Underappreciated cards of Magic sets past: Dragon’s MazeBy Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
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:
Jund Punch your own face Decklist
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