I remember when Ice Age first came out back in 1995. (Yes, I was actually playing around then.) I would read Inquest Magazine regularly, and I thought the two-card combos they printed were just the sweetest. The internet back then wasn't as it is today; we didn't have access to every single deck from every single event within hours of the event finishing. Heck, a lot of the information that was available was printed in magazines, like Scrye, the Duelist, and Inquest. But perhaps I'm dating myself.
I bring up Ice Age because when it was first released, one card was head and shoulders above the rest in the entire set.
Yes, Jester's Cap. If I recall correctly, this card was the card in Ice Age and it was fetching somewhere around $25 a copy, which back then was a lot. Even dual lands weren't that high, but then they weren't as rare at the time as they are today, and no one knew what was going to happen in the future of Magic.
But nevertheless, from the very beginning of the game people knew how powerful the ability to actually look at your opponent's entire deck and remove a few very specific cards from it was. I mean, think about it. There were certain decks, like Randy Buehler's Rainbow Efreet deck from Worlds that only ran Rainbow Efreet and Stalking Stones as its win conditions. While the Buehler deck ran an infinite number of Counterspells, if a Jester's Cap managed to resolve, the deck would be left with very few remaining threats with which to win a game.
Three years later, the first card in a series of like-abilities would be released in Tempest in the form of Lobotomy.
Lobotomy was the first card that allowed us to choose a card, then remove all copies of the chosen card from their deck. The problem - or rather the difference - was that it only allowed us to look at our opponent's hand and choose a card from there. As you can imagine this could potentially be just as crippling as Jester's Cap was, however it did have a flaw. If your opponent didn't have any particularly threatening cards in their hand at the time you cast Lobotomy, then you were forced to take something mediocre. While this wasn't the worst, as you were almost always able to take something, it didn't allow us to cripple specific strategies the way some of the future versions of the card would.
Almost ten years later, in 2004, Champions of Kamigawa introduced us to a very similar ability in the form of Cranial Extraction.
Despite its meager price tag now, Cranial Extraction was a chase rare at the time and it commanded a premium price. It was one of the defining rares at the time, and the ability was extremely powerful. Against Glare of Subdual decks, you could remove all of their Glare of Subduals. Against Greater Good decks, you could remove all of their Greater Goods. Or their Yosei, the Morning Stars. Either way, you were denying their deck of an integral piece that they needed to function.
Ever since then, every few years we see another updated and slightly different variant of Jester's Cap, or more specifically, a variant of Cranial Extraction. We've even seen slight variations in the form of Extirpate or Surgical Extraction. These cards work similarly, only they require the specific card you're looking for to be in the graveyard rather than simply naming it. The upside is that one cannot be countered and costs one mana, and the other one can cost zero mana.
Since Cranial Extraction we've seen Thought Hemorrhage in Alara Reborn, Memoricide in Scars of Mirrodin, and most recently, Slaughter Games in Return to Ravnica. All have done the same thing as their predecessors, only with slight tweaks. While Memoricide is an exact copy of Cranial Extraction, Thought Hemorrhage deals the opponent three damage for each copy of the named card in their hand, and Slaughter Games cannot be countered. Heck, we even had a second version in the Return to Ravnica block
Reap Intellect from Dragon's Maze is very similar in nature to Lobotomy, only that it allows us to not choose one card, but many. (Or one, if you only pay one for X. But hey, it's your life. Do what you want.)
All of these cards have two things in common: they allow us to gain information from our opponents and they allow us to strip away potentially vital pieces of their plan.
Today's preview card is the next iteration of the Cranial Extraction mechanic and has the same thing in common with all of the previous iterations. I present Stain the Mind…
While on the surface this is a direct copy of cards like Cranial Extraction, it's actually much more than that. Well, perhaps not much more, but it definitely has its advantages despite costing one more mana than its predecessors. The fact that this version has convoke is fairly exciting.
Very typically in Standard formats there are Monoblack Aggro decks that are heavy on creatures, but not so heavy on mana. This now means that for sometimes two or three mana they will be able to access a Cranial Extraction-like effect to use against the opponent if they have cards like Supreme Verdict or Sphinx's Revelation that they need to remove from their deck. Going from the traditional cost of four mana to something even half that is quite formidable.
The other benefit is on the other end of the spectrum. If we're playing a control deck that manages to use a few creatures or perhaps a token producer, this allows us to use those tokens as mana in a sense in order to keep up our other defenses with something like a Counterspell or, again, something like a Sphinx's Revelation. I could see Esper Control wanting to tap a few Elspeth, Sun's Champion tokens for this rather than pay the full five mana.
I know one problem in the past with cards like Slaughter Games or Memoricide was that the opposing deck could often mount a defense before you were able to get to four mana, whether it be by already having cast the threat you were hoping to neutralize or, in the case of Memoricide, simply having access to a Counterspell. The other issue was that you would often have to sacrifice you entire fourth turn to play the card, and if your opponent didn't have the named card in hand, it could potentially be a huge tempo loss for you. This is not the case with Stain the Mind so long as you're playing a deck that can cast creatures. If you've managed to play a one and two-drop, you can cast Stain the Mind as early as turn three, which is something pretty unprecedented in a deck that didn't include ramp.
While Stain the Mind is not a groundbreaking card by any means, it is an incredibly useful and versatile one. This is an ability that has not only skewed certain formats and strategies, but has seen play in every format it has been legal in at some point. The fact that this is the first version of the ability that can (and often will) cost less than four mana is very interesting and I anticipate it making it into the sideboards of all black decks that can use an effect like this that can cast it at a discount.
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