– Ice Age
November 26, 2020
Commander [EDH]: 5
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
There are probably many jokes about why I picked Necropotence to be this year’s Thanksgiving card, like how it captures the experience of dealing with family rather accurately and how you feel your sanity dwindling faster than your life total with the Skull on the board. Which is probably a very pessimistic approach to take to things, but here we are all the same!
At any rate, Necropotence has a long and sordid history as one of the most absurdly overpowered, overcentralizing, and paradigm-shifting cards in Magic‘s history, coming a long way from its “one star in InQuest” days. Let’s be clear: Necropotence is not a card without risks, and it exemplifies black’s willingness to go all-in to try and win a game. By giving up regular card draws, you can bleed yourself out to fill up your hand at any time you desire. The mana cost is color-intensive, and you do have to exile any cards you discard (meant to counterbalance the upshot of being able to get discard fodder relatively easily), but Necropotence basically allows you to both keep a full hand at all times and go digging aggressively for any combo pieces you might need for your strategy.
While Necropotence drew a hilarious amount of collateral damage during its time in Standard (like Dark Ritual getting banned to try and contain the spell, which was ultimately fruitless), the three-mana card advantage engine remains one of the most absurd early plays any deck can go into, and there’s a clear reason it’s been banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage for years. But even at one copy, it still makes a place for itself in Vintage as part of several combo decks (like Doomsday combo), and it’s legal in Commander in spite of its sheer power. It’s a card that takes a bit of care and skill to use well, but the payoff is immense, and Necropotence is a testament to how, even with its downsides, life totals can be leveraged as a resource to great effect.
Some of the most frustrating strategies to play against in Magic are those which leave you feeling like you can’t do anything to stop them. Permission decks (the really heavy ones like Buehler Blue or Sonic Boom) feel like that to some matchups, but anything that buries you in card advantage is even more insidious, because your opponent doesn’t look like they’re doing anything either. Necropotence is the grandfather of all “draw infinite cards” strategies, and of all of black’s cards that trade life for another resource. You can see just how strong those concepts are in the abstract: Necropotence demands no less than three sacrifices, if you count exiling anything you discard, and yet it still ended up banned or restricted almost everywhere.
Curiously, Commander is not one of those places. I’m not sure that having two or more opponents who might be able to destroy it quite balances out the fact that you start on 40 life, but there you have it.
We would love more volunteers to help us with our Magic the Gathering Card of the Day reviews. If you want to share your ideas on cards with other fans, feel free to drop us an email. We’d be happy to link back to your blog / YouTube Channel / etc. 😉