Rares vs. Commons

Rarity in Magic, as a measure of card worth, can be one of the most incomprehensible things on the planet. At one end of the spectrum are the cards whose rarity is obvious simply by applying the basic theorem that the better the card, the rarer the card. Necropotence, for example, is obviously a rare, as are Survival of the Fittest and Masticore. At the other end are some truly crap cards that should be, and in fact are, commons. Shriek of Dread and Vintara Elephant come to mind. So a basic pattern has been established. Rares range from good to great to gamebreaking, commons likewise range from average to mediocre to downright awful, and uncommons fall somewhere in the middle. Pretty cut and dried, right?

It seems to be. Then along come cards which would seem to indicate that the aforementioned theory isn't worth the electrons it was printed on above. Cards such as these…

Rancor: Common

Duress: Common

Blastoderm: Common

Pale Moon: RARE.

On top of that, there's a whole bunch of cards which are neither especially good nor especially bad. These cards usually aren't seen in Tier 1 decklists, except perhaps in a supporting role, but it seems unfair to condemn them as complete piles. These cards come in all areas of the spectrum of rarity.

So what's a new player to do?

Well, it seems obvious from what we've observed that there's no clear delineation of power between rares, uncommons and commons. Granted, the best commons will never be as good as the best rares, but when you crack a pack of Planeshift and see Mogg Sentry and Terminate staring out at you, which one is going to make you happier? The good card, of course, not necessarily the rare. Since we tend to accumulate commons much faster than we do rares, it follows that we accumulate good commons at a much greater rate than good rares. As beginning players, then, it seems only logical to try and get the most use out of our commons and uncommons, and try to handle the issue of good rares as it comes up.

Thinking along this subject brings me to the concept of decks that are entirely or mostly constructed from commons. As a player and collector, I've reached the point where I can generally acquire a few copies of any card I need for a Type 2 deck with a minimum of fuss. Rarity doesn't mean as much as it used to, and as a result the creation of cheap decks has been relegated to the status of a mental exercise. Nevertheless, it hasn't been that long since my card pool was still heavily restricted, so I well understand the concept of trying to get the most for your money. 

Where to begin?

We've established that there are commons that are worth considering for inclusion in a deck, and those that are generally not worth it unless they support an established theme or strategy. For example, you might play Keldon Berserker in a deck with Chimeric Idol, but unless you're working toward such a concept from the very beginning, it's probably just an overcosted 2/3 that shouldn't be given a second look. Let's make a list of the commons that might be worth playing on their own merits, sorted by color for easy reference:


Drake Hatchling
Rishadan Airship
Accumulated Knowledge
Seal of Removal
Ribbon Snake
Rhystic Study
Spiketail Hatchling
Tower Drake
Vodalian Merchant
Vodalian Serpent
Worldly Counsel
Rushing River
Stormscape Familiar
Memory Lapse
Sage Owl
Wind Drake


Dark Ritual
Snuff Out
Specter's Wail
Parallax Dementia
Seal of Doom
Spineless Thug
Vicious Hunger
Agent of Shauku
Agonizing Demise
Exotic Curse
Hypnotic Cloud
Ravenous Rats
Soul Burn
Bog Down
Nightscape Familiar
Sinister Strength
Blood Pet
Howl From Beyond


Gerrard's Irregulars
Kris Mage
Lightning Hounds
Stone Rain
Downhill Charge
Flame Rift
Mogg Toady
Seal of Fire
Fault Riders
Rhystic Lightning
Kavu Agressor
Maniacal Rage
Pouncing Kavu
Scorching Lava
Tribal Flames
Magma Burst
Mire Kavu
Thunderscape Familiar
Anaba Shaman
Balduvian Barbarians
Giant Strength
Lightning Blast


Ancestral Mask
Deepwood Wolverine
Land Grant
Silverglade Elemental
Snorting Gahr
Spidersilk Armor
Vine Trellis
Seal of Strength
Skyshroud Claim
Skyshroud Ridgeback
Calming Verse
Silt Crawler
Spore Frog
Thresher Beast
Wild Might
Fertile Ground
Kavu Climber
Nomadic Elf
Pincer Spider
Quirion Elves
Quirion Sentinel
Serpentine Kavu
Thornscape Familiar
Elven Cache
Giant Growth
Llanowar Elves
Trained Armodon
Wild Growth


Cho-Manno's Blessing
Fresh Volunteers
Nightwind Glider
Ramosian Lieutenant
Ramosian Sergeant
Steadfast Guard
Thermal Glider
Defender En-Vec
Defiant Falcon
Seal of Cleansing
Aura Fracture
Diving Griffin
Glittering Lynx
Ardent Soldier
Benalish Lancer
Capashen Unicorn
Crimson Acolyte
Dismantling Blow
Obsidian Acolyte
Razorfoot Griffin
Sunscape Familiar
Tundra Wolves


Armadillo Cloak
Frenzied Tilling
Cavern Harpy
Horned Kavu
Hull Breach
Silver Drake
Steel Leaf Paladin

No shortage of decent cards for consideration, eh?

This is by no means a complete listing of all the good commons ever printed-- such a list would be hideously long and in most cases highly irrelevant, which is why I've restricted myself to the sets currently in print. It is also not a list of the commons that you'll see actually played in the "good" decks-- such a list would be much shorter. It should, however, be a good starting-off point for those of us interested in building decks with a high percentage of commons, whether our aim is to amuse ourselves or to make the most out of a limited card pool.

Fine. You've got the data. What do you do with it?

That part, at least, is simple. Assuming you've got the cards, you simply start looking through them and seeing what appeals to you. Having a particular color to focus on can, as I mentioned last week, be a great help in this process. Once you've decided on a color and a strategy or theme, the pieces should hopefully fall into place with relative ease. It seems to me that enough cards are present in each color to support any of that color's major themes without too much of a problem. Don't feel limited to the cards on this list, either. There are many which weren't specialized enough to warrant inclusion but which could easily find their way in once you've started building.

To give you some ideas, a pyromaniac like myself might come up with the following distant cousin of Sligh:

4x Kris Mage
4x Laccolith Whelp
4x Mogg Toady
4x Fault Riders
4x Balduvian Barbarians
4x Pouncing Kavu

4x Shock
4x Seal of Fire
4x Rhystic Lightning

4x Sandstone Needle
20x Mountain

An all common version of a Rebel deck, while not nearly as powerful as the ones based around the Lin Sivvi engine, seems quite feasible:

4x Ramosian Sergeant
4x Defiant Falcon
4x Fresh Volunteers
4x Steadfast Guard
2x Thermal Glider
2x Nightwind Glider
4x Defender en-Vec

4x Disenchant/Seal of Cleansing
4x Topple
4x Ramosian Rally

24x Plains

And, since Invasion has made multi-color decks the norm rather than the exception, a blue-black control/discard deck also makes for an excellent example of the power of commons:

4x Ravenous Rats
4x Drake Hatchling
4x Vodalian Zombie
2x Wall of Distortion

4x Counterspell
4x Exclude
4x Opt
4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Recoil
3x Hypnotic Cloud

4x Ancient Spring
8x Swamp
11x Island

These decklists I've quickly sketched out for you could probably use a bit of work, but even once they are refined to their best possible state, they represent only the tip of the iceberg. The depth of the available pool of commons is truly amazing. Beyond that, most of these same decks will benefit from the eventual addition of uncommons and rares, and can even potentially be transformed into tournament winners.

Do not get me wrong. The good rares are far better than the good commons, and you cannot make a Tier 1 deck with no rares. That is just a simple fact. The idea here is not to use commons as a perpetual crutch in place of rares, but to learn how to use them to their maximal effectiveness. Decks and gameplay are much the same no matter which kind of cards you're playing with, and the time you spend learning how to use these readily available cards will pay off as you acquire more cards and your access to the more powerful cards becomes greater. And some commons, such as Counterspell, Blastoderm, and Shock, will probably be with you for quite some time-- so get acquainted with them now.