This is the third article in a series. You'll want to go back and read the first two articles for context. Or don't. It's your life.
Champions of Kamigawa
Azusa, Lost but Seeking: In my Magic Memories forum posts, I expressed my fascination with Fastbond and my history of using the card. I appreciate other takes on the effect. The Conspiracy reprint of Exploration lowered the price on that card, but for a long time it was a bit too expensive for me. I didn’t get to play much with Exploration, although at one point Al0ysiusHWWW built a silly combo deck based around it and Horn of Greed. That sounds like the classic tournament deck called TurboLand. But it wasn’t. My friend’s deck didn’t actually accomplish anything. It was a joke deck with no kill condition. It legitimately won a multiplayer game under bizarre circumstances. But that’s a tangent for another day. I thought Exploration was cool. Azusa is essentially Double Exploration, in creature form. What’s not to love? Also, I learned from one of the old “20-Point Fireball” articles that the card’s original name was supposed to be Azusa, Lost but Seeking Directions. The name was too long to fit on the card and the last word got cropped out. This true fact is definitely the reality of the situation.
R&D’s Secret Lair: Although I was too new to the game to really get the joke with some of the Unglued stuff, I did get the opportunity to play around with the set. I experienced hardly any actual gameplay with Unhinged cards. And I think most of that was me playing regular decks against Unhinged cards, rather than me playing with the actual cards from this set. So with some important exceptions, I have essentially the whole set to pick from here. My favorite joke in the set is Carnivorous Death Parrot, but its only interesting gameplay interaction is with the “Gotcha” cards, and I’m not the first person to point out that “Gotcha” isn’t fun. Well, I haven’t played with silver-bordered cards in years and I don’t know when I might get to do so again. But looking over the set and thinking of the card I’d be most interested to try out in a real game, it’s got to be R&D’s Secret Lair. Not sure where I’d start as far as deck-building, but I could come up with something.
Betrayers of Kamigawa
Goryo’s Vengeance: I’ve really only played with the very strongest cards from this set. Well, those and some ninjas. Anyway, it seems like kind of a boring set. Not a lot that I haven’t played and would even really like to play. Goryo’s Vengeance stands out as an exception. It’s a good use of the usually lackluster “Splice onto Arcane” mechanic, it’s a good use of the block’s Legend theme, and it’s an efficient, powerful spell. I’m aware that it’s used in Modern Reanimator decks, but I don’t really care about those. Not even sure what they use it on. Probably Griselbrand. I’d happily try the card out in casual constructed decks.
Saviors of Kamigawa
Eternal Dominion: If I ranked the sets by how few cards I actually own from them, I think Saviors of Kamigawa would be near the top. Almost every card I own from this set was purchased by Al0ysiusHWWW for Legacy tournament decks, and there aren’t a lot of Legacy-viable cards in Saviors of Kamigawa. I could probably pick up a couple of booster packs and double my Saviors of Kamigawa collection. I think this set is even worse than Betrayers of Kamigawa, and that’s saying a lot. There’s no getting around it: this set is crap. The obvious exceptions are there, they’re obvious, and they’re infrequent. But I do like the Epic mechanic. I’ll admit that I built a Legacy version of the old Extended Enduring Ideal combo deck. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t competitive in Legacy even back when I built it. But was a blast to play. Under the right circumstances, Eternal Dominion could be another really fun card. I’ve never seen it pulled off and I’ve never tried it myself.
Ravnica: City of Guilds
Doubling Season: Casual players went crazy for Doubling Season. I suppose it’s understandable. I find the card pretty exciting myself. I was broke when Ravnica was released, broke when this whole block was released, really. So I didn’t try to buy any copies of it. The card’s price on the secondary market climbed like crazy, and I guess the Modern Masters reprint didn’t help. It’s still over $50. Now, I’ve purchased many cards for a lot more than that, but those were old, classic cards. I’m not motivated to spend so much money for a card that isn’t for filling out my collections of early Magic sets, isn’t a Legacy or Vintage tournament staple, and isn’t meant for a specific deck I really want to build. All that aside, Doubling Season has some intriguing applications and I’d love to try it out at some point.
Gelectrode: The one isn’t even close. The card is right up my alley. What might be surprising isn’t that I’d like to play with Gelectrode, but that I’ve never done so in the past. Anyone who knows me would know it’s my kind of card. I was looking through the Guildpact set list and thinking of what card to select. When I saw Gelectrode my thought was, “Great card, but of course I’ve played it before.” And then it dawned on me that no, I never had. Weird.
Tidespout Tyrant: This is another set where I hardly own any cards. But I’ve played with most of the ones that are especially well-known. I was hesitant to pick Tidespout Tyrant because I used to test a lot of Vintage decks, and Tidespout Tyrant was a popular Oath target at the time. It seemed as thought I must have played Tyrant Oath on Apprentice or something, but I can’t remember it and can’t find any record of it. I’ve convinced myself that I never actually played Vintage Tyrant Oath, not even in testing games. I’ve got to note that Battlefield Scrounger is the coolest Oath target ever. But Tidespout Tyrant seems like a close second. I own one copy and I’m a bit perplexed that I never worked it into a casual deck of some sort. I guess I just didn’t have time.
Braid of Fire: On the one hand, I feel weird about this one. Braid of Fire seems like it would have had more “cool points” in my mind back when mana burn was a part of the game. On the other hand, I do love mana acceleration and this card is a cool, unique take on one of my favorite things to be doing in Magic. So I’m disappointed that I never even tried to build a deck around Braid of Fire.
Children of Korlis: I mainly associate Children of Korlis with the Tin Fins combo deck in Legacy, but I’ve never played that deck. This is a deep set and while I have played with many of the cards in Time Spiral, there are several strong candidates for “coolest card I’ve never played.” I could pretty easily list runners up for this set, and that’s despite having played with a lot of the cards. Time Spiral is awesome. Ultimately, I settled on Children of Korlis for this. The card has a lot going for it. Cheap, versatile, unique, good in multiples, good in combos, and the only Magic card with the phrase “Sacrifice Children” in its text box.
Porphyry Nodes: For Arabian Nights, I mentioned that I don’t own any copies of Drop of Honey and wish I did (the card currently sells for almost $400). But I played with the card extensively in the old Shandalar computer game, where I found it to be quite useful. The “timeshifted” cards from Planar Chaos look really cool and also allow for some fun alternate-color usage of powerful effects. Damnation is probably the most popular. Simian Spirit Guide is the one I’ve gotten the most use out of. Sadly, I never found an opportunity to use Porphyry Nodes. I do think that it’s a bit less practical than Drop of Honey, strictly guessing at what decks using either might look like. But it’s the same effect overall and only costs one mana.
Bitter Ordeal: As much as I like the rest of Time Spiral Block, Future Sight just might top it all. This set is amazing. There are a few gems in here that I never got around to playing myself, but I think I’m obligated to pick the flagship card for the “Gravestorm” mechanic. I could have built a Bitter Ordeal deck. I still might. For one thing, I find the concept of Gravestorm appealing. For another thing, Bitter Ordeal really looks like a good card in its own right, even without some looping engine to fuel it. If you can manage to cast it in the same turn that a permanent died (perhaps during your second main phase), it’s basically double Extract for 2B. But with things like fetchlands, cards that sacrifice creatures to power effects, utility artifacts, and combat trades, it’s not hard to imagine that Bitter Ordeal might have several copies, even without a dedicated combo. We could be talking double Jester’s Cap or even more. While some decks are consistent enough to withstand that, many are not, and even the ones that are would be severely weakened.
Rings of Brighthearth: This card caught my attention because it was used to go infinite with the contemporary errata version of Time Vault. For those who don’t know or can’t remember, Time Vault was initially restricted when tournament rules were standardized in an attempt to lower the chances of infinite turns combos, then it was banned altogether, and then, starting in 1996, Time Vault was unbanned, but would receive various power-level errata to prevent infinite turns combos. These errata were modified over the course of new set releases and game rules changes, all with the apparent goal of keeping Time Vault from being used to do anything other than skip a turn in order to take a turn. Usually the errata involved special counters. Unfortunately, I have no archive of the different versions myself and I don’t know where to find one. Some of the errata were extremely convoluted and, from a modern perspective, seem alien. Along came Rings of Brighthearth in 2007 and Time Vault got a brand new way to cheat the system. Since then, I’ve seen other interesting applications for Rings of Brighthearth. I’ve had fun exploiting activated abilities in other contexts, and Rings of Brighthearth seems like a great card for that sort of thing.
Maralen of the Mornsong: My interest was piqued as soon as I saw the words “Players can’t draw cards.” I was interested in using this with Necropotence. I still am. Didn’t think much of it at the time, but then M15 came out with Ob Nixilis, Unshackled. So now that’s the combo I’m interested in. But in general, I’ve brainstormed ways to capitalize on Maralen’s abilities far too much for someone who never actually played the card.
Wheel of Sun and Moon: I don’t have a lot of experience with this block, but it does have some cool standout cards I’ve gotten mileage out of. In 2009, I wrote a series of posts on the top 200 enchantments in Magic for the now-defunct “Monster Island” blog. Before I got to the final 10 (which I never successfully completed, although I could probably figure out what they were supposed to be), I went back and covered honorable mentions that had inadvertently been left out when I’d written up entries for the first 190 enchantments. Wheel of Sun and Moon was in there. I was unfamiliar with Shadowmoor and didn’t think to include it, but caught my mistake later. Plenty of cool applications for this card and I’d even try to go infinite with it.
Gilder Bairn: Possibly the most iconic card to use the “untap” mechanic. Gilder Bairn is reasonably efficient and that activated ability is deceptively powerful. The mechanic was apparently not successful with players in general. I read that too many players confused the untap symbol with the tap symbol. I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising to me, because I’ve watched people play and it seems like almost half of all Magic players tap their cards counterclockwise like mouth-breathing, idiotic morons. That’s bad and if you do it, you’re bad for doing it. There’s a little arrow symbol on the cards telling you which way to turn them, and yet some of you keep on turning them the opposite way because you’re too stupid to follow instructions. Imbeciles. Stupid, stupid, stupid dummies. Well, that escalated quickly. Anyway, I liked the mechanic and was disappointed that it was so short-lived. Gilder Bairn seems like a really cool combo enabler.
Shards of Alara
Skill Borrower: In Magic Memories, I noted the potential for one of my favorite cards, Lim-Dûl’s Vault, to set up an infinite combo with Skill Borrower and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. But I never built such a deck myself. I’ve always been fascinated with creatures that inherit characteristics from other zones, such as Volrath’s Shapeshifter, Necrotic Ooze, Sutured Ghoul, and Duplicant. Skill Borrower takes that to the extreme. It strikes me as a fun and undervalued card, but that’s all based on my impression. I imagine that it could be especially powerful with Griselbrand. I can’t speak for results because I don’t have any.
Sigil of the Empty Throne: I’ve seen this one around. Sigil of the Empty Throne seems to be especially popular with casual players. With all of the Enchantress testing and gameplay I’ve done, it seems like I would have used Sigil of the Empty Throne at some point. But I never have. WotC waffle around the concept of seriously printing “enchantments matter” cards, but sometimes they make a good one, and I appreciate those exceptions. Conflux as a set doesn’t really have much else of interest to offer that I haven’t already played.
Bloodbraid Elf: I’ve never been a huge fan of the “all multicolored cards set.” But I suppose I prefer it to the “all creatures set.” I’m fine with multicolored cards, but they should be special. I actually thought it was really cool how WotC dropped multicolored cards altogether after Stronghold and didn’t bring them back until Invasion. Perhaps that’s too extreme, but I kind of thought it made Invasion feel spectacular. Alara Reborn is OK, I guess. I’ve played around with some of the cards. Looking at the ones I’ve never played, the strongest by far is Bloodbraid Elf. So powerful that it was banned in Modern! Whatever. It’s nothing fancy. Just a 3/2 with Haste and Cascade. But it’s efficient, and I can get behind that. I’ve played a lot of aggressive red/green decks. Bloodbraid Elf would be a great fit.
Ant Queen: This was when the core set system changed. Previously, it had been a biannual release containing a roster of staples going back to Limited Edition, with some cards from expansion sets replacing some of the “retiree” cards. Magic 2010 established the new model, with core sets being released annually (always during the summer of the year before the year actually in their names, so as to create confusion). And core sets started getting brand new cards, not previously printed in other sets. But there were also a lot of reprints and it’s a bit tricky for me to even remember which of these core sets introduced which new cards. Out of the newly introduced cards, I mostly only remember the ones that I used at some point. So I scanned the set list for the ones I never used. Well, I guess Ant Queen looks pretty good. Really good, actually. For casual play anyway. It was probably good in Standard too or whatever. Look, it’s just a really respectable card. 5/5 for five total mana, and it has a token-making ability. It’s no Sliver Queen, but it seems nice.
Hedron Crab: This set is bonkers. Bananas. Crazy. Insane. Nuts. I was trying to get into a university when it came out and I was saving all of my money. I still don’t own a ton of Zendikar cards. But I’ve played with my favorites, over the years. The old Apprentice program was still working back then. One card, which didn’t seem remarkable to me at the time, was a popular favorite, and I’ve seen people genuinely excited over it. I haven’t ever played it and don’t share the emotional connection to it, but I do have to admit, Hedron Crab does seem pretty cool.
Amulet of Vigor: This is another one of those sets where I own hardly any cards. I think even my Dissension collection is more complete. I really missed out on Worldwake. I was back to school and not very active in Magic. You know what? I’ll check right now. Let’s see. It looks like I own a total of 55 cards from this set. Not 55 unique cards. 55 total, most of which are multiples of staples I used for Legacy decks and such. There’s a whole lot of this set I’ve never touched. Amulet of Vigor caught my attention after it became a runaway success in Modern. But I’m not even especially interested in the infamous Amulet of Vigor + Summer Bloom combo. It’s just that after seeing it, I realized the card has some other cool applications.
Rise of the Eldrazi
Splinter Twin: This one was easy. Splinter Twin is a great card. I have yet to actually play with it. Rise of the Eldrazi is a weird set, and there are some other cool cards that I haven’t used in here, but nothing that really comes close to the power and prestige of Splinter Twin. Not much I can really even think of to say on this one. Splinter Twin is a fine combo card and I’m passionate about combos and stuff. Um, this is really a very easy selection. If I’d played more Highlander formats, I’d have thrown a copy into a deck or something.
Leyline of Anticipation: You could pick just about any card originally printed in M11, in M12, or in M13 and tell me it was from any of them, and I’d believe you. Except Preordain, of course. You can’t fool me with that one. I’ve seen far too many copies of it in Legacy: I know it’s from M11. Just about anything else, though? No idea. These were core sets and I was super-busy with school and stuff. Most of the good cards were reprints anyway. I’d have to actively take the time to learn about these sets and I have not yet done so. In my mind, they remain a single entity. “The core sets after M10 and before M14.” But I had the wherewithal to browse the set lists. For Magic 2011, my nomination for the Casual Card Hall of Fame, er, my favorite card from the set that I’ve never played personally has got to be Leyline of Anticipation. Even if Psarketos at the CPA hadn’t pointed out some of the more exotic uses for it, I’d immediately recognize this card as something special. I think this is probably the best use of the “leyline” mechanic.
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