Into the Scrapheap? Episode 14 (Megrim)

There are now several planeswalkers that want to make an opponent discard cards (e.g. Angrath, Davriel, Kaya, Liliana, and Nicol Bolas), which means we want to find spells that reward us for our opponent discarding. The most basic idea is to simply hit our opponent’s life total every time they discard a card, and there are a few cards that will allow us to do just that.


The original version of this idea was Megrim from Stronghold. For three mana, we do 2 damage to our opponent each time they discard a card. This seems to have set the standard that a discarded card is worth 2 life, which continues up to today.

Liliana's Caress

Megrim was all there was until Magic 2011, when Liliana’s Caress was printed. This looks like a strict upgrade rendering Megrim obsolete: now we can do the same damage for only two mana. But do notice that the wording is slightly different. On the one hand, the opponent just loses the two life (it’s not damage, which might be prevented or redirected). On the other hand, in Magic there is always the possibility that some card interaction would want the enchantment to ‘deal damage’, so I think we can’t quite toss Megrim onto the scrapheap. (And, of course, for the purposes of Planeswalker Jousting, only Liliana gets access to Liliana’s Caress.)

Raiders' Wake

A recent upgrade to Liliana’s Caress is Raiders’ Wake from Ixalan, but we should note that it also costs twice as much—we’re paying for that upgrade! Still, this card has its own discarding engine, making it possible to force a discard every turn, without having to rely solely on instants & sorceries or specters that need to also deal damage to force the discard. If our deck can wait until turn four for this, then this would seem to be the best option.

Scythe Specter

One specter with a built-in discard engine that also does the work of a Megrim is Scythe Specter, but it’s even pricier (3X the cost of Liliana’s Caress). On the upside, the potential damage is even greater—if they discard a 5-drop, they are taking 5 damage rather than 2. We also did 4 damage during combat! The obvious downsides, though, are that we have to do combat damage to cause any life loss (this card does not work with a simple discard spell like Duress), and creatures are always a bit more fragile on the battlefield than enchantments. Still, this might make a nice finisher in a discard damage deck.

Fell Specter

Another creature with this discard damage ability is Fell Specter. It’s the same price as Raiders’ Wake, and it does cause an immediate discard when it enters the battlefield. Unlike most specters, though, it does not have the repeatable discard engine (“Whenever [Specter] deals damage to a player, that player discards a card.”) Overall, I would rate it below Raiders’ Wake, which I would have to objectively rate below Liliana’s Caress just for its mana efficiency (with the caveat that ratings of Magic cards are always subjective, depending on the needs of a particular deck).

Quest for the Nihil Stone

One other enchantment that can reward us for making our opponent discard is Quest for the Nihil Stone. It’s cheap, but it does come with some other hoops to jump through. Still, the payoff is 5 life lost (a quarter of their starting health) per turn if we can get our discard engine going. Again, this might serve as a decent finisher in a discard damage deck.

CONCLUSION: Nothing is technically obsolete here, but it does seem that we might want to think twice before using Megrim. If we can’t play Liliana’s Caress because of deck-building constraints, or we happen to be playing other cards that want Megrim’s particular wording, or one extra mana would stretch our resources too much, then it might still have a place in some deck.


Knight Ally Tokens

I needed some Knight Ally Tokens for my Allied by Oath Battle for Zendikar block deck, and I just recently finished The Riyria Revelations series by Michael J. Sullivan, which offered me some inspiration: Hadrian and Royce tokens!

Token Knight Ally 22aToken Knight Ally 22bToken Knight Ally 22cToken Knight Ally 22d

Theros Soldier Tokens

Here’s one for the ladies…

I must say that I actually like the official soldier tokens for Theros, especially the red one, but I just can’t resist a Greek-themed set, so I made some of my own too.

Soldier TokenSoldier TokenSoldier Token


It’s Hector and Achilles!

Token Soldier Red 11a Token Soldier Red 11b Token Soldier Red 11c Token Soldier White 11a Token Soldier White 11b Token Soldier White 11c

Into the Scrapheap? – Episode 9 (X Marks the Spot)

I’m putting together a Chandra deck, and in my card searches I came across the old Red X damage spell, which got me wondering if there were any obsolete versions of this classic. Surprisingly, Wizards has a done decent job of offering new variants over the years that all offer something slightly different. As far as I can judge, only one of this class of spells is really obsolete, i.e. always worse than something else. So, I thought I would just take a brief historical tour of the available XR cards.

Disintegrate Fireball

Right from the start of the game, you had two options for all that extra mana in your red deck. Disintegrate was meant to be final–exile the creature with no possibility of regeneration. Fireball gave you more flexibility in spreading the damage around without the same finality. Both would continue to be staples: Disintegrate appearing through Fifth edition and Fireball being most recently printed in Magic 2012.

Dwarven Catapult

In Fallen Empires, they produced a watered-down version of Fireball: Dwarven Catapult does operate at instant speed, but you can’t target players. In some situations, though, the fact that you don’t need to pay extra for the extra targets does make a difference – takes out a few weenies much more efficiently (although you probably just want a Pyroclasm unless you have a bunch of weenies too). I would say this one borders on obsolete, but there is actually nothing else just like it.

Lava Burst Kaervek's Torch Rock Slide

During Magic’s adolescence, several new versions of the Red X spell were introduced. Lava Burst was a weaker Disintegrate but designed to thwart those pesky White and Blue mages’ tricks of prevention and redirection. Likewise, Kaervek’s Torch tried to help the Red mage get past those annoying Counterspells. Rock Slide offered a better damage array than the Dwarven Catapult, but with some significant drawbacks.

Heat Ray Ghitu Fire Illuminate

Out of Urza’s Saga, we got another staple of the genre: The instant speed creature removal called Heat Ray. No drawbacks, just make X match the creature’s toughness. In Invasion, Ghitu Fire allowed you the option of targeting the player instead, and for 2 extra mana, to do it at instant speed. Apocalypse brought a slower version of Heat Ray, Illuminate, with the option of getting a two for one deal on the creature’s player for 3 extra mana. Keep in mind, however, that that would have only cost you 1 more with the original Fireball; in the right deck, though, you might also get the option of drawing some cards.

Demonfire Banefire

Moving into the modern age of Magic, we find some new takes on old friends: Demonfire exiles the creature and gives you a chance at making the spell uncounterable and the damage unpreventable. Banefire was a little less powerful than its cousin, but the anti-Blue and White option was easier to achieve. Keep in mind that some sets/formats care more than others about whether that dying creature ends up in the graveyard or not.

Red Sun's Zenith Devil's Play

We also got two new options for the genre in the last couple of blocks. Red Sun’s Zenith gives us exiling power and the possibility of re-drawing the card later. And, finally, Devil’s Play, is a straight forward version that gives you two usages from a single card. Both of these seem like high quality additions to the family.

In conclusion, the reality is that a lot of the early Red X spells are probably not worth playing over the more recent offerings, but they are still not quite obsolete, unlike our last entrant:


Disintegrate was replaced by the purposefully simple Portal card Blaze in the core sets starting with Sixth Edition. It is sorcery speed with no bells and whistles, which means that you have plenty of better options available, as we’ve seen above. So, off to the scrapheap with you Blaze!

Booster Pack Math

As a super casual Magic player, meaning that I don’t play in tournaments and I am on a rather tight budget, I have developed some specific guidelines about card acquisition. In theory, since I mostly only play against family members all drawing upon the same card pool, I could just proxy up whatever cards I want; but I recognize and respect the collectible aspect of a collectible card game–the challenge of procuring the cards you really want for your deck, and not always being able to get what you need/want.

ASIDE: Of course, that’s also one of the frustrating things about this game: Watching pros who essentially have no worries about getting any card, and so they just spend all their time working on and talking about decks with the assumption that they’ll get whatever they need when they figure out what it is they need; or worse, playing against people with bigger budgets and essentially dying to cards you couldn’t possibly own. I know that if I had been playing Friday Night Magic, for example, during the era of Jace the Mind Sculptor, and had seen them regularly, I would have packed my deck with some cheap specific hate–sure I’d lose to all sorts of other decks with a handful of dead cards, but at least I could have the satisfaction of shutting down some guy’s $100 card every time I saw it.

My current guidelines, therefore, are that I won’t spend more than $4 on a card, since that is the retail price of the booster pack the  card would have originally come in. If the card is worth more than $1, then I will allow myself to proxy extra copies of the card. Frankly, having a one-of in a deck without tutoring is just plain lame, especially if the card is central to the deck’s game-plan. That’s been my beef with the Intro Decks, Duel Decks, and even some of the Event Decks: “Here’s the Elspeth Duel Deck, all designed to work and synergize with this powerful planeswalker, but, of course, you’ll be lucky to see her every three or four games, since there’s only one copy in the deck.”  So, I try to balance the collectible aspect with the deck-building aspect. Once a card is $1 or less, then I’ll buy the full playset.

One of the implications of this system, though, is that any card over $4 is essentially out of my reach, unless I pull it straight from a $4 booster pack. I’ve ranted here before about the vagaries and frustrations of opening booster packs. Yet, I continue to buy booster packs, like some schmuck who keeps playing the lottery for years and years even though he never wins anything and the odds are always massively against him, just because of the off-chance of opening one of those cool out-of-reach cards (and admittedly there are some really cool cards out of my price range). But, in my favor, I have won the booster pack lottery from time to time–I opened a Huntmaster of the Fells not too long ago!

All this has raised some questions about my buying policies. Given the randomness of boosters, would I really be better off just raising my limits for card purchases and just never buying a booster pack again? Probably, but part of the problem is also my inherent sense that no little piece of cardboard should be worth that much! But where is the threshold of that much? I’m willing to pay $4 now for a card; so what about $5? or $8? and then $8 is not too much less than $10… and so it goes. $1000 for a Black Lotus, or whatever, is just ridiculous, right? But when compared to that, $15 for a Darkslick Shores doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Before I can make any real decision, it seems like I need some data to help me reason through this conundrum. So, let’s run some numbers…

Large Set Numbers

I’m going to use Scars of Mirrodin to draw some concrete conclusions. I am assuming that SOM is a fairly typical large set. This set had 15 Mythic Rares, 53 Rares, 60 Uncommons, and 101 Commons. A booster pack contains 1 Rare, 3 Uncommons, and 10 Commons, with a Mythic Rare replacing the Rare in 1 out of 8 packs, or 12.5% of the time. I’m going to run some numbers assuming equal distribution, which obviously does not reflect the reality of opening booster packs, but does provide some sense of the odds at any rate. I’m also going to run two different booster pack rates: $4 per booster, the retail price (actually 3.95, but let’s make the math a little easier, and there’s always tax or shipping costs anyway, right?), and $2.50, the price per booster if you bought a whole box of them at $89.99, which seems to be a common enough low price.

So, assuming equal distribution, to guarantee yourself the Mythic Rare you really want, you would have to buy 120 booster packs – it’s always in the last pack, not the first 🙂 This would also net you 105 Rares (almost two of each), 360 Uncommons (six of each), and 1200 Commons (almost 12 of each).  Those booster packs would cost between $480 and $300, depending on how much the boosters cost you. Now, if you were only buying those packs for the Mythic Rares, that would make each one worth $20 to $32. If you wanted just ONE of all the Rares and Mythic Rares, then each one would be worth $4.41 to $7.05 in this math.

Now, let’s look at the prices of the card singles. I’m going to use Channel Fireball prices here, because I like them and they usually have the cards in stock. The Mythic Rares from this set range from $.49 (Quicksilver Gargantuan) to $17.99 (Mox Opal). Of the fifteen Mythics, six are $6.99 or more, and nine are currently $3.99 or less, with five being $.99 or less. The total price to buy all fifteen Mythics would be $86.35, making an average price of $5.76. The Rares in this set range from $.25 to $14.99, with only six of them costing $5.99 or more, and only ten of them being more than $1. Of particular note is the fact that the five most expensive Rares from the set are the dual lands. And those prices will surely drop this fall when the set rotates out of Standard. The total cost to buy one of each Rare is $86.95, with an average of $1.64 per Rare. Thus, if we are only concerned with buying Rares and Mythic Rares, we could own one of each for a grand total of $173.30. Except for a handful of outliers, the Uncommons can be had for $.10 a piece, with just a few at $.25 or more. A playset of four of each Uncommon, not that we really want ALL of them anyway, would thus run us $24. The breakdown for the Commons is quite similar, although I also know that most of the Commons could be had for $.02 to $.05 elsewhere, with a playset of all the Commons (again – not that we even want all of the limited fodder they put into sets these days) thus running us $40.40. The grand total, then, for 1 of all the Mythics and Rares, and 4 of the Commons and Uncommons, would be $237.70, which is still quite a bit less than the $300 price to “guarantee” us these cards.

Small Set Numbers

The numbers for a small middle set, in this case Mirrodin Besieged, are a little different. Mirrodin Besieged had 10 Mythic Rares, 35 Rares, 40 Uncommons, and 60 Commons. This means you would need to buy 80 packs to guarantee a copy of each Mythic under our assumptions. This would also net you 70 Rares (exactly 2 of each), 240 Uncommons (exactly 6 of each Uncommon), and 800 Commons (over 13 copies of each Common). This would cost you between $200 and $320 for the packs. So, if you were only buying those packs for the Mythic Rares, that would make each one worth $20 to $32. If you wanted just ONE of all the Rares and Mythic Rares, then each one would be worth $4.44 to $7.11 in this math. Thus, the theoretical values are roughly equivalent whether it’s a small set or a large set.

When we look at the going rate for the cards, however, a different math emerges. The Mythic Rares from this set range from $.99 (Praetor’s Counsel) to $24.99 (Sword of Feast and Famine). Of the ten Mythics, six are $4.99 or more, and only four are currently less than $4. The total price to buy all ten Mythics would be $81.90, making an average price of $8.19. The Rares in this set range from $.25 to $7.99, with only three of them costing $4.99 or more, and only seven of them being more than $1. The total cost to buy one of each Rare is $40.65, with an average of $1.16 per Rare. Thus, if we are only concerned with buying Rares and Mythic Rares, we could own one of each for a grand total of $122.55 (but we’re only getting 45 cards, not 68). The distribution for the Uncommons looks similar to a large set, except that many can be had for $.05 a piece. Even at the same price, a playset of four of each Uncommon would thus run us about $4. The Commons are almost all $.05, which makes $3 for a playset of all. The grand total, then, for 1 of all the Mythics and Rares, and 4 of the Commons and Uncommons, would be $129.55, which is definitely less than the $200 price to “guarantee” us these cards.


Remember that these numbers were based on an assumed equal distribution that doesn’t really mirror reality. Also, the nature of Magic finance means there is some regular fluctuation in card prices including settling prices as the set shakes out over its life in Standard and then rotation. Even most cards that will continue to be played in eternal formats, tend to settle down a bit, especially with the most recent sets selling so well. Some old cards are just always going to be ridiculously rare and thus expensive. I would imagine that some Rares from earlier sets that were not opened in the same kinds of numbers as sets today are much rarer in terms of availability than Mythics from the most recent sets.

It looks like any Mythic less than $20 is technically a reasonable buy, at least compared with having to open packs to get it. If you don’t have to have the card right now for a tournament, then you can usually wait things out and get it for much less (I say usually because there’s always the possibility of a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a set, although that is operating under the constraints of a small middle set which wasn’t drafted all that much). I feel for people who may have pre-ordered Quicksilver Gargantuan for $4.00. If you are paying more than $5 for a Mythic, then it better be an above average card because you are paying an above average price for it. My numbers also suggest that paying up to $7 for a Rare or Mythic card is reasonable, again compared with having to open packs to get it.

These numbers are hardly definitive, but I have definitely learned something about Magic finance from writing this, that’s for sure. The moral of the story seems to be to wait on just about everything, if you can, and don’t buy booster packs (sorry Wizards of the Coast)!

Avacyn Restored Wishlist

While I can’t say that I’m super excited for the new set, there are always some cool new cards in every set. Here’s what I have my eye on:

Good Cards

Cathars' CrusadeCathars’ Crusade seems like a potentially useful and powerful card, but realistically, by the time you get it out, you’re probably already winning or losing and this isn’t going to change much, since it costs 5 mana. Still, I can imagine this doing some awesome things with some big card like Conqueror’s Pledge. I suppose even a flashbacked Lingering Souls could put your spirit token army out of reach of a lot of targeted removal or big enough to deal with the threats on the other side of the board. I definitely want to try this out.

Archwing Dragon

Here’s a dragon that basically protects itself when it’s not your turn, and potentially combos with stuff that rewards you when a creature comes into play – this guy’s coming in every turn.

Tyrant of DiscordPretty pricey for a red deck, but I love the potential to wreak havoc on the board with Tyrant of Discord.

Abundant GrowthNo card disadvantage with this aura, and it fixes your mana for cheap. Imagine splashing for other colors in a Dungrove Elder deck, for example (Druids’ Repository could do it too, but not as efficiently).

Essence HarvestIf you like playing with fatties, here’s a cool new drain life, or combo it with a shade to really finish them off with a double whammy!

Bonfire of the DamnedIn a deck with Seething Songs, Pyretic Rituals, and Geosurges, this could be really awesome. And it doesn’t kill your guys, just theirs!

Somberwald SageDon’t you think this should be an Elf? I do. But it’s not going in an elf deck anyway. Perfect for casting that RRR creature in your Green deck, though.

Wolfir SilverheartThis is going into my Werewolf deck.

Mill Deck

I’m planning on building a dedicated mill deck soon – love those alternate win-condition decks – and I have a self-mill deck that might find some use for these as well. In the late game, Dreadwaters is 4 mana for 6-7 cards; Rotcrown Ghoul might find a better home UB Zombies, filling your own graveyard with reanimation targets, since otherwise it’s just 5 mana for 5 cards with a delay; Stern Mentor gives you 4 cards per turn for 4 mana, so it may be the best of the lot.

Dreadwaters Rotcrown Ghoul Stern Mentor

New Planeswalkers

I’d like to collect all the planeswalkers eventually (don’t know if I’ll ever get a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, though). I’ve created my own “Planeswalker Jousting” format, and here are some new Jousters:

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

Crosis, the Purger Deck

I turned my old “Discard Damage” damage deck into a Crosis Commander deck (UBR), so I’m always on the lookout for good discard cards, or reanimate their discarded creatures cards, and even better bounce cards. (An interesting side note: I noticed that I found a lot more Black and Red cards that I want in this set than White ones.) Appetite for Brains is likely to hit something big and good in an EDH game; Mental Agony might be a little pricey at 4 mana; Once Crosis is out, Triumph of Cruelty has a good chance of doing some real work.

Appetite for Brains Mental Agony Triumph of Cruelty


I have a vampire-themed Commander deck, and a Sorin deck based around vampires, so vampire-themed cards always attract my attention. Bloodflow Connoiseur looks like it will combo better with Kalastria Highborn than Bloodthrone Vampire.

Barter in Blood Blood Artist Bloodflow ConnoiseurDark Imposter Driver of the Dead Exquisite Blood

Venser Deck

I have been on the lookout for nice cheap things to flicker in my Venser deck, but I guess Cathedral Sanctifier is just Healing Salve on a stick. Maybe I should rethink that one. Conjuror’s Closet would be an even more perfect complement in the deck if it was a little cheaper.

Cathedral Sanctifier Conjuror's Closet


I’m slowly getting the cards together for a Zombies deck – I want hordes and hordes that come back from the dead. I’m not sure, yet, whether to go mono-Black or Blue/Black.

Butcher Ghoul Dread Slaver

Red Deck Wins

Red looks like it got some good stuff in this set. Here’s some decent considerations for aggressive red decks. Pump out the creature rush, and then get some more cards in your hand, and finish them off with a big Fireball!

Battle Hymn Burn at the Stake Dangerous Wager


Some people don’t seem to like Elves. I’m not one of those.

Descendants' Path

New Decks?

There are a few cards which do seem to be begging for a deck to built around them, either because they present a unique challenge or just seem really cool.

Otherworld Atlas Rite of Ruin Gloom Surgeon

Others seem like they have the synergy for a deck built right into the set. Demonic Rising is asking for these others to follow him into a deck. That Demonic Taskmaster becomes a 7/4 flying menace, and you have fodder for some other sacrificial outlet like Corpse Trader, Bloodflow Connoisseur, or Bone Splinters in a mono-Black control deck.

Demonic RisingDemonic Taskmaster Homicidal Seclusion Predator's Gambit

What if we built a multiplayer deck with Descent into Madness and Griselbrand? Ouch!

Descent into Madness Griselbrand

New Commanders?

While Black, and Red to a lesser extent, seemed to get some of the best cards, there are some multi-colored Angels with some potential as Commanders.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster Gisela, Blade of Goldnight Sigarda, Host of Herons

Land Collection

I’d like to collect all of the dual colored activation lands from the block. These will complete the collection:

Alchemist's Refuge Desolate Lighthouse Slayers’ Stronghold

Avacyn Restored Mechanics

I haven’t had a chance to really go through the whole card list for Avacyn Restored yet, but a quick glance through, plus spoiler season, hasn’t gotten me too excited. The impression I got with my quick glance through was ‘lots of limited fodder,’ which is probably to be expected from a ‘stand alone’ third set, but I’ve made my feelings known on that topic before. For me, Mr. Super Casual, the question with each new set is really whether there is something thematic and mechanically interesting to build new decks around. Sure, there will always be at least a few cards that either will fit right into a deck I already have, or may beg to be built around in true Johnny fashion, but what else is there?

In recent sets, for example, I just had to build a werewolf deck full of transform cards–unlike most pros, I’m sad to see that there aren’t anymore in the third set, although there may still be a couple of wolfir cards that could go in the deck–or a self-mill graveyard-pumping deck, or back even further, a Myr deck with the Mirrodin watermark and a Phyrexian watermark Poison deck. What does Avacyn Restored have for us? To start with, there are the angels vs. the demons for a thematic/tribal direction, then there are the soulbond and miracle mechanics. (Undying is also back, but it didn’t do much for me in Dark Ascension, and it doesn’t seem worth another look here.)

Angels vs. Demons

Apparently some Magic players really love Angels. I suspect what many of them really like is the amount of bare leg and/or bosom they tend to show in their artwork (all going back to the original busty angelic babe, Serra Angel). I’m not sure I like Angels all that much, and there doesn’t appear to be much incentive to create a tribal Angel deck. That is, there are very few cards that really care if you are playing Angels, which means that the Angels you like can just go into any deck you want with no reason to have them congregate in a single deck beyond purely thematic reasons. The three multi-colored ones might be interesting commanders, though.

Demons do even less for me. The art is rarely pleasing to look at or exciting: that Griselband is just plain ugly–frankly, he looks like a ‘demon dork’–big head, mishappen horns, bad dental hygiene, etc.–he seems to be saying, “run away and hide, not because I’m a murderous demon, but because you don’t want to have to look at my ugly face anymore!” There may be a ‘build around me’ demon in there somewhere, but nothing that says, “Man, I need to build a Demon deck!”


I don’t think soulbond is a bad mechanic, but it’s not registering much on the Super Casual excitement meter. This seems like one of those mechanics where a few cool cards might slot into some other decks, but a lot of the soulbond dudes are probably just ‘limited fodder’. Again, nothing is screaming out to me, “Build a soulbond deck!” Chances are, the coolest soulbond creatures will be overpriced while in standard, so I’ll have to wait to even get them. Nothing particularly Johnny-tastic is jumping out at me either. I’ve seen some people talk about blinking these guys in and out to change up the pairings, but I think they were thinking mainly about limited; still, I may add a couple to my Venser blink deck.


I just read an article today suggesting that Miracle is another bad mechanic that messes around too much with how Magic actually plays. It doesn’t strike me as all that amazing or bothersome (even Temporal Mastery–as others have pointed out, an early Time Walk is probably just an Explore). It certainly isn’t begging me to build a Miracle deck. Obviously the miracle cards want to be in a deck with a little library manipulation, a la Ponder, but the effects are of such varying nature and quality that putting a bunch in one deck doesn’t even make much sense. So, there may be a few that slot into one of my decks, but that’s about it–the card has to be good enough to play at its regular cost to really consider it.


So, overall, Avacyn Restored is looking like a yawner sort of Super Casual set. It may or may not make waves on the tournament scene (looks like a few cards will for sure, as always–wonder how long until Cavern of Souls gets abused and then banned in at least one tournament format?), but it seems unlikely to make any here at my house. I will look forward to going through the spoiler to find the few Super Casual gems I’m sure are in there for me. I do know that I will be collecting a copy of all the AVR lands to go with their Innistrad counterparts in my collection, as per today’s Magic Arcana.