Unfortunately, unlike the previous article, this list is not a video. Between various bouts of flu, gratuitous injuries, scheduling conflicts, and lost weekends, I wasn't able to find the time to scrape together a video (which takes about ten to twelve hours to prepare). So instead, it's just gonna be plain ol' text—a bit disappointing, but there you have it.
On the plus side, you don't have to hear my whiny, high voice, which is a bonus.
The cards I'm listing are not necessarily the most powerful (though I think they're close). The question of "power" in multiplayer is always heavily group-dependent—if you're playing in a group that never plays with Wrath of God, well, a card like Twilight Shepherd becomes a lot less interesting. If you're in a group that plays only Vintage-style combo decks then a fun casual card like Boon Reflection is never going to be useful.
That said, I feel confident the five cards I list here are cards that can go into a variety of decks and be useful in a variety of environments. A card like, say, Enchanted Evening is a fine card... but you really have to jump through hoops to make it work for you. Yes, Fracturing Gust will then destroy everything and gain you eleventy billion life, but then how do you win? Making a deck that utilizes Enchanted Evening effectively is a delightful challenge for you Johnnies out there, but it's not something you're going to play with outside of a deck specifically created to take advantage of it.
These cards are interesting because they can be plopped into a variety of decks. You should check to see whether you have any older decks that they might go into, because they're all solid cards.
That said, there's an attitude among certain players that you should never try to collect a play set of anything since it's anti-casual. These people say that you should just play with the cards you opened in your booster packs and buying seven boxes in an attempt to get a set of four Oona, Queen of the Fae is too cutthroat.
That's a perfectly valid approach—heck, I've helped my friend Dmitri out with that very problem! But I do think that in terms of discussing card-specific strategies it's nearly impossible to write about Constructed deckbuilding if the players are unwilling to go out and occasionally get a set of a good card or two.
Why? Because anyone's personal card pool is so player-dependent that it's impossible for me to tell you what kinds of decks you could build! I'm proud of that decklist I made with Dmitri, but that article only worked because I had Dmitri's cards in front of me. Given that I don't know what you have on-hand, it's hard for me to say what cards will work together best in your card pool.
(And just blindly swapping in three Abbey Gargoyles in lieu of three Twilight Shepherds because they both fly and are white isn't going to work—good decks are about synergy and strategy, not randomly powerful cards tossed in like cherry tomatoes in a salad.)
In terms of looking at the best cards, I am actually completely rare-blind. I simply look over the booklet in the Shadowmoor fat pack and pick the ones that I think will be the most effective. Those cards tend to be much more effective when you have four of them.
(Though my top pick? I doubt I'd want more than two or three in a deck. Four's a bit too much.)
That said, just because I care and the list this time around is rare-heavy, I've also provided uncommon cards that are also noteworthy in terms of being good in multiplayer. Don't ever say I fail to provide alternatives.
#5: Augury Adept
Augury Adept was on my "interesting" list, bubbling up just underneath the Top Five, until I threw it in a deck designed to win any war of attrition. Every card was designed to leave dead cards in people's hands and to reuse the cards I had.
Strangely enough, this deck went an amazing 4-1 in group games (which, as I'll remind you periodically, means that it came in as the winning deck in free-for-all matches against at least two other people—in one case, five other people). The single time it lost, it came in second... and would have won the next turn, were it not for an ugly 13-point Hurricane that took me out of the game.
Admittedly, this is a deck that abuses our group's fondness for overpriced removal. A single Tarfire can make things ugly for this deck—but we don't see Tarfires these days; rather we see Incinerates and more expensive stuff that gets you bang for your buck, and I planned the deck to take advantage of that. Take a look at this list:
Thing is, you know what powers this deck? Augury Adept. In a multiplayer game, there's a good chance that you can just randomly attack some slow-starting player with an Adept on turn four, getting you life and a card. Or, if that's not good enough for you, give your Adept protection with a Mother of Runes and send it past the gates. You'll often get 3 life and the card you needed.
I've gained thirteen life and six cards off this single little attacking critter. Yeah, as others have noted, you need to jump through hoops to get it to work... but if someone's wasting removal on a 2/2 of yours, so much the better when your big guns come out to play. And if not, you're drawing two cards a turn.
You know what won me a notable game where I was going to die the next turn?
"No blocks. You can't kill me with what's on the board, and I hit for fatal damage the next turn."
I'm a big fan of the "small threat" attack in multiplayer. That's why Taurean Mauler was my #1 pick for Morningtide, and I stand by that pick. Oh, people will always want the big elbow-droppers like the Corrupts * and the Din of the Fireherds and the Akromas... but something has to hold the fort until it arrives. Not everything can be a seven-mana spell! Why not have a three-mana spell that does something good?
Yes, Augury Adept is a 2/2. Yes, people can kill it. So what? If they waste removal on it then it's one less Rend Flesh to aim at your Dragon when it comes to town. Considering that you're dealing with two colors that are good with granting evasion, it's a worthwhile check.
The No-Rare Response
Josh's #5 card was also white, and it's an uncommon that's uncommonly good: Prison Term. For three mana you have a reusable enchantment that stays on the board, neutralizing your opponent's biggest creature until an even bigger creature comes along (at which point you just quietly move it over). Whatever it is, you're pretty much guaranteed to hamstring the biggest threat on the board.
The danger, of course, is that people won't like knowing that the best creature in their hand is going to land straight in jail upon arrival. Hence someone will almost certainly try to kill the enchanted creature in an attempt to get rid of the Prison Term, making a nice two-for-one—one opponent loses his or her biggest threat and you lose an enchantment.
#4: Everlasting Torment
One of the big problems that multiplayer games face is an agonizing slowness. Why? Because everyone gives their creatures protection from everything, and everyone gains a zillion life, and blah blah blah the pain.
Everlasting Torment, for a mere three mana, shuts that whole style of play down. Not many cards do that—but for three mana, Everlasting Torment reads, "Stop that annoying stuff you were doing and fight like a planeswalker."
Were you planning on gaining a million life off of that annoying Essence Warden? Uh-uh. Were you thinking you'd regenerate that blocker? Not so fast—it's studded through with these -1/-1 counters. Thinking you'd Fog this turn? Well, damage can't be prevented. Eat combat step, my friend!
Other cards have tried to do this in the past, most notably Sulfuric Vortex. But the Vortex irritated everyone at the table by also acting as a too-slow win condition, forcing people who otherwise benefited from your "no life gain" clause to attack you. Everlasting Torment, on the other hand, has no downside for those who aren't looking to gain life, prevent damage, or regenerate, allowing for some awesome short-term teamups.
Yes, Everlasting Torment is fighting the very colors that are best at Disenchanting things—namely, green and white—but even one or two turns with an Everlasting Torment in play can slow down that vexing Sliver deck with the Essence Wardens. And if they don't play with enchantment removal, they will regret it.
Fun fact: Our group has the house rule that wither applies to players, too. So when you get hit with a 3/3 and Everlasting Torment is in play, you now have three -1/-1 counters. They feel like shards of glass in your skin. Icky. You need a good shower to wash them off.
The No-Rare Response
You want a set of creatures that are actually very good? The Mentor cycle takes your army of threats and gives 'em usefulness. Resplendent Mentor is arguably the best (well, except under an Everlasting Torment), giving you a way of sitting back on defense and gaining life when you don't feel like sending the forces out to play.
But Deepchannel Mentor can turn your army of blue creatures into an alpha strike that will hamstring the unsuspecting opponent. And Roughshod Mentor will make all that green beef you have on the table smash right past the defenses of smaller creatures. Bloodmark Mentor isn't particularly exciting until you realize that red's top-end creatures benefit considerably from being both Giantishly, Dragonly smashy, but now also first-strikey.
The Mentors are vulnerable, of course—a single removal spell can turn a combat phase into a rout. This is why you should treat them like sorceries: play them when your relevant opponents are tapped out and/or helpless, then swarm in to remove those players from the game before they can recover. If you get another use out of them, which you often can, so much the better.
#3: Demigod of Revenge
As I've noted time and time again, the best multiplayer decks can recycle their best cards. Demigod of Revenge comes with a built-in recycling clause.
Let someone Wrath of God. In the late game, that topdeck pluck of a Demigod of Revenge might uplift an additional two of its fallen brethren straight out from the graveyard, dealing 15 points of damage across a clear blue sky. The longer the game goes on, the more it favors you.
Sadly, the Demigod's tricky—you have to play it. Simply Zombifying the 5/4 won't resurrect the other copies from six feet under. But on the plus side, merely playing it is enough to trigger its ability—even if your Evil Blue Mage decides to counter the Demigod, the "returns to play" trigger will still happen (which is especially nice if said EBM doesn't realize that).
Plus, "haste" is one of those perennially undervalued multiplayer mechanics. Haste means that if someone thought it was safe to attack you with everything because you don't have any defenders, they're going to pay for it. And a card like Demigod of Revenge can make that a very, very painful mistake.
That's just assuming you do nothing tricky! A second-turn Rakdos Signet, third-turn Buried Alive, fourth-turn Demigod of Revenge can make for an ugly quasi-combo deck that gives you a whopping big army earlier than many decks can handle. And since you're in black, the color of bringing creatures back to your hand, finding ways to get those things to trigger shouldn't be difficult at all.
The Demigod is a blunt-force instrument without a lot of subtlety. But that doesn't mean it's not painfully good.
The No-Rare Response
Green has traditionally had problems handling flying creatures at instant speed. Things like Squall Line help, but realistically speaking it's hard to justify doing 6 damage to yourself just to avoid a Dragon. And eight mana is a lot. Other things, like Spiders and Cloudthreshers and so forth, are fine, but they tend to be a) expensive, and b) bounced or killed at the most inappropriate times.
No, what green mages need is some targeted removal that they can hold back until the instant that big bewinged thing turns in their direction. Thankfully, we now have Gloomwidow's Feast—a valuable tool in green's arsenal, making it a little trickier in combat.
I know I'll be using Gloomwidow's Feast in my green decks aimed at the long game. It helps.
#2: Sygg, River Cutthroat
I've talked about how good Sygg is in a past article, but I don't think I've given you numbers. I've played Sygg in three games, and I kept track of how many additional cards I drew off of his ability.
You know what the average number of cards he drew me was?
That's right; in three games, Sygg's delightful triggered ability gave me five cards on average (well, to be precise, 4.6666 cards, but still...).
Because Sygg is so wonderfully low-cost, coming out on turn two, unless your opponent has the Incinerate right then—and is willing to use it—you're likely to pick up two or three cards in the early skirmishes until they finally dispatch your Sygg.
If they attack you? Don't block. Just attack back with some 2-power chump and a Sygg, get your 3 damage in, and draw the card yourself.
And in the late game, when you draw another Sygg, because the damage is now flowing and people are far more concerned about that gigantic Oona, Queen of the Fae here and that Midnight Banshee there and look, there's a Reaper King! Well, Sygg once again falls below the radar, allowing you a couple of freebies.
Someone's going to be taking damage. And Sygg isn't a threat now. He just makes threats possible later, giving your opponents the ugly choice of removing Sygg and leaving the actual threat still on the board, or letting you draw cards into an ultimate real threat. Plus, weaker players tend to underestimate or forget about Sygg, leaving him alone! Bonus.
If there was a two-card spell that says, "You draw four extra cards over the course of the game," ** you'd play it. You'd especially play it if it could serve as a chump blocker. Now get out there and Sygg it up, because that's exactly what this little Rogue guy is.
The No-Rare Response
For two mana, Inkfathom Witch can wreak a surprising amount of havoc. Yes, its ability costs four mana, a lot to reserve when you'd rather be playing spells, but it allows you to interfere in anyone's combat in very ugly ways.
The obvious method is that if someone is attacking someone else, and they choose not to block that horde of 1/1 Saproling tokens, you can make it a rather punishing decision. Now they're... well, given that it's probably 12 damage and up now, they're probably dead. (This can work even better if it's your horde of Saproling tokens, but then they'll probably see it coming and act accordingly. You'd be surprised how often you can pants an opponent who's not paying sufficient attention.)
But even better, Inkfathom Witch turns every -1/-1 counter—and you do have them nowadays, no?—into certain death. You choose not to block, their creatures are now 4/1s with -1/-1 counters, they die as a state-based effect. Simple.
Any pinger can now dispose of these unblocked creatures—Prodigal Sorcerer FTW! And let us not forget the evil favorite artifact of mine that is Caltrops. Sure, you can attack me but if you do, your creatures already have a single damage on them. If I don't block and then activate this, well, it's a one-sided annihilation...
The downside is that the Witch is a 1/1 and easily disposed of. Still, the amount of impact it can have upon a game is vastly disproportionate to its cost.
#1: Cauldron of Souls
The fascinating thing about Cauldron of Souls is that for a mere five mana, it protects everything else you own, giving your cards double-duty. It can go in almost any non-weenie deck, protecting your bold Giants or your large Treefolk—or heck, even your mid-sized Rebels or Snakes! And once you have it out it protects everything, since you can choose as many creatures as... well, as you control.
Twilight Shepherd almost nudged this out, since it can bring all your stuff back, not just creatures...but you still have to play everything again. With the Cauldron of Souls, you merely tap it and every creature it targets that dies comes back with a -1/-1 counter.
Plus, there's the extra-special bonus round to be had in that Cauldron of Souls can be used to your advantage. Is there some creature you think is keeping your opponent in check? Well, heck, bring that on back. Have a teammate in a Two-Headed Giant game who could use some love? The Cauldron helps 'em all.
With a Cauldron out, your opponents are going to have to deal with your armies twice. That gets ugly if you have creatures with comes-into-play effects. Want that Bladewing the Risen to serve double duty? Don't mind if it does! Angel of Despair again? Sure enough! Cards like Avalanche Riders get a little nicer, Loxodon Hierarchs become life-gain engines of doom, evoke creatures suddenly come back into play once you target them in mid-evoke with persist, Harbingers get you all sorts of goodies, and Marsh Flitters...
...okay, it doesn't work with Marsh Flitter. But I want it to.
Cauldron of Souls is the kind of card I like to see in multiplayer—powerful, (ab)usable by any number of decks, and well-costed (I'd like it even better at four mana, but hey—Wizards ain't crazy). It's something to keep in mind when you've got a deck that wins via mid-sized to large creatures, since a one-time investment of five mana can pay off repeatedly.
The No-Rare Response
One hesitates to bring them up because, well, everyone already knows about them but really, if you're looking for good uncommons, Beseech the Queen and Flame Javelin are at the top of the line. They both do a lot better in mono-colored decks. Beseech the Queen is comparatively cheap tutoring for those who can't afford Demonic Tutor and/or Vampiric Tutors and Flame Javelin is the sort of answer that often cuts someone off in mid-question. As I've said before, removing a player from the game is a great response to all sorts of problems.
Many others have discussed how great these cards are. It's no surprise that they're at the top, because they dang well should be.
So what did Josh pick? I'll discuss that later. His choices varied a bit from mine, and it's worth looking at what he thinks are good cards. Since I'm sure I'll hear the usual wonderings of why a given card didn't make the list, I'll also tell you why Your Favorite Card From Shadowmoor didn't quite crack the Top Five.
* – Reprinted in Shadowmoor. It's a darned good card. Get some, if you didn't before.
** – I'll round down. I have no fear.