Onslaught was a momentous set. The cards catered to a huge number of casual players who wanted support for their tribal decks, with support for Elves, Goblins and other, newly-ordained tribes like Soldiers and Wizards. It's hard to believe that before Onslaught, “tribal” wasn't really much of a term to describe the mechanic. The set had plenty for tournament players, too. The Morph mechanic was tailor-built for great drafts and the interaction between fetchlands and dual lands revolutionized Vintage by empowering Brainstorm with free shuffles. Onslaught also brought back cycling and support for it, with cards like Lightning Rift and Astral Slide making each cycle activation go a little further. Onslaught is also packed with expensive cards, ripe for the taking. I've split this article into two parts so you don't get overwhelmed with the number of cards. My goal, as usual, is that you get some recognition of the card pictures and prices, so you can pluck them out of bulk bins and trade binders for profit. No card listed in here costs less than a buck, so you won't waste your time. Let's get started!
White has had sweepers for a long time, but rarely did it get ones this good. Unlike Cataclysm, you can keep your lands. Unlike Catastrophe, you don't have to choose. And if that weren't enough, this guy cycles, too! I don't know anyone who actually cycled this, though – the advantage of blowing up the board was usually worth waiting for the mana to make it work.
Currently, Vengeance sees play a lot in EDH and casual players seem fond of the card, too. Since it's a generic white sweeper, it commands a little bit of money.
Arcanis The Omnipotent
Onslaught included a selection of Pit Fighter Legends. The idea was that Onslaught was this combat-oriented block and they wanted iconic monsters that would fight for our amusement. They created the 3XXX mana cost Legends for this purpose. Arcanis has withheld the test of time as a casual wizard extraordinaire. Though never tournament-quality, he has a lot of appeal because hey, the guy happens to cast Ancestral Recall! His blink ability makes him hard to remove against a blue player with mana up (and don't they all?) so he can quickly get out of hand with a few taps. Arcanis gets some attention in EDH and as the big guy in Wizard theme decks.
Whenever we played Type Four (unlimited mana, one spell per turn, shared deck full of huge spells), this card made for a big turn. It also shifts EDH games around quickly, stealing an instant army if you'd like.
Ball Lightning has a lot of fan appeal, since it's a burn spell that looks like a monster. The ephemeral heavy hitter concept cropped up again with Skizzik, but BlisterKitty saw the culmination of the card idea. You could Morph it out, then surprise the opponent when you eat a third of their life total. You could also wait a turn and run it right out if you preferred. The Cat saw lots of play in Standard and Extended in Red Deck Wins variants. It still has many fans, since that instant seven damage is pretty cool. This is a real gainer to pick up, since folks sometimes consider it a dollar card.
Onslaught fetchlands have had an indelible impact on Magic. They get dual lands and shocklands, which means that a deck supporting a card like the Mire can let a red deck splash a Bayou for green and black mana. The near-painless ability to get a tertiary color into play for immediate action has had what I consider a negative impact on the game. The fetch/dual setup, putting it plainly, removes a lot of design options from players. There is simply nothing better to use in Eternal formats than these cards; one need not even consider filter lands, tri-lands or the like. The only thing that comes close is City of Brass. One of the most negative impacts on Magic is that half of the combo, the dual lands, are unable to be reprinted. A finite supply means that the barrier to entry on fun, enjoyable formats continues to ratchet upward.
Back in the day, Clone was awesome. Copy a Serra Angel or a Shivan Dragon (or a Scaled Wurm) for a bargain price on a fatty! I was honestly surprised that Clone from Onslaught is more than a bulk bin rare. It gets a little bit of attention in casual formats, but I'd also imagine a lot of its appeal is driven by nostalgia.
Black sometimes has problems with punching through lots of defenders; it lacks trample and cannot easily give flying to its guys. Black has Fear, but cards like Cover of Darkness are one of the few permanents that can give the keyword to other creatures. In a dedicated tribal deck, Cover of Darkness can make your team unblockable for a really great price. Cover is above bulk prices by a little bit and it seems to move pretty easily online. It's worth grabbing them if people are going to let them go cheaply.
Much like Quirion Dryad and Vinelasher Kudzu, Elvish Vanguard grows on a trigger. This time, it's other elves. I am a little confused about why this card is worth anything, and it's not because it's bad – it's because other elves are so much better. For example, you could run Timberwatch Elves and Quirion Ranger and pump up multiple guys. Elvish Vanguard isn't even great off the top of the deck in topdeck mode. But hey, it's an elf, and that drives enough of its value.
The Presence is the backbone of Enchantress decks, which have been around since Alpha's Verduran Enchantress. The idea is to cast small, useful Auras and enchantments like Wild Growth, cantripping through your deck. The Presence is useful in an Enchantress deck because it isn't a creature. Thus, it's much harder for the opponent to get rid of. Enchantress is a Tier-2 Legacy deck and these are tradeable easily to the right people.
Before Baneslayer Angel stole her light, Exalted Angel was a very expensive card. A lot of Standard decks would run it off of the sideboard, especially control decks. The idea is that the opponent would side out their removal, only to face down a 4/5 lifelinker on the fourth turn, thanks to the Morph ability. I'm surprised that Exalted is still worth much; it's just not as good as Dragonslayer Barbie, but maybe people who can't afford a four-pack of Walletslayers still want good Angels.
False Cure is part of some goofy combo decks and supposed to be good for hating on someone who is packing lifegain. It gets a tiny bit of Legacy play because in Dream Halls, you can Conflux for Cure and Beacon of Immortality, point both at the opponent, and then kill them instantly. It's also part of a terrible casual deck that combines it with free spells like Skyshroud Cutter. Just as a note, False Cure does not prevent lifegain. Instead, it cancels it out and deals a life point instead. You need to make the opponent gain 20 life to kill them from the start. As a side note, I like to pack False Cure in black EDH decks; simply stopping a Lifelink trigger, Swords to Plowshares lifegain or the like is fine enough as a grief card.
Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta are worth a little more than the other fetches because it can grab blue dual lands, which is relevant in both Legacy and Vintage. The fetchlands are absolutely absurd in foil.
$19.75 ($55.00 in foil)
$43.00 in foil
This goblin just keeps going up and up! The reason he has Protection from Blue, by the way, is that R&D really wanted a foil to Psychatog decks. The ability stops both Tog from blocking and Aether Burst from bouncing it. As a side effect, it makes Piledriver a complete beating against Merfolk, since it has Protection from Your Deck against them. Goblins are really popular with players, they're a solid tournament choice, and the Piledriver is an essential element of the deck. I was surprised to see how high these have climbed; if you're in the mood for solid Legacy investments, then these are good to pick up; they won't be reprinted any time soon, for sure.
The Sharpshooter isn't exactly a great Goblin, but he's a neat pinger and people have this dream about playing the Sharpshooter and massacring the opponent's elf team. You can search it out with Goblin Matron and snag it off of Ringleader. It rarely sees tournament play, but people love the little guy and he's a great card to trade around – everyone wants it.
In my worse days of Magic, I thought Grand Coliseum was the coolest. You could tap it any time if you just needed mana and you didn't get pinged like City of Brass would do. Unfortunately, entering the battlefield tapped made the Coliseum a bad choice for tournament play, especially in a set with fetchlands providing better mana fixing. Still, people like the card because sometimes, it doesn't hit you just a little bit.
For people who like Furnace of Rath, there's this guy too. It gets a little bit of attention in EDH decks, but it's a strictly casual card.
See, this guy solves the problem of Elvish Vanguard because it's even better later in the game. Additionally, your monster has trample, which can give an Elf deck much more reach than otherwise possible. It's an uncommon that's worth searching your collection for, since this guy is definitely not bulk. Being reprinted in a Duel Deck has done little to affect its value.
Again, another card that gets most of its value from EDH. For red decks, it doesn't get better than this! Late in the game, you get every monster that's playing, which means Insurrection is going to kill at least one fool at the table. When you can pull it off, Insurrection is an awesome game-ending play.
Jareth is another one of the Pit Fighter Legends, and I get the sense that Jareth would kick anyone's ass in the ring. One white mana for protection from a color? An 11/14 blocker? These kind of abilities talk to players. They make you feel confident and warn opponents that they aren't going to sneak past Jareth any time soon. The best, the BEST thing that Jareth means for your opponent is that they'll be taking 4 damage each turn from an unblockable giant lion! Wow!
So one of the coolest parts of looking over Onslaught when it came out was figuring that, with Goblin Sharpshooter, Kamahl would kill any lands you wanted. The Overrun was really good, don't get me wrong. Kamahl was cool then and it's cool now, especially because it gives an answer to “what can Green do with twenty mana?”
Mana Echoes is mostly used with token producers. For example, if you have Sliver Queen, you can generate infinite Slivers and infinite mana with the Echoes. Now that mana burn is gone, Mana Echoes gets even better. I haven't really seen it coupled with anything other than Sliver Queen, but hey, it could come up at some point.
That's it for this week! What a full set! Onslaught has had a big lasting effect on Magic, and we'll see the second half of it next week.