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A Glaring Spotlight on Hate Cards

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic

Hate is a strong word. But decks like Dredge, Storm, Faeries, Jund, Affinity and Caw-Blade can evoke emotions we didn’t even know we had toward the game. A hate card’s sole purpose is to target a deck you despise. You do not want to lose to that deck, so you are packing these sweet gems in your sideboard to make the opposing player sorry for even considering sleeving up their 75. A hate card embodies all of the malice that you have toward a deck. You want to lock out an opposing deck so they can be the miserable one.

I stopped watching the Bant Hexproof mirror in the finals of GP Atlantic City after the first game. Invisible Stalker was a mistake, and we went from equipping them with cleavers, pikes and swords to supercharging them with Rancor and Ethereal Armor. Who wants to interact anyway?

Then Glaring Spotlight was spoiled. It effectively says, “Hey, those creatures you can’t do anything about? Yeah, they can’t hurt you anymore.” This card is going to help in Standard, not to mention stopping those Slippery Bogles in Modern. How good is an unblockable 1/1 for two mana in blue? Would Geist of St. Traft even be mythic if it didn’t have that one word?

Why do I think Glaring Spotlight is going to make a difference? There have been many cards that we thought were going to be sweet. How can we tell that this one is going to have an impact? In order to be a “good” hate card, it needs to have a few features.

  • Low opportunity cost: A good hate card can’t cost you much. Imagine if you couldn’t ever cast Glaring Spotlight on Turn 1. Say it cost two mana. Your opponent is on the play playing the new hexproof deck. They play Turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, you play Turn 1 land and pass. They play Turn 2 Invisible Stalker and you respond with Glaring Spotlight. Then on Turn 3, they play Rancor, Rancor, Ethereal Armor. Attack. So much for that Pillar of Flame or Searing Spear you had in your hand. Even if you have Ultimate Price, they have now attacked for a total of 10 by your third turn. Hate cards need to come down early and do work immediately. If it costs more than two mana or has an activation cost, it is probably not worth your time.
  • Sweeping effect: The whole point of hate cards is getting it on the board to affect the entirety of your opponent’s deck. You don’t want to 1-for-1 your opponent. You want their deck to be shut down. They need to be unable to win unless this card is dealt with.
  • Limited interaction: What good is a hate card someone can easily get rid of?  You want your hate to be difficult to interact with; or you need the opponent to spend a fair amount of resources to solve it, whether those resources are time, mana, cards or sideboard slots. For example, I was not excited about Phyrexian Revoker, not because the effect was bad, but because while a lot of decks didn’t run maindeck artifact hate, they did run creature removal. If your hate card can be destroyed by maindeck spells, it may just not be good enough.
  • Little splash damage: Why would you ever play a card that prevents you from playing? It would certainly take a lot for someone to play a card that slows them down just to affect their opponent’s deck. The hate needs to be one-sided. This is a vendetta against their deck; you should still be having a good time.

The Good

Being someone who likes to play a little more on the degenerate side, I am very familiar with my share of hate cards. These are cards from Magic’s modern era that best exemplify the characteristics above, and were fantastic cards against those decks we loved to hate.

5. Kor Firewalker

The first Standard deck I played when returning to Magic was Mono Red. Not today’s Mono Red, but the good ol’ days of Goblin Guide into Hellspark Elemental into Ball Lightning. And when my opponent played Kor Firewalker, I already felt like I couldn’t win. It made attacking terrible and casting spells bad. Think about how good Lightning Bolt is, and now think about how good Shock is. Not to mention you are playing MONO Red. How do you get rid of that card? The best answer I ever came up with was hope they don’t draw it.

4. Obstinate Baloth

If you once asked anyone what deck to play in Standard, the response was unanimous: Jund. The name sounded sweet, but nobody could really explain what the deck did. It wasn’t really control; it wasn’t really aggro. It attacked your hand, your creatures, and your life total. And Obstinate Baloth was there to save the day. You’ll never forget discarding two Baloths to a Blightning. Gain four life and get a Bolt-proof dude who was bigger than their entire deck, all for free? Sign me up! I never ended up playing Jund, but for about six months, writing out my sideboard always started with 3x Obstinate Baloth.

3. Volcanic Fallout

Can’t. Be. Countered. Never before have those words given such a collective sigh of relief than when Faeries were in Standard. Faeries is one of the most maligned decks of all time, many times playing everything on your turn! There is actually a picture still hanging at my local game store of a fae creature being struck by a Lightning Bolt. Volcanic Fallout had one job, and it did it well. Kill those flying pests and make sure there was nothing their Cryptic Command could do about it. The first Grand Prix I played was GP Atlanta, and I chose to play Faeries in Extended. Volcanic Fallout was played against me six times in my first match, which I would not ever like to repeat again.

2. Ethersworn Canonist

Let’s go ahead and get two things straight. I think storm is the most busted mechanic Wizards has ever printed. It should never be printed in the rules text of a Standard card again. And I love it. It is my favorite mechanic they have ever printed. You name the format, I have probably played storm — whether it be Pauper, Legacy, Modern, Standard, Cube, Mental Magic, and beyond. And Ethersworn Canonist is the bane of my existence. It is a white creature, so it can go in any white deck. It is an artifact creature, so it can go in any artifact-based deck. It can be tutored for by multiple sources. It can come down on Turn 1 or 2, not only preventing you from winning, but even from playing multiple spells to start setting up your hand. Whenever I build a sideboard, one of my first checks is always, “How do I beat Canonist?”

1. Leyline of the Void

Every dredge player in the world just shivered. If you ever heard the phrase “Mulligan to Leyline,” this is the card being mentioned. You start the game with a free card that doesn’t affect your board, and your opponent doesn’t want to activate their game plan until they deal with this card. The card is so good that when Wizards reprinted the Leyline cycle, they changed all of the other ones, but left this one alone. It defined what a Leyline was supposed to be. Leyline of the Void also affects reanimator and has some play against RUG Delver, Snapcaster, and Zombie decks. It’s pretty hard to win when a zone you are trying to abuse has a giant black hole on top of it.

The Bad

Of course, not all cards did their job very well. Some hate cards looked like they could be the answer, but they barely did more than slow your opponent down a notch. For various reasons, these cards were just a bump in the road for the decks they were trying to stop.

5. Grafdigger’s Cage

When this card was first spoiled, I was part of the upset masses. But not because I thought this card was going to shut down any decks. (It wasn’t better than any of the hate already available.) Grafdigger’s Cage was unnecessary. It had everything going for it: low mana cost, blanket effect, could be played in any deck. But that was its problem. What deck were you going to play it in? Were you going to play it in your deck with four Snapcaster Mages? How about your Zombie deck? No? Birthing Pod? It affected every Tier 1 deck in Standard. While this sounds sweet, what if you also wanted to play a Tier 1 deck?

4. Hex Parasite

A Wizards employee that once was asked on Twitter about Standard bannings told us to wait for New Phyrexia because there would be a card that specifically interacted with planeswalkers. Caw-Blade was dominating the format and Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a key card fueling the deck. That card was finally revealed to be Hex Parasite, which on the surface looked like it could be a legitimate answer. Unfortunately, it was too much of a mana requirement to reliably deal with Jace, or even Gideon Jura. Hex Parasite was a nice try, but Jace ultimately was banned.

3. Torpor Orb

Torpor Orb was printed to turn off Splinter Twin and also hurt the Birthing Pod decks so their cards couldn’t gain any value. But is it really what you wanted to do on Turn 2? Torpor Orb just didn’t do enough considering how many resources it took to get on the battlefield. An opponent could still play their creatures, Titans still got their effect when they attacked, and Splinter Twin could still land a dude and answer the Orb with their Deceiver Exarch on the field.

2. Tunnel Ignus/Leonin Arbiter

Oh, how many people put one of these cards in their sideboard. And oh, how many of these were killed by a Lightning Bolt or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle trigger. As a Valakut player, I can honestly say the only reaction I had when someone cast one of these cards was an eye roll. These cards were meant to combat the Valakut menace, but they did nothing because they were never on the board for very long. If either of these did not die to a multitude of cards I was already running, they would have certainly done a better job. But because it was very easy for the Valakut player to interact with them, they were casualties of the game, hopelessly looking up from the graveyard as their controller gets domed for 18.


Now, here is a sweet hate card. Katake was the perfect answer to those pesky artifact decks that were lingering after the original Mirrodin. Wait, what’s that? There were no artifact decks that were good after Mirrodin? How can that be? Weren’t all of the affinity cards in Mirrodin? That’s right. There were no good artifact-based decks because there were no good non-Umezawa’s Jitte artifacts that were legal in Standard. Everything had been banned. This card could have been really good, but was very late to the party.

When you are choosing a hate card, choose carefully. We all have those decks we hate to play against, but make sure that the cards you choose do their job well. Glaring Spotlight has all the signs of a good hate card. Its mana cost is low, it’s an artifact so can be played in any deck, and it isn’t an easy target for most maindeck cards. There is no drawback when it’s on the battlefield, it is only upside, and let’s not forget its second ability boosts your creatures’ abilities. As long as Geist of St. Traft is a threat in Standard, there will be a place for Glaring Spotlight in people’s sideboards.

What was your favorite card to play against someone and see them slump in their chair? Please let me know in the comments!

— David
Twitter: @AvtrOfWoe

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