Today begins a new mega series of top commons and uncommons from sets in Magic’s history. We’ll start with the expansions, going in alphabetical order. Most will be top 10’s, some will be shorter, and some will be longer. Today, we’ll start with one of my favorite expansions of all time, Alara Reborn.
We’ll go in reverse order, starting with Ardent Plea at #10:
Despite the fact that Ardent Plea does in fact have art of Elspeth Tirel on it, that is not why it makes this Top 10 list. In fact, it’s not a bad card, and there’s a reason that copies of this card can sell for $1 USD a copy. It’s an enchantment that costs 1WU (1 colorless, White, Blue) to cast and has Exalted and Cascade on it. Exalted is a neat mechanic that gives a creature attacking alone an extra +1/+1. These triggers all stack, so having multiple instances of Exalted are really good. Also, Ardent Plea is also one of the best Exalted cards around, as it also has Cascade.
The way that the Cascade mechanic works is that when you cast a spell with it, you reveal cards from the top of your library from the game until you hit a non-land card that costs less, in this case, 0, 1, or 2 mana to play. You may cast that card without paying its mana cost. Then every other card you removed from your library goes to the bottom of your library in a random order. Two of the best Exalted creatures of all time are Noble Hierarch and Qasali Pridemage, highly playable cards. Hierarch costs one mana and Pridemage costs two. It’s very likely you’ll hit one of those two cards with this card’s Cascade trigger.
Because of the Exalted deck’s casual appeal, as well as fair amount of play-ability with cards like Cathedral of War and Sublime Archangel that were printed in the Magic 2013 Core Set, Ardent Plea is a very nice cog in that sort of deck.
At #9 is Lorescale Coatl. He has a pretty silly effect, which allows you to put a +1/+1 counter on the Coatl every time you draw a card. The Coatl could get out of hand pretty quickly, and at 1UG, he was highly playable and was something an opponent had to deal with quickly before it got out of hand.
But the Coatl’s main home today is in Commander decks. Because of all the ways that counters can be used and abused that have been printed since Alara Reborn, the Coatl’s counters can be used in many different ways. That’s why he’s a $2 card nowadays. If you can draw a lot of cards and give him a lot of counters, he gets quite silly.
Behemoth Sledge, an extremely popular card from the set, is at #8. It’s since been reprinted twice, in the Ajani vs Nicol Bolas duel deck and in one of the Commander 2013 decks. The Sledge is very popular is Commander decks, due to the fact that it gives both lifelink and trample, plus an extra +2/+2. That’s quite a boost for a 3-mana Equipment with a 3 equip cost. It just doesn’t quite have the potential game-ending quality of the next card on this list, but it can create quite a life total swing and help a creature that might otherwise be chump-blocked all day into a much bigger threat.
At #7 is Mage Slayer, which was later reprinted in one of the Planechase decks. You might wonder how this card beats out Behemoth Sledge on this list. It’s very close, but the fact that the Mage Slayer gives an effect on a creature declaring an attack is pretty sweet. Mage Slayer is an Equipment that costs 1RG to cast and 3 to equip. Whenever the equipped creature attacks, it deals damage equal to its power to the defending player.
Put on the right creature, Mage Slayer can deal quite a bit of damage without a creature ever actually having to connect for damage. While it’s not the more popular of the two Equipments on the list, it is the one that can potentially deal more damage.
Mind Funeral is an extremely powerful mill card, and here it is at #6. It’s actually the most valuable card on this list (as of July 2014), and it was even repritned in Modern Masters, which didn’t help its overall value much, but it’s still a $3-4 USD card. But it’s in the middle of the pack for our top 10. Why is that exactly?
As much as I personally love the mill deck, and it is actually an interesting strategy that’s been making more of a push in the Modern format, Mind Funeral is a bit inconsistent in that it could potentially hit 4 straight lands. Cards such as Archive Trap, Breaking // Entering, and Glimpse the Unthinkable are simply more reliable as far as dumping cards in the graveyard. However, many Modern Mill lists are still finding room for at least two copies of Mind Funeral as played correctly, they are still very potent mill cards. In any case, it’s perhaps currently the most valuable and widely played uncommon from Alara Reborn, besides of course, the number #1 card on this list…
Wall of Denial was once one of my favorite cards in all of Magic. If not for its two reprints in Commander 2011 and the Venser vs Koth Duel Deck, it might still be as valuable money-wise as Mind Funeral. But wow is it a great card. For 1WU you get a 0/8 defender with both flying and shroud. Not only can it not be targeted by spells, but it holds the air like no one’s business. Fog Bank gets a lot more love today, as that card simply prevents damage. It’s simply one of the best Walls ever made, and it still gets plenty of Commander deck love, which is why it makes #5 on this list.
Zealous Persecution is our #4 card. The reason it ranks so highly is not only is it an important part of Black/White tokens in Modern, but it is a potential combat trick that can lead to some incredible blowouts. It’s splash-able in “Junk” (green/white/black) aggro decks as well as Deadguy Ale, a Modern variation on the Death & Taxes deck from Legacy. It even sees Legacy play in Esper Stoneblade and the Legacy version of Deadguy Ale.
A card that is so often played in Eternal Formats is obviously good for a reason. For only 2 mana, you pump your own creatures by +1/+1 and creatures your opponents control get -1/-1. Most often you’ll be playing this after blockers have been declared and the potential blow-out can essentially win you the game. It’s a very powerful card, and if it hadn’t been reprinted in both the Sorin vs Tibalt Duel Deck and the ill-fated Modern Event Deck, it would have a lot higher dollar value.
Terminate was actually first printed in Planeshift, but was reprinted for Alara Reborn, which brought it into the Modern Format. It’s our #3 card as it’s played commonly in one of the best decks in Modern, Jund, and is simply one of the most effective creature-kill spells in the game of Magic. It’s also a staple in pretty much any Commander deck that utilizes both Red and Black. It’s been reprinted a ton of times, and yet it’s still worth about a dollar per copy. It’s a very strong card.
Qasali Pridemage is our #2 card not only because he’s a Cat Wizard (which is freaking awesome typing) but also because he has Exalted (very relevant) and some of the most cost-effective artifact and enchantment removal in the game on a 2/2 creature. He’s played heavily in every Eternal format: Modern, Legacy, and Commander (heck, even Vintage!) A 2/2 creature with all of that on it is pretty special, and even his Exalted ability is relevant due to the fact that he’s typically played alongside his Exalted brethren, Noble Hierarch. He’s a very splash-able, main-deck-able creature, and he’s only a common! He was reprinted in the Ajani vs Nicol Bolas duel deck, as well as a Friday Night Magic promotional version.
I don’t think the #1 card on this list can be a surprise, as format-defining as this little Elf…
While I greatly prefer the alternate art version of her, you can’t deny that Bloodbraid Elf was one of the best cards of Alara Reborn. She was the deck that made Jund the top deck in that Standard format, and she was played in Naya Aggro decks, as well. Since then, she was a force in Extended, was banned in Modern, and still sees tons of play in Legacy because of her combo with Shardless Agent.
Bloodbraid Elf is the number #1 non-rare in the set for a great many reasons. She costs 2RG which sounds a bit pricey for a 3/2 with Haste, but it’s her Cascade ability that is so vital for her success. Pretty much every card you would want to hit with her in Jund: Fulminator Mage, Kitchen Finks, among others, was three or fewer mana. She was two cards for the price of one, and heck, most of the time hitting a Terminate or Thoughtseize wasn’t the worst thing in the world, either. As someone who played a ton of Jund and Naya back in my online Magic Workstation days, I fell in love with this card. The Steve Argyle alternate art on the Friday Night Magic promo (also displayed on the Planechase reprint) made me love her more.
In 2013, she was banned in Modern, due to the fact that she could Cascade into Liliana of the Veil among other ridiculously powerful cards such as Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. This still happens, of course, in Legacy Jund. But the more powerful interaction is with Shardless Agent, a card that’s only ever been printed in a Planechase product.
One thing that I must point out about Shardless Agent is that you may notice a subtle change in the reminder text about Cascade. Note that it says “cast” and not “play.” That’s right, Cascade counts as casting a card. This means that if you Cascade into a Shardless Agent with Bloodbraid Elf, you get to Cascade a second time with the Agent. In Legacy, yes you can hit your Deathrite Shamans and Tarmogoyfs. That’s all well and good, but you can also hit Ancestral Vision, which basically means you draw three cards for free. It’s a very powerful and silly deck. Ancestral Vision was banned in Modern due to its synergy with Cascade. Ordinarily, you’d have to suspend it for one blue for several turns. Not with Cascade. It’s a silly combo.
So there you have it, the top 10 commons and uncommons of Alara Reborn. Yes, you could argue that some of the cards could have ranked higher or lower, but all ten cards deserve to be on the list.
We’ll be back next time with another top list. We’re planning to go in alphabetical order, so submit your guesses what set the next installment will be featuring!
– Elspeth for the Win