Every casual player has their cards they just adore. We've all seen it in our groups. Over and over again, some strange card appears in someone's decks repeatedly, and for no good reason. I'm not talking about Sol Ring or Acidic Slime or Command Tower. When you see a staple card show up in someone's deck, you barely notice. It is supposed to be there, or at least it isn't shocking to see it there. It is the guy who runs Drudge Skeletons every time his deck has a Swamp. Or the girl who insists on running Apprentice Wizard as ramp in her blue decks. Sure, it can be there, but everyone, including them, understands there is a better option.
These are the pet cards. Pet cards tend to have offered some amazing value early in a player's Magic experience so they now slightly overvalue the card, believing that it belongs in every deck they play. Many of these players even know there are better options, but they have rationalized it and won't give it up.
The joy of casual Magic is that you get to play with the cards you want. It is rare that someone's deck is completely optimized, so running a card that deep down – way deep down – you know isn't really good enough to be there, is okay. It adds to the fun of the game. I have several pet cards and I love nothing more for my opponents to pick up the card, saying, "what does this do?" That is almost as good as winning with that card! I thought I'd share a few of my pet cards with you. Have a laugh at my expense. Question my sanity. Enjoy.
Virtually every deck runs some artifact and enchantment removal. Depending on the colors in your deck, you are likely running Krosan Grip, Acidic Slime, Qasali Pridemage and the like. While those tend to show up in my decks as well, they are hardly "pet" cards since they are some of the best ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments. I tend to Opt for this less than optimal trio:
Ainok Survivalist. Five mana for a Naturalize you can only play on your turn sounds ridiculous. The trick is the facedown creature. No one is expecting to see an Ainok Survivalist get flipped. Players are expecting to have a spell redirected, or see an Angel rise up from the morph shell. But to see a hound with the power to destroy stuff is a surprise virtually every time. And once it is on the battlefield, it is a 3/2 good dog because you will almost never not megamorph it.
This was initially supposed to be a test of the card. I had decided the card was average at best, but wanted to see it in action. I was enamored by the surprise and now I use it all the time. I expected my friends to quickly figure out what the card is since I rarely use face-down cards, but since it doesn't have that big effect, no one remembers exactly what it is.
Capashen Unicorn. I originally started using the card because it was a 1/2 creature that could stop some early annoyances. I liked the idea that it would sit there on the battlefield and if someone tried to take it out of the game, I could sacrifice it in response and take out an annoying artifact that was in play. It was there to discourage my opponents from playing their cards since they knew I would take it out.
Not surprisingly, players simply get it out of the game, then play the artifact or enchantment I would really want dead. It demands that I spend two mana on my turn, then hope it survives until my next turn if I want to deal with an artifact or enchantment that is already on the battlefield. Four mana for a slow, brittle way to destroy cards is not even close to optimal.
Despite all this, I still use the card. I love that my opponents pick up the card and read it, then give me that "really?" look. It still does the job most times and it is a freaking Unicorn in Magic!
Nullmage Advocate. This is as close to being a genuinely good card as you are going to get with this trio. You can activate this effect every turn it is out there, so the repeatable effect is a wonderful thing. It is only three mana and you get a 2/3 body attached, so it isn't all that bad there, either.
The real key is understanding that returning cards from the graveyard is always an upside! There is always an opponent trying to fill their graveyard for a variety of reasons. They love getting the cards they worked so hard to put in the graveyard back in their hands! Often you find yourself in a game where one player is the target and you are working with someone else to take them down. Putting a Strip Mine and a Counterspell back in your "opponent's" hand every turn while wiping away all the mana rocks and annoying enchantments from the leader goes a long way to winding up with a new leader for that game! It is even a great way to soften the blow to one player. "Sorry I destroyed your Vanquisher's Banner, here are two cards to make you feel better."
I love the Spurnmage Advocate too, but the Nullmage offers something I need all the time and there is always a way to make the "downside" work for me.
Tombstone Stairwell. When I opened this Mirage card in a booster, my deck building changed. This was a card that was so much better with multiple opponents, in a time when Wizards of the Coast never even considered that someone might have more than one opponent at a time. I worked out a crude deck and ever since then, Tombstone Stairwell has found a home in one deck or another.
Part of the reason it continues to enamor me is the flexibility of the card! You can build a deck that empties opponents' graveyards so you'll get the advantage. You can build a deck that needs sacrifices and Stairwell can give you fresh Zombies on every opponent's turn as well as your own. My current deck uses the Zombies' death to kill opponents!
If my deck is black and it makes any sense at all to include the Stairwell, you can bet it will be there!
Krond the Dawn-Clad. I've written about Krond several times. I love everything about this card! The art for the Flyin' Lion is great! I love that I've never run into anyone else who plays a Krond deck! I love that he can exile an opponent's permanent but doesn't feel oppressive the same way Annihilate does! He is a flying lion!
Krond also costs six colored mana. He is very hard on your mana base and once you are casting him a second time, you realize why no one is running him as their commander. Krond demands auras, the worst kind of permanent, so you start waiting to cast him until you can cast him and immediately put a protective aura on him. It isn't long before you realize you are paying 14 mana to get Krond and an aura onto the battlefield. It just isn't worth it.
So why do I still have this deck?! Why do I still play it? Krond is like that home run hitter on your team. They strike out more than anyone else, but every once in a while, everything falls into place and he gets that sweet swing and smokes it out of the park! Everyone cheers and it just feels awesome. You did 21 damage to an opponent while taking out another opponent's most dangerous permanents. Another game appeared lost and Krond swooped in to get the win. It is always darkest before the Dawn-Clad.
Form of the Dragon. I have written about this pet card before. Then I wrote about it again.. Form of the Dragon is Magic's "I Can't Quit You Baby;" that girlfriend who is bad for you and you know it, but you just keep going back.
"What if we try Soul Conduit?" Form tells me I'm hopeless and will always be a loser.
"What if we run Elderscale Wurm?" Form laughs at me and sleeps with my best friend.
"What about…" Kick to the groin.
I haven't touched this card in a couple of years now. The starting life total is just too low, but getting to be a Firebreathing dragon is just so alluring! I do like the idea of running Form with Tree of Redemption, though. I just need to figure out a way to bounce the Tree every turn so I can tap it to have 13 life instead. I'll probably need a way to give it haste too…
Yeah, I can hear you shaking your head already. But this is my pet card!