Commander Spotlight: Squall Line

The ever forward march of progress is, generally speaking, a positive thing. Over the course of human endeavor, we have spent countless generations striving to improve the lives of our families, our communities, and civilization in general. From the advent of the most basic tools such as the wheel and simple agriculture, through modern day conveniences like smartphones and predictive AI, one of the defining traits of our species is the constant desire to improve ourselves and those around us.

Progress, however, isn’t without its challenges and setbacks. The arc of human development is just that – an arc. Try as we might, there are a host of factors that ensure our path forward isn’t a purely straightforward line. From politics, wars, and wholesale societal collapse, to environmental catastrophes both natural and man-made, to deep-rooted philosophical disagreements as to the speed, direction, and temperament that progress should take, the road forward is largely welcomed but not without its trials.

Taking two steps forward and one step back will get you to your destination. It’s just not going to always be expedient.

The same logic applies to the development of Magic cards over the years, whereby both individual cards and the game on the whole has striven to make, in boring business parlance, ‘continuous incremental improvements’. The game has become more refined, more balanced, and more enticing year over year, and the factors these improvements are numerous. But while players may not be able to glean every facet of the game’s evolution over time, there is one example every longstanding player understands: power creep.

Power creep is the concept that, over time, the contents of the game has gotten progressively more powerful. A handful of early cards aside, for instance, most players would agree that the general strength of today’s Magic sets are more potent than many of the earlier ones. Try drafting Kaladesh versus Ice Age and see which has more bite to it.

The same is true for individual cards. Take classic spot removal. In the beginning you had Terror. Over time that became Dark Banishing. Which became Eyeblight’s Ending. Which became Doom Blade. And finally, Murder. Each of these cards is an improvement on its predecessor, with Murder and Doom Blade being clearly superior cards to Terror in every way. That’s power creep.

With staple cards like Black spot removal, power creep is a continual trend that’s easy to observe. Equally as often, however, we’re likely to see singular improvements of cards with a much narrower focus. Take for instance, Earthquake, a massive Red sweeper from Alpha. Several years later, during the Urza block, we were treated to Fault Line, which for one additional mana changed Earthquake from a Sorcery to an Instant. And although for certain formats that one mana differential isn’t ideal, for the vast majority of players, that change of supertype at almost the exact same cost is a prime example of incremental power creep.

Interestingly enough, Earthquake had a twin card from Alpha with a very similar effect, but it would take until 2006 for that card to get its own upgrade. It is that new iteration we look at this week.

Today we have: Squall Line

Name: Squall Line

Edition: Time Spiral

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Board Wipe / Direct Damage

Highlights: As with most cards from the Time Spiral block, Squall Line was a callback to other cards from the game’s past. In this case, it was the classic Green flying hoser Hurricane, adapted in name and flavor to be just like Fault Line.

The main in-color selling point to Squall Line is its ability to clear the skies of all manner of flying creatures. For two mana plus X, players are able to do potentially massive damage to all sorts of birds, dragons, angels, and so on. Statistically speaking, you won’t need to spend more than six for X most of the time, meaning that for eight mana you are able to take care of all but the largest fliers in a fairly economical way.

That being said, unlike Earthquake (wherein the ability was quite common color-wise), the main reason most people actually ran Hurricane was the ability to also hit players for direct damage, with the fliers almost coming in as an afterthought. The X cost, coupled with the fact that it does damage all players equally including the caster may be off-putting to some, but given that this direct damage style effect was exceedingly rare in Green even during the time it was being printed, it nevertheless proved to be a handy and sought-after tool in the casual Magic gamer’s arsenal to consider when creature-based options wouldn’t suffice.

Squall Line carries that threat through with renewed vigor. Just like Earthquake’s shift to Instant speed, Squall Line opens up all manner of tactical options in casual formats such as Commander. It may require some mana to pull off, but a well-timed Squall Line, such as in the middle of an attack or at the end of someone’s turn, could be anywhere from merely inconvenient to game-ending, depending on how much mana is being spent and what players’ life totals are. The fact that it’s not limited to your turn also prevents someone countering or interfering with it from leaving you completely crippled for an entire round and at the behest of a table full of players who may seek revenge on nearly being indiscriminately picked on – as was often a risk with Hurricane.

Thanks to modern color pie considerations, it’s unlikely we’ll see another power creep iteration beyond Squall Line, but really, this one is pretty scary enough to contend with anyhow thanks to its relative efficiency and surprise factor. Progress may continue for the game in general, but for this particular combination of dishing out hate on fliers and players in Green in a single gust, you may very well be looking at the pinnacle achievement.

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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