Hello and welcome back to our study of the Onslaught set! We're picking up this week on the second half of the set that brought tribal creatures to the forefront and made combat trickier with Morph. The entire block is full of excellent cards that command a few dollars, because they are oriented to casual players with thematic tribal decks. Let's take a look at some of these cards...
Mobo is a huge card in terms of design. The reason is that before this, R&D was very stingy with repeatable creature token makers. They always had a limit – you could make one per turn with Kjeldoran Outpost, you had to eat a pony every turn with Sacred Mesa, and you needed to burn through the graveyard for Bearscape. With Mobilization, though, if you had the mana, that Soldier was yours forever! That Mobilization even gave the soldiers a combat bonus made it better. Centaur Glade appeared in the same set, but people seem to remember Mobilization more. This was a big turn for a design department that was previously worried about letting players get free access to lots and lots of tokens at instant speed. People still like Mobilization and it pops up in soldier decks; if you've got Veteran Armorer out, it helps every token you make.
Oath of Ghouls is a particularly fun card, but it helps opponents out and requires counting during most upkeeps. Oversold Cemetery was an intentionally-made upgrade to that Oath so that players could get a little benefit from sending their guys to the slaughter. Although it didn't make much of an impact on the tournament scene, the Cemetery is a fan favorite. You get to recycle Sakura-Tribe Elder and his friends every turn, or alternately, it can get back a fattie you lost. Oversold Cemetery has that Genesis appeal for casual deckbuilders and it's a very light mana investment to get going.
In some ways, this card bests Living Death. Bidding is great because of the Balance situation; it looks fair on the face, but the reality is that you are playing a deck that is designed to use Bidding and the opponent is not. There was a deck in Standard called Goblin Bidding that used the card to rebuy against opponents who could sweep the board. The seriously dangerous part of Goblin Bidding, though, was that it had sacrifice outlets like Skirk Prospector and Goblin Sledder. You could eat all of your Goblins with Skirk Prospector, then play Siege-Gang Commander, shoot his little goblins away with your new mana, then Bidding them all back into play! The big deck at the time was focused on Mirari's Wake and a Patriarch's Bidding trumped their Wrath of God. Bidding stills gets some love from people playing Zombie and Goblin tribal decks. Technically, it could fit into anything willing to pay for it, but I haven't seen Sliver Bidding at this point...
Delta commands the highest price for fetchlands from Onslaught, and even after rotating out of Extended, people love the card.
This reminded me of Silver Wyvern, another fun card from days long past. The allure of the Dragon is that, on a large enough board, it simply dodges removal like Morphling did. Quicksilver Dragon is a fine beater in multiplayer games because it can just slide right out from under spells. The end result is that nobody even tries to pick it off, so your one Island sitting untapped protects the Dragon much more than you'd think!
Oh, how this Beast has fallen. It was the pinnacle of green value creatures at the time – a 4/4 for 4 mana with an upside? Unheard of! (really!) It's been overshadowed by Loxodon Hierarch and Obstinate Baloth because those can get your life as soon as they show up. However, Ravenous Baloth can eat a team of Beasts, meaning he can chalk up some serious lifegain. In the dark ages, I ran Ravenous Baloths in my Survival deck in Legacy, since they were just about the best thing to play with an Aether Vial at four counters. That should indicate how long ago that was!
When this was printed, Wizards were terrible. You had Meddling Mage and that's about it. The best thing on the block was Voidmage Prodigy and man, that was a bad card too. The Meth Lab became very important, however, a few years later when Lorwyn was printed and Spellstutter Sprite ended up with a Wizard subtype. Now you could bounce most of the cards in an Extended Faeries deck with the Lab, setting up frustrating soft-locks on opponents and fouling up combat. The Lab jumped from a bulk card to a chase rare at tournaments and was personally memorable for me because it was one of the first cards I'd predicted a price increase on. Their price has settled considerably from the $7 they used to command, but the Lab is still popular enough for folks wanting to send Venser, Shaper Savant back to their hand.
Rorix is a quick six for six mana, a surprise for nearly a third of your life total. It saw play occasionally in Dragonstorm decks, but I'm sort of baffled about why Rorix is still valued above bulk rare prices. It's not like Rorix does anything particularly cool.
Now we're talking about cool effects! Rotlung Reanimator promises value from your Clerics on their way out. It's especially fun when you hack its text line to change “Cleric” to “Zombie” so that you have a never-ending parade of monsters! Rotlung Reanimator is a very popular card casually because it makes up for the annoyance of losing creatures. Enterprising deckbuiders may also use it as a bridge in a hybrid zombie-cleric deck. A fun card all around.
Okay, I get that this is what Green gives you for six mana, but I don't get why people actually pay money for this. An 8/5 trampling regenerator is awesome, so maybe I'm just jaded by cards like Path to Exile that solve this guy quickly. A lot of people love Silvos and his price shows it; I was actually surprised when I cashed out some junk copies of Silvos I picked up for awhile back to get a good chunk of beer money!
This is that big, bad zombie that all the other guys call out when it's time to fight the final boss. Soulless One is an uncommon so it's worth keeping an eye out for him; he routinely goes for a little bit of money. He counts Zombies in play as well as graveyards, which can make this guy into a real attention-getter in a game of Magic.
Starstorm trades Earthquake's ability to hit players for the chance to knock out some Angels and other fliers. It technically has cycling, but like Akroma's Vengeance, I've never really seen one cycled so I don't know if that ability is just on there for show. Startstorm makes up part of the toolbox of red board sweepers that you reach for in EDH if you need that kind of ability.
Like Dense Foliage, Steely Resolve protects all your guys. It is a little more limited because it only protects a tribe, but giving all of your Elves Shroud is just fine in a multiplayer game. Steely Resolve is a potent card for tribal decks and I'm not surprised to see it at its price; I'd look to splash for it in any Tribal deck I were constructing.
True Believer is part of a group of cards in Vintage and Legacy known as “hate bears.” Bears, because they are 2/2 and hateful, because they stop an opponent from executing a popular strategy. Gaddock Teeg is the king of ursine haters, but True Believer does a fine job of shutting down cards like Intuition, Blue Sun's Zenith, Tendrils of Agony and more. It was reprinted in Tenth Edition, which has slightly dropped its price.
Do you remember how annoying Volrath's Stronghold is in EDH? This thing does the same thing, cheaper, but at least trimmed to just a single tribe. Unholy Grotto is so important to Zombie decks that it's a big power rare in the set. It has distinctive art, so you'll never miss it when you're looking through boxes of junk from people. One thing's for sure, you won't find any bunnies in this grotto.
Avatar of Woe is fun, but it has a lot of rules text. Visara has two pertinent things she does: flying and murdering. No mana, no sacrifice of your own, no requirements. Turn her sideways to eat a quarter of the opponent's life or to slaughter their best guy. It's no wonder that people like this gorgon, and she's been a popular selection for black decks since printing. Visara's price is also influenced by the fact that she hasn't been reprinted at all, making her less common than Avatar of Woe.
Wayfarer acts like the guy in Land Tax, but he'll do one better – he grabs any land you want. The Wayfarer has seen a bit of attention in Legacy, where he'll grab a Karakas to bounce a Mangara of Corondor or a Wasteland to grind down an opponent's resources. It's a little tyke that always gets the job done. He was reprinted in 9th Edition, which dropped the price by about a buck. Did I mention that he can find Library of Alexandria?
G/W is a popular color combination for hate decks in both Legacy and Vintage. Those decks often rely on basic lands, so the Heath is subsequently, also popular.
What's better than gaining a bunch of life from Wellwisher or pounding an opponent with Timberwatch Elves? Doing it again that turn! Wirewood Lodge is another modestly-desired uncommon, so pick through your boxes for copies.
The importance of Wooded Foothills was dramatically lessened with the printing of Arid Mesa, which could get all of the important dual lands for Zoo decks that the Foothills could. Now, players could mix up a manabase with Windswept Heaths, Mesas and Foothills, meaning that the Taiga fetch suffered a bit in the mix. They're still ridiculously expensive.
The Words cycle fascinates me, since it asks a player to turn their top card into what is functionally a spell. What does a Shock cost? Would you rather draw a Shock than anything else right now? How about a Life Burst? Half a Delerium Skeins? The Words cycle gets more interesting when you are drawing multiple cards per turn, and Words of War is a popular kill mechanic in Enchantress decks in Legacy. However, Words of Worship is the only one to have escaped bulk range, thanks to its massive aggro-blunting abilities.
And that's Onslaught! It was a fascinating set and I remember a lot of players getting very excited to see that Wizards of the Coast acknowledged their elf decks. This was, sadly, a time when Merfolk were put aside for flavor reasons, so we had to wait until Lorwyn to snag great cards for that tribe. However, we got bruisers like Goblin Piledriver and token machines like Mobilization. It's a fun set and I look forward to walking you through the first all-creature set, Legions, next week!