Weekly, I write a column about Magic: The Gathering. Either a deck I’m playing or a mechanic I like or a lesson I learned from it. This game has been part of my life now for going on fifteen years and I’d like to share the way the game has impacted me.
Ravnica is an incredible block because it’s full of casual deckbuilding staples, and it’s the time I was actively writing for Starcity Games. When I look back on Ravnica, there’s a ton of stuff I think of as ‘great cards,’ even though they’re niche enough to need the whole deck built around them.
With that in mind, I will say the Ravnica bouncelands and signets are all-purpose good cards that casual decks can run and should always bear in mind for building. Whatever colour combination you’re in, you can make use of those ten cards, or can at least consider why not to use them. There’s also a bunch of robust utility effects at common and uncommon, with cards like Mortify, Putrefy, Watchwolf, Faith’s Fetters, Pure//Simple – just a whole lot of handy things that you can slot into decks. Not the kind of ‘pet’ cards I find myself making excuses for. So like, that kind of stuff? They’re not going on the list.
This list was hard to cut down and that’s after I set aside this special clause.
First things first, I do not play Canadian Highlander. I do follow the North 100 podcast, and I do have a ‘team’ I root for in the 30-player strong metagame of the area: Allison, Queen Of The Rock. She’s playing green-black value control, every time, every event, and I will back that all the way.
Nonetheless, I am a Magic Player, and with that in mind, I want to talk about a thing that successful, well-established and well-known Magic Players could be doing better.
Here’s a set for your pet cards, dangit. Kamigawa was rich with flavour, but it was also spending a much smaller budget of power cards, which meant that even the cards that were powerful or good were doing it in ways orthogonal to one another – you either got overdosed on unnecessary virtue (like Snakes) or effects that never really had a home (like Dosan). It’s also cycle happy which means even the cards in it that are kinda Just Okay tend to be seen as part of a cycle, so they’re less forgotten, less pet.
Wizards employees, please do not read any further. This will discuss custom card designs and while it should only feature some abstract examples, I understand you are not allowed to look at unsolicited card designs.
Custom card designs feature a host of oddball problems, weird habits that we get into and things we don’t consider because well, mostly, custom designers are lone creators without the force of design and development behind us. Hey, we’re only human and all. But we have these problems and sometimes I think it’s worthwhile considering them.
Here then, let’s consider: Does your card create a Pack Rat Problem?
The problem of Onslaught era magic was to look back upon a set full of forgettable okay cards that I learned to love, little roleplayers, niche friends – I can’t believe I forgot Wirewood Savage, for example! – but nothing that was so powerful it shook the world between Odyssey Block and Mirrodin Block. Oh sure, Goblins came from Onslaught but I didn’t really feel love for those little blighters the way I did for the cards I consider my pets.
On the other hand, Mirrodin Block is so tediously powerful. Every other card is basically an archetype, or gave rise to an archetype, or blatantly holds itself up as a design mistake. Going back and looking over Mirrodin block, I was genuinely worried that I might not be able to find a pet card from each set on the way to the good stuff in Kamigawa and later Ravnica.
The nicknames podcasts from TTC, a casual magic podcast that seems mostly to not actually be about casual magic so much but is still a good bit of Magic Content that rarely (Iconic Masters aside) spends its time making people feel bad. This episode – and the other ones like it are really cool to me because the Nickname podcasts are sort of an unintentional deep-dive into the details of what cards are doing in their art and mechanics to construct the nicknames. Sometimes it’s making references that don’t connect – like the Metal Gear Solid jokes? But often it’s otherwise examining the art in depth, or examining mechanics in the greater context of MTG history.
Everyone deserves a pet card. It’s one of the things I like about high-variance older formats, like budget Modern or 1v1 Commander – the formats are different and odd enough you get a chance to see some card you really like shine. Plus, Magic The Gathering is a game made up of lists – deck lists and tier lists and card set lists – so I thought it’d be fun to go back and check out some older sets, and pick whichever single card from each set was, to me, my pet card, the one I want to show you and share with you. And rather than start at the start – because that’s boring – we’re going back to my beginning: Onslaught Block.
It was the tool of a bloated mono-black control deck, a simple removal spell you could use as early game disruption and ate a creature early, then ate another one later when the game was drawn out. Moreso than most other spells of its type, it funnelled the game towards its flashback costs – a two mana indiscriminate removal spell that provoked players to overextend as a countermeasure, in the same space as Mutilate, Chainers’ was the elbow-drop that you structured the rest of your removal around. Two mana was just right, and tricks like Goblin Sledder didn’t help against it – you were going to lose a creature, no matter how you cut it. Even the Savage Bastard Wild Mongrel wasn’t going to get around that removal spell, unless you got the hopeful Basking Rootwalla draw.
Chainer’s Edict was power.
Despite living through that period of Magic: The Gathering and watching as every non-Astral Slide deck I played in the period crumpling like paper in the face of a good Chainers’ draw, it never occurred to me to really check back and examine Chainer himself, the man whose orders so bent the world.
I have this friend, Ted. I’ve mentioned that I’m fond of Ted. One thing Ted likes doing is playing Commander. And one day, Ted, Ted mentions to me that he’d like to make a commander deck about Archivists, because he works as an archivist.
So let’s talk a little bit about Kaho.
Kaho, Minamo Historian is one of the legendary creatures from Saviors of Kamigawa. She’s a creature with almost no offensive capability, she doesn’t protect herself, and she has to untap to do anything.