BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — It’s time for another column in which we delve into the history of Magic: The Gathering’s many booster packs, and the expensive cards that one can find within all of them. This week, we not only continue the story of what Planeswalker/Artificer/Storm Crow Wannabe Urza has been up to between the events of the Brothers’ War and the Weatherlight Saga — as well as learn more about Magic’s most infamous series of booster packs has to offer.
After his devastating accident resulted in the near-complete annihilation of the Tolarian Academy (an event we discussed in last week’s column), Urza eventually worked through his grief, and built it again from the ground up. During the process, he realized that there were unexpected positives to the temporal disturbances that now littered the island of Tolaria — in particular, that fast-time bubbles could allow researchers with the right equipment to finish decades of research and work in less than a day, and that potions made from water within these bubbles were able to prolong ones’ life for years. With the help of these rifts, Urza was finally able to begin to try and catch up with the Phyrexians’ massive amount of preparation.
This is not to say, of course, that everything remained calm for long. An invading group of Phyrexians (led by Urza’s former student K’rrik) had also been caught in one of these fast-time bubbles and established a massive foothold on the island, and it was only a matter of time before they developed an immunity to its effects (thus unleashing the army on an unsuspecting Tolaria). Hoping to both stave off this invasion and prepare for the upcoming war with Phyrexia, Urza left the academy and traveled throughout the plane of Dominaria in search of allies. While he was able to join forces with many different groups and races, his visit to the sentient forest of Yavimaya ended poorly. Although the forest and its Maro-Sorcerer avatar Multani seemed peaceful at first, they quickly trapped Urza in a tree as retribution for the destruction of the island of Argoth.
The artificer was then forced to experience the pain felt by Argoth’s own Maro-Sorcerer (who fought against both sides in the Brothers’ War and was obliterated by the Sylex Blast), but an emergency summoning beacon from his student Barrin rescued him from this gruesome fate. This, however, was due to a more pressing matter at hand: K’rrik and his army had finally breached the time bubble, and were laying waste to the Tolarian Academy. In desperation, Urza traveled to the volcanic island of Shiv (known for a massive factory structure known as the Mana Rig) — where he gathered Teferi and the island’s population to help repel the Phyrexian forces.
The battle between Urza and K’rrik’s forces was harsh, but the Tolarian Academy was able to swing things in their favor after gaining help from an unlikely ally — Multani, who had now witnessed the horrific Phyrexian empire firsthand. With the help of the Maro-Sorcerer, Urza managed to destroy the villain and his minions, and Multani swore to provide Yavimaya’s aid should the mechanical menaces reappear on the plane. As Urza knew all too well, though, this resurgence was more a question of “when” than “if.”
The Urza’s Block started out strong with the introduction of Urza’s Saga — a booster pack known for possessing some of the most powerful, expensive, and downright game-breaking cards in Magic history. While its sequel Urza’s Legacy may not be as monstrous, rest assured that it, too, contains a large number of cards that are both infamously powerful and relatively expensive. To prove this, we’ve taken average pricing data from MTGGoldfish in order to showcase some of the set’s finest offerings.
#5: Goblin Welder ($16.20)
Many of Magic’s Creature Tribes tend to have set strategies associated with them that showcase both the race’s strengths and battle tactics — however, not every member of every Tribe needs to fall under the same umbrella to be useful. Goblins are a perfect example of this, and while they are most commonly known for utilizing mob tactics to drown opponents in a torrent of Tokens, their most popular Tribe member (Dockside Extortionist, who appears in over 270,000 decks on EDHREC) does nothing to benefit this play style other than generating an extra resource. The same can be said for Goblin Welder, who does not have the same penchant for swarming as his siblings, but finds a perfect home in a completely different game plan.
It’s also worth noting that if he is not tapped, Goblin Welder’s effect can be used on an opponent’s turn, or in response to targeted Artifact removal: swapping the chosen Artifact out for one in your Graveyard effectively “protects” it and gives you something else in exchange, and there’s nothing saying that you can’t simply swap back on your next turn. This switching effect also applies to Artifact Lands, Artifact Creatures, and other players’ Artifacts — meaning that a calculating player can use it to consistently sabotage an opponent’s plans or protect their combination pieces. Unlike its successor Goblin Engineer, Welder also allows players to swap artifacts regardless of their cost, and can turn small Mana Rocks or basic creatures into truly threatening options if a player is given time to build up their Graveyard.
The ability to repeatedly transform any Artifact (including Tokens) into a game-changing weapon like Chimil, the Inner Sun or Darksteel Forge can allow for obscenely strong plays much earlier than expected, especially in Artifact-focused decks that enjoy having the ability to fetch the pieces they need from their grave at any time or those that create huge amounts of Tokens which can be used to bring more valuable fare back to the battlefield.
Goblin Welder may not fit into the traditional strategy of his tribe, but he has certainly carved out a niche among other cards with an ability that is both unique and immensely useful, and finds himself in a position of great importance in Artifact builds which require constant recursion. With such a specified business, of course, comes a high price for the Welder’s services, and even reprints of the card tend to lean on the expensive side when compared to other Goblins (although it is not nearly as expensive as Goblin Wizard or Extortionist).
#4: Memory Jar ($34.99)
Following the release of Urza’s Saga, Magic’s tournament landscape entered a period known as “Combo Winter,” in which the entire competitive scene became flooded with overpowered cards and lightning-quick combination strategies — a far cry from the slow, back-and-forth that many fans of the card game enjoyed — which eventually forced the game’s sanctioning body (DCI) to ban several waves of cards. However, even these bans could not fully prevent combinations, and many players were concerned that cards from the next sets — particularly an Artifact known as Memory Jar — would only serve to prolong this dark time in Magic History.
When a fast combo deck utilizing Memory Jar began to take competitions by storm only a few days after the card became legal, DCI was forced to take action, and in what would become their first “emergency banning,” the group broke the usual review schedule to forbid it from tournament play. While its ban has only carried on to certain formats in modern times, if we look at the Artifact in question, it’s easy to see why the ban was necessary.
Although Memory Jar has a high price to cast, the reward for using it is more than enough to justify the cost: Gaining a new hand of seven cards, even if you do need to use them by the end of the turn, is monumental when stapled onto one of the game’s most easily-recurred types of cards (Goblin Welder, especially, can recycle it multiple times). In Vintage format especially (where most cards are 0-1 Mana), it can allow a player to dump an entire extra hand with ease and still return your original seven at the end of the turn. Furthermore, if the opponent has no way to play any of the new hand, this essentially forces them to lose seven cards — which can make a massive difference over the next turns, especially if the other players have attempted to stack their deck before the Jar’s activation.
Even without taking Vintage into consideration, though, this effect is even more dangerous for opponents when one remembers that there are now many cards that punish players for both drawing (Orcish Bowmasters, Underworld Dreams, etc.) and discarding (Megrim, Waste Not, and Tergrid, God of Fright). This all allows Memory Jar to be used as both a combination extender and an incredibly potent tool to sabotage other players. While it may not be as effective in formats like Commander as it was in Combo Winter, it certainly remains a very powerful piece of Magic’s early history, and a memory some will savor — but one others will wish to forget.
These days, Memory Jar is usually left out of decks in the formats it is legal in, but still makes waves whenever it hits the battlefield. With such a bizarre piece of game history, it’s no wonder that it fetches a decent value on the secondary market… although due to its many synergies, in the case of both old and new formats, perhaps its’ banning — and high price — are for the best.
#3: Palinchron ($35.11)
Most of the time, defining what exactly is being depicted on a Magic card is as simple as reading its name — Undead Minotaur or Goblin Welder, for example, are exactly what they claim to be on the tin, and a named card is simply the character in whatever situation they have found themselves in. Palinchron is not one of these cases, and to this day, nobody seems to know what exactly it is besides some sort of Illusion (our columnist has referred to it as a “Pteranodon who spent too much time in the bath”). As the card makes quite clear, though, it’s certainly nothing to look down upon, and possesses one of Magic’s most ridiculous abilities.
In terms of Power and Toughness, there is nothing particularly effective to write home about with this creature. What makes it notable is the incredible effect that occurs when it comes into play. The key to maximizing Palinchron’s use is to combine this entrance effect with cards that can both remove it from the field and place it back immediately after, thus enabling a player to untap seven Lands repeatedly and thus fuel even more plays. As luck would have it, not only are there plenty of different cards that allow players to “Blink” the creature in and out (particularly Brago, King Eternal and Ephemerate), but Palinchron itself can return to its owners hand at any time for an additional cost — meaning that there are plenty of ways to create infinite combinations and sources of Mana from this strange beast.
While the most notorious of these is player favorite Deadeye Navigator (who Soulbonds with Palinchron and can exile it for far less Mana than it untaps), many other cards synergize with this effect perfectly to create an endless supply of Mana: Eldrazi Displacer and Emiel the Blessed can also endlessly bounce Palinchron on and off of the field, cards like Panharmonicon and Yarok, the Desecrated can allow Palinchron to duplicate its effect upon entering the battlefield (allowing it to bounce itself again), and cards that allow Lands to be tapped for more Mana such as Caged Sun, Extraplanar Lens, and High Tide also let Palinchron cast and return itself to the hand repeatedly. All of this amounts to the card being an extremely powerful and easily abused combination piece, and one that is an absolute monster when used in the right hands.
Although it does not make appearances in as many decks as one would expect, when it does appear in a strategy, Palinchron is an infamously strong card, and works in all sorts of decks and combinations. As such, it’s only natural that it also comes at a high price. However, despite all its uses, the card is still not the most expensive on this week’s list.
#2: Deranged Hermit ($35.66)
Of all of the different Tribes throughout Magic, there are none as bizarre — or surprisingly powerful — as Squirrels. While generally referred to as a joke Creature Type, several cards themed after the fuzzy fiends have achieved their own levels of infamy, with Squirrel Nest in particular being banned in the game’s ridiculously fast-paced and powerful Vintage format. While this entry is not technically a member of the Tribe, Deranged Hermit serves as a key part of many Squirrel strategies… as long as someone playing it can pay the rather high cost that comes with sheltering such a strange individual.
Spawning four 2/2 Squirrel tokens and boosting any other Squirrels you may already have is no doubt effective, and for five Mana, serves as a great way to instantly create a miniature army, especially combined with cards that multiply Tokens like Doubling Season or Parallel Lives — and Green’s abundance of ways to speed up Mana generation means that it will almost always hit the field much faster than expected.
On the opposite side, Hermit is not necessarily strong by itself, and neither are the Squirrels it creates without assistance. Furthermore, as the tokens themselves lack Haste, they cannot immediately be sent towards an opponent. Furthermore, Hermit dies on the next turn if you fail to pay its massive Echo cost, thus disabling its Power and Toughness boosts. This means the card serves best as a temporary defense or a support card for more focused Token strategies (particularly actual Squirrel decks led by Chatterfang, Squirrel General) than as a win condition. In these decks, though, it can be a great way to assemble an army in a pinch. If all else fails, the Squirrels can be sacrificed to fuel the effects of other cards like Ashnod’s Altar, or turned into living Mana Rocks through the effect of Jaheira, Friend of the Forest — meaning that even if one does not pay the Echo cost, there are plenty of uses for Hermit’s allies.
Deranged Hermit seems like an odd entry to be included in a list of most expensive cards, but part of that can be attributed to the surprising waves of Squirrel support that have been added to Magic over the years — which both allow the chittering creatures to develop an effective and consistent game plan and branch out into multicolored strategies (as well as more bizarre ones like Equipment Voltron with Toski, Bearer of Secrets). When this resurgence is added to the popularity of the card, it’s no surprise to see it rank rather high on the list.
#1: Grim Monolith ($252.01)
It would not be a stretch to say that Mana Generation is one of the most important and powerful abilities in the history of Magic: The Gathering — and, as one might expect, this leads to particularly good ways to get Mana fetching exorbitant prices on the secondary market. Even just by looking at our previous price guides, it’s clear to see that the game’s most expensive cards (especially Lands and Mana Rocks) tend to have something to do with creating more of the valuable resource. Today’s top card is yet another that fits into this category, and showcases that a Mana Rock doesn’t necessarily have to be sparkling to be valuable as long as it is useful.
Grim Monolith is not only a Mana Rock — it is one of the best Mana Rocks outside of the Power Nine, and provides an incredible amount of Mana for its initial cost in the game. Unfortunately, in order to activate it more than once, one often has to pay even more Mana than it initially provides — but much like other cards that provide a huge amount of instant Mana like City of Traitors, oftentimes, the decks that use Grim Monolith intend on ending the game before having the need to reuse it.
This isn’t to say that it can only be used in competitive builds, though, and any deck that needs a quick source of Mana would do well to include the card. Better still, the rock can also be used to create infinite Colorless Mana when used alongside cards like Zirda, the Dawnwaker or Training Grounds that reduce the cost of activated effects like Grim Monolith’s cost to untap — under their effects, one can tap the Artifact to gain three Mana, but only pay two to untap it (whereupon it can be tapped and untapped ad nauseam).
When all is said and done, there is little more that can be said about Grim Monolith than the fact that it is indeed a strong Mana Rock, and one with a high cost to match its effectiveness. However, budget players who are hoping to use this effect would fare better with Basalt Monolith (which has a similar untap clause). Those simply in need of a cheaper extra Mana boost, too, should stick to the tried and true Sol Ring instead — it not only provides two Colorless Mana every turn for only one up front, but has been reprinted so often that copies are available for under $2.
Next week, the Urza’s Block comes to a close, as we take a look at Urza’s Destiny — the final pack in the trio, which reveals the Planeswalker’s current location and his plans to help save the world from the Phyrexian menace. The question is, will the costly cards in this set live up to the hype of the Block’s previous monstrosities? We’ll find out soon!
Do you think Urza’s Legacy helps cement this block as Magic’s most infamously powerful series of packs? Have you discovered any of these valuable cards in your own collection? How do you think Urza’s story will come to an end? Would you rather have one Grim Monolith or 130 Sol Rings? And most importantly, how fast would you ban Memory Jar at your own play table? Be sure to let us know on Facebook!