Prodigal Sorcerer, affectionately known as Tim from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was a rite of passage for casual players after Ice Age. The printing of another blue 3-mana pinger in Zuran Spellcaster meant most players built a counterspell-heavy deck with the two blue pingers as a wincon at some point. That was just as underpowered as you’d expect, but it seemed efficient when placed across the kitchen table from decks stuffed with Fyndhorn Elves and Benalish Hero.
That efficiency can still be yours in today’s Magic if one damage to a target is enough to get things done. Pingers offer a few nice Commander wincons, and some of these fellas cut the mustard for your Stuffy Doll or Curiosity combo. Ready to find out more? Let’s get into it!
Icatian Javelineers (Elspeth vs. Kiora) | Illustration by Michael Phillippi
Pingers are creatures that tap to do one damage to any target, all based on the Alpha template of Prodigal Sorcerer and Pirate Ship. Starting in blue and then branching out to red, this ability has shown up on lots of cards.
Lots of creatures could seem like pingers, but from an old school boomer perspective, they are not:
- Cards that damage from ETB triggers like Witty Roastmaster.
- Cards that tap for more than one damage like Pyre-Sledge Arsonist.
- Cards that require an additional cost besides tapping for the ping, whether that’s a sac effect like Bjorna, Nightfall Alchemist, energy like Aethertorch Renegade, a discard, or even an additional mana requirement like Kris Mage.
- Cards that only target players like Blisterspit Gremlin.
- Cards that don’t tap for their activated ability which usually then costs mana like Reckless Embermage.
- Cards that sacrifice themselves for the ping like Fanatical Firebrand.
- Cards that only can target creatures in combat like D’Avenant Archer.
- Cards that only target creatures or only one kind of creature like Matsu-Tribe Sniper.
These distinctions aren’t me in my “old man yelling at clouds” era. Cards that untap other cards are key to most decent pinger payoffs, so all these pinger variants don’t fit the bill. Although the original pingers were open to any target, I’ve also considered cards that target a creature or a player, or a planeswalker or player. Those might be just fine depending on your payoff.
Ready to start tapping?
Look, you don’t get a lot of pingers in white, but there’s budget pinger in Icatian Javelineers. We all get it. It throws its javelins.
Flavor win? Really? I see at least three javelins in most of the arts for this card, so why only one counter? Its Masters Edition II artwork shows the dude standing in front of a literal rack of javelins!
I guess if you really need this in white and have some proliferate cards, you can make do.
Aside from being usable only in the first main phase, Portal clones Apprentice Sorcerer, Capricious Sorcerer, and Wu Longbowman fit the classic Prodigal Sorcerer mode. The problem is that being able to ping at instant speed is important, especially given the payoffs.
This has to be a high pick in a Beta Draft or an auto-include in lower powered pirate tribal, but otherwise Pirate Ship can keep on sailing. Cue the Annie Lennox song from The Return of the King.
*sigh* Look, just don’t let the door hit ya on the way out, huh?
One more mana for an added power and toughness, flying, and the ability to go down as a morph. It doesn’t seem worth it in general, but Fledgling Mawcor is here for you if you just need a volume of pingers in blue.
The protection from red is fine and is probably great in some kind of blue pinger versus red pinger tribal deathmatch. You laugh, but I’m getting ideas.
Otherwise Suq’Ata Firewalker is just harder to cast than the next cards.
Flying! For all those times you want to attack with a pinger, right?
Thornwind Faeries is fine, but it’s also harder to cast.
#2. Rootwater Hunter + Zuran Spellcaster
Each is a functional reprint of the next card, but they’re not the original. Rootwater Hunter and Zuran Spellcaster hang here out of respect, but hey, runner-up ain’t so bad, especially when it’s to the this guy.
The Godfather of Ping. The O.G. Oft imitated, but never superseded!
The classic 3-mana pinger has yet to really be power crept, so Prodigal Sorcerer remains as relevant as it always has. Relevant within its own niches, but still!
Cuombajj Witches is a recently reprinted goodie from Arabian Nights that’s one of the rare pingers in black. Sure, you get pinged back, but you can often engineer your deck to make that incidental. The trade-off does shut off a few combo options, though.
Best Red Pingers
#15. Chandra’s Magmutt
Chandra’s Magmutt doesn’t hit creatures, which stops a lot of utility in its tracks. It comes down for two though, which can feed some synergies.
Someday something will print that will break this. Until then it’ll sit in your box of bulk commons.
A Sentinel Sliver means you can swarm for an attack then tap ‘em all to ping for lethal.
The exert part of Fervent Paincaster to damage creatures is really rough. The three power doesn’t really help offset that drawback either.
Again with the 4-drops. Look, on defense, Jeska, Warrior Adept can take down a creature with four toughness. Are you not entertained?
Fireslinger does a damage to your own face which matters less in EDH than an opponent-targetable ability like on Cuombajj Witches. That does halt some combos, but it opens up other efficiencies when you have a pinger that comes down for two instead of the usual three mana.
If only Syr Carah, the Bold were Izzet ()! If only it triggered off any effect dealing damage! That’d be a sweet tribal commander for a pinger EDH deck. It’d still likely always lose, but it would be interesting.
Is Syr Carah a better leader for your EDH burn deck than Torbran, Thane of Red Fell? Nope.
As I said to them, I like your style, but I’m not buying any of these ideas. Did Rosewater put you up to this?
The next card can hit planeswalkers. Vithian Stinger can ping once from beyond the grave, too. One of those is more valuable than the other.
The haste is super valuable here, and you could almost use Cunning Sparkmage as a combat trick. (editor’s note: I’ve taken way too much time trying and failing to come up with a snarky Curse of Echoes joke here.)
Izzet Staticaster doesn’t quite fit our criteria since it only pings creatures. I still thought you should see it given its unique set of abilities and how effective those are against token decks. If you have some untap synergies, even better!
First, great name! No notes.
Second, Rakdos Ickspitter doesn’t fit my criteria exactly, but it can damage both a player and a creature. It just always must do both.
You were fooled! You saw this Azorius () Samite card with its first healer ability and tossed it aside in the pile of abilities that mattered in the 90s, maybe. Samite Archer has another line of text that makes it a nice pinger.
An almost fully functional pinger for two mana is big game in pinger land. Razorfin Hunter is likely to find a home in a dedicated pinger deck that pretty much has to be Izzet.
Having a contained untap ability on the card takes Gelectrode even further toward the payoffs than other cards. It’s a Thermo-Alchemist that can also ping creatures, making it a great target for a Curiosity among other options.
It costs mana to ping for this one, so it violates our principles a bit. But it’s a land that’s a pinger! That might be a key for you.
I don’t know why or how, but Keldon Megaliths gets a shout-out.
I’m not sure you want this as a pinger to go after opponents because it just replaces the creature targeted. But Acorn Catapult is kind of nice as a source of continual squirrels if you target your own Toski, Bearer of Secrets.
Staff of Nin is played quite a bit in EDH, but mostly as a rock that draws a card a turn. Six mana is a lot for a painless Phyrexian Arena. If you’re running artifacts anyway, why not add a Voltaic Key and a Rings of Brighthearth to machine gun away the table?
The most played pinger in EDH, Endbringer is a good target for various colorless ramps and/or Eldrazi deck shenanigans. It costs a lot but it’s plenty tough, untaps a lot in Commander, and has a few control abilities to boot.
There isn’t enough going on in this space for a full pinger tribal deck. Most of these cards cost three and just don’t have enough of an impact in a game where players can ramp out big beaters before you can get enough damage to matter. But there are lots of fun niche uses that can add some spice to your control decks.
Although most Curious Obsession types of auras specify “combat damage,” some leave the damage type open, like Curiosity. These auras can really add up when dropped on a pinger, especially if you have some untapping going on.
Sure, putting an aura on a fragile creature is just asking for a blowout, but there are times when this kind of thing can be backbreaking. Here’s some stuff to pop onto your pingers for fun and profit, some good, some meh:
- Elder Mastery
- Helm of the Ghastlord
- Keen Sense
- Loose Lips
- Ophidian Eye
- Sigil of Sleep
Oh, and did I mention deathtouch? Deathtouch is good. Pingers like deathtouch.
Bounding Krasis plus Splinter Twin gives you infinite hasty Krasises. That’s a good combo. With a Sigil of Sleep on your pinger while you target yourself, you get as many Krasis casting triggers as you have life. That’s not a good combo. But it highlights some largely unmined territory for pingers.
There’s a janky combo space around untapping to go infinite, like with Mirran Spy with a Banishing Knack and a 0-cost artifact. There are a few versions of that with different mixes of cards. There’s also the various Grand Architect and Pili-Pala combos, or Presence of Gond and Midnight Guard. You’re just missing a few pieces to make these work with pingers for infinite.
Until then you can likely use pingers as a stopgap while you work to build them if you’re packing these kinds of combos. You’ll likely have a lot of untap effects just laying around in your deck already.
It’s easier to manage insane combos if you can make other creatures into pingers with auras and equipment. For example, the Pili-Pala combo above can kill opponents in lots of ways, but the silliest is to strap something from the list below onto a Horseshoe Crab. If nothing else these cards allow you to expand the range of pingers in your colors in case you get something awesome to work:
- Arcane Teachings
- Barbed Field
- Fire Whip
- Hermetic Study
- Hypervolt Grasp
- Lavamancer’s Skill
- Lightning Prowess
- Power of Fire
- Psionic Gift
- Quicksilver Dagger
- Viridian Longbow
- Wolfhunter’s Quiver
Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph & Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
This new Warhammer commander and the Throne of Eldraine Standard terror both increase the pinger damage to three. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell has better things to do as a commander, but that could stack nicely as one of the 99 in a Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph Izzet pinger tribal deck.
This kind of deck would be clearly worse than most other decks you could use those commanders for, but it has that kind of janky allure that a brewer like myself cannot resist!
Staff of Nin (Magic 2013) | Illustration by Dan Scott
Pingers are definitely a bit of Magic boomer fetishism. We all remember trying to make these cards work back in the day before moving on to actual good decks and synergies.
That’s still the case today to some extent. We all have these cards lying around, and cards like Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph sometimes come along to encourage us to sleeve up our pingers and try out some brews. Finding that old forgotten card with a new magical synergy is almost better than winning. Almost.
Have you found places in your 99 for a few pingers to round out part of your strategy? Which are your favorites to include in your decks? Let me know in the comments below or over on the official Draftsim Discord.
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