Over the last couple of years, I looked at a few cards from Magic's past that you may not have heard of but would want to add to your Commander decks. I started with a general look back, then focused on each of the colors of Magic.
Black's Hidden Gems
Red's Hidden Gems
Blue's Hidden Gems
White's Hidden Gems
Today, we wrap up the series, focusing on the green cards. I hope you find something new and exciting that fits perfectly into one of your decks!
This gem from Apocalypse is a great card due to its flexibility. A 6/6 with trample for seven isn't an all-star by today's standards, when it swings it still applies pressure and demands an answer. The answer that Penumbra creatures demand is more particular than your average creature, though. You can destroy it, but it then produces a black token version of the card! This resiliency makes these cards particularly valuable. Opponents need to have two answers for a single card and that can be a frustrating thing in a Commander game where everyone is trying to get as much as they can out of every card. Why waste a removal spell on Penumbra Wurm when all it gets you is a black Penumbra Wurm?
Since the card has come out, green has seen a serious uptick in token theme decks, and Penumbra Wurm shines there too. Doubling Season and the like will get you two black Wurms! It also benefits from Intangible Virtue and other token benefits. Populate decks get a nice target as well.
Blade of Selves on a Penumbra Wurm produces an interesting conundrum for your opponents. If an opponent kills one of the token copies made by the Blade, it then creates the black Wurm Token and that will stay on the battlefield. If they don't kill it, the token copy is exiled so it doesn't make the black copy. So are you willing to take six damage or stare down a black Wurm and a green Wurm the next time around?
The Penumbra series includes a Spider, Kavu and Bobcat. While the Kavu and Bobcat aren't particularly inspiring as vanilla creatures, the Spider does have reach, so the Wurm isn't the only Penumbra creature to take a look at!
The key to Katabatic Winds is to understand what the card actually says. Most people see phasing on a card and tend to pass it by with the belief that phasing was a garbage mechanic. Let's not dump on this card so quickly. Katabatic Winds says that a good chunk of your opponents' creatures can't block when you attack this turn or until your next turn. This means that someone with a couple of Dragons, Luminarch Ascension, or a Hornet Queen is vulnerable not just to your attack, but everyone else's attack too.
Katabatic Winds also says that those same players, as well as Talrand decks, can't attack with flying creatures until your next turn. This means they can't attack you or anyone else! So everyone can attack without fear of Retribution on that player's turn.
While this all sounds great, there can be a serious downside to Katabatic Winds. When Katabatic Winds phases out, you are going to have a mad player on your hands. They know the Winds will be returning to the battlefield shortly, so they are incentivized to swing with their flying creatures when they can, since they won't be able to use them to block on their next turn or whenever your next turn starts. While the rational player may look at the board and see another player is still a bigger threat, the guy who is making their flying creatures useless for half the game is likely going to take the brunt of the fury.
When the card first came out, the way to resolve that problem was simply another Katabatic Winds. As someone who opened three of these out of the handful of Visions packs I bought (I know, I was so lucky!) I would regularly have the second one ready so when one phased out, the other phased in. This was great, but not a real solution in a singleton format like Commander. The key is to try and treat the card more like a sorcery than an enchantment. Understand that Katabatic Winds is there to give the table an opening for one round. This is there as a way for everyone to work together to do enough damage to take out the opponent with the threatening flyers. Sure, mass removal is an option, but it eliminates everyone's creatures and that isn't really a solution when facing down a Luminarch Ascension, Talrand deck loading up with Drake Tokens, or even a graveyard recursion deck running dragons, vampires, or other nasty flyers.
And now we drift into the "old cards that made life miserable for just some decks," portion of the list. While many of those cards shut down a group of decks, they are often useless against many other decks. Who really wants to run a card that is a dead card in many games? Thankfully, Nature's Wrath hits any player running blue and/or black, so it will be a rare game when Nature's Wrath isn't hurting a couple of players.
First off, costing six mana isn't a negative. This is a green card, which means you'll likely be able to play it on turn four or five, catching the blue and black players while they are still getting up to speed.
Second, this card brings ramping to a crawl. When the only way to add an Island or Swamp is to sacrifice another permanent, these players are stuck sacrificing early creatures just to get their mana bases up to speed. Do note, though, that non-basic lands are often not a Swamp or Island, they are colorless and they offer mana of the appropriate color so Nature's Wrath isn't a complete shutdown, just a slowdown.
Finally, don't think that this card is useless in the late game when the black and blue players have plenty of lands and permanents. Nature's Wrath stops them at the level they are at so when a new spell is cast, something has to go. Also, if someone plays a mass removal spell, there is no replacing those lost cards of that color. If the black players loses five Zombies, they can't just replace them with five new Zombies, they will need to sacrifice five other black permanents or Swamps. Think of all the graveyard recursion loops that are completely shut down with this card!
Virtually every player knows about Price of Progress. It is a great card that can provide a ton of damage as the game goes on. Primal Order follows a similar vein. Primal Order runs a little more slowly than Price of Progress. It costs twice as much and doesn't deal damage until that player's upkeep. Even then, it only does one point of damage to that player. This means that it will take two full turns of players taking the damage to equal was Price of Progress can do with only two mana at the end of an opponent's turn.
Primal Order does a little more than just damage an opponent. When it comes down, players read it and are left wondering if they should continue to play their nonbasics. Admittedly, there are players who only have one or two nonbasics who won't care, but those are also the ones who are not going to waste their precious enchantment removal spells on Primal Order. It is the player who has five or six nonbasics on the battlefield already who seriously question whether waiting to play another makes sense. In this way, Primal Order is doing damage and altering how players play their cards, which is something Price of Progress doesn't do.
Primal Order also rewards green's most common method for ramping: finding nonbasic lands. While there are some green decks that won't want to use this card, there are plenty multicolored decks that run green that can still take advantage of this card. I personally love watching players use their enchantment removal on this card. We both know they have to do it, but there will be more enchantments to come that will be far more miserable and they are already regretting their decision!
By the way, Primal Order works nicely with Nature's Wrath, hitting on those nonbasics that Nature's Wrath misses!
I just mentioned enchantment removal, and this is the most powerful one of all. I know Tranquility is out there and Bane of Progress does the same thing initially and gives you a monster creature to boot, but nothing keeps the battlefield clear like Tranquil Grove. To use it the first time it essentially costs five and that can be rough, but it isn't what it does the first time you use it that makes it a star.
It says to destroy all other enchantments. That's right, it sticks around so you can do it again. This means you aren't holding that enchantment removal spell and waiting for what you think is the worst enchantment while leaving others out there to slowly help your opponents or hurt you. With Tranquil Grove you simply spend three mana whenever you want and solve all your enchantment problems again and again!
The real joy of Tranquil Grove lies with what it does to your opponents. Every player knows what you can do and knows that playing any enchantment is now pointless. They are going to have to sit back and hold all their enchantment cards in hand until they can deal with Tranquil Grove. Virtually every player you ever play against will have to hold some cards in their hand while searching for an answer. Then there are others, like the recent Estrid, the Masked decks, that will come to a screeching halt until they can get rid of Tranquil Grove. Estrid's token enchantments offer practically no protection to creatures when Tranquil Grove is around. Even her ultimate is undermined by spending three mana and sending all the enchantments right back to the graveyard. This year will have even more decks that rely very heavily on enchantments; Tranquil Grove will only be more and more effective.
While I hope you can find space in your decks for these cards, here is a deck that runs several of them.
While the Penumbra Wurm doesn't really fit in an Elf deck, the rest of the cards work pretty well. Katabatic Winds adds another defense against flying creatures and leaves openings for the all-out Elf assault. Nature's Wrath ties up decks running black and/or blue, while Primal Order takes advantage of this decks minimal number of nonbasics and punishes decks that don't. Finally, the deck has very few enchantments and with Katabatic Winds phasing out, you can still use Tranquil Grove without losing the Winds!
I hope these older gems have added cards to your green arsenal. Happy building!