The 7th Commons
Base set commons are traditionally the worst of the worst. True, some base set commons are good. And expansion sets are hardly free of crappy cards-- witness, for example, such gems as Tainted Well from Invasion or Shriek of Dread from Planeshift. But somehow, when you open a pack of 6th or 7th and see, for example, a Fyndhorn Brownie or Scathe Zombies, it seems so much worse. Why? Well, mainly because they're the same bad commons we've been seeing for so long. The whole idea behind base sets is to reprint cards from older sets both for the purpose of keeping interesting or useful cards in circulation and to give beginners a chance to ease into the game. It should be noted that these two goals have the potential to be mutually exclusive, or at least to significantly interfere with each other, and that trying to combine them is probably not the hottest idea. I don't even know of any beginners who learned via the basic set-- most of them, it seems, enter the game with product from expansion sets. But whatever. I could literally write a book on all the ways Wizards has fouled up (in Magic as well as in other games) but I won't do so here.
Today I will point out several 7th Edition commons that I feel are worth paying attention to, and I may also make some editorial comments on Wizards' intelligence with particular reprints. Because I am trying to call attention to relatively underused cards, and also because I do not wish to insult anybody's intelligence, I will refrain from including the following cards in my analysis:
DISCLAIMER: I am writing this list by memory. If a comment on a card that is actually an uncommon, it is an honest mistake. I doubt anyone will care anyway. Tech is tech, right?
As usual, most of Blue's good cards are uncommon or higher. This doesn't mean that I have nothing to say here, though.
Prodigal Sorcerer- Not 100% viable in Constructed, but I can see him having his uses. He kills Elves and Birds, as well as those Rebels further down on the chain. He can also serve as a way to kill your opponent... a really slow way, but that might not matter if you've got a hand full of countermagic. Did I mention the new artwork is a vast improvement?
Wind Drake- I played a Constructed deck with four of these last year, among various other cards. It was probably a bad deck, but it kicked the hell out of Replenish and Tinker, which gave much to recommend it at the tournaments where I played. Right now it's a 2/2 flier for three mana, which is good if that's what you're looking for. The artwork and flavor text are once again droolworthy, which is a bonus if you like playing with pretty cards. I don't care that much for play purposes, but I still want a foil of this one!
Vigilant Drake- In the Urza Block, there was a theme of blue creatures that could untap themselves. One of them has rightfully earned the title in most peoples' minds of the best creature ever printed. Now, Vigilant Drake is no Morphling, but the ability is none the less useful. In my opinion, it compares well with Air Elemental. Mahamoti Djinn is better, of course, but what do you expect?
Coral Merfolk- As an additional 2-power Merfolk that can go into either mono-color Fish decks or those with splashes of another color, this card shines. Without the Lord, it's just a blue grizzly bear, which is also fine if that's what you're looking for. Not exciting, but hardly a groaner.
When I first heard that Wizards was reprinting Volcanic Hammer, I knew that they must be trying to tell us something. I've narrowed it down to two possibilities. Wizards, it seems, is under one of the following misapprehensions:
1) Incinerate is broken all to hell, or
2) Magic players are drooling morons who have ENOUGH trouble dealing with the concept of direct damage without adding instant speed and "no regeneration" on top of it.
I was leaning toward #1 at first, but then I realized that they also reprinted those two vanilla 6/6 creatures whose names escape me at the moment. Oh well, playing Pokemon for two years has gotten me used to having my intelligence insulted by Wizards. On to the cards!
Goblin Raiders- Short history lesson. In the beginning there were Ironclaw Orcs, and despite being worse than anything any other color had for 2 mana, they still formed the basis of one of the better decks of their time, the original Sligh deck. Then Wizards decided to give Red some powerful weenies. Red got Jackal Pup and Mogg Fanatic. Wizards went "Whoops, too powerful. Back to the other end of the spectrum." Hence it is that we end up with Goblin Raiders. Having said this, I think it is a good enough card if you're looking for a 2cc red creature. Who wants to block anyway?
Goblin Chariot- I wish this had been Wild Colos. The cards are exactly the same in all but name, but the Colos is basically a huge mountain goat, which I think we all agree is too cool for words. This works better with Goblin King, I guess. Anyway, I liked Lava Runner a lot in the deck I played earlier this year, and it wasn't all because of the sacrifice-a-land thing, so I guess a 2/2 attacking on the third turn is pretty good anyway. At least it would be if green didn't have 5/5s attacking on the third turn. Every time I try to judge a card's worth, I forget that this is Bizarro World and that green fat is good now. Oh well.
Volcanic Hammer- Okay, so I dissed this above. It is still 3 damage for 2 mana, and it is not a rare like the only other red spell that does 3 damage. Your call. WARNING: If you do use this card, be sure not to let yourself be observed by a WOTC rep. If they get it into their heads that this card is playable, we will NEVER get it removed from the base set.
I could only think of two decent sleeper commons for this color (avoiding the blatantly obvious ones) and one of them is actually disguised as an uncommon. Don't blame me, I'm not the one who said that base set green had to suck.
Reclaim- One mana. Instant speed. Put any card from your graveyard on top of your library. This might not seem good to a lot of people, but I think it is awesome. I splashed green into the counter-control deck I am currently playing so I could run three of these, and they have proven their worth many times over. The only thing you are sacrificing is a draw step, and I didn't hear anybody whining about this where Vampiric Tutor was involved. It's not Regrowth, but what is?
Elvish Lyrist- Okay, I *know* this is an uncommon in 7th, but it was originally a common and I have no idea why they changed it. Probably to bring it in line with Scavenger Folk, which is also an uncommon. Except I could have sworn that was a common too... At any rate, this is still a 1-drop that beats down and then sacrifices to destroy target annoying enchantment. Granted, it can't do both in the same turn, but then nobody's perfect. Oh, and in a surprise move, the new artwork blows. If you do use it, take the time to hunt down the originals.
As I said at the beginning of this article, you all know that Duress is good, right? Thought so. Nothing more to say about that card, then.
Ostracize- Hidden in Duress' shadow, this card was hardly played at all during its original print run. I think that has the potential to change. The two most prominent decks at this time are heavily creature-based decks, so the probability of this first-turn play hitting a creatureless hand is relatively small. I'd never choose it over Duress, but it could be good as additional discard or even as a sideboard choice.
Dark Banishing- Okay, so Terminate is better and is also a common. That being said, not everybody prefers mountains with their swamps, and sometimes you want more than 4 black removal spells on hand. I saw people playing with Terror before the set rotation, and this isn't any worse, in my opinion. The only bad thing I have to say is that most of my Banishings are from Tempest, whose artwork I find awful for some reason. Mirage has the best artwork (doesn't it always?) but just the 7th is good, too.
Unholy Strength- If anybody is stupid enough to be making a Suicide Black-style deck despite the fact that Black (like every other color) has no good weenies left, this classic enchantment has your number. Ritual-Foul Imp-Unholy would give you a 4/3 flying creature on the first turn. Ritual-Maggot Carrier-2x Unholy also comes to mind. Barring broken draws, however, it is far more likely that you'll see your card investment get Wrathed away or made pointless by a Cloaked Llanowar Knight. I think Wizards brought back this card so that we couldn't claim that there were no good weenie beatdown cards left. This of course completely ignores the fact that Wizards has intentionally created an environment in which those styles of deck cannot compete, but who's counting?
Circles of Protection (all of them)- Obviously not a maindeck card except in a "silver bullet" style of deck or a totally degenerate environment, these are still a sideboard staple. The trick is choosing which ones to use-- you don't need all five. I use White and Red, which protects against Rebels, Junk, most of Machine Head, and just over half of Fires ("typical" builds in all cases.) You can change this as necessary depending on what you plan to face.
Pacifism- It is not as good as Swords to Plowshares, or even Arrest for that matter. It also means that you are using a vulnerable permanent to handle your creature removal needs, never a good idea. It also looks really stupid in your hand while Blastoderms beat you down. Drawbacks aside, it is two mana to essentially stop any creature whose worth lies in attacking or blocking, and that is good, so you might want to think about it.
Eager Cadet- I am of course joking. This card sucks,
and the mere fact that this is Wizards' idea of a 1-drop
for White is the biggest tragedy perpetrated on Magic
since Memory Jar slipped through R&D's fingers.
Refer to my section on Red for more data on why Tundra
Wolves couldn't be reprinted.
These listings are not, of course, complete. I am also reasonably certain that I will remember cards I have missed as soon as I send this article off to Scott. I do however think that I have managed to point out some underused cards, and I hope that I've also helped beginners who are working mainly from commons (which is of course a major part of my focus on common cards.) I'll wrap up by telling which commons from each color I would have liked to see in 7th Edition, but which failed to appear:
Blue: Power Sink. I don't see why this had to go. It was a splashable counterspell, it was more-or-less useful during most stages of the game (assuming each player played lands at approximately the same rate) and mostly Prohibit just isn't the same. And yes, I realize that this was an uncommon in 6th, but it was a common in Urza's Saga and multiple other sets as well.
Red: Incinerate. (I'm pretty sure this is common, but there's the slightest bit of doubt nagging at my mind... if I happen to be wrong, don't crucify me, please!) Mogg Fanatic is also something I'd like to see come back, but unfortunately the kind of decks it tends to offer itself to aren't good right now, so solid burn is probably better. Of course, we ended up not getting either one, didn't we? Pbbbth.
Green: Oooh, this is a hard one. I'd have to go with Yavimaya Elder here. This card was amazing once and could very well be again. It's true that it does have some abilities that are generally associated with Urza Block in particular, but so did Vigilant Drake, right?
Black: I think they could have brought Dark Ritual back and it wouldn't have been the end of the world. I really do. But I'm not sorry they appear to have killed it-- it gave black mages the ability to be supremely annoying on occasion, and that's probably not altogether healthy. What I would bring back instead is Diabolic Edict, a card that I like a lot. Sometimes it's relatively useless, but often it "destroys" a creature that Black just can't deal with any other way. It seems like a perfect candidate for reprinting, but evidently the Powers That Be disagree with me.
White: White needs a good 1-drop creature to fill out the set. Mother of Runes should have been reprinted anyway, IMO, but it's an uncommon. Tundra Wolves would be nice, but nobody played with them anyway. No, I think what's called for is Soul Warden. Again a card that's not dominating in Constructed right now but doesn't make you cringe at how far the game has fallen. And when it comes down to it, isn't that what 99% of the base set should be about?
That's my article for this week. Next week comes randomness of an unspecified nature. Don't forget to tune in!