Rube Goldberg machines are rarely worth the payoff. Sure, setting things into motion where the mundane become intertwined by absurdity to result in a payoff is entertaining. What you often miss out on watching are the numerous failed attempts where the tiniest piece failed, ending things not with a bang but a whimper; the beautiful motion stopped, left hanging incomplete.
That's the risk and reward of playing something esoteric. But if you like to play the odds, there's always something to try in Magic. Take, for example, the latest in a long line of cards that feel like a Rube Goldberg machine made rule text: Mind's Dilation.
This isn't the work of some halfwit stitcher, that's for sure.
Free Your Mind
Mind's Dilation is simple. The first time your opponents cast a spell each turn—any turn—the top card of their library gets exiled, and you get to cast that card for free if it's a nonland. Like other effects, the normal spell timing rules don't apply. If they find a creature or sorcery on top, you get to cast it. Simple.
There's another famous "Mind's" card in Magic: Mind's Desire. With similar mana costs in the same color, they appear related on the surface, but the similarities are only surface-deep. Mind's Dilation flips the Mind's Desire narrative; you really don't care much about your own library, but your opponents' suddenly become much more interesting.
Mind's Desire ended up banned in several formats, since it gets to set a combo off: cast lots of spells that make mana, then cast Mind's Desire to rip down into your library for free, chaining Mind's Desires as you go. Mind's Dilation...takes a very different sort of machine.
Mind's Dilation is the type of card that's not regarded fondly. It punishes opponents for doing something that's in a practical sense required by the game. When we previewed Sire of Stagnation, I pointed out how painful it is to be punished for putting lands onto the battlefield, and you generally should be putting lands onto the battlefield in formats where you're playing against Sire of Stagnation. Opponents facing down Mind's Dilation will hit the same wall. Casting—doing—something to advance their battlefield results in free stuff for whoever controls the enchantment.
While they aren't called "punisher" cards (see Prowling Pangolin and friends for more information), there are plenty of other cards that punish opponents for trying to do common things:
- Standstill is a Legacy standout that punishes the next player for casting anything.
- Voice of Resurgence punishes players who like to cast instants on your turn.
- The Veiled cycle—Veiled Serpent, Veiled Apparition, Veil of Birds, and Veiled Sentry—all become creatures when an opponent casts a spell.
- Taurean Mauler, Sunscorch Regent, and Managorger Hydra all love to see opponents cast spells.
- Spelltithe Enforcer puts an extra mana burden onto opponents who want to cast spells.
- Rhystic Study puts an extra mana burden onto opponents who want to cast spells, but sometimes foolhardy opponents won't pay the cost.
- Soul Barrier, Isolation Cell, and Æther Sting put the hurt on opponents casting creature spells.
- Memory Erosion just dumps cards into the graveyard when an opponent casts a spell. (See Mesmeric Orb for untapping.)
- Lurking Predators will net you a few creatures if it gets to hang around.
The list here could go on if we kept looking (and started getting more specific about what your opponent is casting), but the point is that Mind's Dilation is another odd piece of a machine set to stymie opponents.
Are You Beginning to Believe?
Mind's Dilation isn't about getting a cool bonus when opponents play their first spell every turn, but building a plan around discouraging opponents from playing. Winter Orb and Stasis are a famously unfun combination, but Mind's Dilation and friends aren't about forming a prison to lock out opponents.
Mind's Dilation, alongside Sire of Stagnation, Rhystic Study, and Lurking Predators, just "highly discourages" opponents from doing much of anything, which is one way to either pull ahead in multiplayer or firmly put yourself in the way as everyone's target.
Both positions have their appeal.
There are other cards that work with things like Mind's Dilation, and some of them are things you're already playing.
- Jace, the Mind Sculptor can do anything, it seems, including both Brainstorm (for Lurking Predators, of course) and fateseal opponents into giving you the best.
- Fateseal also appears on Spin into Myth, which used to be a great way to put someone's commander onto the bottom of their library. Now it just deals with Wurmcoil Engines and makes Mind's Dilation triggers terrifying for opponents when there's a good creature in play on their side.
- Cards like Precognition, Painful Memories, Tahngarth's Glare, and Cruel Fate are all ancient ways to manipulate the top of an opponent's library.
- Psychic Surgery is already a small deterrent against shuffle effects, and with Mind's Dilation out it gets much more interesting to see what opponents do. Remember: you control both triggers, so be sure to put the one from Mind's Dilation onto the stack first!
- Totally Lost, Unexpectedly Absent, Vanishment, Repel, and Noxious Revival are great responses to a Mind's Dilation trigger, letting you take anything you want. Metamorphose can play a similar role if you enjoy taking gambles.
- If you fancy something specific from opponents—creatures, enchantments, etc.—there's a pile of other options: Æthertow, Anchor to the Æther, Aura Extraction, Azorius Charm, Banishment Decree, Disempower, Ether Well, Excommunicate, Forced Retreat, Grasp of Phantoms, Griptide, Hinder, Jeskai Charm, Lapse of Certainty, Looming Hoverguard, Primal Command, Roil Spout, Submerge, Temporal Eddy, Temporal Spring, Time Ebb, Vedalken Dismisser, and Whisk Away—with even more corner-case options too.
Am I suggesting that you build a deck around Mind's Dilation? Not necessarily. But thinking about the tools to make the most of messing with the top of an opponent's library opens up another card to consider, one of the long-standing cards that doesn't get appreciation: Gate to the Æther. Giving everyone a "free" thing off the top of their library is as high risk-reward as it gets, but ensuring they hit a dud already on the battlefield certainly changes the dynamic a bit.
Just don't forget that Gate to the Æther isn't letting anyone cast anything; you'll have to wait for a spell proper to trigger your Mind's Dilation.
Inevitably, Mind's Dilation will find its way into more Commander decks than anything else, which is a solid place to put it. A format filled with powerful spells and multiple players to helpfully (well, hopefully) trigger it is as good as it gets for effects like Mind's Dilation, but anything's possible if the stars align.
Just don't overthink it.