The Multiplayer MTG Hall Of Fame Part I: Blue And Black

Back in August 1999 on the Dojo, I put forward a list of cards that "made multiplayer games great." The list generated terrific feedback, virtually all positive, with occasional constructive suggestions and additions. I promised, both before and after this feedback, that I would revisit the list after a couple more expansions had passed. I…

Back in August 1999 on the Dojo, I put forward a list of cards that "made multiplayer games great." The list generated terrific feedback, virtually all positive, with occasional constructive suggestions and additions. I promised, both before and after this feedback, that I would revisit the list after a couple more expansions had passed. I did so after Masques and Nemesis. Now Prophecy and Invasion are under our belt, and the time to revisit the list has come again.

I have had a wonderful time learning even deeper lessons about the game, from the group I knock heads with regularly, the players that haunt local shops I can occasionally get to, and hundreds of readers around the world. Like any improving player, I have revised and rethought some of my opinions and priorities.

Some cards have shifted up and down. As with the second list, I’ve also sought to make more substantial changes, such as information and perspectives on each card that we may not have covered before. With this version, there’s a new aspect to each card called your "Signal". Your "Signal" is what the card in question sends to your opponents: particularly, are you playing aggression, control, combo, or what? Like most of my columns, it’s meant to be half-serious, half-in-fun. You can put control-style cards in aggressive decks and vice versa, all the time, of course. (But that doesn’t mean you’re right to do it, so there.)

And hey, look! Another change to the Hall: Now I use card art in the list. This is a smaller version than you’ll see later on, but I don’t want to scare you straight off. Bigger, spookier pictures come later. (This also makes the page take forever– about three minutes on a 28.8 modem — to load, but since the text loads first you can read around it while the card art slowly trickles in – The Ferrett)

I already have thoughts on what I want to do with the Hall of Fame, version 4. I’ll be supplying "dimension" and "attention" ratings for cards, I think; these will measure the power of the card in question and how much negativity you’ll get for playing it, respectively. But doing that this time around would have meant way too much change, at one. Baby steps, baby steps. Look at the pretty pictures!

The rules of the list:

  1. THE CLAIM. These are the most powerful cards you’ll find in multiplayer – they have the most breadth, depth, and length of impact. (You can read more about those dimensions in this old Casual Fridays, here. There’s a better one I did later, but I can’t find it in any archives; I’ll have to redo it, I suppose.) That’s the only claim I make with these cards. There’s a corollary to this rule: Notably strong cards that gain a lot of attention are in the mix. Everybody who has read this column should know that I do NOT base a multiplayer card’s value on your opponents’ likely reaction. (And everyone who reads my columns knows that I do, but this is the Big Man’s Show here – The Ferrett) If everyone dumps on you after you play a card, that’s because…everyone say it with me…IT’S A GOOD CARD.
  2. THE ENVIRONMENT. The assumed play format for the cards herein is typical chaos play; most other multiplayer formats would also be impacted strongly by the cards, but there’s no guarantee. I try to make note of where a particularly good team dynamic exists; look for the "BEST TEAMMATE" award in each color. Also, new in each color: a "MASTER OF THE HUNT" award that showcases fun, manipulative cards that give a real kick in target-limited formats. (For more on Hunt and other multiplayer format descriptions, go to www.magiccampus.com; they’re not updating but they still maintain all the info you need.)
  3. SLOTS. The list is huge now. There are twenty awarded slots, plus an honorable mention, for e
  4. ach color (and artifacts); five slots and one mention each for gold and lands. This is because there are only twenty-one good multiplayer cards in each color. Feel free to prove me wrong anytime—I take suggestions constantly over email, alongi@usinternet, and I have changed the list plenty of times in the past when readers make good, solid cases.
  5. "SHARED" SLOTS. If a card is very close in effect and playability to a card already on the list (e.g., Thrashing Wumpus and Pestilence), I may let them SHARE a spot. This is my way of cheating, and cramming more than twenty cards into each color. The official card listed for the slot is the one I prefer; but that takes nothing away from the cards listed under "similar cards". For each similar card, I quickly note the main difference(s) with the main card. Note that I stay "in color" for these similar cards — for example, Wheel of Fortune is similar to Windfall, but I don’t list it in blue.
  6. COLOR HOSERS. No strict color hosers are allowed. Just about any color hoser can be a terrific multiplayer card — Karma, Boil, Hibernation, Gloom, even Reap can all look great, depending on what colors your opponents play. But Hall of Fame slots are precious, and cards that can help in you in ANY game get strong preference.

Here we go. First week’s offe

ring, black and blue.


GENERAL COMMENTS: Black’s inability to deal with artifacts and enchantments makes mono-black, and black-red, a risky way to go. But this color’s extraordinarily deep creature control, along with some of the very best creatures in the game, still give primarily black decks a good name in group play.

Black’s traditional strengths are REMOVAL, DISCARD, SUICIDE, LIFE DRAIN, and RECURSION. Setting SUICIDE aside as a viable strategy for multiplayer (Although it works wonderfully if you can convince your opponents to play it – The Ferrett), the other three have cards all designed to deal with multiple opponents. DISCARD is represented with a few cards on the list, all of which are guaranteed to ruffle feathers. It is, without a doubt, one of the very riskiest multiplayer strategies. LIFE DRAIN has scant representation here, but what gets listed is truly powerful. RECURSION in multiplayer includes one or two of the most satisfying and game-swinging cards around. REMOVAL is perhaps best represented on this list. You can rarely go wrong getting rid of other people’s pesky pets.

[3B, 2/4 Creature. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, if that player controls any non-black, non-land permanent, Urborg Stalker deals one damage to that player.]

WHY: From all of my reader mail on Version 2 for this list, no creature got as much fan mail as the lovable Urborg Stalker. You punish all but the absolute black mages, and also put out a decent blocker capable of fending off retaliation.

SIGNAL: As it typically sits back, plays defense, and pings, the Stalker is reminiscent of slower, control-oriented black decks.

ENHANCEMENTS: Use something that puts a stop to attacks across the board—like an Ensnaring Bridge.

COUNTERMEASURES: If you’re running creatures only, Darkest Hour will work fine. But honestly, the easiest way to stop the Stalker is to remove it through simple spot removal.

Urborg Stalker is one of those "are you paying attention?" kind of cards. You have to take the damage, even if you and the controller both forget. So retroactive damage is typical in most casual groups:

PLAYER ONE: I’ll go into my combat phase. Player two, since I’m down to three life and I’m really angry, I’ll attack you with my Weatherseed Treefolk, my Thorn Elemental, and my Rushwood Elemental. Hmmm…wait…maybe I can survive here if I hold back the Weatherseeds…yeah…okay…after spending five minutes thinking hard about this very strategic decision, I’ll go ahead with the two Elementals only. Phew, maybe I’ll survive another round!

PLAYER TWO: Very frightening. Hey, did you remember to take damage from my Stalker?

PLAYER ONE: (Pauses.) Crap. Okay, down to two life. Well, that’s okay, I should still be able to…

PLAYER TWO: Sack my Pyre Zombie for two. Thanks for playing.

Final note on this card, an artifact IS a non-black, non-land permanent. (Unless it’s a Mishra’s Factory or some such.) Hey, look, black has an artifact hoser! Okay, not really…

[2BB Enchantment. During target creature’s controller’s upkeep, put a -0/-1 counter on that creature. If the creature is put into the graveyard, its controller chooses a new target creature for Takklemaggot. If there are no legal targets, Takklemaggot becomes an enchantment; during his or her upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to the controller of the last creature Takklemaggot enchanted. Control of Takklemaggot does not change when its target changes or when it becomes an enchantment.]

WHY: While not a devastating card, or even a respectable path to victory, this makes the list as another "reader’s choice": It can also, of course, do some good, solid work with annoying weenies. And because you can force your opponent in a target-limited environment to either reveal his prey too early or take damage, Takklemaggot gets the "MASTER OF THE HUNT" award for black.

SIGNAL: This is the hallmark of a "just for fun" deck, and a proudly inefficient one at that.

ENHANCEMENTS: Enhance? You want to enhance this thing? Hmmm…well, use other toughness-sinkers (like Fevered Convulsions) to help take down bigger game.

COUNTERMEASURES: Countermeasures? Why would you? This card is fun. Let it ride.

[1B, 0/4 Creature. Whenever a creature deals combat damage to Wall of Souls, it deals an equal amount of damage to that creature’s controller.]

WHY: This card is a classic example of the school of multiplayer thought that prefers to deflect attention, rather than attract it. For two mana, you set up a decent defense that threatens to hurt anyone who comes your way. At least on the ground.

SIGNAL: "Wouldn’t you prefer to attack someone else?" Not very aggressive at all, this card fits in decks that like to take a little extra time to build up control.

ENHANCEMENTS: You could use the newly-rereleased Shimmering Wings to give the Wall some height. (Hey, cut me some slack here. SOMEONE has to come up with a use for Shimmering Wings.) You could also raise the toughness of the Wall with a variety of white creature enchantments, like Conviction, so that it can handle a bigger beast.

COUNTERMEASURES: Remove the Wall outside of combat (through burn or bounce, since most black removal won’t work). If you’re playing green, one of the worst things you can do is not attack the black mage once you get a big enough creature to smash the Wall. Just plow through, take the damage once, and be done with it.

Since I’ve never written a Hall of Fame under an editor who really cares about multiplayer before, I made the enormous mistake of asking The Ferrett for his feedback on my list. Our lovable mini-mammal just HAD to add on a card here, a card there, etc. (Okay, so I asked him and it’s not his fault. Irrelevant.) Wall of Souls was one of those cards. Luckily for him, I was thinking of increasing each color’s list from 15 to 20, and I agree that Wall of Souls falls within the list of the next five you’d include. So here it is.

I used to use this all of the time. Then people started (correctly) assuming I was up to something and didn’t want to be disturbed. What happens after that is similar to what happens when you tell a five-year-old, "Mommy and Daddy are going to be in our room by ourselves for a while. We’re going to have lots of fun, but as far as you know we’re not up to much in there. Whatever you do, DON’T COME IN."

It never works.

[4B Sorcery. Destroy all creatures of the creature type of your choice.] SIMILAR CARDS: Engineered Plague is an enchantment that sinks the offense and defense of a particular creature type.

WHY: The first of several big removal sorceries on the list. Extinction is a situational mass-removal spell that will sometimes be an extraordinarily expensive, slow Terror…but if you’ve planned the metagame right, is the perfect solution to slivers, saprolings, elves, rebels, goblins, and anything else that comes out in swarms. It doesn’t target any creatures or players, ignores color, and involves no penalty or drawback.

SIGNAL: Neutral as far as control, aggressive, or combo goes; but does let everyone know you’re really sick of their 1,000,000-squirrel deck.

ENHANCEMENTS: You could try Conspiracy, to assure some targets for the Extinction.

COUNTERMEASURES: Unless you can bounce one or more critical spawners (e.g., Sliver Queen or Deranged Hermit) to your hand, the only way to avoid Extinction’s sweep is to avoid depending too heavily on one creature type in your deck.

    [2B Enchantment. Cumulative Upkeep 1. At the beginning of your draw step, destroy each creature with converted mana cost equal to Wave of Terror’s last paid cumulative upkeep. They can’t be regenerated.]

    WHY: A slow, expensive, creature-only, less-than-optimal Powder Keg. But Powder Keg is really, really good. Plus, this card tests your willingness to pay the upkeep to make it up to big game like Morphlings and Thorn Elementals.

    SIGNAL: Because it both interferes with timing and destroys creatures, the Wave annouces a control strategy.

    COUNTERMEASURES: I do countermeasures here first, because that makes my discussion of enhancements make more sense. The only countermeasure you need against a Wave of Terror is a smart sense of timing. Play your smaller creatures after the Wave passes that converted mana cost level. If your large creatures are on the board, wax the black mage with them before they pass away.

    ENHANCEMENTS: Bounce. Distorting Wake can (a) save your own creatures from the Wave’s effects, (b) make a few friends by saving their creatures, or best of all (c) bring the Wake back to your hand after everyone thinks it’s safe to play their low-cost creatures again.

This was a reader suggestion, and it’s one I’m putting on the list without making it prove itself to me. It seems fun. I wouldn’t know, since I don’t have one.

Hey, I don’t have one! Why don’t I have one?? I should have one.

Hmmmm…maybe I’ll be able to answer this question later.

[1B Sorcery. Each player returns a creature card in his or her graveyard into play.] SIMILAR CARDS: Twilight’s Call is a massively expensive sorcery that you can play at instant speed to return ALL creatures from ALL graveyards into play.

WHY: One of the few black cards out there that actually benefits multiple people. A card that tests the willingness of the black mage to throw a party for everyone…or tests her ability to negate the drawback. And I love the artwork…I think this gets my favorite artwork award, period. Carl Critchlow just nailed spirit and the letter of this card. Bravo Carl!

SIGNAL: Killing creatures and then returning everyone’s best to play is a poor control strategy. This card is a mark of devil-may-care aggression.

ENHANCEMENTS: Carrion Beetles, Cremate, Rapid Decay, and other card-specific graveyard hosers will make sure no one brings out a heavier creature than you. Cards that help you put fatties in your graveyard early, like Buried Alive and Hidden Horror, are also helpful.

COUNTERMEASURES: If you have a way of dropping fat into your graveyard at instant speed (Funeral Charm? Survival of the Fittest?), go ahead. Repopulate and Honor the Fallen are also appropriate responses.

[4B Enchantment. Whenever a creature comes into play, destroy all other creatures that share a color with it. They cannot be regenerated.]

WHY: This card (from newly-released Invasion) has the ability to become very, very good in multiplayer. I haven’t had time to test it out so much; but I expect it will create a very rare dynamic in groups. Usually, mages who share a color are lenient with each other at the beginning of the game. But once this comes down, best friends become deadly enemies.

SIGNAL: You are up to some kind of combo-related trick if you play this card. (Or maybe you’re just mucking around.)

ENHANCEMENTS: I can think of three strategies for this card. First, Sliver Queen becomes an instant Wrath of God as she enters play. (Just be ready to lose her just as quickly.) Second, you can go creatureless and count on others to do your dirty work for you. Third, and I think most promisingly, you can slap down (now invulnerable) artifact creatures and use the occasional Alloy Golem to direct effort at a particular color.

COUNTERMEASURES: Play your own artifact creatures, or use Blind Seer or Distorting Lens to change the color of your creatures as others come in.

[2BB Enchantment. Cumulative upkeep 1B. During each upkeep, each player puts into play a Tombspawn token for each summon card in his or her graveyard. Treat these tokens as 2/2 black creatures that are unaffected by summoning sickness and count as Zombies. At end of any turn or if Tombstone Stairwell leaves play, bury all of these tokens.]

WHY: The Stairwell benefits from what some might call the "Llurgoyf" effect: the more graveyards there are, the more Zombie tokens will come slinging out. Everybody presumably benefits from this, but of course the typical black mage will be better prepared than others.

SIGNAL: This card has "combo" written all over it. Its limited life, potential for massive number of creatures, and the fact that all of them die every turn just begs for one or more of the enhancements that follow…

ENHANCEMENTS: The Stairwell needs creatures that die easily, and enchantments that take advantage of creatures leaving/coming into play. (Examples of the latter include Grave Pact, Soul Warden, even the horrific Carnival of Souls!) One reader once noted that with four players, each with three creatures in the graveyard, a Khabal Ghoul will be somewhere around 87/87 by the end of the turn when you pay the Stairwell’s second upkeep.

COUNTERMEASURES: Since it depends on a cumulative upkeep, two of the most effective strategies include (1) land destruction/mana denial, from the basic Stone Rain to Sunder; or (2) waiting it out, using modest measures like Walls of Alabaster or extreme measures like Evacuation to stop any sort of rush until the upkeep catches up with the black mage. Aether Flash can work well, assuming it doesn’t play into the black mage’s strategy.

[2B Enchantment: During your upkeep, sacrifice a creature or sacrifice Contamination. Whenever a land is tapped for mana, it produces B instead of its normal type and amount.]

WHY: Unless you’re playing on "all-black-mage" night, this card cripples at least 80% of the field in any given multiplayer game. It is also one of the very few non-discard cards in black’s arsenal capable of stopping enchantments (that is, before they’re played).

SIGNAL: Like most of the black cards on this list, Contamination is built for control.

ENHANCEMENTS: Hornet Cannon and Breeding Pit are probably your two best choices for fodder, along with Nether Spirit or Nether Shadow in the right deck. The ability to destroy artifact mana might be a good idea, too…

COUNTERMEASURES: Artifact mana like Moxen and Lotus Petals render this strategy nearly completely ineffective. Also recall some players don’t mind WHAT color their mana is as they cast or untap their Colossus of Sardia. Other black mages, of course, don’t care about this card at all.

[3B Sorcery. Each of your opponents chooses and discards two cards.] SIMILAR CARDS include Mind Swords, which makes everyone including you remove two cards in your hand from the game.

WHY: More experienced players tend to hold a few cards back, so as not to overcommit. A late-game Unnerve can be as effective, or even more so, than a turn-two with Dark Ritual. Savvy blue mages let this card resolve more often than you’d think, since it flushes hands and gets rid of more spells than they ever could.

SIGNAL: While Unnerve can splash into non-discard decks, you are pretty much telling your group how much you enjoy seeing them lose a couple of spells for no particular reason. One hopes you have other cards capable of telling them not to take it too personally.

ENHANCEMENTS: Of course, all of the discard cards on this list are built to work together. If you play in a group that uses lots of recursion, pack a Planar Void or two.

COUNTERMEASURES: Any time you see a black deck in a group start down the discard path, expect an Unnerve. Keeping two lands back, if possible, will send an excellent mis-signal to the would-be Unnerver. Graveyard recursion and a basic rush/no-surprise deck (where you empty your hand early) are affected less, of course.

[2BB Sorcery. If an opponent controls a plains and you control a swamp, you may play Massacre without paying its mana cost. All creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn.] SIMILAR CARDS include Plague Dogs, a creature you can force into the graveyard to make all creatures –1/-1 until end of turn. Forced March is also similar in that it tends to remove the lower casting- cost— and therefore the lower defense — creatures more easily.

WHY: Perhaps the cheapest mass removal for black yet. It’s stops everything from white protection to green regeneration. The alternate casting cost just makes it sick in group play — doesn’t EVERY group have a goody-two-shoes white mage in it? No? Well, go find one and then play this card.

SIGNAL: Part of the beauty of this card is that it doesn’t send an absolute signal. Sure, it may work a bit better in control—but maybe you’re playing an aggressive deck with recursion capability.

ENHANCEMENTS: Use cards like Enfeeblement and Fevered Convulsions to weaken big creatures before playing Massacre. (Maggot Therapy can be used this way as an instant, once you’re pretty sure Massacre will resolve.) Maybe you could put a Sadistic Glee on something like a Negator or Delraich.

COUNTERMEASURES: Like a lot of global sweepers, Massacre has few countermeasures that aren’t outright Counterspells. You can save your own creatures through measures such as Invigorate or Giant Growth. You can also make sure your creatures are sackable to create some desirable affect. Otherwise, simply playing with bigger creatures can’t hurt!

Okay, THIS is why I don’t have a Wave of Terror. Who needs one when you can just sweep the table of Spellshapers, squirrels, and other annoying "s" creatures?


[6BB, 6/5 Creature. If there are ten or more creature cards total in all graveyards, Avatar of Woe costs 6 less to play. Avatar of Woe can’t be blocked except by artifact or black creatures. Tap: destroy target creature. That creature can’t be regenerated.]

WHY: The creature itself does not gain much impact from being on the board in a multiplayer environment. But her alternate casting cost condition— ten creatures in all graveyards— is met in fraction of the time it would take in a duel. That means you’ll be able to cast her early as well as late, and it also means packing four in your deck is viable.

In two-headed giant team play, the Avatar will be able to attack at least one player. In Emperor, when you can still only attack one person at a time, the Avatar will still find utility for as far as its range will go. Therefore, the Avatar of Woe gets the "GOOD TEAMMATE" award for black.

SIGNAL: As this comes out as a closer more often than not, your opponents should be well aware of what you’re up to by the time you play it. A turn-two Avatar (through discard/Exhume, or whatever) doesn’t really say much on its own, other than: "Someone will take six damage next turn."

ENHANCEMENTS: The easiest way to get the Avatar out quickly is Dark RitualHidden Horror (discard Avatar) – Exhume the following turn. As far as once it’s out, maybe you’d like to pack an Emerald Charm or two so that you can get both the great attack AND the wonderful ability in the same turn.

COUNTERMEASURES: Planar Void will make sure the Avatar’s owner will hard-cast it. And speaking of ownership, Bribery almost ALWAYS finds this card.

[2B Enchantment. Whenever any opponent discards a card, Megrim deals two damage to him or her.]

WHY: A staple in multiplayer discard. Even if discard isn’t your primary strategy, you can make this work: setting a lock by other means (e.g., Stasis) and pushing cards out of opponents’ hands the natural way will give this some punch as well. Megrim’s also a nifty "gee, I didn’t realize it at first!" solution to cards like Masticore.

SIGNAL: An even more obvious tip-off than Unnerve that you’re playing discard.

ENHANCEMENTS: Any discard will do, but every Hymn to Tourach you play after Megrim comes out means four damage and two randomly lost cards for two mana. Ooof.

COUNTERMEASURES: When you white mages play your Disenchant or Scour on Megrim, make sure you wait until the black mage plays a universal discard spell like Unnerve. Wait for all the groans to subside, and then strike. You will gain many friends.

I’ve told you all the story of when Pete and I first started playing Magic, right? Haven’t I? Even if I have, I think it’s good for my humility if I repeat it.

Two or three years ago, before we get our group (currently at fifteen people) together, Pete and I are sitting on my in-laws’ porch in southern Missouri, playing Magic. For those that don’t know where southern Missouri, that just a bit to the north of Arkansas. Got it? Okay, and it’s April, and it’s 9 a.m., and it’s already about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Ah, the sweet Ozarks. (Actually, it’s not bad down there at all in springtime.)

Anyway, I’m hot and bothered, and I’m playing red/black because I haven’t learned yet that red/black is a bad color combination. Discard and burn. Actually doesn’t work too badly. The centerpiece of my strategy is Megrim, since I’m looking at it dealing a TON of damage…

ANTHONY: I’ll play Megrim.

PETE: Fine.

ANTHONY: Then I’ll play Earthquake for four. Aha! All eight of your creatures go into your discard pile…and you DIE!

PETE: Excuse me?

ANTHONY: You know, Megrim. Two points of damage every time you discard a card. Aren’t those creatures getting discarded?

PETE: That’s got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Anthony, of all the…

[The rant that followed has been edited out for reasons of propriety and brevity.]

PETE:…So if you think I’m going to take lethal damage just because you don’t know how to play the freaking game, you can kiss my ass, chummmmmmmmp-ah!

ANTHONY: [Quickly checks through entire hand, graveyard, and library for an actual discard card. Finds none.] I concede.


[1BB Enchantment. During each player’s upkeep, that player discards a card at random.]

WHY: If you go full-force discard in multiplayer, you absolutely need this card to survive. The Pit serves as a continual drain on your opponents that makes it much tougher to gather permanents on the board against you.

SIGNAL: If you are not playing discard as a path to victory, you are misplaying this card.

ENHANCEMENTS: Your path to victory with a Pit deck will probably be either the Corrupt/Drain Life that playing all of your swamps all the time will make large, or the four Megrims you’re also packing in this deck. (AREN’T YOU?)

COUNTERMEASURES: Beyond top-decking like a demon, your best strategy against this card is a great deal of cheap direct damage. That will assure playable cards each turn, and also counteract any life drain the black mage may have to back the discard up.

[3BB Sorcery. Set aside all creature cards in all graveyards. Then, put each creature that is in play into its owner’s graveyard. Then, put each creature card set aside in this way into play under its owner’s control.]

WHY: Okay, enough with the discard cards! None of them crack into the top five or six for black. The real path to victory for black in multiplayer is nasty surprises for creature and card advantage, like this one. I have listed this card in the past as one of the WORST multiplayer cards for black, and I stand by that judgement. I also think it is one of the BEST. Stuff that into your algorithm. It is, of course, all about timing and the metagame.

SIGNAL: As a closer, it sends its own signal. It’s a deck-defining card.

ENHANCEMENTS: We’ve seen many of these on tournament deck lists: Survival of the Fittest is perhaps the best-suited synergy card. Buried Alive’s not bad with it either, if you want to stay monochrome. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a strategy for blowing one or more opponents’ graveyards, through Tormod’s Crypt, Phyrexian Furnace, or Carrion Beetles. (If you splash green, Repopulate will also do wonders.)

COUNTERMEASURES: See above. Repopulate is just devastating, but you really have to be expecting your opponent to be playing Living Death. A more reasonable approach might be through white: Swords to Plowshares, False Prophet, Parallax Wave, that sort of thing. Thran Quarry looks slick, too.

Living Death is a collection-defining card. I believe there are about five or six stages to any collection:

STAGE ONE. You get your first rare. Probably a Pale Moon. You think to yourself, "Wow, this game has so many levels! I don’t understand why this card is good, but someday I’ll be abusing it. I know it’s true, I just know it!"

STAGE TWO: You get your first Living Death. By now you know Pale Moon stinks, and you’re just happy you have a card that is both (a) rare and (b) good. You think to yourself, "I can hardly wait until I get four of these!"

STAGE THREE: You get your first Millstone AND Tundra. Hey, old school cards! You’ve certainly heard of milling by now, and you don’t think it’s a particularly effective strategy for winning the game. However, you do your duty and put both cards in a deck, looking appropriately gloomy and cynical as you show these new kids on the block just how cool a veteran can be.

STAGE FOUR: You get four of each dual land. (The old ones, folks. Not that the new ones aren’t lovely.) By now your collection numbers in the tens of thousands, and every time you try to pull it out to create a new deck, you reaggravate that hunting injury of 1997. So you don’t build new decks anymore; at best you move the dual lands and other cards around into different decks to make people think you’re still creative and hip.

STAGE FIVE: You get your first Power Nine card. By now, you are considered a failure if you have not written at least one unsolicited article to StarCity or the Dojo telling everyone how the latest expansion reeks and how they’ve CHANGED things, dammit, and in my day, we didn’t have CARDBOARD CARDS, we scraped little pictures and words into quartz with our nails, until our fingertips bled, and when you shuffled you ended up dumping a bunch of rocks onto your groin, and then you’d double over and hit your head on the big rock you used to play the smaller rocks on (which also doubled as a place where you could laboriously scratch in your life total) but hey, we were all crazy and the game was new and it was just so much BETTER THEN, MAN… but then Wizards of the Schrbroast (or some similarly, vaguely insulting play on the real company’s name) RUINED IT, MAN…

Like, with this next card. I can’t believe they wrecked everything with this next card.

[3BB, 3/3 Creature. B: Thrashing Wumpus deals 1 damage to each creature and each player.] SIMILAR CARDS: Crypt Rats is a cheaper but less rigorous version. Of course, both of these creatures are based on the enchantment Pestilence, a terrific control card that depends on one or more creatures surviving each turn. Festering Evil, an enchantment that costs the same as the Wumpus, does an automatic universal one damage on your upkeep and can be sacked for three. Dry Spell is a cheap mini-Pestilence, sorcery-style…and Invasion brings us Plague Spitter, an automatic Dry Spell every turn.

WHY: The Wumpus packs the tart juice of Pestilence in heavy creature form.

SIGNAL: While primarily a control card, I’m getting sick of writing that line for every card in black. Honestly, you CAN use the Wumpus rather aggressively, blending it with black’s small-cc, tough creatures like Hidden Horror and Phyrexian Neg…never mind.

ENHANCEMENTS: Spirit Link for life gain, Death Pit Offering to increase survival chances ("Roshambo" style, credit to Adrian Sullivan, Sol Malka, et.al.), Chimeric Idol just to be cute. Everything goes tasty with Wumpus meat!

COUNTERMEASURES: Because the Wumpus is a black creature, it’s typically up to red or white to get rid of it for good. (Blue might pay attention when Spirit Link is played, and use that moment to bounce the Wumpus. Please.) Also, see countermeasures for Earthquake.

    [3B Enchantment. During each player’s upkeep, that player buries one target non-artifact creature he or she controls.]

    WHY: An old-school card that forces players to kill their own creatures.

    SIGNAL: Control, control, control. Abyss DEFINED control for years. Occasionally can add some punch to a more aggressive deck.

    ENHANCEMENTS: Do you think you might play this with artifact creatures? Sure, go ahead.

    COUNTERMEASURES: Do you think you might play against this with artifact creatures? Sure, go ahead.

The Abyss is one of those cards that will simply force players into making stupid mistakes. Only one person in our group (Theo) has/plays this card, and it’s still stunning how many times we totally blow it. We can all calculate the total damage of a five-point Earthquake through two Repercussions and a Furnace of Rath when three Benevolent Unicorns are on the table, but put a single Abyss out and watch the madness:

GARY: Okay, I start my turn and I will lose my Blockade Runner to Theo’s Abyss. Anthony, during my main phase I will activate my Alexi Zephyr mage with X equal to three. I will send all three of your creatures (Blinding Angel, Mother of Runes, Weatherseed Treefolk) to your hand.

ANTHONY: So, you think you can remove my defenses and come in for the attack, do you? Well, I’ll show you. In response to Alexi busting a move — do people still say "bust a move?" — I will activate my Mother of Runes and give the Angel protection from blue until end of turn. So phllllllllllbt.

GARY: Sure, okay, return the Mother and Treefolk to your hand. Hmmmmm…I’ve got nothing else. Your turn, Anthony. Boy, that Angel sure looks scary.

ANTHONY: YOU BET IT DOES, MACK. Scarier than, well, scarier than…

THEO: Scarier than my Abyss?

ANTHONY: [Thinks about it.] No. Probably not scarier than your Abyss.


[1BBB Enchantment. Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from play, each other player sacrifices a creature.]

WHY: A newer-school card that, like The Abyss, forces players to kill their own creatures. It gets one up on The Abyss because it slides around untargetability and protection, working like Diabolic Edict to wax otherwise unkillable creatures.

SIGNAL: Since it requires you to lose creatures to be effective, you are typically not playing aggressively here. Control or combo…more likely a nasty combo.

ENHANCEMENTS: Wow, there are just so many cards (most of them black) that have you sack a creature to get a cool effect, it’s hard to know where to start. From the wimpy Blood Pet to the mighty Phyrexian Plaguelord, the creatures at your disposal are awesome. Synergy with Contamination should be obvious. Artifacts like Bottle Gnomes and Hornet Cannon are your friends.

COUNTERMEASURES: The one sure way to get rid of Grave Pact is to burn its controller into the ground, fast and hard. Even if the black mage is packing Bottle Gnomes, a concerted effort by a red mage typically overwhelms a deck that puts much of its resources toward creature control. If you’re a green mage, your only hope is continual Squirrel or Saproling generation. Black mages with life drain should make like the red mage.

[7BB Sorcery. Destroy all creatures not under your control. Those creatures cannot be regenerated.]

WHY: This is REALLY the goal of all the removal cards listed prior, isn’t it? I mean, Grave Pact is funky and fun, Living Death is sweeping in scope, the Abyss is legendary in its control, but when it comes right down to it, what you want to tell every opponent is, "You lose all your creatures. You too. And you. Also, you. What, my creatures? Oh, let’s let them stick around." It’s horribly expensive but in multiplayer, you’ll be able to afford it. This card makes drawing late Dark Rituals almost bearable.

SIGNAL: Who needs a signal?

ENHANCEMENTS: Who needs enhancements?

COUNTERMEASURES: Who needs countermeasures? Oh, right. Well, I think it would be pretty funny to hear about a blue mage who has the presence of mind to play Reins of Power in response to this thing. If anyone manages to pull this off, please write to me and let me know.

This card may end up number one soon. I don’t know for sure. I’d like to have a chance to play it some more and see. The fact that it doesn’t represent a path to victory in and of itself bothers me…yet for some reason it doesn’t bother me in most of the other colors.

Since I love black, and tend to hold it to a higher standard than the other colors, I felt I needed to have a #1 here that didn’t control permanents, but rather struck out on its own for a win. And so in what was a very close decision between #2 and #1 for black, I chose over Plague Wind


[3BB Enchantment. During your upkeep, each of your opponents loses 1 life. Gain 1 life for each 1 life lost this way.] SIMILAR CARDS: Syphon Soul is a one-shot sorcery that whacks everyone else for two, letting you gain what is drained.

WHY: This is a wrecking ball in chaos, and is possibly even more effective in team play (since it only nails opponents). It gets the nod over all the creature destruction, all the discard, all the whatever else, because unlike the other cards, Subversion can win you the game on its own, without any other cards or effects or anything else. It slips by worship, undoes early game damage, and gives you fuel for otherwise unplayable group strategies like Hatred and Necro.

It is black. It is nasty. And it wins.

ENHANCEMENTS: Subversion complements just about any black mage strategy. Use the life to fuel Phyrexian Processors; or just let it pile up and use the rest of your deck to fend off the angry hordes of opponents.

COUNTERMEASURES: A good start is Forsaken Wastes, since mono-black has no way to get rid of the enchantment. (Note that everyone will still lose the life to Subversion.) An even funnier countermeasure (and the two of you will be good friends, I assure you, until there’s no one else left) is a Subversion of your own.

The Honorable Mention for black goes to DEATH PITS OF RATH, which together with red burn and the great gold cards of Invasion can form the basis for a new generation of red-black multiplayer decks..



GENERAL COMMENTS: Earlier versions of this Hall have made the point that blue loses the most power over its own destiny as it moves from duel to multiplayer. A traditional "draw-go" DENIAL scheme is about as useful in group as suicide is for black.

What’s left from blue’s standard strengths? BOUNCE, EVASION, THEFT, and RESOURCE ADVANTAGE, to start. THEFT and BOUNCE have the most representation on this list, with DENIAL still making a good show of it. Both EVASION and RESOURCE ADVANTAGE also have a couple of nominations each.

[3UU Instant. Return all lands to owners’ hands.]

WHY: Sunder is a specialized function card, useful only in certain situations—in response to an Armageddon or Natural Affinity, or to set off a Blood Oath. But its universal scope, and the fact that it hits people at their mana source, is enough to put this on the list.

SIGNAL: Sunder is really only truly useful in combination with something else, like Blood Oath. Otherwise, you’re only sending a nuisance signal.

ENHANCEMENTS: A theme deck with Dircowl Wurm and Storm Couldron is possible; but I think that’s stretching it.

COUNTERMEASURES: You lose nothing but time when facing this card. Play spellshapers and be grateful for the extra fodder.

You’ll find as you go through this list that I sound a bit…well, cynical…about blue. It’s not that I don’t like blue. I actually find it a great deal of fun at times. But the fact is, I’m forced to loathe it more often than I usually would because of the presence of a true-blue mage in our group’s midst. The fact that Theo can barely bring himself to cast a spell without tapping blue mana just drives me bonkers. So when you hear me slam blue for "sending nuisance signals" and "not doing anything", well, it’s true; but my feelings don’t really run that bitter.

Here’s the perfect way to summarize my feelings on blue and multiplayer: I think the three Invasion dragon legends that use blue are probably the most useful in multiplayer. YET… I think I will have more fun with the other two (Rith and Darigaaz). There you have it, me and my bittersweet feelings for blue in a dragon-ny nutshell.

19.?FOG BANK.?
[1U, 0/2 Creature. Flying. Fog Bank does not deal or receive combat damage.]

WHY/SIGNAL: Just makes attacking you "not worth it". Compatible with a variety of strategies – many aggressive mages can play dastardly cards after shielding themselves behind an array of foggy banks.

ENHANCEMENTS: Anything. And you DO need something. You can’t just sit behind that freaking thing all day, can you? Play a card. Breathe. ANYTHING!

COUNTERMEASURES: The mage that plays this is hoping you will not want to waste a burn or removal spell on it. Dispel that illusion, will you? Green mages barely care about Fog Bank, since they can just trample over it and accept two less damage.

18.?WASH OUT.?
[3U Sorcery. Return all permanents of the color of your choice to their owners’ hands.]

WHY: Like Extinction for black, sometimes Wash Out will be impractical to cast. Other times, it will be absolutely devastating. If it fits your deck’s theme, it’s probably worth packing.

SIGNAL: It’s a pretty strange control card, but control it is. It may also simply be a stop-gap measure for a color that the blue mage feels particularly vulnerable to in the group. (Green and red are most likely; but this is not always the case.)

ENHANCEMENTS: Several other Invasion cards – Blind Seer, Dream Thrush, and so on – are all color-manipulation cards that are worthy of splashing in there. You might also play with one of the new Djinns based on color primacy. Adding an Iron Maiden or Viseling to the mix can punish a player for having too many creature cards out. (Of course, this doesn’t help you if your primary worry is saproling tokens.)

COUNTERMEASURES: Maybe you’ll be lucky and have a Distorting Lens or Blind Seer of your own. Or maybe you’ll just suck it up and play your creatures again next time, buddy. Of course, artifact decks are unwashable.

As I write this I’m still relatively fresh off of a rather good Invasion prerelease where Wash Out was very good to me. So that may be why this card’s on the list. Of course, if that were true, it would be the ONLY card on the list. No sense in making lists of cards that I’ve actually played well; I’d never get past the first paragraph…

Oh, look, here comes a card I’m pretty sure I’ll NEVER get right…


[3UU Enchantment. Whenever a player chooses one or more targets, each player reveals the top card of his or her library. The player who reveals the card with the highest converted mana cost may change the target or targets. If two or more cards are tied for highest cost, the target or targets remain unchanged.]

WHY: It’s on the list because the potential for great fun is there. It’s low on the list because it should be very difficult to pull off effectively.

SIGNAL: "Hi, I’m playing with enormously expensive cards." Not very aggressive. Not very capable of control. But it IS Combo-riffic.

ENHANCEMENTS: You are likely to benefit from Dream Halls, which will let you play this card (and your other massively expensive spells) more easily. You might as well play with Pyromancy, too, while you’re at it.

COUNTERMEASURES: As with most situational spells, you will weather this by playing a straightforward, rigorous deck capable of withstanding the occasional setback. Just have fun with it when it happens, and stick to your strategy.

[2UU Sorcery. You may play Breaking Wave any time you could play an instant if you pay 2 more to play it. Simultaneously untap all tapped creatures and tap all untapped creatures.]

WHY: It’s one of two cards (the other is Sands of Time) that actually make Jangling Automaton look like not so bad an idea.

SIGNAL: This can be used in aggressive decks to apply a final beatdown, in control decks to put off a relentless beating, or simply on someone else’s turn to make life difficult.

ENHANCEMENTS: Use plenty of creatures that can tap in response, like Tims and such.


This is where formatting a document in a strict way can really mess you up. I mean, I’ve tried to pace this thing so that you get a little ditty from me on the even numbers, and a picture of the card on the odd numbers. (That way, #1 will always get a picture.) Twenty is not divisble by three and I’m really bad at my four- and five-multiples, so any other arrangement is out of the question. And yet even with all this hard long division work, I end up here on an even number, with nothing tricky to say about the card. Tapping and untapping. Ya-hoo. Hey, it will win you the game, but don’t expect me to come up with an epic poem about it. Wait, hang on, maybe I’ve got something here…

As twilight struck the rocky shore,

And black’n’d the broiling seas,

A great big wave bore down on us:

At instant speed, we sneezed.

Ugh, forget it.


[3UU Enchantment. Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, return that creature to owner’s hand.]

WHY: This has the feel of a card I’ve probably underrated. I’ve put it relatively low on the list simply because in our group, it hasn’t gotten played often for the impact it has on slowing down the game. So it’s been hard for me to judge its true power. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this slid up the list, in the next edition.

SIGNAL: You are shouting control. One assumes everything else in your deck will target a creature.

ENHANCEMENTS: The most obvious two are the well-known Masques-block combo friends, Jolting Merfolk and Defender en-Vec. But Prodigal Sorcerer (and its kindred), Rolling Thunder, and anything capable of recurring/multiple targeting are all viable.

COUNTERMEASURES: Spiritual Asylum prevents your creatures (or your lands) from becoming the target of spells or abilities. Green and blue have a host of untargetable creatures. And if you just want to be able to target your own creatures with benign effects, try global spells like Fervor, Overrun, and Dark Triumph.

[2U Enchantment. Each player cannot play more than one spell per turn.]

WHY: In all honesty, this spell follows a bit of a parabola: from one to about three opponents, it becomes slightly more useful to the blue mage as it slows down the game and lets control or combo pieces add up in your hand. But after three opponents, its actual effect becomes less and less useful: each additional player represents a new opportunity for everyone to cast a spell, and you need that many more Counterspells if your aim is to stop them. Enough veterans with cheap burn or other strategies will soon turn this card against you.

But it does change the game dramatically, and many newer players o