The Howling Mine Effect

Posted in Serious Fun on March 6, 2007

By The Ferrett

Two weeks ago, I chose the Most Powerful Multiplayer Card in Planar Chaos, to much controversy And that's fine. Whereas Time Spiral had a handful of outrageously powerful cards like Teferi and Stuffy Doll, Planar Chaos didn't have any obvious standouts. I knew going in that there was nothing I could choose to satisfy everyone... And so I'm fine with it.

But I'll still stand by Wild Pair, baby. Is it expensive? Sure. But you'll get your money's worth.

But the time for power is past. Now it is time to discuss fun. And, um....

I'm pretty sure you'll have problems with this call, too.

Why? Because I'm going to start off why telling you why the most popular choice for "The Most Fun Card In Planar Chaos" is not actually that fun. That's right – it's time to trash....

Braids, Conjurer Adept
Braids, Conjurer Adept (10 Votes)

I suspect a large part of the reason this got chosen is because I touted the juicy goodness of Hypergenesis as The Most Fun Card In Time Spiral. And I'll stand by that; Hypergenesis is fun because it encourages everyone to slam their entire hand onto the table at once, creating one big whopping puppy pile of fun. It's fireworks as everything explodes onto the table.

Hypergenesis is a Fourth of July show, rocking the air with thunderous bursts.

Braids? The new Braids is one of those little snake-things that putters out in a pathetic ooze of smoke and ash.

You see, Hypergenesis is uncontrollable. Oh, you can counter it, or you can strip people's hands, but once it starts to resolve everything just goes nuts. Everyone gets a chance to do whatever they feel like, in a sort of Summer of Love-style thriller exposition.

Braids, on the other hand? Braids doesn't even have the thrill of letting you start first. You have to let your opponents get their goodies first.

And there's no guarantee that their goodies won't kill your chance. Try this!

"Firemaw Kavu!"

"Avatar of Woe!"

"Riftwing Cloudskate!"


"Aw, come on, Ferrett," you say. "She's a party. Everyone loves a party. Braids is like Howling Mine!"

And here is where, perhaps, the people you've played with and the people that I've played with differ. Because let's talk about The Howling Mine Effect.

howling_mineHowling Mine is the card that beginning players love, and it's usually their first (and most disastrous) flirtation with the politics of multiplayer. And if you're playing with a table full of relative novices, they will adore the Howling Mine.

But Howling Mine goes in two styles of decks, and neither is particularly good against opponents with a decent level of experience:

1) A deck that doesn't really get any particular benefit from Howling Mine.

You just put it in there because you have a weak deck that likes to draw extra cards. But then again, what deck doesn't like to draw a few cards now and then? Heck, that's the whole reason other players like Howling Mine – free cards, baby!

But in the end, your deck does not particularly capitalize on these extra cards. It lets you draw more lands and creatures and enchantments and artifacts, but those excess cards don't interact with the Howling Mine in any way that really matters.

The problem with the "Howling Mine as a patch for an incomplete deck" is that other players most likely have better decks that will benefit more from drawing more cards. Why? Well, for one thing, they have at least four more slots in their deck that are devoted to cards that will actually kill other players... As opposed to the four slots you've used up to help everyone else draw more cards.

You will draw more Howling Mines. They will draw more business cards. And the reason they're letting you live is not because they're having a great time, but because – and I hate to tell you this –

It's because you're not a big enough threat to bother to take out.

If you were a real threat, they'd be sending all of their guys your way. But they know, and nine times out of ten they're correct, that a deck that utilizes Howling Mine and then doesn't try to follow it up with some evil combo isn't going to be much of a challenge when the time comes. So they let you live not because they're having such a good time, but because they figure they can hammer you down at their leisure.

They're usually right, too.

Usually, Howling Mine helps everyone as much as it hurts them, so it's not something that really affects the table. Everyone's drawing cards at the same rate, which means that Howling Mine is actually boosting the most powerful deck at the table at a disproportionate rate.

And didn't I just explain that this isn't you?

The big guy will either outdraw everyone and just pound them into dirt on the back of these fresh hot cards he's getting, or he'll pop the Howling Mine whenever he figures it's not giving him an advantage any more. Thus, your Mine isn't a real advantage to you.

It's a card that maybe – maybe – lets you come in second. But who wants that?

Sure, there's some political consideration to be had if some meanie decides to pop the Howling Mine with a Naturalize. Players will be mildly upset that they're not getting to draw the extra cards. But on the other hand, it's not like they were really robbed – the Howling Mine was a nice bonus while it was around, but it's not like they spent the two mana to put it into play. Nobody's popped their card. So usually, at experienced tables, the Howling Mine destruction gets met with a round of "Aw, man"s and no effect whatsoever.

Occasionally, someone will be furious that the Howling Mine went away. He is furious because he needed those cards. And if he needed those cards that badly, usually he's mana-screwed or mana-flooded and isn't really anything to worry about.

Sure, it's nice to play Howling Mine. Or Braids. Or any other spell that gives the benefit to your opponents first, giving them the opportunity to kill your happy little share-around before you get it. But it's usually not good enough to throw into a deck and win.

Which leaves us with the other option:

2) A deck designed around Howling Mine

Oh, there are tons of them. How about Underworld Dreams and Howling Mine? Or Megrim and Howling Mine and Barbed Shocker? Or some sort of crazy Dreamborn Muse/Howling Mine deck 'em combo?

How 'bout we assume your opponents are going to be suspicious?

Come on, this isn't the local Salvation Army. There are no real handouts in Magic. And at least until they can scope the contents of your deck a little more (see Deck Style #1 above), they're going to assume that this friendly gift is, in fact, a nice wooden horse with a bunch of Trojan soldiers rattling around inside of it.

They're going to sniff that combo. The minute you put anything else on the table that seems to work with it in the slightest, they're going to react. (Assuming, of course, they're bright enough to see it coming – some players aren't.)

Their reaction will take the edge off of your handy-dandy Howling Mine. Suddenly, it's not the fun times of "Hey, it's a gift!" It's the "This will benefit you briefly, and then kill you!" responses, and that will involve them sending large men over to investigate the nooks and crannies of your face, or killing the combo pieces as they appear.

And invariably, they have the guns to do it, too. Why? Because you're handing them free cards, you silly.

"But I'm good times!" you cry. "I'm not the threat!" And that's the problem with Howling Mine. It doesn't survive because people love you; it survives because people get a benefit out of it. And by nature, the benefit they get is superior to yours.

Hypergenesis worked because everyone got to play at once. The slow drip drip drip of Braids, however... Well, that's no fun at all.

So sorry. Braids, you're off the island.

Braids has that one key trait of a great fun multiplayer card – she fundamentally alters the world as soon as she hits the board. Then there's one other mote of greatness that I'll mention at the end.

Braids pokes the world with a big stick, like a Hunted Wumpus on crack. Suddenly, everyone else's plan has to change around to "Is there anything good for me to drop?" and "What's everyone else going to drop?" Should they change their strategy just because the game suddenly changed from Magic to Spit? It forces new decisions on everyone.

It's also a great time for you if you're the one who brought Braids to the party, because you're all set to apply some asymmetric strategy to her global power. Bring permanents you can't actually play, or at least can't play quickly. Exult in getting five ridiculously large artifacts into play in as many turns.

For example, here's my first Braids deck.

Braids Brings It

Download Arena Decklist

Use the Boomerangs, Deserts and Ghost Quarters to stall for time, the Times and Considerations to dig for Braids and her pals, and the counters to get Braids into play and keep her there. Once she's there, start putting Traps, Grozoths and Nullstones into play. As an added bonus, the first Grozoth to hit the board lets you pull the remaining Grozoths and Nullstones into your hand, and the Nullstone is yet another global alteration card, shutting down all those pesky non-creature spells and letting your big guys wander the field with a little less hassle. After all, you'll always have a counter waiting after they've cast a creature or burned a spell just for the chance to try and kill one of your precious Gargoyles.

When someone finally gets a Wrath through and spoils your fun, Booby Trap them out of spite. They'll learn.

The other reason Braids is such a fun card is because Zoltan Boros, Gabor Szikszai, and the art direction team absolutely nailed the illustration. Braids is the Willow Rosenberg of Magic. She's a sweet, unassuming girl who'd be a great study partner and who tries to give everyone a hand getting their cards into play. Even if she does have an evil twin in an alternate dimension, she's a fundamentally good person and everyone's favorite on the show. Or in the game. You know what I mean.

--Alex S.

Braids, Cabal Minion
My nomination for Planar Chaos's most Fun card is Braids, Conjurer Adept.

I've had what you might call a healthy obsession with Braids since Odyssey block, and her multi-verse cousin intrigues me as much as the original.

Basically, Braids is fun for several reasons.

1) Versatility. She can be used in many different deck types. Reanimation (she cheats casting costs), comes-into-play (need I explain this one?), aggro (more creatures out means more mayhem), disruption (forces the other guy to play something whether he likes to or not), control (cards on the board are vulnerable) etc.

2) Threat level. She's not the kind of card that someone will feel too comfortable wasting a kill spell on. She helps out their strategy, so why bother killing her off?

3) She sets up the board wonderfully. Lands, creatures, and enchantments on the board can be killed, stolen, neutralized, or removed from play. Braids draws out the other people's strategies and hastens the pace of the game.

You've said before that in mass multiplayer everyone tends to turtle up and defend until a mistake is made (something I've experienced myself)? Well, she fixes THAT problem in a jiffy.

4) She turns everyone against each other. Say the guy beside you drops Darksteel Colossus, Pristine Angel, Simic Sky Swallower, Teferi, Rimescale Dragon, Niv-Mizzet or some other big scary card that has the potential to wreck you. Sure, Braids the little 2/2 is the one who did it, but is it worth hitting her with Chainer's Edict or something like that when the scary Thing is out to wreak havoc? No indeed. The opposition will concentrate on defending themselves from each other...or turn on you.

But since you naturally have a backup plan, that's not an issue. In short, to borrow an Alongi term, Braids "burns other people's fuel."

5) The skill level. Braids, Conjurer Adept takes skill to play. This for me is the best part of her. Anyone can kill with Akroma, but it takes planning and skill to win with Braids.

And the best reason of all that makes Braids, Conjurer Adept so fun? Now you can pair her with Braids, Cabal Minion!

--Nathan, Lowly Card Player

Dichotomancy (9 votes)

I discussed potential Dichotomancy builds in the last column, and I do feel that most of the people who were discussing it were mixing "fun" with "power." That's a problem that we'll have to address in the next contest, however... And I'm avoiding it, because it means explicitly defining "power" and "fun."

Or maybe we revamp the whole challenge from the get-go. If you have any suggestions as to how I should divide the "fun" cards from the "powerful" cards when many folks seem to think that fun and power are the same thing – and I can't say they're not – sound off.

Chronozoa (6 votes)

This one was more of a solid split between "Fun" and "Powerful," which again points to some fuzzy definitions here. That said, I think Chronozoa is a lot more "fun" than it is "powerful," since we have a big splitting amoeba. How can that not be fun?

the place of the most fun card could be occupied by nothing but Chronozoa it's not just fun it's multiplying itself it's a destructive fun and a funny destruction yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh Both in the same time 'laugh and smash' that's my moto for this card!!!!!

--Marios B.

There's one other card that got six votes... But we'll deal with that in a moment. Because it's the one that won.

But let's discuss the fun that other people had.

Muck Drubb
Muck Drubb (1 vote)

I'm gonna choose Muck Drubb. Just look at the art for a while. After spending enough time looking at it the card brings out the black mage in everyone.

You really really wanna see that stupid thing get hit in the face with some huge burn spell because it deserves it - which is the blackest way of thinking, which is so much fun. It is the Stuffy Doll of Planar Chaos!

Also, if it lives through whatever horrible spell you force it to endure and you paid for it with its madness cost you get a 3/3 for 3 which is a nice bonus.

--Adam N.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (2 votes)

In the realm of free-for-all Magic the possibilities are endless, but what could be more fun than using your opponent's very source for survival against them... their lands. Let them feel the wrath of karmic justice delivered from the tomb of the dead.

Bad Karma

Download Arena Decklist

No one will ever see it coming, unless of course you post this all over the internet. Stern Judge with Angel's Grace if needed is also a possibility, though as a creature the judge won't be around too long.

--Avi R.

Kavu Predator
Kavu Predator (1 Vote)

Hey Ferrett,

This last Sunday it hit me - Kavu Predator - OMG!

I bought a playset of Skyshroud Cutters months and months back (don't ask me why) and before Sunday they sat collecting dust. But it was Sunday when I was really looking over the new Planar Chaos set, that upon bringing Kavu to my hand, the Earth moved.

I thought to myself, "Playing a good-size multiplayer game with about 5 people (which I usually do every Monday and Saturday), I can drop Kavu on turn two, hold Skyshroud until turn three, drop it for free, and then attack with a 27/27 trampling Kavu Predator. (Like I said before) OMG!"

Coupled with Wall of Shards and Whitemane Lion to return the Cutter to my hand to drop it for free once again to have an attacking, turn three 52/52 Kavu Predator makes it a fun card (I just love the looks I get). Plus, should Kavu come under fire from all the creature removal that is out there, I could just beat them to the punch by playing Swords to Plowshares on Kavu. Plus, it stops Martyr of the Sands, Overrule, and other life gain that I've lately seen hit the table.

So why did I make it a fun card instead of a powerful card? The card is good, especially coupled with the cards I mentioned. However, it only works well in a multiplayer environment, which is mostly what I play. It may be a sideboard card for more serious play, but who needs serious play when Kavu's around?

Oh, by the way, Reverent Silence works just as well with Kavu.

Do you Kavu?

Thanks for your time,

--Joshua R.

Fungal Behemoth
Fungal Behemoth? (1 vote)

Dear The Ferrett,

The most fun multiplayer card in Planar Chaos is Fungal Behemoth. I know it might not seem like it, but once you suspend it, everyone wants a piece of the +1/+1 fun. Think about it this way. Someone has out some flyers, some one has out some goblins, and you suspend him for, say, 5 turns. Everyone looks over at you, and realizes that you are a nice guy. So nice, why piss you off by attacking and letting the others have counters.

Sure, it's Power and Toughness only count +1/+1s on your creatures, but it's better to help out others than let them hurt you. Besides, I have a nifty deck built around him for multiplayer.

Simic Behemoth

Download Arena Decklist

It works very well, with the manipulator as the win condition. I slap +1/+1s onto anything that comes along to befriend them. The behemoth helps, because players know that I give +1/+1s away freely. They refuse to attack me, knowing I give them anything they want. Regeneration, flying, or even untargetability. The fact that when it comes in, I still have +1/+1s on my creatures helps a bit.

I doubt I will win this, but if I do, I would like your signature on the card.
--Kyle K.

Magus of the Arena
Magus of the Arena? (1 vote)

The most FUN card in Planar Chaos multiplayer has to be Magus of the Arena. Magus of the Arena not only has the toughness to stay on the board in most multiplayer games, he has one of the most flavorful and most fun abilities I have yet to see. Nothing screams fun like sitting around the table waiting for the guy on your right to finish and you can say "O yeah, at the end of my and you fight to the death!" Its so much fun sometimes I forget my creature is going to lose the gladiatorial battle, and there goes my creature. Not only is it fun to make your opponents creatures go mono on mono with your own, its even better in a deck with counters and pump. Just like Rocky in well... All the Rockys, your creature can be the champ of the board as long as its A) strong, or B) you have a nice little card called Brute Force to back you creature up. In conclusion that is why Magus of the Arena is the king of fun(ness) in multiplayer Planar Chaos.

--Chris K.

Timbermare (1 vote)

I'm writing to you to put Timbermare on the list!

Nobody in Planar Chaos fits the multiplayer criteria better than Timbermare. Most bombs only hit the board on turn 4 through reanimation, while he can deal five damage to the head to anybody that turn. His haste gives him the ability to make an unblockable impact before getting hit with Wrath of God. But it's not just a Groundbreaker. Later in the game, there is more you can do than sending a four-mana Lava Axe. Assuming you don't like paying echo cost, how about killing it right now and dealing ten damage with Fatal Frenzy? If you want it alive, use an Adarkar Valkyrie tapping all their guys and dealing nine damage per turn? Sounds fun! And one last way to annoy your enemies: Momentary Blink.

Walker's Timber Deck

Download Arena Decklist

As you can see, the deck has a few themes and combos:

How do you like it?

--Walker M.

Dust Elemental
Dust Elemental (2 votes)

There is one card which clearly, in the fun category kicks a lot of ass: Dust Elemental. Its good for a few reasons; one, it's a 6/6 for four with flying, fear, and flash. Two, if your deck is built to handle its "return three creatures ability," it is a massive boon. Yeah, you heard me.

Reason one: Wrath of God. They play Wrath of God, and you return your three biggest threats right back to your hand. Damnation into Avatar of Woe can be devastating, unless of course your Akroma gets bumped right back.

Reason two: "Comes into play" abilities. Is it a bad thing if a Firemaw Kavu, Loxodon Hierarch, Sundering Titan, Angel of Despair, or some other goodie gets another chance to trigger? I should say not! In the following deck I also can just return a Saproling to my hand, and poof! Let it disappear.

Reason three: the picture is totally sweet.

I made this deck to exploit that synergy. I tried to make it rare-light to represent my play group. Below the first deck is the actual more expensive deck I run in one-on-one with Dust Elemental. The only splurge in the first deck are the glares and hierarchs. The reason there are not four Dust Elementals is that the most horrible play ever is Dust Elemental returning Dust Elemental (unless you have to).

Hierarchs, Caryatids, Dryads, Stomphowler all have good comes into play abilities, plus Soul Warden with token generation plus returning will mean massive life gain. The deck doesn't seem threatening at all, until it drops glare and Dust Elementals into the beat-down win. Harmonize would also be good here. I also thought about returning creatures with cumulative upkeep to restart the upkeep, but none fit the bill like I wanted.

Multiplayer Dust Elemental

Download Arena Decklist

My two-player deck that runs Dust Elemental looks like this:

--Luke T.

Dust Elemental One-on-One

Download Arena Decklist

But there is one card that I have a weakness for. Those who paid attention to the Most Fun Card In Time Spiral will note my rating system... And they would see the reason why I chose this.

Pongify (6 votes)


Come on. Let's face it. You know you love this card. Witness the reader reactions!

The most fun card in all of Planar Chaos is Pongify, without a doubt. An ape! Imagine turning the game-winning Psychatog or Akroma into a useless, pointless ape. Or imagine the look on your opponent's face when they see their intellectual wizard, Teferi, turned into a stupid ape with oversized teeth. Hah! Priceless.

--Matt D.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the most fun card in Planar Chaos is Pongify. I would almost say that this card got to be one of the funniest cards of all time.

"Ok, turn 1 Taiga, Kird Ape, your turn"
"I'll play an Ornithopter..."
"I attack with my 2/3 Ape! You blocking with your thopter?"
"Nope! (tap one blue and play Pongify on his thopter) I'll be blocking your Ape with mine!"

It's probably not as funny like that... but it is! It was yesterday, anyway...

That's about it!


The Funnest most fun card in Planar Chaos for multiplayer?


Yep, Pongify. This was kind of a hard decision to come up with at first, because "fun" is a relative term. What is fun for one person or group may not be fun to another person or group and vice versa. However, I think Pongify is the type of card that is fun for most people and groups largely in part due to its versatility. Let's explore ...

First-turn Ornithopter (or other zero-cost creature) and then Pongify it. Just because you can.

Great for "Rabbit-Out-Of-A-Hat" (ROOAH) Magic Tricks ... Here I have a 1/1 Saproling and – voila! – now it's a 3/3 green Ape instead! Thank You! Thank You!

Great for controlling group dynamics ... Hmm, Player A is attacking Player B with a 3/3. All Player B has is a 1/1. Not anymore! ... Voila! ... Now Player B also has a 3/3 and (assuming he blocks) now both creatures will die. Or, maybe Player B has a really great 1/1 with a neat mechanic that you want to get rid of, but still maybe want to get rid of Player A's attacking 2/2 creature instead. You get rid of the powerful 1/1, and Player B blocks, killing Player A's creature. Neat.

Great for fear control ... Nice creature you have there, Bob. It'd be a shame if you try attacking me with it. (Meanwhile resting one hand on an island and a face-down card [which just happens to be an extra land you had] you have set aside since everyone knows you're playing with Pongify.

Great for getting rid of other player's creatures without upsetting them too much ... Okay, okay, I got rid of your creature. But, at least I gave you another one, unlike some people (leaning your head in a fake inconspicuous manner toward another player).

The Great Equalizer (sort of) ... Pongify + Isochron Scepter? We all have 3/3 creatures! Well, not me. I have 4/4s, 6/6s, etc. Ok, and maybe you Bob since I can't target that one or that one. Wanna make a deal? By the way, I'm now planning on making a bunch of 1/1 Saprolings one at a time and turning them each into 3/3 creatures. Let's see who can make the most 3/3 creatures.

Make a wacky Ping-Pongify deck. Do something crazy like having Goblin Sharpshooters (the Ping) and Pongify (the, well, you know). Player A attacks Player B with a 4/4 creature. Player B only has a 1/1 creature. You turn it into a 3/3 and do a point of damage (with the sharpshooter) to one of the players. When the creature goes away, the sharpshooter untaps allowing you the possibility to do an extra point of damage to Player A's attacking 4/4 creature if Player B decides to block with his now 3/3 creature. Thus, killing both creatures.

What? You're going to kill my flyer with a Hurricane? I guess I'll have to make it a 3/3 instead.

A chance to be obscure ... play the song "Me and My Monkey" (by singer Robbie Williams) in the background while playing a deck with Pongify in it.

That's stuff just off of the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of other fun and maybe even crazier things to do with Pongify. And, yes, I would like the card autographed.

--Spencer V.

Alas, Spencer, this isn't the best entry. It was close. But this is the best Pongify entry:

The decision for most fun card in Planar Chaos was quite a bit easier than in Time Spiral. To make a long story short:


Really, Pongify is both entertaining useful, regardless of where you point it. And, it has the multi-player benefit of not engendering too many hard feelings.

Dralnu, Lich Lord
I mean, it turns any creature into a 3/3 monkey! What's that, Teferi? You want a banana? I'm sorry, Dralnu, I didn't understand that last "Oook." It's a great answer to specific trouble creatures, even if it's not a great answer to, say, a Saproling. And, really, it's just entertaining. The flavor and effect of the card line up perfectly for hilarity.

At the same time, Pongify doesn't take anyone out of the game directly. Unlike most spot kill (or, for that matter, Counterspells), Pongify leaves the player with a monkey – and a fairly beefy monkey, at that. So the poor guy who got his 7-part Rube-Goldberg combo-deck ready to go isn't left high and dry, unable to participate in the game. The guy who sacrificed all his lands to unsuspend a Greater Gargadon quickly doesn't have to sit around uselessly for five turns hoping to draw another mountain. Pongify leaves players with something to do, even if that thing isn't as good as what they had planned. Insofar as doing things in a game is fun, Pongify gives opportunities for fun like few kill spells do.

Finally, Pongify is surprisingly versatile, and it's great for actually helping other players. I've often chosen to Pong my own creatures when they'd otherwise die, to get the token. It's like a bounce spell, but you get your monkey right now. If you're playing a team game, and your ally is getting his head handed to him because his hand that seemed so good can't draw a second elf? Pong! A better creature for you. Or in a free-for-all, when one person is dying for lack of blockers? Pong! That'll stall the ground for a while, so you can finish your combo, and earn you some goodwill, too! Pongify is creature kill, but it's also a creature rescue, and an ad hoc Giant Growth, and all those effects are useful when used on yourself or other players. It's a great political card, a quirky flavor card, and a useful mechanical card, all at once.

Have a nice day,

--Phillip W.

No, you have a nice, day, Phillip. You had me at Dralnu saying "ook." Because God knows I loves me some Terry Pratchett.

So there you have it: Pongify. The Funnest Most Fun Planar Chaos Card in Multiplayer. And Phillip will soon receive a full set of bananaed goodness for his excellent dissection of why it's more fun than a monkey's uncle!

You may now go nuts in the forums.

Latest Serious Fun Articles


January 5, 2016

Hedron Alignment by, Bruce Richard

When I first looked at my preview card, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it. The card does so much that I wasn't really understanding its value. Kind of a "forest for the trees" thi...

Learn More


December 29, 2015

Eternal Pilgrim by, Bruce Richard

When religious belief turns into religious fervor, things get problematic—particularly on Zendikar. When the Eldrazi were originally imprisoned, stories were told to ensure no one would t...

Learn More



Serious Fun Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All