Some of the best card names in the kicker family, sadly, belong to some of the weakest Constructed cards. In no particular order, Swimming With Sharks begins its contribution to Kicker Week with a hodgepodge of cards that were in some cases Limited superstars, but for our purposes, never cracked the 60-card ceiling:
The scariest cards in this group were 1) Magma Burst, and 2) Pollen Remedy. If you weren't playing during Invasion Block Limited-particularly Team Limited-you might not remember the savagery of Magma Burst. Magma Burst was so effective in Limited play it made me believe, believe that a four mana spell doing three damage might be good enough to make the 60 card break (it wasn't)… But it remains one of history's most feared common cards. Just call up Wizards of the Coast headquarters in Renton, WA and ask for Magic bigwig Aaron Forsythe; ask the old man how he feels about Magma Burst. Better yet, read on.
The reason Pollen Remedy was scary-despite the fact that it was only a marginally played Draft card-is that, well, look what it does to some poor
Joe Aaron who goes all in on Magma Burst.
Next up is a fair number of cards that actually were, are, or could-or should-be role players in Constructed Magic.
Dave Williams played two copies of this card in his Top 8 deck from Pro Tour-Tokyo. Agonizing Demise is a classic example of a card that is a first pick in Limited and barely playable in Constructed… But in Block, "barely" is still on the playable side of the binary. Destroying a creature for four mana is not really what you are looking to do in sixty card competition, but a limited card pool will force inventive deck designers-in Dave's case Wisconsin's Brian Kowal, if memory serves-to find the tools for the job. I don't know how often the Kicker came up, but just the thought of sticking it to a Shivan Wurm or Jade Leech with that little extra oomph gets my heart racing and my palms all sweaty.
I am not sure what deck Ana Battlemage will eventually find himself in, but I have got to believe that this card will make an impact (primarily for the blue kicker). Stunted Growth was a legitimate game ender-much like Plow Under was a year or two ago in Standard-and Ana Battlemage on six offers a similar effect for just one more mana, additionally leaving a 2/2 body. The black kicker is something we can reasonably imagine as relevant as well, though probably just conditional gravy.
Like Agonizing Demise, Bog Down was played in Dave's Tokyo Top 8 deck. Its main function was as a kind of Stupor for +1 card advantage, though the kicker was-surprisingly-played a fair amount as well (at least in PTQ-level play), usually on the draw. Playing even might not seem like the greatest utilization of resources, and going down two lands is the kind of thing that the opponent would pay five or six mana to accomplish, but the ability to knock down three cards can't be underrated in some matchups, and can be quite useful when you have the lead, or perhaps just too much mana.
I actually think this card is weaker than the next-up Canopy Surge, even though Earthquake (the card it was obviously modeled after) has consistently been a Constructed staple. The reason is that Breath of Darigaaz is a poor man's Earthquake in a context of numerous red elimination cards (Flametongue Kavu, Ghitu Fire, Tribal Flames, etc.), whereas Canopy Surge offered a somewhat unique option for its color. An awesome first pick in Limited, Breath never accomplished very much in Constructed tournament play.
One of the reasons Stonewood Invocation has become such a scary threat for control is that green has long been thin on the finishers; Stonewood Invocation makes a control player think, and play differently as well, maybe using bounce cards on his own turn rather than waiting for the opponent to commit mid-combats. Other colors have things like Meloku, Haunting Echoes, and Demonfire to bring about the end times, but green has had to settle largely for Hurricane. Canopy Surge is a disciple of the old Hurricane (obviously) and can fill many of the same roles. It is flying defense, yes, but perhaps more importantly, it can kill opposing magicians when green has the lead.
River Kaijin helped Antonino De Rosa earn a Grand Prix title in the face of Umezawa's Jitte… Citanul Woodreaders is the River Kaijin that can potentially do so much more. Perfectly positioned in a color that can produce the requisite kicker mana, my guess is that this card will be a surprisingly effective role player at some point down the line. Don't be surprised if mono-green mana ramp / board stall ends up a rogue option for Time Spiral Block PTQs.
The most unexpected thing about this card in my opinion is that it doesn't see more play, especially in blue-red-white Angelfire sideboards as a redundant Wrath of God. Desolation Giant has almost no pedigree, but it is long on potential.
That leaves us with…
The 20 Greatest Kicker Cards of All Time
Possibly the strongest kicker card of them all on pedigree, Desolation Angel was part of a deck that, in late Invasion Block Constructed, defined the format like no other deck since High Tide in Extended some years earlier. The Angel deck attacked the opponent on a resource level-smashing his hand with Gerrard's Verdict and sometimes Probe, blasting his mana base with Recoil and Vindicate-then reloaded with Fact or Fiction and ended it all with a juggernaut of a 5/4 Armageddon. Angel put up an amazing string of wins on the PTQ circuit and essentially was late GP play. Here is a look at the archetype care of future PT winner Rickard Österberg:
Rickard Österberg's No-Mar
Arguing over this card (versus Disenchant) got me a legendary lecture from arguably the greatest deck designer of all time, Zvi Mowshowitz. Zvi and teammate Scott Johns ran Dismantling Blow main in their blue-white deck at U.S. Nationals 2001 when one of the chief threats of the format was Saproling Burst out of Fires of Yavimaya. The reason? Dismantling Blow on your own Tsabo's Web is a heck of a lot more effective in the mirror than a "dead" Disenchant! This version of blue-white has two interesting bits of trivia associated with it, which I have probably touched on in this column in the past: 1) the sideboard Mahamoti Djinns are an important precursor to the modern "tap-out" blue strategies advocated by myself and others, and 2) it was full of so many cantrips, Scott Johns actually suggested going to 61!
Zvi Mowshowitz's Blue-White Control,
"It's Not Progress"
Remember what I said about the dominance of Angel in late Invasion Block? Here is another Grand Prix win, credited to another Pro Tour Champion:
The Hump's deck runs Emblazoned Golem… basically as a fatty and ground presence available with a not-that-embarrassing price tag. The odd thing about Invasion Block Constructed is that many decks would have problems dealing with cards like Shivan Zombie due to the multiple colors on elimination (like Vindicate). Emblazoned Golem, which was mildly popular across numerous archetypes by the end of the format, could lend help in several different ways-attacker, blocker, tempo-stealer, intimidating thug, etc….
Once upon a time there was a card called Barrin's Spite and it was awesome. It was one of the rares players were largely overjoyed to open. Barrin's Spite was a first pick that defined a player's draft and color combination. Some players would flirt with running the Spite in Constructed because it was so good on tempo, removing two creatures from the board, allowing the future Dimir colors to get in there on a great attack, setting up a ton of damage and preserving tempo…
And then they printed Jilt - an instant - at common. In a Limited format defined largely by bear (2/2 for two) fights, Jilt's "deal two" was nearly as good as the Spite's sacrifice… and Jilt let a man aim.
Ultimately, Jilt became a go-to card for sideboard space, specifically in blue-red-white Opposition or madness decks. It was great on the mana and controlling the game's tempo (just think about this card with damage on the stack, blocking with a Flametongue Kavu) but more than that… Jilt was blue direct damage.
Kavu Titan is a great card we don't think about much because of its timing. When it first came out, one of the big enemies for green-red was Rebels, and Rebels had Parallax Wave, and this creature comes back from the wrong side of reality as a 2/2 regardless of how much mana you spent on it; that made Jade Leech the safer bet in general. The next year, the big block set printed a new 2/2 at , Wild Mongrel. None of this is poor Kavu Titan's fault.
Garret "Scraps" Schaper's Green-Red Anti-Tog
Today Molten Disaster is unproven. True. Top 20? Wait a while. Split second X-spell… Split second X to the face! Just wait a while.
Combining Orim's Chant with Isochron Scepter has been a popular Extended strategy since Nick West's rookie Top 8 in Columbus. Orim's Chant steals the opponent's turn. Isochron Scepter lets you steal that turn, every turn.
Nicholas West's Scepter-Chant
This is the red look at Dismantling Blow. Eric Kesselman was famous at Neutral Ground for running it over both Dismantling Blow and Disenchant in an era when Saproling Opposition and Rising Waters were real threats. I asked him why he didn't try Seal of Cleansing or Disenchant-both stronger against mana control strategies-but he said he liked the fact that Orim's Thunder put the opponent past the point of no return if it connected, kind of like its contemporary Flametongue Kavu.
The really poor man's Oxidize just made Top 8 of a Grand Prix. Obviously you will resort to playing Overload only when the format demands, but given the speed of the format and an unwillingness to sacrifice a mana base to go green, it can obviously get the job done if the commonly played targets (Affinity lands, Isochron Scepter, Jitte) allow.
An obsession for numerous players over the years has been "replacing Juzam Djinn." Numerous pretenders, including green cards like Blastoderm and Jade Leech have made the rounds, yet ultimately started their own lineages. The reason I like this card (which has never been particularly good for me) is the pedigree of its posterity. Phyrexian Scuta was a kind of Juzam played in the first big deck by a future big deck designer and one of my favorite human beings:
Tsuyoshi Fujita's Blue-Black
One of the underrated cards coming out of Masques Block Constructed was Nether Spirit. The Nether Spirit control deck never had the numbers that Rebels could command, and was admittedly lacking in certain card advantage elements, but it had a lot of good spot removal and an almost unstoppable solitary threat. Enter Invasion, and enter Probe.
Even without the kicker, Probe was a great combination with Nether Spirit… That much should be obvious (Probing out a Nether Spirit at was basically the same as playing one for the same converted mana cost, but you also got to dig, draw, and profit short term). Probe-Go started to see play as early as Champs, largely in straight black-blue form. By Worlds 2001 and Apocalypse, the mana base was there for a black-blue-white version that could play Wrath of God. Here is Top 8 competitor (and two time winner, and Hall of Famer) Tommi Hovi's look:
Probe-Go plays like any one of a thousand basic control variants, defending itself while generating card advantage; here there is an additional synergy in that the kill card is an unending blocker and breaks the card draw (Probe itself) on the first pass. Sticking the kicker puts Probe in Fact or Fiction range in terms of card advantage, and hitting both the kicker and Nether Spirit on the same Probe is frankly disgusting.
People will play whatever "counter target spell" variant you give them, and Prohibit is proof of it. At two mana Prohibit is fine, particularly in a format based on braining each other with 2/2 Bears, but in the kicker range, it starts getting a little expensive (but hey, you do what you've got to with the tools you get). Brian Kowal used this card to good effect, winning the first Invasion Block Constructed PTQ with black-blue-green.
Brian Kowal's Blue-Black-Green
Brian's deck eventually won GP-Denver in the hands of Brett Shears. Brett's deck is a poor one to paste in this particular article because, well, he cut Prohibit.
Click here for additional discussion by Kowal.
A minority finisher in certain types of long-game control strategies. Dragonmaster Brian Kibler called it "a kind of Moti" (alluding to Mahamoti Djinn) in playtesting.
Davis's Deck, designed by Adian Sullivan, used Rakavolver as an aternate kill card. It was valued in-context due to the ability to dominate the board even without a lot of available mana. Rakavolver is a card that seems to have everything going for it-size, awesome abilities, even color spread-but never got the kind of attention that Intet, the Dreamer is earning today. But for Davis's Top 8, this card should probably have been in the previous section.
This card was the bounce spell of choice during the reign of Madness in Standard, also earning spots in Extended Madness decks. At one point, Rushing River was a go-to bounce spell in combo for its ability to simultaneously deal with, say, an Elvish Lyrist and a Seal of Cleansing. It has since been at least moderately supplanted by Echoing Truth in bigger formats.
Here is an example of a Trix combo deck utilizing Rushing River, designed by Top 16 Dragonmaster Brian Kibler:
Brian Kibler's Trix (Illusions-Donate)
If you don't know why this card might be good, reading the card over and over again, you might not realize that in context… this card kills Nether Spirit.
Michael Turian's Mono-Red
While it was played in Red Decks as a Ball Lightning replacement, Skizzik was so much more intricate. Failing to pay the echo, you could set it up with Crypt Angel to hate out white, for example.
It did 5, sometimes 10, rarely more… because… well… The other guy was already dead.
This was a minority sideboard card in numerous green-white or green-white-blue decks. Why? It could kill Blinding Angel, which would consistently lock those decks-strong on the ground but poor against dedicated white board control elements like Wrath of God &co.-giving green-white a shot where it would have otherwise been locked.
Part of the only Swiss sweep in Magic Pro Tour history, Thornscape Battlemage (primarily for red kicker now), it bears repeating, was green direct damage that could take out a Crimson Acolyte. Half the Tokyo Top 8 was beating down with this particular ogre, all on variations of the same deck.
In an age before Naturalize in Standard, Thunderscape Battlemage was an important to tool for destroying Saproling Burst and the Hoodia patch. Like numerous cards on this list, Thunderscape Battlemage was played-this time as a main deck four of-in the Dave Williams Tokyo Top 8 deck.
Quite simply, this card was Demonfire before there was Demonfire. I am pretty sure the endgames were even more difficult than you might imagine today. I always think it's awesome when a Scepter-Chant variant has this in the sideboard and goes Cunning Wish for the win from 10.
Postscript 1: What happened to all the Regionals deck lists?
We needed a few more days to iron out some technical problems, fix some poor or confusing submissions, and get everything organized. Swimming with Sharks will be here in seven days with more little boxes and new or expected deck lists than you can reasonably cram into your brain; don't worry, you won't be disappointed.
For the raw data, click here.
Post Script 2: New deck list
Okay, okay already! You want new deck lists and hunger for nothing less. Well, some choke artist made Top 8 in New Jersey with an interesting new deck list, but failed to win what should have been a winnable set to qualify for Nationals. This is just something to whet your appetite for the week:
Michael Flores's The Legends of Team CMU