Welcome to Part 2 of the Returning to Dominaria series. My plan is to look at the Top 10 cards from each of the early blocks set on the plane of Dominaria. I'm not suggesting these cards will be reprinted (or even should be reprinted), but it's a great way to introduce players who weren't playing more than 10 years ago to some of the great cards in the older sets they may not know. And those of you who were playing back then can look at my list and tell me how wrong I am!
This time around we are looking at the Ice Age block. Originally the block was only Ice Age and Alliances, but many have come to add Homelands as the third set of the block as it was released at roughly the same time. Later, Coldsnap was released as a stand-alone set, but was designed as the third set for Ice Age and Alliances. Rather than get too nitpicky, I'm including all four sets in the block.
I hate honorable mentions. They are just a way for lazy and indecisive writers to add more cards to their Top 10 list.
My honorable mentions:
• Braid of Fire: with the loss of manaburn, Braid becomes a free source of mana for your upkeep.
• Sengir Autocrat: the only Homelands card in this article (yes, the set really is that bad). I love that you get four creatures for four mana. Chump blockers or creatures to sacrifice, the "serfer dudes," are a great value.
• Gorilla Shaman: a great way to kill your opponents' Sol Rings and other cheap artifacts.
• Total War: Are your Commander games going a little long? Total War is here to help!
During the Ice Age block, designers believed that the best way to stop opponents from doing broken things wasn't to offer balanced cards, but hoser cards that just shut your opponents down. I can't recommend playing these cards, since they can completely suck the fun out of the game for particular opponents. Consider this a public service announcement. "Don't eat Tide pods! Don't play these cards!"
• Nature's Wrath
• Curse of Marit Lage
• Naked Singularity
• Omen of Fire
• Reality Twist
• Stench of Evil
• Royal Decree
• Breath of Dreams
This card just gets better and better as time passes. There are more and more ways to create cheap token creatures, and the creatures Wizards makes these days tend to be far better than the ones that were available to steal during Ice Age block. It doesn't hurt that when you are running black, you are often looking for a way to get your creature into the graveyard, so sacrificing a creature is usually not even a real cost.
Black isn't generally a color where you are going to find a lot of creature stealing, so this is often a bit of a surprise. I particularly like that the creature is now yours. There is no, "until the end of the turn" limitation. The creature isn't yours because of an aura that someone is just waiting to destroy at the worst moment. You just play the sorcery and
Wurmcoil Engine (no) Olivia Voldaren (no), Narset, Enlightened Master (no), Akroma, Angel of Wrath (no), Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (YES!) is yours! Sure, that whole nonartifact, nonblack thing can be limiting, but it isn't as bad as I've made it look here. With three opponents, I'm sure at least one of them is playing some juicy creature that would look so much better on your side of the battlefield!
What if Rhystic Studies cost less and your opponents had to pay four mana instead of one to stop you from drawing a card? You can play Mystic Remora early in the game when players have to play spells or find themselves way behind, or even later in the game when paying four mana means that they are only going to cast one spell instead of two.
The cumulative upkeep isn't really all that much of a downside either. Your opponents don't want to waste a spell to destroy it since they expect you won't be paying the upkeep soon, so you'll get to keep it for as long as you want. With multiple opponents all casting spells, you will be drawing cards. And trust me, they will still cast spells and will not pay four. Anyone who chooses to simply wait until the Remora leaves is only stunting their own board position for several turns. A player might do that once, but when they see everyone else getting stronger, their resolve will melt quickly.
As far as paying the upkeep, think of it this way: how much mana would you be willing to pay to draw a card? You'll spend two to cycle a card and Mystic Remora isn't even asking you to get rid of a card. When you figure you should be drawing at least two cards per round, paying even three or four doesn't seem unreasonable.
This card shows up in plenty of token and mass creature strategies, as the Ranger can get very big very quickly, and gives all of your creatures a +1/+1 counter, which is great for the tiny token creatures and all the Tarkir block creatures that give benefits to creatures with counters on them.
I'd have the Ranger even higher on the list if this Knight came with trample or hexproof or some other keyword that would help it use that huge body, but it falls to you to help the Ranger maximize its potential.
I am a fan of stealing my opponent's creatures, so even when a card demands that the creature has just died before I can steal it, I still take a long look.
So many decks are now running sacrifice effects. This just makes sense. Players are trying to steal their stuff or just destroy all the creatures, so if you can respond by sacrificing your creature and getting some benefit, then that just makes sense. The Valkyrie thanks you for your effort, and returns your opponent's creature to life. Naturally, they are so grateful that they start working for you!
Of course, the Valkyrie can do much more, as it also brings your creatures back! Add on the 4/5 body with flying and vigilance and the Adarkar Valkyrie becomes the Swiss Army knife of angels! Vigilance means that it can attack and bring one of the other creatures you attacked with back to life to help defend on your opponents' turns. As players understand that they are going to have to kill many of your creatures repeatedly, you become a less appealing target!
Okay, let's get this out of the way: Force of Will is not in the Top 10. A Counterspell that either costs five mana or costs a life and an extra blue card is a tough sell in a game with multiple opponents. Counterspells are already a tough way to go. You have to spend a card to get rid of a single card that may not have even hurt you. Given that you generally want to wait as long as possible when dealing with an opponent's card because you hope someone else will do it for you, Counterspells are tough. Then add in losing an extra card in a game where your opponents are outdrawing you three to one, and Force of Will loses much of its luster. It is still a good card and would be in a Top 25, but not in the Top 10.
Arcane Denial makes it because of its mana cost and card draw. It works in three color decks as it only needs one blue mana. It replaces itself with another card. It also gives your opponent two cards, so often times they aren't even made that you countered their spell. So how is this different than Force where the net loss to your opponent is one card and Arcane Denial has the same net loss? Arcane Denial doesn't give the opponent the bad feels the way Force does. Your opponent is much more likely to use their net gain to attack someone other than you.
Most of you have heard of this card and don't need to be sold on its power. Paying one life is a small price to pay for a card and there is no cap on the number of cards you can draw! Necropotence can let you draw to find combo pieces, utility cards, or just fill your hand every turn. The card is simply amazing.
I don't use it.
I don't like that I lose my free draw. I don't like that I don't get to draw the cards until my end step, where the cards just sit in my hand until my next turn. While I know we start with 40 life, I have a hard time convincing myself to spend five life to draw five cards. It just feels like so much damage! I also don't like the idea that any card I discard is exiled.
Are any of these particularly good reasons not to run Necro? No.
In my metagame, I'm not sure how good this card really is. I can see it being amazing against combo decks when you can go through and take out a key part of the combo, but my group doesn't run a lot of combos. I can see it being amazing against decks that are primarily good stuff decks, because you are taking the best stuff out. But decks that are synergy based, where the cards are decent by themselves but just get better and better when considered in conjunction with each other, Jester's Cap loses out.
I've put it this high on the list because for many of you it makes sense to run it. For others, not so much. Consider your meta before deciding whether to use this card or not.
This fellow offers everything you could want. At four mana, the Lord is a reasonably costed commander that you could cast again and again. He has a 10/4 body, which means that with even just a little help, you can take out an opponent in three swings.
The fun part comes with the "downsides" of the card. Paying 2 life is practically nothing. Sacrificing two creatures is something Jund colors tend to want to do. Giving an opponent two cards is the tricky one, but with three opponents you can give it to the player it will help the least, or to the player you are working with to take out someone else. I have always treated it as a political tool and it rarely causes an issue for me. Or you could just hope for Torpor Orb.
Phelddagrif (an anagram for Garfield, PhD), was the first group hug commander. You can Donate cards, life, or Hippo Tokens. Saving an opponent from death or giving the player with Beastmaster Ascension several Hippo Tokens to attack another player was always fun. On top of that, your commander was a 4/4 flying hippo with trample that was really hard to kill since you could easily put it back in your hand.
Since the original group hug version, I've seen others that can punish an opponent for having creatures on the battlefield or gaining life, so Group Bear Hug decks are also an option!
Zur has been a scourge on Commander since he came into regular use and it only gets worse. Commanders that allow you to tutor for cards and put them into play are generally too strong for most metas, and Zur is amongst the strongest of them all. Even a cursory search can show just how powerful his ability is. I've tried to build low-powered versions of him and even those can get out of control.
Build with him if you must, but once you realize you are tutoring for the same cards again and again, understand the brokenness and move on.