City of Brass – Double Masters
Date Reviewed: July 29, 2022
Commander [EDH]: 4.38
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
I was quite surprised to learn that we’ve never reviewed City of Brass before. It’s one of the most elegant cards in Magic, and one of the most frequently imitated, too. It basically asks you how much damage you are willing to take to be able to cast your spells on time, and for many decks, the answer is basically “as much as you can give”. That sounds glib, but that kind of tempo play wins games, as does color versatility, and City of Brass has always been a good card in basically every setting you can name.
The City of Brass is a location from one of the stories in the Thousand and One Nights – though they didn’t have space to explain it on the cards, the original Arabian Nights City of Brass presumably portrayed that exact place (much like Ali from Cairo and such). The entire expansion was later retconned to represent the Magic multiverse’s plane of Rabiah, but Rabiah is now considered basically off-limits to future sets as it just contains the directly transplanted stories, while Magic now generally gives the source material at least a veneer of its own multiverse. As such, it is yet to be formally revealed whether reprints like this portray Rabiah or a different, otherwise unknown Arabian/Persian-inspired plane, but the latter seems likely.
Commander [EDH]: 4/5
Never before reviewed on Pojo, City of Brass is a “simple” card with a weird bit of complexity to it. It looks similar to the pain lands and Mana Confluence, but how it’s worded adds a bit of nuance to it. Unlike those cards, where the damage or life payment happens as a function of the mana ability, City of Brass has a reflexive trigger that happens when it’s tapped for any reason. There are corner cases where you can make this count a bit more than the payment…it still taps for mana if you’re at or below zero life, and you can use a burn spell to kill an opponent before you take lethal damage from the City’s damage trigger. Which I’m sure has happened!
All the same, in at least 90% of cases, City of Brass is straightforward enough as a land. If you’re willing to take some pain, the guarantee of a land producing any color is a solid one, and “paying 1 life” is a good deal for any land that produces any color. While it gets weird if you start reading between the lines of the city, and how it exacts its payment opens itself up to some lines with cards like Blood Sun, it’s an iconic card from the very first expansion set that’s managed to keep up in the modern game to this day, and it’s an excellent choice for the enterprising deck that’s willing to gain through a bit of pain.
Commander [EDH]: 4.75
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