Magic Memories: Hypnotic Specter

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Aug 2, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    About twenty years ago, I heard talk in a local game story about a creature called a "hippie." I had no idea what it meant. It seemed like such a strange name for a creature. So I inquired. And some more experienced players showed me Hypnotic Specter.

    It wasn't long before I was using Hypnotic Specter in my own decks. After so much time has passed, I couldn't possibly remember the full scope of the different decks I built, most of them probably quite bad, with Hypnotic Specter. But I did get a lot of use out of the card. I'll get back to making Memories threads centered around my combo decks at some point, but I have to give at least some sort of nod to aggro/control. And when it comes to the mundane affair of summoning creatures and then attacking opponents with those creatures, Hypnotic Specter has to be one of my most prominent historical "default" cards.
    Mooseman likes this.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The classic play, the iconic play, the one that made Hypnotic Specter famous, was to rush it out first-turn with Dark Ritual, and commence to stripping away your opponent's hand from the second turn onward. This was contingent on the opponent not having a spell that could kill the Specter or a flying blocker with 2 or more power. While it's fairly tame compared to some real "high risk, high reward" things people can do in Magic, there is a real investment in something that could be high impact, but could also go poorly. If an opponent has Lightning Bolt or Swords to Plowshares, for instance, you'll have traded two cards for one. But if the opponent cannot stop the Specter right away, it begins turning into card advantage. It's powerful and feared. It seems like one of the defining moments in "90's Magic." I don't really see it anymore, though. So how good was it?

    Well, first-turn Hypnotic Specter does some unusual things. It seems to be the original event in the game that gave one a chance to effectively manascrew or manadrown an opponent by interfering with that opponent's hand. Let's say you get a first-turn Hypnotic Specter and my opening hand has 3 lands in it, which I deem enough to be sufficient for my purposes. But then Hypnotic Specter's random discard hits one of those lands before I can play it, and I fail to find my next third land for several turns, which throws off my curve and sets me back. I could very well lose the game largely on account of a "manascrew" that only happened because of a random discard. In the same way, I could open with a 4-land hand, and then the early Hypnotic Specter triggers could strip away the business spells I'd been banking on, and if instead of drawing replacements for them I draw one too many lands, I'm stuck without good plays and could lose the game because of it. Either of those things could happen, or...

    ...or they might not. Hypnotic Specter might cause me to discard a spell I was going to cast, but then I topdeck another copy and am not really set back. Or it might hit a land and then I might draw a land and still find my curve. That's how random discard works. This isn't much of a revelation, but until Hymn to Tourach showed up, random discard usually meant either Mind Twist, which might be used to take away an entire hand anyway and not really be random at all, or it meant Hypnotic Specter. And both Hymn to Tourach and Mind Twist are single-use spells anyway. Hypnotic Specter provided incremental random discard. It would keep going until the opponent either ran out of cards or found a way to block it or kill it.

    So I say "unusual" but perhaps the better word is "unique." They did go on to print other cards that used random discard, and even other creatures that did. But, perhaps because of how feared Hypnotic Specter was, none of them really measured up. It's apparent that Wizards of the Coast would decide that they undercosted random discard aimed at opponents. So we'd get stuff like Urborg Mindsucker, Mind Shatter, and Resounding Scream. With so much power creep in the efficiency of creatures, almost all of the old 1990's creatures have become outclassed. The random discard niche? It's not even close. Hypnotic Specter is still on a completely different level from anything that followed it. With so many other mechanics, WotC would eventually decide that they set the bar for creatures too low. Hypnotic Specter is a rare case where the bar was apparently set too high all the way back in 1993. And so they took it out of the core set after Fourth Edition.

    Mark Rosewater has asserted that Hypnotic Specter was overestimated, that they thought it was the problem but later realized Dark Ritual was the problem. So they even brought Hypnotic Specter back for Ninth Edition and Tenth Edition, now that Dark Ritual was long-gone from the core set. I didn't question that assessment the first time I heard him say it, but after a couple of repetitions I began to wonder about it. I'm still not sure. I definitely think there's an element of truth to it. But how good is Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter? Is it "too good" and if it is "too good" is Dark Ritual "the problem" there? I mean, it's a matter of what kind of gameplay you value and how you personally judge these things, but ultimately, I have my qualms with the statement. For one thing, Mark Rosewater is well-known for how active he has been in attempting to define and delineate the color pie. The shift of mana burst "ritual" spells from black to red happened with a great deal of influence from him, and given that history, it seems easy to just insist that Dark Ritual was the root cause for any problematic gameplay that involved the card. Doesn't mean it was never too good or that one could never blame it, but that does strike me as something of a red flag. So too does blaming a staple mana accelerant for the performance of the only efficient random discard creature ever printed in the history of the game. Hypnotic Specter has spawned a host of imitators. Some of them are fun casual cards, but all of them pale in comparison to the brutal efficiency of Hypnotic Specter, and that's independent of what Dark Ritual does for it.

    But it's a tricky contextual judgment to say whether something is "too good." And I've noticed that some, Mark Rosewater included, are pretty comfortable making that call. Well, someone has to make the call, I guess. I'd hesitate to, myself. I've been told that Counterspell is "too good" for Modern, that it would ruin the format if it were ever reprinted in a Standard-legal set. I've also been told that this is false and that the players who think Counterspell is too good for Modern are whiney little crybabies. I dunno. It's clear that Hypnotic Specter isn't really used in competitive Legacy or Modern anymore, but it did crop up years ago when black-heavy aggressive decks, particularly ones that used other discard effects, were more prevalent. And it's been reasonably good when it's been part of Standard.
  3. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I played with Specter with Dark Ritual and Hymn to Tourach and one of the optimal hands was getting two Dark Rituals so you could cast both (or two Hymns). Getting that many cards discarded right off the bat is a HUGE advantage, both gameplay wise and psychologically. It's like the opposing player mulliganed down to five cards (or three). Sure, Bolt and StP could take out the Specter, but a) the other player would have to be playing those colors and b) the black deck was probably not just relying on the Specter and Hymn but they nicely fit the mana curve.

    It was Very Good, to answer your question.
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Ooh, yeah the double Dark Ritual play also opened up some powerful possibilities. I wasn't going to post this just yet, but here's one of my old lists. I posted it to TappedOut a while back...

    4x Duress
    4x Hymn to Tourach
    4x Mind Twist
    4x Sinkhole
    4x Dark Ritual
    2x Diabolic Edict
    11x Snow-Covered Swamp
    11x Swamp
    4x Memory Jar
    4x The Rack
    4x Megrim
    4x Hypnotic Specter

    That was an iteration of my "Septic Tank" discard deck from when I was in highs school. Looking at the list, I know that wasn't the most common version because it's got a full playset of Sinkhole, and I think I only owned two of them back then. But swap out the Sinkholes for something else and it's pretty close. This may have been a "final" version of the deck before it got taken apart. It was originally a different black discard deck, killing with creatures and not employing Megrim. Then it became a blue/black discard deck so I could use things like Recoil and Urza's Guilt, which was when it became a Megrim deck. It was after the whole weird pact I made with Al0ysiusHWWW ("we're not using cards printed after Prophecy") that I switched back to monoblack, and eventually settled on something like the above list, with Megrim and The Rack as kill conditions and most of the rest of the deck aimed at disrupting the opponent.

    The name "Septic Tank" was a silly choice. I was hired to do an odd job helping a plumber replace a water line under a parking lot at a local church, and I had to do a lot of work busting up asphalt with a jackhammer and clearing rocks/gravel out of the way with a pry-bar to dig a trench. It was exhausting. So after getting this trench about halfway across the parking lot, my shovel was coming up against a solid mass of concrete and eventually I uncovered a buried septic tank no one had remembered was there. I had to divert the trench around that thing. When I modified my discard deck later the next day, I named it "Septic Tank" in honor of the object that had been painful for me, hoping that my deck would be (in spirit) just as painful for my opponents.

    Looking back, I'm sure most of iterations of that deck ran more creatures. I know I was fond of Knight of Stromgald. But of course, Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter was one of my favorite openers.

    I concur and ultimately "very good" is probably the most succinct answer. I pose the question not to challenge my own personal experience with this (or yours, or anyone else's for that matter), but in an attempt to earnestly analyze a play that was one of the most infamous out there in the "good old days." It was the quintessential opener for black aggro and even for black control decks. And yet I don't really see it anymore. Addressing that is probably somewhat complicated...
    1. I've been playing a lot of Canadian Highlander lately, which doesn't lend itself to getting a specific two-card combination in an opening hand.
    2. Much of the rest of my recent gameplay has been in Limited formats, and unless I were to use a bunch of Fourth Edition booster packs in such an environment, the odds of seeing Dark Ritual and Hypnotic Specter together would be slim.
    3. EDH is a popular format around here, and Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter is both less potent and less likely in that format.
    4. Both cards are perfectly legal in Legacy, but Hypnotic Specter apparently doesn't make the cut. Haven't heard of anyone playing the "hippie" in Legacy in many years. And Dark Ritual is now relegated to combo decks and "Pox" control decks exclusively.
    5. Dark Ritual isn't a legal card in Modern. People could still play Hynpotic Specter in Modern, but again, it appears not to make the cut for tournament decks. That's a bit of a misleading explanation though: I see local players trying all sorts of wacky stuff in Modern that doesn't crop up in big tournaments. I don't see Hypnotic Specter, but that might just be a matter of how big the card pool is and how little I've actually seen. It might not be especially popular, but someone is probably using it.
    6. Most of the casual 60-card Constructed decks I've seen have been built by less experienced players who probably weren't around in the heyday of Hypnotic Specter and might not own a copy of the card.
    Some combination of those extenuating circumstances could go a long way to explain my perceived "disappearance" of the classic "turn 1 Swamp, Ritual, hippie, go" opener. But I also don't want to dismiss out-of-hand the possibility that it's just not as powerful as I remember it being. Magic is a very big game and tactics that are perfectly valid can fall by the wayside due to faddishness or quirks of luck. I think it's feasible to say that Hypnotic Specter, with or without Dark Ritual, was good and could still be good, but it just isn't popular right now and the ways to play the game in which it would really shine have diminished somewhat. That does, based on my own experience, ring true. But someone might argue that it was good and just isn't as good anymore. The continued prevalence of Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter in Old School variants would seem to be consistent with that position, although perhaps nostalgia is at work there.
    Some possible complications...
    • Brainstorm + fetchlands have ruled Legacy for years and that engine dilutes the potency of all discard. The "surgical" discard spells like Duress suffer most from this, but Hypnotic Specter is affected by Brainstorm because I can hide my most important card on top of my library in response to a Hypnotic Specter attack.
    • Delver of Secrets can hit the board on the first turn without help from Dark Ritual and can transform before Hypnotic Specter gets a chance to attack if the player using Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter is on the draw. This is a lousy trade. Even if you're on the play and Hypnotic Specter gets one attack in before trading, it's lackluster.
    • The popularity of Delver of Secrets and, until recently, Deathrite Shaman, has made spells that can pick off those creatures valuable in Legacy. Most of those answers also happen to work against Hypnotic Specter. Forked Bolt, Dismember, Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Abrade, etc. all can kill Hypnotic Specter and might do so even before it gets a chance to attack and even if it's rushed out by Dark Ritual. Even Fatal Push can do it if the player also has a fetchland.
    Notably, Hymn to Tourach has demonstrated real staying power in Legacy, unlike almost all other random discard cards. But it's sufficiently different from Hynpotic Specter that there may not be much point in the comparison.
    Ultimately, I am reminded of Melkor's comment from last year in the Dark Ritual thread...
    I can come up with reasons why Hypnotic Specter has fallen by the wayside or why Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter is relegated to history. The game has changed, after all. So many new cards. But really, Hypnotic Specter is still the best at what it does and the disappearance of Dark Ritual in aggro decks is uncanny. Maybe I should just accept that this is clearly the reality we're in now, but it does strike me as strange. Like, I would imagine that if I were removed from all of this and then told about it, I might be surprised but still try to analyze it. If I hadn't been following the game for many years, and then someone showed me lists of cards that came out, and asked me to explain the disappearance of Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter, I might be able to come up with explanations to rationalize it. I might talk about creature power creep and how a 3-drop 2/2 isn't so great anymore. I might talk about the broadening of removal options and how Hypnotic Specter is less likely to stick than it was in the 90's. I might talk about cantrips/filtering and how card selection and top-of-library shenanigans make discard weaker. I might talk about how Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and such are much cheaper and more reliable than Hypnotic Specter. I might talk about how fast combo has become and how Hypnotic Specter is poor disruption against it. I might talk about the vastly improved color-fixing and how a monoblack or primarily black deck can't compete. I might even talk about how bonkers Delver of Secrets is and how undesirable it is to run a three-drop creature that only trades with one of the most popular one-drop creatures in existence. Maybe I'd call upon all of those concepts in justifying the virtual disappearance of what was once such a powerful and ubiquitous tactic.

    And yet it's all still a little unsettling, even having lived through it. It's as though it's not enough, as though none of this is quite right...
  5. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Off the top of my head, it's because it's been eclipsed by about 25 years of cards being released since then :) Now, obviously, not *all* of them are better, but there's just enough to edge it out in terms of efficiency and "power". You've started to list some yourself. Heck, Channel-Fireball used to be a great first turn combo but that's not really around anymore either, right? A lot of cards and decks can only really be evaluated based on what the environment was like during their time, not a lot (if any) have "staying power" through all these years.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yes! I mean probably. Like I noted, nothing that's really similar to Hypnotic Specter is even close to as strong as Hypnotic Specter. Despite all of the obvious creature power creep, Hypnotic Specter is still very much the best at what it does. So if it is obsolete (not saying definitively that it is, but going with that as a hypothetical), then that essentially means that the entire class of cards it represents is also obsolete. And to that, some might say, "Good riddance." I wouldn't. But I can see why random discard is frustrating and why people might want to just not encounter it.

    But also, while 25 years is a long time and sounds like a lot, I would not portray the evolution of the card such that Hypnotic Specter was at some sort of power zenith in 1993 and that it was on the decline ever since, eventually fading into obscurity. The relevance of the card almost certainly ebbed and flowed depending on what environments were popular and how well it could perform in those environments. In Legacy, Hypnotic Specter saw a resurgence back in 2009 or so, but it eventually fell out of favor again. While I do agree with the overall concept that as more and more new cards are released, some old cards are bound to become eclipsed, it's not always so simple as piling on stuff for 25 years. Sometimes a new printing makes an old, obscure card more powerful. Sometimes new printings weaken one thing, which was itself holding back something else. It's a complicated system and you know that. Anyway...

    I didn't just mean tournament decks. I don't really see casual players opening games with Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter. But of course that might have something to do with the factors I mentioned earlier.

    Well, Channel was completely banned from tournament play for a while and is still banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage. So yeah, it's not really seen much anymore, but that's for a very different reason from most cards. But if you mean the specific card Fireball and not just any X spell that could be used with Channel, then yeah, it was naturally superceded by Kaervek's Torch and then Banefire.

    Banefire isn't a strictly better card than Fireball! There are a lot of cases in which you would rather have Fireball. But for the specific task of comboing with Channel to kill a player, Banefire just plain makes more sense. So yeah, if Channel didn't have ban/restriction baggage and we wanted to use a combo deck like Channel-Fireball, we'd be wise to go with Channel + Banefire instead of Channel + Fireball. But I'd say that's quite a distinction. Banefire is a new card that's a better option than Fireball was for the exact same job Fireball was being used for in an old deck. Fireball was replaced by something stronger and we can point to exactly what that stronger card was and explain why it's stronger. There's no analogue for that when it comes to Hypnotic Specter!

    Not to turn this thread into a total sequel to the Dark Ritual thread, but if Hypnotic Specter had just been replaced by something that had advantages over it, we'd be seeing players rush out a different creature with Dark Ritual. I know I've said a few times now that Hypnotic Specter is still generally the best at its job, but I was mostly talking about creatures that make opponents discard cards. Even if there were some other, better thing to be rushing out on turn 1, I'd think people would pick that instead. But it seems like they don't. At least not usually.

  7. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Well, actually, yeah, it *did* kind of peak when it was printed (93-95) and once it was dropped off from the core set, its availability became less and less, until it made its reappearance in 9th edition (10 years later!) and then saw whatever resurgence in 2009 (which seemed to be its last inclusion in a set, Magic 2010, so maybe that brought enough tools and cards out to help it?). I mean, if you can't get a card for 10 years, you'd have to be "fortunate" to play against it and "like" it enough to go out and get some of your own, or its "play time" doesn't spread. And people are always fooling around and testing new cards when they come out - I certainly didn't play with Specter (or less and less, maybe) while I was active once Ice Age came out through Urza's Saga. I still had the cards but I wanted to do other things with black, and discard wasn't a main focus for me.

    Um, the first sentence could also apply to the second (as in, Channel-Fireball/burn spell not seen as much in casual play). :)
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, of course there's no data on this so it's totally guesswork. But yeah, my experience was completely different from yours in that respect. My first core set was Fifth Edition, which was the first core set to drop Hypnotic Specter. And yet I played with it tons. Now, you do bring up a good point about availability. And maybe my perception that Hypnotic Specter has generally disappeared is tied to that. I mean, that wouldn't be the issue in the Legacy or Modern, but it could be unsuitable in current tournament play for both of those formats and, unrelated to that, also old and obscure enough that a lot of newer players or players who sold their collections just don't have the card for casual play and aren't seeking it out. Those are separate issues and we could imagine that if Hypnotic Specter were reprinted in a new set, the casual usage might change while the card continued to see no Legacy or Modern use. I don't know one way or another, but it seems plausible.

    I don't think assigning a "peak" to a card that was part of the original game in 1993 and discussing that as a measure of performance over 25 years is meaningful. The original core set was so small that every card, from Time Walk to False Orders, could have had a relative "peak" in the beginning and diminished in importance to the game as a whole once more new cards came out. Maybe my perception of an ebb and flow is wrong and the whole thing was tied to the actual printings of the card, such that it dropped off after being taken out of the core set in Fifth Edition, rose again after being added back in for Ninth Edition, then dropped off a second time when it was taken out again for Magic 2011. I can't rule that out. Like I said, there's not really data on this, especially not for casual play.

    I do think it's telling that the card had historical tournament successes, which have been collated and do show up in archives, in Legacy as late as 2013. Considering the number of old, out-of-print cards in typical Legacy tournament decks, I don't think availability is the answer for the card making a comeback in the format, nor for its eventual departure. But it could still be the case that the card found a good niche in Legacy with new printings, then its position in the format became untenable with other new printings, and also that its relative importance in other formats or in casual play is more related to availability or something. I have no wish to take disparate occurrences and conflate them into one big phantom trend. It's absolutely the case that I don't really know. After all, like I said, it has been my impression that the card is a rare sight in casual play these days. But it could be all the rage in someone else's neighborhood.

    Hypnotic Specter occupies a strange role. As a 2/2 with evasion it generates little offensive pressure by itself, and in competitive play most aggressive decks want as much pressure as possible. Its unique ability doesn't protect it or give it an advantage in combat, but it does disrupt the opponent's resources. Because of variance, the extent of this disruption could range from insufficient to devatasting. Whether the random discard makes the whole package worth it in a deck built to kill the opponent with creatures depends on a lot of factors. So it's a complicated question and we'd have to qualify the nature of a specific context before analyzing the details. But Dark Ritual isn't like that! Even if Hypnotic Specter isn't the right fit for a deck, either Dark Ritual being used to rush out threats is good or it isn't. Hypnotic Specter is the original choice for this, a three-mana attacker with some real potency to it. But there have been others. And the notion that Dark Ritual pushed the envelope and impacted design considerations for black 3-drops is, from what I seem to remember, a big part of why WotC took the card out of the core set and chose to stop printing it in new sets. So even if Hypnotic Specter was past its prime, what's the deal with Dark Ritual losing its place as an aggro tool?

    Seriously, I can see why Dark Ritual wouldn't be practical in aggro decks in some circumstances. It increases risk by setting up more potential 2-for-1 trades in the opponent's favor. It pushes a deck to be black-heavy to get value out of it. It's a crappy topdeck when you have an empty hand and you're trying to finish your opponent off. But it also used to be thought of as "too good." So which is it?

    Huh? :confused:
  9. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    How much is "tons"? Did you continue to play with it with whatever sets you got next? Was there a period or a point when you started playing with it less?

    Assigning a peak to cards in general is probably not meaningful, I agree. Some cards will always be relevant (P9), some cards will come and go as other cards are released an interactions discovered, and most cards will fade into obscurity (I did play with False Orders because of my limited card pool in the beginning. Not sure how much it was played in general).

    I had something else written but deleted it in "favor" of this: I don't see the point in discussing whether a card is/was "good" or has "peaks" or is still relevant or whatever. All of our discussions is anecdotal. I can say the card is good based on my first hand experiences and when I played. You can say it was good when you played. But it just our "circles". Like when you said
    Without numbers of the worldwide base of how much the card is played, everything else is just "guesswork". And that's not really interesting to me. :)

    My last quote was referring to you referring to the Dark Ritual going into Specter play being not just tournaments but also casual play, yet you followed with the Channel/Fireball play by referring to tournaments when there's no reason it can't also be played in casual play.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    For as long as I maintained a bunch of 60-card casual constructed decks, I pretty much always had at least one deck with Hypnotic Specters in it. It wasn't something I experimented with a lot in Legacy when I moved more toward building Legacy decks. I was more into combo decks for that.

    That's kinda what I meant with the examples of Time Walk and False Orders. Time Walk is still the best at what it does and is generally regarded as one of the most powerful cards ever. False Orders is generally unremarkable and almost completely forgotten, but back in the early years when the card pool was so small and collections were so limited for almost everyone, it did see play (it's really not a bad card).

    I think I've expressed the context for why I do find it interesting. I mean, part of it might just be nostalgic fondness for Hypnotic Specter, but I also am reminded of Melkor's comment from the Dark Ritual thread. If not Hypnotic Specter, I'm not sure what, but it's remarkable that Dark Ritual as a tool to accelerate starts for aggro decks was such a defining feature for black decks and that it's so rarely sited anymore. I mean, no one else is obligated to find it interesting of course. But even after trying to analyze it, I don't find a clear-cut answer. On the one hand, "use Dark Ritual to rush out some early beatdown and get ahead of the opponent" has been demonstrated to work. It used to be seen in multiple tournament formats. On the other hand, it's not done in current tournament formats. Is it just outclassed by what's available now? If so, why? I could speculate on it, but I don't find any single explanation especially convincing right now. I'd guess it's a mixture of multiple factors, though...

    I'd think that even at my most passionately casual-focused, I wouldn't go so far as to say that tournament Magic has no effect whatsoever on the usage of cards in casual Magic. Also, the fact that Channel + Fireball (or Banefire or whatever) is so well-known and its power is so straightforwardly obvious might work against it as something casual players might try. I know that in some groups, even disregarding tournament rules, it'd be considered bad form to bring Channel + Fireball to casual games. I do not think Hypnotic Specter usually carries the same stigma, although perhaps for some people it does.
  11. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Well, as much as I appreciate you posting here and keeping the forums alive :), you're probably not going to get even on the road to answers because no one else is really posting. You need a more active poster base to bounce ideas off and get their experiences/anecdotes.

    I certainly don't disagree with any with what you're saying about Channel/Fireball; my main point for even bringing it up (and it's one of the most famous of the "old" combos) is that it had its heyday (just like Specter) and is no longer used nearly as much, if at all, where it can be.
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  12. Terentius The Instigator

    I love Hip. I love old Hip and new Hip, and have both. I love discard. It's my favorite way to get rid of things; why wait to counter or destroy when you can wipe it from your opponent's mind???

    Still waiting for an awesome purpose-built discard Commander, maybe something like this?
    Terentius, Specter Overlord 3BUR

    Legendary Creature - Specter
    4/5, Flying
    If Terentius is in the Command Zone, whenever an opponent discards a card, he or she loses 2 life.
    1B: Target player discards a card.
    2BB: Target player discards a card at random.
    3BBB: Look at target player's hand. You may choose a nonland card from it. That player discards that card.
    UBR, tap: Until end of turn, whenever an opponent discards a card, he or she loses 2 life, and you draw a card.
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  13. Melkor Well-Known Member

    Hypnotic Specter didn't change, Magic changed. First turn Ritual-Hypnotic Specter was really strong for two reasons. First, the possibility of land denial by hitting their second or third land in hand early. Two, long term card advantage by ravaging the hand. Both of these things aren't as strong these days.

    The first isn't as strong because so much of Legacy is so low to the ground. A bunch of the "fair" decks can operate on two land, or with a turn one Aether Vial can still play even if you hit the other land. They can get out serious threats even with just a couple land. Back in the day, you needed more land to get out real threats, now you don't.

    The second isn't as strong because the kind of passive control deck that Hippie would eat up has been marginalized. Back in early Magic, control decks were so much more powerful, you could have a strategy of just hitting a ton of land drops, playing one sweeper to stabilize and then hide behind a wall of counterspells and card draw. Hypnotic Specter wrecked this strategy if it wasn't immediately dealt with. White/Blue Control was looking Swords to Plowshares or bust.

    This aspect of the Specter also isn't as strong because combo has gotten faster and less vulnerable. There's a lot of decks that can go off in the first three turns in Legacy. Hitting one or at best case two cards at random over a three turn period isn't fast enough, and not necessarily even strong enough because combos are more compact and redundant these days.

    I commented on it over in the Dark Ritual thread and Oversoul quoted it here, but it is kind of amazing that Ritual is not an aggro accelerator any more. I'd say there are a couple reasons for that. First, combo is just better now, so just casting a three mana creature turn one isn't the best thing you can do with extra mana turn one or two these days. Second, the tempo gain from Ritual isn't as strong as the card disadvantage, because you have so many better creature options these days at 1 and 2 mana. Third, black moved away from being a weenie color. They just haven't printed as many good low casting cost creatures in black.
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  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    True, but it's all in good fun anyway. Or idle speculation, which I equate to good fun because I am demented. :p

    I should note that I do sometimes see Channel, but the preferred combo card with it now seems to be Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Not only does it eliminate the red mana requirement and cost less life than the old Fireball combo (or other versions of it), but it gives an uncounterable Time Walk. Early in the game, the Annihilator 6 trigger and 15 flying combat damage tend to win through most obstacles and few opponents can deal enough damage to outrace it. For a little extra insurance against removal, it even comes with protection from colored spells. While some tools do thwart this combo, it's probably harder to stop overall than Fireball or even Banefire. "Channel/Emrakul" may not be as catchy as "Channel/Fireball" but it's a force to be reckoned with.
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I do have to admit to being a fan of the slightly obscure not-as-good-as-Hyppie card, Doomsday Specter.

    It's not really even that strong of a card, but on those rare occasions when everything about it pays off, it's just so cool.

    As for Commander, I think it's got to be the true classic: Gwendlyn di Corci...

    She'll only set you back about $140 or so. Gotta love that Reserved List. :rolleyes:
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    That seems right. The rise of Gurmag Angler and Tasigur means discarded cards are less likely to be dead cards, although Hypnotic Specter was well on its way out before they even showed up. And of course stuff like Life from the Loam, Aether Vial, Snapcaster Mage, all make the inexorable threat of random discard a bit less likely to create a significant advantage in the early turns of the game.

    I don't think that Hypnotic Specter was ever that great against combo decks in the old days either. But perhaps it is worse now compared to historically. I do remember some high-profile Pro Tour game from when Ninth Edition was in Standard and a Hypnotic Specter came in to save the day as a flying blocker against Dragonstorm or some combo deck and bought the turn needed for the aggro player to win the game. But usually, you'd want Hypnotic Specter against control decks. Against combo, it might just not do anything.

    Hm, that could be it. I was thinking about the options at three mana and it really seems like there'd be something spicy, but I haven't really come up with much. For several years, Phyrexian Negator was a favored option, but those days are long gone. Maybe it's the three-drop spot specifically that messes this up. You can find plenty of strong two-drops, but a lot of them aren't black anyway and it's not worth running a card disadvantage spell just to get them out a turn sooner and maybe also have the mana for a one-drop. At four mana, lots of super-strong options open up, but they aren't coming down on the first turn with just Dark Ritual and they're too slow in aggro decks if you happen not to draw Dark Ritual. I've used Dark Ritual so much I'm in the habit of thinking of its versatility, boosting a four-drop or helping drop two two-drops in the same turn, but it doesn't always work out that way and it leads to deckbuilding constraints. Is it the case that you need a certain threshold of strong three-drop options to make Dark Ritual a good tempo card?

    I was looking over a bunch of three-drops and thinking, "If that ability is just too slow, maybe some newer creature would be better to rush out with Dark Ritual." But maybe nothing is quite good enough to warrant Dark Ritual...
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    So I've pored over almost all of the black three-drop creatures in the game. Perhaps it's a testament to how strong this classic card really is, but nothing is jumping out at me as much better. The other creatures that might make good first turn Ritual payloads are mostly situational. Phyrexian Negator was historically used in this way, but that was often as a sideboard card in environments different from most of what we'd expect today. It's probably just too risky. Phyrexian Crusader is robust, but it would be limited to a dedicated Infect deck, and black isn't the best color for that. Plague Spitter offers a lot of value, but I don't think the kind of deck that would exploit it would be strong in Constructed formats. Vampire Nighthawk would be fine, but the attacking power is the same as Hypnotic Specter and the payoff is lower, although it's better in combat against other creatures. Drana, Liberator of Malakir wouldn't be bad. That's the general theme, though: stuff that might be "not bad." Nothing that's definitively more exciting than Hypnotic Specter. I do think that Geralf's Messenger is probably strong enough in its own right that rushing it out early with Dark Ritual is potentially viable in competitive decks...

    But perhaps I'm just crazy.
  18. Melkor Well-Known Member

    The other problem is Delver of Secrets. It's just a better turn one option for tempo
  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In Legacy, at least, Delver of Secrets does put up hurdles for a lot of things that are borderline-competitive. I mean, if you're on the draw against it and you have Dark Ritual + Hypnotic Specter against a first-turn Delver, do you even use the Ritual to rush out the Specter? Depends on the exact details, but it doesn't look promising.

    Black creatures start getting a lot scarier at four mana, but maybe that's the point. Were powerful black creatures deliberately set above three mana to keep them from being too easy deploy on the first turn?


    Obviously part of this is just that four-mana cards are stronger than three-mana cards. I do suspect that the existence of Dark Ritual affected the design of both categories, though.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I often used Hypnotic Specter in Necropotence decks. Looking back, there was kind of a categorical difference between the roles of Hypnotic Specter in black aggro decks and in Necro decks. It's subtle and there are bound to be exceptions, but I do think there's a noticeable gap. The Necropotence-based decks that used Hypnotic Specter functioned as what I'd designate "proactive control" decks. If possible, they would play a first-turn Dark Ritual into Necropotence and then attempt to deplete the opponent's resources through card advantage and disruption. They'd use Necropotence for substantial card advantage and also use Hymn to Tourach and Hypnotic Specter to put the opponent into a position of card disadvantage. Something like Dark Banishing, Drain Life, Diabolic Edict, Serrated Arrows, etc. could be used to clear a blocker if the opponent managed to play one, and from then on the opponent was losing a random card every turn. Bad enough by itself, but in conjunction with the Necro player's hand refilling every turn, the effect was overwhelming.

    But when Necro decks shifted to more of a "Suicide Black" aggro role, Hypnotic Specter wasn't a common inclusion. And when I think about my limited experience with those decks, it makes some sense: you wanted to deploy damaging threats very quickly, and Hypnotic Specter competed with Necropotence as a card to drop first-turn off Dark Ritual. Why bother with a 2/2 3-drop when you're trying to burst the opponent down in just a few turns anyway? Now, Hypnotic Specter was used in black aggro decks, but those were predominantly older decks, not as lightning-fast as Suicide Black or even, really, Lauerpotence.

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