Gemstone Caverns – Time Spiral Remastered
Date Reviewed: March 12, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 3.00
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
How much is starting with one extra mana worth?
Gemstone Caverns is a very unusual card, even by Time Spiral standards. Normally, it taps for one colorless mana, which is not worth much of anything…but, should you start with it in your opening hand and you’re not going first, you can exile another card in your hand to start with this in play and with the ability to tap for any color. Legendary is a smart rider to keep things from getting really stupid with multiples of this card in hand at the start, so there is that.
Now, the question: why this card in particular? Two mana on turn 1 can enable a lot of bombastic plays; while Simian Spirit Guide is no longer part of Modern, this was often used along with the Guide (while legal) to set up a turn 1 cascade play into something rude, or get out key enchantments like As Foretold on that first turn. It’s not impossible for decks to be able to parley one extra mana into a lot of power on that first turn, and the main use was to explode even harder with combo plays. Amusingly, Living End is enabled a bit better by Gemstone Caverns, which is a nice loop back to a card from earlier this week.
With all of that said, Gemstone Caverns is a card with a very particular home and use. It’s a hard card to use fairly, as a legendary Wastes is hardly worth running, and most decks will still prefer to go first. But there are those particular combo decks that really benefit from having the Caverns at their disposal, since very few of those decks fire at less than 2 mana, and an opponent opening the game with it on their board rarely bodes well for your prospects.
Constructed: 4 (this is largely a sideboard card, but it’s a unique one without an easily-replicated function, and the decks that make use of it can’t replace it all that easily)
Multiplayer: 3.25 (all you need for this to come in for free is to not be going first; seems simple enough)
Commander: 3 (opening with this in your hand seems particularly uncommon, though you just need to not be first out of the starting blocks)
A fun fact about Gemstone Caverns: it came from the time when the winner of the Invitational tournament got to design a card that would appear in an upcoming set. (Presumably in modified and balanced form, though you wouldn’t necessarily have guessed this from the power level of cards like Shadowmage Infiltrator and Dark Confidant, nor from the fact that Snapcaster Mage is blue when red can get the same effect, and needed it more at the time.) It was not a winner’s card, but came from one of the runners-up, Tsuyoshi Fujita. The design was popular among the public when revealed, and the designers also liked it enough to put it in Time Spiral.
The way in which Gemstone Caverns makes use of otherwise unseen ablities is almost like a card from an Un-set – the only things that are interested in pre-game setup are Mirrodin‘s Serum Powder, and later Impatient Iguana and Patient Turtle from the Mystery Booster playtest cards. (I’m still a big fan of both and hope we get a black-bordered analogue, even if one that’s not quite so strong as the Iguana!) Starting with twice as many lands as your opponent more than makes up for going second; it arguably makes it significantly better to go second, even though you lose a card from your hand. After all, we all know that whoever goes second gets a draw step on their first turn. It gets better as you move into larger and larger card pools, at least until you reach Vintage opponents who have Moxes and such (though presumably you could play your own alongside the Caverns).
For regular casual Magic, though, it’s rather like fighting a mosquito with a Dane axe: you can get the job done with much simpler and cheaper tools. Though to come back to the Un-sets, you could always use it with Giant Fan or Everythingamajig A!
Commander: 3/5 (you’ve got to be fairly lucky to have it in your hand, but statistically it will happen sooner or later)
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