“Enter the Battlefield” isn’t just the name of the new Magic: the Gathering documentary. It’s is the long-established standard of value within the game. Creatures with such abilities have long been coveted for their penchant to generate an effect even if they are quickly dealt with afterwards.
Cast, blinked, or reanimated – they are going to keep the value train rolling. Their power justifies their ubiquity in deck construction.
It is that same universal use that got me thinking; I see so many games of EDH that hinge on using the same crop of EtB creatures that it gets downright monotonous. You can only see players go through the same recursion or blink loops so many times before you crave some new angle to approach deck construction from.
So I pored over the M:tG card database until I found a forgotten creature archetype that gives us an alternative.
I’m not talking about beasts or humans – I’m talking about saboteurs. Saboteurs are creatures whose abilities trigger once combat damage is dealt to a player. There has been a long lineage of creatures spread across all of the colors with that type of trigger, but you usually don’t see these creatures on the EDH battlefields.The usual spot where you see this type of trigger mentioned is on the Swords of Good Stuff and Value, but I want to bring to light the creatures that have some unique takes on the ability type.
Before we get into specific creatures, I want to first delve into their virtues. After you get them onto the battlefield, they don’t require any extra investment. They can continue to generate triggers as long as they remain on the battlefield and keep hitting opponents. They’re the best example of “set it and forget it’ in Magic; since you also want to be attacking with them, they help set an aggressive pace for the board that can keep other players scrambling for ways to deal with them before they can totally put you ahead and set your opponents way back. They’ll continue to wreak havoc until dealt with and can eat a valuable removal spell, allowing you to land a heavy hitter that keeps up the pressure on.
That all sounds well and good, but these creatures do have their faults. As I mentioned before, there is no guarantee that they will be able to trigger their ability. You’re trading in the guaranteed ability that comes with an EtB creature for the chance to trigger an ability multiple times, and it is a gamble that could easily backfire. They could land on a crowded board and might not have a way to damage a player to activate their trigger. Not all of these creatures have evasion built in and could find it hard to get through without some outside help. They might just sit on the board until one of the format’s many sweepers hits, and they’ll be gone without having done much of anything.
No matter – it’s a risk worth taking when the payoff hits the second trigger.
Saboteur abilities are found in each color, and each branch has a unique take on what you get for when you deal damage. I’m going to give you 2 from each color to demonstrate the versatility of each:
Stigma Lasher: Lifegain got you down? Your playgroup littered with Oloro, Ageless Ascetic or Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim decks? We’ve all seen how good Erebos, God of the Dead is at shutting down these lifegain strategies, but Stigma Lasher takes it one step further. One hit and your opponent is out of luck for gaining back any of the hits they are about to take. The Lasher really puts the table on high alert since lifegain is prevalent in EDH circles and no one wants to be shut out of it.
Hellkite Tyrant: Red has a known distaste for opponent’s artifacts, and even has other saboteur cards like Goblin Vandal and Rustmouth Ogre who smash of one artifact at a time. How about just taking all the artifacts instead? The Tyrant has a need for artifacts, and can bring a whole bundle over to your side of the table if he hits. Most players are running artifacts in some capacity so if this winds up hitting you’re going to gain mounds of value through damaging a player.
Centaur Rootcaster/Hunting Cheetah: Though both have been recently one upped by Sword of the Animist, both of these creatures is a great alternative to your usual types of ramp. As long as they can stay on the field, they can grab a land each turn and bring a continued growth to your mana base. Hunting Cheetah has the added bonus of fetching up dual lands due to the wording of its ability so feel free to slot one into your deck with the fancy mana base.
Spawnwrithe: Though seemingly innocuous, this elemental can get out of hand in a hurry. Since each new Spawnwrithe is a copy of the original, they also have its saboteur ability and can double your army each turn if not dealt with. I’ve seen games where this creature lands early and a few turns later the whole board is scrambling to deal with an overwhelming amount of 2/2’s. For 3 mana, the investment is pretty small to have a chance to generate such a large army. (Spawnwrithe‘s big brother Giant Adephage is also fun too, though not as cost effective)
Cephalid Constable: There is a special subset of saboteurs whose abilities scale based on the damage they deal. Cephalid Constable is one of them, and when it hits a player it returns permanents based on the damage it deals. This is an extremely versatile skill that can get rid of any problem cards that are facing you down across the board, and can do it in droves. If left unchecked it can leave the board very empty with a bit of a power boost.
Rootwater Thief: A former constructed powerhouse, Rootwater Thief can still make a splash in EDH. The thief gets rid of problem cards before they happen and allows you to find out the components of your opponent’s deck. Knowledge is power, and information of this level can help you devise the best strategy to effectively take down your opponent. It has built in evasion so it has a built in way to get through for damage as an added bonus.
Guiltfeeder: Graveyard strategies are prevalent in EDH circles, and there are many ways to combat them. Guiltfeeder represents a unique approach to punishing those who are overly reliant on such strategies, hitting harder when the graveyard is larger. Add in that the Feeder has fear and the ability causes loss of life instead of damage adds up to a very fearsome package.
Ashling, the Extinguisher: Black has several creatures that cause a creature to be destroyed or sacrificed upon damage, but Ashling is the best of the lot. The former pilgrim’s ability picks a specific creature and causes it to be sacrificed after combat damage has been dealt to the player. It gives you the best of both worlds; you get to choose which creature goes with no restriction and it allows you to take out indestructible ones.
Blinding Angel: Another Nemesis favorite, Blinding Angel is an excellent defensive weapon. It’s unique ability to shut off players combat phases keeps dangerous players from swinging your way and gives you time to deal with the threats looming. Blinding Angel is great for control builds, but it also slots into aggressive decks because it allows you to swing with your whole team without fear of a retaliatory hit from your biggest threat.
Soltari Visionary: The bane of enchantments everywhere. Having Shadow makes the Visionary virtually unblockable, so if there is an enchantment on the board that is giving you issue Soltari Visionary can take care of it. White is good at taking care of them, but having a repeatable source never hurts.
Maelstrom Archangel: Though it can only be run in 5Color decks, Maelstrom Archangel is extremely powerful. At 5/5 for one of each color, it has a sizable body and built in evasion so that it’s ability has a great shot of landing. When it does, it gets you a free cast of a nonland card from your hand. I’ve heard free spells are pretty good, and getting to choose it puts it into some rarefied air.
Doomsday Specter: I haven’t mentioned any Specters in this article yet because I was saving this last spot for my favorite one. Doomsday Specter anchored my favorite 60 card deck from back in the day, a U/B control deck that leveraged his gating ability with EtB effects to wreck opponent’s hands and control the field. The specter carries that legacy on to EDH, with an ability that gives you a lot of information on what your opponent is up to and surgically removes the best card from their hand.
After running through that list, give some of these critters a shot. They’re a good change of pace and can give your decks an aggressive boost that changes games they appear in. This won’t be the last time I wax poetic on saboteurs; I’ve got a second part planned that takes this a step further – I went deep down the rabbit hole and formed several decks that use combat triggers as a theme. I’ll give a list of generals that are a good fit for running bunch of these creatures and I’ll even have a decklist showcasing one of the builds I’ve been trying out. I know you’ll all be waiting with bated breath for this exciting sequel, so I’ll try to get it typed up ASAP.
Until then, cross your fingers for 4color generals that don’t suck.