There’s an old (and rather worn out) joke in the Magic community that the 5 most powerful cards in the game are the five basic lands. This little gem is supposed to highlight the fact that without land, it’s very difficult – although not impossible – to make a functioning deck. It’s a joke that tries instill that your deck can have the most ban-worthy powerful spells and playsets of creatures that cost more than a low-end laptop, but if you don’t have the mana for it, you’ll be going nowhere fast.
The thing is, most players don’t want to dwell on that fact. For the majority of Magic folk, mana is just a means to an end. It is merely fuel for the fire that is the rest of the deck, and although nonbasic land here and there get some applause, basic land are a necessary evil.
Case in point: while it is true that these lands are the simple workhorses that keep everything in the game working, there are only three times when you actually care about simple unadorned Mountains and Forests:
- When You Don’t Have Enough: Getting ‘mana screwed’, especially early in games, stinks. No one likes having it happen to them, and most don’t like winning as a result of it happening to their opponent. The mana screw often either keeps you out of the game entirely or lets you into it so late that it is irrelevant. EDH may be more forgiving in that than other formats, but even a floundering Commander deck can be very frustrating. It’s something every player contends with at some point, and is one half of the bell curve regarding the percentages and efficacy of a deck’s mana base. Which leads to…
- When You Have Too Much: Slightly less frustrating, but still potentially catastrophic, is getting ‘mana flooded’. This is the opposite problem, happening in the middle to late stages of games when you’re drawing lands repeatedly when they’re no longer as necessary. Once players reach a certain number (which varies on the player and deck), they’d prefer to be drawing anything else but lands. Perhaps they’re on the ropes and are hoping to draw something to keep themselves alive, or perhaps they’re seeking cards to finally put their opponent away. Or, perhaps you’re simply bored because you’re in a big Commander game, the board just got wiped, your hand is empty, and you’d like to do something besides plop a Plains down and end your turn. In any case, drawing land – especially basic land – is the last thing you want. But there is also the case of…
- When Your Opponent Leaves X Land Open: The most iconic example of this is when your opponent cast a bunch of spells, doing their wizardy things, and then purposely ended their turn with two untapped Islands. Whether or not they had it (although they often do), this was a signal that the chances of a Counterspell was present. Two blue mana meant that you had to take into account them having a nullifying response to whatever shenanigans you wanted to pull off. Now, it’s hardly the only example. Still, regardless of whether making such a visual move is a bluff, the idea of leaving lands untapped in such a way has given many, many players pause over the years, and is just one example illustrating that there is a small psychological component to the game of Magic.
It is that third point that brings us here today, because it’s a tactic that’s often both underutilized and undervalued by newer players to the game. While Magic is not professional poker, nor should it be treated as such, there is something to be said about trying to get into the head of your opponent. When presented with that situation, some people may take the bait while others ignore it completely. A portion of players may think the two Island player may not have the counter and try anyway, for example. Others may purposely bait them into using it on something else instead. Plus, leaving open mana is better than the alternative: if your opponent is completely tapped out, you know that they won’t be able to do anything on your return in response to your actions. Most of the time, anyway.
But this approach is hardly the sole domain of Blue. Classically speaking, having both a single Plains or single Forest also invited the same tactic. That is, did the White player have a Swords to Plowshares at the ready? Likewise, did Green have their Fog?
Fog was the second most common instance of purposely keeping a set number of mana at the ready, and the whole idea of mass combat prevention has become completely ingrained into the psyche of Green because of this one single card. For one mana, Fog is able to totally halt a player’s creature-based onslaught. Fog has proven so successful as a tool that it’s had dozens of iterations over the years, including the powerful (and personal favorites) Moment’s Peace and Constant Mists.
Yet there is another Fog effect that often gets very overlooked the Commander era. While it’s understandable it happens to this spell, it’s also a bit of a shame. So, this week we’re going to rectify that.
Today we have: Spore Cloud
Name: Spore Cloud
Edition: Fallen Empires
Focus: Combat Control
Yeah, Black has a Fog. What can we say? It was a weird time.
Still, Spore Cloud was the first new take on fogging. But outside of the time in which it was played, Spore Cloud was largely forgotten. This was in part because it came from Fallen Empires, which has gone down as one of the worst Magic sets ever made. People, intentionally or not, distanced themselves largely from many of its cards, although many still rightfully point out that there are some good gem cards from the set amongst the rabble.
Additionally it was because later sets continued to print new Fog variations that caught people’s attention, including Constant Mists, Respite, Spike Weaver, Lull, and so on. If you were being competitive, Spore Cloud wasn’t an ideal Fog, as it cost three mana to hold back in reserve versus one or two in most cases ever since. Mostly, though, Spore Cloud was dispersed into the winds of Magic history when Tangle was created in Invasion. Not only did Tangle cost one less mana than this, the argument went, but it did the exact same thing. Tangle was a strictly better card, and this one was no longer needed. Right?
For general play, it’s hard to argue with that logic. However, it’s also not entirely true. Spore Cloud does do something different than Tangle, but it’s only useful in multiplayer games…like EDH.
Both Tangle and Spore Cloud prevent all combat damage and have a particularly mean (and the apparently now out-of-color) effect of locking down the attacking creatures for a turn. If a player went for the kill with the bulk of their creatures and was stopped by one of these cards, not only did they not kill you, but they’ve now just left themselves wide open for an unfettered counterattack the following turn.
The difference is, however, that Spore Cloud can also do this to blocking creatures in addition to attackers. Nominally, you’d never block and then use this card, and that’s where some people often get tripped up with its usefulness. Instead, there are two methods to utilize the block-and-tap effect. Traditionally, the first was done by purposefully attacking with a creature and compelling your opponent to block on purpose (say with Lure).
Second, you need more than one opponent. In a multiplayer format like Commander, Spore Cloud is rife for table politics. That is, if Player A and Player B both get into a notable combat, and it’s advantageous for you and / or the rest of the table to see that both player suffer from it, you as Player C can cast this after blockers are declared. Sure, no creatures are destroyed (which could be a good thing), but more importantly, every single creature involved in that combat is now locked down for an entire round. It potentially can leave not one, but two players wide open. In a format that isn’t hyper-focused on low mana cost spells, this added effect over Tangle can easily justify its one extra cost.
Just like spores themselves, a good idea is very hard to get rid of, and we continue to see new inventive ways to create Fog effects. Today’s variation is a classic, and tomorrow’s is still to be written. In either case, just be sure to leave enough mana open to use it.
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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