Lore Lost to Time Part 2: Obscure & Inexpensive Commander Hidden Gems

Commander Economy 
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 09 Jun 2020

Buried within the heap of a cardboard mountain rest a handful of powerhouses. Epic, commanding spellcraft that's as potent as it is sought after. And thus fetching a hefty price. For those witches and warlocks able to obtain said sorcery, you have may respect.

For the rest of us, a shovel comes in handy. It takes a lot of work to dig through the scores of summoning spells, the piles upon piles of artifacts. We dig with the knowledge that most findings will be of little use in battle. But the allure of uncovering that hidden scroll, the pride of reviving a lost piece of history, makes all the failed effort worthwhile. The most amazing stories are often sifted from the ashes of the most tragic.

And so, my fellow mages, if you seek to make the most of magical leftovers, I bid you explore further. Who knows what secrets, long since forgotten, we'll unveil? And what stories we'll craft in their wake?

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I need a bigger shovel

Our last episode: Lore Lost to Time: Part 1

Welcome back, fellow adventurers! For those joining our party for the first time, "Lore Lost to Time" is a series devoted to rediscovering the older and underrated cards of Magic's past. Then applying said mystery-spells into Commander decks, hopefully to the surprise of unsuspecting opponents. The history of the game is vast, and as more and more products get churned out, the greater the odds of older relics being forgotten. Our band of heroes is here to change that!

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Fighter? Check. Thief? Check. Healer? Uh oh.

We've two main priorities in mind: locate the undiscovered/forgotten gems that have been overlooked, and importantly in these trying times, obtain those gems that on a budget. It's about the inventiveness and creativity that comes with building around something new. 

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Some highlights from our last installment

Or...old, rather. But new to us. And hopefully, our opponents as well. Let see what hidden treasures we can dig up! It's time to grab your Explorer's Scopeimage, sharpen that Trusty Macheteimage, and start our journey into the wilderness. But before we get suited up and leave the warmth of the tavern, let's revisit the groundrules:

Rule #1: We're looking for overlooked and obscure cards here, so we'll only take into consideration cards that appear in fewer than 500 decks listed on AetherHub and EDHRec, appearing in <0.5% of the decks listed.

Rule #2: Magic is an expensive game. And it's looking to get even moreso with the announcement of additional Secret Liars and Double Masters. So our hidden gems must be inexpensive. Times are tight, and there's little point in uncovering an amazing older card if we can't afford it. And so, no single card can exceed $3 in value.

Rule #3: As mentioned, we're gonna take you back to the past, to play the shitty games tha...sorry, got side-tracked. Damn catchy jingle. But yes, we are going back to the past, specifically pre-Modern era, so all cards discussed will hail from a time pre-O.G. Mirrodin.

With that covered, let's begin!

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Card: Ceta Sanctuary

Printing(s): Apocalypse

# Decks Running It: 93

Price: $0.25

Apocalypse was unique, not only as MtG's original "Avengers: Endgame" way, way before to the events of War of the Spark, but it was also Magic's first dedicated enemy-colored set.  As such, Wizards got to experiment with a variety of ability and mechanic overlap across colors that previously had very little partnership. Sure, the occasional Reflect Damageimage appeared at casual tables, but real classics like Vindicateimage and the mighty Spiritmongerimage made their debut here.

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This guy was royalty back in the day

And yet, popular as enemy color-pairs are, Apocalypse remains one of the lowest valued older sets out there. The enemy painlands (Yavimaya Coastimage, Llanowar Wastesimage, etc.) are some of it's priciest cards, despite only being a few bucks. Because this was the first time Wizards really experimented with what enemy-colors could do, did a large proportion of cards intentionally turn out underpowered? Or perhaps, merely overlooked?

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Enter Ceta Sanctuaryimage, part of a multi-cycle that revolved around renegade mages dabbling in the 'dark arts' of their respective viewpoint (Ex. Degavolverimage is a Mono White Cleric who decided to give goth a spin). Ceta Sanctuaryimage and its ilk reward you for having enemy-color permanents in play. Have one, and you get a small bonus. Have both, and the bonus gets much better. In the case of Dega Sanctuaryimage, Necra Sanctuaryimage, and Raka Sanctuaryimage, the upside is rather meh. Not bad, just not especially impactful in Commander. Ceta Sanctuaryimage, on the other hand, can go from playable to excellent in any dedicated Temur deck.

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Possessing a single green or red permanent lets Ceta Sanctuaryimage offer a free "loot" each turn, drawing and then discarding a card. That's already solid, as the ability repeats and requires no other cost or activation save for keeping the on-color permanent in play. If you manage to obtain both colors - not a difficult task - then suddenly Ceta Sanctuaryimage becomes a better Phyrexian Arenaimage. Note that it says "draw two" but only "discard one", meaning you're getting a free draw on top of looting each upkeep. That is a lot of card advantage for a humble little Uncommon!

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Ceta Sanctuaryimage doesn't care if the red and green permanent happen to be the same card, so any Temur permanent or popular Gruul inclusions like Rhythm of the Wildimage and Tana, the Bloodsowerimage will grant the full benefit. And all for a card that costs a quarter. Not too shabby.

Whereas card advantage is universally good, thus making Ceta Sanctuaryimage spicy in most all Temur decks, our next Sanctuary is a bit more niche.

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Card: Ana Sanctuary

Printing(s): Apocalypse, Mystery Boosters

# Decks Running It: 79

Price: $0.25

Also coming in at $0.25, Ana Sanctuaryimage differs from its blue counterpart on a few levels. For one, getting the lesser bonus of a +1/+1 boost is far less powerful than looting, so you should consider running Ana Sanctuaryimage if you're consistently able to keep both Black and Blue permanents in play. Meet that goal and you'll be rewarded with the far more substantial bonus of +5/+5, pretty big, even in a format like Commander.

Secondly, you'll need to make sure your deck's strategy can take best advantage of that sizable pump. Which immediately brings that nasty ole' Infect mechanic to mind. Consider this general:

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"I'm on loan from Silent Hill"

Most infect tools dwell in Black (Phyrexian Crusaderimage, Hand of the Praetorsimage), Green (Triumph of the Hordesimage, Phyrexian Swarmlordimage), and Blue (Corrupted Conscienceimage, Blighted Agentimage), so the starting point for an infect platform making full use of Ana Sanctuaryimage is straightforward. Granting the bonus to a Blighted Agentimage each turn is certainly scary and will draw the ire of the table. But let's face it: You're running Infect. The table's already gunning for you. All the more reason to poison them more quickly, which Ana Sanctuaryimage certainly helps with.

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Of course, you could also go the traditional route and simply beat-down your opponents with big Sultai monsters. That'll certainly work too. It'll at least keep you more friends than Infect would. But I'll let you make that call. Just sayin', nothing wrong with boosting that Muldrotha, the Gravetideimage to 11/11 and attacking the old fashioned way.

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Card: Avenger en-Dalimage

Printing(s): Nemesis

# Decks Running It: 87

Price: $0.49

Okay, can we talk about this art for a sec? Cause that's some serious 80's metal album-type gold right there. There is no way a guitar isn't blaring in the background. I mean, not only is the avenger ripping another dude apart, but somehow also making him explode into light. From the inside. At the same time! Is his enemy a vampire or robot or something? Is this Rath Cycle-era lore? I have questions!

*Ahem* Anyhow, let's discuss Rattlesnakes: Cards that say to your opponent(s) "Do not attack me".

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Go ahead, make my day.

Big gamestates require setup, and setup requires time. As such, it's helpful to not have a horde of opponents sending their armies in your direction as you try and bring a plan together. And that holds especially true if your gameplan started off on a really strong foot. Turn 1 Sol Ringimage into Azorius Signetimage? Eyes are gonna narrow in your direction. It's times like these when a rattlesnake like Avenger en-Dalimage comes in handy. Cheap, inexpensive to activate, able to recycle cards into a useful effect, and most importantly: keeps you alive.

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Of course, you could always force something to attack you, too.

I touched upon a few other spellshapers in our last entry, and what I said then holds true here. Having a useful, repeatable source of removal on an inexpensive body brings a lot of utility to a slower format like Commander. Avenger en-Dalimage doesn't even have to fire to have an impact. More often, the mere threat of activation is enough to deter opponents who don't have ways around it. If you do need to shoot down an attacker, the fact that Avenger en-Dalimage exiles it is a significant benefit. I'd much rather exile a creature and give its controller some free life than simply send it to their graveyard.

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Lastly, and here's the subtle aspect of this card: it can act as a political rattlesnake, protecting anyone getting attacked. Avenger en-Dalimage has the ability to hit any attacking critter, not just those coming at you. This has serious potential to forge alliances.

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Card: Ghoul's Feastimage

Printing(s): Mercadian Masques, Izzet vs Golgari Duel Deck

# Decks Running It: 46

Price: $0.24

It's refreshing to write about a card that is so simple, so straightforward in its application. Ghoul's Feastimage tells you everything you need to know in one sentence. Have a packed graveyard and at least one critter swinging at your opponent's face. It'll take care of the rest.

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"I was working in the lab, late one night..."

As such, finding a proper home for Ghoul's Feastimage isn't difficult. We're looking for graveyard-centric Commanders/decks that seek to bury as many of their own critters as possible before going off. A classic application of this strategy involves using Living Deathimage to simultaneously wrath the board and bring your stuffed graveyard back to party. Ghoul's Feastimage works best under similar conditions, becoming downright lethal if you're able to self-mill enough creatures into your graveyard. Black has countless options to enable this.

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Lastly, Ghoul's Feastimage benefits tremendously from its obscurity. The threat of a large graveyard paired with Bonehoardimage is plain enough to see and prepare for. But how many players out there will expect an instant-speed "Bonehoard-pump" printed decades ago? That hidden-knife factor can make Ghoul's Feastimage into a potent finisher. Just remember that is a finisher, a late-game card, and will only take down a single (unsuspecting) opponent. But it'll do so in spectacular fashion.

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Card: Fire Antsimage

Printing(s): Urza's Saga, Battle Royale Box Set

# Decks Running: 132

Price: $0.29

They don't print uncommons like this anymore, do they? Repeatable damage to all non-flying creatures that conveniently misses the source of the damage (Unlike, say, Thrashing Wumpusimage). Sure, it doesn't hit players or flyers, but there's still plenty to work with here. And all attached to an angry little horde of insects.

On the surface, Fire Antsimage are already some nice anti-token tech, as most token shells run numerous 1/1's before upgrading them into bigger threat later on. Fire Antsimage applies that 1 damage every turn, shutting down any further generation of x/1 tokens without some other form of protection like Cathars' Crusadeimage. They also eat up sacrifice fodder (Ex. Awakening Zoneimage) for Korvold, Fae-Cursed Kingimage, obliterate all the Kobolds Prossh, Skyraider of Kherimage makes when he enters play, and can prevent an Assemble the Legionimage from taking over.

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And that's if you only want to play nice with Fire Antsimage. Up until now, the little bugs have likely been doing the majority of the table a service: preventing powerhouses from gobbling up fodder and taking over the game. There's political sway to be earned here. Other players likely won't be too hurt by the ant-damage, as cards like Sakura-Tribe Elderimage will just use their effect in response, anyways. Fire Antsimage are happy to keep little old 1/1's down on their own, but to really step up, get mean, and become wardens of the table, they'll need a bit of help.

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Fire Antsimage take very, very well to learning the ways of Deathtouch, going from spindly nuisance to walking wrath-machine! This will certainly make you the table's bad-guy, but will also give you firm control over what creatures get to live and even attempt to threaten you. Just remember: Fire Antsimage still misses fliers! And if you want to get really mean and fully embrace the super villainy, add Scythe of the Wretchedimage on top of Deathtouch and starting stealing whatever your ants shoot down. In time, your foes will see the light and learn to embrace their insect overlords.

 

I hope you've enjoyed our second foray into the darker depths of Magic's library. Our journies are not over yet. Many dusty bookshelves hold treasures within their leather-bound occupants. I hope today's exploration has sparked some inventive ideas in your mind and provided a useful set of Commander tools at a low price.

Thanks for reading!

If you have ideas for future cards you'd like discussed, please let me know in the comments!

-Tautog-

@Intrepid_Tautog

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