You’re sitting around with your regular group of friends for a game of Commander, and things are off to a great start. There’s frivolity, trash talking, and griping about mana all around you as players build up and smack one another around.
Just then, there comes a noticeable pause in the action as someone casts an old or obscure card, generating a questionable interaction with other effects in play. The dialogue usually goes something along the lines of:
“Are you sure it works that way?”
“It does now, but it used to work differently.”
“Are you sure it changed? I’m not convinced.”
(At this point someone pulls up Gatherer.)
“Well the Oracle text says X. So, according to that it does look like it’s been updated.”
(At this point someone else pulls up Gatherer.)
“Yeah, but the rule clarification from 2008 makes it seem like it could be interpreted in either direction…”
Five minutes transpire before it’s agreed upon that yes, you can play that Mountain after all.
With thousands upon thousands of unique cards, there is no shortage of original, wacky, complicated, or highly confusing interactions in Magic: the Gathering. The majority of combos and synergistic behaviors exist in ways that are easy to quantify and address in normal games, but it’s inevitable that you will run into exceptions. In a format that allows just about any card and whose singleton deck style means a greater variety of cards being used, it’s only a matter of time before some uncommonly used card comes into contact with some new darling to cause a rules headache at your table.
When dealing with cards created during the first third of the Magic’s lifespan, you are far more likely to run into these interaction issues than any other point, for two main reasons – aside from the general complexity issues of the game itself.
The first is the human element. People are pretty good at doing a lot of different things, but time and again we’ve been shown that our long term memory is not as ironclad as we like to think it is. Memories can (and do) get distorted the further away we get from a moment in time, and that’s true in Magic as it is anywhere else. It’s entirely possible that someone remembers a card functioning differently at a distant time in the game’s past because, it worked differently under some rule of the game that has since changed (hello Interrupts!). However, it’s also entirely possible that they played with the card wrong even back then. Checking card rulings weren’t nearly as easy in 1996 as it is now, and many cards from the game’s more formative years were arbitrarily more confusing to understand than they needed to be, making their printed wordings just as confusing now as back then.
The second aspect is that, well, the card possibly did change in functionality since it was created. This actually happened with some regularity for a number of years in Magic’s history through a process known as ‘power level errata’. That is, as the rules of the game evolved, certain cards became more or less powerful in conjunction with these new game aspects. To counteract this, Wizards started editing how certain cards work to bring them closer in line with how they were originally intended. (Time Vault easily being the most famous example of this.) In time they abandoned this principle, and in the late 2000s they finally unwound the last of the power level errata cards, deciding that it was better for everyone for cards to function closest to their original printing rather than the spirit of that card.
As with everything, though, there were exceptions. And we’re going to look at one of those now.
Today we have: Grim Feast
Name: Grim Feast
Focus: Life Gain
Highlights: Strictly speaking, Grim Feast belongs to the first camp of functionality change, although the upshot did ultimately make the card more powerful. Grim Feast was part of 20 or so permanents that contained a targeted effect. Eventually, this became something the rules no longer supported, although they would essentially figure out how to do it with the Enchant Player card type years later.
As a result, while a few cards were changed to choose an opponent when they entered the battlefield (Black Vise, Cursed Rack, etc.), the rest of these permanents ended up getting upgraded with the rise in popularity of multiplayer.
Beyond being incredibly flavorful, Grim Feast is the epitome of a highly overlooked card. By itself, Grim Feast does come with the downside of hurting you every turn just for existing, but this is something easily mitigated in multiplayer games – and doubly so in games of Commander where you have twice the starting life total as a normal game. Thus, although it is a negative per se, there is little danger to using it in EDH.
In conjunction with that fact is that for a paltry three mana you are privy to a potential life gaining enchantment machine. Don’t discount how much life you can gain whenever a creature hits an opponent’s graveyard from the battlefield. Commander games are rarely short on spot removal and board wipes, and even a halfway effective board wipe can be highly lucrative with this out. Plus, given the general nature of lifegain in EDH, Grim Feast is the type of card that can be useful at almost every aspect of the game.
Grim Feast also has the versatility of being offensively as well as defensively. On the offense side, Grim Feast works incredibly well by ensuring that you benefit when most creatures die, however that may happen. The more creatures picked off, the better you’ll be.
Yet Grim Feast also easily plays defensive, merely letting the game unfold as it will. The card doesn’t care how your opponents’ creatures die, just so long as they do. Grim Feast is quite content to sit off to the side as two other players duke it out over creatures, and you reap a bit of that reward when it happens. In an ironic sort of way, that the enchantment damaging you every turn is discouraging, but in EDH, it can also helps reduce the card’s threat.
Well, until the first major board wipe causes you to gain a significant amount of life. Then it’s open season.
Sometimes, as the rules to a long and storied game like Magic change, so too do certain parts of that game have to adapt with it. In the case of Grim Feast, the removal of a game feature that was no longer possible made the card worth talking about here today. Like its cousins, the card now affects more than one opponent, and this rule change worked to the players’ advantage. Be that as it may, though, because Grim Feast’s best attribute can be easily missed unless you’re staring at its Oracle page.
Wizards has stopped doing direct errata for years, and yet some think a card like this still didn’t go far enough to return to its roots. That shouldn’t really be surprising: as this archived topic from 1995 shows, we’ve been doing this complaining thing for quite some time. Perhaps someday we will. And that prospect is something to sink your teeth into.
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