BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Last week, KX News took you on board the skyship Weatherlight for a descent into what is arguably Magic’s most famous and beloved story arc — the appropriately-named Weatherlight Saga. As the story begins in full, however, we’re happy to announce that this edition of the column does not feature as much backstory. Rest assured, though, it still comes with the price guides and information that you have come to expect.
Previously, we delved into the story of Yawgmoth, his living machine world of Phyrexia, and how he intends to lay waste to Dominaria via full-scale assault. What we didn’t discuss, though, was exactly how he intended to bring his forces there. As it happens, his method of doing so had already been planned, as far back as the casting of the World Spell. In a small pocket world attached to Dominaria outside of the vision of Planeswalkers, Yawgmoth cultivated an artificial Plane known as Rath, which grew over time due to its strange mineral qualities. After putting down the rebellions of the world’s biological inhabitants and reducing the plane to a storage space for his soldiers, the Father of Machines intended to fuse it with Dominaria during the time of his assault — effectively dropping his entire army on the battlefield at once.
Meanwhile, several years after the events of Weatherlight, the ship’s ragtag crew is still in search of their beloved captain, Sisay. Replacement leader Gerrard Capashen, thankfully, has the identity of her kidnapper — his former blood brother Vuel, who has since sworn fealty to Yawgmoth and rules the artificial world under the name Volrath. When Vuel convinces the ship’s crew to continue their search on Rath, they find themselves trapped, fighting against the monstrous legions of Yawgmoth’s army, and realizing that the Phyrexian threat is much greater than they would have ever imagined.
Tempest itself is notable for not only marking the first block entirely devoted to the Weatherlight storyline (known, of course, as the Tempest Block), but also for introducing two new mechanics to the game for the first time since Mirage — and luckily, these two were far better-received than Flanking and Phasing. Shadow (which prevents creatures from blocking or being blocked by anything without the keyword) helps allow creatures to slip past enemy defenses, and Buyback (which lets a player pay extra costs when casting a spell to put it back into their hand) is an excellent way to recycle useful Instants and Sorceries. More prolific than these ideas, however, is the fact that Tempest was the first set to include the “Sliver” Creature type, which is often referred to as the strongest and most versatile Tribe of all time — and while no Slivers from Tempest made it onto this list, rest assured that we will encounter them soon enough. In addition, the pack also boasts the claim to fame of having the game’s first pre-constructed theme decks marketed as easy ways for new players to become familiar with strategies and card choices. When these advances are combined with the fact that the set also introduced a strong assortment of cards that are still used to this day– including Lotus Petal, Scroll Rack, Reanimate, Propaganda, Aluren, and (most infamously) Living Death — it’s clear that the Weatherlight Saga’s first block of four is off to a fantastic start.
Before we breach the inner depths of Rath, it’s time to study the surface of the Tempest Block — and more specifically, the many different valuable cards that can be found in its namesake set. We’ve taken average prices from MTGGoldfish in order to show you the most expensive and effective additions Tempest brought to the game.
Humility (aside from being the name of a very relaxing Gorillaz song) is described by the dictionary as the quality of being humble in everything you do, and keeping your pride in check despite any amazing achievements one may have accomplished, and as far as religious texts are concerned, it means being willing to submit yourself to a higher power. In Magic’s case, this takes the form of rendering Creatures powerless in the face of the players.
Humility has the incredibly strong effect of completely nullifying most of the game’s Creatures (including Tokens as well as Artifact and Enchantment creatures), stripping them of not only their Power and Toughness but also of any abilities they may have. Almost any deck that seeks to win with the effects or raw power of Creatures can find themselves utterly crippled by this card (except for those that intend on winning by making huge amounts of 1/1 creatures anyway), and the fact that it even nullifies effects that occur when a creature enters or leaves the battlefield works to completely shut down decks that focus on these effects (particularly those which utilize Yarok, the Desecrated or Reveillark) as well as stop popular game-enders like Craterhoof Behemoth and its’ new White counterpart Moonshaker Cavalry from boosting these minuscule monsters to lethal levels. In many cases, it is an impressive way to completely bring the game to a standstill while a player builds up their strategy or wins using alternative methods. It’s also worth noting, however, that there are still certain effects and cards that work around this massive curse — creatures can still be equipped with Artifacts and be boosted by Sorceries or Instants, and effects that activate when a card is sent to the Graveyard still apply. While Humility is not the only card that has such a limiting ability, and in fact not the strongest (Overwhelming Splendor only targets one player, but is even more limiting), it tends to have much more use due to affecting the entire table and doing so for a much cheaper Mana cost. Much like many other Stax and negation pieces, though, it’s hard to successfully play this Enchantment without making a few enemies in the process — so we advise developing your own sense of humility before deciding whether or not to use it as part of your arsenal.
Humility’s cost is by no means unfair considering its’ effect, and surprisingly, it is even relatively low when compared to other early Stax pieces like Moat and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. This, of course, isn’t to say that it is cheap… but if you intend on playing a deck with this type of gameplay to begin with, it goes without saying that you should be used to walking on the more expensive side of Magic. Personally, we would recommend running it alongside Opalesence — not for any actual gameplay combinations, but to experience one of the most confusing card interactions in the franchise’s entire history for yourself.
‘Tribal’ Magic decks — those that focus on using specific types of creatures that benefit other members of their races — tend to be relatively hit or miss. While there are undoubtedly some groups that are in desperate need of proper race support (Minotaurs) or rely solely on their Commander to be any semblance of a threat (Reaper King is quite literally the only thing that makes Scarecrow Tribal remotely playable), other strategies such as Goblin, Zombie, and Dragon Tribal have gone on to become some of the most threatening and powerful strategies in the game. Elves, while getting off to somewhat of a rough start in Fallen Empires, are often regarded as one of the strongest contenders in the latter category — and this is in part due to powerful Legendary creatures like Eladamri who can lead them to victory.
Elves have a long history of boasting extremely powerful and versatile cards — even without taking Tribal decks into consideration, cards like Allosaurus Shepherd, Oracle of Mul Daya, Selvala, Heart of the Wilds, and the multiple Mana-producing Elves often find their way into many decks running Green. The same can be said for their Tribal support — which boasts a huge number of useful Elf creatures such as Imperious Perfect, Elvish Archdruid, and Leaf-Crowned Visionary that play off of one another perfectly. Eladamri is a perfect example of this, and not only protects Elves from being targeted by any abilities, but also grants them the Forestwalk power, meaning that they cannot be blocked by any player who controls a Forest. Allowing all Elves to slip past Green defenses and resist targeted spells is undoubtedly impressive, but despite this, Eladamri is not regarded as the ideal Elf Tribal Commander — primarily due to the fact that neither of these powers actually plays into the main tactics that the Tribe is known for (notably amassing large quantities of Elf tokens and Mana), which is often a must for Commanders based on specific Tribes and themes. In terms of contributing to the race’s game plan, there are better options in Mono-Green Elf Tribal (Marwyn, the Nurturer and Ezuri, Renegade Leader come to mind), and the fact that he is competing against the tremendously popular (and much cheaper) Lathril, Blade of the Elves (who not only allows the player to dabble in Black’s toolkit, but also directly advances the Elf play style by creating extra tokens upon dealing damage and providing a win condition via its massive life drain) for the title of Elvish ace certainly does not help matters. Once all of these factors are put together, it’s no wonder that when Eladamri does find his way into an Elf deck, it tends to be as a member of the 99 rather than in the lead role.
While Eladamri may have fallen off from his previous position as the leader of the Elf tribe, this is more of a minor demotion than a complete discharge, and many players can still get great use out of both of his abilities in tandem with the traditional power boosts and Mana generation Elves are known for. When one takes into account the fact that a single copy of him costs more than every card in Lathril’s original Commander Deck put together, though, it’s understandable that only those extremely devoted to building Elf Tribal seek the Lord of Leaves’ council.
#3: Ancient Tomb
As we mentioned in our discussion on Weatherlight (a set notorious for introducing a large number of expensive Lands after a number of lists without one), it can at times be hard to find ways to discuss Land cards, as many have extremely similar effects, and even many of the priciest Land cards have earned their reputation solely for being able to provide more Mana or different colors of it faster than others. What a card like Ancient Tomb lacks in uniqueness, however, it makes up for in frightening efficiency.
There are plenty of Lands with the ability to tap for more than one Mana, but they often require paying steep costs to do so (such as forcing the player to sacrifice other Lands or return them to the hand) that typically end up slowing down the player’s game plan. Ancient Tomb, however, not only comes into play untapped, but only costs 2 Life every time it is used, a cost which is generally seen as little more than a mosquito poke in Commander format (where players start at 40). In the more competitive, fast-paced side of this game mode, having the ability to play a large Land and gain extra Mana quickly is very useful, even if it is not colored — and if the card is run in a deck that promotes constant life gain, one can mitigate the cost even further (Oloro, Ageless Ascetic provides a passive gain of 2 Life per turn, effectively canceling out Tomb’s cost). Compared to other multi-mana lands, Tomb is an excellent way to quickly gain an advantage over one’s opponents, and thus a clear example of a fast mana source with above-average abilities at an above-average cost.
In somewhat of a rare case, while Ancient Tomb has seen many reprints over time (including one as recently as The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth), it still remains an extremely costly card, but one that is well worth the price, at least for hardcore Commander players. With how useful it is in any Magic deck, it’s no wonder that Ancient Tomb remains one of the game’s most valuable ‘Staple’ cards for any deck seeking to increase its power level.
In more recent times, Jaheira, Friend of the Forest has seen large amounts of play in Green decks or those seeking extra power, as her ability to turn Tokens into extra Mana is a relatively useful one in many situations. However, this is not the first time that an ability like hers has revolutionized the battlefield. The first powerhouse with such an effect — Earthcraft — is a dream come true for both combination constructors and creature commanders, and proves that even in the early days of Magic, Green’s dedication to raw force and Mana overflow have always been infamously strong.
As we can observe just by looking at Eldamri’s followers, Green is no stranger to the concept of ‘Mana Dorks’ — Low-cost Green creatures that can be tapped to gain Mana — but Earthcraft takes this to a new level by effectively allowing any creature to serve as a Mana Dork. This, as one might expect, is an immensely powerful ability, especially in decks that generate large amounts of tokens. What exactly makes Earthcraft so deadly is that there is no limit to the number of times you can use this effect (other than the number of creatures you own) on your turn, and no restrictions as to the land you target. This means that one can use the effect to tap a small token or other Mana Dork to re-activate lands that give far more Mana than the creature themselves would (using a Plague Myr to untap Scorched Ruins, for example, would turn one Colorless mana into four for the same cost). In fact, this repeated use was even enough to award Earthcraft a permanent ban in the game’s power-heavy Legacy format — as it combined with the fairly harmless Squirrel Nest to quite literally drown the opponent in infinite 1/1 tokens as early as turn 3 (enchant a land with Squirrel Nest, tap it to make a Squirrel, then tap the Squirrel to untap the enchanted land, and repeat ad nauseam). Even disregarding squirrel shenanigans, however, there are still plenty of ways to see major returns from the card — including recycling creatures with Volrath’s Stronghold, protecting creatures via Yavimaya Hollow, or generating tremendous amounts of Mana from Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Cabal Coffers, and especially Gaea’s Cradle. The card effectively serves as a combination player’s dream, and with such a reputation, it’s no wonder it has become a favorite for many competitive players aiming to seize victory through overwhelming Mana gain.
With the exception of the Squirrel situation, Earthcraft is a curious card in that its efficiency and effectiveness appear to be directly tied to how expensive your land base is. The better your Lands are, the more combination power is available with Earthcraft, and the more Mana can be generated for your plans. However, not many players are willing to spend this much on a card that only works well with others of its value (especially when Jaheira is cheap and effective enough with cards that are a dime a dozen) — and as such, Earthcraft tends to only find a home in the most costly and powerful Green decks. Frankly, we believe that this is a good thing — and as anyone who has played against a fairly strong Green deck can tell you, they are just fine in regards to Mana without it.
We have gone into many discussions about ‘Tutor’ cards in the early days of these price guides, and it is unlikely that this will ever change — the ability to bring a needed card within a player’s proximity is undoubtedly powerful, and as such, those with this effect are typically some of the most expensive staples one can find in mid-to-high-power decks. Intuition, however, is somewhat of a strange entry in this family, Between its’ higher cost and more peculiar way of giving a player cards, it leads one to wonder: why is this at the top of the list? Like Lion’s Eye Diamond, the answer comes in a mix of extreme power, incredible potential, and an unexpected amount of uses in specific game formats.
Compared to the likes of Earthcraft, Humility, and Ancient Tomb, Intuition may seem rather mediocre when laid next to an incredible Land and two of the game’s most notorious Enchantments. And, in fact, the ability can be lacking: without an exact game plan, even if the player does receive the card that they want, this is nothing more than a more expensive Demonic Tutor that lets an opponent pick which card you receive. In practice, however, the card serves as one that places an extreme test of the opposing player’s skill — as well as the caster’s own ability to pick cards, read the battlefield, barter with other players, and convince people to make the right decision. This is especially the case at highly competitive Commander tables, where a faulty choice from an enemy can result in giving you the exact combination of cards you need (both on the field and in the Graveyard) to secure a win. Even without thinking of any game-winning combinations, though, it’s still a great way to get the kind of card you need — a player looking for a sacrifice outlet, for example, could search for Altar of Dementia, Ashnod’s Altar, and Phyrexian Altar (again, what it is with MTG and making Altars so strong?) to ensure they get one no matter what the opponent picks. At times, even the cards sent to the Graveyard with this effect can be of extreme importance — against a deck like Kess, Dissident Mage or Muldrotha, the Gravetide, the cards that were not chosen can be brought back and effectively allow Intuition to serve as three tutors for the price of one.
Intiution’s power, when taken in itself, is might but nowhere near mandatory for even the strongest Blue decks, and is more of a niche inclusion in some competitive strategies. For those who either prefer more straightforward tutors — or simply don’t have the budget for one of this level — it can easily be replaced by one of the many other Tutors available, or even with similar (and cheaper) choice-based cards such as Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven. Despite this, the interesting implications of using Intuition cannot be ignored, and the card is a perfect tool for those looking to test both their skill and those of their playgroup.
Next week, we continue our trek through Rath with Stronghold — where we’ll unearth biomechanical horrors, villainous venues, and even a few shining gems in the process. Until then, though, be sure to let us know your favorite cards from Tempest — as well as what you think of the beginnings of the Weatherlight Saga in general — on our Facebook pages!