The Toolbox - A Bitter Ordeal for Your Opponents

(Bitter Ordeal | Art by Daarken)

Back to the Future

Welcome back to The Toolbox! Here we take a look at underplayed cards and evaluate where they ought to see more play. Yes, I do say ‘we’ because I want to hear what you all think as well; I am not always right. Please comment and share your thoughts about which cards we should discuss and where they should see more play.

Today, we go back to the future - that is, to Future Sight. Our toolbox card today is one of the weirdest cards in Magic, with an ability that has only been printed once. Storm is already an inherently complex mechanic, and once upon a time, Wizards of the Coast decided to make it even more convoluted. This is great for people like me, who get excited trying to figure out how to break it. That's right, today we are looking at the only card with Gravestorm, Bitter Ordeal!

The Mechanic is Storm, Gravestorm

Bitter Ordeal is a three-mana sorcery that searches target player’s library for a card and exiles it. Traditionally, this isn't a very strong effect, because exiling one card out of a hundred just won't do very much. However, the spell also has Gravestorm, which means that it copies itself for every permanent put into a graveyard this turn! This includes cards put into your graveyard or your opponents’ graveyards (though note that it does not include cards that are discarded or milled). If a ton of permanents bite the dust, we can exile tons of cards from enemy libraries, locking them out of their most valuable win conditions!

With this added bonus, how do we get a truly worthwhile payoff with Bitter Ordeal? Let's look at its EDHREC page for more info.

With Bitter Ordeal, you want to put as many permanents as possible into the graveyard all in one turn. Sharuum stands as an artifact combo pillar in the world of Commander, and as a result of these combos, she incidentally puts permanents into the bin - that is, she can put the same permanent into the graveyard multiple times. With the Sharuum the Hegemon and Phyrexian Metamorph combo, Sharuum and her artifact copy will Legend Rule the other out of existence, then repeatedly bring each other back from the graveyard. This results in infinite death triggers, perfect for Bitter Ordeal to swoop in and exile not just a few cards from an opponent's library, but every card from each opponent's library! 

Teysa, Orzhov Scion functions the same way, using her combo with Darkest Hour. Technically, sacrificing her tokens does count as a permanent going to the graveyard, even though they cease to exist as soon as they reach that zone. Conversely, Phenax, God of Deception likely uses Bitter Ordeal to surgically remove any cards that would get in the way of his milling gameplan; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, for example, would reshuffle its owner's library, so Phenax needs ways extract such cards and ensure his mill gameplan can go uninterrupted.

Those are some of the most popular commanders for Bitter Ordeal, but where else could this card make a splash?

The Return of Death

Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest loves death. He's a simple 2/2 with flying for five mana, but whenever a permanent is sacrificed, he puts a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control. That seems pretty darn useful.

Mazirek is, of course, inherently weak to removal, being such a small body, but is also weak to effects like Sigarda, Host of Herons. How do we get around those kinds of problems? By proactively stopping a deck from being able to assemble its combos, use removal spells, or pump up their Angel commander, that's how. 

With cards like Dictate of Erebos, Mycoloth, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, or Torment of Hailfire, you can assemble a ton of sacrifice triggers. This is already what the deck wants to do, which means tons of permanents are hitting the graveyard - perfect for Bitter Ordeal to get rid of anything that could stop you, or even just crippling someone's ability to win by removing their crucial pieces from their deck! Check out a sample decklist:

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (8)
Enchantments (9)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (35)

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Black Panther

Let's be honest, Lord Windgrace is one of the most notable lands-matter commanders at this point, and for good reason. He draws cards, he revives lands, and when he ultimates, he destroys a bunch of permanents. The mere fact that he can return Dark Depths and Vesuva from your graveyard to play means you can always keep a Marit Lage token around, which is especially frightening.

So why do you want to run Bitter Ordeal in a deck like Windgrace? Because Bitter Ordeal doesn't only care about creatures hitting the graveyard from the battlefield - it just cares about permanents hitting the graveyard from the battlefield. Sacrifice a bunch of lands to Scapeshift, then sacrificing all those new lands to Zuran Orb, then finally casting Splendid Reclamation to get them all back would result not only in a bunch of Landfall triggers, but also a bunch of Gravestorm fodder! If you haven't managed to keep your Ob Nixilis, the Fallen or Omnath, Locus of Rage in play, you can instead just swoop in with a Bitter Ordeal for 30. Reduce target opponent's library to nothing but lands. Seems good, right?

Time for the decklist!

Wakanda Forever

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Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Instants (7)
Sorceries (17)
Artifacts (4)
Enchantments (5)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (42)

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Sacrifice! Sacrifice! Sacrifice!

For too long has the reign of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim stood, it is time for Teysa Karlov to reign as the Orzhov Aristocrats commander! Teysa is a 2/4 for four mana that packs a punch by doubling your death triggers. For some, this would be good enough, but she also gives your creature tokens vigilance and lifelink, making all those Afterlife tokens even better! 

Why should she care about playing Bitter Ordeal though? Well, like several of the most popular commanders for Bitter Ordeal we saw above, Teysa is also capable of some infinite-death-trigger combos, which means Bitter Ordeal could be an unexpected, out-of-the-box win condition. However, the main focus for me would be to be able to proactively interact with the weaknesses of Aristocrats. Aristocrats is very strong to most Wraths like Wrath of God, but things like Terminus are much worse for you, since you don't get any of the death triggers. This can make a very strong board state into a very useless board state - unless you reach right into those libraries and yank out anything that would prohibit your awesome, awesome death triggers. This is the perfect way to set yourself up to win a game with very little investment.

Take a look at the decklist and see if you agree!

The Aristocats

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Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (6)
Artifacts (10)
Enchantments (10)
Lands (36)

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Thank you!

Thank you all once again for your continued support for the series. What's your favorite underrated card? Do you agree or disagree with my take on Bitter Ordeal? Where do you think it should see more play? Please share in the comments below, and as always, have a great day!

Elijah is a mildly obsessive EDH player from Georgia. He started playing during Battle for Zendikar with Green/Black Eldrazi Aristocrats and still pays tribute to the plane with his Omnath, Locus of Rage storm brew. He is always excited to innovate and try new things in Magic and Life. Elijah is currently a full time student looking to go into Computer Engineering but also has a bit of an artistic streak.

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