Magic has been around for over 20 years now, and in that time it has ballooned both in interest and complexity. While the basics to playing it have largely stayed the same, the sheer volume of possible rules interactions between cards reaches levels that only excite theoretical physicists. It is practically impossible to gauge with certainty how every new card created will interact with every other card made over a span of two decades, and many people wonder how it is that Wizards can even attempt to address such a monumental task.
To put it quite simply, they don’t.
One of the many reasons that Wizards pushes Standard – and to a lesser degree Modern – is that it significantly limits how cards behave with one another. By focusing on the new eras of the game it gives the designers and developers a better understanding of how their current projects are faring in terms of ensuring stability within the tournament sphere, gauging interest for future sets, reflecting on newer design ideas, and preventing the game from being prohibitively accessible to newer players.
The approach makes sense. Even with all of their in-house testing and testing and oh-god-all-of-the-testing, players still routinely find card interactions within even the most recent sets that the game’s creators didn’t see coming. Sometimes this makes for vibrant and exciting settings; other times it can lead to confusing or degenerate ones. In either case, there isn’t the manpower or desire at WotC to police how every new card will function with everything else even just a few sets back, let alone a card from Visions or Nemesis or Time Spiral.
Part of the larger difficulties of Eternal formats like Legacy and Vintage, and part of the fun of casual environments, is that you have almost the entire span of the game’s library to work with. There are genuine moments when you or a friend figure out that a card languishing in your collection suddenly becomes relevant once more. Case in point: before the resurfacing of Minotaur tribal in the Return to Ravnica and Theros blocks, there was little interest in the near-useless Didgeridoo. Once people starting building Minotaur decks out of Ravnica cards, however, and Theros was spoiled to have a two color tribal theme of them, it shot up from about a $.50 card to an $8 one almost over night.
The point is, there is an intrinsic appeal to many longtime players knowing that it’s possible some seemingly worthless card taking up space in a box could become a new deck’s lynchpin. Wizards doesn’t design too many cards worrying about how it will interact with older ones. In fact, not only are they fine with fun old cards being repurposed for new nefarious means, but they also couldn’t do a whole lot to curtail it even if they wanted to.
Commander, as a formulaic casual setting, strives for that middle ground of allowing for an open-ended card pool while at the same time trying to avoid the degenerative nature that is seen in formats like Legacy. Luckily, Commander is largely controlled by the spirit of casual camaraderie: EDH adheres in large part to Wheaton’s Law. That is, don’t be a dick.
Granted, it doesn’t stop everybody, but it certainly helps.
Yes, some cards have great effect when they come out and then sort of die off, hoping to be resurrected again one day. Other cards come off the presses seemingly like a dud, only to suddenly become incredibly useful sometime later. However, the vast majority exist somewhere in the middle, either being perpetually desired or they can be leveraged with a little build-around-me ingenuity.
This week’s pick oddly can fit into all three of those categories at the same time, and thus bears some mention.
Today we have: Mindshrieker
Highlights: Mindshrieker debuted during a block when much of Blue’s strategy centered around self-milling. Mindshrieker fit in to that process by letting you drop cards into your own graveyard, filling it with the cards you sought while potentially also giving you an offensive burst for your troubles. For a mere two mana cost, it was a cheap and easy method for reliable milling. It also flies, giving it great evasion potential. Mindshrieker made it such that you could attack first and then see what this ethereal bird dredged up for you to recomposite into one abomination or another.
As it stretched its wings beyond the graveyards of Innistrad, Mindshrieker continued to be incredibly useful. Beyond simply milling yourself with it, Mindshrieker makes for a mean one-two punch when attacking or blocking another player, milling their cards instead and getting larger with every nonland card it catches. EDH is rife with expensive cards, and for a few activations, this tiny 1/1 flyer can get big in a hurry. Granted, it is only a temporary buff, but in late games when mana is not as big of an issue, Mindshrieker could be a player’s undoing all by itself.
Moreover, Mindshrieker also can completely disrupt anyone attempting any sort of top deck manipulation, nullifying effects like scry or the always problematic Sensei’s Divining Top. This may only be a minor secondary benefit to most, but in those games when it matters, there’s nothing like adding insult to injury.
The Innistrad block was one with a lot of moving pieces, and this little birdie flew under the radar of many at first. Regardless of whether it was made use of then for its in-block functionality or afterwards in the larger arena, it is a deceptively powerful card at an all around economical cost. Mindshrieker can be utilized solely by itself with surprisingly efficiency or in tandem with other cards to expand on the idea even further. Certain Lhyrgoys and Horrors come to mind for instance, but there’s all sorts of things you can think up with this card. That is, unless it scares those ideas right out of your mind.
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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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org