Forgotten Harvest - The 2019 Crop
(Ral's Outburst | Art by Joseph Meehan)
What Are You Brewing New Year's Eve?
As we close the books on 2019, it's time to look back on the past year here at Forgotten Harvest. While the normal gameplan is consists of constructing a deck utilizing hyper-underplayed cards in 300 decks or less on EDHREC, today is not going to be your typical article. Today's theme is, appropriately, cards that didn't get played this year. I'll be looking at several notable cards printed in 2019 that are still barely getting any attention on the site (in the same kind of format as my Commander 2019 Set Review article). Some of these cards are, in my opinion, absolutely not seeing enough play at the close of this year. But others are, appropriately, getting less love than they should, and we'll talk about why that's happening.
Before we get into all that fun, I should first provide a disclaimer on the data from EDHREC. I'm going to use the data from this site to draw some conclusions throughout the course of this article. EDHREC pools data from several deckbuilding sites on the internet, but it doesn't pull from all of them. The decklists on these sites don't necessarily reflect actual decks made in paper or on MtGO, and could very well be ideal builds or wishlists. These decklists could also be out-of-date when compared to a paper or digital analog. In other words, what I'm writing here holds for this set of data, but may not be true within your meta or at your LGS. I'm not going to pretend this is gospel, but I think there is value to be gained from the data on EDHREC. If you're experiencing something different, let's talk about it! It would be great to bolster these conclusions with real-world information beyond my conversations and games at my LGS.
Finally, my personal opinions and judgments are also going to affect how I feel about these cards. I believe I'm making logical, practiced calls here. But you may disagree, and that's okay. Let's talk about it in the comments. I fully respect other opinions or a different interpretation of the data so long as it's made in a well-meaning, intelligent manner. I think we all will be better Commander players because of such a conversation, and I'd rather we talk about it than not.
Alright, with expectations set, let's talk about the best of the worst from 2019!
It's Totally a Popularity Contest!
Printed in Throne of Eldraine, the card True Love's Kiss only sees play in 128 decks. At first glance, this seems typical. White generally has a lot of access to good artifact/enchantment hate, such as Return to Dust (22,225 decks), Aura of Silence (8,698 decks), or the classic Disenchant (5,044 decks). So maybe True Love's Kiss doesn't make the cut.
However, the other color with similar artifact/enchantment hate is green, and that color provides us with an excellent card for comparison: Slice in Twain (937 decks). These near-identical cards (okay, so the Slice destroys and the Kiss exiles, but that still means TLK is better, not worse) are seeing very different amounts of play, and a quick check of the Top Commanders on EDHREC can help tell us why. All of the commanders using True Love's Kiss on the site are currently Standard-legal, which indicates that some people haven't updated their decks to include this new card from Eldraine. This is excellent removal in a color that always appreciates card draw. I expect the Kiss to see its numbers rise quickly in 2020.
Removal of flying creatures isn't exactly a popular direction for green decks in Commander, as justified by the following numbers (green instants that destroy a creature with flying):
- Plummet in 450 decks
- Crushing Canopy in 405 decks
- Crushing Vines in 404 decks
- Aerial Predation in 42 decks
- Wing Snare in 30 decks
Looking at the top three options, Plummet is at the top and is the most cost-efficient. Next are Crushing Canopy and Crushing Vines, which are more expensive, but offer some versatility in destroying an artifact/enchantment instead. Yet in the name of versatility, why would a card like Thornado only be in 31 decks?!? It's far more versatile than either of the Crushing variants, and I'd argue it's better than Plummet in a vacuum. Being able to chuck the card for a new one for 1G is huge when there's no good/legal targets on the battlefield. I'd gladly tick the CMC up one for the option. Maybe with another reprint, we'll see Thornado up near the 500 level on the site, although that looks to be the cap for anti-flyer spells such as these.
When looking at Ral's Outburst, it's hard not to compare it to Prophetic Bolt. It deals one less damage to its target, and digs two fewer cards into the deck, but it also costs one less mana, and that cost difference can be very relevant during a game. Depending on the chosen commander, available mana ramp, and other spells, filling a four-mana slot could easily be preferable to a five-mana card. And yet, when we look at the use rates for each spell, we see a huge gap: Prophetic Bolt is found in 804 decks, while Ral's Outburst has only made it into 137. Something must be going on here.
First and foremost, I should say that I think the Bolt is the better card more often than not. It may be harder to fit into a mana curve, but it also digs further into the deck, and that goes a long way. However, I don't see that as the only reason for the 650+ deck gap between these cards. Prophetic Bolt has also seen a fair number of printings: four sets in paper, five in digital. Though it's a rare, getting hold of a Bolt isn't hard at all. At uncommon, neither is Ral's Outburst. If my LGS is any indication, War of the Spark seems to be very popular (thanks, planeswalkers!). It probably just needs some more time. I would expect the Outburst to be up over 700 decks before it stabilizes.
I don't know about anyone else here, but I can certainly be a slave to theme when it comes to deckbuilding. I start out choosing my theme, picking a commander, and then trying as hard as possible to play the best cards that also synergize with that theme. I can be a little overzealous in these endeavors, cutting out cards that don't fully conform to the theme, independent of their strength. Based on the numbers, I think Cauldron's Gift is getting ruled out for just such a reason. It's only in 71 decks right now, but it's got power poorly represented by that deck count.
The culprit is that red herring in the first line. The Adamant keyword sends me down the road of using this in a mono-black deck, specifically one that cares about self-mill. However, if I ignore that line and just focus on the rest of the card, I'm left with something pretty good for 4B: "You may choose a creature card in your graveyard. If you do, return it to the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on it." The closest comparisons I can make are Fearsome Awakening in 683 decks and Bond of Revival in 346 decks. Now, Fearsome Awakening is suffering the inverse effect as Cauldron's Gift: it's being type-cast. The card has the word "Dragon" in it, so Dragon tribal decks are likely to include this card, even if there's a better reanimation spell out there.
However, I see the ceiling on Cauldron's Gift going far higher than either of these other uncommons. In fact, I think it's a contender for the best reanimation spell at its CMC, and it's all because it lacks the word "target." This spell is very resistant to graveyard hate, allowing you to select a creature card in your graveyard as it resolves, rather than fizzling if someone Scavenging Oozes your favorite one. Forget the Adamant effect (it just gets in the way) and give this card some love!
'Almost' Isn't Good Enough
I talk a lot on Forgotten Harvest about hyper-underplayed cards that are worth slotting into decks, but I never get to talk about the cards that deserve to be left out. There are some notable near-misses this year that wind up just a few yards short of "Staple Country."
I have to say that, at first glance, Eternal Isolation looked very promising. Cheap tuck removal in white without the requirement that the creature is attacking or blocking sounds wonderful! The restriction to only hit a creature with power four or more is manageable, as most creatures I'll want to tuck are that big already (Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, etc). In fact, I was all set to write about how great Eternal Isolation is, and how it doesn't make sense that it's only played in 60 decks compared to Condemn's 3,733.
Then I saw it, right there in the type line: SORCERY. It might as well be a Pearled Unicorn! There are just too many other, better options for cheap spot removal, such as the aforementioned Condemn, but also the staples Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares. Just ask Reprisal (187 decks).
When it comes to flavor, Turn into a Pumpkin is an absolute all-star! However, with a deck count of 41 on EDHREC, it's generally being left to rot out in the patch instead of seeing play in blue decks. I do attribute some of this to the same effect as I discussed earlier with Cauldron's Gift: that Food-related ability may be leading people to think this only belongs in Food-themed decks. Unlike with Cauldron's Gift, though, there's a far larger gap between Turn into a Pumpkin and other similar spells. Into the Roil and Blink of an Eye see significantly more play, in 4,484 and 2,671 decks, respectively. Yet, when fully kicked, these cards are nearly identical to an un-Adamant Pumpkin Popper. It may be obvious, but the cost flexibility offered by Kicker is far more valuable than landing a pie token, and I believe the numbers directly reflect that.
I should start this section by first saying that I love Skullknocker Ogre. Despite revolving around an opponent drawing cards, I like the random discard aspect, and the chaos that can ensue as a result. I do understand why it's only in 6 decks right now, although I would like to see that number creep higher. The key piece it seems to be missing is synergy with an existing strategy. Red decks that care about opponents drawing cards aren't really into creatures attacking, especially those without baked-in evasion. Even a relevant creature type could've helped the Orge find a home. Case in point, Thought-Knot Seer sees plenty of play in 1,333 decks, and has a similar (but better) set of abilities. Had this Ogre been a Knight or Goblin, I don't think I'd be writing about it right now.
Finally, we have a duo of cyclers in Windcaller Aven and Quakefoot Cyclops (34 and 41 decks, respectively). Now, compare these cards to the spell versions of their Cycling abilities: Leap in 478 decks, and Stun in 899 decks. Why the difference? Because spells matter! The top decks for Leap and Stun are all led by spellslinging commanders: Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, Zada, Hedron Grinder, and Feather, the Redeemed. These cards aren't valued for what they do to creatures, but rather are seen as cheap cantrips that trigger Prowess-like effects. Making the effect part of Cycling the card kills that synergy, and there's just no love for that right now.
Happy Birthday, Calendar!
Thanks for reading this very special edition of Forgotten Harvest. What did you think of this article format? Did you miss not having a decklist to read through? How about the cards I covered? Any differing opinions on these cards? What about hyper-underplayed cards from 2019 that I should have talked about, but left off? Let me know in the comments section below. Happy New Year!
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