Attack of the Quirky Common

Posted in Feature on June 13, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Three weeks ago, I announced the end of the “Building Blocks” series because of what I perceived as a lack of interest. A couple passionate folks wrote in defense of Building Blocks. A few others wrote to pontificate on why interest might be low, confirming some of my own thoughts. Still no negative mail on the topic, but still relatively little of it. In the end, I remained unconvinced that Building Blocks is a really cool idea. Sorry to those of you who wanted to see it continue.

The result is that I’m missing a regular feature after each set release. Since a new set usually sends people (including me) into a deckbuilding frenzy, it feels appropriate to have some House of Cards series you can expect after each set. Should I do a Deck Challenge after each release? Highlight my favorite card? A Top 5 list? I’ll continue to talk to Aaron the Editor about it, but if you have ideas for something intriguing, please let me know.

Onward to Commons Week! Today I discuss the challenging practice of building a deck around a common card.

Usually when you think of building a deck around a single card, that card is rare. In fact, I think building around a card almost implies rarity. The reasons for this implication speaks partly to why cards are rare in the first place; rare cards tend to be complex, special, and splashy -- often big in either size or effect. Sometimes people like me take a “bad” rare and challenge ourselves to build around it because there is something particularly fun about it being both bad and rare. “Bad” commons are not only bad, they’re kind of boring.

A few uncommons from each set usually stand up as intriguing enough to build a deck around. Gorilla Titan is a good example, as is Soulcatcher’s Aerie. Because they stand in the purgatory between common and rare, it makes sense that some uncommons capture our imaginations with their quirkiness or their potential power just like rares usually do.

Not so with commons. Commons are the workhorses of most decks. They can be the reason a deck is absurdly powerful, a la Rancor. They can provide the engine on which other cards work, a la Wild Mongrel. They usually provide the backbone of utility, a la Disenchant. Commons are essential to most decks.

But common cards are usually not the centerpieces of decks. An elf deck’s only rares might be Elvish Champion and Coat of Arms, but those, not the hordes of common elves, are the “feature” cards of the deck. Kind of sad, really. Common cards should form a workers' union.

Sometimes a common is just silly enough to inspire a deck. As examples of this phenomena, below are four Judgment commons I think hold great potential as a deck’s centerpiece. Seeing my rationale will, hopefully, lead you to some of your own common-based ideas.

Let me be clear: These are not the commons I consider generally useful -- such as Benevolent Bodyguard and Ray of Revelation -- and they are certainly not the most powerful commons in the set. Instead, they suggest decks that rely on their particular function or abilities.

All of the decks below include no rares. I have made “lite” decks for two reasons: First, you constantly request easy-to-afford deck ideas, and I want to allow both beginning and returning players a chance to think creatively about deckbuilding. Second, since rares are usually the focus of deckbuilding, they aren’t welcome in our common-centric week. Go home, Solitary Confinement, and come back another day.

Arcane Teachings
Arcane Teachings

Arcane Teachings has a peculiar blend of abilities. On one hand, it makes a creature huge and better able to attack with a Giant Strength-like effect. On the other hand, it turns a creature into a Prodigal Sorcerer -- keeping it from attacking so that it can “ping” an opponent or creature for one point of damage. It is also the only red card I can remember with a scholar in its art.

Two different kinds of decks come to mind using Arcane Teachings. The first is a white/red deck that uses creatures that don’t tap to attack, like Ardent Militia and Skyshroud Falcon. Heck, you can even use Tahngarth, Talruum Hero if you are feeling extravagant. Arcane Teachings makes the creatures in a deck like this particularly scary, better able to attack, block, and perform combat tricks.

The second, and slightly weirder, idea is to use Arcane Teachings in a wall deck. Who cares if your walls can’t attack? The Teachings make your walls more impenetrable and allow you to inflict Death By Pinging. This idea becomes even more alluring if the deck is blue/red and can also use Quicksilver Dagger:

Death By Pinging

Download Arena Decklist
Sorcery (2)
2 Blaze
Instant (7)
4 Counterspell 3 Repulse
Enchantment (8)
4 Arcane Teachings 4 Quicksilver Dagger
Land (23)
13 Island 10 Mountain
Other (4)
4 Fire/Ice
60 Cards

Book Burning
Book Burning

Book Burning allows you to either immediately reach threshold or punch your opponent in the face, his choice. As with all of the “punisher” cards, the trick with using Book Burning is to make both choices equally unpleasant. Thus a deck with the ability to both deal lots of damage and that gets better with cards in the graveyard practically screams for Book Burning.

Well, okay, the deck doesn’t actually scream... that would be freaky.

Mystic Fire

Download Arena Decklist

Wormfang Drake
Wormfang Drake

I am of the opinion that the new Wormfang creatures are all fascinating in different ways. I see Wormfang Behemoth and Wormfang Newt in a quick-hitting beatdown deck. Wormfang Crab wants me to try and revive mono-blue control. Wormfang Turtle has really spiffy art. Wormfang Manta makes my head hurt with odd, turn-adding possibilities.

And Wormfang Drake, most exciting of all, belongs in a deck with lots of comes-into-play creatures. As with all cards that interact well with comes-into-play abilities, you can head in lots of different directions with a deck. A blue/white lifegain deck could use spells like Venerable Monk and Staunch Defenders. A blue/green deck might use Ironshell Beetle, Kavu Climber, and Wood Elves in combination with Phantom Centaur. Whatever combination you choose, the Drake provides the unpleasant choice of keeping a 3/4 flier on the board or using a removal spell to give you another creature and effect.

In blue/black, you can try a lot of wacky discard and bounce tricks with something like:

Play It Again, Sam

Download Arena Decklist

Shieldmage Advocate
Shieldmage Advocate

Several people, upon seeing the new cards from Judgment, wrote me about the possibilities of Megrim with the new Advocates. An immensely fun idea, their deck ideas usually involved Megrim, an Advocate, and some reusable discard effect like Blazing Specter or Disrupting Scepter. With all of the pieces on the table, you have a way to quickly whittle your opponent’s life away.

Only two common Advocates exist: Nullmage Advocate and Shieldmage Advocate. Nullmage Advocate has an effect that is difficult to use every turn (destroying an artifact or enchantment), and returns two cards to an opponent’s hand. Shieldmage Advocate, on the other hand, returns a single card -- which is easier to force back into a graveyard -- and an effect that can actually be useful on every one of your turns. Thus Shieldmage Advocate seems to make the perfect compliment to Megrim.


Download Arena Decklist
Sorcery (9)
4 Duress 4 Gerrard's Verdict 1 Recover
Instant (6)
4 Cremate 2 Disenchant
Enchantment (4)
4 Megrim
Land (24)
15 Swamp 9 Plains
60 Cards

Note, too, that you can make a fun Advocates deck along with Sudden Impact for another rare-less “lite” deck.

As with all of the kooky stuff I outline here, these cards are only the beginning of possibilities with common-based decks. Battlefield Scrounger and Nantuko Tracer offer interesting recursive tricks. Cagemail is weird and hard to use, almost begging for a deck. Venomous Vines could make a fun Extended deck in combination with enchantments like Despondency and Dying Wail. Every set has funky commons like these... I encourage you to explore them with deck ideas to see what happens.

Have fun!


Jay may be reached at

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