Do you know what Lashknife Barrier is? Have you seen Fanning the Flames played at your recent Commander night? Has Whirlpool Warrior made the cut in your Izzet-colored decks? When was the last time you stocked a graveyard with Carrionettes in order to exile opposing creatures? Have you dropped Coastal Piracy just before a big attack in order to draw a ton of cards?
If your answer to these questions tends to be "no," then this series is for you! As we celebrate the majesty of Magic's twentieth anniversary, we also have to acknowledge that there are a lot of great cards that have been printed but that no longer see the light. On one side of the chasm are cards so bad that Johnnys know their name and have built around them, like Carnival of Souls and Sorrow's Path. On the other side are cards that are great or good and make the cut in decks all over the world. But what about in the middle of the chasm?
Here we have the great unwashed mass of cards. Here lie the cards that are solid but never seemed to mask a splash. Here we have the cards that were once tournament players for an age but time ebbed. We also have cards that were once played but the New Shiny Syndrome struck and they were replaced over time.
Here be the cards that time forgot.
This is my favorite series for SCG—my countdown of some of the most precious underplayed cards. This is my tenth entry in the series, and for the last few entries I have retired ten cards that are criminally underused. My hope is that giving these some valuable sun time will help a few to find new homes in decks of both friendship and malice at your kitchen tables.
Normally these articles count ten unrelated cards. However, I spent about 90 minutes peering through every card from Zendikar block and found exactly ten cards that I felt were underused right now in casual circles. Well, that was just too good to pass up. So for today's tenth entry into my series, I will have my first themed article—ten cards from Zendikar block you have forgotten all too soon.
Now, to be fair, some of these cards still see some play here and there. None see the play they should. So why not grab a few of these Zendikar treats and add a little something old to your decks today!
#10 Seer's Sundial – What's not to love about this card? By now we know how often landfall is triggered, so we are used to the ebb and flow of the trigger. Whenever you do, you can slap two mana for a card. Sure, it's not a guaranteed card every turn like Staff of Nin or anything, but it's not nearly as mana guzzling as other choices. Plus there are a lot of decks out there that ramp a lot of lands, and they need more card drawing on the cheap.
Mana ramp decks often find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go because the ratio of cards that do something to cards that make mana is quite low. This can singlehandedly procure that deck ten or fifteen cards easily in a few turns. Even for other decks the quiet card advantage of the Sundial is powerful. It's weak enough to pass by most targeted removal, and I have never seen one Shattered or Naturalized.
#9 Kor Sanctifiers – These little dudes are a great tool for your toolbox. Because they destroy any artifact or enchantment, they fit along with bodies like Indrik Stomphowler or the more powerful Acidic Slime. However, if you don't want or need the ETB effect, you don't have to pay the kicker, and you get just the body for cheaper. The reason these are not as heavily abused is that they don't work as well with flickering effects. But they work just as well with self-bounce and recursion, plus they cost less mana to abuse. Consider these for your next multiplayer deck.
#8 Wrexial, the Risen Deep – I have observed this issue with cards that I call the Fox Offering Syndrome. I noted this with Patron of the Kitsune. People would see the card, see that it worked really well in Kitsune decks, and then skip past it. It's a very powerful card for multiplayer, and ignoring the Fox Offering ability, it's a 5/6 for six mana that gains you a life for every creature that attacks (not just attacks you, not just when you attack, but every time someone attacks anyone at the table). Despite how powerful a card it was, people missed it because they were confused with the Fox Offering ability. In the same way, I think Wrexial sometimes gets confused with the walking. So ignore the walking abilities for a moment.
Here is the card. You pay six mana. You get a 5/8 creature. That's par for the course. When this 5/8 deals combat damage, you can play, for no mana, any sorcery or instant from their graveyard (and it's exiled). That's a free spell each combat phase if you smash face. And remember, it's already on a 5/8 for six-mana body. In addition to that, we have both Swampwalk and Islandwalk to help it sneak past defenses. But even if people don't have those lands, it's still a strong card. I think people got caught up too much in thinking that since landwalking usually was hit-or-miss that the card is not as strong, and you have to get past that mental barrier.
#7 Wolfbriar Elemental – The other day I dropped this in my five-color highlander deck (Abe's Deck of Happiness and Joy, over 2700 cards and counting!) and I only had enough green mana to kick it four times. Suddenly I had a 4/4 and four 2/2 dorks. Would it surprise you to know that I won that game? In a deck that actually can handle the mana (unlike mine), this is downright abusive. It's an amazing post-mass removal creature to play because in one card you make an instant army (just add mana and stir). You can easily overwhelm defenses with your dorks. It plays very well with a format that often has a lot of mana at the end of longer games. Finally, this is equally good early, middle, or late game, and few cards can say that. Put this back into your decks, folks.
#6 World Queller – There are a few things I think World Queller does really well. First of all, it controls any permanent type, and that means you can always choose to have everyone sacrifice a permanent type that you do not control. You can hit planeswalkers or tribal cards or even artifacts or enchantments if you don't have any out. Don't forget that this is great as an Innocent Blood every upkeep as well, like a pseudo-Abyss if you want it. I have rarely used the land destruction potential of it, but I have occasionally used it to supplement a devastating Balance. The result is a creature that is a brilliant Swiss Army knife at handling a variety of board states and helping you to either regain control or keep it.
Now it's time to look at the top five cards from Zendikar block that you are not playing. Shame on you!
#5 Realms Uncharted – Sometimes a card looks great in spoiler season and then never catches on with the tournament crowd. That happened here. This is a three-mana sorcery that looked so great because of how it appeared next to Gifts Ungiven. Yet it never caught on, and people began to forget about it. But do you know something odd? Despite a lack of tournament play, after playing this for years in multiplayer I can tell you that it is one of the best land search spells for casual play. You can easily get four lands that will produce the needed mana.
For example, in Commander you can pull out Command Tower, Rupture Spire, Transguild Promenade, and City of Brass. You get a Spire and a City. That's not bad for three mana. (In a two-color deck, substitute in something like Overgrown Tomb, Golgari Rot Farm, and Golgari Guildgate or something. Getting a Rot Farm and Guildgate for three mana is strong.) Plus you can get utility lands. Get four from this list: Strip Mine, Wasteland, Ghost Quarter, Tectonic Edge, and Dust Bowl. Remember, you can be playing anything from Life from the Loam to Crucible of Worlds to Terravore to use those lands in the graveyard. This is a much stronger card than you remember, so try it out and see for yourself if this should be relegated to your crap box.
#4 Novablast Wurm – I have regularly established dominance at the multiplayer table with this powerhouse. Remember that you destroy everything else every time it attacks. If you want to accelerate the attack, cards like Lightning Greaves, Anger, and In the Web of War suffice. It's a brilliant card off a Sneak Attack or Shallow Grave. Forget that stuff, though, and focus on the awesomeness of repeatable Days of Judgment. Until someone answers this, it will keep anything else off the table. No one plays a creature. You keep swinging. The more protection you have built into your deck (Asceticism for instance), the easier this will be to control the board. Sure, it's a card with a huge target on it, but it also dominates any table.
#3 Sphinx of Magosi – I'm not quite sure what about the Sphinx is not to some people's liking. Do they not want a 6/6 flyer body for six mana? Perhaps they don't want to have to waste three mana to draw a silly old card. Maybe they don't like getting to pump their creature with +1/+1 counters for free—yuck. Who wants an inflating, flying, beater that draws you cards? Yeah, I can see why people are passing it by for other cards
#2 Conquering Manticore – Oh yes, it's that good. This card is so powerful that I am staggered to consider just how often it gets skipped by. I at least see Sphinx of Magosi sometimes, but this? People love threaten effects in both multiplayer and duels. This guy gives you a three-mana threaten plus a 5/5 flyer for just three more mana. At 5/5, it's a Dragon-sized flyer and perfectly suited for some antics in the red zone. Because it also threatens a critter, you can swing for serious damage with whatever you stole.
Plus there are a lot of threaten hijinks you can do to follow up, such as sacrifice the stolen creature to anything from a Carnage Altar or Goblin Bombardment to Brion Stoutarm or Greater Good. The combination of a great body and a threaten for six mana is quite a toy in casual games. I think the Manticore just never caught on, but it should have. Only a potent house could keep it out of the top spot.
Speaking of which . . .
#1 Recurring Insight – Do you folks just not like drawing cards? Seer's Sundial, Sphinx of Magosi, and this lead me to wonder. Recurring Insight is one of the single most powerful card drawing spells ever printed in Magic. If you are building a multiplayer blue deck and you have access to every blue card-drawing spell, what is honestly better than this? Ancestral Recall?
For six mana, you can draw cards equal to the number of cards in someone's hand. If you are playing the same game I am (in multiplayer especially), then people regularly hold on to their hands. Even if you don't have someone rocking a grip of six or seven cards (or even more fed by a Reliquary Tower), you can still easily get four cards. Then, during your next upkeep for no additional mana, you cast it again and get another set of cards. That's two turns of card drawing madness for one card.
Not only is the weaker case about six or seven total cards drawn, but the better case scenario is usually in the twelve range. People don't tend to drop a bunch of cards so that you will keep from drawing off an Insight because they prefer to keep their grip, so you usually get a lot of cards from the rebound. As a result, the Insight tends to net a bajillion cards. It might look deceiving because the number of cards drawn is not set, but I have played it in deck after deck and in game after game and have never gotten fewer than five or six cards from it—and have regularly gotten double digits. It is one of the five best card-drawing spells blue has ever had for multiplayer.
And you should play some.
Today I looked at ten cards from Zendikar block that I feel need a little more love. I hope a few of these resonate with you and you will try them out at your next casual Magic night.
Here is the entire list of cards that are in the Underused Hall of Fame. Some of these cards picked up after I retired them and because all starts in later formats (such as Commander). Some were weakened after rules changes (such as Blood Frenzy). But they will all remain. One in, you are never out! This list does include the ten cards above.
Ashling, the Extinguisher
Bane of the Living
Do or Die
Gate to Phyrexia
Predatory Nightstalker / Wei Assassins
Sins of the Past
Alexi, Zephyr Mage
Drift of Phantasms
Homarid Spawning Bed
Kaho, Minamo Historian
Magus of the Jar
Meishin, the Mind Cage
Sphinx of Magosi
All Suns' Dawn
Arashi, the Sky Asunder
Carpet of Flowers
Cream of the Crop
Fanning the Flames
Homura, Human Ascendant
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Scourge of Kher Ridges
Starke of Rath
Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
Guardian of the Guildpact
Hand of Justice
Magus of the Disk
Masako the Humorless
Patron of the Kitsune
Pursuit of Knowledge
Retribution of the Meek
Spirit of the Hearth
Swell of Courage
Asmira, Holy Avenger
Crime // Punishment
Fight to the Death
Kaervek the Merciless
Order // Chaos
Phyrexian War Beast
Rings of Brighthearth
Spite // Malice
Wrexial, the Risen Deep