Many years back, when both I and the game were much younger than we are now, I was still learning the many ins and outs of this little thing called Magic. Back then, Force of Nature was a serious threat, Interrupts still existed, and the only planeswalkers of note were the players themselves.
Several of my earliest Magic memories during this formative era involve sitting around the dining room table with my older brothers and a couple of their friends. We almost always played casual multiplayer games of four to six people, and they were always interesting to me.
Because multiplayer was more of an afterthought in the game’s creation, playing large free-for-all bouts was always a little strange since it was very much a new thing. All formats back then were, really. In the days even before Ice Age, before tournament-style deckbuilding and the player base’s weird adherence to 60 card decks became a thing, we found ourselves just one group among many navigating our way through the burgeoning idea of multiplayer Magic.
Fun fact: with over 30 casual and EDH decks, to this day I still don’t own a 60 card deck.
Of those memories, three aspects stick with me. First, the decks that we played with were usually 2-3 colors and largely consisted of whatever cards we owned. While we still adhered to the Rule of Four, our decks were almost always at or in excess of 100 cards. For a couple of those decks, Battle of Wits would have been ideal…had it existed yet.
Those games were definitely slower and slightly less predictable than most multiplayer games of today (which are admittedly still slow affairs), but they were also really entertaining since everyone was on the same footing. As a new player, I really enjoyed both the occasions when I could get out my powerful rares like Shivan Dragon or Fork, but the pacing and flow of those game settings was easygoing enough that an intimidated 12 year old could play on equal footing with a table full of college aged adults. Given the speed and power of today’s Magic, there are times when I miss those more lighthearted games. Non-competitive Commander is probably as close as I can get now though, and I’m fine with that.
Second, I remember because of those erratic decks, we used a couple house rules to alleviate people getting stuck in long games with nothing to do. We had one, for instance, that said if you didn’t draw a land for like five turns in a row, you could shuffle your library. We also had a couple that were of a sillier variety that even we abandoned pretty quickly, though those ideas later on led me to create a well iked variant form of play called “Chaos Magic” – involving a neutral deck with ever changing cards.
One of these days I plan on doing an article strictly about “Chaos Magic”…
Anyway, the final aspect, and what brings us here today, is the idea of certain cards that resonate with one person so much so that over time you associate that card with that person. In these early days, when the pool of cards wasn’t nearly as big, it was pretty common to run lots of things that wouldn’t fly by today’s standards. Sometimes it was simply all you had, and sometimes it was because, well, you really liked it. My brother’s friend, for instance, loved putting Throne of Bone in his decks simply so he could dramatically announce its name whenever he cast or activated it.
Likewise, one of my brothers really enjoyed using Orcish Spy, which allows you to see what the next card someone draws will be. It wasn’t overly powerful, but he enjoyed cards like that and Glasses of Urza that allowed him to see what his opponents were up to.
At the time, the ability to look at the top of a player’s library was really new. As the years went on, the effect was reprinted in various ways, all of which were more powerful that that simple orc. Most of the time such cards allowed you to look at the top cards of a player’s library and rearrange those cards. Of those, the vast majority you could only use on yourself, with cards like Soothsaying, Information Dealer, Index, or the most famous card of this group – Sensei’s Divining Top.
That said, we have also gotten a few spells that let you look at and rearrange an opponent’s library, including Ransack, a card I used for years in one of my decks. Because of the power ramifications of continuously mucking with the top of an opponent’s deck though, only two of this style of card were repeatable. The first is the super-expensive Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and even then it only lets you manipulate the top card of one player once per round. The other…the other is this week’s pick.
Today we have: Elemental Augury
Name: Elemental Augury
Edition: Ice Age
Focus: Library Manipulation
Highlights: A perennially overlooked and underappreciated Commander card, Elemental Augury allows you to repeatedly look at and rearrange the top three cards of a player’s library. While being able to manipulate your own top cards has been seen sporadically over the years, Elemental Augury has the distinction of being the only permanent that gives you the means to continuously spy on – and affect – your enemy’s library.
On the more benign level, Elemental Augury is a highly affordable alternative to cards like Sensei’s, giving you the ability to dig through your deck at any stage of the game to find the most useful of your next three cards. Each activation requires just three colorless mana, putting it on par with similar cards even by today’s standards, and it’s quite economical in Commander at pretty much any stage of the game. It’s not uncommon to have a few extra mana available to spend at the end of an opponent’s turn, so why not use it to set up your next draw? Being able to sift through your deck, especially in pivotal moments of the game, is incredibly advantageous. Just ask any Top user.
Assuming you have the means to cast this Grixis-colored enchantment, Elemental Augury can also be used politically. You can activate it, for instance, to aid another player into getting a card they need to change the board state or use it to gain their help in shifting the power at the table.
Of course, what makes the card so unique is that you can also do the reverse. Because the effect is reusable and can be accessed as often as you’re able to pay for it, Elemental Augury allows you to routinely mess with what cards your enemies will have access to. With the right mana and timing, this card can singlehandedly keep them from getting a key card they may want.
The one caveat, however, is that wielding such topdeck control is not going to make a lot of friends if used too freely. The temptation may be there to use it on as many players as often as you can swing it, but lockdown approaches in multiplayer almost never go well. Being more selective in its application is guaranteed to help keep it – and you – around longer. Be judicious though, and this card’s subtle uses will yield great rewards.
Ironically, for someone who really enjoyed Orcish Spy back in the day, it’s unfortunate that my brother wasn’t really involved with the game by the time Ice Age rolled around; he would have really enjoyed the implications it offers.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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