MTG: Pet Cards I: Onslaught Block

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.

Onslaught Block is where I started playing – with Scourge specifically, in fact – so I have a lot of feelings for how the game worked, feelings I channelled into writing when I realised people cared about them. At the time, I was deeply interested in Magic’s design as a philosophy, and felt that the game was being designed and developed with a flawed view in mind. While I was writing, I had the notion that blue was being overloaded with novel mechanics and flat answers were boring, that wraths were too good, and green threats were weak.

I was, it seems, right.

There are a host of cards from Onslaught proper I could call my ‘pet’ cards – I played with the commons in this set a lot, not because I drafted (I almost never drafted back then), but because I was poor, and making my decks out of the common box. I remember loving UG Madness in theory but I lacked the money to buy a copy of the deck. I mean, I could point to Krosan Tusker, a card I constantly jam in decks where it’s legal for its flexibility, or Riptide Shapeshifter, a utility tutor allstar. I know I tried to make Wretched Anurid work – a lot – and Silent Specter was basically a dragon that could keep a game locked down. There’s also an outside chance for Astral Slide, my first tournament-successful deck core, and a card that’s doomed in all the old formats.

Still, these were always going to be footnotes compared to my first love, Oversold Cemetery.

Oversold is a card that I’ve loved since I first played with it and I keep trying to play with it. It’s slow, it’s grindy, it’s cheap enough to sneak out past counter-magic, and, to my surprise there really isn’t anything like it since. It’s really surprising – there are more ways to recur creatures onto the battlefield than there are something like the Oversold.

Sadly, Oversold has never been printed in Modern, and that means the only space I can play it is 1v1 Commander – which is a format that’s kind of rough on the enchantment. Especially in formats where you can have (as an example) Sheoldred as your commander, a card like this is a bit less necessary.

In Legions, we were treated to a ton of creatures and oh my goodness they aren’t actually very good. I like Legions, but there are fewer creatures than you think that would stand out and last beyond their immediate space. While there are some great casual allstar cards like Seedborn Muse, Kilnmouth Dragon, Scion of Darkness and constructed role player Withered Wretch. Yet for me, here’s another unique oddball:

Bane of The Living, probably the only recurring wrath card I get to play with. I love Bane, I use it in almost every commander deck I can justify it, and it can be both a robust disruptive aggro threat (don’t laugh at me) and a really fantastic control creature. It’s no secret that Legions was a set for spells that were also creatures, but this one, what a creature. A 4/3 threat is big enough to take over the game on a clear board, and being a 2/2 morph represents an opponent having to extend at least one more card to get past it. The Bane baits smaller decks into over-extending, then blows up the world. And it combos with Oversold Cemetary too! How could I not love this card?

Personally I favour the Bane in control shells, but I do have memories of games that went T1 Duress, T2 Wretched Anurid, T3 Morph, T4 flip Morph, wreck your town ,serve for 3, and untap with 7 power on the board against nothing. That’s very satisfying when it happens and being able to treat the bane as a semi-exploit creature in commander lineups like Karador keeps me coming back to it.

Scourge was such a poor set. I really mean that as a term of pity. Scourge simultaneously wanted to be the Dragon set, and the size matters set, and it wanted to be the set for fatties, and it wanted to build on the themes of Onslaught with war and the ongoing plot of the intensely dangerous Akroma and Phage, and with all these things going on it just wasn’t able to live up to any of them. In 70 cards, 15 of them have the word ‘dragon’ on them, 5 of those are auras, one of them is an anti-dragon card, and the biggest one was a 6/6.

Poor Scourge.

Oh, and Scourge introduced this mechanic ‘Storm,’ which was designed to be one of those small-set kind of mechanics that maybe filled out a set but didn’t have enough legs to really go places.

What brave new world that had such poor creatures in it. I loved the beast tribe of this era, since I liked the mid-range feel of red-green, and the Krosan Warchief was meant to facilitate them. We’re told in development that there was a time when the Warchief was a 3/2 for 3 that regenerated for a G, which was great, but it’d still be useless in the face of a world of Astral Slides and Grisly Demises. Still, the overtusked one is still a solid roleplayer, and, and the Krosan Warchief tries. C’mon! Just because it’s not as cool as, you know, that other warchief.

It says a lot about how rough life is for the warchief that it’s not as good as two different artifacts that do the same job. This is also when creature removal was at one of its strongest points – the regeneration was literally meaningless in this period, because it was only useful for winning creature combat, which you weren’t going to do. The regeneration may have kept it from getting Shocked or Lightning Rifted when you were shields-up, but really, the decks running those cards didn’t care if you had a warchief or not.

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