It’s that time of year again! Break out your Masques block binder – you know, the one with all the unused cards – and let’s see what cyclical treasures it contains.
A Legate on the Competition (Cho-Arrim/Saprazzan/Deepwood/Kyren/Rushwood)
These are mediocre creatures who are sometimes free; whether they’re free depends on whether you control the land making the creature’s color and whether an opponent controls one two ahead in the color wheel, e.g. a Swamp to your Plains. As a Shade, Deepwood Legate is semi-playable without the possibility of being free, but that’s about it. Every ounce of value in this cycle comes from whether you can abuse its being free. If you can’t do that, then move on like I’m about to.
Away in a Monger (Wishmonger/Sailmonger/Scandalmonger/Warmonger/Squallmonger)
More playable than you might think (until I typed that, of course, as now you might rethink), the Mongers have abilities anybody can activate. All cost 2 colorless mana and are attached to 3/3 bodies for 3C. All have the creature type Monger as well, though since then all but Squallmonger have received extra types based on their artwork (Unicorn, Human, Boar, and Minotaur respectively). Squallmonger is playable enough to have gone in a Commander preconstruct; it’s repeatable direct damage for green and its ability doesn’t kill itself (unlike Warmonger, which would be very good otherwise). Scandalmonger can keep hands clear easily if that’s something you’re looking for, Wishmonger can gum up boards like nobody’s business, and Sailmonger doesn’t seem to have much use, though I’d love to be proven wrong.
In an oddity, Heather Hudson drew three of the five Mongers. Why not do the other two? She’s also responsible for us having no clue what race Squallmonger is, I guess.
A Block Cycle (Ignoble Soldier/Chambered Nautilus/Quagmire Lamprey/Robber Fly/Deepwood Tantiv)
It’s hard to tell whether this was intended as a cycle. They all trigger when blocked, the nonwhite ones having effects from gaining 2 life to making some discard their hand and draw that many cards. Ignoble Soldier doesn’t deal combat damage if it’s blocked, but it’s a cheap 3/1 Soldier in white, which meant more then than it does now (assuming it meant anything, of course). Robber Fly seems the best of the cycle for having the most dramatic effect when blocked, though paying 3 mana for a 1/1 flyer seems harsh, even if it is in red. Maybe it’s just that I’m partial to the artwork, with this magical fly beating up on Dom DeLuise.
Wumpus! (Charmed Griffin/Indentured Djinn/Enslaved Horror/Hired Giant/Hunted Wumpus)
Discovering that a reasonably-known card is part of an obscure cycle is one of my favorite things about this series. I have plenty of the Wumpus from its being reprinted thrice, but the others have faded into Masques-based obscurity. Not that they don’t deserve it on the whole. Wumpus lets other players bring creatures out, sure, but it’s also a 6/6 for 3G. That’s all right in multiplayer, but the others are definitely not. Indentured Djinn lets everybody else draw up to three cards; is that worth a 4/4 flyer for 1UU? Enslaved Horror and Hired Giant are both 4-mana 4/4s, but the former lets everybody else reanimate a creature and the latter lets everybody else get a land (not just a basic land) from their libraries onto the battlefield untapped. Eh…how ‘bout no. I played Charmed Griffin in the first version of my tribal Griffin deck. It was terrible. Just trust me there.
The adjectives give the cycle some resonance, and Hunted Wumpus has enough flavor of the rest of them, but it’s far from a great cycle unless you’re looking for an extreme group hug flavor. That aspect gives it the B- on playability, but I’m no fan of group hug, and I only give that grade reluctantly.
Surprisingly for a Boring Set, This Is the Only Color Hoser Cycle (Righteous Indignation/High Seas/Putrefaction/Magistrate’s Veto/Snake Pit)
Resonance: C (Mechanical cycle)
Enchantments that do something to each color’s two enemies, the cycle is uneven in a few things but is reasonable as these cycles go. Snake Pit is the only one that doesn’t affect your spells or creatures, but its free token-making can get impressive. Magistrate’s Veto is the other solid choice. Stopping white and blue creatures from blocking is a nasty surprise and a nastier permanent, and while it will prove divisive at the Commander table – you’ll make as many friends as enemies – it definitely has a use. That’s more than can be said for the others in the cycle. The Gatherer ranking community agreed with my instincts that you should pick up Snake Pit and Magistrate’s Veto, and…well…veto the rest.
Bits of Ramos (Tooth/Eye/Skull/Heart/Horn)
Depth: A (They’re all basically the same)
Rare artifacts that each cost three, tap for mana of a specific color, and can be sacrificed for another mana of that color, these have been relegated to corner use by artifact mana power creep in the intervening 11 years. Their flavor, however, is fantastic. Each card is illustrated beautifully, if flatly, by David Martin, and the flavor texts combine to paint a more beautiful picture of Mercadia than its reputation gives. In a set with bland cycles, this one is the exception, and even if the abilities aren’t exciting anymore, they’re sufficiently appealing to make you wish they were.
Practice What You Pitch (Reverent Mantra/Misdirection/Unmask/Cave-In/Vine Dryad)
Resonance: C (Mechanical cycle with only one flavor text)
As with many pitch spells, the instants are the best ones in multiplayer: Reverent Mantra and Misdirection can mess up a day, so much so that the latter is around $10. The others have standard pedigree; both Unmask and Vine Dryad were parts of important decks. Unmask sees play in Dredge/Ichorid decks in Legacy and Vintage since those decks are mana-light, while Vine Dryad was in a 10-land Stompy deck that ran off Land Grant and a few other things. This is a sample list. For multiplayer, unless you’re building lists like this (and I’d love to build 10-land Stompy now that I’ve seen it), they aren’t good, but they’ve done good work, so kudos for making a cycle that matters.
The Legate Spells (Sivvi’s Ruse/Submerge/Massacre/Mogg Salvage/Refreshing Rain)
Resonance: B- (Mechanical cycle, but gets an extra mark for Mogg Salvage’s flavor text)
Like the Legates, these spells can be free depending on your and your opponents’ lands. Unlike the Legates, these are reasonably playable. Sivvi’s Ruse is a fine trick for white decks; although Safe Passage has replaced much of its functionality, the Ruse can still be very easily free. Submerge is good enough to see occasional play in old formats. I don’t know the circumstances that make you want a board sweeper for free, but Massacre’s close enough to Infest in mana cost that it’s worth it in many environments. Mogg Salvage and Refreshing Rain probably aren’t worth it ever, but they certainly aren’t terrible, and given that we’re talking about Nemesis, it’s a win in my book.
Sweet Foil (Abolish/Foil/Outbreak/Flameshot/Snag)
Besides letting you obtain a foil Foil, this cycle is another where one member towers over the others in fame and cachet. Foil, even as it made you discard an island and another card, could be a free counterspell. Do you know of a free counterspell with no application? Nobody does.
But the others are surprisingly competent as well. Abolish is good enough for Elspeth to duel Tezzeret with it, and the others have definite if more limited uses. The effects are balanced and overall useful, and having one-word titles helps the resonance, even as three are verbs and two are nouns.
The Fields (Flowering/Sunken/Noxious/Barbed/Verdant)
This is what an uncommon cycle should look like, and yet I was only vaguely aware of any of these before this article. Each is an aura that gives the enchanted land a minor yet useful ability. You wouldn’t put these on a creature normally, but it’s probably safer on a land anyway, and turning a land into combat tricks, removal, or a counterspell is nifty. More than the effects, however, the execution of the rest of the cycle is perfect. You’re turning lands into special fields, and the flavor texts get the idea right. On top of that, this is one of the best innovations out of the bad Prophecy mechanic of deciding whether to leave your lands tapped or untapped. That isn’t saying much, but it’s a nonobvious and nonparasitic way of getting to that point, and that makes this cycle look much better than its set.
The Avatars (of Hope/Will/Woe/Fury/Might)
Four of these five have been reprinted; Avatar of Will is the lone holdout. That alone should give you an idea how good the cycle is. Each of them costs 6 less if a condition is met; the idea is that the avatars come in when the time is right. The conditions vary widely in user friendliness (waiting to go down to 3 life is harder than waiting for an opponent to have seven lands, e.g.), but each creature does good work. A 4/9 that can block any number of creatures is a sweet deal, as is a big flyer. But even as four of them have their supporters, it’s Avatar of Woe that’s the clear winner. It was timeshifted, it’s in Archenemy, Commander, and Premium Deck: Graveborn, and it’s good in basically every multiplayer format, living up to its frequent reprinting. The Avatars are as ideal a cycle as can be found, and after all the lame ones I’ve reviewed, it’s nice to hit a doozy.
The Winds (Blessed/Denying/Plague/Searing/Vitalizing)
Sorceries and instants of the splashiest, biggest kind, the Winds live up to their costing 9 mana. The rise of Commander hasn’t been kind to the cycle; Plague Wind’s far more popular than the others, though Denying and Vitalizing Wind are easily playable. For other endeavors, Blessed and Searing have their purposes; Searing might be particularly good if you’re the archenemy. The flavor texts tie all the cards together, as the five winds have something or other to do with the storyline. (I’m not up on the Mercadia story; feel free to fill me in via the comments, as it seems like a neat place.) It doesn’t have the range of applications the Avatar cycle does, but it’s a fine complement.
The Spellshaper Legends (Mageta, the Lion/Alexi, Zephyr Mage/Greel, Mind Raker/Latulla, Keldon Overseer/Jolrael, Empress of Beasts)
Amazingly, this was the first cycle of legends since Legends, and while the creatures aren’t auto-classics, they have their moments. Mageta is the favorite of the bunch; a few years ago Wizards had a 64-legend tournament bracket with voting and all that, and Mageta made it to the quarterfinals, the only legend lower than a fourth seed to do so. And why not? Who doesn’t love to spellshape a Wrath of God that doesn’t destroy himself? Discarding two cards is a hefty price, but Mageta clearly isn’t to be messed with, not as a regular creature and certainly not as a commander.
As with the Winds, Commander has lessened some of the pull of this cycle, but each are defensible as a monocolored commander. Each is a 3/3 for 3CC and asks you to tap and discard two cards. Also, Greel’s flavor text is thoroughly creepy. For how long it had been since a legendary cycle, Prophecy did quite well for itself, as it did with its other cycles.
The worse the set in Masques block, the better its cycles. How this happened, I don’t know. I think it has something to do with the basics of increasing excitement through a block, only with Masques there wasn’t the basic gameplay to support the increase around the cycles. Nevertheless, for all the block got wrong, it got most of its cycles right, from pitch spells to rare bombs, and maybe that’s the best legacy it can leave.