Welcome to my new weekly column! Last week was a huge dive into the 100 Worst Magic Cards of All Time.
Many people who are reading this column might know me from various financial-related articles. Still more remember me from my stint with the Building on a Budget column on the official Wizards of the Coast (WotC) Magic website. Even fewer can think back to my 2002 Star City Games columnist run.
I’d like to tell you the focus of this current weekly series. I’ve been granted the freedom by the powers that be to write about whatever hits my fancy in the moment. (Copy Editor’s Note: Why do I hear boss music?) That means that if I want to do this…
Top 5 names I would have chosen for my daughter, if my wife wouldn’t have killed me:
…I’m free to do so! And if I want to write the time SCG was “accidentally” shipped a used airline toilet as part of a collection, you’re going to hear about it.
In the immortal words of one Jonathan “Stugotz” Weiner, it’s time to “Strap it on, Danno!”
But first, here are the pictures of the three rats that my family adopted from Second Chance Heroes in Richmond this past Saturday: Biggy Cheese the 3rd, Hot Anime Rat, and Ratniss Everdeen:
One thing you should know about the rats is that I have no say in what they are named. That is solely the domain of my children and my lovely wife, who is still upset that one of these rats wasn’t named Joey Ratmone. Also, this mischief of three is very shy, and it’ll take time and patience to get them acclimated to have people around.
And here we have, from left to right, Chidi Ratagonye, Gordon Ratsey, Ratilda Swinton, and Daniel Ratcliffe. You’ll notice that unlike the three previous pictured rats, these are older, bigger, and have a sole purpose in life to look cute and pathetic so that we’ll give them extra treats every day.
What does any of this have to do with Magic? Nothing! As I said, I have sweet artistic freedom, and so this is my column for this week. See you all next week for…
(Copy Editor’s Note: One absurd chase sequence later…)
Wait, what? I have to write about Magic each week?
(Copy Editor’s Note: Bribes to not write about Magic are payable in gold, platinum, and/or prepaid reservations to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.)
Fine, I have freedom to write about whatever I want to write about within reason. Sure, everybody loves cute rat pictures and fantastical baby names. But you’re here at Star City Games, so you want some MTG content.
It’s “Ben” a While
I’ve been doing a series of nostalgic Tweets over the past few months on my @StarCityBen account. One realization I’ve come to is that many people involved in Magic are relatively newer to the game – as in, I’ve been playing longer than they’ve been alive – and now I have no hair. Or functional continuity from sentence to sentence. Point is – there are a lot of Commander players out there who are familiar with cards from around when they started playing to present, but have a gap in knowledge of cards printed a long, long time ago.
Today’s article features ten cards from the ol’ wayback machine that I believe are excellent for Commander play, but might be overlooked due to being old. Nine of these ten cards haven’t been printed in this century, and the last one is nearly a decade from last printing. So without further ado, here are the ten cards that I feel you should be playing in Commander, but might not know about.
Presented in alphabetical order, because I can!
When is a creature not a creature? When it’s an Aura! Licid is a creature type that WotC introduced with Tempest, and then promptly banished to the annals of “Holy hell, these creatures break the rules in ways we can’t fix.” Bestow creatures and the DFC Innistrad: Crimson Vow cards are attempts to make creatures that also function as Auras. The same could be said about the reconfigure cards from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
Dominating Licid is the most powerful of the Licid cards. It is a Control Magic that can move from creature to creature, avoid creature or enchantment removal at will, and both block and remove a second attacker from combat. How can one creature do all this? Let’s walk through it.
The main ability on Dominating Licid is gaining control of a creature for the cost of 1UU and tapping. That’s fairly straightforward. Let’s say an opponent tries killing Dominating Licid (when it is a creature) with Go for the Throat. In response, you can turn Dominating Licid into an Aura and avoid it dying to the creature removal.
So now you’re controlling someone else’s creature with Dominating Licid. Opponent tries killing it with Naturalize? Easy enough, just pay a single blue mana, and it’s no longer an Aura. Naturalize is countered, and you’ve got your creature back.
Being attacked by multiple creatures? Block one with Dominating Licid, and then use it to take control of a second attacking creature. Voila! Two creatures stopped in combat, including one that you get to keep.
In short, Dominating Licid is extremely versatile in being able to grab whatever is the best creature on the board. It’s extremely difficult to kill once and for all, and that’s why it deserves a second look.
Fun fact – there are not many ways to repeatedly switch target creature’s power and toughness in the entirety of Magic. In fact, the only two that can do this every turn are Dwarven Thaumaturgist and Mannichi, the Fevered Dream. I prefer Dwarven Thaumaturgist because it has a lot more precision control. There are a lot of times you don’t want to switch the power and toughness on every creature on the battlefield at once, which limits the use of Mannichi.
Dwarven Thaumaturgist was my secret sideboard tech back when Tradewind Rider and Ball Lightning were all the rage. One tap eliminates any creature with zero power. A 6/1 Ball Lightning becomes a 1/6 joke. Many creatures become killable a lot more easily than they would have been had they kept a lower power and a higher toughness.
Birds of Paradise? Dead. Noble Hierarch / Ignoble Hierarch? Dead. Blood Artist? Dead. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove / Seedborn Muse? Bolt bait. You get the idea – Dwarven Thaumaturgist kills or maims many of the most-played Commander creatures.
For two mana, you shut down virtually all direct damage and creatures with flying. Cumulative upkeep means that you probably don’t want to actually cast Energy Storm on Turn 2. Mid-game, Energy Storm shuts down a ton of relevant spells and creatures and keeps them shut down. Chances are that all three card types affected by Energy Storm are being played in any one Commander pod (instants that deal damage, sorceries that deal damage, or flying creatures which tap to attack), so there are almost no instances where Energy Storm will be a dead card.
It’s important to note that Grim Feast’s current Oracle text reads, “Whenever a creature is put into an opponent’s graveyard from the battlefield, you gain life equal to its toughness.” I wanted to clarify this because it turns Grim Feast from “decent” to “one of the best lifegain spells in Commander.” Sure, you’re going to take one damage a turn. You’re also going to turn battlefield-wipe spells into gains of 20-100+ life.
Grim Feast just sits there turn after turn, not caring who is killing which creatures. As long as anyone else’s creatures but yours are dying, it’s going to be more life for you. Who cares if someone is sacrificing creatures to Korvold, Fae-Cursed King? More life for you! Creatures coming back over and over again with Muldrotha, the Gravetide? Life! Krenko going ham with an army of Goblins? A veritable feast the first time someone drops a Pyroclasm or Wrath of God or Damnation or what-have-you!
Helm of Possession
While Dominating Licid (above) is the discerning choice for the blue mage, Helm of Possession is for anyone who has big token power. The ability to turn your Saproling / Goblin / Elf / Fungus / Human / Kobold / Squirrel / whatever token into the best creature on the battlefield at your leisure is huge. Pair with the sacrifice outlet or spell of your choice, and you’ve got a way to just keep taking down the biggest and best your opponents have to offer, turn after turn of the game. This is also one of the few artifacts with a Control Magic effect in all of Magic, so honestly you can play Helm of Possession in any Commander deck you want.
(Just between you and me, play it in a deck with lots of token generators, or decks that have easy ways to sacrifice whatever creature you steal. You’ll thank me later.)
I was shocked at how much more play Gorilla Shaman sees than Plaguebearer. Then I remembered that Gorilla Shaman was printed in Modern Horizons 2, so a lot of players are more familiar with Mox Monkey.
Plaguebearer is essentially Gorilla Shaman, but for creatures. Specifically, it’s for nonblack creatures (which can be a drawback), but if you’ve got the mana, Plaguebearer can kill it. Creature tokens? A single black mana to kill. While it may not be efficient to kill a Llanowar Elves for three mana, you’re getting the ability to do so repeatedly.
I’d recommend Plaguebearer in decks that are either focusing on mana ramp (green) or are going mono-black with ways to make lands produce extra mana: Nirkana Revenant, Cabal Coffers, Extraplanar Lens, Crypt Ghast, etc.
This is my absolute favorite spell that nobody is playing. Reflect Damage is instant death to anyone playing mass direct damage. A lot of people are playing Deflecting Palm (11,900 decks on EDHREC), whereas only 233 decks have Reflect Damage. Yet Reflect Damage is an insanely powerful upgrade to Deflecting Palm! Let’s look at the differences between the two.
- Deflecting Palm costs two mana. Reflect Damage costs five mana. Winner – Deflecting Palm.
- Deflecting Palm prevents damage dealt to you. Reflect Damage prevents damage dealt by an entire source to everything. Winner – Reflect Damage.
- Deflecting Palm deals damage equal to the damage dealt to you to its source’s controller. Reflect Damage deals damage equal to the total damage dealt by its source to its source’s controller. Huge winner – Reflect Damage.
Let’s go to some more practical examples.
Player A casts Blasphemous Act for a single red mana, as there are eight creatures on the battlefield.
Deflecting Palm – Does nothing, since Blasphemous Act is dealing damage to creatures and not players.
Reflect Damage – Prevents damage to all eight creatures, and deals 104 damage to the person who cast Blasphemous Act.
Player B casts Chandra’s Ignition. They target their own 3/3 creature. There are three opponents and ten creatures on the battlefield aside from that 3/3 creature.
Deflecting Palm: Prevents three damage to you, and deals three damage to player B.
Reflect Damage: Prevents all damage to everything, and deals 39 damage to player B.
Reins of Power
Can you tell I like stealing things in Magic? But why steal when you can borrow? Reins of Power is the blue Fog. There are plenty of times your battlefield might look empty, and you’ll get attacked. Worst-case scenario, you cast Reins of Power on the player attacking you and stop all their creatures for a turn. Best-case scenario? You cast it on a third player and have all the creatures mutually kill each other in combat.
Reins of Power is also a huge funster with any sort of non-creature sacrifice outlet you may have. I’m a huge fan of Goblin Bombardment personally! Read the Runes, Perilous Research, Claws of Gix, and Altar of Dementia are also great follow-ups to Reins of Power.
Did I also mention that Reins of Power is a big ol’ middle finger to anyone who plays Cyclonic Rift?
The narrowest card on this list, Spirit Mirror can make for happy fun times. You’re not playing Spirit Mirror for the first ability (creating a 2/2 Reflection token). That ability is pretty meh, and there are plenty of ways for the white mage to create continuous token creatures that are better than a single 2/2 at a time.
No, you’re playing Spirit Mirror because of that second ability. WotC has learned over the years that it’s dangerous to put a repeatable, zero activation on anything.
Spirit Mirror needs helpers to get going. Let me introduce some of these helpers.
Spirit Mirror paired with Unnatural Selection makes for “1: Destroy target creature.” Spirit Mirror with Standardize is a one-sided, two-mana Damnation against anything you damn well please. Special bonus powers: Spirit Mirror instantly kills any changeling. Drop Spirit Mirror on the battlefield and watch anyone playing Morophon, the Boundless start openly weeping at your table.
Is there a spell in Magic that is more efficient in just hosing enchantments over and over again than Tranquil Grove? It just sits there and continually wipes out enchantments, turn after turn after turn. Until someone deals with Tranquil Grove, you’ve just removed a card type from being relevant in your game.
Want extra fun? Use Chishiro, the Shattered Blade as your commander. Play with Enchantress cards of your own. Then put Tranquil Grove onto the battlefield with recurring enchantments like Rancor, Aspect of Mongoose, and Fiery Mantle. Watch as your opponent has conniption fits as you take advantage of casting multiple enchantments a turn, killing your own (and their) enchantments with impunity, and then recasting your enchantments to your own great benefit!
All of the cards on this list are greatly underrepresented in Commander decks that I’ve seen and read about. I hope that at least one of these cards sparks your creative desires and makes for a really fun play experience for everyone in your Commander group!
If you have some other older Commander cards that you feel are underappreciated, join the conversation @StarCityBen on Twitter!
Next week – Have you ever had that one recurring dream where you are in the finals of a Pro Tour and are about to win, only to have Aaron Forsythe emergency ban one of your cards during Game 3 of the finals match, causing you to be disqualified from the Pro Tour on the spot?