Lore Lost to Time Part 3: Obscure & Inexpensive Commander Hidden Gems
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 21 Jun 2020
The rattle of fingernails on leather snapped me to attention.
"I give up!" Spat the old man, slamming shut the ancient tome before him. As he did so, a fresh cloud of dust introduced itself to the room. And our nostrils. This library would be giving us allergies for days.
"That's the fifth time you've made that statement, your Eminence. This week."
"Well, I'll have you know I've mind to mean it this time! And that's High-Arch Eminence to you, whelp!"
I turn away, pretending to gaze deeply at a passage on the scroll in front of me, when really I'm only looking to roll my eyes in secret. My mind swims with sarcastic rebuttals, though I'd never dare fire one off at the wizened husk. Though seeing his penchant for rants, I'm likely in for an earful anyho-
"And furthermore, what in the green blazes are we doing stuck in this accursed tomb?! I've seen better organized scrolls adorning the walls of gambling halls and brothels! At least those institutions have the decency to clean up every once and a while. Does the King think us amateurs?"
"An amateur High-Arch Mage. Would that be an oxymoron?"
"Ah, away the snot-nosed rascal goes again. All snide remarks and angst. At your age, I was already slinging lightning at dragons who flew too close to the castle walls! A boy of fifteen, and already in full command of the heavenly fire, I was. "
I broke. I finally broke. A mortal brain could only be numbed so many times by same story before it lashed out in defiance. Before my good sense could stop me, I snapped.
"So what happened, then? If you were so great, why are you here, trapped in this forgotten library and telling stories no one will remember after you're gone?"
I expected venom, but the weathered face instead grew soft. Its wrinkles, a patchwork of grays, and a single scar below the eye all sank from my wound. I had hurt him. And no spell, or faded memory thereof, would fix that.
"I know it's frustrating to humor an old fool. Especially when he lets his own frustrations get to him. I've many regrets in life. But here, this place, exploring it with you. That is not one of them. Oh, I may stir up a fuss at the tedious bits, but then I stop and think. When I take a moment to remember how many hands and minds put all this together, that's when it all comes back into focus. These penny-scrolls you see before us? They were written with the same degree of passion as their more famed counterparts. And by those just as forgotten. You see a failure before you, and you wouldn't be wrong, my boy."
"I'm sorry, sir. High-Arch Mage, sir."
My apology appeared to fall on deaf ears, for as I spoke it, the very book the old man shut had begun to vibrate. It was as if a long-sleeping animal had finally been roused. Drowsy, but stirring. And eager to meet the world again. My eyes snapped to my master, reading for any expression that might explain what was happening. He rested one hand on the faded cover and smiled meekly. A smile of warm regard, like seeing a friend you've not met up with in years.
"Funny thing about failures: they seldom occur at the end of the story."
And here we go again, fellow adventurers! Once more into the arcane lore of the game, and I'm not just talking about Kamigawa! Though that lovely plane certainly fits the bill. Our third installment of "Lore Lost to Time" will further explore the older and more obscure Commander gems of Magic's past. As always, our goal is to both uncover forgotten cards with potential, and to do so while on a budget. Magic ain't cheap, and alas, that's not changing anytime soon.
So, for those of us whom prefer to get creative with our cardboard (I swear that's not meant to sound dirty), let's dig through the old Magic archives and see what we can find!
In our last episode...
For those of you joining the party for the first time, here are our first two installments:
With that covered, let's dive into the wilderness! Drink up one last swig of ale, grab your Adventurer's Gear, and give the guidelines a read before we depart. Even epic quests have rules, ya know.
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 more so 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.
And with that covered, onward to glory!
Printing(s): Mercadian Masques
# Decks Running It: 93
"Some men just want to watch the world burn"
If you just so happen to be a twisted soul, this card likely elicits an evil smile. Mass removal of all flavors see ample Commander play, and whether you or someone else is ending the world,is going to dole out pain either way. It's the sort of card that makes everyone play a little more carefully. With a bit more tension in their moves. All asks is ample fodder and frequent destruction.
Just don't expect to be very popular
can carry some subtle political implications with it. Any card that changes how people play the game will. But for the most part, this enchantment's impact will not be subtle. Play it, and people will know you're up to no good. Mass removal like and immediately come to mind, but you could get even nastier when you combine with synergistic pieces like , , and to dial up the violence to grisly degrees.
Hmm, sensing a pattern here
Now obviously, sacrifice-themed decks won't be very interested in. You're less interested in killing your own permanents as opposed to your opponents', so consider generals like Tharixmundar, and . Pairing with supporting colors extends your removal, as while Black is excellent at removing creatures and planeswalkers, you'll also want to keep creature-light players clear of their artifacts and/or enchantments. White can happily assist via cards like , which will likely return to play after it nukes all enchantments. The name of this game is destruction, so keeping a stocked graveyard for the Threshold isn't a tall ask.
Final Note: Bear in mind thatdoes not trigger off of killing tokens, so while you shouldn't hesitate to wipe out that Trostani, Selenya's Voice player's army, don't expect them to lose life.
Card: Spurnmage Advocate
Printing(s): Judgment, Commander
# Decks Running It: 356
Last time, we talked about the concept of rattlesnakes, cards that dissuade your opponents from attacking you. On its surface,fits many of the qualities in a good rattlesnake. It's incredibly efficient as a 1-mana, 1/1. There's no mana or card requirement necessary to activate the ability, unlike the previously discussed . And as a defensive card, is unlikely to draw ire from your opponents. After all, it's only going to kill things in self-defense. Most of the time, at least.
More or less pricey to activate? It's all about context.
But drawbacks can be a beast, and whilecan essentially cast for zero mana, it certainly doesn't do so for free. This little nomad grants an opponent two full cards back from their graveyard. That's a tremendous advantage, and severely limits the number of activations you can freely make. In a 1v1 game, needs to destroy a massive, game-ending threat to be worthy of such a steep cost. But 4-player formats like Commander bring another wrinkle to the table.
doesn't care which opponent gets the cards back, enabling you to kill an attacker while giving another player cards. The political potential here is tremendous, especially in the case of Group-Hug decks. This sort of strategy tends to be liberal with cards anyhow, so 'gifting' someone a pair of cards to nix an attacker can actually foster a useful alliance. And like , can hit any attacker, whether it's attacking you or someone else, further opening up political potential.
Finally, and easily overlooked, is howneed not always act as a rattlesnake. If someone's board state is about to overtake a game, can selectively return cards from your opponents' graveyard, helping them get back that pivotal or to save everyone's bacon. All someone needs to do is send a single attacker at anyone else, and the Advocate can return the desired answer for the player who needs it to save the day. Now you've both saved the game and helped everyone! That's like a group-hug players dream.
# Decks Running It: 175
Note: This was originally going to be a combo of EDHRec and AetherHub. Though disqualified, is still affordable at $1.99 and serves a similar purpose to the other card we'll be discussing. Lots of the same arguments apply, so bear this is mind.and , but the red card just fell out of the rules zone by appearing in ~600 decks on
These are what I like to call "*Sigh*, I'm gonna get another beer" cards.
A big, splashy format like Commander makes a card likelook incredibly, well, dull on the surface. Sure, it's a nifty enough effect in the right metagame, but in a world of huge combos and interactions, is it really worth it to slot into the 99? I believe that answer all comes down to the concept of opportunity cost.
Your given EDH meta may or may not be one where counters run rampant. That's a variable that's liable to change as time goes on and new cards are introduced. But if you're running Green, then you're likely interested in having your creatures resolve. Especially if those creatures are vital win-conditions (, , an Eldrazi of your choice) or important utility creatures ( , , ). On the surface, the potential of begs the question: "How often will I run into counters?". The better question to ask is: "How much do I lose if no one is running counters?"
This is where opportunity cost enters the equation., if nothing else, replaces itself for a single mana. "Draw a card" is truly the most deceptively powerful phrase in Magic, as it can make an otherwise unplayable card perfectly fine. So what if seldom makes an appearance? You can simply "Cycle" at sorcery speed for a single mana and go about your day, having spent the most minimal of resources possible to provide insurance against potentially game-ending counter magic. You've given up very little to protect against something niche, but possibly devastating. That level of flexibility is what makes spells like , and the aforementioned , far better than they look.
Card: Stronghold Machinist, Stronghold Biologist
# Decks Running Them: 181, 115
Price: $0.25, $0.25
While we're on the topic of counter spells, let's close our this third installment of "Lore Lost to Time" with a pair of hooligans that embody the concept. In both Parts 1 and 2 of our series, I've highlighted my love of Spellshapers in Commander, as they sit in a sweet spot of both versatility and budget-friendliness. They basically turn all the cards in your hand into "Charms". Not necessarily the most powerful, but certainly flexible.
These cards are all massively popular for a reason
Though mono-Blue,and may as well be members of the Azorius Guild, for they're about as "fun police" as it gets. Like the aforementioned , both and bring a bit of political intrigue to the table, but more often than not will make you the bad guy. Not necessarily a bad thing, so long as you're prepared for it. In the case of , the inherent function of the card warranted you having lots of destructive answers. With and , the idea is to not need additional answers, as you'll hopefully stop the threat before it can ever enter play.
Again, don't expect to win any popularity contests
If you're running a Spell-slinger, Stax, or a Prison-style deck, both of these have the potential to provide key control. To say nothing of frustration. Be mindful of leaving yourself open once you've activated these cards. The threat of activation is valuable, but eventually, your opponents will have to start playing spells into them, opening you up for retribution.
The discard factor also synergizes well with Commanders such as, who will gladly cast any pitched instants/sorceries, or , who will draw you back up each time you activate one of your spellshapers. This applies to all Spellshapers, not just and .
That'll wrap up our journey for the day. I hope this edition of "Lore Lost to Time" has sparked some unique deckbuilding ideas. And given you an appreciation for some of the older gems out there. Thanks for reading, and if you've any ideas for cards you'd like to see covered on future installments, let me know in the comments!