Sonic has his spin dash. Harry Potter has is disarming spell. Walker has his roundhouse kick. Mr. Spock has his neck pinch. While they all come from various genres and mediums, all of these characters have one thing in common: each possess a wholly unique ability, a highly identifiable trait synonymous with their identity. From video games to literature to real life personalities, many such individuals have some kind of calling card gesture or mannerism to call their own. Not only does this help these characters distinguish themselves from others in their respective genres, but it also causes you as the observer to identify that particular action or behavior with that person.
Really, without his barrels, Donkey Kong would just be another ape.
Surprisingly, Magic doesn’t have a lot of characters with notable calling cards, in large part because there are too many characters and changing settings for them to have any substantive development. Planeswalkers are the only modern examples (we miss you too Gerrard!) where you see the same character repeatedly, but between their role in the story and that players only see snapshots of these stories in card form, even planeswalkers barely get any real screen time to develop a visible gesture. Sure, Chandra likes to burn things and Liliana likes to kill things, but there’s no singular style to doing that. Gideon’s weird four-bladed whip use is closest to an iconic move for a planeswalker – and even then we rarely see the sural actually used.
What’s overlooked nowadays, however, is that as a player, you are a planeswalker too. And that’s where we’ll find such traits.
The game of Magic allows for two avenues of signature behavior. The first is how you play the game. It’s been long established and written about regarding how and why you’re going to play your deck the way you do. Some people care little for flair and just want to win in the most expedient way possible. Others like to toy with their enemy like a cat does with a mouse. The longer you play the game, the harder it is to not develop some kind of identifiable move. In many ways Magic is as psychological as professional poker, but the methodology in which you play is not. Rather, there’s far more personal expression than people realize.
How do you like to best upstage your opponent? Do you run roughshod over their defenses with big creatures, or do you prefer to steal the best creatures for your own attacks? Do you wait until your opponent is poised for the win and wipe the board, or do you ensure with a few well-timed counterspells that their linchpin combo never happens in the first place? Do you lightning strike your opponent before they get off the ground, or do you play defensively, turtleing until you are poised for an unstoppable countermove?
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
People hone in on certain tactics that they’re comfortable with, and it’s entirely possible in doing so to be oblivious that you developed your own pattern of behavior. This isn’t a bad thing really; it’s one of the things that keeps the game vibrant and exciting. This process ensures that you get to play in a way that suits you, and you have a lot of leeway in your decision making.
The second way you can influence your play style is with the cards that you tend to – or insist upon – using. With EDH, the idea of “staple” or “auto-include” cards is one such instance of this, but the concept has slightly broader strokes. That is, players are going to use cards that resonate with them on some level, be it because of nostalgia, style, or that they simply are powerful cards. If you are building a Blue deck, for example, how emphatic are you to including counters? How about bounce spells? If you’re playing Red, how absolute is Lightning Bolt? And how often do you stare at cards like Sol Ring, Solemn Simulacrum, or Sensei’s Diving Top and wonder if you can’t happen to find some room for them?
Of course, generalized examples are one thing, but players also have an equal level knack for using cards that won’t show up on a lot of Top Ten lists but find a home in a disproportionate number of their decks all the same. These are your personalized signature cards. For one reason or another, you developed an attachment to those cards and like to use them as much as possible. This is because they either reinforce or help shape our style of play.
This week, I’m sharing one such card that’s been personally handy for me for many, many years.
Today we have: Icy Manipulator
Name: Icy Manipulator
Edition: Alpha through Unlimited, Ice Age, Ninth & Tenth Edition, Mirrodin, Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas
Focus: Board Control
Highlights: Although I started playing during the time of Antiquities, it wasn’t until Ice Age’s reprint of ol’ Icy here that I truly latched on to the usefulness of artifacts. It isn’t terribly flashy (especially with the newest artwork), but it is a card that can has far more use than first appears.
For four mana, this artifact is cheap and slow enough to be included in just about any casual multiplayer. Plus, in settings like Commander, the table politics of being able to help or hurt as needed is impossible to overlook.
Case in point: it has a mere one mana activation. This makes it a more than ideal reaction card because you it requires so little investment into defending yourself or someone else. Thus, you can still leverage the rest of your mana for your own purposes without having to keep half of your land untapped to stop something that may or may not be heading your way.
On top of that, Icy Manipulator also affects the three prime tapping candidates. Tapping down a creature is going to be the most used aspect of the card, letting you economically tap out your opponent’s scariest or most potent creature, and it makes it particularly difficult to sneak in a scary creature with haste. Icy Manipulator is arguably much better at stopping small creature offenses than mobs of tokens, but that hardly undercuts its versatility.
The ability to tap artifacts and land is, admittedly, a secondary trait, but if that’s all we wanted to focus on we could just use Puppet Strings instead. However, there are plenty of times when an artifact with a particularly mean activation may want to be stopped entirely, or you can force an opponent’s hand with it. Tapping down a player’s Mountain may not seem all that useful, but if it seems like they are lacking enough of a certain color of mana, disrupting their plans can be quite advantageous. Plus, it’s also highly useful against ability lands like Mystifying Maze or Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion.
All of these mechanical traits are useful with Icy Manipulator, but there’s also a hidden attribute the card bestows upon its user as well: it teaches you how about timing. To fully take advantage of Icy’s disrupting power, players are unwittingly taught about turn phases and when are the most opportune times to react. Using Icy Manipulator to tap a creature before attacking is one thing, but causing something to be tapped during an upkeep step, for example, can fundamentally upend your opponent’s plans. And in a Commander game, the more you can keep your opponent off balance, the better.
Icy Manipulator was a heavily used card of mine for many years for these reasons and helped form my personal style of play that continues to this day. It’s hardly used in every deck (which would lack variety), but it certainly has made it into a Commander deck or two because of its affordability to aquire, to cast and to use. Its utility-based function made it the original Swiss Army Artifact, and the next time its one mana requirement is used to thwart your opponent’s latest machinations, you’ll understand how useful it still can be.
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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