Author Archives: Emily Smith

MTG: Troll-Shroud Cannot Save You From Everything


Today, The Other Side of the Coin takes a vow of Asceticism, and offers a few simple words regarding one of its author’s favorite green cards of all time.

Five-mana enchantment. Scars of Mirrodin. Creatures you control have hexproof. 1G: Regenerate target creature. Every creature on your side of the field becomes Thrun, the Last Troll.

And there he stands on the art.

Tiny, far off in the distance, looking up and away from the viewer. He can see the area that would be inhabited by the viewer; look at him. He sees you.

He is ignoring you.

He refuses all company, attentive only to his surroundings. He is wounded. He is burdened.

“Let my ignominy build walls thicker than iron and stronger than darksteel.”

Ignominy. Contemptible conduct, the utter disgrace of one’s name.

Thrun saw what happened to Glissa when the green sun was born. He saw her confrontation with Memnarch, who caused all other trolls on Mirrodin to vanish, back to the planes from which they came. He understood the meaning of Phyrexian oil.

He understood, and he told no one.

“His crime was silence, and now he suffers it eternally.”

So, I 4-0’d a Prerelease

Hi internet! This is Emily; you may know me from my new weekly segment, “The Other Side of the Coin.” We really need a tag for that. Anyway, I have exciting news! See the title above! Wheeeee!

As you all probably know, Origins came out this weekend and a lot of the cards look totally sweet! I was a fan of white from the second I saw Kytheon’s Irregulars, bears with upside at common, and the return of Celestial Flare. The renown mechanic is awesome, and tapping the board down while crunching in for a bunch just looked like every Sealed player’s dream. So I picked Team Gideon and came to smash.

And that worked out really great. I mean, really, REALLY great. I don’t want to discredit my skills at all; certainly a less experienced player would not have built the deck correctly, or played it with the opponent’s plan in mind. Still, it must be said that sometimes you get lucky and hit the deep end of your Sealed pool. This Sealed pool had one of those nine-foot deep ends, the kind you can dive headfirst into without getting hurt. The god draw. So, into the depths I dove.

The seeded pack (which I always sort of hate for existing, but that’s another post’s topic) had Suppression Bonds, Stalwart Aven, Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road and an Enshrouding Mist as some great playables. The promo rare? Hixus, Prison Warden! He’s a creature with flash, he gets rid of problem creatures, and I already had a way to protect him from damage. Neat!

Cracking into my next few packs, I quickly realized how ridiculous this deck was going to be. Topan Freeblade and another Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road at common. A War Oracle at uncommon. Rares looked… a lot whiter than normal. Knight of the White Orchid. Relic Seeker. ANOTHER Hixus. (“Yikes, I have two of a legendary creature.” What an awesome problem for Sealed!)


Molten Vortex and Soulblade Djinn were off-color, but the Djinn made blue look extra-nice for a second color. Finally, those fantastic Irregulars showed up, really cementing that heavy commitment to white. The other color would not be a support so much as a splash to fill out the curve where it needed filler.

Ultimately it came down to bears and removal. When I looked at the spread of white cards, I decided that any single splashable kill spell would clear the bar on that front. As for the other…

The case for bears is pretty simple. When you wanna be the beatdown in Sealed, it must be said that you need decent two-drops, and anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t play aggro very often, or is lying. You need at least four, up to six, and if they’re more than just a 2/2 for 2, you’ll really be happy. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many Grixis bears in Origins; they’re mostly white or green.

So that was goodbye to blue spells, including Soulblade Djinn and his small team of 4-drop flyers. They might have worked, but green was probably better.

Black had enchantment removal and a gold card, but no other creatures to contribute for me. Red had a ton of serviceable 3-drops, also with a gold card, but for best creatures on-curve, always remember that a 3-drop is not a bear.

So what did I have for green?

Two excellent bears in Undercity Troll and Elvish Visionary. When your “worst” bear is a 1/1 that draws a card, your Sealed deck must be in nice shape. Five really good bears. Awesome.

A Wild Instincts got added to the small contingent of noncreatures, for its solid use as removal. Good enough.

For every other unfilled spot in the curve, there was a playable creature. Perfection.

Decklist ended up like this:

11 Plains
5 Forest
1 Evolving Wilds

1 Anointer of Champions

1 Undercity Troll
1 Elvish Visionary
1 Topan Freeblade
1 Relic Seeker
1 Knight of the White Orchid

2 Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road
1 Stalwart Aven
1 Orchard Spirit

1 Charging Griffin
1 Kytheon’s Irregulars
1 Somberwald Alpha
1 War Oracle

2 Hixus, Prison Warden
1 Rhox Maulers

1 Skysnare Spider

1 Enshrouding Mist
1 Mighty Leap
1 Suppression Bonds
1 Wild Instincts
1 Throwing Knife


1 Caustic Caterpillar
1 Evolving Wilds
2 Enshrouding Mist
1 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
1 Totem-Guide Hartebeest
1 Titanic Growth

So… yeah. This crushed.

The first two rounds flashed by, two 2-0 rounds. My opponents never seemed to draw into anything that contributed to their board, or cleared mine. The biggest inconveniences were a Yoked Ox holding a Mantle of Webs (yes, really) and a turn-two Harbinger of the Tides… when I had no creatures to bounce (again, yes, REALLY). Nice guys, probably less lucky in their pulls, but their plays telegraphed inexperience with the format. No big challenges in the first half.

Round Three got more interesting when I kept a 7-card hand with green dudes and no Forests… consequently getting mauled. The opponent was on blue-green tempo – lots of annoying spells for bounce and value. For the record, Anchor to the AEther is GROSS. And in future I will draft as many of them as I can find, because the tempo swing is hilarious. I mean, the guy had good stuff going on.

Game Two of that round saw me holding yet another sketchy hand AND on the play. The mulligan to six was correct, and a beautiful mana curve emerged. Hixus flashed in to the rescue against a Skaab Goliath, and that was that.

I noticed that my opponent, while more experienced than the last two, exhausted all of his bounce spells too early, and didn’t realize that waiting to bounce Hixus (or at least a giant Renowned guy) could spell disaster for me. He feared for his life total too much. I know how to exploit that fear.

In Game 3, he bounced all my bears and I basically pretended to be annoyed until my board came back. CRUNCH. Win.

It turns out that Renown plays a lot like Bloodthirst from old-school Ravnica. Putting that deck on the back foot is the only real way to win. A tempo deck CAN do that, but it needs to get really hurt before attempting to stabilize. Despite the Game 1 mulligan terrors, I held on.

Round Four – King of the Hill table! And a guy whose birthday it was… man, I don’t wanna beat a guy on his birthday, you know? That feels bad. But I wasn’t giving up so easily.

Game One, I lost again. Very frightening. It got a little ridiculous when a Claustrophobia hit Kytheon’s Irregulars… and the Irregulars could still tap down the board. But Birthday Boy had a blue-white flying army, and played creature after creature until enough of them pecked through.


At this point I ought to have sideboarded, and forgot. I also mulliganed to six, but had the right land.

Game Two thankfully saw no enchantment removal, but could have been a terrible blowout otherwise. Skysnare Spider got Turn to Frog‘d and eaten up by a 4/4 Ringwarden Owl. Mighty Leap couldn’t save it; a second copy of Mist would’ve been okay. Another close game, but my renown guys just won the race.

Sideboard time! In with the Caterpillar! Out with Orchard Spirit! In with a second Enshrouding Mist! Out with Mighty Leap!

Game Three saw me with an okay starter, on the draw, but it turned out that I got stuck on two land for a turn. I didn’t mind accepting some extra damage to add to the board, though, because this was a race I could win!

Topan Freeblade‘s vigilance and Undercity Troll‘s regen, two abilities that are fantastic when you’re behind, bought me time. The Freeblade got hold of Throwing Knife (SUCH FLAVOR!) and that was enough to bring it on home.

So, good plays.

– I picked the correct support color. Black attrition is slow, and red 3-drops are small. I needed big cheap things fast. Check.

– I built a deck that mulliganed well, once I knew what to mulligan for. Rounds Three and Four both forced me to do that, and the staying power of the deck paid off in a big way.

– There was enough removal, different types of removal, and ways to find it (Relic Seeker and Hartebeest in sideboard for matchups favoring Suppression Bonds). For a creature deck, the sheer amount of answers was staggering.

– I paid attention to when the opponents were tapped out, when they had mana, and what they might have. Mostly.

Lessons learned.

-Never forget to sideboard between matches. Even if all you do is LOOK at the sideboard and pretend to switch stuff.

-Keep focused. Even when you’ve got a 6/6 with vigilance and reach, an attacker that would normally get eaten should make you very suspicious.

-Be a good sport and don’t worry too much if your opponent isn’t. There were a couple of moments where my plays were questioned. It kind of happens a lot when you’re a female player. “You used a kill spell on THAT?!” Yes, I did. And now your life total is zero. Deal with it.

-Apologize for any excessive snark or salt. Losing Skysnare Spider made me annoyed, and so did some bad blocks in that final game. But I said, “sorry. Good plays on your part. I need to just eat that.” And I did.

Here’s to the prerelease! I hope everyone attended one, had some fun, maybe won some packs, and loves the new set! 🙂

See you on The Other Side of the Coin!

“Begin the Hymns”: Summoning Khalni Hydra

One night last week, while I was listing great flavor cards as candidates for the column, it occurred to me. Legendary creatures had the bulk of my attention, and made up the bulk of my list. I crave more balance in our journeys through flavor, here on The Other Side of the Coin.

Still, it didn’t surprise me. Legends, by definition, are subjects of age-old stories brought to life.

“Legend,” from the Latin “leger,” meaning “to read.” Related words include “ledger,” a book of records; “legitimate,” verifiable through recorded fact; “legible,” possible to read; “legal,” permissible by written law.

And “legacy.” Because if you want something to last forever, you tell its story.

Still my inner Vorthos was troubled. What kind of stories could I find for creatures that existed in multiples? Or noncreature spells? Legends, while well-loved, aren’t inherently superior to other flavorful cards. And what does it mean for the flavor quotation when its speaker is not well-known?

As it turns out, that means the flavor is hidden. Making the effort to dig it up can be worthwhile and satisfying. So this week, break out your quest counters and prepare to face The Roil. We’re going on a Khalni Heart Expedition!


Green creatures don’t get much greener than Khalni Hydra. If you have a ramp engine and some green tokens, you can power out this 8/8 trampling monstrosity as early as turn 3. Entire deck archetypes have been devoted to summoning this thing. And aren’t the green gods of Theros pleased to see such a strapping gentleman?!

Basically, the Hydra is a powerhouse, an octuple-green trampling monster with a strangely powerful mana mechanic. And for many of us, that’s enough to make him special on its own.

But we’re not stopping there. Oh, no. If coins mean more than what they’re worth, cards mean more than what they do.

At last, the words I’ve wanted to type for days now. Let’s check out this flavor text.

“In ages past, bargains were struck and promises were made. Now we must collect on our debt. Begin the hymns.” – Moruul, Khalni druid

Okay, WHAT?! Time to collect on a debt? Begin the hymns?! What kind of hymns? Who’s singing them? And what kind of crazy Summoner’s Pact did these people make?

I’m not sure I’d ever read the flavor text of Khalni Hydra before this week. It’s Khalni Hydra. You don’t play it for flavor. But this story feels totally crazy, even ominous. It spans entire eons. Basically it allows us to peer into the history of Zendikar a little more deeply. Let’s start with where we are on the plane, and what that means.

This story is set on the volcanic Zendikari content of Akoum. Yup, the one from Akoum Refuge. Volcanic waste as far as the eye can see. Not really what I’d expected from the greenest creature ever.

But it turns out that some of Akoum is verdant and lush, thanks to the chaotic behavior of mana on Zendikar, called The Roil. The Roil often sparks unchecked supernatural growth here. These flashes of growth, called “Life Blooms,” usually last a couple of years and then peter out. With one notable exception.

Ora Ondar, “The Impossible Garden,” has lasted a century and shows no signs of shrinking. The people of Ora Ondar (mostly elves) have dedicated their lives to preserving its verdant beauty. I’m sure they do a lovely job and all, but they’re not the main reason this garden exists.

Unbeknownst to the denizens of Akoum, this font of green mana is fed by the Khalni Stone.

Aha! Now the name makes sense! Although honestly, the people who have summoned Khalni Hydra are unlikely to call it that themselves. We as players have been let in on a sort of dramatic irony. We know that an ancient artifact of enormous power stabilizes the Life Bloom here, but they don’t. They worship the land, even eating some of its rare mana-infused fruits religiously.

The druids eating these fruits, are the ones beginning “the hymns.”

As for the bargains being struck and promises made, it’s important to note that this is not a card from the Zendikar set. It’s from Rise of the Eldrazi.

Ora Ondar is in danger. Truly, all of Zendikar is in danger. To protect themselves, the people of the settlement must gather to summon the Hydra, and quickly.

Mechanically, this makes sense. It takes a ramp deck to cast most Eldrazi. But a ramp deck with the Khalni Hydra strategy can focus on spamming creatures early, and then get their mana back when the hydra hits play. That strategy might seem slow and stompy, but it still undercuts the Eldrazi player. More so if you’re dedicated, just like the people of Ora Ondar.

I love Magic. It tells so many great stories. And making the effort to uncover hidden stories can prove most rewarding of all.

I still feel frustrated by some aspects of this card’s flavor. Mostly the deal-making part. But in my search, I’ve found rare fonts of mana, volcanic peaks, and some very devoted humanoids (just to name a few things). It’s been worth it. That’s what I’ll come away knowing.

Spec note: People seem to be leery about this card getting reprinted in fall. It’s down from $20 to around $13. But honestly, it’s been around a $20 card for the past year and a half. I don’t anticipate Khalni Hydra‘s price dipping much lower, even in the event of a reprint. He’s what you call “eternally playable.” As long as there are cheap green ramp dudes and Plant tokens (shout-out to Khalni Garden!), there will be a place for Khalni Hydra.

Thanks for questing with me, you guys. I’ll talk to ya next time.

Fantastic Goyfs and Where to Find Them


“Ach! Hans, run! It’s the Lhurgoyf!” -Saffi Eriksdotter, last words

Sound familiar?

Whether you chuckle, roll your eyes, or nervously scan your cubicle for Goyfs, the above flavor text (often shortened to “Ach! Hans, run!”) is among the most memorable, most emotional, and even the most ridiculous flavor text snippets of all time.

Even if you haven’t been playing Magic for very long, you’re probably well-acquainted with at least one “Creature – Lhurgoyf.” Whether you rue the day Tarmogoyf saw print, or you thank the MtG gods that your Zoo deck can hit so hard on turn 3… I guarantee that Lhurgoyf is ultimately responsible.

Lhurgoyf was a four-mana creature, weighing in at 2GG. Its power was the number of creatures in graveyards, and its toughness was that number plus one. A complex mechanic. Yet oh, so grokkable.

Fifth Edition saw a lot of other lasting card designs- pain lands, Ball Lightning, Force Spike, and the second-generation “Elemental Blast” cards, to name a few – but Lhurgoyf has stood the test of time in its way too. “Lhurgoyf” became a recognized creature type, and the original card spawned a five-color Lhurgoyf cycle, two other creature cards completely from flavor text, and most of the essential elements of Tarmogoyf. (The low low price of 1G was a last-minute edit; it cost 2G for most of its life in testing. Other than that, it’s a straight-up extrapolation from Goyfs back in the day.)

Sure, Lhurgoyf wasn’t exactly a competitive card at the time *cough cough Necropotence*. And it didn’t become a competitive card, ever. But Lhurgoyf was such an R&D home run for Wizards that I’m going to declare it the single most influential card in the set. That’s a bold move, I know. But stick with me.

Lhurgoyf was never really intended to be a long-lived creature type. In fact, when it was first printed it was a Summon card, “Summon Lhurgoyf.” This came from an era when we still had oddities like “Summon People-of-the-Woods” and “Summon Nameless Race.” But players loved this card! They loved it for all the reasons we still love it today. The “growing with the graveyard” mechanic. That crazy art with the rangy limbs and gnashing teeth (thank Pete Venters for worldbuilding through his art in those days). And of course, the text!

In 7th Edition… a curiosity! A creature called Revenant came out, a black Spirit with flying. It had Lhurgoyf’s creature mechanic, but only for your own graveyard, and without the +1 to toughness. Seems a little underpowered, even for creatures back then. But then there’s the flavor text.

“Not again.” -Hans

A dark little joke? An implied story, that Saffi had perished while Hans survived? Or just an acknowledgment that Lhurgoyf had been so well-received? Knowing WotC, the answer is “all of the above.”

Lhurgoyf’s next aftershock of influence came in Odyssey, with the five-color cycle of Goyfs. Each keyed onto a card type its color liked. In WUBRG order, that was enchantments, instants, creatures, sorceries, and lands. They also had a keyword ability primary for their color (vigilance, flying, regenerate, haste, and trample). Magnavore saw a 9th Edition reprint, and Mortivore is perennially popular with kitchen-table players. He tends to get the biggest of them all, and regen is just good.

It’s doubtful that too many of you remember Cantivore, Cognivore, Mortivore, Magnavore and Terravore. Maybe if you play Commander, you’ve seen Mortivore lurking around mill decks from time to time. But these guys were all the next generation of Goyfs, and they all sport a variation of the classic Goyf physique, with hallmark gangly limbs and enormous teeth.

The Lhurgoyf saga continues, and likely concludes, with Time Spiral block. At last Wizards decided to give us the lady whose cry of alarm inspired it all: Saffi Eriksdotter.

But was “Ach! Hans, run!” really her “last words”?

“In the blink of an eye, she strode from deep snow to dusty waste. From the crease of light behind her, a voice rang hollow: ‘Saffi, wait for me…'”

Saffi_Eriksdotter_640gofy fututre sight

A time rift. Our Saffi went through a time rift. Perhaps she’s survived after all. Yet her card’s mechanical design seems to signal a thumbs-down for that hypothesis. You can sacrifice her to make sure that a creature that would be destroyed, returns to play. Maybe that means she gave up her life for her brother. Maybe it’s intended to show the chaotic nature of time rifts themselves. Or maybe she was meant to be played WITH Tarmogoyf.

Look at their art side by side. Their original art, in Goyf’s case. On the left, Saffi flees, glancing backward in terror. On the right, Goyf holds a familiar-looking human in one gnarled claw. It could be Saffi’s alternate past, or her inevitable future. It could be Hans. In a typical GW Zoo sort of build, you’d probably see yourself saccing Saffi to save Goyf pretty regularly. The overall picture looks grim from where I’m sitting.

So this is the pinnacle of Goyf. We’ve gone from one type of card in the ‘yard, to EVERY type of card. We’ve gone from a flavor snippet of text on a random one-off creature brewed up for fun, to visible art references between two viable, competitive cards. It paints a fitting, though terrifying picture. A serviceable end. But in my heart of hearts, I wonder… who is Hans Eriksson? And when will he get his revenge?

On the spec side of things, green and white look strong in Origins, and Goyf is still somewhat down. See if you can build a Saffi recursion engine into your little-kid aggro Wilted Abzan. There’s never been a better time.

But even when you’re shelling out for a playset of Goyf… sometimes coins mean more than what they’re worth. And sometimes cards mean more than what they do.

See you guys next time.

Welcome to the Other Side of the Coin


In a small velvet bag alongside my EDH deck boxes, there lies a scratched brass coin, about the size of a quarter, with a smooth and narrow edge that glints a bit when it flips through the air. At first glance it seems undeserving of such an exalted position, being none too flashy and not even a coin you could spend in a vending machine. But sometimes coins mean more than what they’re worth, and sometimes cards mean more than what they do.

This is my all-time favorite coin. A goblin coin. The almighty dollar of Krenko, Mob Boss.

On its heads side, Krenko’s face in profile. Fleshy bulb of a nose protruding to the right; reaching left, the oversized mockery of an elvish ear. A single piggy eye, thick sausage lips, canine teeth bared in a sneer. He’s the boss, he KNOWS he’s the boss, and his goblin mob had better recognize.

On its tails side… a butt.

Far less grandiose, even crude. Nothing fancy, just the outline of buttocks with gangly legs dangling down. This is because goblins are crude, and butts are funny. If you call heads on this coin and lose, it literally moons your ill-fortune. Plus, I’ve found that people love to call “butts” when I toss it. I mean, they LOVE it. There’s goblin impulse in all of us, apparently.

As you may already know, most coin-flip cards in Magic’s history are goblin-related, including the amazing “flip two and ignore one” legendary artifact called Krark’s Thumb. Lots of those cards found a home with Krenko. But that’s only about half of what makes this coin my favorite. For the other half, let’s take a look at some flavor text.

That’s right. Flavor text. We’re going full Vorthos on this one. This little gem comes right off of Krenko himself.

“He displays a perverse charisma fueled by avarice. Highly dangerous. Recommend civil sanctions.” -Agmand Sarv, Azorius hussar

Fueled by avarice.

Avarice is greed for wealth. A lot of the time, that means a greed for coin.

The guy talking in this flavor text is an Azorius hussar, a blue-white knight/policeman in the ecumenopolis (city-world) that we all know and love: Ravnica.

Ravnica’s kind of like the New York of the Multiverse, the biggest city anyone has seen or can name, a skyline the size of a plane. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. You might knock Krenko’s methods, but it’s safe to say, he’s made it. That’s why other goblins rally around him; that’s why the police say he’s “highly dangerous.” And that’s why he’s rolling in the dough.

You know he’s rolling in the dough because his followers are motivated by money too. He finds the money he needs to pay his mob, gets ’em paid, attracts more 1/1 scrubs who wanna make it big in Ravnica just like he did. And the cycle continues.

He finds so many supporters that they double every turn. HE finds them. No littering matrons. No endless warrens to empty a la Time Spiral. This is a pyramid scheme, and our man Krenko sits atop its pinnacle, turning your average Foundry Street Denizen‘s daily routine into “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” That “perverse charisma”? It takes a lot of legwork.

And who’s the guy telling us all about him? Some random court hussar.

I think that’s the part of all this I love the best. Krenko doesn’t feel the need to justify himself. Explaining things is the guilds’ job, and they’re not even very good at it. He’s a one-color Warrior in a two-color world. If anyone has a problem with that, he’ll whack ’em. Towering over other Goblins at 3/3, born into a world defined by guilds, Krenko’s individual personality looms larger than life.

Krenko’s flavor text might’ve been a story that Wizards told, but the coin shows an extrapolation I made. Magic is the game I love best, not just because it’s mechanically interesting (though it IS), but because of the stories any player can tell with it. Magic becomes the game that you – the player! – most want it to be.

My name is Emily, and this is the story I’ve told of a streetwise young tough named Krenko. I tell you this story so you can get a sense of me, of what kind of player I am. I’d love to hear your stories in return.

Tune in every Wednesday afternoon for The Other Side of the Coin, brimming with flavor text and narratives galore. There might even be some price specs and deck techs along the way. We’ll be diving right into the thick of things, with a snippet of flavor text so recognizable that R&D felt compelled to make a card out of it. Leave your guesses below!

Just remember: Sometimes coins mean more than what they’re worth. Sometimes cards mean more than what they do.

See you guys next time.