(Editor’s note: The Ferrett looking for roleplayers! Yessiree, if anyone in the Cleveland area is free on Sundays, the Ferrett is looking for a couple of people to flesh out his Planescape campaign. If you’re available and interested, just email me at [email protected].)
In last week’s article, I discussed cheap staple cards for casual players. You know how it is; you’ve just started playing, and all of your cards can still fit in a baggie, including the box. You think you’re pretty shakin’, ’cause you have two whole decks at your disposal!
Then you wander over to your friend’s house – and their vault clicks and whirs open, revealing rows upon rows of cards stacked on shelves as far back as the eye can see.
“See this?” they’ll say, pulling out a stone tablet.”This is a card the Babylonians used three thousand years ago, back when they played a primitive form of Magic! It’s been banned since then, though, so I only use it in my Marduk theme deck. And over here is Richard Garfield – don’t touch him! The plastic case is all that keeps him from getting free!”
And this is the casual player in your group. The pro has leased a small country in the Balkans to store his cards. Alex Shvartsman personally takes a rocket off to the dark side of the moon to access his collection, where the vaccuum of airless space keeps them in pristine condition except for occasional micrometeorite holes.*
You thought that was a monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey? No, that was Alex Shvartsman trade binder.
And so it’s depressing, realizing how far behind you are. You feel intimidated And yet for a paltry price, you can add powerful cards to your casual deck – cards that are still cheap because they’re either commons, unplayed in tourneys, or played in lesser-used formats.
I did the insane when I started this – I went to Mtgnews.com’s spoiler generator and looked up every single card ever printed. All three thousand-plus of ’em, scanning lists upon lists until my eyes bled, trying to find the best.
So how humiliating is it that I missed some classics in my last runthrough?
I started off by listing the staples in lands, artifacts, black, and white… And readers called in to tell me that I’d missed a few. So let’s look at the ones I was stupid enough to miss:
Feldon’s Cane ($1.00). For one mana, you can put out an artifact that will shuffle your graveyard back into your library. In those long, extended multiplayer games – or against the schmuck playing with Haunting Echoes who thinks he’s cute – it often helps to recycle your graveyard back in. Not as useful as often as Tormod’s Crypt, detailed last week, but still vital in a variety of situations. Definitely worth picking up – and Eric Behrens, Jeff Wiles, and some guy whose only identification on his email was”Tech Department” were all absolutely right to tell me that it was a must-have.
Zuran Orb ($2.00). As Eric Behrens (there’s that name again) so succinctly put it:”Hello? Zuran Orb?” This is particularly embarassing, since Zuran Orb was one of the cheap cards that gave me the idea to write this article – and then I promptly forgot it.
Here’s what Zuran Orb does, for those of you who don’t know: It makes your opponents want to kill you. No, really. It inspires these murderous tendecies because it’s a zero-casting cost artifact that allows you to sacrifice a land for two life. In other words:
“I kill you! Hah!”
“I sacrifice a land. I’m not dead yet.”
“I kill you again with this Lightning Bolt!”
“Sacrifice two lands. I’m up a life. On my turn, I cast Wrath of God and Armageddon.”
“I kill you!”
“With what? You have no land and no – urk – hands off.. my – throat! Ack!“
It’s not an automatic throw into any deck – aggressive decks don’t need it – but for decks that need some time to set up, it sure works darn well.
Serrated Arrows ($1.50). Jeff Wiles (and there’s that name again) says it better than I can:”Kills Soul Warden, Mother of Runes, most Shadow guys, anything you’ve Humbled, et cetera.” True. For four mana, which is a bit pricey, you get the ability to tap your Arrows three times and put a -1/-1 counter on any creature. This used to be an automatic throw into any multiplayer deck I had, but I’ve since let it fall out of favor since it’s pricey. Still, it works wonders on Iridescent Angels…
Peacekeeper ($3.00). Okay, I’ll confess: I’ve never played with a Peacekeeper or against one, although I know many multiplayer guys who swear by ’em. For my money, he’s a 1/1 with an expensive ability (pay 1W every turn) for a pretty neat talent (nobody can attack)… But you have to build a deck around him, since as a 1/1 he can be gotten rid of. For my dough, I’d rather buy a Propaganda or a Collective Restraint, but you can definitely work with the little guy.
Incidentally, this suggestion was sent in by Brad Kinney, who I had the pleasure of meeting at a recent production of Pirates of Penzance, and whom I hope to meet again over a multiplayer table real soon. Hi, Brad!
Swords to Plowshares ($1.00). My only excuse for forgetting this is that it’s such a staple card that I didn’t even remember that people might not have it – to my way of thinking, it’s kind of like reminding people,”Say, breathe air – it clears your mind and helps you walk.”
Still, Jeff Wiles (who is really starting to get annoying in the way he’s suggesting all of these cards – if he’s so good, why doesn’t he just write the dang column, huh?*) said it best:”I’ll not bother commenting on such an obviously overpowered/undercosted card.” And neither will I, except to say that if you buy anything from us, you probably should start off with four of these babies.
Syphon Soul (.25). I didn’t really count this because it was in Sixth Edition and thus people probably remembered it – but for three mana you can gain fourteen life in an eight-player game and knock two life off of every opponent. I still bear a grudge against this card because I had four copies in my Multiplayer Invitational deck and it only showed up once. Where were you when I needed you?
As for other cards, many people suggested cool stuff that I myself have used and endorsed – but for our purposes, these have to be cards that you’d throw into any deck that uses the colors in question.** For example, Steve Fox suggested Erratic Portal ($2.00)… But unless you know you’ve got a lot of good creatures you want to bounce, or that your opponents always play creatures, it doesn’t really warrant a spot. Dan May likes Mana Webs, which I’ve played against and are really cool – but again, you have to build a deck around it for it to be useful. And we’re looking for all-around cards that can fit into any collection, not just certain decks.
(Incidentally, some twerp named”Anthony Alongi” wrote in to rules lawyer me, reminding me that Soltari Visionary can only kill enchantments and not artifacts. Well, if he’s so good then maybe he should be writing articles, too.)
So on to the other colors!
Green is a strong color in three- to four-person chaos games, but as the group gets larger it’s drastically diminished. Why? Because green wants to thunder over with creatures and smash everyone – and a good green deck can do that to three, maybe four opponents. When the group gets larger, your damage gets spread out thinner and your opponents have more time to cast global effects like Wrath of God. For a real analysis of what happens in large games, maybe you should read my analysis of multiplayer groups – which, although it’s one of the three best articles I’ve ever written, has gotten not a jot of feedback. Sometimes you just write and nobody pays attention… *snif*….***
Defense Of The Heart ($3.00). Okay, it seems silly – for three colorless and a green, you get an enchantment which, if any player controls more than three creatures, allows you to pop it on your upkeep to get any two creatures from your deck and put them into play. In tourney play, this was silly.
In multiplayer, however, someone always has more than three creatures by the time you cast this… And everybody knows how badass green’s creatures are. (Hint: Multani, Maro-Sorceror, Thorn Elemental, and/or Verdant Force.) If they don’t have any enchantment kill, you can watch the fun as other players kill their creatures for you. I’ve never been unhappy to draw this, and you’ll be surprised how often it gets back to you. Don’t play with four, but one or two never hurts.
Wall of Blossoms ($2.00). One of the best two-drops in multiplayer, for two mana you get an 0/4 wall and a card. Wall of Roots gets more play, but in the slower pace of multiplayer you usually don’t need the quick mana – whereas green’s card-drawing abilities are limited, and the Blossoms help you speed through your deck. Go ahead! Bounce it! Dare ya!
Rancor ($1.50) Okay, check this: One green mana gives any critter you want +2/+0 and trample. Great deal, huh? Well, let’s add a little spice to the matter: It gets +2/+0 and trample, and when the creature dies, the enchantment goes back to your hand. Rumor has it that R&D originally meant this to be 2G, not simply G – but take advantage of the best creature enchantment of all time. Throw it on an elf early in the game, attack with the elf to kill something, then get it back and put it on something you need. Just keep in mind that if someone kills your creature in response to you casting Rancor, it stays in the boneyard.
Gaea’s Blessing ($2.00). At sorcery speed for a green and a colorless, you can bring three cards from your graveyard back into your library and draw a card. Or you can hose an opponent who’s counting on graveyard recursion. And if it’s milled into your graveyard, you get to shuffle your graveyard back into your library. Handy in all sorts of situations, and it’ll also come in handy if you ever decide to play in Extended.
Priest of Titania ($1.00). For one more mana than your everyday elf, you get to add one mana to your pool for every elf in play. Sounds kinda weak? Well, in large chaos games, someone’s always playing with elves, and nobody wants to waste removal on a 1/1 when they know bigger things are on the way. Whee!
Oh, red is so weak in multiplayer. Sure, you can really blow things up good… But mono-red decks don’t deal out enough damage to take out four players (at least without the help of some expensive rares like Furnace of Rath). Still, red is an excellent support color, and has some cheapies you need, like:
Shattering Pulse ($0.25). Buyback was the coolest mechanism ever, and Shattering Pulse is probably the best of the buyback spells. Sure, Allay will destroy enchantments multiple times – but white has so many other options to kill enchantments (like, say, Aura of Silence) that it’s hard to compare it. Whereas the Pulse can kill as many artifacts as long as you have mana to power it. One or two in any red deck is a worthwhile investment.
Acidic Soil ($0.50). If your games are with novice players and tend to take forever – you know the games, the ones where everyone has fifteen lands out, three million creatures are on the board, and nobody wants to attack for fear of being left defenseless – then Acidic Soil will provide you with a nice clock that will tick their life away. It’s not for all groups, but a 2R sorcery that deals one damage to each player for each land they control will put a cap on slower groups. As an alternate win condition, you might wanna try Mob Justice ($0.50), an instant that deals one damage to target opponent for each creature you control.
Aether Flash ($0.50). Boy, do group players love infinite tokens. Saprolings, goblins, pegasi – you name it, someone will find some Earthcraft trick to make ten zillion of them. Aether Flash, an enchantment for two red and two colorless, deals two damage to each creature as it comes into play – ruining those saproling tokens from Verdant Force or Nemata. Whee! Just watch out for Mob Justice.
Wheel of Fortune ($4.00). Okay, it’s a little expensive for our list – but it’s a very cool older card to have. For awhile, some people considered it to be a”must-have” for any deck sporting the Power Nine, although it’s waned over the years… But it definitely helps you when you’re low. For two red and a colorless, all players must discard their hands and draw seven new cards; ideally, you wait until this is your one card and screw everyone else who was holding back. A card that encourages aggression and Alongis.
Varchild’s War Riders ($1.50). Okay, so you have to build a deck around it – but so many have, and with such glee, that I can’t say you shouldn’t pick up one or two of these. For 1R, you’ll get a 3/4 trampler with rampage (look it up) with a drawback: Each upkeep, you have to put a steadily-increasing number of”Survivor” tokens under an opponent’s control. There are any number of ways of turning this disadvantage into an advantage, whether it’s by stopping them from attacking (Propaganda), forcing you to get your best creatures (Oath of Druids), or just killing them as they come into play with Aether Flash.
What’s not on the list for red:
Sizzle ($0.25). Some players swear by it (and Flame Rift), but I disagree. Sizzle’s a much better call in multiplayer, where you can do twelve points of damage to four opponents for three mana – but it doesn’t affect the board at all. If you’re getting beaten down, you’re still going to be beaten down after you’ve cast Sizzle. Plus, you can’t not target anyone, so you wind up annoying other players who may begin to smash your face out of terror. I’ve used it, but I dislike it. Your mileage may vary.
(Plus, it’s from Mercadian Masques, and I assume that most newer players have at least seen it. Same with Seal of Fire, which is also intensely useful.)
Blue isn’t quite as potent in multiplayer, either – but it offers a lot more support. Unfortunately, counterspell-based decks don’t work when you have four times as many spells to counter, and bounce isn’t nearly as effective against large groups of people. Still, blue has some nice tricks that nobody should question:
Propaganda ($1.50). Some people prefer Collective Restraint, and I can’t blame them; in a three-color deck, Restraint is clearly superior. However, for three-fourths the mana of a Restraint, you can direct attention elsewhere by making people have to pay two mana per critter before they can send ’em your way. This won’t stop a dedicated opponent from attacking you, but it will focus attention elsewhere… Which is what you want, isn’t it?
Reins of Power ($1.50). Okay – you have to build a deck that takes advantage of it, but it shouldn’t be too hard. For two blue and two colorless, you get to swap creatures – at instant speed, for God’s sake! – until the end of the turn. If someone has nine million saprolings and someone else is attacking you, take their saprolings and let them take the damage. Or better yet, have some way to sacrifice all of these new creatures for your advantage before your opponent gets ’em back – Altar of Dementia is an old favorite, but the sneakier may love Death Pit Offering.
Capsize ($0.50). Okay, I take it back: This is the best of the buyback spells. With enough mana, you can bounce everything on the board ad infinitum; without enough mana, you can still bounce any threat in response to anything. A truly great card.
Fog Bank ($0.50). Looking to stall? Another great wall for one blue and a colorless, it’s easily killed by direct damage – but it can block creatures, flying or otherwise, all day and buy you precious time, since it doesn’t deal or receive combat damage. Just watch out for tramplers!
The Lobotomy Spells.
They deserve a special section unto their own, since nobody uses them in multiplayer – and dangit, people should. When the Lobotomy spells (from Urza’s Destiny) resolve, they let you go through your opponent’s deck and hand and remove all spells with the same name. They’re tremendous card advantage, and they also let you know exactly what’s in your opponent’s deck. Since many bad multiplayer decks revolve around one card, you can often cripple an entire strategy in one swell foop.
Eradicate ($1.00). For 2BB, Eradicate allows you to remove a nonblack, nonartifact creature from the game – and remove the rest of them from your opponent’s deck. For four cards, you could potentially get sixteen cards out of the way forever. Whee!
Scour ($0.50). For 2WW, remove any enchantment from the game, and get rid of all the copies in your opponent’s library, graveyard, and hand. I put two of these in any white deck I make, since so many decks rely on a single enchantment to work properly. Just cast this once, and watch all of the Survival and Oath decks go away!
Splinter ($1.00). Having problems with Masticores? Troubles with Cursed Scrolls? Wow, imagine how good you’ll feel when you use your dollar card to get rid of four copies of a twelve-buck investment! It’s expensive and it does run at sorcery speed, which means that people can (and will) Disenchant their own artifacts when they read the card… But it works more often than you’d think.
Quash ($1.00). For 2UU, remove all copies of an instant or sorcery. It’s very expensive and not quite as good as the other Lobotomy cards, but it can still be quite a nasty shock. The only counterspell I’d really think about playing with in multiplayer.
Unfortunately, red gets hosed here – for 3RR, you can remove all copies of a nonbasic land from the game. Whee. Is that really worth it? Nope.
NEXT WEEK: The winners of the theme deck contest!
* – Say, Jeff, why not? I mean, you could, right?
** – Okay, dammit, I know Peacekeeper is a card you have to build a deck around, but so many people like it I thought I’d have to mention it. So there. Nyah.
*** – And sometimes people like JEFF FREAKIN’ WILES write in to show you what a colossally forgetful idiot you are…