Multiplayer Oddities: Secrets in Alliances

It is often said that any card can find a home in multiplayer formats like Chaos, Star and, of course, Commander. But with Magic just having celebrated its 18th birthday, there is a long history of cards that deserve a second look in these casual formats that rule the kitchen table.

Inspired by Seedborn Muse’s tour of card cycles, I began thinking about which weird cards have been abandoned over the years and forgotten. What most people forget is that some of Magic’s long history is downright weird. So I did what seemed like the most rational approach to this subject: I clicked “Random” on MagicCards.info until a card showed up that I had never seen before (and for those of you who know me, you know this is a very, very rare occurrence). The card was Ritual of the Machine.

Go ahead and be honest, how many of you could tell me anything about this card before clicking the link. For those of you too lazy to click, here it is:

Now that is one weird card that feels so out of black (well, until Enslave came around) that I immediately sat up and took notice. A way to permanent swipe control of an opposing non-black, non-artifact creature for the low, low cost of only four mana and sacrificing your own 1/1? Sounds like quite a deal and now I can’t wait to play it in some random mono-black deck and with one new card discovered, I decided to start my journey here with Alliances. And since Magic sets were oddly ordered back then, I’ll start at the beginning of the set with Black.

Black card drawing isn’t super rare, but being able to do it without paying life is an oddity. Black card filtering is much weirder though and Casting of Bones is one of those weird cards from a time before the color wheel really existed. With it being an aura, it is possible that this card may get disenchanted or fizzle before hitting, but in longer games a few extra cards can go a long way.

As an offensive move, this is a great way to keep people from killing your creatures. If everyone else seems to have creatures when you don’t, tossing this one any of them could give you the steam needed to get back in the game. Casting of Bones is weird and exactly the kind of card I love seeing at the kitchen table.

I also love cards that let people make a choice. Fact or Fiction has always been a favorite of mine to see if my opponents actually know how my decks work and Fatal Lore is similar but with a black twist. Ancient Craving is solid on its own in Commander, but a card that either draws you three or destroys two creatures a single player controls makes this one some fantastic card advantage either way.

Letting a player decide whether you draw three cards or they get to draw three cards at the expense of their two best creatures is a very fun dynamic that is bound to make you just as many friends as enemies at the table. I don’t think cards get more political than this.

Blue

Arcane Denial is an interesting card for blue mages everywhere that is about as polite of a counterspell as you can get. Easy to splash and great at taking the sting out of having your favorite spell taken away from you, Arcane Denial is a friendly control spell that’s perfect for political games.

A favorite for stealing creatures is False Demise. Toss it onto someone’s best creature then watch the fun when your Wrath of God resolves. It’s cheap to cast and either can be used to simply toss totem armor on your own creature or steal someone’s best luck at winning out from under their nose.

If red players are becoming an issue, Blue manages to have some weird countermeasures hidden in its sleeve – especially with the instant Suffocation. Direct damage in blue is rare but being able to deal 4 damage for only two mana while drawing a card is crazy. Yes, this is horribly situational but given how many Lightning Bolts, Incinerates and Earthquakes get played around my table, this often gets a chance to hit.

Is this card amazing? Not at all, but I think more people should know it exists.

Green


Sadly, green doesn’t seem to have nearly as many gems as the other colors in Alliances. Hail Storm is interesting but Sandstorm has long given Green a way to deal with pesky attackers. But the difference between one and two damage is a lot. It could easily mess up someone’s attack phase but probably doesn’t do enough.

Kaysa is great for two reasons. Pumping all your green creatures is always fun – Gaea’s Anthem on a stick is nothing to dislike. But the real benefit of Kaysa comes from the fact that she is an Elf Druid now! I don’t think elves need another lord, but this often forgotten lord is just begging to be played alongside the other ones.

Red

For years, Gorilla Shaman was a sideboard staple in red decks in Legacy because of its ability to eat Moxes for breakfast. Recursive removal of any kind is worth noting in a singleton format like Commander and Gorilla Shaman recently got some new toys in the form of Liquimetal Coating which turns this Shaman into “1: Destroy target land.” That’s some major power, but I don’t condone using him to mana deprive another player – unless they really deserve it.

While I don’t usually condone destroying everyone’s lands, there’s no denying that certain decks (like anything that’s blue and white) tend to be on the annoying side. So while Wizards now thinks cards like Combust are good color hosers, they used to be at a whole different level – like Omen of Fire.

For five mana, you get to bounce ALL islands and then force all the white players to sacrifice half their stuff! It’s over the top mean, but this is exactly the kind of massive spell you want to be casting starting on turn 5. If everything lines up right, this is a serious “I win” card.

Many newer players don’t even know Pillage exists anymore, but this is one three-mana removal spell worth running. Being able to take out a pesky land like Maze of Ith or destroy a Planar Portal is great, but where this card really shines is the little line “It can’t be regenerated.”

Until you’ve faced down a Masticore with a Shattering Pulse in your hand, you don’t understand just how annoying regenerating artifacts are. Or you’ve never had a Reknit played against your Stone Rain. No matter how much Victorious Destruction or Demolish think they’re like Pillage, they’re just cheap substitutes.

Some cards are just weird and nothing else is quite like Varchild’s War-Riders. The beauty of this 3 / 4 for two is simple: his tokens can never kill him! Trample and Rampage is a dangerous combination, but the ability to randomly give out 1/1 Survivor tokens is what really makes this guy shine. This is another one of those beautifully political cards just begging to be played.

White


Exile is a great removal spell for white players in any format, but it really excels in multiplayer because of one little distinction: the attacking creature doesn’t have to be attacking you! So when John’s Spiritmonger charges at Bruce, it still gives you an opening to take it out for good and gain an abundance of life. Probably the closest thing to an auto-include listed here for any white deck.

Ivory Gargoyle is a weird, weird card that refuses to stay dead. It reminds me of Vengeful Pharaoh in that it kills your next draw, but the ability to get a recursive creature is definitely one I find interesting. A 2/2 flier for 5 is hardly a deal, but the fact that he can’t really be killed once you play him makes me interested. Toss in some alternative method of card drawing and a nice sacrificing engine and you could get a lot of fun out of this gargoyle.

I don’t know how the elf’s dress is staying on in Juniper Order Advocate, but as someone who loves gin & tonics, it’s no surprise that I adore this card. Little Kaysa as I call her (even though I think the Knight is who this card is about) is another decent and cheap way to boost  your army. Another solid card that seems to have been forgotten.

Reinforcements isn’t too exciting either, but the ability to recover your three best creatures after a board wipe is pretty powerful for white. A cheap instant, this is all about utility and makes it a lot easier to cast Day of Judgment when you know your Baneslayer Angel will be your next draw.

Reprisal is another card that may not always work, but when it does, it really does. Being able to destroy any big creature for only two mana is a great deal, especially in Commander when dragons and angels are constantly getting in the way of smaller creatures.

Also, when is the weird land-hammerhead-shark thing in the alternate art going to appear as a creature in Magic? I want to know what that thing does.

Artifacts

Phyrexian Portal is the precursor to all of my beloved split into piles cards (well, this and Raging River). The ability to look at the top 10 cards of your library and be guaranteed one of them is a very powerful ability. Toss in the fact that your opponent gets to try and figure out what you’ll do with either stack is interesting too. Sure, it’s a dangerous move in singleton formats but Phyrexian Portal is a lot of fun and a great way to bring a table together for a discussion on strategy.

Group-hug themed decks revolve around the Alliances’ favorite Phelddagrif, but if you want to make some friends at the table check out Soldevi Sentry and Soldevi Steam Beast. The sentry is an unassuming 1/1 for 1 that regenerates, and lets an opponent of your choice draw a card. Sadly, it’s a may ability so you won’t be decking anyone – and the ability only triggers of Soldevi Sentry actually regenerates. Still, it’s quirky card that is bound to make some friends.

Soldevi Steam Beast isn’t quite as linear, but the ability to bash someone’s face in for 4 while giving someone else 2 life is a bit of fun. Rule reminder: successful regeneration taps the creature, so on blocking someone will gain life too.

Lands

The “sacrifice this land when you play it” lands in Alliances are interesting. Kjeldoran Outpost is amazing at slowly churning out an army, while Heart of Yavimaya kind of sucks since you lose a land to get pretty much a Pendelhaven. Lake of the Dead is awesome, but everyone knows that already too. And if you’re Commander deck has basic lands in it, Thawing Glaciers is amazing.

But the other two lands seem to be often ignored. Soldevi Excavations doesn’t cost your any mana when you play it and the ability to look at your draws before they happen can be useful when it comes to deck thinning. It’s not a great card, but at least it pays for itself.

Balduvian Trading Post is the same way since it doesn’t cost you anything and replaces the mana you would normally get. Sadly though, this card often comes off as being a slightly-worse Desert. Still, any card that can mess with combat is worth considering in long, multiplayer formats.

Gold

I told you the ordering of these cards is weird. With Gold coming up last, there are two gems that really got me interested. Lim-Dul’s Vault has long been a favorite of black-blue mages, but in Commander it really shines given your ample amount of life. Paying 5 life to get the exact card you want? That’s an amazing deal alongside some other tutors.

The final card in Alliances is another one all about choice. Misfortune is an absolute mess when it comes to casting but if you’re in Darigaaz’s colors then this could be a blast. The opponent of your choice gets to make a difficult one: do you gain 4 life and put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control or do they take 4 to the dome and put a -1/-1 counter on each creature they control. It’s mean and is begging to show up in some weird Commander deck.

Do you have any other personal favorites from Alliances? Lord of Tresserhorn is often fun and Force of Will (and it’s pitch kin) are plenty well known. What I like are the weird things that have been forgotten over the years in older Magic sets and I’m looking forward to see what I can rummage up from the past.