It’s the holiday season, and that’s always a time for reflection and reconnection—whether it’s catching up with old friends over an Unstable draft, or wandering through your weird old neighborhood and trying to call up how you felt when you still lived there. The sun goes down early, the clouds scud over the entire sky until it’s a featureless grey, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything but play old favorites, stream comforting movies, and get ready for the holidays.

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to go back through some classic blocks and find hidden gems—not the first tier of hidden gems, but the ones that won you a draft and then were immediately forgotten. Some of these cards are older than the people who play this game; others are too narrow to be remembered at the competitive tables—but each one is worth picking up again. These aren’t the Mimic Vats and Mindslavers we remember. These are to Commander what socks are to holiday gifts—you never appreciated them as a younger person, but man, once you hit a certain age, you can’t get enough socks. It’s never a question of the right gift, but the right gift recipient.

Mirrodin Block

Avarice Totem is an old trick. Take it away, Gatherer:

“It is possible to activate this ability in response to itself and generate some odd combinations. For example, if you control this card and another permanent, you can use this card’s ability and target the permanent you control. You can then use this card’s ability again and target a permanent your opponent controls. The second usage resolves first and you get your opponent’s permanent in exchange for this one. The first usage then resolves and swaps your other permanent for the Totem so you get it back. The net effect is that you can swap any non-land permanent you have for any of theirs if you can activate this ability twice. Note that your opponent does get the chance to use the Totem in between the resolutions of your two usages if they have the mana.”

So, for ten mana (or eleven with the Totem), you can exchange your token or mana rock for an opponent’s permanent—and that’s even before table politics enter into it. Decks that want this: it costs (1). Give it a shot in anything! But Memnarch, Zedruu, and most especially Kurkesh want this most of all.

Murder costs 1BB. Zombify costs 3B as a sorcery. For only 5B at instant speed, you can get the two together, if you’re willing to sacrifice three lands to do so. Betrayal of Flesh indeed. That’s a hefty drawback, unless, you know, it isn’t.

Decks that want this: The Gitrog Monster, 100%. But test it out in other decks that run Swamps—it performs superbly well, and the hidden flexibility built into the card smooths out games in a subtle way.

Eyes of the Watcher is a reverse Jace’s Sanctum, but some decks will love the redundancy. Namely Jori En, Ruin Diver, Melek, Izzet Paragon, and the various flavors of Niv-Mizzet, not to mention Yennett or Aminatou. Scrying two cards with every minor spell adds up awfully quickly.

Lightning Coils is missing one crucial phrase: “sacrifice Lightning Coils.” Since it is missing that restriction, each Bloodghast sacrificed to Perilous Forays, each Mogg Fanatic that gets brought back by Wort, each Sakura-Tribe Elder, adds 20% of the counters you need to pump out fifteen power each turn.

Decks that want this: anything that feeds off of sacrificing creatures, anything that wants tokens in a sudden glut, anything power-based (Pandemonium, etc.).

Red gets Ball Lightning, a one-shot beast that dies at the end of turn. Green gets Groundbreaker, a color shifted Ball Lightning that dies at the end of turn. Black gets Nim Devourer: a summoning-sick Ball Lightning that can come back during each of your upkeeps. It’s not the high power that’s so appealing, though, but the BB ability. In the right deck, Nim Devourer reads “At the beginning of your upkeep, you may BB to trigger all of your sacrifice abilities. You may repeat this process any number of times.” Trigger Noxious Ghoul, Blood Artist, Pandemonium, or Soul Warden—it’s a superbly versatile card. Currently, it’s listed in 61 decks on EDHREC—this should be way, way higher.

Decks that want this: Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch.

Whispers of the Muse: 5U with buyback. Pulse of the Grid: 1UU, with the added drawback/benefit of having to discard. Someone will absolutely have enough cards in hand to make this a free buyback. Loot away!

Decks that want this: Dralnu, Lich Lord, any Niv-Mizzet deck, anything that relies on reanimation or operates at instant speed.

The classic trick is to drop [mag_card]Slagwurm Armor[/mtg_card] in Doran, the Siege Tower or Arcades, but you’d be amazed at how much fun it is to staple this onto a Stuffy Doll. You’re not going to win any games by making your back-ends huge, but you’ll blunt assaults from your opponents. See also Ensouled Scimitar from Fifth Dawn for more options.

Decks that want this: Boros mass-damage themed decks, Wither/Infect-themed decks and Pestilence control decks, and the aforementioned high-toughness Wall decks.

Scars of Mirrodin Block

These gifts are a bit more thin on the ground, as the block is more recent, and it came just after the EDH/Commander boom. Still, the block has plenty of treasures to offer, including:

Acid Web Spider is not as useful as Acidic Slime, perhaps, but a great counterpoint to Slime Time, and has a pretty relevant body. Equipment may vary based on your metagame, but there’s almost always a target—and in the few instances that there isn’t, it is a “may” ability.

Decks that want this: anything Bant/Sultai/Simic that blinks, like Darevi, Muldrotha, or The Mimeoplasm.

Bitterblossom is an excellent card at two mana, but the life adds up if you’re not careful and the game goes long. What if there was a card that traded the flying aspect of the tokens and elided the life loss? What would that be worth? 2BB? 1GW? Or (5)? Myr Turbine lets you reap—at minimum—one 1/1 token per turn, and has a bonus ability added on.

Decks that want this: Rhys the Redeemed, or anything that needs bodies.

Razor Hippogriff is a flexibility pick—it’s a small body, but one that gives you options. Get back Wayfarer’s Bauble, or Oblivion Stone—this draws a card, hits planeswalkers, and gives you a shot of life in the bargain. If something was a bomb in Limited, I consider it for Commander decks, and the Hippogriff was just that. Decks that want this: Hanna, Danitha Capashen, Breya, Sydri.

Tunnel Ignus was supposed to be Zendikar/Scars Standard’s landfall hoser. It never saw its moment in the sun, but if you’ve ever Chord of Calling’ed this guy into play in response to a Collective Journey or even a Harrow, you know how much fun it can be. Decks that want this: Zo-Zu the Punisher, other griefer decks.

This time of year—which seems alternately hectic and languid, stressful and joyful—is a time for stock-taking, for revisitation, and I find that holds as true for Magic as it does for festivities. Hopefully, this has reminded you—or, even better, introduced you—to misfit cards that may have a place in your Commander deck. The holiday season reminds us that we’re imperfect; and there’s something beautiful in imperfection. Not every Magic card is playable, but each one has thought and effort put into it; and so, in a small way, each one is a gift.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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