Of course I would choose the 6-mana spell that occasionally blows up lands as my first Spoiler Spotlight, right? Well, that certainly influenced my decision. While Undercity Plague will serve as my focal point, I also want to talk about the cipher mechanic in general to see where Plague and cipher might fit into the environment.
First of all, looking at Plague, it is easy to be unimpressed. 6 mana is a heck of a lot to spend on a spell, and this one has an effect that is not jaw dropping. In fact, if you compare this to the most recent card of this style, [card]Smallpox[/card], you see a 2-mana card—albeit “symmetrical”—so Plague has a lot to prove. Let’s run through the effects one at a time:
“Target player loses 1 life…”: Obviously the smallest factor, but you never know when one life might throw a wrench into someone’s plans of playing an untapped shockland or something. Clearly this is not the reason we are playing our 6-mana spell, so we can just be happy with the bonus and move on.
“discards a card…”: Now we’re getting somewhere. Unfortunately, forcing someone to discard a card at 6 mana is not powerful alone, but I would bet that most non-aggressive decks will still be packing cards at that point. This still does not get the card to a level that should excite you, but we are moving in the right direction.
“and sacrifices a permanent”: This is the biggest impact of the card. In a vacuum, forcing someone to get rid of 1 of 6-8 permanents is not a big deal. They get full control over the choice, which is obviously a drawback. This is especially true when you consider that you are casting a 6-mana spell that doesn’t impact the board in the way that you want it to. Still, if you are playing Undercity Plague, this is the reason you are doing so and is therefore the ability to focus on breaking (if possible).
It’s clear that in order to abuse cipher, you must trigger it the turn you cast the spell. If done correctly, casting a cipher spell before combat enables you to get two uses out of the card immediately (assuming you found a creature to connect). A 2-for-1 with a low degree of choice is fine but not worth 6 mana, however a 4-for-1 with a couple of life loss tacked on becomes a little more exciting, especially with the prospect to get in combat damage turn after turn.
So the trick to properly using Undercity Plague is in finding a resilient threat that can consistently get in combat damage. In fact, pretty much every cipher card wants just that. Luckily for us, the perfect man for the job exists in [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]. Just as he was known to pick up [card sword of war and peace]Swords[/card] and [card runechanter’s pike]Pikes[/card] a few months back, the invisible man is a great target for your cipher spells, and might allow Undercity Plague to see some fringe play.[card]Invisible Stalker[/card] is likely the key to abusing any of the cipher spells, but Undercity Plague likely needs a little more assistance. Any sort of action that can keep your opponent on a limited number of permanents is great. This can come through actively destroying their cards, with things like (you guessed it) [card]Acidic Slime[/card] and sweepers, or possibly by accelerating your own game plan. If you [card]Farseek[/card] on turn 2 and then manage to play Stalker plus another [card]Farseek[/card] on turn 3, you have progressed your board in an equivalent way to blowing up two of your opponent’s lands.
Now, your Plague is online on turn 4, where two cards and two permanents is a big deal. Oh yeah, and if that initial swing in tempo and permanents is not enough to seal a game, remember that from here on out, so long as your Stalker is alive, you get to rinse and repeat every turn. If your opponent was on the draw and on three lands or so, the game is over.
Now, of course that scenario is a bit of a dream, but looking at the best-case-scenario for these types of cards is still important, much in the same way that a deck’s nut draw might provide incentive to play it, even if that nut draw is not consistent.
Of course, I am not trying to sell the card like it’s the second coming of [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], but it is likely to be written off by most, even though it does have a lot of potential. [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] plus cipher is likely a better fit elsewhere for more cost-efficient cipher spells, but if Undercity Plague catches your attention, give it a shot!
As for other hexproof guys, it is tough to say whether or not they will be any good with cipher. For example, [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], while very difficult to kill, is not exactly known for getting his 2 points of damage in there. The Angel is a worthy combat foe, sure, but the Geist is getting blocked or blinked much too often for that to be reliable. In addition, Stalker manages to avoid actually killing the opponent while you set up your combo. I know that isn’t an attribute you should look for in competitive Magic, but if you are just looking for as many cipher triggers as possible for your Commander list, Stalker is definitely the way to go.
And if you’re like me and want to go really deep, [card]Abyssal Persecutor[/card] makes a nice pairing for the Plague—just sayin’! Thanks for reading!