After rummaging through the past with Alliances, I figured it was only natural to see what gems I could find hidden in the Dark. As a set best known for providing the horribly annoying Maze of Ith and originally allowing red mages to win with Ball Lightning, I’m astounded at how many cards in the set are downright weird, and sometimes even worth playing.
Since the old set order started with Black, that’s where I’ll be starting too. If there is one thing Black can’t ever seem to do well, it’s destroy artifacts. When they’re in a player’s hand, they’re easy but the second they hit the battlefield, that’s a different story. Going back to the original days of Magic, Black has always had trouble beating the artificially created gems. To this day, the only black spell with “Destroy target artifact” is Phyrexian Purge – which isn’t exactly a bargain.
The Dark offers black necromancers at least an attempt at artifact control through Curse Artifact. Not the most creative name, but at four mana this aura at least offers some attempt at getting a pesky artifact out of your hair for a little while.
For the Johnny players out there, Eater of the Dead is just begging to be toyed with. The ability to untap a creature simply by exiling a creature card in a graveyard seems like it should be doing something. It stops reanimation strategies and seems like the kind of card a Commander might be interested in. For you tribal fans, he’s now a Horror – not an Eater.
Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t good, but with Innistrad on the horizon, people should know about this reanimated gem. A personal favorite of mine because he combines +2/+0, +1/+1 and +0/+2 counters all on the same card. He isn’t good, but I can’t help but love him.
Along the same lines is Nameless Race – the only creature in Magic without a creature type! Take that Extinction lovers!
If you feel like games are taking too long but don’t want to play Red to force come chaos, enjoy the color bleeding fun of Season of the Witch. An enchantment that says “Attack or lose it” can really get games moving. The triple black casting cost can be a challenge to play, but for black Commanders looking to add some odd gem to their arsenal, you could do worse.
Uncle Istavan is so much fun, simply because his card is so odd. A beast in combat with any creature, Uncle Istavan doesn’t like many people, but he’s funny.
For griefers (and fans of anal probing), Worms of the Earth is Black’s take on Limited Resources. Only play this card if you don’t like having friends.
I love the idea of Blue getting to play around with discard. Amnesia is expensive as can be at six mana, but the ability to destroy someone’s hand (especially those players who hide behind Spellbook) is a great way to mess with them in Commander. Also, the art is extra weird. I think Mark Poole got “Amnesia” and “Lobotomy” confused.
Dance of the Many is a card I’ve talked about before as being one of my favorites in Commander. Sadly, it isn’t quite as good as Clone since it needs to target the creature. Still, 2 mana to make a copy of someone’s Commander to kill it off or making a quick copy of their Solemn Simularcum to reap all the rewards makes this a surprisingly decent clone variant worth considering.
Ghost Ship got a second life after being reprinted in Time Spiral but the real reason I love this card is because it’s regenerating and blue! Able to gently float on your side of the battlefield, this is a decent blocker to withhold an assault. Yes, the triple blue is expensive but you’re not going to find it in many other places.
Continuing the theme of cards that are downright mean (and how griefer friendly The Dark was), Mana Vortex is the ultimate out-of-color card to destroy lands. The ability to eat a player’s land each turn is interesting as a way to grind out a lock. It’s weird, but you should be aware of its existence.
I want to love Merfolk Assassin. The ability to tap and destroy any creature is powerful, but the requirement of islandwalk is a bit harder to pull off because only War Barge can fulfill the task. Provided you can get both of them out, the combo of destroying any creature for only three mana is pretty good. It’s just a shame that this is the only way to get it to work besides destroying your own lands to Excavator.
What do you get when you combine Lightning Bolt and Delirium Skeins? Evidently Mind Bomb. A super weird one casting cost spell, Mind Bomb lets everyone pick their poison – a bolt to the dome or discard three cards or some combination of the three. I don’t think this is good, with some Madness thrown in for fun, this spell could work.
Psychic Allergy plus Shifting Sky can be a lot of fun. Let it go around the board once and see who is left standing before you decided whether or not it is worth sacrificing it or not.
For green mages looking for some accelerated land dropping in addition to Exploration and Burgeoning, Gaea’s Touch is a great and cheap idea. The ability to play a second land each turn, provided it is a basic Forest can quickly allow for more mana. Plus, once you’ve gotten all the lands you want you can sacrifice it to get your mana back!
I’m not sure what to think of this guy. When Lurker isn’t doing anything, he almost has shroud. But if he moves, he loses it. I feel like someone will bolt him simply because they can. Or they’ll just keep targeting him with abilities since he can still be hit with those.
Holy crap this guy is good – Scarwood Bandits allows you to gain control of other player’s artifacts! In Commander, this could easily swing a game in your favor as you swipe as many pieces of gear as you can. Toss in a Withstand Death to keep him swinging and you’ve got a artifact stealing machine. He’s even more fun with Mycosynth Lattice.
Spitting Slug is solely mentioned for being a slug and managing to have the very rare ability of Last Strike. Whipporrwill is also listed for being a card of a bird shown in midflight that DOESN’T HAVE FLYING. Also for a sparrow, Whipporrwill really likes making sure creatures stay dead.
Sadly Red doesn’t have nearly as many toys. Fissure is a decent, but expensive, red instant that destroys any land or creature – and keeps them from regenerating! It’s a solid one-on in mono-Red Commander decks since it is one of the few cards to kill a creature without resorting to damage.
Goblin Wizard is very good and happens to be a Creature – Goblin Wizard (putting him in the elusive group of creatures with the same name as their creature types, like Brushwagg). The ability to summon a Goblin for free is great, but few Goblins make it worthwhile. His second ability though of granting protection from White can be very useful in a pinch.
While Red didn’t get much, White more than makes up for it. Cleansing is a very weird quasi-Armageddon that reminds me of Acidic Soil, but in White. Sure, most of the time everyone will pay a life for each land they control but don’t underestimate the value of that – especially against multiple opponents.
Exorcist absolutely HATES black creatures. As a two drop that can begin killing ANY black creature the following turn, he’s terrifying. With so many gold cards being part black and given how popular Vampires have become, Exorcist is a good defensive measure to hold back the swarm – just brace for the impending onslaught.
For a while Holy Light has been one of my favorite White cards simply because it doesn’t feel white at all. Then Wizards had to ruin it by printing Choking Fumes. Still, the ability to eradicate any opposing force of tokens is amazing. I just have no idea why the guy in the art is naked.
Martyr’s Cry is a weird card. Personally, I would use it with Shifting Sky again just to mess with people. The sorcery speed means you can’t use it in a pinch to draw a bunch of cards but any card that says “draw a card for each creature you control” in white is worth a look. I just don’t know what to do with it.
White Control Magic on a stick – yes, Preacher is fragile as can be but the ability to steal a creature is certainly interested. The fact that you don’t get to pick isn’t great, but in mono-white this is a rare ability worth looking at.
I have no idea how Fire and Brimstone is a white card. This card isn’t good, but at least they don’t have to attack you in multiplayer, right? And my friend Carl once opened a foil Squire in a Time Spiral booster. I think he won the Magic Lottery.
A white, goblin-only Extinction, Tivadar’s Crusade is a touch out there. Depending on your metagame, it can be totally worth running. Or if you’re playing blue-white, you can bundle it with Artificial Evolution to change the creature type.
What do you get when you combine pinging with bounce? Evidently a white creature known as Witch Hunter. An odd card that’s expensive, the tools provided by Witch Hunter could make a mono-white mage excited. She’s fragile but the ability to bounce any creature you don’t control for only 3 mana is an interesting proposition.
Reflecting Mirror can cost a lot – probably too much, but the ability to Misdirect any spell that comes your way for some mana in any color is definitely interesting. You’ll never surprise anyone with it, but it’s a great card to just have sitting on the battlefield as a warning to others.
For the enchantment heavy deck that’s focusing on the long game, Skull of Orm can provide some recursion. It’s pricey, but for Red and black mages, this might be their only option.
Reducing the cost of your spells can be dangerous. Helm of Awakening makes everyone happy, but Stone Calendar does it just for you which could make any combo player happy. It’s a bit pricey, but it pays for itself in a few turns.
City of Shadows is a card just begging to be broken thanks to Proliferate. The ability to possibly generate obscene amounts of mana off a single card is exciting but a risky proposition – especially since damage no longer stacks. Still, something about this card intrigues me.
And that’s all of the oddities I found hidden in The Dark. Sure, there’s plenty of stuff I didn’t mention because it was actually good or was just weird for the sake of being weird (I’m looking at you Electric Eel). The past of Magic is filled with gems for multiplayer mayhem and if you like breaking the color wheel, I recommend checking out the past for your future deck building adventures.