Knowing when a ‘bad’ card is better than its more powerful counterparts is an important skill to have. Dismissing cards out of hand by saying that they are ‘strictly worse’ than something else doesn’t really do any good. By looking for fringe cases you can train yourself to think differently, or at the very least it will help you recognize the limitations of ‘better’ cards.

As a case study, let’s look at one of my favourite cards of all time: Archaeomancer. There’s something about the art and flavour of Archaeomancer that has always resonated with me; there is the potential for an excellent character and story based on this card. Plus, its ability to return an instant or a sorcery from your graveyard to your hand is very useful. There have been a number of creatures printed over the years that have similar effects when they enter the battlefield, like Mnemonic Wall, Possessed Skaab and Halimar Tidecaller (which I wrote about a few weeks ago), but Archaeomancer remains at the top of my personal list.

These creatures aren’t the only ones that let you recast instants and sorceries, though. Perhaps the best known cards of that sort would be Snapcaster Mage and, more recently, Torrential Gearhulk. These creatures let you exile a spell in your graveyard to recast it immediately. They see a lot of competitve play, and for good reason; they are powerful cards. I can already hear you saying:

Snapcaster and Torrential Gearhulk are the superior cards!”

I will of course concede that most of the time Snapcaster and Gearhulk are better cards. However, to say that they are ‘strictly better’ isn’t exactly true. There are some instances where Snapcaster and Archaeomancer can perform the same function, and there are even fringe cases, as I suggested earlier, where Archaeomancer is the preferable card. It’s here, in looking at these corner cases where we’ll find the limitations of a card like Snapcaster Mage. In certain decks we might even skip including Snapcaster in favour of Archaeomancer!

If we look at where Archaeomancer has most commonly been played, we’ll find that it was included as a key piece in what may have been the best Pauper deck of all time: the Cloud of Faeries / Peregrine Drake combo deck. In this deck Archaeomancer was used to repeatedly return a copy of Ghostly Flicker from the graveyard. Ghostly Flicker would ‘blink’ Archaeomancer and the other creature, either Faeries or Drake, exiling them briefly and then returning them both to the battlefield. This meant that anything that triggered when the creatures entered the battlefield would happen again. The Faeries (or Drake) would untap a few lands, while Archaeomancer would return the Ghostly Flicker to its owner’s hand. With enough lands now untapped, this allowed the Flicker to be cast again, repeating the process.

Broadening our study, we can see that the synergies with Archaeomancer don’t end with Ghostly Flicker. While the Flicker and its newer counterpart Displace, are the most efficient means of abusing Archaeomancer‘s ability, any spell that allows Archaeomancer to leave play and then return to get that same spell back can generate similar value as the Flicker spells. Cards like Aether Tradewinds work well, and for bigger effects cards like Engulf the Shore or Evacuation would also do the trick, wiping the board clear of creatures every turn. Granted, getting these little combos to work might be clunkier than just casting Capsize with its Buyback cost over and over again, but the extra versatility that Archaeomancer provides by getting back any spell should not be ignored. Returning a big card draw spell like Glimmer of Genius or Treasure Cruise could be great, and even getting back a card like Fatal Push or Remand could serve you well if the situation required it.

If we look back at how Archaeomancer was used in Pauper, or how it could synergize with mass-bounce spells we see that its strength really lies in its ability to to get back the same spell over and over again. Snapcaster Mage and his big brother exile whatever spell you cast with them. In several instances this is enough; flashing back that Treasure Cruise or Remand might push you far enough ahead that you can win because of it. In decks like the Faeries / Drake combo deck, though, a card like that just wouldn’t work. The whole combo in that deck relies on Archaeomancer to get Ghostly Flicker back without exiling it, and it would simply fail if you tried to do it with these other, more powerful cards.

Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake are now both banned in Pauper, so you might ask what use is Archaeomancer these days? The combo from that deck could certainly be put together in a format like Commander, and there are enough cards that can be used for each piece of the combo that you could have some decent consistency. The question I have, though, is whether something like this could be put together in a format like Frontier. Ghostly Flicker and Archaeomancer haven’t been printed recently enough, but Displace and Possessed Skaab are fine substitutes. Panharmonicon and Harness the Storm might even be good in a deck like this, but ultimately what would be needed for a version of this combo to work in Frontier would be to find a card that could refund the mana cost of Displace, much like the Faeries and Drake did by untapping lands.

Options are very limited in Frontier for cards that refund mana when they enter the battlefield, that is, outside of colourless mana from Eldrazi Scion tokens. For coloured mana there are only two creatures that provide any when they enter the battlefield: Hidden Herbalists and Mardu Warshrieker. Unfortunately neither of them produce Blue mana. Bounding Krasis could generate Blue mana by untapping a creature like Servant of the Conduit or Rattleclaw Mystic, but that would only refund one mana. A conundrum, to be sure!

Perhaps, though, there is some small hope. Paradox Engine could be used to untap all of our nonland permanents, so with a Rattleclaw Mystic and Hedron Archive this could work. Alternatively, we could piece something together with Mardu Warshrieker, Harness the Storm, and two copies of Acrobatic Maneuver, but piecing all of that together is unlikely. This whole plan is getting to be a bit convoluted, even for me. What we really need is a creature that adds three Blue mana to your mana pool when it enters the battlefield, but that will likely never get printed. Sadly, the dream of Faerie / Drake combo in Frontier may be dead before it even truly began. That said, there is some potential for a control deck that runs Engulf the Shore and Possessed Skaab together. With a Panharmonicon around that suddenly gets be quite interesting…. Hm…. I may have to make a new deck!

While the Frontier plans have yet to bear fruit, hopefully this has at least encouraged you to start thinking about cards you would otherwise have dismissed as being ‘strictly worse’ than something else. Sometimes these ‘weaker’ cards can do things a more powerful one can’t, and with the right support they can really shine. If nothing else, spending the time to puzzle out what a ‘bad’ card can do that a more powerful card can’t allows us to see the limitations of each card and might spark some innovations. Will Archaeomancer supplant Snapcaster Mage? Never, but the common should not be ignored completely because of that. It has its strengths, and there are cards that work with Archaeomancer far better than they ever would Snapcaster. It just depends on what your deck is trying to do, and how it’s trying to do it.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.