What separates a great book from a merely good one? Why does one piece of artwork resonate so much stronger over time than another? How is it, exactly, that some movies can remain well received and respected for decades, while others are forgettable before they even leave the theaters?
Regardless of the medium, the most the common trait of that particularly intriguing or creative work is the possession of nuanced depth. It’s the idea that you can watch the same movie 10 times or pick up the same book for its annual read and continue to discover little aspects of character behavior or set details that you hadn’t seen before. Great creations stand out as great because of their multi-layered presentation without being heavy-handed about it. Such works are like little artistic puzzles, giving the audience reason to come back for another session. It’s that attention to detail which sets a project apart from its competition.
There were thousands of Italian Renaissance paintings, for instance, but there was only one School of Athens.
A similar thing happens as players dig into every new Magic set. The designers of the game put an inordinate amount of effort into providing all manner of creative and strategic avenues to explore, whether it’s the flavor nuances of depicting the most recent plane or the mechanical nuances of card interaction. They do this with such frequency and precision nowadays that, like any grand work, we as players don’t often see the little hidden aspects until well after its first couple viewings.
One such example is the design of hybrid cards. As a special subsection of multicolor cards, hybrids have become a much beloved creation of the game, themselves the blend of (generally) two colors that embody the traits of both colors, and players are always excited when they make an appearance in a set.
The part that makes them impressive, however, is also a prime example of people having different interpretations from the meaning of an art piece, or in this case, what it means to be multicolored. That is, while almost all hybrid cards are multicolor, not all multicolor cards are – or could – be hybrid.
Cue the disappointment.
Hybrids, after all, are designed to perform something that both colors of the card are able to do independently. Take the example of Unmake versus Utter End. Unmake is a hybrid card because both Black and White on their own are capable of removing creatures from the battlefield: Black via destruction and White mostly through a mix of temporary means (i.e. Oblivion Ring), combat-based removal (Chastise), or straight exile effects with some sort of drawback (trade-offs with the other player benefiting or it being cost prohibitive to cast).
Utter End (and its predecessor Vindicate), on the other hand, would not work. While White is capable in some fashion of exiling any nonland permanent, it isn’t able to do so at instant speed besides Mangara of Corondor. What’s more, Black is famously incapable of affecting enchantments or artifacts with the ultra-rare exception of two very old cards. Making Utter End hybrid would give Black the kind of access that shouldn’t have.
As a result, hybrid cards must be carefully implemented as to not accidentally bleed effects, and it’s why normal multicolor cards are far easier to create. In general, multicolor cards either do something that the color combination is capable of doing that the colors themselves aren’t able to on their own – such as with Utter End – or they merely possess abilities of its colors. Most multicolor fanfare in Magic centers around the former. The latter idea of a card merely having effects of their colors is often derided, considered lazy by many as just color-based effects stapled together onto a single card. We’re looking at you Savage Knuckleblade…
Yet these stapled-together cards can still be synergistic, and more importantly, they can be quite useful in Commander decks. Outside of casual multiplayer, many of these stapled cards are deemed too inefficient or too slow to be worthwhile, but in EDH, things operate differently. Even having disparate effects on the same card can be useful, as it’ll provide you with situation-based versatility.
Thus, since these Frankenstein-like multicolor cards don’t always get the attention they deserve, we’re taking the opportunity this week to highlight one such stapled card.
Today we have: Mercurial Chemister
Name: Mercurial Chemister
Edition: Return to Ravnica
Focus: Card Draw / Direct Damage
Highlights: Design-wise, Mercurial Chemister is not intended to be all that earth-shattering. For one, Blue / Red cards have a tough time getting made; so many of them either revolve around manipulating Instants & Sorceries, copying spells, or drawing cards and doing damage. Between these common motifs, a smallish pool of Blue / Red cards made to date, and that they have some of the highest percentages of stapled effects for a color pair, the bar isn’t exactly set terribly high for the Izzet family. Nevertheless, this is one overlooked card that can certainly find use in Commander settings.
Although a 2/3 for five mana isn’t something that immediately sets hearts aflutter, this is offset by the card’s highly worthwhile and repeatable abilities. The first of the two is Blue’s contribution to the mix, allowing you to draw two cards for a single mana. Drawing cards in almost any game is helpful. In games with large decks, it’s incredibly useful. Drawing two cards a turn for practically no investment is nothing to scoff at, especially since less than a half dozen creatures in either of these colors have abilities that repeatedly let you draw that many cards. And unlike a couple of those, this one doesn’t even come with a drawback.
It’s second ability is admittedly more useful on a case-by-case basis, used when a creature really needs to be removed. This ability, while limited to creatures, can be quite potent if you have the right cards in your hand. It can be costly to discard your more expensive cards for a quick spot removal of a creature, but there are plenty of times when removing a particular creature can swing things in your favor while also being politically advantageous. This ability turns any card you have into a burn spell. If there’s one thing Red likes more than actually blowing something up, it’s having the necessary ammunition to do so.
What’s more, though Mercurial Chemister may be two color’s effects put together, it is still done in a way that it invites a small degree of synergy between the effects – which is more than can be said of many other multicolor cards. The first ability to draw cards directly fuels the second’s ability to eradicate something on the board. In slower formats like Commander, both can easily see repeated use, especially considering that it doesn’t normally generate a ton of aggro in your direction by using it.
Creatively speaking, Mercurial Chemister is certainly no masterpiece. There is no hidden subtext or larger message at work with it. However, just because it may not be an instant classic doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking a look at all the same. This one certainly is worth a second viewing.
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