So, much time has passed since I last wrote about underappreciated cards, but it has now been a full year since Dragon’s Maze joined us as far as a set to be played. By and large, the reception for Dragon’s Maze was lukewarm at best despite having all the flash and dazzle of being the final set for the Return to Ravnica block. However, the set was rife with cards that are geared for EDH and multiplayer formats with only a few staples that would get seriously added to the pool of competitive cards. It did allow for the full Return to Ravnica block draft, which was also very challenging and tons of fun, but constructed players were deeply saddened by the near unplayable cards and fringe options the set yielded. However, this set was a veritable gold mine for casual players of all stripes. Today, I’ll be going through my selections for some underappreciated cards at each of the 4 rarity slots (common through Mythic) that you might want to slide into a deck the next time you sit down to play at your next Casual Encounters.
Dragon’s Maze gave us a full set of 10 Maze Runners, champions for each guild that would negotiate the Maze and dominate Ravnica. However, while it would seem that the Maze Runners were going to be the most powerful cards printed in the set, the reality was that many of them were clunky and poor at best. No, the most powerful cards were creatures like Voice of Resurgence, Aetherling, and Blood Baron of Vizkopa and a select few spells like Advent of the Wurm. However, while the Maze Runners weren’t much fun to play with, and these select high priority spells cost a small fortune to acquire a play set, there are still plenty of viable cards at all 4 slots that can bring some variety and fun effects to your next game.
Each of the 5 colours had a Gatekeeper for 4 mana. These 2/4 creatures were serviceable bodies in their own right but hardly exciting unless you controlled a pair of guildgates, in which case you were able to reap some sort of benefit. Now let’s be honest with ourselves. In draft were you likely to EVER be able to grab a pair of guildgates? Not likely. In any form of constructed format, were you likely to even THINK about playing guildgates, much less these guys? NOPE. In EDH you are only likely to have a pair of guildgates, at best, among your 100 cards which means you would be unlikely to be keen to run these cards either. No, these gatekeepers fall firmly in the realm of casual players looking to do something silly with them. Of their abilities, they are pretty standard (ie. Blue draws a card, Black gives target creature -2/-2, Red gives a threaten effect etc) and only impact the board when they enter play…but if you’ve read some of my previous articles I LOVE making these effects recur by finding ways to get my stuff to leave play and then re-enter the battlefield. Also, as a Casual player, I’m very apt to play guildgates because they are very functional (if unexciting) ways to help smooth out your mana. Particularly in a multiplayer game of some sort where things may be a little slower, the requirement for the correct colours is key and you may be spared the punishment of having lands come into play tapped by the slower pace of the multiplayer environment. These 5 guys are solid additions with decent bodies and good upside. Give them a second look and see if you can make them fit into a deck the next time you sit down to play.
If you’ve been reading my other articles, you might have got the sense that I’m big on the shenanigans that +1/+1 counters can do for you in Return to Ravnica block. Scavenge and Evolve are both super interesting mechanics and the ability to then turn around and draw cards off of those counters is super fun. In a previous article about Gatecrash I attempted to describe how Zameck guildmage can be abused to draw all sorts of cards off those counters…but with Give//Take you don’t even need a Zameck in play to go card crazy. Perhaps my most favorite play is to land Prime Speaker Zegana on the battlefield and draw cards equal to her power. This can usually be a fairly solid number of cards because having her be at least a 5/5 is no real stretch. However, on your next turn, cast both halves of Give and Take and turn all those +1/+1 counters into cards and suddenly your card advantage has gone bananas. In a multiplayer casual variant this is totally possible and means that you now have a significant edge over the opposition because of the resources available to you. Let me assure you, it’s fun and your opponents will be doing their utmost to prevent this from happening since they don’t want to get caught behind in the race for resources…and when you pull it off it’ll be amazing! Try it out for yourself!
This guy is so simple in terms of design and so mindlessly powerful that he gets overlooked. A 2/2 indestructible creature for 4 mana means he’s likely too expensive for a Constructed format (and to trip his Battalion ability takes WAY too much set up cost), but in a casual environment this guy is a true menace. It is very conceivable to see this guy get his Battalion ability triggered and be a MONSTROUS 7/7 wrecking ball of hate smashing around…and he’s indestructible meaning he’s wildly difficult for your opponents to deal with. If nothing else he becomes a reliable blocker and suitable target to dress up with auras to pump him with because you are unlikely to get 2 for 1ed off of an exchange. But here’s the thing, more than a few people in my play group will just flip right on by Tajic in favour of other creatures…and every time I ask “WHY? ARE YOU SICK? PLAY THAT DUDE!”. He crushes face, is hard to deal with, isn’t unreasonably costed and is in perhaps the most aggressive colour combo available…making him a perfect bulldozer in your next game. Trust me…you won’t regret it.
As always, the mythic slot is hard to pick because they are all powerful. Dragon’s Maze was no exception and the planeswalker of the set seems like a dead obvious place to start when picking a card, but Ral was spoiled with great fanfare. His ultimate, of flipping coins and taking extra turns, is hilarious and immediately caught the attention of the Magic playing community…only to hit the ground at release with a resounding THUD! He was unplayable in competitive Standard, and cost too much to play any Eternal format. His first two abilities are reasonable, but hardly awe inspiring, and the ultimate leaves a lot to be desired. Basically, he was very quickly resigned to his role of coming off the bench for Casual Magic and I’ll happily pick him up to pinch hit for me!
If nothing else, the ultimate ability on Ral Zarek just SCREAMS Casual all-star. When you think of playing Casual Magic you think of splashy cards, crazy abilities, and full on shenanigans…well…here you go! All of these things are rolled into the flip of coins as part of Ral Zarek’s ultimate. Also, his +1 ability of tapping and untapping various permanents just leads to soooo many ridiculous plays that it is almost impossible to list all the possibilities. Basically, Ral Zarek opens up loads of fun and innovative options that will totally take your opponents by surprise that I think he’s well worth the time to pick him up and give a try.
So, no article highlighting underplayed cards would be complete without some sort of deck showcasing some of the cards and today is no exception. Now, if I asked you how do the vast majority of games get won and lost, what would you say? If you said attacking with creatures, you would be right. Sure, sure, there are some people who prefer combo or mill or locking out your opposition with a control deck, but let’s be real, you play Casual Magic to cast fat creatures, turn them sideways and see what powerful interactions you can dream up. Now, let’s change the axis on which you are prepared to engage your opponent and instead of you using YOUR creatures to kill your opponent, why not use HIS creatures to kill your opponent.
Let’s see what I’ve got today:
The game plan with this deck was inspired by that older brother who used to take your hand and smack you in the face with your own hand…and then say “Stop hitting yourself!”. So, your opponent is expecting you cast creatures and attack, but in reality you are waiting for them to cast creatures and then use Act of Treason and Traitorous instinct to take their creature and smack them in the face. However, what made this deck really sweet was the addition of Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers who is an Act of Treason attached to 2/4 body…and if it is attached to a body it can be recurred. So, the ability to have Roaring Primadox return Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers to your hand and cast it again for the recurring Threaten effect. Ubul-Sar Gatekeepers is basically a Dead-Weight on a stick and Saruli Gatekeepers gains you a huge pile of life that can quickly put things out of range, but they aren’t the real threats. Now, after you’ve taken the creatures with the Threaten effect, most opponents won’t block because they don’t want to block their own creature, when they know that they will be getting the card back shortly so they eat the damage and hope to move on. Before you return the creature, nothing is more hilarious that sacrificing it to one of the numerous Sacrifice outlets in the deck for a) more damage b) cards c) to mill them d) attack their hand e) gain more life. The options are endless and drive your opponent bonkers because they are expecting to get the creature back. As an additional way to close out the game Crackling Perimeter allows you to tap the large number of gates in your deck to do damage to your opponent and close out the game. All in all, this deck is a funny way to punch your opponent in the face with their own creatures and to reap the benefits.
So, that’s my selection for underappreciated cards from Dragon’s Maze and a little sample of what you can do with the cards to make a fun and unexpected deck that can really frustrate your opponent. Perhaps I’ve missed something and some of you have other things you would rather play, or cards that I may have skipped over, so I’m always game to hear what others think. Shoot me a tweet and let me know what you thought…or go ahead and build yourself your on deck and see what you can find from Dragon’s Maze to make your next Casual Night fun and lively.
Until next time, keep fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791
In my never ending quest to dig up some fun cards that I can use to spice up my next casual card game I turned my attention to my box of Return to Ravnica and rooted through to see if there was anything else that I could dig out. Return to Ravnica was a terrific set that will be known for a few things.
Return to Ravnica brought back the 10 guilds of the original Ravnica set which is immediately a fan favorite. This interesting new twist made the set rich and very flavourful as each of the guilds got their own mechanic to make them interesting. It also brought back the shocklands, which in my estimation, are the 2nd best set of dual lands printed. Obviously, the best set of dual lands is the original set with no drawbacks at all, but the shocklands are intriguing in their own right. The shocklands present the option of coming into play untapped at a cost and are quite skill intensive in order to balance the need for untapped land with taking damage from shocking yourself. The shocklands also have the two different land types in the description (island/ mountain etc.), just like the original dual lands, making them very appealing in other formats where having untapped land is paramount regardless of the cost. As a casual player I can fully appreciate why these lands are highly coveted and extremely useful and pick them up whenever I can. Return to Ravnica also introduced a whole swath of terrific cards like Jace, Architect of Thought, Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Loxodon Smiter. These cards have seen extensive play in Standard since their release and with good reason.
Now, I’d like to take a moment and dispel a notion. I’ve played at my fair share of drafts, sealed events, and the occasional constructed event at the local gaming shop. The usual players consistently talk to me like I haven’t got a clue what is going on and like I have no idea how to play. Just because I usually play casually doesn’t mean I don’t understand what is happening, or that I can’t identify what is the difference between a powerful card and a weaker card. I actually have a very good idea what the difference is and it isn’t that I choose not to run the powerful card…it’s that I can’t play with them because I don’t have them. Many casual players operate on a budget and picking up the high end, pricey cards isn’t feasible. In my case, I crack a relatively small number of packs each month…that’s it…and I have to play with whatever I find. So, while I would like to play with all the best cards, I am forced, out of necessity, to get the job done with other things.
So, while Return to Ravnica yielded some terrific cards that are run extensively in Standard, it had some quieter gems that I would encourage you to dig up and give them a try, if only to diversify your next casual encounter.
The first card s exactly what the player of a White “weenie” or a control/tempo deck wants to run. It is cheap, suitably aggressive, and plays into the strategy to tempo your opponent to slow them down. Who is this guy? Why it’s Azorius Arrester. This guy is a staple in White. He is clutch in the late game to remove the opponents’ best creature for a turn. He is key in the early game to get out in front of the race by clearing the road for early damage. He trades up to take out “Bears” quite favorably. He is just a useful and versatile 2 drop and a nice addition to the deck. My friends often choose to ignore this little guy, but I’ll run a full playset every time. He’s just a meat and potatoes type of creature that doesn’t get much love and is often passed over for flashier cards.
Another favorite of mine is in a very different colour. I rarely choose to play Black, but this common has helped me to feel more comfortable because it allows me to play a little more aggressively. Sewer Shambler is a 3 drop (1 black, 2 colourless) for a 2/1. This is hardly earth shattering and is in fact a little overpriced for what you get. However, the real beauty of this guy is the Scavenge ability on this card. When I saw the Scavenge ability I was intrigued. It made creatures in your graveyard very useful and potentially explosive sources of damage. Some of the Scavenge costs on some of the creatures in Return to Ravnica are really steep and provide very little benefit (i.e Drudge Beetle). However, the Sewer Shambler has a very reasonable cost of…exactly what you paid to bring it into play. So, for 3 you get to give another creature in play +2/+2 (Sewer Shambler’s power)…wait…isn’t Sewer Shambler a 2/1…so by scavenging this creature I get MORE than I would if I had the creature in play? Wow…um…ok! Thanks. So, this inexpensive common can do double duty in a deck as a) a creature to apply pressure, but more accurately to block and die and b) a reasonable costed pump spell to boost another creature you control once it is in your graveyard. This is very applicable and sometimes the difference between finishing off your opponent or giving him an extra turn to dig up an answer.
At the uncommon slot there are a lot of choices, but the one that I always like seeing turn up is Thoughtflare. This 5 mana draw spell (1 Blue, 1 red, and 3 colourless) makes my opponents chuckle because it seems so ridiculous, but every time I see it I’m always thankful it comes up. It’s a massive hit. Let me explain why. Invariably I get stuck where I’ve got 1 or 2 dead cards in my hand. They just aren’t helpful at this point of the game and are sitting there and I need answers! Divination is ok…but it’s a sorcery and can be slow and clunky. Opportunity draws me 4 cards, but that may put me into the situation where I’m at 8 or more cards and need to discard anyway…plus it’s 6 to cast instead of 5. Thoughtflare acts like Opportunity and the discard ability is not unlike that of Faithless Looting. So, Opportunity AND Faithless looting…for 5…at instant speed. Sounds good to me! It is even better if the cards you discard have flashback or can be recurred by some means (Archaeomancer, Auramancer) so that you still have access to them, making this a very valuable way to draw cards. So, all in all, drawing 4 cards off Thoughtflare and then discarding two is just fine by me most times. It digs me far enough that I can usually find something useful. It slims my hand down by making me discard a pair of cards I don’t need that I can usually get back if I’ve planned for this. It can be cast on my opponents turn at instant speed. It also makes me laugh because no one else ever thinks to run it. Try it out yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
There were some bomb cards at the Rare slot in Return to Ravnica, but one of them that never saw Standard play just screams Casual Card. Perhaps it speaks to a little bit of my personality, but nothing makes me happier than taking my opponents creatures and then beating my opponent with them. Grave Betrayal is a hefty 7 mana Black enchantment that whenever a creature your opponents control dies, the creature returns to the battlefield under your control AND gets a +1/+1 counter at the next end step. If I’m running Black I’m packing as much removal as I can find slots in my deck and this card is great. It is even better in a multiplayer game, because the wording on Grave Betrayal stipulates when a creature of ANY opponent dies I get control of it. That includes board wipes, spot removal, combat or another form of removal, and they come back bigger thanks to the +1/+1 counter. It basically means you have a pile of creatures from your opponents’ graveyards in front of you and get to smack your opponents with them. Priceless! This is a perfect casual card and can take a multiplayer game from boring to ridiculously funny!
By the time you get to the Mythic rare spot it is hard to actually pick something that is “underappreciated”. Most Mythics find a home somewhere, but the one that lends itself to the most silliness and fun combat choices is Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. He’s hardly overlooked by players who know their stuff, but he never really found a deck in Standard and still hasn’t, which makes him a candidate to slide into some sort of casual build. His casting cost of 6 (2 blue, 2 Red, 2 colourless) can be a bit steep, but hey, I’m the guy playing 7 mana enchantments and 5 mana card draw instants…so 6 is totally in my wheel house. You get a 5/5 flying dragon, which is always cool. These stats are largely on par with the classic dragon, Shivan Dragon. However, the ability to draw cards and deal damage without combat that accompany Niv-Mizzet make him an awesome addition to a deck and a real menace. Evasion, range, good stats, card draw…this guy does it all and sadly makes Shivan Dragon look like a powder puff. So, really the only drawback is the 6 to cast him, but I an a world of 5 mana draw spells and 7 mana enchantments, this can work and make your game all the more enjoyable.
No article would be complete without a deck list highlighting how some of these pieces can go together into a casual deck. The one I’m showing here is for what my friends and I called “Hobo night” where we couldn’t play any rare cards. Common and uncommons were allowed from any set, but no rares at all. Yes, this is usually called “Peasant”, but we preferred “Hobo”.
U/B “Hobo deck”
This deck is premised on building your own hexproof, unblockable creature and then dropping your opponents to the floor as quick as possible. Many of the creature can’t be blocked already (Keymaster Rogue, Deathcult Rogue) and Elgaud Shieldmate soulbonded provides the hexproof. The other option is the Mask of Avacyn which is surprisingly useful. To speed up the clock on your unblockable creatures, the scavenge ability of the Sewer Shambler and Zanikev Locust can be used to boost the crunching power of your attackers. The other cards are mostly removal (murder, ultimate price, devour flesh etc) or cards that allow for deck manipulation. Brainstorm is an all-star, but Sage Aven is extremely useful, Diabolic Vision is extremely powerful for a mere 2 mana and Pilfered Plans is an improved Divination thanks to milling of your opponents’ deck. All in all, a fun, very inexpensive deck to put together that has lots of interesting lines of play and provides for lots of options.
So, next time you go to sit down and play a game with your friends at your next casual encounter, take a moment and look for a few little treats that you can do to liven up your playgroup, bring some fresh cards to the table, and take the evening from the usual, to the unusual. Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy your next Casual Encounter.