BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Our journey into the Weatherlight Saga has only begun, but things are already getting dangerous. As we fight through the depths of a world full of mechanical monsters, it’s time to take a break and discuss more of Magic’s most valuable cards. This week, we’re continuing the Tempest Block by discussing Stronghold — a set full of villainous vistas, mechanical monsters, and even a few hidden gems.
Previously in the game’s story, Captain Gerrard and his crew touched down on the Plane of Rath — an artificial world designed to act as a forward base for the invading Phyrexian armies — in an attempt to both save their former Captain Sisay and find the missing pieces of the only weapon powerful enough to stop Yawgmoth from laying waste to their home world. This set, while not introducing any gigantic new story arcs, features the characters delving even deeper into the mechanical world as they battle Volrath’s monstrous creations. In the process, however, they learn dark secrets about the history of the Legacy, their crewmates, their enemies, and even themselves.
While Stronghold did mark the introduction of “redirect” effects (those that send damage taken to other cards rather than themselves), as part of the larger Tempest Block, it focused more on reinforcing pre-existing strategies and themes than anything else — with the release of Sliver Queen (the Tribe’s first five-color Commander) serving as the most infamous example of this. Even putting aside specific support cards, though, there are plenty of valuable and effective cards that we can discover during a journey deeper into Rath — and in this week’s column, we’ve used average market price data from MTGGoldfish to pick out the sets’ five most expensive.
#5: Grave Pact
Generally, the price of some of Magic’s earliest cards depends on whether or not they are printed on what is known as the ‘Reserved List’ — a list of cards that are not permitted to be reprinted in order to stabilize their values on the secondary market. As a result of the list, the prices of some early finds may not be directly related to their actual strength. Grave Pact, much like Blood Moon before it, has seen enough reprints to cut it down to a fraction of the price of other mighty cards in the game’s Reserved section– and ironically, this makes it one of the most popular cards in the set, even if its price may not suggest that to be the case.
The key aspect that makes Grave Pact so dangerous and valuable than other sacrifice triggers is that it activates whenever any creature of yours — including tokens — die in any way (such as being killed in battle, destroyed by a spell, or sacrificed). As such, it’s common to utilize the card in decks that intend on killing their own armies as often as possible in order to gain an extra advantage. With a combination of the right cards (such as the ability to repeatedly sacrifice Gravecrawler to Phyrexian Altar and then cast it again as long as you have another Zombie on the field), Grave Pact can completely clear the field of opposing creatures at no cost to the player — and as its sacrifice mechanic does not count as “destruction” or “targeting,” it can also be used to remove problematic Indestructible or Hexproof creatures from the board with ease. This is an annoying ability on its own, but when combined with other powerful Black tools, can quickly become one of the most out-of-control and deadly Enchantments in the entirety of MTG. For maximum efficiency, you can even run it with Tergrid, God of Fright… although you’ll certainly lose some friends in the process.
Ironically, of all of the expensive cards on this week’s list, it is Grave Pact that sees the most play out of them all (excluding in competitive strategies) — as its ability is very strong even without being part of a more focused strategy. Any deck that uses Creatures in any way can get something out of the pact, and in sacrifice-based decks, it can turn into a frighteningly effective way to destroy opposing players’ boards while still furthering one’s own plans. This versatility and usefulness are reflected in what would typically be an absurd price, but frequent reprints keep Pact’s value surprisingly low — making it an incredible investment for anyone seeking to take the leap from budget builds to strong staples.
#4: Dream Halls
The Mana aspect of Magic: The Gathering is one that is essentially meant to keep players on a curve, and progress the game state in a way that allows things to become more intense over time. Some players, however, would rather not abide by this curve, and use powerful cards like Quicksilver Amulet or Natural Order to bypass larger costs and place heavy hitters on the field as early as physically possible. Dream Halls, while one of the first cards that grants this effect as a permanent ability instead of a one-off, has unfortunately fallen to the wayside in favor of more popular cheat cards — but this does nothing to diminish how powerful it can be in the right setting.
Dream Halls effectively grants every single card in a player’s hand (not just Creatures) an alternative way to be cast for free, as long as they have similar-colored cards to sacrifice in their hand. This, quite simply, allows a player to cheat extra cards onto the battlefield by paying the “pitch cost” as opposed to Mana. The use of the card is quite clear: It’s a way to instantly cheat out some of Magic’s strongest cards, and especially its largest bodies. While effective targets to cheat out were far less common during Stronghold’s release, more modern times have increased the power of some Creatures to dramatic levels, especially in the case of both Blue’s massive sea serpents and gigantic Colorless creatures (especially Blightsteel Colossus and the Eldrazi Titans) — all of which are cards that Dream Halls can immediately place on the field by discarding the Colorless cards that are all to common in many builds. The fact that multicolored cards can be paid for using any of their colors is also a great benefit and allows the Enchantment to see play in any deck that features both the color Blue and high-cost victory conditions (the first thing that came into our columnist’s mind was using it to cheat cast Enter the Infinite to draw your entire deck, then cheat cast Omniscience to play everything you own for free). It can even be used to turn any Instant or Counter spell into a Force of Will, allowing them to be activated even if the player has no untapped Mana. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that Dream Halls can’t actually affect cards from the deck or your creatures in the Command Zone, which makes its’ use strictly limited — but still, in strategies that enjoy sneakily slipping their strongest cards onto the field when they shouldn’t be able to, this is an excellent way to do so, provided you have the hand to spare.
While Dream Halls is undoubtedly powerful, it has the unfortunate side effect of placing a gigantic target on a player’s back– and this, combined with its lack of reprints and extra starting Mana cost mean that the card is generally not run as much as one would expect. Either way, though, it is certainly a unique and amusing card that helps turn the game on its head and lets players who love to play “Battlecruiser” Magic (which focuses on high-cost cards) go wild — making it more than worth the cost in our eyes. No matter how you do it, placing Progenitus onto the battlefield as early as turn four will always be hilarious, and we will not be told otherwise.
Despite the artificial nature of Rath, it’s worth noting that the world’s landscape is rather diverse — and ranges from forests to furnaces, and even massive castles. It’s probably safe to say that one of them, Volrath’s Stronghold, is in fact, the Stronghold referenced in the set’s name — which only makes sense, considering how impactful and expensive the card depicting it is.
Lands are still somewhat difficult to discuss as we proceed into further into the column, but it’s always nice to see one with an extra added ability. In this case, Volrath’s Stronghold provides the player with a cheap ability to put a creature from their Graveyard on top of their deck. As one might expect, this is a huge advantage, especially for only two Mana — and while it’s not a very complex ability, it certainly has a lot of use, and allows players to revive combo pieces, cheat the Commander tax by putting their leader on top of the deck, or repeatedly activate the effects of dead creatures like Shriekmaw or Ravenous Chupacabra who provide an advantage when they enter the battlefield. It can also serve as a way to mitigate damage from enemy board-wipes or the destruction of valuable creatures. Stapling this versatility onto a Land is not only a great way to provide an extra use for untapped Mana, but also to protect the effect from removal.
As far as Lands with added special effects go, Volrath’s Stronghold is one that is not just useful, but can fit into all sorts of strategies. Unlike Grave Pact, however, the card’s high cost keeps it from being seen in many decks — which is a shame, considering how many could benefit from it.
#2: Sliver Queen
In the story of Magic: The Gathering, the Slivers originated from an unknown Plane, where they were used as beasts of burden thanks to their incredible ability to adapt to any situation. Over many years, through a process of natural selection and the skilled manipulation of their queen, each generation would grow stronger than the last — to the point where they were eventually able to evolve beyond the concept of death itself, and raze empires to nothingness overnight. During a visit to another Plane, Volrath became fascinated by these creatures, and brought them to Rath — where they were modified and put to use as both research subjects and guardians of the Legacy. The Sliver Queen in this set may not be the mastermind who turned the race into such a dangerous force (the ruler in question wouldn’t get her own card until 2023), but she’s still an integral part of many Sliver decks — as well as a pricey one.
As far as Sliver Queen’s basic information is concerned, she is already a fairly effective leader for a creature tribe: 7/7 for five Mana is above the typical power curve, and the fact that she requires all five colors of Mana means that a player can use any Sliver in the game’s history to support her. However, her tremendous price tag isn’t due to either of these factors, but a direct result of how well she helps progress the Sliver play style. To explain the Tribe very briefly, nearly every single Sliver has the ability to grant all Slivers on the field a bonus (including the ability to provide Mana, Power/Toughness Boosts, and lethal Keywords like Poisonous, Flying, and Double Strike) — meaning that Sliver decks can quickly spiral out of control with even just a few of them on the board. While she doesn’t necessarily give her brood any new abilities on her own, she does help advance this plan by creating more Sliver tokens — all of whom, while not providing anything individually, also gain all of the boosts that other pre-existing Slivers provide. This not only allows a player to drastically increase the number of threats they have on the board (thus boosting the power of group-based effects such as Sliver Legion and Magma Sliver), but also creates a large number of fodder that can be used to activate effects like those of Acidic Sliver or Necrotic Sliver at crucial moments without sacrificing essential hive members. While undoubtedly a monstrously strong member of the Tribe in the right circumstances, though, Sliver Queen is more often seen in the 99 decks that can afford it, as it faces incredibly tough competition as far as five-colored Sliver Commanders are concerned. The most prevalent examples of this are Sliver Hivelord (who grants all Slivers Indestructible), The First Sliver (who allows all Slivers to Cascade and press the advantage), and Sliver Overlord (who acts as a reusable tutor and can steal any other Slivers at the table) — all of whom both have much more impactful effects in the Command Zone and are at least $30 less than the cheapest version of Sliver Queen.
Even taking their recent Commander Masters reprints into consideration, while individual Slivers themselves are fairly cheap, the deck’s costly Legendary Creatures, tendency to use the best support cards from every color, and number of expensive Lands generally needed to ensure the tribe has easy access to multicolored Mana render building one an incredibly costly affair. As the first Legendary Sliver, it only makes sense that Queen would be the first one to start the deck’s pricey Tribal trend — and also that she continues to be one of the prime examples of it even in modern times.
#1: Mox Diamond
In the past, we’ve discussed a series of cards known as the Mox –five extremely cheap and effective Mana Rocks that quickly became some of Magic’s most powerful cards. Mox Diamond is the first entry into the series that is not part of this original set, but don’t let that fool you — the card is still extremely powerful, and often considered one of the best Mox ever printed, if not the single greatest and most versatile Mana Rock of all time.
Although discarding a Land can at times serve to deny a player a needed land drop in the future, Diamond is an excellent way to get extra Mana early in the game, and the fact that it can be immediately tapped for any color of Mana makes it better than a majority of other Mox in many cases. Much like any other Mox, it’s 0 Mana Cost also means that it can be put onto the field without interfering with any other strategy in play. Mox Diamond, in a sense, serves as a ‘middle ground’ between the cheaper and most expensive cards of the theme — but this is an excellent trade-off in many cases, and it’s no wonder that Diamond is often an inclusion in high-end decks.
While none of the Mox cards released in more recent times have reached the same heights as the originals, many of them (such as Mox Opal, Mox Amber, and Chrome Mox) still see plenty of use, and all fetch their own high prices on the market — albeit much lower ones than their predecessors. Mox Diamond is by no means as expensive as them, but still fetches a very high cost on its own, easily dwarfing any other card from Stronghold (and even most actual decks) in price.
Next week, we’ll wrap up the Tempest Block with a look at Exodus — the final set of three, the end of the first part of the Weatherlight Saga, and a great place to spot new expensive cards. Until then, we have to ask: what’s your favorite card on the list? Do you have any fond memories of the Weatherlight saga or Stronghold? And most importantly, what’s the most diabolical combination you can think to use with Dream Halls? Be sure to let us know on Facebook!