Wild Trips With Cantrips

Posted in Serious Fun on August 1, 2006

By Anthony Alongi

Short article this week, to spare my sanity for the longer series I started last week and will continue for the next two non-theme weeks.

Normally during a theme week, I spend a little bit of time talking about my personal experience with the theme – why I love black spells; or what I don't enjoy about elves; or what Akroma, Angel of Wrath has taught me about multiplayer Magic. But there's an occasional theme week, like Cantrip Week, which forces me into embarrassing admissions.

Like my first favorite cantrip card.

Oh, how am I going to get through this? Nothing to do but plunge ahead, I suppose.

You have to realize I came into Magic through Portal, which ought to excuse a certain amount of indiscretion. Still, there's not much to be said about this bad boy:

Symbol of Unsummoning

BOO-YA. What a powerhouse. I mean, I had the good sense to save it for stuff like Primeval Force and such, but still. My face, it is red.

At least it's better than Dematerialize. Kinda.

The second cantrip I played a lot with was in a tournament-legal set (Portal was illegal at the time). Now I was cookin'! Yes, I used all the latest tech to pull off amazing feats.

Like this.

Shadow Rift

I know. You expect things to get better, and yet they get worse. Even as an instant, Shadow Rift is pretty poor fare. It was an early entrant in the ongoing, multi-block, "cheap-instants-that-really-don't-do-much-so-we-better-give-'em-a-card" cycle Wizards has going on. (See also: Sway of Illusion, Winnow, Accelerate, Laquatus's Disdain, Curtain of Light, Psychotic Fury, and Cremate.) No, I don't want to hear about how great these cards can under the right moon phase. The point is, I had no business playing four Shadow Rift in my "best" deck, which consisted of spike creatures and Dream Prowler. (See, if the Dream Prowler got really big and wanted to attack, but I had another creature that also wanted to attack, I could still attack with both, then play Shadow Rift on the…*sigh.* You know what? Never mind. It's not important.)

Slowly, over the course of maybe a year, I phased out the Shadow Rifts in favor of something else. Something like Forbid, or another card that actually did something.

Then when the deck still sucked, I abandoned the idea of slowly creating a decent, nearly-unblockable creature over the span of four or five turns. Somehow, I got the idea I was losing tempo. (Tempo? Wait, wrong week.)

My next "favorite cantrip" was in Masques block, where… you know what? Let's just fast forward, because I'm already really hurting from all the laughter out there.

Anthony Turns A Corner

As with so many of my stories that portray me as a decent player, we turn to the time of Invasion block. I really dug into Limited formats then, especially Team Sealed. I was the "A" player of the three, which back then generally meant you were the Red/Black player.

Two okay cards that you didn't mind putting 22nd and 23rd in your deck were Stun and Urborg Uprising. Now, Stun I had to see work first, because back in my Tempest block days, I didn't think it was worth much. But once I saw a few good players use it to devastating effect in the early game, I became a fan. Unlike many aggressive red spells, it replenished your hand and resulted in damage to the opponent. So it worked in this narrow format.

Urborg Uprising

Urborg Uprising caught my attention more easily – and it was a true backbreaker in limited, if you were Red/Black. You'd come charging at the opposition with two or three good creatures over the first four turns, all the while burning stuff or trading in combat. Then on turn 5 (or later was fine, if you had Annihilate, which we won't even bother discussing because it was so freaking good), you would play Urborg Uprising and bring your beats back, plus an extra card. Or you would wait until turn 13 or 14, when your Crosis, the Purger was dead along with your Crypt Angel. The White/Blue player you're facing is out of answers but feels their board position may finally be stable… and then you bring back your bombs and all is lost for the other guy.

I liked Urborg Uprising so much, I gave it a place in my favorite deck of all time. I call it the Snake-Deed deck; you can read more about it here, although by then it had evolved. Instead of the Uprising, I had a new graveyard-manipulating cantrip in there.

Bone Harvest

Now that's a cantrip. Ridiculously good for its casting cost and rarity (common), Bone Harvest was a no-brainer the moment I became aware of its existence… which was, like, four and half years after it was first printed. (I never said I was swift. No, go ahead, check the archives. You won't find "me" and "swift" in the same sentence until today's articles.) One of the few ways my favorite deck tended to lose was through consistent mass destruction. Bone Harvest helped me recover from the madness! Another pet peeve was milling. Well, Bone Harvest took care of that too! And it made my next few draws so lovely and cool.

Parting Advice

I wouldn't be doing my job as a columnist who specializes in multiplayer Magic if I didn't point out to you newer folks what becomes obvious to many (but not all) group players: cantrips, in multiplayer Magic, are a good idea. They help make up for the natural card disadvantage that comes with spending a card to get rid of a single creature when there are three more opponents with nasty permanents still waiting to be dealt with. Anything that helps keep your hand full is smart. So use 'em!

My favorite cantrip in each color:

My last tip before wrapping this up: if you want to find cantrips in Gatherer, don't just look for "draw a card" as an unpunctuated phrase. Look for "draw a card." That's with a period at the end. Virtually all cantrips put that phrase at the end of a sentence (except for the older ones like Bone Harvest, which have additional words you can search for separately). Then pick whatever format you like, and limit the search to instants. You'll capture a few cycling cards, but nothing you can't skim over. If you don't find something good, go ahead and look in sorceries. If you're still struggling, open it up and see if you can't find stuff like Carven Caryatid.

Enjoy the draw!

Anthony Alongi has been playing various Magic formats for over eight years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His latest book, JENNIFER SCALES AND THE MESSENGER OF LIGHT, was co-written with his wife and NY Times Best-Selling author MaryJanice Davidson.

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