Commander Spotlight: Purgatory

Progress is like a river: it’s rarely in a straight line, and it doesn’t always behave the way you’d expect. Sometimes progress is a meandering stream, slowly working its way along. Other times it’s like quick-moving rapids, with radical direction changes and dangerous obstacles in your way.

Every successful enterprise inevitably seeks ways to improve on its original design. From engineering to medicine to the rule of law, humans have a natural instinct to innovate. And it just so happens to be that we’re pretty good at it.

Yet it doesn’t have to be the grand pillars of civilization to see progress at work; it happens in everyday activities as well. That includes recreational activities like Magic.

Magic has come a long way in 20 years, but the fundamentals have remained the same. The batch system was eventually replaced with the Stack, and the abandonment of card types like Interrupts and Enchant World gave way to Equipment and Planeswalkers. Like most things progress-related though, not every change is deemed good or even necessary. Was eliminating mana burn worth it? Is intimidate all that better than fear? Is the game more worthwhile with hexproof over shroud? And what’s worse – retconning the older story lines or ignoring them altogether?

The jury’s also still out on the whole mythic rare thing.

Magic continues to find new ways to improve on earlier designs. However, just because newer iterations of cards and mechanics continue to be created doesn’t necessarily mean that its progenitors should be ignored entirely. Sure, no one today would dare take direct medical advice from Aristotle, but he also laid the groundwork for empirical study and comparative physiology – two things that the field now takes for granted.

Magic is slightly different, in that the entire Magic library is still at the player’s disposal for casual play. As an extension of that, the same is true for Commander, excepting a very small percentage of cards. On the one hand, that often means that if an older card has seemingly been ‘replaced’, it is ignored. (i.e. Shatter to Smash to Smithereens). On the other hand, be it for nostalgia, price, or politics, not all older card iterations are truly lost to the steady flow of progress. And we’re going to look at one such example.

Today we have: Purgatory


Name: Purgatory

Edition: Mirage

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Reanimation

Highlights: Purgatory is a great example of card that can see second life in Commander. While it certainly was used in its time, Purgatory was costly and potentially dangerous. Four mana and two life in a normal game was no small investment to activate, and if someone Disenchanted it, you lost any chance of your dead creatures coming back again. But the payoff was huge, as it was one of the first cards that could repeatedly bring dead creatures. It was a potential Resurrection every turn. It bears a lot of similarities to Nim Deathmantle but with the advantage of saving creatures long after they’ve died.

There is no shortage of other cards that reanimate a creature for you every turn nowadays, though, and Purgatory has undoubtedly been long overshadowed by its spiritual successor, Debtor’s Knell. For all intents and purposes, there’d be no reason to pick this over the Knell, then, right? Well, not quite.

One can’t deny that Debtor’s Knell is more powerful: it doesn’t require a mana or life cost to reanimate, it doesn’t exile your cards, and it can pull from anyone’s graveyard. However, there are three key comparative reasons Purgatory still has some gas left in the tank:

  1. Purgatory is cheaper mana wise. While it requires a cost to use every turn, Purgatory has a four CMC versus seven. Black / White particularly isn’t the fastest color combination on the board, and it can take time to get to seven. Plus, it’s not like two life should be a big deal with two colors adept at gaining it.
  2. Purgatory is inexpensive to acquire and is about 15 times cheaper to buy than the Knell. For those on a budget, this is important.
  3. Purgatory is far less likely to draw attention. Debtor’s Knell has a Destroy on Sight nature to it and left alone is guaranteed to draw its controller aggro due to the board advantage it gives. In its heyday, Purgatory was one of those enchantments that someone would spite destroy just to exile your dead creatures, but in a Commander game (and an era with far more exile effects), this is far less likely. If you’d like to increase your odds of the enchantment sticking around, consider Purgatory instead.

Progress will always move forward continue, and the last thing anyone wants is to be left in a creative purgatory – especially in a game like Magic. Still, it turns out there are situations where Purgatory can be useful.

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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