The Kitchen Table #197 — No Rares Allowed: 200 of the Best Casual Cards (#200 - #151)
Bonjour mes amis! I am writing to you today from my office, which is just behind the front desk at a residence hall. We are currently checking in freshman and upper-class students, which requires my presence in my office to deal with any unusual situations, irate parents, questions the staff cannot answer, and more. I also have to go out and talk to people at the other building I run, so I may be spending maybe 30 minutes an hour in my office. That means I can start a paragraph here, and stop for ten minutes to deal with something before picking up the thread and continuing to write.
That paragraph took seven minutes to write.
Abe in London, part IV
I initially had a narrow search when looking for apartments. Despite finding maybe fifteen flats to investigate, I ultimately struck out. I decided to open up my search, and in one day I found a place in Leyton. It’s not where I want to be, but it’s cheap and I have it for just two months.
It’s hard to convince people in another continent to let you move in with them. Being in London will be a big help in finding a better flat. Plus, if I like this one, I can keep it past the two months.
I also made the decision to buy a laptop. It should arrive this week, and I’ll transfer over what I need from my desktop and just take the laptop with me. I still need to buy an adapter, of course.
I also need to get an airline ticket. I should buy that in a day or two, and that is pretty much the last thing I can do before going, other than packing, and getting rid of my last possessions.
My family was up this weekend. They brought the van, in order to take some of my things back to WV. I have a lot of things still in my apartment that I would like to keep, but that’s the way life goes. Life is not about things. Life is about people. That’s why Magic is so great. You get to spend time with people.
London has a lot of people. I should be fine.
Begin Actual Article
As I mentioned in previous weeks, I have been paring my cards down to the bare essentials to take with me to London. As such, I have been considering what value these cards have to me as a deckbuilder.
For StarCityGames.com, I have written about hundreds of decks over the years. There are some cards I come back to again and again as a deckbuilder. I decided to pull out the best, most unusual cards that are not typically in such lists, and bring them together. This will exclude cards like Swords to Plowshares or Flametongue Kavu in favor of other cards. I also decided to focus solely on non-rares, and instead investigate other commons and uncommons.
With the exception of the top fifty, none of these cards are in any order. I also avoided talking about any card that was retired in my Underused Hall of Fame. I will try to skip past cards that got a treatment in my Essentials articles as well.
Without further ado, here we go.
#200 — Aftershock (Common, Red, Tempest) — This is a dandy of a card. Four mana gets you a Vindicate in one color, except it won’t hit enchantments and you take three damage. The damage may be a problem in minor cases, but overall it’s quite useful for the cheap cost and versatility of the card. This is worthy.
#199 — Rishadan Cutpurse (Common, Blue, Masques) — This is one of a trio of cards at each commonality. I love it because Blue is often playing a taxing strategy with cards like Pendrell Mists and Rising Waters. This card works great with that. It also can work against each opponent in multiplayer games.
#198 — Goblin Medics (Common, Red, Legacy) — This is an ideal creature for any effect that requires you to tap creatures. Opposition, Glare of Subdual, and Earthcraft are fine examples of ways to tap the Medics. You might even find a way in color later on the countdown.
#197 — Curfew (Common, Blue, Saga) — I fell hard for Curfew while building one of my precons. It’s such an amazing card. I go into more detail when I built the deck, but suffice it to say that I became very impressed with the card’s ability to save a creature while bouncing a bunch more at a multiplayer table. You can even reuse 187 creatures. I love it.
#196 — Myr Servitor (Common, Artifact, Fifth Dawn) — When I build combo decks, I regularly find myself discovering a niche for these guys. Not only is their ability to come back free of mana, but they are really cheap too, contributing to their usefulness.
#195 — Keldon Vandals (Common, Red, Destiny) — A 4/1 beater for three mana (and echo) is two toughness worse than Viashino Outrider from Saga. However, when you tack on an Uktabi Orangutan ability, you get a powerful creature. Play it to pop an artifact and then keep a four-powered attacker or blocker, all for just three mana.
#194 — Living Terrain (Uncommon, Green, Prophecy, 8th) — We all have an inner Timmy. If I told you that you could play a 5/6 creature on the fifth turn and swing with it with no mana acceleration and no drawback, would you believe me? [Tarmogoyf? — Craig.] On turn 5, play this on an untapped land that you controlled since before this turn, and you can immediately swing. With one mana accelerant this 5/6 is swinging on turn 4. Sure, if someone Terrors it, the land goes too, but in Green, is that really as much of a disadvantage as it appears? A good Rector target to fetch a creature when needed.
#193 — Primoc Escapee (Uncommon, Blue, Legions) — Have you ever seen a card, and after playing with it for a while you realize that it is better than you ever thought? That’s Primoc Escapee with me. At first, it’s a seven-mana 4/4 flyer with cycling. Then, you realize how good it is in everything from reanimator decks to bird decks and more. I play it so often, and wonder at how good it is, despite its looks to the contrary. It may look like chaff, but it plays like money.
#192 — Cessation (Common, White, Legacy) — Everybody loves Rancor, and for good reason. A creature enchantment that comes back is a great idea. Cessation has the same ability but it can be used defensively to prevent unruly creatures from getting out of hand. I love answers to Akroma and Darksteel Colossus in one card, so I love Cessation. If it gets Disenchanted, just play it again.
#191 — Dizzying Gaze (Common, Red, Exodus) — This is another creature enchantment with a different role. Play it on one of your creatures, then start shooting down flyers with Red mana. Each Red mana can deal a damage to a flying creature. There’s no tapping involved, and you can do it at any time. There are a ton of flyers you might want to take out, especially in multiplayer. From Birds of Paradise to Serra Angel, with enough mana, this card can kill anything it can target (barring indestructible, damage prevention, etc).
#190 — Organ Grinder (Common, Black, Torment) — If your games are like mine, especially your multiplayer ones, sometimes the table gets stagnant. Everybody has ten or twelve thousand creatures in play. For those occasions, I love the Organ Grinder. This can tap to kill people after just a few activations later in the game. It’s also admirable as a 3/1 beater for three mana, willing and able to get some early hits in, or to trade with a medium sized attacker. Good early and late, that’s a rare commodity.
#189 — Lull (Common, Green, Saga) — Lull is one of only a handful of Fog effects that I would ever advise playing. Fogs are generally bad cards that seduce bad players. Trying to win with a Fog promotes bad playing. When you win, you credit the Fog, instead of luck. When you lose, you credit luck instead of the Fog. On the other hand, Lull can be cycled at any time, making it a good emergency Fog when necessary, and a Fog for those rare times when one would actually be a good thing.
#188 — Benthic Explorers (Common, Blue, Alliances) — I suspect that most will have to look these up, so go ahead. When you come back, these merfolk of some size will still be here. 2/4 for four mana ain’t going to win you games, but they are good blockers and decent attackers. In addition to that, at multiplayer tables, they make any color of mana and make a friend as well. You can untap a Maze of Ith or Kor Haven to give that person a second go with their lands. There are a lot of strategies in this card... you’ll love playing with it.
#187 — Chain of Smog (Uncommon, Black, Onslaught) — In multiplayer, this card is simply crazy. I had forgotten about it until I was building my Madness 250 deck and when I came across it, I realized its power. It costs nothing to duplicate, so play it against another and watch the Chains fly! This is good to play when you have an Ivory Mask, or Madness cards, or Guerilla Tactics.
#186 — Illuminate (Uncommon, Red, Apocalypse) — I often refer to this as “Light it Up." I dearly love this card. Killing a creature is fine, and dealing that damage to an opponent can kill someone. The money use for it, however, is to kill something for five and draw five cards. In the late game, there is no XR spell I’d rather draw. In the early game, feel free to tap three mana and off a Bear. This is a very solid card.
#185 — Saprazzan Legate — (Uncommon, Blue, Masques) — I like creatures that are cheap. At first, when you look at the Legate, you see a 1/3 flyer for four mana, and that’s a lot. Then, at a multiplayer game, you realize how common basic lands are. The chance of an opponent having one out is pretty good, making this free. You can play it on the first turn regularly, and on the second turn even more so. That makes this very cheap and very quick.
#184 — Magewright’s Stone — (Uncommon, Artifact, Dissension) — I really love this card because it is a cheap way to reuse tapping abilities. You’ll see another card that does the exact same thing later in the list. From Arcanis to Benthic Explorers, there’s always something to use this with.
#183 — Ogre Marauder — (Uncommon, Black, Betrayers) — It should be no secret that I hold this card highly, when in my review, I called it possibly the best card in the set. Ogre Marauder is an amazing card. Combining a three-power body with a great advantage and a three casting cost, this is a money card.
#182 — Frontline Strategist — (Common, White, Legions) — Like I said above, I only rarely play Fogs, but this is a creature that can essentially Fog everyone but himself for one White mana once he is in play. As a creature, he plays with math very well. He simply outclasses most Fogs.
#181 - Horobi’s Whisper — (Common, Black, Betrayers) — This is one of the few arcane spells to see play in my decks outside of theme decks from Kamigawa block. If you play this with just a handful of other arcane spells, like Rend Flesh, you’ll find its splice cost very reasonable and quite powerful. Destroying creatures is fun!
#180 — Innocent Blood — (Common, Black, Odyssey) — The Ferrett just talked about this card’s power in an article over at MagicTheGathering.com. Ironically, I had pulled this out for my 200 list. It packs a lot of punch. It like a Curfew Edict (or Curfew is like an Innocent Blood Unsummon). Its power cannot be denied, and you will regularly hit something nasty with it at the multiplayer table.
#179 — Chill to the Bone — (Common, Black, Coldsnap) — This card is not as good as Rend Flesh because of its casting cost. However, in large decks, you’ll have space for redundancy. This will kill anything, even Black creatures, with which Black removal typically has an issue.
#178 — Vitalize — (Common, Green, Weatherlight) — When I build Green combo decks, I often find this card slipping in. I refer to this card as “Reload" because I used to play it in a Ballista/Catapult/Artillery deck. That was a fun deck, by the way. Green regularly has uses for this bad boy, and other combo decks can splash Green for this, and then use Green mana acceleration since they are already in the color.
#177 — Pillory of the Sleepless — (Common, Gold, Guildpact) — As both a creature removal spell and a win condition, the Pillory is arguably peerless (you might ague Agonizing Demise or Kaervek’s Purge or Phthisis should count). It will take down a creature, and then force an opponent without enchantment removal to waste creature removal on their own guy.
#176 — Gaea’s Touch — (Common, Green, The Dark) — This enchantment allows you to play an additional Forest each turn, which is great for Green decks. (Or base Green in a multicolor deck) When you no longer need it, sac to make two Green for something big. It not only accelerates your mana development permanently, but it can also boost it temporarily. That’s a strong card.
#175 — Dream Stalker — (Common, Blue, Time Spiral) — A 1/5 creature for two mana makes an effective wall in the early game around a multiplayer table. Later in the game, you can play it to bounce a creature and replay the creature. It works well with 187 creatures, the CIP auras from Ravnica, and more. I’m sure that you will find a use for these guys over and over again.
#174 — Thallid-Shell Dweller — (Common, Green, Time Spiral) — I really like cheap Green walls. In my multicolor decks, I usually have a base of Green, and dropping a cheap large Green wall is key to a solid, early defense. This wall comes with a chump blocker every third turn. This is a great wall, and you’ll play it in Thallid decks because it can stop attackers while you build your army. It works both in theme and by itself.
#173 — Cemetery Gate — (Common, Black, Homelands) — The only Black wall to make the cut is the Cemetery Gate. Going all the way back to Pestilence, there have been a lot of Black effects over the years that hurt your creatures along with your opponent’s. Combine those with the Gate and you have the lynchpin of a deck.
#172 — Death Denied — (Common, Black, Saviors) — Here’s another of the rare useful arcane spells outside of a theme deck. At instant speed, you can return a lot of creatures from your ‘yard to your hand. It doesn’t work well with Horobi’s Whisper, which wants you to lose your graveyard, but it does work well on its own to restock your hand with the dead.
#171 — Dreamscape Artist — (Common, Blue, Planar Chaos) — I love this card because it gives Blue the ability to search up lands. It doesn’t do it very well, but the Harrow-Spellshaper can really smooth out your mana, strip out your lands, and make your deck stronger.
#170 — Sunscape Familiar — (Common, White, Planeshift) — Yet another good wall is the Sunscape Familiar. This allows your Green and Blue spells to be quicker, making it ideally suited for a Five Color deck that focuses in those two colors. I find myself tossing these into my decks on a regular basis, and there was a time when I experimented with them in Equinaut.
#169 — Ghitu War Cry/Captive Flame — (Uncommon, Red, Legacy/Saviors) — These two cards are identical and really good. Obviously, these cards are best in a all Red deck. Turning a creature into a firebreather can really hurt your opponent, but being able to do it to any creature, and continue over several turns and many creatures — that is something impressive. This is a great card at changing the state of the game by its very presence.
#168 — Lumbering Satyr — (Uncommon, Green, Masques) — Sure, it’s a 5/4 four mana, but where this card really shines is in a deck with no Forests. Play some creatures, splash this, drop it, and swing through an opponent’s defenses. Then they cannot attack back. Many of your opponents will be open, and several others may take advantage of that fact. You’ll see a lot of dying if this stays in play for a few turns.
#167 — Moroii (Uncommon, Gold, Ravnica) — A 4/4 flyer for four mana is a steal, even with the Juzam Djinn/Serendib Efreet disadvantage. There are a lot of decks that want this sort of beef this early in the game, and they were a mainstay in my Aggro 250 for a long time.
#166 — Field Surgeon (Common, White, Destiny) — This card dominated Limited, and it dominates at the multiplayer table. It works well with the aforementioned Goblin Medics plus a bunch of other defensive White creatures, or those with vigilance. It’s perfect for its color, and I really like it even today.
#165 — Soltari Visionary (Common, White, Exodus) — You aren’t going to find many shadow creatures on this list. They are typically unblockable, and that’s what they bring to the table, nothing more. Soltari Visionary, on the other hand, can reliably hit for damage and take out artifacts and enchantments while doing it. There’s a lot of value in this card.
#164 — Sigil of Sleep — (Common, Blue, Destiny) — This enchant creature would work well on something like the shadow creature above. The ability to bounce a permanent can be quite powerful, and we’ve seen cards that reuse bounce over and over become very powerful, from Capsize to Tradewind Rider. This has much of the same potential by locking down and opponent and continuing to swing for damage as well.
#163 — Rootwater Diver — (Uncommon, Blue, Tempest) — An artifact deck loves recursion of its artifacts going all the way back to Drafna’s Restoration, Archeologist, and Reconstruction. Tempest’s arrival gave you a Blue recursion creature with a cheap cost in Rootwater Diver. Now you can swing for damage, chump block, or tap to dig for an artifact at instant speed. You can drop it after popping a Jar, and then recur the Jar later.
#162 — Chilling Apparition — (Uncommon, Black, Prophecy) — I love this card, going back to a friend of mine from college winning States with this main deck. It’s great at the multiplayer table as well, because it can block and regenerate from all of the crazy cards, and then when an opportunity presents itself, you nip in and hit a person for a damage and a card. Note the Black Ritual-able casting cost.
#161 — Honden of Seeing Winds — (Uncommon, Blue, Champions) — Oh yes, I like this card a lot. Card advantage is very important in multiplayer. The Honden gives you and you alone a Howling Mine, but it is not nearly as threatening as a Future Sight, or a Temporal Aperture, or a Mind’s Eye, or even a Sylvan Library. It may not get as much attention as a result, and the Honden will often stay where other enchantments and artifacts are popped.
#160 — Hunting Moa — (Uncommon, Green, Destiny/Time Spiral) — It’s great to highlight this amazing bird in the wake of it being Timeshifted in the current block. Hunting Moa is simply a tremendous card that can start the beatings early. With an elf, you can play this 4/3 on the second turn, and commence destruction. Then when it dies, your elf is pumped. It’s a great CIP ability that works with spikes, graft, and a host of other cards. You’ll love it!
#159 — Centaur Chieftain — (Uncommon, Green, Torment) — Everybody loves Overrun. This is a mini-Overrun giving all creatures +1/+1 and trample. Where is really shines is that it also brings a 3/3 body to the party. You can play it and attack for four with trample out of the blue — unusual for a Green deck prior to Planar Chaos. That it can serve as a surprise attacker or a minor Overrun is great, and when it does both, combat math is tossed out the window.
#158 — Quicksilver Dagger — (Common, Gold, Apocalypse) — I like killing opponents as much as the next guy, and drawing cards is keen too. See the above Honden for that point. Thus is abusable in many combo decks, and you could really break multiplayer groups with it. A big deck and Mind over Matter will kill everyone at the table.
#157 — Skyshroud Condor — (Uncommon, Blue, Tempest) — Would you like a 2/2 Blue flyer in play on the first turn with no disadvantage? Look no further than Skyshroud Condor and in-set common Lotus Petal. Drop the Petal, a land, and then play the Condor. Later, play a Rootwater Diver and get back the Petal if you need. After Stronghold was released, this trick continued to work with Mox Diamond. There’s a deck idea based around a junky uncommon, and it shows the value of the creature.
#156 — Shelter — (Common, White, Odyssey) — One of my all time favorite protection spells, Shelter will protect a creature from targeted kill and draw you a card. You can also save a creature from a damage kill, like an Earthquake. Swing through a mono-colored defense for critical damage. Remove a Pacifism from one of your creatures. Block and put damage on the stack, then save your creature while killing theirs. And all of that comes with a free card!
#155 — Tinder Wall — (Common, Green, Ice Age) — This, along with Orcish Lumberjack, pushed early mana to the next level in Ice Age. You can play it on the first turn, then sac and immediately have two Red mana for a two-drop. Or you could save it for a later Fireball or big guy. It’s also a great wall, and it will stop the early players from knocking down your life total. This is a great card with a ton of usefulness.
#154 — Hush — (Common, Green, Saga) — A while ago, the number of enchantments at our multiplayer table had increased to the point where there were often some really tasty targets. I began looking for Tranquilities that I could play. The problem with a Tranquility effect is that it is often useless. Enter Hush. Much like the above Lull, Hush is great sometimes, and cycle-able other times. It’s always useful as long as you have two mana
#153 — Jolting Merfolk (Uncommon, Blue, Nemesis) — This underused Blue creature is great at playing a lot of roles. Play it and tap down several creatures for a big swing. Or you can tap down the same creature three times in a row, to get three turns of attacking. You can cock down an opposing attacker for two turns, and then chump block during the next one. As with other fading creatures, you can use it with cards like the above Dream Stalker or Flicker in order to recharge the counters.
#152 — Misinformation — (Uncommon, Black, Alliances) — One Black mana can do so much in Magic. Vampiric Tutor, Dark Ritual, Duress, and the most powerful card in the game (Contract from Below) are all at one mana. This card allows you to put up to three cards from a graveyard of an opponent on top of their library. A lot of players have discarded junk that they don’t want to draw. In the early game, while looking for mana, they discard expensive things. Why not make them draw some more? How about artifact removal against your no-artifact deck? In multiplayer, you can give someone their Swords to Plowshares back to take out the Darksteel Colossus that is threatening you both. And all of this is for one Black mana at instant speed.
#151 — Riftwing Cloudskate — (Uncommon, Blue, Time Spiral) — That I am a fan of the Man-o’-War is no surprise. I also love Sun Ce, Young Conquerer. Getting yet another of these is just icing on the cake. I know it’s a little more expensive, and I wouldn’t replace my jellyfish with them, but I love them as an adjunct to my current crop of bouncers. The suspend cost is great, and brings it in play early in the game when it can still have an impact.
And with that, we come to the close of the first of this four-part series. Next week we look at #150-101 of the list. Remember, these cards are great deck stock and make good ideas for future decks. Use them well!