Graveborn Musings—Uzai Yo!!

It’s inevitable that some people will be more annoyed by some cards than others. My own feelings towards tuck effects are well documented, and on the other hand (you may find this this hard to believe) some of my opponents even think that Sheoldred is annoying! Obviously, if a card as lovely as Sheoldred can annoy the hell out of some people, and cards as annoying as Condemn can be loved by others, it will be hard to agree on exactly what constitutes an annoyance.

Fortunately, I have my buddy Brent to help. Brent has selflessly volunteered to play a deck full of only the most annoying cards he can possibly find; if it doesn’t make us grind our teeth and threaten heinous acts of violence upon him, he doesn’t think it’s worth playing. Thanks to his diligent research, I’ve got a real handle on what it takes to be an annoying card, rather than just a good, or powerful or unexpected one. According to data gathered from Brent’s deck and my own experience, the cards that have raise blood pressure the most[1] are permanents that stay on the board and change things that you normally take for granted.

In other words, annoying means more than just a strong card that clears the board or provides the caster with insane card advantage—cards that are annoying if you cast them but supercool when I cast them—and getting into cards where even the caster has to acknowledge that the rest of the table is pretty damn frustrated by their card. If you’ve ever cast Fog Bank to deal with impending beatages, only to hear, “Did you forget about Æther Flash? Two damage to Fog Bank when it comes into play, now I swing and kill you,” then that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. It might just be my Alzheimic inability to remember board states, but what annoys me the most is a card that limits what you can do and, if you forget about it, will ruin all of your plans. Here are ten examples of what I mean.


Tsabo’s Web: If you want to punish people for their fancy mana bases, this is the way to do it. Maze of Ith, Kor Haven and Mystifying Maze all writhe helplessly in Tsabo’s Web, as do countless others. I had one game where I was building up a ton of mana with my awesome Time Spiral storage lands, when I suddenly realized that they never should have untapped because the Web had been in play since the second turn. Fortunately, someone realized the error before I was able to use the 15 mana I’d accumulated to seize control of the game…sigh.

Don’t forget that Tsabo’s Web is a cantrip, meaning that if you have more basic lands than your opponents, there is no reason not to be rubbing them the wrong way with this. Contrast this with its illustrious predecessor and one of the all-time greatest epithet-eliciting cards in the history of the game, Winter Orb. There is a very compelling reason why you shouldn’t play Winter Orb, and that is because your opponents will cut bits off you and force you to eat them. In the mid- to late-game, you’re basically assuming that you’ll be able to cast whatever you draw, and your hand is likely cluttered with expensive toys that you’re dying to play with. WOrb says “No” to all of that in a loud voice.[2] Sure, you can cast one of those fun spells of yours, but choose wisely because once you’ve had your fun, it’ll be a long, long time before you cast another one. WOrb lives on in the much more acceptable Tsabo’s Web, as well as such ulcer-inducers as Stasis Orb and Vorinclex.


Lethal Vapors: This little gem can either keep the table creature-free or allow you to lock down a table once you’ve played a big nasty. Sure, any player can get rid of it, but nobody wants to do it, because missing a turn is one of the harshest costs in all of Magic. There will be some games where people balance against you (“I’ll skip a turn if you’ll promise to beat on Daryl for the next two turns”), but there’ll also be games where a kind of Mexican standoff develops, with all of your opponents wanting to get rid of your Vapors, but none of them trusting anyone else quite enough to bite the bullet and skip a turn. This is of course comedy gold for you, but nail-biting anxiety for everyone else. As long as you waited until the right time to play it, you should be able to ride that annoyance all the way to the finish line.

Pro tip: play with regenerating creatures.

Painful Quandary: Good lord, this is annoying. Speaking as a black mage who is evil enough to build a deck around Oppression (a distant ancestor of the Quandary), this card makes me want to choke someone. Sure, sometimes I can put stuff into the graveyard for safekeeping, and sometimes I can replace life or cards faster than my other opponents, but Quandary weakens you and reduces your options in the worst possible way; the deeper the hole you find yourself in, the more spells you have to cast to survive, and the deeper the hole becomes. This is the most powerful of the black annoyance spells in my experience, although Brent has managed to get this out at the same time as Polluted Bonds and Bloodchief Ascension, in which case it kind of feels like you’re getting beaten up from all sides at once.

Spreading Plague: The plague is similar to Lethal Vapors in that it allows you to create an environment that is very hostile to creature decks but you can build around it if you have a mind to. Unlike Vapors, Plague is usually going to last a little longer on the table and allow you (or anyone else) to kill things that are already on the battlefield. Especially if your opponents are playing monocolored decks, they’re unlikely to be able to keep more than one critter on the board at a time. If you’re playing multicolored you may have some options—my Thrax deck can keep a Mulldrifter, a Bone Shredder and a Scrapmelter on the board at the same time, for example, but if I play Thrax himself then I lose everything. Artifacts and colorless creatures start to rule the roost.

Spreading Plague is more abusable than Vapors. For example, if you can keep a Mimic Vat with a Maelstrom Archangel on the board for a couple of turns then you’re probably going all the way. Also, and this might be the most important distinction between the two cards, it’s much more interactive for your opponents. If a Lord of Extinction or similar fatty is threatening the whole table, then anyone with a black or green creature to play can suddenly kill it at their leisure. This means that your opponents can derive a few specific benefits to counteract the chronic annoyance of your Plague, which is definitely better than having them quietly fuming, staring daggers at you, unable to play any creatures and unwilling to skip a turn.


Asceticism: Yes, I know I was singing Asceticism’s praises a couple of weeks ago, but one man’s treasure is another man’s pain in the arse. If you’re using Asceticism to make sure that that mean old blue mage doesn’t steal your poor defenseless Acidic Slime, then that’s fine; if you’re using it to make your Ulamog virtually unkillable, then that is well and truly annoying. I realize it’s a fine line, and probably depends on the game state more than the deck, but if you’ve seized the initiative and the rest of the table is scrambling for answers, then this rockets right up the most annoying top ten.[3]



War’s Toll: Two of the most basic tactics in the game—keeping mana open during your opponents’ turns and holding back blockers—suddenly go out the window with this one. You either sit back and do nothing (never a great option, and red has cards like Impatience to punish that as well) or you go all in (which red loves!). Of course, you can attack with everything and then cast a blocker, but if you had to tap lands to play that blocker then you will not be playing any more spells for the rest of the round. Red has a bunch of other ‘hit everyone’ effects, but they tend to have the effect of speeding the game up and encouraging aggression,[4] which a lot of us can get behind. Perhaps it’s just my natural play style, but red’s particular brand of annoyance tends to annoy me less than others’.


Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite: Ah, how I hate thee…let me count the ways. Elesh Norn messes up combat math like few other cards. A year ago, the previously mentioned Æther Flash might have made this list, just for making it so difficult to cast weenies. However, Elesh is even worse, because you can’t even use instant-speed pump effects to keep your critters alive (creatures with zero or less toughness die as a state-based effect, meaning that you can’t respond to or prevent the impending demise. Æther Flash, in contrast, is a triggered ability that you can respond to), plus she’ll inevitably score some kills just because people forget about her crazy pumping. A four-point power and toughness swing is easy to underestimate. I remember one game where Nick cast Elesh out of nowhere, virtually sweeping the board, and nobody had a way to deal with her and her suddenly intimidating friends (a couple of elf tokens that could now trade with my 5/5). Nick was definitely in pole position and the rest of us were trying to get rid of her. Brian promised that he could get her out of the way next turn with Helm of Possession if we let him live, so we did, and Nick said, “It doesn’t matter, because I cast Storm Herd for 27. Now I can kill you all next turn any way.” It wasn’t until Nick’s next attack phase that we realized that when Elesh switched sides, she swept away all of Nick’s pegasi. We laughed, Nick wept…then he killed us all anyway.

Humility: Turning all creatures into 1/1s is a trick that, I believe, started with Humility, but has appeared as recently as Godhead of Awe in Shadowmoor. Yes, the white mage sees us all as faceless, interchangeable drones; that’s the true face of evil, my friend! Black and red stand for liberty and freedom from the oppression of the plains…

…sorry, sometimes the voices in my head get a bit carried away.


Back in the day, Humility raised the bar for infuriating, hair-pulling annoyance. All of your creatures are 1/1, meaning that Spectral Procession makes, essentially, three Blightsteel Colossus tokens that can block and trade with almost anything on the board (barring counters, equipment and such). Even worse, if you’re like me and you tend to replace removal spells with creatures that have analogous effects, then you’re in deep, deep trouble. The most annoying experience I can remember is sitting underneath a Humility drawing, over the space of five or six turns, Acidic Slime, Woodfall Primus and Indrik Stomphowler, all of which were useless to me.

If your opponents play a lot of creatures, then kill them all. If your opponents have adapted and now play creatures that either resist your attempts to slaughter them, or give your opponents value even when you kill them, then make those elite critters humble and watch your opponents’ frustration mount.[5]

An honorable mention goes to Torpor Orb, a new and perhaps easier to acquire card that is guaranteed to contain up to 60% of the annoyance of Humility for a fraction of the cost, in any color. If your opponents are leaning too heavily on creatures, then this is going to give you a huge edge, and if you have a lot of green mages in your group then this will probably make you public enemy number one.

But wait, there’s more! For just two generic mana, not only can you render impotent such staples as Trinket Mage, FTK and Maga, Traitor to Mortals, but for no extra cost you can also neutralize such popular non-creature permanents as Aura Shards, Pandemonium, Soul Warden and more. Not even Humility can give you that level of virtual card advantage! Torpor Orb: get yours today!!

Gaddock Teeg: I realize this is technically a gold card, but let’s not kid ourselves; Teeg perfectly embodies white’s most annoying ability—the ability to say “No, you can’t do that.” What does green contribute to the king of the annoying bastards? Just a focus on creatures and an affinity for Grizzly Bears. As annoying as Asceticism can be, it still lets people play their cards in most multiplayer situations, it just encourages them to play them against someone else; Teeg just says “No!” On top of that, green somehow manages to combine “Grrrrr, I’m going to eat you now” with “live and let live.” As long as you aren’t targeting them, green mages traditionally haven’t tried to get in your way. Teeg just shuts down anything from Stream of Life to Beacon of Creation. Make no mistake, Teeg is as white as it gets, and that’s why I am just as likely to kill him on site as I am to go after such classically unfun commanders as Erayo, Arcum Dagsson or Sharuum.

Kismet: Once you play Kismet, you can keep yourself endlessly amused just reminding everyone, “That comes into play tapped” and “You have to tap that.” Endless hilarity will ensue—I m sure it will totally take your mind off the savage drubbing that awaits you for playing this accursed scrap of cardboard. Of course, Urabrask takes advantage of a similar ability, but at least it uses it to speed the game up rather than to slow things to a crawl, and Kismet contains an extra measure of high-quality bastardity by messing with your lands, which is what made it such a great combo with Winter Orb.

A Dark Digression

Finally, Maro gave us some tips about Innistrad in his State of Design column last week. As WBM announced last Friday, the Muse Vessel will be getting a preview card too, although we can’t say when it will be yet. And of course, we can’t say what it is, for the very good reason that we haven’t received it yet (after NPH, they are understandably keeping things close to the vest). As I haven’t looked at any unofficial spoilers or rumor sites or anything like that, I’m going to put on my prognostication cap and see if I can’t make some intelligent guesses about what those cards might be. Here goes nothing…

  • A card based on a silver-bordered white card

I’m pretty sure Maro enjoys teasing us more than he enjoys spoiling killer tech, so there’s a reasonable chance that it will be a less-than revolutionary card. It could merely be a super-Oblivion Ring based on A.W.O.L., or a token-producer that makes Little Girl tokens (how about Creature – Human Victim, to play up the horror theme?), but if it was something sexier, my guess is that it is most likely to be based on Frankie Peanuts, Look at Me, I’m R&D, or Staying Power. Frankie Peanuts is in fact not that different from Oracle en-Vec, and Staying Power has some overlap in functionality with Sundial of the Infinite, so they’re not quite as out there as they may seem.

  • A token-making sorcery which makes more creature tokens than any previous token-making spell (not counting X spells or spells that make a variable number)

Looks like a remake of Icatian Town—I’m not 100% sure, but I think 5W for a sorcery that made five or six 1/1 Human Townsfolk tokens would be a great way to fit this hint and suit the theme of the set.

  • An enchantment that could let you play all your creatures for free

…from your graveyard, one per upkeep, a la Karador, Debtor’s Knell or Dawn of the Dead.

  • A spell that can deal 13 damage to multiple creatures for one mana (and yes, I mean 13 damage multiple times)

Remember Hex? Paying six mana to top the six most dangerous critters on the board is a great bargain, but it’s limited by the availability of targets; half of the time, when you cast Hex you have to target at least one of your own dudes. So let me paint you a picture with my imagination brush:

      Unlucky 13              B


      Unlucky 13 deals 13 damage to each of 13 target creatures.

For best results, add Vicious Shadows, Repercussions and Stuffy Doll

  • Many—and I’m talking more than a few—cards inspired by famous horror stories

I’m praying for some truly twisted extra-dimensional goodness for my Cthulhu theme deck, but a) I think Innistrad is going to be Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley rather than H.P. Lovecraft, and b) I’m not sure which god is appropriate for a prayer like that.

  • A card that turns a loss into a win

Notice that this is a loss into a win, not a loss into a gain; the latter is quite easy (e.g. Grave Pact), but the former strongly suggests an alternate win condition. What could you lose that would justify giving you the game? I suspect something like Barren Glory, but could something Tarmogoyf-inspired work? Imagine an enchantment that said: “If a land, a creature, an artifact, an enchantment, a planeswalker, an instant and a sorcery are put into your graveyard from the battlefield in the same turn, you win the game.”

  • A two-mana creature that lets you make a 2/2 creature each turn for two mana

Cemetery Reaper, meet Zombie Infestation

Ghoulcaller               BB

1B, Discard a card, Tap: Put a 2/2 Zombie creature token onto the battlefield


That could be an awesome way to feed your reanimation, or in fact just provide synergy with the Reaper. Either way, it wasn’t a coincidence that they reprinted Call to the Grave in M12!

  • A card that lets you exchange your life total with something you’ve never been able to exchange it with before

Paying life for stuff is pretty much what black mages do, and we’ve already paid for just about anything that can be paid for. I think it would be brilliant if the resource in question were planeswalker loyalty counters. However, in a graveyard-based set, I think it might be something along the lines of Pay 1 life: Put the top 2 cards in your library into your graveyard.

  • A planeswalker with five loyalty abilities

Not a prediction, but a desperate plea: please be Liliana of the Veil, pleasepleaseplease!! After the problems that Jace, the Mind Sculptor caused, I doubt we’ll be seeing any zero-cost abilities, and I suspect she won’t be able to affect the board the turn she’s played, but it wouldn’t be broken if she had four starting loyalty, a ‘penultimate’ ability of -4 or -5 for a Rise from the Grave effect and an ultimate more in line with the original power of Liliana Vess. It would also be nice—and by nice, I mean ‘evil’—to see +1: Sadistic Sacrament.[6]

If you’ve got your own predictions for Innistrad, or your own list of most annoying cards, I want to hear about it. To the forums!!

[1] Not including the original Fire Elemental, Elvish Ranger and Matthew Wilson’s art on Pacifism in Onslaught block

[2] Thank Vishnu, the old trick where you could tap it at the end of your opponent’s turn and untap all of your lands no longer works. If you want to use this to set people’s teeth on edge, you’ll have to do it ‘fairly.’

[3] I’m still not taking it out of my Kresh and Molimo decks, but I realize how annoying it can be.

[4] With a side order of ‘don’t play spells during my turn.’ The red mage played Price of Glory last week, making the blue mage cringe and the Pestilence mage (me) think long and hard about whether to tap my lands while PoG was still on the stack.

[5] Frustration Mount, 2BR

Creature – Demon Horse


During your upkeep, tap all other creatures you control.


[6] This article was written before the PAX Party and associated announcements. After that, WBM pointed out that the list of Transform cards spoiled at PAX includes Garruk Relentless, which he guesses will be a planeswalker with five abilities—but not all on the same side. I’m still hoping for Liliana to be brimming with multiplayer power, but Bruce is right that it seems unlikely she’ll have five abilities.


About Graveborn Muse

Daryl Bockett has been an avid Magic addict since Legends/Revised. He lives and breathes deckbuilding and casual play. "The more the merrier" is his creed! In those brief moments when he isn't playing, reading or thinking about Magic, he teaches at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. He has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which is basically only useful for helping him to understand the strategic interactions at a multiplayer table.
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4 Responses to Graveborn Musings—Uzai Yo!!

  1. kyzneg says:

    Great article. One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed is that many players (myself included from time to time) tend to define annoying as whatever beats their strategy. They play it at you, and it’s annoying, broken, un-fun, unfair, ban-worthy… You play the same card at them, and it’s just good strategy. That subjective classification is hard to put aside, especially since the annoyance level of cards seems to come up most often when the card in question is on the stack, when people are at their most biased.

    As far as the Innistrad spoilers go, the checklist card for the double-faced cards revealed at PAX has a Garruk listed on it, so I think he’s almost definitely the 5 ability Planeswalker. The question I have now is whether that means 3 abilities on one side and 2 on the other, or perhaps 2 unique abilities on each side with one ability shared on both sides. Of course, I just now noticed that this is in the footnotes…

    I also wonder if the “exchange life” is something like you suggested, as a form of payment, or if it’s more in line with the Mirror Universe style effects where your life total is actually being exchanged with something. We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

  2. Mike says:

    I actually played with someone who combined Erayo’s Essence and Winter Orb.

    It wasn’t fun.

    Also Scrambleverse.

  3. Sergei says:

    Actually you should check out the official spoiler on the mothership site because the 2/2 is already revealed and it’s blue and makes homunculus creatures after which it requires a sacrifice.

  4. Rob Anybody says:

    I can’t believe that you have the gall to be playing Sheoldred, a reasonably costed creature that has already created a significant advantage if it only survives one turn, yet can get annoyed at some of the stuff listed!
    Painful Quandary cost five, does not affect the board and gives affected players choice! Spreading Plague is symmetrical and must be built around, dito Humility! Those don’t win the game all by themselves. Asceticism? Any sweepers do the job, and even mono-blue can get Disc and O-Stone, not to mention Confiscate or Volition Reins.
    Elesh Norn should be rightfully scorned, but even she just curls up and dies against Sheoldred.

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