Last updated on May 4, 2023

Oversold Cemetery - Illustration by Thomas M. Baxa

Oversold Cemetery | Illustration by Thomas M. Baxa

Following 2002’s Odyssey block, which pushed graveyard interactions as a theme, Onslaught was released. The first set in its block and the last block of sets to be printed in the old card frame, Onslaught is set on the continent of Otaria in Dominaria.

This is the set that gave us fetch lands like Polluted Delta that changed MTG Constructed forever. On top of that we have tribal synergies, lands that cycle, and much more.

Today I’m going to look at everything there’s to know about the set Onslaught, what made it special and the best constructed, and money cards. Let's dive in!

Onslaught Basic Information

Polluted Delta (Onslaught) - Illustration by Rob Alexander

Polluted Delta (Onslaught) | Illustration by Rob Alexander

Set Details

Set SymbolOnslaught Set Symbol
Set CodeONS
Number of Cards350
Rarities110 commons, 110 uncommons, 110 rares, 20 basic lands
MechanicsFear, Lords, Morph, Cycling, Saobteurs, Gustcloak

Important Dates

Release DateOctober 7, 2002
Prerelease DatesSeptember 28-29, 2002

About the Set: The Story

Windswept Heath (Onslaught) - Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

Windswept Heath (Onslaught) | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

Onslaught follows the story of the Odyssey block after the events of Judgement in regard to the characters. This is the continuation of the Mirari saga and its effects on the continent of Otaria.

There’s the threat of the Cabal based in the city of Aphetto. The Cabal builds the Grand Coliseum and runs the pit fights to make money and control the region.

Notable characters relevant to the story include Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and his sister Jeska, now converted into Phage the Untouchable by Braids, Cabal Minion. Ixidor, Reality Sculptor lost his love Nivea in a fight against Phage, and that led him to create Akroma, Angel of Wrath and swear vengeance.

Set Mechanics


Returning from the Urza’s Saga block, cycling is one of the most beloved mechanics in the game. You can cast the card for its normal mana cost or discard it and draw another card by cycling it.

Cycling has since been used in Shards of Alara, Amonkhet, and Zendikar Rising. The novelty of Onslaught cycling is that the costs can be now colored as opposed to the Urza’s Saga block cycling cards. Onslaught’s printings have cycling costs that vary between and on cards like Backslide and Choking Tethers, even in the case of Akroma's Vengeance.


Fear was already present on cards like Commander Greven il-Vec and was first keyworded in Onslaught. It’s a mechanic that says that the creature can’t be blocked except by black creatures and artifact creatures. There’s also intimidate, which switches from only black creatures being able to block to creatures of the same color as the creature that has intimidate.

Today these mechanics that care about color are scarcer because WotC prefers evasion not be tied to creature color. Examples of cards that have fear in Onslaught include Gluttonous Zombie and Severed Legion.


Debuting in Onslaught was another fan-favorite mechanic, morph. Morph was designed to introduce bluffing and hidden information into the game.

The way morph works is you can cast a creature facedown as a 2/2 for three mana. You can then flip the creature by paying the morph cost.

Take Blistering Firecat as an example. You can cast it as a 7/1 trampler with haste for , but you also can cast it as a 2/2 for three. You can later pay the morph cost and hit your opponent for seven. Or trade with their 5/5 on defense, who knows.

There are 46 morph cards in Onslaught, so you won’t know exactly what’s coming if you’re playing the set.


Onslaught can be described as the first tribal set, although tribal components already existed in Alpha with the lords, and in Tempest with the sliver tribe.

There’s one tribe representing each color: clerics for white, wizards for blue, zombies in black, goblins in red, and elves for green. Some colors have secondary tribal themes like soldiers and birds in white, or beasts for green.

There are lots of generic tribal cards like Defensive Maneuvers and Shared Triumph. Mistform cards like Mistform Ultimus are a predecessor to changelings.

Onslaught Full Card List








Notable Cards

Money Cards

The cycle of Onslaught fetch lands are probably the most needed lands in Constructed and Cube. They’ll always have high demand driven by formats like Modern and Legacy.

Cover of Darkness has high demand in tribal EDH decks. Giving fear to all your creatures is very powerful since it grants evasion against most opponents. It’s almost like giving everyone flying or unblockable for just two mana.

Steely Resolve is similar, but instead of adding fear you give your creatures shroud.

Oversold Cemetery gives you card advantage every turn as long as you have four or more creatures in your graveyard.

Wheel and Deal is one of the many wheel effects that can be abused by cards like Narset, Parter of Veils and Sheoldred, Whispering One.

Enchantress's Presence is one of the many “enchantress” effects available, which allows you to draw a card whenever an enchantment is played.

Constructed Cards

Astral Slide and Lightning Rift are excellent cards to build a “cycling matters” deck. Astral Slide is a famous Constructed staple, and it was a classic to play “enter the battlefield” creatures together with cycling cards. Astral Slide has the upside of blinking morphs, which can cheat expensive creatures into play thanks to the interaction between morph and blink effects.

Goblin Piledriver was an important card in Constructed goblin tribal decks. Besides having protection against blue, Piledriver can attack for a lot of damage.

Voidmage Prodigy is a morph creature that doubles as a Counterspell, especially when there are other wizards around.

Exalted Angel was one of the most powerful creatures ever printed for many years. You’d morph it for three mana, unmorph it for four, and almost have a Baneslayer Angel years before the angel was printed. You could also attack into someone’s morph and find out to be an Exalted Angel.

Patriarch's Bidding is a massive reanimate effect when you have a tribal deck because you’ll reanimate every single card with that same type.

It may not look like much, but Ravenous Baloth was a great 4-drop. The ability to be a 4/4 on curve and have extra upside (gaining four or more life) was very strong in Constructed play.

Cards that allow you to do something after cycling like Renewed Faith, Choking Tethers, Krosan Tusker are great. Krosan Tusker is still played to this day in Pauper and EDH. You get to cycle it, draw a card, and search for a land. Or play it as a 6/5, which is less attractive.

Famous Cycles

The cycling lands allow you to cycle the land to prevent flooding. You can pay a mana from the land’s color to cycle it, and it’s easy to include a land like these in the deck that can play and cycle them.

The cycle of powerful legendary creatures all saw relevant Constructed play and are played in EDH as commanders.

The Onslaught fetch lands are among the most played cards in the game. Onslaught was the first set to introduce these famous and essential lands, and they were very scarce and expensive until they were reprinted in Khans of Tarkir.

The cycle of five lands connected to a tribe is great for their respective builds. Each land has a helpful ability to help whatever creature type they belong to.

Available Products

Onslaught Booster Packs

Onslaught Booster Pack

Onslaught is sold in 15-card booster packs, which we now know as draft boosters. There was only one kind of pack at the time, used to crack open and get the cards, trade with your friends, and play Draft and Sealed games.

Onslaught Booster Box

Onslaught Booster Box

Onslaught booster boxes contain 36 booster packs, which is still the standard when it comes to booster boxes. There are still boxes laying around to buy and there’s a good chance to crack an original fetch land, so they’re not cheap. High risk, high reward.

Onslaught Tournament Deck Pack

Onslaught Tournament Pack

The tournament deck pack is a product that contains 75 Onslaught cards comprised of 30 basic lands and 45 random cards. These were used in the Sealed deck events of the day, along with a few more 15-card boosters. Today we get six boosters, which is the norm.

Onslaught Theme Decks

Celestial Assault

Onslaught Celestial Assault

Celestial Assault is an Azorius () deck. Funnily enough, Standard now has an Azorius tribal soldier deck from The Brother’s War, but this is Azorius soldier tribal in 2002. Swarm the board with soldier creatures and buff them with soldier lords.

Bait and Switch

Onslaught Bait and Switch

Bait and Switch is a Dimir () deck focused around tribal interactions. You’ll have mixed bird and zombie tribal along with Mistform cards changing the creature types of the cards all around. Perfect Johnny tribal beginner deck.


Onslaught Devastation

Devastation is a Gruul () deck. In true Gruul fashion you’ll ramp a lot with cards like Explosive Vegetation and win with morphs and expensive big green creatures.

Ivory Doom

Onslaught Ivory Doom

Ivory Doom is an Orzhov () deck with clerics sacrifice and tribal plus lots of removal. Think early aristocrats with cleric tribal and zombies that sacrifice clerics.

Wrap Up

Wheel and Deal - Illustration by Alan Pollack

Wheel and Deal | Illustration by Alan Pollack

And that covers all that I can on Onslaught, folks! This was a very influential set with powerful cards that had in impact in Standard thanks in part to the powerful goblin strategies. Onslaught is like tribal plus morph plus cycling, and that combination of mechanics didn’t go anywhere, right?

Looking back, it was a clear error on WotC’s part not to seed the sets before and after with powerful wizards, soldiers, clerics, and the like, because the tribal theme got insulated. Odyssey had cephalids as an important creature type.

Were you playing during the original Onslaught era? Did you get your favorite staples much later? Any Commander deck from the block? Let me know in the comments below or discuss it in the Draftsim Discord.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

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