Magic does not exist in a vacuum. Unlike a typical board or card game, the entire idea of a collectible card game is that it abhors consistency. A CCG lives, breathes, adapts, and evolves as often as it needs to as a means of both maintaining the interest of its existing players as well as introducing new players to the fold. Over time, this has meant introducing new mechanics while retiring older ones, experimenting with different card and template ideas, creating whole new avenues of gameplay to explore, and even changing the fundamental rules of the game itself.
Sure, the core of the game remains the same, but everything else around it exists in a quasi-amorphous state, ready to be molded as needed to maintain the integrity of the game’s audience.
As it happens, this also includes how the game is packaged and sold.
Magic is constantly tinkering with different delivery methods, from ‘clash packs’ to intro decks to entire starter sets like the Portal Series. Based on market reaction, some of these ideas pan out, whereas others crash and burn. Back in the Ancient Times, for instance, you essentially had just two options for buying cards: booster packs and starter decks. Over time these starter decks, which were essentially three boosters mixed together with basic land, were renamed as tournament decks, and they lasted in their randomized goodness until being discontinued after Shards of Alara.
One idea that did stick, however, was that of preconstructed theme decks, or ‘precons’ as they’ve generally been known as. These came into use as far back as the Tempest block and have persisted in various forms since then. Unlike random packs, precons always consist of the same card list, and each set contains a few decks that tie directly into the theme and / or mechanics of the set itself.
For players just starting out, precons are a helpful tool for getting into the concept of deckbuilding and editing. For more enfranchised players, they’ve been a very hit or miss thing, mostly because they aren’t the audience for this product. For them, the simple truth is that most precons are not very interesting – or even very good as decks. So, traditionally, they are largely ignored by this part of the player base.
Sometimes, though, a truly stand-out precon comes along that can’t help but catch the attention of established plaeyers, for one reason or another. For the dozens of precons that have existed since Tempest, a small handful have really shone as solid, playable decks that could hold their own even against custom-built decks. One of the Lorwyn block precons, for example, was known for being highly efficient as a one-on-one deck, and a Champions of Kamigawa era precon actually had Umezawa’s Jitte in it. An Urza block deck was nearly impossible to keep things alive due to a playset of Pestilences. Facing a Stronghold-era discard deck was incredibly annoying at keeping any cards in your hand. And so on.
One of my personal favorites was a scary Green/White precon from Judgment called Spectral Slam. It revolved around buffing the handful of damage-preventing phantom creatures while also sporting a little card called Mirari’s Wake. Leveraging large creatures that were otherwise annoyingly difficult to kill made the deck very potent against most opponents.
What’s more, the deck touted five of the (then) six phantoms in the game. One of them was conspicuously missing from the fight, however. It was almost always an auto-include once you started modifying the deck – which is always the next step for a new player using a precon. And it certainly was one heck of an omission. It is that card that brings us here this week.
Today we have: Phantom Nishoba.
Name: Phantom Nishoba
Focus: Damage Prevention / Life Gain
Highlights: Adding Phantom Nishoba to Spectral Slam always took an already-useful deck and made it that much scarier to deal with, for a few reasons. For one, this kitty was double the size of the next biggest phantom, ensuring that even if you didn’t have immediate buffs on hand it could still be intimidating to handle. For another, a large creature with Lifelink could easily swing most games in your favor if it stuck around long enough.
While Spectral Slam is long gone, the phantoms endure as still being useful creatures in their own right, and the Phantom Nishoba is their king. Seven mana may be a lot in normal decks without lots of mana acceleration, but such a casting cost finds itself quite at home in the Commander realm where most don’t fret too much about it. As a reward, you gain access to a 7/7 Trample with Lifelink and the ability to mitigate damage. Trample is especially potent for a creature such as this as you’re able to put it on the offensive, gain life, and ensure that if your opponent going to take a decent chunk of damage and / or lose creatures in the process.
The creature’s one real downside, as it is for all of the phantoms, is that each time you prevent the damage, it gets slightly smaller. Unlike the rest of its kind, however, the Nishoba is able to keep that up far longer than the rest of them.
Of course, once you’re able to offset that component, then the leash truly comes off.
As a minor aside, Phantom Nishoba is also a nice flavor win. On the stylistic side, it’s creature type is Spirit Cat Beast, which not only is an awesome bit of flavor win, but it also happens to glide nicely into many tribal decks sporting one or more of those types. On the mechanical side, the phantom ability offers a form of semi-indestructibility while being far more interesting in the process than a blanket ‘I can’t die’ ability.
The endless CCG march for change imay have moved away from the phantoms long ago, but thanks to Commander, few things in Magic have to completely die out. Especially giant creatures who are already dead.
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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