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Walks Like a Duck


In 1999 I won the last PTQ of the High Tide Extended season playing a deck with two copies of Flesh Reaver in the main.

Yeah yeah yeah... By now you know in 2005 I won the last PTQ of a Block format where Gifts Ungiven was even more dominant than Ravager Affinity had been the year before with two copies of Gnarled Mass in my sideboard.

Just last year... Okay basically last year I won the last PTQ of the season packing a misplaced quartet of Cavalier of Thorns in my sideboard, baffling even the highest performing player of the deck at the professional level.

In all these cases the card choices were... Weird. Weird in some cases because, like Gnarled Mass, the cards weren't even on most players' playables lists. Weird in others, as with Flesh Reaver, because... Because ouch. Even in the case of Cavalier of Thorns it was a card that everyone knew was good... Just not good in the deck where I played it. So, all these choices were weird.

Only they weren't.

They seemed weird only because - going into the last PTQ of the season in each case - they defied the expectations that opponents might have had sitting across the table.

Most players can wrap their heads around the heavy hitters in a format. Teferi, Time Raveler or Wilderness Reclamation; Uro or Omnath; some other cards that maybe didn't get banned. They don't necessarily think about the cards that are only there for a particular context or matchup. The Role Players or surgeon's tools. The connective tissue that bridges early development and bombs.

With that theme in mind, following are six less obvious takes from Kaldheim.

Rune of Sustenance

Rune of Sustenance

Let's skip talking about the other Runes for a second.

Let's forget, as well, that in a not-flying / not-deathtouch way, you can build your own Vampire Nighthawk with Runeforge Champion. Okay, you can add flying and deathtouch I suppose, especially if you draw a lot of Runeforge Champions.

But seriously - I think Rune of Sustenance is actually just good on its face.


Cartouche of Ambition

To this day, Cartouche of Ambition sees play in multiple formats! Almost unbelievably, during its window in Standard, otherwise non-Black decks might splash to run it out of the sideboard. Crazy, right?

Cartouche of Ambition had one-and-a-half advantages over Rune of Sustenance. 1) On the way down it could KO one of the opponent's creatures, and of course 2) the value of lifelink is magnified by a +1/+1 buff.

So, if you still wake up in night sweats at the memory of your poor Fanatical Firebrand dying just so they could make their already-too-big Bristling Hydra unbeatable for you, you might realize why I'm positively disposed to this new card.

Rune of Sustenance has two massive advantages over Cartouche of Ambition. The first one is that you draw a card. Is drawing a card worth -1/-1? I'm going to go out on a limb and say "probably".

How about being one less mana? Now less... that's something more. There is no limit to the number of examples in Magic where players would rather choose exactly 1 power and 1 toughness smaller in order to save a mana.

Card seems like it could be real.

Glimpse the Cosmos

About a year ago one of the most popular decks in Standard played both of these two cards:

Shimmer of Possibility
Bonecrusher Giant

Given all the bans in Standard since, Bonecrusher Giant has ascended to being one of the strongest cards [left] in the format. Shimmer of Possibility has lost a lot of its popularity with no Fires of Invention to look for... But it didn't have Glimpse the Cosmos's extra line of text.

On its face, Glimpse the Cosmos is a little worse than Shimmer. It digs three deep to Shimmer's four. But if you play with Bonecrusher Giant? Not to mention other Giants?

Beanstalk Giant
Realm-Cloaked Giant

Seriously, Realm-Cloaked Giant?

The "buyback" possibility on this card makes its viability a layup. Early it's a bad Shimmer (but not too bad); later it's another bad Shimmer (but this time quite good, being both discounted and extra).

Tergrid's Shadow

Tergrid's Shadow

So, I straight up love this card.

It's obviously reminiscent of this one:

Barter in Blood

But the weird thing, relative to some of the other cards in this list, is that Barter in Blood was never particularly good in Standard.

... So why do I love Tergrid's Shadow so much?

Well, for one thing, Barter in Blood wasn't as good because of when it was first released in Standard. It just wasn't a very convenient time. Not only was Ravager Affinity a thing in the format, Affinity at first played with Skullclamp!

Removal was unreliable, and potentially even dangerous, against the leading deck of the format.

But that's not all. Standard went ALL THE WAY the other way. If you weren't Ravager, chances are you were something big. Either you were swinging with Akroma, Angel of Wrath (which had haste) or you were going even bigger with a Tooth and Nail combination. Fair removal - sometimes a two for one, sometimes a two for three - just wasn't well positioned.

But what about the upcoming Kaldheim Standard?

A big chunk of the value of Tergrid's Shadow is bundled up in its Foretell. Foretelling this card has a lot of applications. If you have nothing else - almost regardless of the matchup - it might make sense to Foretell Tergrid's Shadow on turn two. If for no other reason than the opponent might play against a Saw It Coming that isn't actually there. It's tough to say right now, with basically no Foretell interplay, but it seems like that would make sense to me.

I enjoy that in the right spot this isn't just a two-for-one, it's a two-for-one that can do away with opposing creatures with regeneration or indestructible.

While I don't envision this being super popular, Tergrid's Shadow can also be used to break a standoff. Imagine you were in a two-on-two. Your two guys against their two guys. No one attacking. You can play a third sacrificial lamb, pop Tergrid's Shadow, and then send your big gun.

This is a little strategic (what if you put dopey creatures you don't care about in your deck) but can also be highly tactical. Like what if your first couple are Omen of the Sun tokens or something, and you get to attack with some kind of giant Legend, no matter how good the defenses were a second ago.

Shackles of Treachery

Shackles of Treachery

This card is basically better than a Threaten.

But a Threaten isn't necessarily the best card in the format.

As blunt as a Threaten might seem, it's actually the surgeon's sideboard card. There are any number of different ways the opponent might want to answer the beatdown player's offense. They can defend quickly, with one-for-one removal. They can trade with small creatures of their own. They might cast some kind of Wrath of God - or Tergrid's Shadow - to snipe multiple attackers.

But what if the opponent decides the best course of action is to play a single huge defender?

This strategy has been a favorite for over a decade.

In earlier years, anything from a Laquatus's Champion to a Keiga, the Tide Star could scare off, alternately, a Basking Rootwalla or Skyknight Legionnaire. Or many Basking Rootwallas and even a Skyknight Legionnaire wearing an Umezawa's Jitte! In fact, having a big guy back to block might be preferable to the classic route of Wrath of God. A sweeper works once. It fires. It scores a little card advantage. They reload and live to fight another day.

But with a big guy back? They kind of have to solve its riddle or they literally never get to.

So, here's the thing about a Threaten. You can take their big defender and finish them off in one blow. Beatdown decks often deal a goodly amount of damage before the opponent can stabilize with a 6-drop. If you've got a Threaten? You not only open up the turn for your attackers... Adding the five or six from their creature can push the game over the edge with that next trip to The Red Zone.

Shackles of Treachery is the same, but with some (general) upside. Everything comparing this card to classic Threaten - down to the casting cost - is the same. Only Shackles of Treachery has an extra line of text. If the game doesn't end then? You might score a tiny amount of extra card advantage before the dust settles. Or it might just be weird removal that dealt some damage or forced a bad block. That last application is just my kind of weird.

Roots of Wisdom

Roots of Wisdom

Before you think too hard on this one, my point of comparison was this one:

Bond of Flourishing

Back when I could still go to FNM to play Standard, I won hella FNMs sporting a four-pack of these in a deck with, you know, lands and some Elves. To wit: The Pros and Admitted Cons of Our Master Plan.

Bond of Flourishing, while it always came with three life, could actually miss.

I'm not sure if I love-Love the fact that Roots of Wisdom can't miss... But it does give the card substantial downside risk protection. No lands, no Elves... No problem! Just cantrip me!

So, let's think about the meat of the card's action.

While if you're playing this on turn two you are very likely to "have" to take a land (or Elf) that you Mill in the first three cards [or cantrip, of course!] it gets much more exciting in the mid-game. Like if you had a Llanowar Visionary you traded with earlier... You can get it back. You didn't have to just Mill it. Or a strategic land that you put into the graveyard on some previous turn... Something like one of these:

Evolving Wilds
Gnottvold Slumbermound
The World Tree

Doesn't matter when it went to your graveyard. Doesn't matter if it got there from some opposing Dimir Rogues offense, a Strategic Planning of your own, or this most recent Roots of Wisdom. DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU HAVE ALREADY POPPED THE WORLD TREE (but somehow haven't won). You can get "it" back. Rock and Roll.

So, it pretty good on turn two (with some good protection) and great if you've already done something great. And plenty of in-between going on.

Really have an imaginary ribbon tied around this one.


Forging the Tyrite Sword

Forging the Tyrite Sword

So, there is this whole searching element that is "supposed" to be the payoff on Forging the Tyrite Sword.

Zvi said it best:

This card is more Seething Song than it is Steelshaper's Gift... But nice for us, it has that whole Steelshaper's Gift thing at the end. Put another way it puts two extra permanents onto the battlefield for you as well, of a particular type if that's your deal.

The most interesting thing for me is going to be the tension between how many available targets actually get played alongside this card (more than zero, I hope) and how much it's run just for the delayed blast mana burst.

Stay weird.



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