Hey Magic enthusiasts. Today I was doing some random search on Gatherer for a passing idea, and I found a card that I’d never seen before, or heard of, or anything. It was powerful, and a type that I’m usually pretty up on. After figuring out what it was, I found that it’s one of five cards I completely whiffed on when they came out last year. Maybe you did too, so I’m going to talk about them here.
The title of this post should be a dead giveaway that the cards I’m talking about came from Game Night 2019. I have no idea when/if it came out at all. Game Night (2018) was a release for the casuals and their kitchen tables that contained 5 decks in the 5 colours, each with a brand new, unavailable-anywhere-else splash card. The cards were designed with multiplayer play in mind, and are worth taking a look at too. I have a couple of these, but they’re hardly well known either. I’ll start with 2018, and move on to the new stuff after.
Rot Hulk is outstanding. It’s a big addition to an already strong tribe that likes reanimation. The CMC is quite large, but the Hulk is an ideal reanimation target itself, as it brings friends. Getting it into the yard with a modest pile, and then cheating it into play while you still have living opponents is the dream.
Goblin Goliath is terrific. Goblins are also a strong tribe that lean into finishing off opponents by dealing damage to them. Doubling that is great, although having it tied to a substantial activation cost including tapping is less great. Luckily, most Goblin decks want token bodies, and this guy brings the fun.
Inspired Sphinx is pretty good. Sphinx tribal is fairly narrow, but this fits in pretty well as a drawer of card or cards. Drawing cards is great, but for 7 mana, there are so many better and more efficient ways to do it. Making a big flying body is fine, and the ability to make thopters can be useful in a wide variety of decks, but unless there’s some immediate synergy, this might be clunky.
Avatar of Growth is alright. Some decks want to capitalize on their opponents’ playing lots of non-basic lands. Some decks want to hug the group. Some don’t care what their opponents do as long as they can ramp for 2 untapped basics for 3 mana. The 4/4 Trample Elemental body can be surprisingly useful, but only with help.
Militant Angel gives us a great look at why white is struggling as a colour these days. Flying and lifelink are fine abilities, but they are the only non-conditional benefit to this card. All of the others in the cycle give you an unconditional payoff, plus multiple levels of upside. This is an extremely overcosted Angel that needs to jump through a hoop to even do anything else. No Knight tokens unless you attacked? And equal to the number of opponents attacked? So the turn you cast the Angel, to get even equivalent value to the other cards like this, you needed to have attacked all three opponents. Let’s pretend they’ll make that easy for you. White is a blink colour, and this can’t even play nice with blink. You definitely can’t do it on opponents’ turns. All sorts of fail here. Brago, maybe?
Which brings to the 2019 cards, which I saw for the first time today. Are they a little more balanced as a cycle?
Calculating Lich looks like the best of the lot. Another great black Zombie. This one is also a Wizard, has a big body, and Menace. So it might be a decent enough attacker just on its own. The 6 mana CMC isn’t too bad, either. But then of course we get to the other ability, which looks pretty crazy. Whenever one of your opponents is attacked with a creature, they lose 1 life. Your creature, any creature. This could end games in a hurry. I’d slot this in any Zombie build, and look hard at it for Wizards and just plain black goodstuff. Any deck that wants to Goad wants cards like this. Outstanding card.
Speaking of cards that want you to Goad, how about Fiendish Duo? With the same mechanical premise that Calculating Lich has, where the bad thing happens to all opponents regardless of the source. If it wasn’t ‘just’ a Devil, and such a scary effect, it might be a better card than the Lich. Devils might get there someday, but lack the synergy that makes a Zombie Wizard so attractive. And this is surely going to eat tons of removal, or else the opponents will eat dirt. Terrific card.
While the remaining three are a step down from the Lich and Duo, none of them are bad. The white one might even be the best of the three. Highcliff Felidar has an unfortunate CMC, but is part of 2 emerging tribes, and a big body. Vigilance is a step down from all of flying, trample, first strike and even menace. It’s a useful ability, but all of the others are better. The power of the ETB effect is pretty substantial. Sure it only hits one target per player, but it does it the right way, getting the most powerful thing without targeting it. Not addressing indestructible holds this card back, however. All in all, it’s a decent Cat Beast, and a pretty great blink target. And a massive upgrade over Militant Angel.
Earthshaker Giant seems decent. Yup, decent. An Overrun effect on a big body with a reasonable cost and two ok tribes. Yup…. Moving on.
Finally we have the techy-est of the group, Sphinx of Enlightenment. 6 CMC for 5/5 flying draw 3 is actually pretty sweet, and the draw happening on ETB in a blink colour is extra sweet. The trick is what to do about the opponent drawing each time, too. For a long time, Nekusar, the Mind-Razer was a Commander that inspired fear at the casual tables, speaking of Zombie Wizards.
I don’t know that this gets there in Nekusar, or anything like that. Maybe group hug, maybe something obvious I’m not seeing. I don’t play too much blue. But the whole point of cards like this is to find a way to turn the bug into a feature. With Consecrated Sphinx out, this is a draw 5, I guess. You might not even care that an opponent drew a card under those circumstances.
Well, I had no idea I’d write this post today, just as I had no idea these cards existed until I stumbled upon them. If you’ve been brewing with them for ages, I salute you, but for those of you just discovering them now, like me, I hope it was a really cool find. Thanks for reading!