The History of the Other Rhystics
Hello and welcome back. We finally have a little downtime between major releases with Magic Con Vegas happening, so I wanted to dive into a bit of history.
I believe most Commander players are familiar with Rhystic Study. Every so often this card pops up in the ‘discourse’ of discussions and players are always divided on its use. There is no denying the power of the card in our multiplayer format. It can single handedly turn the tide of a game in favor of the person who controls it, drawing them into any number of answers and finishers.
This isn’t the only card with the name Rhystic though. It is the only card that is well accepted in Commander however, as the other Rhystic cards are… well, usually terrible. Those are the cards I want to talk about today trying to find a useful one. I also want to frame the Rhystic cards with some history.
To get this out of the way now, Rhystic itself is not an actual word with a meaning per se. The name and term Rhystic is used to describe an effect where a player has an opportunity to pay mana to stop an effect, similar to Smothering Tithe. For most intents and purposes, they can be considered to act the same because their function is so similar.
While this mechanic isn’t used much today in the same way with the more modern cards being much better generally, the Rhystic cards were specifically designed for the set they were debuted in. The set Prophecy’s limited environment had open mana be much more limited with cards and abilities that sacrificed lands and punished unused ones, so mana was much more scarce.
The cards themselves were also supposed to get across the flavor of a cheaper, more reckless kind of magic for the story at the time.
DO YOU PAY THE …?
Now that we know a little more about why these cards exist and function the way they do, let’s take a look at the other Rhystic cards. There are 17 cards with this mechanic other than Rhystic Study, so let’s get moving.
A land leads our list, and it’s not a very good one. Back during Prophecy, this probably fixed a lot of limited mana based if things got complicated, but when we consider this card for Commander, this card really falls short of other lands. While I don’t think most people at a casual table would spend a single mana to keep you off your single mana I’m not putting my spell at risk.
This enchantment actually seems okay at first glance. Pay 1 to prevent damage from a source unless they pay 1 to stop you. Not the most efficient, but not bad if they want to commit, which could buy you a turn or two. The drawback, besides not being a sure thing, is that the card says any player can pay the 1. The politics of Commander may be interesting or frustrating here.
On the bright side, at least you can pay the one as many times as you can afford to frustrate them back. The commitment to that is not worth much in our format when other cards don’t need the commitment to do the same thing.
Okay, so this card actually gives you a base ability that can’t be paid off to work with. Not bad, though weak for today’s Magic. It is a combat trick that might surprise an opponent across the table but doesn’t do enough. I could see this as a template for a more powerful version of the effect though.
An enchantment that can tap down a creature unless they pay one. Honestly the effect isn’t too bad if you have the blue mana. Many cards where you have to pay to tap a creature at all cost more. The cost being specifically blue keeps this from being considered for a deck though I’d say. Had it been a generic cost, this might even make it into some modern, casual commander decks. Even then…. I see some potential here.
I think what hurts this card most is it being a sorcery. As an Instant I think this card actually has some legs in the right decks, from Alela to Varina Lich Queen. Commitment on your turn to cast it without some help via Flash makes it a lot worse.
Again though we also have the any player clause, which is weird considering the 1v1 format of limited play these were designed for. I would suppose you could pay to stop your own spell.
This card at cost isn’t going to do anything in Commander, and then we have the Rhystic mechanic to put the final nail in the coffin. In the limited format it was in, Maybe this would get you a win or close to it, but not in Commander. Not at all.
This is another card that could benefit from being an instant, though I understand why it isn’t. A modern version of this at instant speed and having the costs switched (1B Instant, ~ unless someone pays 3) might actually see some play in the same circles Wishclaw Talisman might. As the card stands as itself, I don’t think anyone will use it over any other kind tutor in Black.
This card, much like Rhystic Shield, at least gives you something for using your mana that the opponent can’t just stop by paying. In Commander 3 mana for 4 damage isn’t unheard of, but 3 mana for 2 damage is fairly useless. Cards we have at that cost usually offer some utility other than just damage.
This is actually better in my mind than most of the cards so far. It almost has Afflict, which itself is an interesting decision point for combat I think wizards should revisit someday. In some way, shape, or form, something in the amount of 2 is happening with this card, though it’s use in Commander is zero.
Ah, White’s removal against aggressors. A tried and true flavor win for the color until the last decade, this card is outshone by just about anything we can get our hands on that are similar like Condemn or Soul Snare. Another no go here, though if Wizards ever decide to make this a mass removal spell we might have something to talk about.
We get something here at least, but the cost for the initial investment for A player to discard A card is way, way too high at 4 mana. Even if we got the 2 cards because out opponent didn’t pay, this card is terrible.
It feels like a trap. In limited play this looks like it would have been awesome during its time. Getting 2 for 1’d on mana is no joke, and this probably pushed some players to a few victories. As far as Commander goes, another dud.
Optional deathtouch. Not the best. Even if it said just damage instead of combat damage, I don’t think this would make it in any build.
I’m seeing a pattern with Blue getting the better cards from this cycle. This counterspell isn’t actually that bad, doubling the cost of the spell it’s trying to counter. It might even make it into some more casual builds. I routinely run Whirlwind of Denial, so maybe this could find a home somewhere. It seems especially good against spells with X in their costs.
Gaining life in Commander per attack is something usually reserved for something that happens and triggers with multiple creatures and an effect or ability like lifelink. Unfortunately this card simply doesn’t make the cut in even the narrowest sense. Another nope for Commander.
Okay, this card might have something going on. If we take the normal cost for returning a creature to hand most of the time at around 2-3 mana, then someone would have to pay 1-2 mana to stop you. If you pay 5, then it takes 4 mana to stop you. At that cost many other cards put the creature directly into play without a drawback, but I think this has some niche potential in builds like Zaxara the Exemplary.
We come to the only green card on this list. It is yet another card where we definitely get something for our trouble, and thinking about it framed back when Prophecy was out, its limited potential is fairly good. If no one pays the 2 mana to keep the rest of the effect from happening, the creature gets an additional +4/+4. That’s not too bad. In a 1v1 scenario I could see this doing okay, even today, but in Commander it’s just another page in history.
Lastly we have Withdraw, which lets you bounce (return) a creature to its owner’s hand. If they don’t pay 1, you can do it again. As far as this spell goes, the only thing holding it back from being just like a contemporary card is the double Blue cost. Otherwise this is easily one of the best Rhystics we have to choose from.
FOR WHOM IT TOLLS
Going down this list, we can easily see why Rhystic Study is the best of the bunch. However, Blue largely seems to get the lion’s share of the decent and good cards with this effect when we look at the designs with Commander in mind. Could all of them be used in Commander. Probably not outside of specific strategies or decks, and even then you are largely limited to using the Blue ones.
Something I sometimes think about with these cards is if there was a newer cycle today, what would that look like? What kind of arguments about power or irritation would we have? I believe if a cycle that featured something like the Rhystic mechanic again were to surface where your opponents had the choice, together, to pay mana to stop you it would easily outclass all cards on this list except for the one I didn’t cover: Rhystic Study.
That’s all for now. Until next time, decide on your own whether you pay the 1.