Nothing complicated today: asses are being kicked with these cards. Are you getting kicked or are you ready to do some kicking yourself?
Hag Hedge-Mage—A lot of players seem to have mixed feelings about Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, and that makes it easier to overlook gems like this, but compare it to Entomber Exarch, a solid little role-player from New Phyrexia that allows you to choose between getting your own plan back on track or derailing someone else’s. If you’re in BG, the Hag gives you, broadly speaking, both effects. The Exarch’s discard effect is a strictly better Duress, allowing you to pick the best non-creature card—including land, if necessary—but the other choice is a strictly standard Gravedigger effect. Most of the time in a BG deck the Hag will give you both a non-targeted discard effect (usually not as good as the Exarch’s, but there’s no chance of whiffing if they have a hand full of creatures) and the Reclaim effect. The Grave Digger effect offers card advantage, but the ability to get back your most powerful equipment, sorcery, or planeswalker every time you play the Hag will often be worth the wait.
Regrettably, the ass that was kicked in this case was mine, when my buddy Xin combined the Hag with Reveillark in our Teneb vs. Teneb grudge match. Every time Reveillark died, he brought back the Hag and a Yavimaya Elder (another fantastic card, but it’s been reprinted enough recently that I assume most people know that it is a green staple), and the Hag put Reveillark right back on top of his library and whittled down my hand (a major reason why I lost in the end). Of course, Reveillark is seriously strong, that isn’t a newsflash, but it’s only as good as the two-power critters it brings back, and Hag Hedge-Mage might be one of the best in those colors. I’ll certainly be putting it in Teneb, probably instead of Regrowth, and give it consideration for all of my other B/G/X decks.
Birthing Pod—So much has been written about this in Standard that I feel it’s worth reminding the casual tribe that the Pod lives up to the hype in multiplayer too. I won the second game of the Teneb face-off on the back of the following chain: Yavimaya Elder>>Solemn Simulacrum>>Reveillark>>Gleancrawler (conveniently returning the Reveillark that I sacked to the Pod). Birthing Pod doesn’t provide any card advantage itself, but it guarantees escalating card quality for a very low price, and you can pick up card advantage easily thru the things you bring out (or bringing back the things you sacced), as well as allowing you to attack into an open player and still keep a blocker back. For extra fun, consider Hibernation’s End, as recommended by local rules guru Brian, and Deathrender, as recommended by me. What’s better than saccing Genesis for a Brutalizer Exarch? Dropping an 11/11 Terastodon on the table in place of your Genesis. Does that make me a bad person?
Evangelize—Want repeatable, permanent creature theft without playing blue? Say no more! Evangelize is at its best in the late game when your opponent is playing their bombs one at a time, and is strong enough that it could potentially draw a concession from the whole table. Imagine a not-uncommon late-game scenario in which the player to your left just blew up the world, and the player to their left then played the huge fatty they’d been saving for just such an occasion—say Wurmcoil Engine—and nobody else does anything. If you Evangelize the Wurm, you’re now in a position to either crush any weenies that the next person plays wt Wurm, or take any fatty they play; unless one player can play two creatures that could both deal with the Wurm, you’ve put them in a very uncomfortable position. Of course they could always use spot removal or another sweeper, but that doesn’t really help them; they’re still using up their resources against other players’ stuff, while you aren’t even down a card. Best of all, unlike buyback legend Capsize, it targets a player not a creature, so it’s much harder to make the spell fizzle.
The most ass I ever kicked with this was without buyback, when one guy lucked into Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage combo on turn three. Fortunately, he was casual enough spread the love around, giving me time to get to five mana, cast Evangelize without buyback, and take the whole table. If they only have one creature but you can’t deal with it, then Evangelize takes a card from them and gives it to you, with no messy enchantment lying around for them to destroy. The only way to get it back is to kill you, and you’ve got their best creature, so good luck with that.
Helm of Possession—An oldie but a goodie, Helm of Possession is criminally underplayed. Of course, most of my decks are built on the assumption that I’m going to have the biggest creatures on the table, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Even if your critters are a Who’s Who of the greatest creatures of all time, someone else can always play something better than whatever you just played. Not with Helm of Possession though; as long as you have a creature, Helm means you will always have the creature. It gets even better with recursion and/or utility creatures. In Thraximundar, I rely on things like Pilgrim’s Eye (which probably deserves its own section of this column—if you aren’t using the Eye, you should give it a second look), Oxidda Scrapmelter and Mulldrifter to keep me alive in the early game, and these multiplayer all-stars are even better when you can trade them for the best creature on the board.
And did I say tricky? You can use the Helm to gain control of someone else’s attacker, which will remove it from combat, and can use that to deter attacks. It’s especially useful as insurance against a hasty attacker getting the jump on you. The Helm can even turn an Innocent Blood into a one-sided Barter in Blood (“I know it’s hard to decide which one of your creatures to sacrifice, so why don’t I take this one and then you can make your choice more easily. See how helpful I am? And here’s your other creature back…oh, I must have sacrificed it accidentally, sorry about that”). Thraximundar loves the Helm; in fact, I’ll often steal someone’s second-best creature so that when I attack with Thrax they have to sac their best creature, after which I’m totally happy to give them their weaker one back. Theft in every color and the Cadillac of sac outlets, Helm of Possession is still available in a lot of junk rare bins.
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter—Vish Kal is a house in every respect. I first saw him in action at the MTG: Commander release event, where he won me a game almost single-handedly, but a friend of mine beat my procrastinating ass in actually building a deck with him, and he really brings a lot to the format. First up, a big body with evasion is always worth considering, especially in a powerful but underplayed color combination. Secondly, lifelink on a big body really simplifies your strategic environment: as long as he’s on the board, you basically only need to fear massive overrunning hordes and commander damage, because you should be able to gain enough life to make up for any other strategy (not counting combo, etc). That means you can focus your attention on whoever is playing a commander-centric aggro deck like Kresh or a massively mid-range deck (or in the case of my games this week, Alex, who combined the best of both worlds in his Omnath deck). Thirdly, and most importantly in my meta, Vish Kal is one of the few commanders in the game who can sacrifice himself at any time. This saves him from most tuck effects, theft, and removal spells with an additional effect (e.g. Consuming Vapors, Phthisis, Death Mutation), and probably a bunch of other things that I can’t think of right now. Finally, being able to sac your own creatures and throw a little bit of spot removal around the board for no mana down is the kind of ability that always has a big impact on multiplayer, because it gives you the most precious commodity of all: options.
Extra Special Bonus Tech: Masters of Life and Death!
Vish Kal started me thinking about the utility of commanders that can sac themselves. A quick search of Gatherer reveals that I’m not as good at using Gatherer as I thought I was, but a quick search of my aging noggin suggests that BW totally has the edge over other colors in this department. Vish Kal is the headliner, but there’s also Ghost Council of Orzhov (one of the few legends that isn’t an individual, named creature), Teysa sacs herself if you have two other white critters in play, Selenia gets an honorable mention for bouncing herself, which is functionally similar, and adding green allows us to add Ghave to the list. There are so many times in Magic that someone will use your creature against you, and in Commander there is the additional concern of getting tucked, so being able to get rid of your own stuff is much more valuable than it first seems. I will almost always get a sac-land when I search for a non-basic land (Miren, the Moaning Well, Phyrexian Tower, High Market or Diamond Valley), and have even used a Demonic Tutor for one of those more than once, so commanders who can kill themselves always merit extra consideration, even if they aren’t quite as housey as Vish Kal.
Asceticism—One of the problems with writing an article like this is that I can’t possibly know what cards are popular in your meta and which ones haven’t been discovered yet. Asceticism is a rare from a new set, and if memory serves it was even in one of the Scars of Mirrodin intro decks, so you may have a foil version in your deck already. The thing is, I was reluctant to put it in my decks at first because it isn’t as proactive as I usually like to be. Have I mentioned recently that I’m a dumbass? Asceticism is a game-changing card that warrants consideration in any green deck I would want to play.
Firstly, it protects your dudes, obviously, but this means more than you might think, especially in a typical monogreen mid-range deck. Historically, green has lacked creature removal but made up for it by having the biggest, baddest, most must-answer monsters in the game. If you’re playing against, say, a black or blue deck, they will usually rely less on critters and more on various forms of removal, but Asceticism radically changes the strategic balance; all of a sudden they’re drawing dead removal cards while you’re drawing more (untargetable, regenerating) fatties. If they can’t deal with your stuff in a hurry, Asceticism will turn the game in your favor right quick, and if they find a way to answer your critters that leaves Asceticism on the table (such as Damnation or a Day of Judgment when you’re tapped out) you’ll be able to put their backs to the wall again soon enough.
On top of that, if they can’t use their spot removal on your stuff, they’re more likely to use it on someone else’s stuff—possibly in a desperate attempt to send your hordes in a different direction. That’s more important in multiplayer than raw card advantage, and Asceticism gives it to you. Finally, even if you’re under the gun, being able to regenerate your chump blockers will buy you time to draw into something more meaningful, and once again it will have the more subtle effect of sending harm elsewhere, because your opponents still want to attack someone, and there’s no point in attacking into your regenerating Wood Elves, so they’ll swing at someone else.
My favorite thing about Asceticism is that it completely shuts down some of the most common answers to an oncoming behemoth, including Icy Manipulator, Maze of Ith and Condemn, allowing those of us who live in the red zone to get in freely.
Canopy Cover—Not all killer tech is rare. This little bastard literally flew under my radar…well, not literally, because I don’t have a radar tower at the moment (it’s in the shop). What I mean is that it figuratively flew under my radar in the sense that I didn’t realize how good it could be, and then Alex’s 17/14 lifelinking Omnath used it to flavoratively fly under my radar, past a ready-to-block Sheoldred and literally right into my figurative face. You can’t mess with my stuff, and you can’t block it either? Good night!
I hope some of these will be useful to you, either because the cards themselves are ones you didn’t know or overlooked, or because the reasons why they kick ass makes you think of something else. Of course, any card can kick ass in the right situation, but the best hidden gems—like these ones—are versatile enough to fit into a bunch of different decks, which makes finding them that much sweeter.
Had your ass kicked by something that you’d never thought about using? Sound off in the forums!
 Moving to Stanford this semester—if you play around that area and are looking for a few good men, let me know.