There is a thing called the reserved list in Magic, and to put it simply, is a list of older cards Wizards of the Coast has promised never to reprint again. This came to be to allow collectors (and players) to feel assured when buying and older cards, knowing those card’s values will not plummet from a reprint anytime soon.
There is a debate about whether it should exist or not, but I am not weighing in on that today. No, today I want to use this list to show you how much spicy Commander goodness lurks within the reserved list for under $15. You read that correctly, there are plenty of cards in the reserved list that just don’t hold much monetary value because of their unimpressive abilities. But cheap doesn’t mean completely worthless.
There is something here for every player, so let us get to unlocking this particularly savory spice rack.
Wave of Terror (US$4.10)
Wave of Terror is such a wonderfully named card, as your opponents will quake with fear when it is cast. The Upkeep age counter goes on first, so it will not hit tokens (because token have 0 Mana Value/Cost), but the slaughter gets ramped up faster this way. Each upkeep you send wave after wave of terror washing over the battlefield, as long as you’re able to pay the rising costs.
On turn 1 and 2 you’ll be hitting all the Elves, and on turn 3 and more the Commanders will not be able to escape. Note that the “bury” mechanic is actually “destroy but cannot be regenerated,” so Indestructible Creatures will slip through the cracks. The casualties do keep piling up though.
You could potentially use this to keep tokens in check by using either Clockspinning or my favourite token eater, Chisei, Heart of Oceans. Give in to your inner Nicol, Bolas, and use Wave of Terror to put your foolish enemies to a permanent rest.
Rainbow Efreet (US$2.85)
Blue has many cards that could be considered tricky, but this original “draw and go” win condition has been forgotten. For blue decks, Rainbow Efreet was the original ‘un-killable’ creature. The chase card from Visions dodges Instant and Sorcery removal of all kinds–targeted or sweeper, provided you leave up 2 blue Mana each turn. The Efreet simply leaves the game and comes back swinging on your next turn, unaffected by Summoning Sickness.
I remember winning games by activating Nevinyral’s Disk on my opponent’s end step, and Phasing out Rainbow Efreet in response to my own action. The beatdown that this beautiful little monster delivers is slow but not to be underestimated. In a 4-player Commander game, the Efreet might not be able to kill off everyone on her own, but remember that any Equipment and Auras attached will stay with it as it Phases in and out. This is one rainbow that’s not going to promise a colourful future for your opponents.
Subterranean Spirit (US$1.60)
Subterranean Spirit is criminally under utilised, mainly because 5 mana for a 3/3 is not terribly exciting. But the ability to tap for a Tremor effect is pretty sweet, even though it’s only 1 damage. It’s immune to itself, since the spirit has Protection from Red, so you can use this keep Pyrohemia around no matter how much damage you dish out, or have something left over after a massive Earthquake. If you’re playing Chandra Planeswalker tribal decks with loads of board wipes for Creatures, the Subterranean Spirit will survive all of it!
Subterranean Spirit can help do some work controlling small token generating strategies, but I want to break it a little too. I love the idea of using this with equipment like Gorgon Flail, Gorgon’s Head, Basilisk Collar, and Quietus Spike. Enchanting this with cards like Charisma, or Aspect of Gorgon is also crazy fun. Tapping Subterranean Spirit to wipe out or steal every creature on the board seems pretty amazing. Who doesn’t enjoy killing everyone’s creatures with some fiery card that hasn’t been printed since 1996?
Natural Balance (US$5)
At first glance, Natural Balance seems to go against what green wants to do. But it doesn’t rein in other players who have a high makeup of Lands in their decks. Green decks that rely on lots of Mana dorks such as Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, as well as Artifact Mana rocks, will happily play this with just a couple of Forests and get a free ramp up to 5 Lands. Having ways to sacrifice your Lands or play them from the Graveyard only makes this better.
The Gitrog Monster is a Commander that would benefit from this Land manipulation, and if you pair with red, Wrenn & Six also plays well with Natural Balance, ensuring that you have a head start in Land count if every player has reset to 5. It helps tone down other people’s threat potentials while ensuring you keep your lands flowing. It’s a pity that this is a Sorcery and not an Enchantment or activated ability that you can use multiple times to keep your opponents in check. If you’re playing green with blue, there could be ways to play it out of your Graveyard.
Heat Stroke (US$4.10)
Many people have the common misconception that red is always about little goblins and other aggro Creatures rushing the board to overwhelm the opponents. While Krenko, Mob Boss is certainly a terrifying Commander that can do exactly that, but Heat Stroke is a card built exactly for mono red control. Those decks make use of Blood Moon, Mana Barbs, and Smoke to slowly burn the opponents down.
Heat Stroke fits perfectly into that strategy. Even though it also kills any blockers, in red you’ll find plenty of sacrificial fodder. Imagine a 1/1 goblin taking out a 7/7 Commander – that’s what Heat Stroke can do. For a reserved list card that costs less than $5, you’ll get a lot more value out of this card.
Unfulfilled Desires (US$4.65)
Unfulfilled Desires is an auto-include in any reanimator deck, and Gyruda, Doom of Depths will love this card! This Enchantment fills your graveyard with your darkest dreams. Paying one mana and one life to loot at will is an excellent rate, and in Commander you start with a higher life total of 40. The card selection this offers is ridiculous. Drawing and discarding at instant speed with any left over mana–every single turn–is an incredible way to get ahead of your opponents.
It also allows you to easily dump your creatures into your Graveyard while digging for whatever reanimation spells you need. Additionally, this is a good draw early on, and it is still a solid top deck in the late game. If you do draw it later in the game, then you can pump loads of mana into it to dig down to that game-winning card. The card reminds me of Necropotence for its game-winning drawing ability, but Unfulfilled Desires is much cheaper option that is still on the reserved list and could rise in value in the future. Time to fulfill your most vile desires!
Circle of Despair (US$3.25)
Circle of Despair is another multicolored reserve list spice that offers a very powerful effect. This is an amazingly powerful sacrifice outlet in Aristocrat and other Sacrifice-oriented decks. These decks need repeatable sacrifice outlets, and this one is harder to kill than the average Creature. Additionally, this Enchantment gives you the ability to play politics. You can easily make an alliance early on by sacrificing a few tokens to help someone else stay alive.
Another reserved list card – Bone Mask – also has a similar ability or preventing damage, except that you can likely only use it once per round since it has to tap, plus you’ll likely be Exiling a lot of cards from your Library just to stay alive.
Circle of Despair’s ability, much like the original Circles of Protection, does not target. This allows you to prevent damage from a Hexproof, Trampling, unblockable, double-striking, 12/12 Commander. There is no “one-shotting” you with Commander damage as long as you have a Creature to Sacrifice to the Circle of Despair. Coupling this with token generators such as Sacred Mesa or an Elspeth Planeswalker (just about any of them) puts you in a fantastic position. I love the idea of putting this into an Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck (creature type cleric for those excited about the new Zendikar party mechanics).
Those are the most interesting and exciting cards you can find on the reserve list for under $5. There are other interesting cards there too, but they do not offer the same distinctive effects and value as these do. I love being able to play a card that most people are not aware existed. It has always been a joy of mine to pass my spicy cards around the table for everyone to appreciate their zesty effects.
The reserved list has become a contentious item lately, but it still exists, and so why not take advantage of it as a budget collector? The cards on the reserved list are all older, and so their effects tend to be odd or lacking precision. So what are you waiting for? Go pick up some new spicy cards to jank out friends!