Nature Abhors a Trinket: The Reclamation Sage Story
Green rarely kills creatures, so it was given power over the two most frequent nonland permanent types: artifacts and enchantments. But green is also the color that uses creatures as its main tool, so that these two elements would eventually collide feels only… natural.
It seems strange to think that we had to wait ten years, or until Eighth Edition, for Naturalize to come and match Disenchant's power directly. But even if Limited Edition Alpha had nothing in green that destroyed artifacts, there was Tranquility for enchantments, so green's mighty annoyance over noncreature permanents was at least partially established since the beginning (there were also several land destruction spells in green at that point). Over the years, though, the goal became channeling green's noncreature permanent hate through its most beloved of permanents, creature, by giving such effects some legs. Drop a creature on the battlefield, kill an artifact and/or an enchantment is a process that involved a lengthy series of experimental steps and had one of its most glaring culminations in a little Elf Shaman that was released in 2014 and felt a long time coming.
It didn't stop there, though. Reclamation Sage is still a staple (currently featured in present-day Standard), but there's more than one way to skin a cat – or dismantle an artifact. For the purpose of this overview, we'll only look at creatures that are able to kill noncreature permanents right away, employing just mana, without further requirements – which means no Glissa Sunseeker, Trygon Predator or Nullmage Shepherd. We also disregard very specialized fringe cases like Marshdrinker Giant or Setessan Starbreaker.
Uktabi Orangutan (Visions, 1997)
And this is the start of the voyage. Now entirely obsoleted by the titular card of this article, this Ape was famously featured in Brian Selden's 1998 World Championship winner RecSur list, as killing an artifact through a creature's ETB trigger is the perfect setup for recursion via Recurring Nightmare – and in many other ways. The NSFW background art with the two monkeys having fun with each other was particularly notorious and prevented any reprint past Sixth Edition.
Woodripper (Nemesis, 2000)
For years, the Orangutan was the go-to artifact destroyer, and Woodripper didn't really change that status, but it's worth a mention because it's able to kill three artifacts for eight mana, even if that means losing your sturdy beater on your next upkeep. There's a reason this never became a classic.
Verduran Emissary (Invasion, 2000)
I think in the mind of Verduran Emissary's designer, the idea was to have a marginally better Uktabi Orangutan whenever you don't need to kill any artifact, but you still get the option to do it by kicking it. The cost at that point becomes too steep, though, and it even requires a second color. The artwork that looks taken from a third-rate superhero comic book doesn't help matters.
Thornscape Battlemage (Planeshift, 2001)
The Battlemage cycle used kicker with allied colors to lend its creatures some degree of flexibility. Thornscape Battlemage is better than Verduran Emissary because it only requires one more mana as a payment for its artifact killing, this time declined in white, while the red kicker provides a nice Shock. It's not exactly a landmark, and the non-kicked creature is just a green Gray Ogre, but it saw some play, mostly in virtue of the damage-dealing ability.
Nantuko Vigilante (Legions, 2003)
The conception of morph gave the designers a new type of trigger, and this Insect exploits it to hate, for the first time on a creature, both artifacts and enchantments. The whole routine costs five mana, albeit divided between two turns, and it's clumsy to recur via bouncing, impossible via graveyard reanimation or flickering. But at least the body left behind in the process makes for a more efficient beater, due to the higher power.
Viridian Shaman (Mirrodin, 2003)
Functional reprint of Uktabi Orangutan with better, safer art, and more relevant creature types. Also, it's Modern-legal, although at the time of its release, Modern wasn't a thing yet.
Viridian Zealot (Darksteel, 2004)
Back to targeting both types and with a new concept, activated sacrifice. Torpor Orb wouldn't exist for another seven years, but this mechanic would be the key to fight it, whereas creatures with ETB triggers would be helpless against it.
Indrik Stomphowler (Dissension, 2006)
The next step to get both artifact and enchantment as a targeting option without losing your creature is to increase the casting cost. At the same time, the body becomes fattie-level for the first time. Five unsplittable mana don't allow for a swift answer in the early going, especially in an era when Mirrodin artifacts were still rampant, but Indrik Stomphowler is not a bad card by all means.
Harmonic Sliver (Time Spiral, 2006)
An important milestone, because this is essentially an improved Uktabi Orangutan finally capable of handling enchantments as well. To get there, it took a white mana requirement (as white was already familiar with anti-enchantment tech like Cloudchaser Eagle) and a body reduced to a bare minimum. On the bright side, the Sliver mechanic means your second Harmonic Sliver will trigger twice, provided the first one is still around.
Woodfall Primus (Shadowmoor, 2008)
The first true heavyweight in this series. A large body with offensive capabilities enhanced by trample, the ability to target anything that's not a creature (included the then brand new planeswalker type), and built-in recursion. A prime target for cheating-into-play shenanigans, as a silver-bullet-plus-finisher package deal.
Wickerbough Elder (Eventide, 2008)
Another Treefolk from the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block. Deceptively clunky, it's the perfect solution to steer clear from ETB triggers while also avoiding sacrificing your creature. Granted, you initially pay four mana for a 3/3, which is Hill Giant level of curve mediocrity; but then you have a loaded bullet waiting to shoot down any hostile artifact or enchantment, while at the same time boosting your critter. And you can even recharge it if you pack some -1/-1 counter manipulation. A great common that's been unsurprisingly heavily played in Pauper.
Qasali Pridemage (Alara Reborn, 2009)
Viridian Zealot's self-sacrifice gets revisited with a better body, a reduced activation cost with no color requirements, and the always welcome bonus of exalted, which means this two-mana Cat is able to attack as a 3/3 while waiting for a worthy target. Of course, white is once again needed to broker such sweet deal. Still one of the most popular cards in this list, and Torpor Orb-proof.
Vithian Renegades (Alara Reborn, 2009)
Functional reprint of Uktabi Orangutan with one point of power more in exchange for a red requirement. Coming in the same set as Qasali Pridemage didn't do good for its street cred, but it was at the time a decent way to kill artifacts as an ETB trigger while keeping a relevant beater around in aggressive decks.
Acidic Slime (Magic 2010, 2009)
Of course, the same year, this came out. Acidic Slime may cost five mana, but it kills almost anything, including non-evasive creatures via trading as a blocker. Planeswalkers are its weak spot, but other than that, it's a green timeless classic.
Mold Shambler (Zendikar, 2009)
This one for six mana kills planeswalkers, too, but it's a Hill Giant otherwise. Entirely forgotten.
Terastodon (Worldwake, 2010)
Woodfall Primus's first real rival in the big league. Same CMC and larger body, though it lacks trample. The main attractiveness is blowing up three targets at once, and the option to turn your least useful permanents into 3/3s makes for some strong tactical value. This Elephant's skill set is truly unique and has not gone out of fashion yet.
Viridian Corrupter (Mirrodin Besieged, 2011)
Uktabi Orangutan (or Viridian Shaman) with infect. Double green prevents splashing for it, but it was mostly a required utility player in SOM block with no real ambitions of being played beyond that.
Sylvan Primordial (Gatecrash, 2013)
The third member of Woodfall Primus and Terastodon's league of green haters. Same target versatility, slightly lesser cost; the body is more defensive compared to its two predecessors, especially thanks to reach. The ramp angle isn't particularly relevant in regular formats, but it's a boon in multiplayer, which lead to its banning in Commander.
Bane of Progress (Commander 2013)
Some would say it was about time for green's artifact/enchantment hate-on-a-stick to graduate from spot removal to mass removal, Tranquility- and Creeping Corrosion-style (or Fracturing Gust, more appropriately). The body is unimpressive, even factoring the bonus counters, but this was just meant as something to fetch as an emergency valve to fix degenerate board statuses in one fell swoop. Too bad it's not legal in Modern.
Nessian Demolok (Born of the Gods, 2014)
This is probably the most obscure card in this list. And it might not even entirely belong on it, because tribute does qualify as a further requirement, and there's no way the opponent will let you target a crucial permanent rather than just give you a vanilla 6/6. Pretty awful card.
Reclamation Sage (Magic 2015, 2014)
And there it is. Simple and beautiful, even with that missing point of toughness and the less attractive artwork of the regular version.
Ainok Survivalist (Dragons of Tarkir, 2015)
A direct descendent of Nantuko Vigilante, it's in fact almost exactly the same, five mana to get you a 3/2 and kill an artifact or enchantment, with the only difference that this time you can choose to pay only two mana and merely obtain a 2/1 instead, which might be useful in a pinch but you'll very rarely want to do. It's also worse than the Vigilante if you have a way to turn it face up without paying the megamorph cost.
Caustic Caterpillar (Magic Origins, 2015)
The legacy of Viridian Zealot lives on. In Insect form, it loses one point of power to reduce its casting cost. Being a one-drop is not something to sneeze at, but certainly the usefulness of such a little dude on the board becomes limited. It's basically just a Naturalize that the opponent can ping away.
Conclave Naturalists (Magic Origins, 2015)
Functional reprint of Indrik Stomphowler, with prettified art and creature type. And the trigger is not mandatory anymore, so this is actually strictly better in all regards.
World Breaker (Oath the Gatewatch, 2016)
Leave it to the only Eldrazi in the list to be the lone exiler. I know this is technically not a green card, but it still requires green mana. The blueprint seems to be Sylvan Primordial, providing a big butt with reach while hitting something. In pure Eldrazi fashion, the trigger is not an ETB, it's linked to the casting, so it happens even if your World Breaker gets countered (Stifle effects aside), as long as you're hardcasting it. The recursion is also a very powerful ability. Most green Tron decks play at least one copy of it.
Manglehorn (Amonkhet, 2017)
A strictly better Uktabi Orangutan/Viridian Shaman with additional artifact hosing. In a world where Reclamation Sage exists, it wasn't going to see play once it left Standard (it wasn't that popular during its time either), but it's a nice design.
Qasali Slingers (Commander 2017)
A sort of Indrik Stomphowler for Cat tribal decks mixed with Sylvan Primordial's body setup and Harmonic Sliver's repeated effect. Cool, but mostly an oddity, considering it's not even Modern-legal.
Thrashing Brontodon (Rivals of Ixalan, 2018)
The state of the art in anti-Torpor Orb tech. The key is the fact that for three mana you're given a 3/4, which is already above the curve. And the sacrifice requires one generic mana, like Qasali Pridemage. Intensively played in Standard.
Zacama, Primal Calamity (Rivals of Ixalan, 2018)
All right, I would have been remiss if I didn't mention that one of Zacama's activation is an artifact/enchantment kill. Not the most practical way to achieve that goal, but it's there.
Knight of Autumn (Guilds of Ravnica, 2018)
If not for the white requirement, Knight of Autumn could be considered a strictly better Reclamation Sage. It's one hell of a creature, anyway, with a triplet of modes, all useful: above-the-curve beatdown, burn prevention, silver bullet. The future of the anti-artifact/enchantment ETB triggers is now.
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