Last week, we hit a watershed moment in the Monday Magic series, culminating in the 250th card talked about specifically over the span of over six years. It’s crazy to think it’s been that long, but it’s been a fun means of discussing not only the cards themselves, but also…pretty much whatever else comes to mind that intersects the game of Magic in some way.
Which, given the game’s longevity, its impact on the hobby, the size of its player base, and the sheer amount of gamers who have come across it even in passing, that’s not a terribly hard feat. We’ve reached the point in fact where the game is casually mentioned in larger society as jokes, throwaway lines, or in-jokes in a number of shows and other games. It may never be as well known as Monopoly, but among tabletop gamers people have likely at least hard of Magic: the Gathering.
Granted, it’s not always in the most positive light, but that’s another story for another day. No game is perfect, nor is its surrounding community.
That said, every player is always looking to improve their game, ideally on fronts both at the table and beyond. One of the more nuanced skills to develop over time for players is that of knowing when and where to use certain cards for maximum potency. Sitting on a counterspell or a board wipe card can be an incredibly tempting proposition, because cards like these are exciting and can change the fate of the game (or at least your own status within it) and you’re enticed to play them as fast as possible. Yet waiting on when to use a card is a much overlooked aspect of the game’s strategy, and it can be challenging to properly gauge those most opportune moments. Unless used defensively out of necessity or desperation, figuring out the best time for particular cards can be as advantageous as the deck build itself, especially in longer games like Commander. It can admittedly be a fine line between jumping too early and minimizing its effect and waiting too long, letting your opponent have their own response to your countermove. As a result, it’s much more an art than a science, and figuring out the ideal timing based on the decks involved, the state of the board, the card in question, and myriad other factors often makes it a mix of tactical execution and instinctual assessment.
There are innumerable examples of this at play, but one that specifically comes to mind is this week’s pick, where it’s all about pinpointing the most opportune time to throw it down for maximum effect. So let’s shamble on to it.
(Also, the celebratory giveaway is still going on this week, so you can enter at the bottom of the page!)
Today we have: Shriveling Rot
Name: Midsummer Revel
Focus: Board Wipe / Life Loss
Highlights: Although most players nowadays take for granted card mechanics that come with additional or alternative abilities if a separate cost was paid, back during the Mirrodin block, Entwine was a relatively new idea. The most well-known kicker mechanic to that point was, well, Kicker, and the vast majority of those cards provided a bonus rider if it was kicked (i.e. A + B). Entwine, on the other hand, posited the idea that you could do A, B, or both, usually done in a very syngerstic way. And among the 24 Entwine cards created, few hammered home that idea – or were as deadly – as Shriveling Rot.
Depending on the timing and usage, either facet of Shriveling Rot can be quite effective, and either of which can be gained for just 4 mana. The first ability effect states that when cast, anytime a creature is dealt damage during the current turn, it dies. At the time a callback to cards like Fatal Blow and Death Pits of Rath, and a precursor the rules idea of spells being able to have Deathtouch, this effect can be absolutely devastating if timed right. Even the most trivial amount of damage done to creatures in a turn suddenly becomes lethal, which can be incredibly handy whether you’re trying to take down one creature or an entire board’s worth. When properly executed, casting this card out of nowhere easily helps it live up to its deathly card name.
The one downside to this card in general, however, is that Shriveling Rot is the kind of card that capitalizes on certain situations and as a reaction to others events transpiring. It doesn’t actually do a whole lot by itself as it can’t actually deal damage. Still, this is far easier to work around than it may seem on paper, as damage is one of the most common triggers to capitalize on in the game. Plus, most of the time you’re going to wait until the most opportune time to use this anyway.
As potentially terminal as this card is to creatures with its first ability, so too is Shriveling Rot potentially the same to players with its second. The latter option for this card states that during this turn, whenever a creature dies, its controller loses life equal to its toughness. In a format known for big, scary creatures, even having just a couple midrange creatures die can be incredibly punishing in terms of life loss. If your creature is large enough, or you had a massive army suddenly keel over due to a board wipe, for instance, Shriveling Rot can be potentially game-ending for some players. Though you will want to be mindful that this will trigger on your own creatures dying as well, so either make sure yours aren’t headed to the underworld or that you’re willing to take the hit.
Finally, you come to the Entwine option, which is that for an additional 3 mana, you can have both card options at the same time. Which in practical terms means that whenever a creature is dealt damage at all this turn, be it from a pinger, some kind of trigger, another spell being cast, or even basic combat damage, it’s probably going to be a painful moment for several people at the table. Although the card works servicably with either singular option, the combined effect will be well worth the wait.
Sometimes having a little patience undoubtedly pays off.
Speaking of waiting around, you don’t want to wait too long for this contest! In light of hitting this series’ 250th card, we’re offering up a fitting $25 store credit to TCGPlayer.com as a way of saying thanks for reading over these last 6+ years. It’s quite appreciated. Enter below, if that’s your sort of thing. (Which I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is.)
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