If there’s one truth to Magic: the Gathering, it’s that no matter what the format, drawing cards is good. Taking a look at any of the main decks in Standard right now, we can see cards like Search for Azcanta, Curious Obsession, Hydroid Krasis, and Radical Idea all seeing widespread play; in Modern, Faithless Looting has been at the forefront of the discussion around balancing issues recently. Over at the Commander table, it’s no different – a lot of decks have the ability to draw a large amount of cards, with some decks pinning their win condition on doing so, such as Nekusar, the Mindrazer. Just like in other formats though, cheap, efficient, and accessible card draw is still restricted by the limitations of the Colour Pie we all know and love.
Not all decks are Blue
Being a Boros player through and through, I have a lot of experience with eeking out as much card draw as possible from cards that aren’t blue, black or green. Whilst it’s possible to get some nice 2-card combos going, like Lyra Dawnbringer and Well of Lost Dreams, it’s usually A) mana intensive, B) easy to disrupt, and C) hard to assemble, even when using Lyra as your Commander. Other good ways to draw cards in White and Red are similarly awkward or expensive – wheels can to be hit or miss, creatures rarely draw you cards, and enchantments like Armistice and Dawn of Hope can be slow, especially without the ability to go into a full Aristocrats-style engine with access to Black mana. So, what’s a cheap and easy way to improve your draws in a multiplayer game?
Artifacts, and by extension Equipments, are one of the easiest cards to fit into any deck, and even if you can’t tutor one out with Stoneforge Mystic, you do have some options. One of these is Open the Armory, which has been sitting at 50 cents for the longest time before recently rising to just under $2, probably due to some niche play in Bogles decks. This article isn’t about Open the Armory, but I’d heartily recommend running it if you have access to White. I don’t usually advocate tutors that can enable combos, but if they’re being used to provide consistency by fetching up some equipment, I’d say that’s perfectly fair.
At the high end of the equipment scale for drawing cards is Sword of Fire and Ice, which, for $50, lets you draw one card (okay, it does a few other things too I guess, but we want to draw cards). Drawing 2 cards doesn’t cost you twice the price, though – in fact, it costs you only one hundredth of the price. Mask of Memory is one of my favourite cards to run in decks that can’t draw cards easily (and even sometimes in decks that can – I’ll cover why later), and the best part is that it only costs 50 cents!
Mask of Memory
We can’t ignore the obvious downside, in that we have to discard a card from our hand, but generally in games of Commander it can be quite easy to decide what cards you don’t need: a card that isn’t relevant considering the current board state, cards which are redundant in their function in your hand (like boardwipes or single target removal), a creature that has no impact on the board… you get the picture. There will be times when the decision is a lot harder, but generally speaking, when the decision is hard it’s because you’ve built yourself a strong deck – give yourself a pat on the back and accept that you’ve done this to yourself, and then ditch the card that you can’t see yourself casting or recurring anytime in the next few turns. The other downside is that you have to do combat damage to get your loot in the first place; whilst it’s true that sometimes you aren’t going to be able to get a hit in, you’d be surprised at how often you actually can. By and large, people will overlook the pure value provided by this card, only realising once you’ve already got a few activations. If they’re blocking earlier than that and (probably) losing a creature, they’re likely rightfully afraid of giving you cards, and that’s usually because they know you have a good deck, or because they don’t want to fall behind.
So now that we’ve had a look at this week’s Budget Commander card of the week, let’s get a look into what makes Mask of Memory so good, and what you can do with it.
- First off, It’s cheap and easy to cast. Two mana to play, and one to equip? That’s a good rate among equipment and the overall cost is really cheap for repeatable card draw.
- Even if you only get one activation, and your opponents either remove the Mask or put out too many blockers, drawing 2 and discarding 1 for 3 mana isn’t a terrible deal.
- Discarding a card doesn’t even have to be a downside. A good portion of the time you’ll be discarding a land card you don’t need, or drawing a land as one of the two cards and binning it.
- Discarding is sometimes very useful – some cards are more valuable in the graveyard, and an opportunity to draw cards and then get some bonus value by discarding creatures to reanimate or spells to flashback is really powerful.
- Early game it can be quite easy to get a hit in with Mask of Memory before players can put blockers down, and you can either draw into more card advantage or just stronger spells to keep you ahead and playing relevant spells.
- Politics can be a great way to get around blockers – dropping a Mask of Memory and equipping it to a forgettable body like a mana dork as a way to ‘draw into an answer’ for an early game threat can really help, not just with drawing said answer (if that threat was truly a problem to you), but at getting to connect with your masked creature.
- Later in the game, equipping the Mask of Memory isn’t at all taxing – one mana is far from prohibitive. After a boardwipe, you’ll find it pretty easy to connect with the equipped creature and draw some cards with a fresh body.
Usually if you’re playing equipment as a way to enable your deck to be more consistent, you’re playing some low-cost evasive creatures. These will guarantee you can get these strategies to work, and so if you’re looking at Mask of Memory and wondering how to get the most out of it, consider running some cheap creatures that benefit your deck and can wear it with pride – think creatures with flying, unblockable, or with relevant abilities that feed into your overall strategy. Even taking a turn off and equipping it to a mana-dork early game can sometimes be better than ramping out.
Turn it up to 11
This isn’t even the ceiling of this card, though. The ability to equip it to a creature with trample, for example, means you don’t have to care about blockers. But for sweet, sweet value, you can slap this onto a creature with double strike. Being able to hit twice for such a small investment is insane, letting you see four cards. That’s the equivalent of playing a Prying Eyes for six mana! Any time you can connect twice with Mask of Memory is great, whether that’s thanks to double strike-ing creatures or multiple combat steps. I’ve really enjoyed running Mask of Memory in my Sylvia Brightspear / Khorvath Brightflame deck for example, as the keywords on a lot of my creatures mean this is going to be able to hit a lot of the time, and when my opponent is blocking, my creatures having first strike or double strike is favourably removing a creature anyway.
Mask of Memory, I’ll concede, is definitely better in combat-focused decks, and is probably more relevant in decks that don’t have access to plentiful draw, but honestly as far as value for money (and mana!) goes, it’s really great for those on a budget. I wouldn’t even say it’s solely a budget card though, as I will always play a copy in my close to $500 Aurelia, the Warleader deck.
Looking back to last week’s article, where we spent around $2 on a Scavenger Grounds and some cycling deserts, we’re spending only 50 cents on a Mask of Memory which provides similar flexibility. My aim with this series is to deliver budget-friendly but playable cards, and I hope with this second article I’ve given you some more things to think about. We’ve still not spent $3 and I’m feeling like we’re seriously squeezing out the value. What are your thoughts? Are there some better card draw options that are just as flexible? Do you have any super cheap cards you think I should know about? Comment below, or let me know on Twitter @TheKristenEmily. That’s it for now – I’ll catch you next week to keep maximising those margins.