Cards don’t have to be expensive to be good. Heck, they don’t even have to be rare to be good. I often feel that Commander players tend to ignore the commons and uncommons revealed in sets. I don’t think we mean to; we get blinded by the glitz and glamour of rares and mythics. After all, who here hasn’t cracked open a pack, only to skip to the last few cards to see if you made your money back? You leave the chaff aside or toss it into your bag to eventually get damaged…but it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t a rare.
I learned the value of an uncommon while playing in the Boxing League event at CommandFest Richmond, and the allure of the uncommon protection spell in particular. There’s a certain beauty behind these card designs. You can’t deny their charm when you have one in your hand. When cast, they often elicit reactions such as, “Wow, I can’t believe this is an uncommon!!” or “Dang, this is really good!” These types of spells generate such excitement and intrigue across formats that I wanted to write a sort of love letter to the card genre.
My first experience with one such spell came during a Limited tournament for War of the Spark. I was at an SCG event and wanted to pull one of the chase planeswalkers in my card pool. Instead, I got the likes of Aven Eternal, Dreadhorde Invasion, Gleaming Overseer, and yes, Lazotep Plating. It wasn’t what I was going for, but it ultimately worked out for the best because I was killing it. I was demolishing my opponents left and right. For me, this was a big deal because I am notoriously horrible at playing Sealed. Still, I was having the time of my life.
And then disaster struck. My opponent cast a removal spell targeting my coveted Gleaming Overseer. I was heartbroken and ready to accept defeat… until I looked at the cards in my hand. Did you know that reading the card explains the card? Because up until then, I didn’t! I originally included Lazotep Plating because it would amass me a token. Little did I know that after the paragraph of text was my salvation:
It was like Richard Garfield himself descended from the heavens and blessed my hand. I actually had an answer, so I cast it. My opponent immediately mumbled, “Can I see that?” I nodded as they inspected the new card. “Wow, that’s an uncommon? That’s insane.” My spell resolved, my valuable creature was saved, and I was in love.
Veil of Summer
Coincidentally, two months later, we were gifted another uncommon protection piece that took Magic by storm. That’s right, it’s Veil of Summer! This card was infamous in the summer of 2019, as it quite literally did it all. Sure, Lazotep Plating made you a token, but this spell gives you the ability to draw a card (with a color stipulation of course), prevents your spells from being countered that turn, and all that protection-y good stuff.
This piece was often referred to as a green Cryptic Command for one mana. One mana, and it does all that. This spell was so potent, so problematic, that it was banned in Standard, Historic, and Pioneer. And it’s not hard to see why. While these weren’t my formats of choice, I often heard groans and grumbles about this card at my local game store. It was beloved and despised all the same.
There is an allure to this card, particularly to me, because of how specific it is. It focuses heavily on blue and black spells. Many would find weakness or fault within that strictness. Magic players like options and open-ended questions, and yet a narrow card flourished and almost ran over three formats. All that power packed into a one-mana instant. How can you not be enamored with that?
Surge of Salvation
Surge of Salvation was actually the catalyst that inspired this article. As corny as it sounds, playing this card created an ‘aha’ moment for me. I threw it in my Boxing League deck randomly because I felt it could possibly come in handy during the event. I’m normally not a competitive person, but that day I was. See, I was grinding for Prize Wall tickets because I had my eyes on an oversized Phyrexian Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider card. Vorinclex is my favorite Praetor, and I was desperate to have it mounted on my office wall. I was determined to win…so I ran Kenrith, the Returned King as my commander.
I know, evil, right? But my Boxing League pool was downright degenerate and full of value. If it wasn’t him, it would’ve been Jegantha, the Wellspring or Omnath, Locus of All (both of which were in my pool as well). I was rushing to complete my deck in time for the event when I slotted in Surge of Salvation last-minute.
“That card is pretty popular on Twitter right now,” my friend said.
Well, everything is always a hot-button topic on Twitter and I was in a rush, so I took his word for it and left it in the 99. I didn’t expect to win the Boxing League event, let alone do well, but it was as if the cardboard gods knew I needed those dumb tickets. I was ahead and needed to stay there. My opponent also saw this and sought to cast some removal spell on my Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn (yes, my deck was bonkers). Once again, it was as though the card knew I needed it and found me two draws before. With a single tap of a Blossoming Sands, I threw down my Surge of Salvation. My opponent scooped in frustration, and suddenly I felt as though I had a chance.
I pondered whether I should include Tamiyo’s Safekeeping in this love letter. There are similarities between it and the other spells mentioned, and yet the differences seem to stand out more. For example, Tamiyo’s Safekeeping is a common and only targets one permanent you control. Yes, it gives a sort of protection in the form of hexproof and indestructible, but it doesn’t offer blanket protection like the previously mentioned spells.
While these differences feel stark to me, there is no denying that this spell at the very least deserves an honorable mention amongst my miniature hall of fame. Seeing a common hit $1 is a rare achievement, but it is plain to see why. In a way, it is a pinnacle of design.
It’s a blip of a card that evokes a strong response. It can protect artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers, creatures, and yes, even lands. This instant provides the ultimate umbrella for a brief moment and tips you two life for the trouble. I expect this open-ended protection from an uncommon, but not a common. If you told me it protected a creature, I would’ve cheered, but the fact that this spell welcomes all has me in applause. Sure, you’re susceptible to being targeted, but hey, what do you expect? It’s just a common.
Cheap, low-rarity cards seldom elicit intense feelings of shock, frustration, and delight. I view these uncommon protection spells as the spark (pun not intended) that keeps our relationship with Magic exciting. If every card was a Jeweled Lotus or a Bolas’s Citadel, we would eventually become bored with the game. If everything is at a 10, then the 10s eventually begin to feel like 2s. The luster gets lost, and we yearn for something new, something that makes us question the very essence of its design. That is why “That is an uncommon?!” will always be one of my favorite sentences to hear. Happy brewing, deckbuilders.