Where Torment focused on making Black take the forefront, Judgment was a set designed all around White and Green. That was a loftier goal; Black has always been powerful, with banner cards like Necropotence and Hypnotic Specter. White has Wrath of God and Balance, and green has... Desert Twister? The set had some interesting innovations and designs. The most significant addition has been the Wishes, based on the Arabian Nights card Ring of Ma'Ruf. They changed sideboards for a long time because creative players could pack their board with all sorts of answer cards, while casual players started packing 1000-count boxes with bullet cards to Wish for (and I'm serious about this; find people who play the Five-Color format, you'll see).
Judgment also brought in the Phantom creatures, which played off of White and Green's ability to prevent damage. These were interesting because one could pair a Phantom creature with a toughness-enhancing Aura and have their creature around forever! The set also included some creatures that you just didn't want on the battlefield on the first place. A 2/2 flier for 3U is limited-worthy, but when that card is Wonder, you have a card that dramatically changes how combat actually takes place.
For a third set, Judgment is packed with winners. Let's take a look at the valuable cards!
Poor Balthor. He was a red Dwarf for awhile, but people like him a lot better now that he's dead. Balthor is a moderately-popular EDH general; he's got a really cool, unique effect for the format. Dropping big monsters into the graveyard is not exactly challenging, after all. Balthor never made a big tournament splash, but he's good at attrition (imagine bringing back Flametongue Kavu, after all) and when people need a copy, they usually need four copies. Balthor the Defiled is great to remember for a dollar-box diver because he's usually undervalued.
I am frankly puzzled why this card is actually worth something. It does, I suppose, have the effect of concentrating your burn spells; you don't have to waste burn on creatures if you can just fire this at the opponent. They either lose their guys or you clock them for six damage. The red “decision” cards like this and the next example are pretty bad, but people still seem to love them. Fact or Fiction, this is not.
Browbeat makes a little bit of sense in a burn deck, since it may just draw you into more burn spells. It's a little more effective in that regard. Browbeat used to be a solid $3.50, but it's been reprinted in Fire and Ice and that's driven the value down a lot. They're still worth picking up because people tend to trade them around a lot.
The stories I can tell about this card! Burning Wish was part of a Mirari's Wake deck that used the Wish to get Firecat Blitz. An ideal turn would see you untapping with six lands and the KittyBlitz in hand. Tap out to summon those cats and kill the opponent on the spot! Burning Wish could also grab Wrath of God, which was pretty sly. Unfortunately, Burning Wish wasn't the right call for the Wake deck. It had a lot of cool removal like Firebolt, but when the format is Aquamoebas and Basking Rootwallas, a Shock is pretty useless.
Burning Wish also formed the bedrock of Long.dec, the original busted Storm deck in Vintage. The idea was that you would cast Burning Wish, sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond in response. Luckily, that Wish got Yawgmoth's Will and boom, your LEDs came back, you had a free Will, and you were well on the way to ten spells and Tendrils of Agony. This interaction was so powerful in a time before Spell Pierce and Thoughtseize that it caused Burning Wish and LED to be restricted, where they remain today. Burning Wish is so capable in Vintage that it occasionally still shows up as a single copy. I have played one to get hits like Deep Analysis, Balance, Rolling Earthquake, Mind Twist (!) and more. Before the Wishes were nerfed to prevent them from getting Exiled cards, it could also grab a spent Yawgmoth's Will, which was almost too good for words.
Burning Wish is hyper-efficient to this day, so people like to have the card and their big Box of Answers. It doesn't see much competitive play, but Burning Wish has enough star power to stay at a high price.
In developed formats, Cabal Therapy can be better than Thoughtseize when you know the decks to expect. The flashback means that you can gut an opponent's hand for the cost of a Plant token or a Thrull. Cabal Therapy currently sees play in Dredge, since it's a free way to make more Zombie tokens with Bridge from Below. Cabal Therapy also has a significant psychological effect on people when you get it right. I love the card because it really rewards paying attention to what has happened in the game to that point and valuing what could be the worst play from an opponent. My favorite casting of the card had my opponent rolling his eyes when I blind-named Goblin Warchief and he had to discard three.
Cabal Therapy hit $4 back in 2005 and basically never came down since then. It was a staple in Extended and it remains one of the most powerful cards in a Green-White set.
Like Wall of Denial, Commander Eesha is a great multiplayer wall. It's hard to remove and is nonthreatening; its biggest role is to send attackers elsewhere, since they won't get through when facing this Bird. She's also essential for Bird decks, which are rumored to actually exist in casual circles.
Burning Wish was good, but Cunning Wish is better. This one lets you get bounce, counterspells, more draw, and that's just in Blue! In Tog decks, it could get Smother or Ghastly Demise. In Wake decks, it got mirror-shattering Ray of Revelations. In Vintage, it got your sideboarded Misdirection to steal an Ancestral Recall. Currently, Cunning Wish sees play in High Tide in Legacy, where it can get Blue Sun's Zenith to deck an opponent, a Turnabout to make more mana, or a Snap to remove a problematic monster. Though it costs more than Burning Wish and Instants are generally not as powerful as Sorceries, Cunning Wish has always been slightly superior to its Red cousin.
Here's an economy Dragon; simply run through enough of your deck and this guy becomes a real threat. It has seen tournament play here and there; four mana isn't hard to get, after all. When it came down later in the game, it would end things pretty quickly. The problem with it is that Fledging Dragon had to compete with Grim Lavamancer for attention in its block. An early Lavamancer all but prevented a player from ever hitting Threshold, and four or five Shocks are generally better than a Dragon. That history has held back Fledgling Dragon from being a real power player in its home format.
Genesis has always had fans, from early Survival of the Fittest decks onward. It occasionally popped up in UG Madness decks, since you'd have some recursion to fall back on in the later game. This Incarnation is notably popular because of EDH, though. It has a light mana requirement, it's a reasonable monster on the board, and Genesis is highly problematic when you're playing a deck with Mulldrifters, Baneslayer Angels and Acidic Slimes. Everyone wants a Genesis in their list; it's one of the best green creatures and it's hard to come up with reasons why you aren't running a copy. Genesis trades very well, both to casual players and binder-grinders.
A lot of people aren't hipped to Guiltfeeder. Let me fix that for you. It has Fear and eats an opponent's life total at about seventeen points per hit. I love Guiltfeeder, but most people don't know about it. This guy is a casual superstar – just befriend the guy playing a mill deck and you'll have unimaginable power.
In a long enough game, Hunting Grounds is a psychotically strong Aether Vial. It hits the board and you've got dreams of skating underneath all that countermagic, slamming down Reya Dawnbringer and Akroma. Enough people like that idea to make Hunting Grounds a valuable card, even though it doesn't do a thing before you get Threshold.
Of the relevant Wishes, Living Wish gets the short end of the stick. Creatures blow compared to spells like Balance and Fact or Fiction! Living Wish can get a land if you need it, which is cool enough, I suppose. Living Wish has seen tournament play, including the first iterations of CounterTop in Extended.
Wake would eventually be recognized as the best deck in Standard. It was identified shortly before the format changed and the card rotated out, which is kind of sad. Wake ran blue cards for Cunning Wish, Deep Analysis and Circular Logic. It could also rapidly blow through the deck with Compulsion. Imagine that you've got your Wake down and the opponent is threatening to swing their Madness creatures into you. You can flip through five or six cards to find a Wrath of God, but you can even pitch and flashback a Moment's Peace to buy some time. Eventually, Wake would cycle Decree of Justice or make Elephant tokens and win through those. It was an annoying deck to face because when you boarded in your Ray of Revelations, they had boarded out Wakes and brought in Exalted Angels. What a groaner.
Wake is still incredibly popular with players. When you think of the best enchantments in EDH, this shows up alongside Necropotence and Debtor's Knell. It has been reprinted as a judge foil, but that did not affect the original's price at all.
This is a strong reanimation target; he blunts aggressive decks and buys back all the life you spent getting him brought back from the dead. I don't think people legitimately look at paying retail mana for this creature; you need to put him out with Quicksilver Amulet or the like. When it's on the field, your opponent starts doing the math and realizes that this creature will Lifelink you into 28 more life points. Strong!
People like Angels, people like Crusade effects, and people like paying lots of mana for both of 'em. That's my best explanation for this!
When this card was printed, people started putting it with Squee, Goblin Nabob to lock out an opponent. They also put it in Eternal Dominion decks; get this to stop the opponent, then get Honden of Seeing Winds to keep feeding it. Nowadays, Solitary Confinement sees play in Enchantress in Legacy, where it is a cornerstone. Few decks can beat a supported Confinement and it shuts down both aggressive decks and combo decks.
I've known players to keep a list of cards, written on their copiesof this, of what Spelljack has snagged. In a big mana format, Spelljack can borrow a Mind Twist or stop a Damnation from ever resolving. It's a demoralizing card, which is fun for people who fancy Islands.
Alternate win conditions in Magic present fun design ideas for many casual players. Lifegain is a beloved mechanic and Test of Endurance actually funnels that hard work into a victory. Sometimes, players will put it in decks that can gain infinite life as a way of sealing the deal when they've made sure they will never die to burn. It rarely makes its way into competitive decks, but Test of Endurance is a casual staple.
Alongside Cabal Therapy, Wonder is the power uncommon in this set. Free Flying for everyone is so ridiculous and Wonder helped UG Madness fly over the competition, time after time. Wonder showed up most recently in UG Survival Madness in Legacy, where it assisted Vengevines hitting the opponent too quickly. Wonder doesn't make many appearances in casual decks, which is interesting to me. Apparently its value is a reflection of lingering power and people who want to rebuild their UG Madness decks of old.
That's it for Odyssey block! It's an underappreciated block, especially when you compare it to Invasion and Onslaught. One was full of gold cards, the other packed with Tribal mechanics, and in the middle was this strange block with unintuitive mechanics. The value of the block has held up well and I think you'll find that Judgment has fared very well, compared to other third sets.
Join me next week when we look at why creature types matter in our look at Onslaught!