Commander Spotlight: Heartseeker

It’s common Magic lore that the closest the game has ever come to unraveling was during the Urza block, when an understaffed R&D team and a trio of underdeveloped sets caused massive headaches on multiple fronts. The theme of the sets didn’t quite line up with the mechanical intentions (such as that an ‘enchantment matters’ set had few enchantments to build around) and numerous cards made print without proper testing. This was the era of the ‘free spell’ mechanic (i.e. Palinchron) and a litany of highly overpowered cards such as Gaea’s Cradle, Tolarian Academy, Show And Tell, Metalworker, Yawgmoth’s Will, Memory Jar, Sneak Attack, Masticore, and, well the list goes on. This also included arguably the most broken card to come out of that era and one of the all-time most broken cards to ever grace the game – Tinker.

You could say it was bad when Morphling didn’t even crack the top 10 most potent cards of its block.

It was bad, whether from a block cohesion standpoint or from tournament stability. It’s often stated (even from the man himself) that the fallout of the Urza block was the closest Mark Rosewater has ever got to being fired. This was in no small part due to the fact that he designed one of the Urza sets entirely by himself, with little vetting afterwards.

The only group that didn’t have huge issue with these sets was the casual fan base. On the one hand, anyone could get access to powerful cards and therefore construct a very strong deck. On the other hand, barring a small handful of them, the efficiency of the most egregious cards becomes significantly diluted in multiplayer games, so the block’s problematic nature was far less noticeable.

Only one time since then has a series of card sets become so concerning that it led to numerous tournament bans and more than a little hand-wringing from the folks within WotC. That was Mirrodin.

Mirrodin’s major theme was artifacts, and although it held up to much stricter scrutiny than Urza block, this block too was beset with more than a modicum of developmental problems of power. This was a tricky set to manage because so much of the set was either artifact based or cared about artifacts in some fashion. Because of its highly colorless nature, so many cards were interchangeable with one another – making it incredibly difficult to catch every potential problem.

Still, while the tourney side of Magic was pulling their hair out because of Affinity decks and artifact lands, the more casual factions of the game were, in part, focusing on kicking the tires of this new card type called equipment. ‘They work like Auras, except they were artifacts that stick around after the creature dies? Interesting!’

And there was no shortage of them: the Mirrodin block forged 42 inital equipment to experiment with.

Because of the sheer volume of artifact juggling that went on during these sets, it’s no surprise that many early equipment pieces were either incorrectly costed or incorrectly slotted rarity-wise. While it makes sense Sword of Fire and Ice is a rare, for instance, its casting and/or equip costs were probably a little low for their effects. Likewise, few would argue now that Skullclamp or Loxodon Warhammer should have been uncommon.

Such it is. They were new; Wizards simply wasn’t sure how equipment was going to be received. They may be a staple in every set design now, but their success wasn’t guaranteed out of the gate. In fact, there were even those who actively disliked equipment for one reason or another back then, even if those voices have largely dissipated over time.

Among the many pieces of armor and weaponry thrown at us then, one rare equipment tried especially hard to stand out among the group. It was flashy, powerful, and got a lot of looks. Yet it didn’t see much actual gameplay. As more equipment came out, it became less and less well known, never really developing a presence in Constructed formats. The problem was that in an era that gave you the likes of Bonehoard and Cranial Plating, this little dagger was deemed far too slow to be worth the effort. And they were probably right.

But that was then. This is now. And now we have Commander to cherish such things…

Today we have: Heartseeker


Name: Heartseeker

Edition: Darksteel

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Spot Removal

Highlights: Heartseeker had the unfortunate luck of being unveiled at a time when the tempo of the game sped up significantly during its tenure. Decks were known to be incredibly fast and efficient, and outside of lengthy casual settings, this card was simply too slow to have been super useful. As Heartseeker illustrates, however, just because it was wrong for one setting doesn’t mean it’s bad for all of them forever.

Heartseeker is not a complicated card by any means; it’s purpose is quite transparent. Once on the battlefield, Heartseeker effectively reads ‘pay 5 and tap a creature to destroy target creature’. This ability is repeatable so long as you have the mana and creatures to invest in its activation, making it far more useful than it would have been back then. In Commander, paying 5 to destroy a problematic creature is well within the ballpark of what people are willing to spend to accomplish that. Just think of the initial 4 mana as an up-front investment.

The +2/+1 bonus with this card is almost entirely an afterthought, as that’s not its primary purpose. That said, the small buffing it provides to the equipped creature could help it survive better if you’re forced to put it on something with summoning sickness.

Admittedly, paying 9 mana to destroy something the first time around isn’t ideal. Should it stick around on the board, though, the tradeoff is well worth it. In addition to being able to repetitively pick off creatures, its colorless nature means that any color can have access to creature spot removal without having to jump through excessive hoops. What’s more, the fact that the activation is simply tapping the creature also means that you can sit with your finger on the trigger each round and play the political game.

Just be careful with not abusing its effects too much, as doing so will ultimately only invite its (and possibly your) destruction.

The Mirrodin block gave us dozens of highly visible and sought after cards, be it universally useful artifacts like Mind’s Eye or nouveau tournament staples like Serum Visions. It goes to show you that no matter what set, whether it’s one severely hyped or severely panned, there’s always going to be a hidden gem to find if you look hard enough.

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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