Why, what fortuitous timing, that we’re talking about the first Return To Dominaria, just in time for the new set, Return To Dominaria 2.
I have very unhappy memories of this block. First time I had work impinge on my writing at Starcity Games, and also the time I stopped writing for them. My departure article was seen as too bitter to publish which I honestly don’t remember clearly enough but I’ll assume was pretty justified. I had to choose between paying money for Magic, which was making me unhappy, or paying money for City of Heroes, which was making me happy. It wasn’t a hard choice, really.
Yet, I never really left. I just slowed down a lot, and stopped trying to position myself on the cusp of FNM casual. That space – of designing standard decks that were interesting and affordable and fun to play, but recognised the expense of a bigger and wider standard – was something I felt fairly underserved as more and more writers in that space moved on to either become proper grinders or burned out trying to go rogue. And Time Spiral, as I’ve mentioned, was a throwback set to a period of Magic I thought it was best we get away from.
Still, there’s always new cards. There’s always pets.
I think the funniest thing about going back to Time Spiral for a pet card is that it really asked me to re-examine what I mean by a pet card. There were a bunch of time Spiral cards I tried to make work as the centre of a deck, with odd things like Wild Pair, or Draining Whelk based control (more successful than you might imagine, thanks to Rune Snag).
Oh dang, I should have mentioned Rune Snag in the Coldsnap article. Well, hey, just so you know, Rune Snag was excellent in formats you could play 4 of them alongside Whispers of the Muse and draw-Go them until you could Whelk an enormous threat. This whole strategy falls apart in an era when an opponent can drop two threats in one turn that are worth paying attention to.
Mogg War Marshall shows up in lots of decks I play that want bodies. Thallid Shell-Dweller does work in slow base-green decks. Locket of Yesterdays was a wonderful card to put in decks with buyback and kicker and oo we just got more kicker stuff, didn’t we? Interesting.
Still there’s a card that I’ve used more often than the others and which I keep trying to put in decks, keep wanting to be good enough:
The strategy at the core of Phyrexian Totem is kind of pleasantly evident. It’s mana acceleration that represents a game-ending threat once you have control over the game. I love cards that can shift modes like that, and all that you have to do is make sure that your opponent can’t wreck you with this card. It’s a fun little trap – you’re left wondering just how much you can risk your powerful threat and mana token.
All you have to do is remember when to not activate it.
It’s almost the perfect mana rock; that it costs 3 means it’s not going to be perfect, and the number of turns where you tap out for this at 3, then cast a 1-mana spell off it isn’t likely to be great (Innocent Blood, maybe?) but it’s always a mana rock I try to find excuses to put in black control decks.
I already did a whole article about how Planar Chaos is… fffffine I guess, but I didn’t talk about the cards in that set I considered favourites. While there’s a lot to like – hi there, Harmonize, you started something that we haven’t yet seen the high water mark for – and there’s a lot to complain about forever, and ever, and always…
anyway, here’s Numot.
Numot is a pet card in that the card keeps suggesting, or implying, or asking for shells into which they can fit. They’re a land destruction card that has the good grace to be a meaningful victory condition on their own, the kind of game-winner who at the very least closes the game out fast rather than spends a dozen years at it.
Sometimes I put Numot in prison style strategies, sometimes they go in Commander, sometimes they’re the centerpiece in a blue-base control deck that works by mana deprivation. Whatever the arc, though, Numot remains one of my favourite Planar Chaos cards, and I keep finding myself wondering would Numot fit in this when I’m in those colours.
… Well here we are.
Broadly speaking, I think of these pet card excursions as a chance to look at and highlight cards that I think are cool that you might never have considered. Ideally, I’m naming things you’ve never heard of, or things that don’t fit into ‘standard packages’ for particular plans. Things that you’ve never considered worth working at, or that have some sort of symmetry or purity to their design that appeals to me that you might not have even thought of.
Future Sight has a few handy utility cards in it – Fleshwrither, Riftsweeper, Foresee, Llanowar Mentor and Spirit en-Dal – that you should always be aware of when you’re building in those colours. Most Commander decks, for example, can find a home for Foresee, most elf decks can make something out of the Mentor, and there are a surprising number of decks that can get value out of making a creature unblockable without committing a whole card to the board. There’s also cards that I appreciated for oddball novelty, like how my all-basic design sense was already dovetailed with Imperiosaur, or my threshold-based designs like Edge of Autumn.
Yet, let’s look at one of the best toolbox cards: Tolaria West.
Tolaria West is the blue Sylvan Scrying. It’s more expensive but it’s also uncounterable. What can it go get? At the time, it could go and get Academy Ruins, but now it’s only gotten better. In addition to a host of utility lands, it can also fix you three colours at a time (with a Tarkir or Alara tapland) or your two off colours (with a Ravnica bounceland). If you reach out past lands, though, it can fish you up 0-mana suspend cards like Ancestral Visions, mana acceleration like Everflowing Chalice, removal like Slaughter Pact, and threats like Hangarback Walker, Endless One, or even hate cards like Tormod’s Crypt.
It’s a really flexible toybox that Tolaria West opens up, and it’s uncounterable, too. Oh and in a pinch it can be a land.