Welcome back to week fifty-three of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 408 days since my last summoning. After the momentous, if sobering, milestones of last week, one can’t help but feel like this week is more of an also-ran sort of reporting. What is one week past a full year? In most cases it’d just be the start of Year Two of whatever it is you’re keeping track of, but I really don’t want to go down that road with respect to my pandemic-fueled Magic stagnation. Instead, much like the specter of 2020 still looms this far into the next year, I choose instead to think of it as one superyear of intransigence, grief, and frustration. Fair or not, in my mind this whole subseries only exists within the confines of the annals of the 2020 story, and that’s how I’m approaching it until it’s over.
Which, if luck would have it, may be just a couple weeks away.
Not the pandemic, sadly, no. That continues to stretch on month by month, and while – finally – we are seeing some real progress here in the US towards making a dent at curtailing cases, hospitalizations, and worse, it’s far from over. We continue to see spikes in specific regions that need help compared to the country’s trajectory overall, and there are plenty of other parts of the globe where things are not going nearly as well. We Americans have a terrible habit of possessing a very self-centered global worldview and either ignore or even forget about huge swaths of the planet that aren’t, well, us. But the thing about a pandemic is, by its very definition, it’s a worldwide ailment. We can’t be that myopic on this issue. It’s why much of our isolationist approaches early on trying to address it didn’t help much, and why it will take global efforts to actually bring it under control.
Still…after being THE hotspot country for much of the last year, it is a relief to see progress finally being made. To see and feel that progress in real time. It’ll be some time yet before we have the virus fully under control, but we’ve made some excellent strides in recent months. Any step in the right direction is worth celebrating.
Perhaps, say, to finally (and with proper safety mechanisms in place), to actually gather some folks together for a little EDH.
While many gamers certainly have already resumed such in-person activities (and many others who seemingly never stopped), our local meta is being particularly cautious. There is quite a bit of uncertainty and ambivalence over what constitutes appropriate dates and table size. I’m hopeful, but as to precisely when this long-sought-but-trivial moment will arrive remains up in the air. I’d very much like this pandemic-focused series to come to a close next month, but only time will tell.
Conveniently, the idea of ambivalence ties into this week’s card. Per usual, rather than discuss Magic-related topics or a larger point around the card being showcased, we continue on by looking at Magic cards I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. And this one, on more than one occasion, has come down to a case of indecision.
Today we have: Reverent Mantra
Name: Reverent Mantra
Edition: Mercadian Masques
Focus: Creature Protection
Highlights: As one of those crazy casual Magic fools who have been at the game longer than some of its players have been alive, it’s no secret that I have a particular soft spot for Protection as a mechanic. Despite it being slightly confusing to new players. Despite it effectively being four different effects in one. Despite Wizards going back and forth in recent years over whether to keep or phase it out, my appreciation – indeed adoration – for Protection has never wavered. Since the very first wards in the game I’ve long enjoyed the ability of this mechanic which offers both offensive and defensive strategic potential but doesn’t beat you over the head with its purpose. It’s nuanced, multifaceted, and tactical all in one. If my deck has White in it, it’s one of my personal go-to effects.
Now I like Reverent Mantra. I’ve used Reverent Mantra. I even have Reverent Mantra in non-EDH multiplayer decks. I certainly recommend it as a card. But despite that, it hasn’t been an automatic inclusion in some Commander build decisions. And there are two reasons for that.
The first is the same concern that many players have with it: the cost. Reverent Mantra is incredibly helpful by providing you two different means to cast it. The default method is simply paying its four mana cost. Many players over the years have expressed wariness of that fact since sitting on four mana to be able to use it defensively can be a bigger lift than they’d prefer, especially in the era when cards like Holy Day were also in circulation. Having four extra mana open in Commander is of lesser concern as games progress, but even in this format the more costly the card you need to keep mana open for in response, the more it has a way of its enthusiasm getting tempered.
Luckily, Reverent Mantra has an incredibly beneficial alternative casting cost in that respect. It states that instead of paying for the card, you can exile another White card from your hand. Using this method Reverent Mantra can be cast even if you are completely tapped out – which often comes at great surprise to an opponent. However, doing so also costs you another card in your hand. Given that White traditionally doesn’t have access to great card draw, your card economy is this color is tighter than others, and this option can sometimes make for some difficult choices.
On the other hand, the upsides to Reverent Mantra are hard to ignore: upon resolving creatures gain Protection from the color of your choice for the turn. This can be used in response to numerous threats, such as a massive damage spell being cast, to a bevy of unwarranted targeting from an opponent, to being able to block a dangerous attack and keeping your own creatures alive. Moreover, Reverent Mantra has the often overlooked hook in that it doesn’t just affect your creatures – it provides Protection to the entire board. In practice, this can be used for political purposes to help another player out if they’re under assault somehow, or it can stymie Aura-heavy deck strategies by blocking and/or removing them from the battlefield. This unique characteristic, even from similar cards, can make a huge difference from a multiplayer perspective.
And if that weren’t enough, Reverent Mantra can also be used in a more proactive manner. For instance, instead of using it to defend, you can grant yourself (or another player’s army for that matter) Protection from an opponent’s color and go on the attack. Against monocolored decks, this can be a devastating (or even fatal) move.
In all, Reverent Mantra has more upsides than down and makes an excellent Commander worthy card. For me personally, though, there is a second, and far more silly reason why it hasn’t made the jump yet into a Commander deck. And that is because Akroma’s Blessing also exists. Akroma’s Blessing isn’t necessarily a better card than the Mantra. They’re incredibly similar in nature and cost, with each granting Protection of a color of your choice for the turn. The Blessing can’t be free-casted, but it can be Cycled in an absolute pinch if need be. And it doesn’t provide a board-wide effect. The one area where it does have a leg up, however, is that Akroma’s Blessing is much easier to slot in decks with multiple colors. While Akroma’s Blessing can be effective in any deck permutation containing White, Reverent Mantra operates best in decks of only 1-2 colors – else your ability to free-cast becomes ineffective.
They are both excellent cards, and I often find it very hard to choose. In the pre-EDH days my White decks often had one or the other, and in one deck I had both. Yet the last Commander deck I built with White left me struggling to choose between the two until the very end. Because it was a tricolor deck, I ultimately decided on the Blessing, and even that came with needing to convince myself it was logically the better choice.
Recently I have pulled out one of my first Commander decks (one that was marginally effective even at the the time) and decided to completely overhaul many of the elements that didn’t work. That deck happens to be monowhite. And while I’m sure there will be some agonizing over which of these two cards to use yet again, I may finally have the chance for this excellent utility card to make the leap into my Commander-going arsenal.
If I can make up my mind, anyway.
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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