Lore Lost to Time Part 4: Obscure & Inexpensive Commander Hidden Gems
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 06 Jul 2020
I'd been running meals for hours, but that hardly stopped me from taking notice. The tankard was down to its dregs. Ready for another refill. It'd be his forth in under a half-hour. By the time the final frothy remnant breached his gullet, I was already at the knight's table, pitcher in hand.
"Ah, good lass! At my side with ale before the thought could even leave my head. This one must be blessed with visions or mind powers or some such sorcery! Oughta get you checked out by the town magistrate. Ha, but I'm not complainin'."
He didn't say it to me. The announcement carried a tone and volume befitting a royal decree. Meant for the entire tavern to hear. But as annoyed as fellow bargoers might be at having their evening interrupted by a half-drunken advertisement, I could only smile. Syr Gryff knew our wages were lacking. Servers like myself survived on what little tips our customers left us. Even when in the full, wobbly embrace of the siren of drunken stupor, he still sang our praises like a bard returning from war.
Pitiful as he was, we loved him for that.
With glory days long behind him, Syr Gryff took to spending his remaining time entrenched in alcohol and memories. In equal measure. His supper at the "Withered Pumpkin" was now so routine the staff would have his meal - boiled chicken with turnips, cheapest item the menu - piping hot and waiting for his arrival before he even sat down. None of us were ever sure what the knight's salary was in his prime, especially within a prissy kingdom like Ardenvale. I always figured it must be grand, seeing how dangerous the job was. And how respected the shining warriors were as they rode out to slay beasts beyond the city walls. In his youth, Syr Gryff must've pulled in a pretty penny. Ironic, for now pennies were all the man had to his name.
And still, despite the ample gut and receding hairline, the man never spoke like anything other than a paladin. Eloquent talk flowed forth from that dirty beard, often surprising newer employees. Those of us who knew him well wondered: When he looked in the mirror, did he see a burnt-out soldier, or was his reflection cemented long ago, showing him only those ancient heroics since? Sad as it made me, I always believed it was the latter.
A shatter of glass broke me out of contemplation. My co-server, Kytia, had dropped her pitcher and rushed towards a window. Outside, townspeople were fleeing, their cries heralding something sinister. A moment later, the plume of scarlet flame that engulfed the mill gave face to that sinister force: dragon.
I moved to lock the tavern door, but before I could throw the latch, a calloused mitt wrapped itself around my shoulder.
"Seal it up tight, lass. And ensure all within find cover. If you've a cellar, get everyone to it. But first, you need to let me outside."
A bar of solid rust, presumably a sword at one point, rested firmly in Gryff's hand. His stance was still one of a drunk man, but his eyes blazed with entirely sober resolve. The burnout intended to face the beast.
"Syr Gryff, all respects, but please don't do this! We know of your bravery, of your service to the kingdom. You've no need to prove it any further by sacrificing yourself! A troop of Ardenvale knights will be upon the creature in minutes."
I had said it grandly, trying to appeal to his honor, but in actuality, I feared Syr Gryff had a deathwish and only desired to go out in a literal blaze of glory.
"Do you know how many lives a dragon can claim in a few short minutes? I've no delusion of slaying it. Only slowing it until the cavalry can arrive."
He shot me a telling smile. There was no hint of remorse, no trace of vengeance or suicidal rage. Only the simple truth: his body had aged, his duty to the kingdom had not.
"Least I can do is soften the lizard up some for the boys. They're still kinda green, you know. Need an oldtimer like me to show them how it's done. But hey, make me a promise, huh?
"Um, yes. Sure. Anything."
"Keep my table ready for me tomorrow. Wouldn't want to miss supper."
"It will be done, Syr Gryff. We would never forget you at the "Withered Pumpkin"".
And with that, the aged warrior threw me a slight nod and turned to face his destiny. I felt a tear hit my cheek as the door closed behind him. I had finally understood what the stories meant when they said 'Heroes never die'.
Welcome back, my fellow adventurers, to "Lore Lost to Time", where we simultaneously search for the obscure and inexpensive! If you're joining the party for the first time, you may want to check out some previous entries before delving further:
Thus far, our forays into Magic's older libraries have revealed many treasures. From elements designed to seize control of the game, to rattlesnakes with a political twist, we've covered a lot of ground. But there's still more to explore. More forgotten cards to examine for their Commander potential! And more mysteries to uncover.
On our last episode...
So finish off that one last bite of mutton! Down the last few swigs of ale! And retrieve yourand from the bored teenager at the front desk. We're venturing back out into the wilderness in search of hidden gems. Also, while you're on the way out the door, be sure to grab a pamphlet explaining...
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.
Okay, logistics outta the way. Let's begin!
Card: Task Mage Assembly
# Decks Running It: 45
Most folks raise an eyebrow at any card that gives their opponent even a modicum of control. And with good reason. You're ultimate goal is to win, so why would you gift your enemies the ability to fire off damage at whatever creature they wanted? Simple. When you can make the most out of said damage.
More on these in a sec.
On a surface-level,comes off as a 'chaos'-style card, keeping the board clear of smaller creatures in an unpredictable fashion. An opponent might spend their entire turn wiping out a huge threat, but unless it's your creature under fire, you're likely quite happy at that prospect. But getting the full benefit out of requires two very important factors. The first, obviously, is that at least one creature on board (it does not matter who owns/controls it), must stick around for this enchantment last. Hexproof, Indestructible, and Regeneration are common Commander mechanics, so this might not be a tough ask. Especially if you can bring some of these elements to the table with , , and the like. Once you've ensured that you can keep on board, it becomes a matter of harnessing its damage for your own good, regardless who's pulling the trigger. This immediately makes me think of the "Group-Slug" archetype and Tribal Dinosaurs, who's primarily ability is Enrage.
The dark and twisted cousin of the "Group Hug" deck, "Group Slug" shares the former's giveaway theme, only its gifts are less candy and more apples-with-razorblades-inside. Group Slug is generous with dispensing pain and destruction, and I've seen it come in two flavors. The first utilizes Commanders likeand Zo-Zu, the Punisher to cause as much damage to as many players as possible. As one can imagine, they quickly become the 'bad guy' of the table, but that's kinda their whole agenda, anyhow. The second variety is more subtle, handing out benefit and drawbacks alike, often with one hid under the under. I find this style makes you less of target, as your scheming is sugar-coated. is the perfect example of this sort of Commander, helping everyone except a single opponent, and weaving subtle political cues along the way. and hit a similar note, hurting and helping in equal measure. fits right into this shell, as creatures bounties on them via become especially tempting targets. The entire idea is that everyone will be hurting everyone else, but you'll be getting the most out of it.
When it comes to Dinosaur-tribal,'s "drawback" of letting other players target your own creatures becomes a benefit with Enrage. Because each point of damage is dealt individually, it means each instance of "ping" will trigger Enrage. Obviously, this has fantastic potential for you to ramp via , pump the team with Bellowing Armasaur, or build an army with . And you can certainly not expect your opponents to go after a ! But you'd love to see em try, wouldn't you? Even if your opponents do try to kill your dinosaurs with , you're likely getting a tremendous benefit in return. And because can only be activated at sorcery speed, it means opponents can't gang up on damage. Plus, you're always free to target your own creatures for value, too. Quite the sweet enabler you got, there.
Card: Fight or Flight
# Decks Running it:
Shields up! Oddly specific and ever-changing shields, but shields all the same. I think most people's first impression ofis how it pales in comparison to more effective defensive enchantments like and . On a purely defensive level, the level of protection provides is more situational. Against large armies, it'll certainly help. Against a giant Voltron? Not so much.
Two of these discourage combat. One outright shapes it.
But there's more tothan defense. It's more about controlling the battlefield. I'd liken it more to something like in that it changes some of the fundamentals of combat. And it does so entirely in your favor. You are given the ability to influence how each of your opponent's crafts their combat phase. And while they have the final say in what creature(s) ultimately get to attack, it's only after you've laid out the 'rules' by which they're allowed to. It's a high degree of control that occurs every turn and with no further mana investment on your part. This also opens high potential for politics, as you're not simply stopping creatures from attacking you, but attacking in general. Meaning the pattern with which you arrange who might and might not attack can be crafted to either help or hurt another opponent if the onslaught heads in their direction. protects you, and by consequence makes other players more likely to get attacked. can either increase or decrease those odds, depending on your choices. This makes for huge political impact.
's ability to tweak combat makes it a great fit for Commanders looking to lock up the game, like and Gwavid, Profiteer. It does help prevent you from getting hit, so Commanders like and cards like also benefit. effectively allows you to reduce their pool of potential attackers by 75%. Adding additional combat-centric cards like (which is underrated) can further alter the flow of battle in your favor and give you control over the game. And all this combat-shaping can also be especially fun combined with a chaotic general like .
For optimal protection,is clearly best against decks with large armies. Token and Tribal decks (Elves, Goblins, Slivers) immediately come to mind. Against decks like Spell-Slinger, who don't seek to win via attacking, might not do much to protect you from said deck, but it can protect that deck from other players, bringing us back to aforementioned the politics.
To finish things off, there is also a budget mirror-image that does the same for blocking:. If your deck is combat-centric and/or looking to control the flow of combat, this is another card to consider, as it's cheaper than other "can't block" options like .
Card: Think Tank
# Decks Running It: 93
Cephalids, the squid-folk you see in the artwork above, were an attempt to find an aquatic replacement for Merfolk. Unfortunately for Lovecraft fans, dethroning one of the top creature types in the game is no small feat, and Cephalids were soon forgotten from Magic lore. The same can largely be said of, as the printing of the strictly better essentially shelved the Odyssey enchantment. But "Lore Lost to Time" is as much about budget-Magic as it is hidden gems. While no one is questioning the superiority of , does offer a similar function at a much cheaper cost, at least financially. In addition, commander decks that want the "Surveil" effect of would likely also enjoy having an effective second-copy in .
was printed prior to its ability being keyworded, but in effect, it reads: "At the beginning of your upkeep, Surveil 1". This effect serves two roles. On one hand, it can help draw you into the cards you need, be they lands for mana development or gas for later in the game. On the other, also works as a mild self-mill vehicle, playing very well with Commanders like , , , and among others. Any deck that views its graveyard as a resource gets the best of both worlds.
Generals aside, there are plenty of cards in the 99 that can pair well with. recycles pitched lands into card draw, can jump into and out of the graveyard, and , actually any on-color member of the Incarnation tribe ( , , , , , ) are all happiest when buried. Plus pitched lands can help fuel any delve cards (Ex. ).
Another flavor of usefulness comes in the form of topdeck manipulation.gives you a look at the top card of your library before you draw it, opening up potential for shenanigans with generals like Yennet, Cryptic Soveriegn and . Within the 99, this effect also synergizes with any of the Miracle cards ( , , , etc.), , and naturally, . It's also perfectly 'fetchable' with .
Card: Avenging Druid
# Decks Running It: 145
I can't understand whyisn't more popular. I get that it's a small creature, easily removed, and poses little threat to your opponents. But that's one of the factors that makes it so powerful! may be faster to ramp, but only grabs basics. will very often have an opening to deal damage and ramp you into any land it hits. Shocks, fetches, you name it. He's also cheap enough that at least one player is unlikely to have a blocker by the time your turn comes back around. And even if they did, his 1-power damage is miniscule enough that you'd likely be able to convince someone to let hit them, maybe for a small favor in return. Heck, if you're hurting for mana, most opponent's will let you get a hit in for free. In general, folks are pretty supportive of ramp in Commander, as it's a pillar the format is built on, so I doubt you'll have too much trouble getting triggers.
Repeatable ramp potential aside,is also excellent at stocking your graveyard with non-lands. Just like with the aforementioned , this works great with generals like and . Other fun choices include , who apt to grow quite large after a few hits, for fun "Unearth"-style aggression, and the ever popular , who'll happily snack on any extra lands ramps out.
This graveyard synergy extends to cards in the 99, too. Stockpiling your yard with a multitude of dead creatures makes threats like, , very big. It also opens the door to a very scary . All this graveyard filling helps enable many Dredge cards as well ( , , , etc). And of course, Green has ample access to recursion ( , , etc.), so even without the assistance of Black, you're still likely to get back key cards from the yard, and because said yard was filled by , it also means you'll have plenty of lands to play around with, too.
And with that, we'll conclude another chapter in our series. I hope you've enjoyed reading. And that you've discovered some nifty hidden gems on a budget! Have fun brewing, and if there's any interactions I missed, or cards you'd like to see covered in future installments, please let me know in the comments!
Thanks again! And stay cool, you brave adventurers. Our quest isn't over yet!