The Power of Treasure Trove

Treasure Trove
I was recently getting my online Commander on. I had built a mono-blue multiplayer-friendly Commander deck around Sun Ce, Young Conqueror. It was a fun little deck! While it had a few major players for multiplayer, most of the deck saw cards with a lower level in power. People were tossing out some of multiplayer’s greatest hits, and many cards were being destroyed at a prodigious clip.

Then, I dropped a Treasure Trove. No one bothered it at all. I mean that thing is clunky, right? You have to spend 4 mana just to draw an extra card—It’s just a blue version of Jayemdae Tome. When people are playing cards that enable them to draw many cards quickly, such as Mind's Eye or Staff of Nin, this minor card didn’t garner a lot of attention. It’s mana-hungry and pretty weak in the Commander world, right? Right?

Over the course of the game, every so often when I had mana to spare, I drew a card here and there. Near the end of the game, someone Planar Cleansinged the board, and the Trove left, and by then, the sheer card advantage it gave enabled me to win. Treasure Trove got the victory.

One of the key problems with powerful cards in multiplayer is that they are often destroyed or feared. In the last four weeks, I looked at the top hundred cards for multiplayer of all time. Many of those cards are just downright nasty and silly. But a large number of them have a fancy keyword you may not notice. It’s one of the most important keywords in multiplayer Magic. What keyword do these permanents have?

Auto-Target (When a permanent has auto-target, any spell played by an opponent that could target this card must do so.)

Consecrated Sphinx
These permanents are so game-changingly awesome that they draw removal or countermagic out of people’s hands. It’s as though they are expensive Duresses. Cards such as Consecrated Sphinx, Yawgmoth's Bargain, and Mind's Eye all have the auto-target keyword.

One theory of multiplayer Magic, especially strong in some Commander circles, is that you should just play one of every heavy hitter in your colors and call it a deck. After all, those opponents can’t counter or kill every permanent you have. That creates two major problems. First, every deck begins to look like carbon copies of every other deck, and that causes the format to stagnate. Second, people can sweep the board with mass removal and then just attack you out of spite for a few rounds of smash-the-guy-with-the-stupid-deck, and you are suddenly lifeless and wondering how your overpowered deck lost to decks with things like Treasure Trove in them.

When we evaluate a permanent on the board, how do we analyze it? Some cards are so powerful we immediately seek their destruction. Other cards may be fine and dandy—how much do you care about that Mirri's Guile Jessie controls? How much investment do you really have for Jamie’s Wall of Omens?

Some cards are enhanced in the presence of others. Sylvan Library is a solid, powerful—but not too powerful—enchantment that often is left alone by opponents. But the second someone drops Abundance to pair with it, he or she has a card-advantage engine of death. Land Tax is a fine way for someone to bring his or her mana up to speed with basics; Scroll Rack is a solid, but unspectacular way to shift some cards around for better card quality. Combine them, and you have a broken dervish of card-drawing pain.

Sword of Fire and Ice
Of course, other cards are empowered by how much they threaten me or you, as opposed to the board in general. Mike’s Sword of Fire and Ice is an acceptable piece of Equipment when I am playing neither blue nor red. Keep your Sword. But if I am playing one, the other, or both, it moves up the list in power considerably. I may very well counter it before it hits the board or destroy it with removal. Similarly, that Silklash Spider Rob throws down is hunky-dory if I am rocking a limited number of flying creatures or if I have entries such as Commander Eesha and Dawn Elemental. But I’m Flyer McGee, I may want to Murder the Spider before Rob can untap and use it to sweep the flyers away from the table.

Some cards shift in power and threat level up and down the chart based on context. Still, many cards will have auto-target on them no matter what the board state is like. No, Rebekah, you can’t have that Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Sorry.

One of the important lessons I’ve learned through the years is that cards that are not five-star power level can still win you games. In fact, cards that are not even four stars or three stars can win you games. Multiplayer gives you a lot of places to harness the power of a card that would have limited options in a duel. Sure, Treasure Trove is pretty weak in a duel. This is a format where it’s the fifteenth-best card-drawing spell played that game and guzzles resources like a septic tank in permafrost.

In Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, I have around 2,750 cards. I add roughly thirty to fifty cards each set to the deck. It was more than that from Gatecrash! (I think my added card count was in the sixties). Clearly, more than just the cream of the card stock is voyaging to my deck. And yet—despite the large amount of variance from one game to the next and the total lack of synergy provided by a deck that large—it still wins a lot. That’s in part because of The Treasure Trove Effect.

The Treasure Trove Effect (In multiplayer, a card does not have to be amazing to win. It just has to work.)

There are a lot of Commander articles out there trying to find the perfect deck to be tweaked with the best power level to maximize winning. The problem with that strategy in multiplayer is that it ignores the potential actions of your foes and the point of streamlining at the cost of value. (This is not solely a Commander-format issue either; there is a planet-full of sixty-card-deck enthusiasts who do the same.)

Natural End
For example, consider a G/W deck you are building. What are your best Disenchant/Naturalize effects for your completely awesome deck? Krosan Grip? Seed Spark? Sundering Growth? Creeping Mold? How much do you rely on creatures to get it done—such as Indrik Stomphowler and Acidic Slime—as opposed to spells?

If my card collection warrants, and I play Slice in Twain instead of all of the cards classically considered to be good for this task, is it really going to weaken my deck? If I don’t have the awesome 3-mana spilt second Krosan Grip, but I run Natural End instead, how much worse is my deck? In fact, if I do so, is it not possible that I will find the 3 extra life from the End more useful than the split second on the Grip?

What is true for Naturalize effects is equally true for many other effects in Magic. If you don’t have a Counterspell, so you run Dissipate, that may be better in a lot of cases. If you want to run Dissipate, but you don’t have them, so you trot out Rewind, that may also wind up as the better card in some cases.

If you run Confiscate instead of Control Magic, you may find that more useful. If you wanted Wall of Blossoms but instead added Vine Trellis, that may be better, or at least just as good. Perhaps you had to settle for Putrefy over Maelstrom Pulse or Unmake over Swords to Plowshares or Shivan Dragon instead of Two-Headed Dragon. Don’t worry; your Dragon will still beat, your Unmake will still exile, your Putrefy will still off two types of permanents, and so forth.

Djinn of the Lamp
The difference in card quality from a Mahamoti Djinn to a Djinn of the Lamp is not much in a multiplayer game. If you have a deck with Incinerate instead of Lightning Bolt, it’s okay. If you are forced to include Concentrate when what you really desired was Tidings, that’s understandable.

These cards will still win you games. And they will often do so by harnessing the aspect that makes them different than the best choice. Mortify is not better than Vindicate generally, but you could instantly kill something that had haste and was about to smash your face in.

Yes, Treasure Trove may not be better than something like Thought Reflection normally, but after the Reflection is destroyed by removal, the Trove draws card after card. When Jace Beleren just earns you one extra card per turn, the Trove can draw you two or three cards later in the game to fuel the hand. What makes one card less valuable also makes it more valuable in many situations.

Even when one card is worse than another, that won’t matter in most games. I have spent hundreds of articles discussing how to stretch flexibility in the cards chosen for your multiplayer decks. Yes, you want Orim's Thunder and Return to Dust. Yes, you want the flexibility of a card like Profane Command or Pernicious Deed. But you know what? There are times when the Pernicious Deed’s sheer flexibility gets in the way. There are times when you don’t have enough mana to kill the expensive things that a good, old-fashioned Wrath of God or Akroma's Vengeance or Nevinyrral's Disk would handle easily. Even the best answers in Magic are weak against threats that a worse card could better answer. Some of the best threats in Magic are still weaker than many of the lesser threats simply due to flexibility or status. Sigarda, Host of Herons may not be anywhere near Akroma level is class, but she’ll keep off those annoying triggers when the commonly-played Eldrazi attack.

Strider Harness
The Treasure Troves of Magic are everywhere. There are great unwashed cards across the twenty years of Magic that have fallen through the cracks. You have them in your bulk-rare boxes and trade binders and crap stacks. You have these powerful cards that are not being played simply because you have missed them. Take another look at the cards you own. If you have been playing for years and have an extensive collection, look again through your cards. Take another glance at the power of some cards you initially dismissed. And if you are new to the game or have a small collection, don’t sweat it. Build a deck with what you have—it’ll work. And then pick up cards later that will improve the flexibility and power of the deck.

There are almost always commons, uncommons, and cheap rares that will suit your needs perfectly. You can build decks without all of the glitz and glamour of the cards from my last four articles. They are great, and you should run then if you own them. Some are very cheap to acquire, too! But at the end of the day, the difference between Swiftfoot Boots and Strider Harness or Sylvan Scrying and Rampant Growth is often unnoticed.

The fact is that these “lesser” cards are often just as good as the “better” cards. Right after a list on the Top 100 cards, I felt this was an important point to make. Just build your decks and play. Have fun! Work on the deck’s “perfection” later.

I once had a friend named Chad who was waiting to play a Five Color (two-hundred fifty cards) deck until it was complete. That was silly. Just dial it up, and play! Don’t worry if you have to replace Mystic Snake with Mystic Genesis! Just play.

And remember the power of Treasure Trove.

See you next week,
Abe Sargent

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