo Historian
Magus of the Jar
Meishin, the Mind Cage
All Suns’ Dawn
Arashi, the Sky Asunder
Carpet of Flowers
Cream of the Crop
Homura, Human Ascendant
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Scourge of Kher Ridges
Starke of Rath
Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
Guardian of the Guildpact
Hand of Justice
Masako the Humorless
Patron of the Kitsune
Pursuit of Knowledge
Retribution of the Meek
Spirit of the Hearth
Swell of Courage
Asmira, Holy Avenger
Crime / Punishment
Fight to the Death
Kaervek the Merciless
Order / Chaos
Phyrexian War Beast
Rings of Brighthearth
Spite / Malice