Last updated on January 9, 2023
Cabal Ritual | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
“For me, it’s a graveyard set, that was the pitch,” remembers Randy Buehler of Odyssey, the first big set he led development on. Odyssey introduced the beloved graveyard mechanic flashback and was released in October 2001. The less well-loved and now mostly mothballed “threshold” mechanic also hailed from that set.
How does it work, and are there any hidden threshold gems you could toss into your increasingly graveyard-centric Commander decks? Let’s find out!
What is Threshold in Magic?
Fledgling Dragon | Illustration by Greg Staples
Threshold is a keyword ability now errata’d to just an ability word that does something (it’s different for each card) as long as you have seven or more cards in your graveyard… for the most part (some threshold cards some extra requirements). The change is often simple enough to understand.
Werebear for example gets a bonus to power and toughness if threshold is active. But other cards change color with threshold. Some spells change effects or legal targets. Creatures gain tap abilities, or suffer drawbacks, etc.
Although some of these cards proved powerful in Constructed formats at the time, few kept pace with the overall power level of Magic cards through the decades. But these cards are often strange and fiddly. There are a few hidden gems for very specific kinds of Commander decks that no one really remembers.
Ready to dig up some treasure? It’s time for a review of every threshold card in the game, all 86 of ‘em!
White Threshold Cards Ranked
The top half dozen of these should be in more EDH decks. The bottom half dozen? There isn’t a cube low powered enough.
#18. Aven Warcraft
Aven Warcraft is overcosted even if you have threshold from turn 1 or in a High Alert deck.
#17. Wayward Angel
Wayward Angel. Ouch.
#16. Battlewise Aven
Battlewise Aven is like a Magic BoomerTM test. It’s a Phantom Monster with first strike if you have threshold but it’s not good enough anymore. Sorry.
#15. Mystic Zealot
We really did suffer through some cards back in the day, didn’t we?
#14. Mystic Visionary
Somehow there are white cards with threshold worse than Mystic Visionary. Power creep is real.
#13. Mystic Familiar | Mystic Penitent
Ahem. Let’s just move on from Mystic Familiar and Mystic Penitent, shall we?
#12. Mystic Crusader
Listen, we all know that guy who rolled up to the kitchen table in 2006 with Mystic Crusader and stuff like Soltari Monk and Order of Leitbur plus a playset of Pestilence. By “that guy” I’m of course talking about myself.
#11. Vigilant Sentry
Vigilant Sentry can… use blocker trick as Hallowed Healer?
#10. Hallowed Healer
Man, WotC used to love these healer cards. Hallowed Healer is just about the best rate you’ll get on one of these and it’s annoying against spectacle mechanics in Rakdos () decks, but that’s about it.
A boomer trick for these healer cards is to use it as a perpetual blocker by healing itself. That’s a deep cut from kitchen table 90s Magic. You’re welcome.
#9. Teroh’s Vanguard
Teroh’s Vanguard is one of (if not the) earliest flash creature that could throw down and save your creatures in combat in very specific versions of combat, but I’m not sure we need it anymore. Who the heck even knows this card exists? It’s a possible gotcha for mono white players out there, I guess.
#8. Nomad Decoy
Look, if you’re playing a Verity Circle kind of deck I think you want Nomad Decoy. Most of those decks need a lot of blue pips and while the double white on the threshold ability might be a lot it’s worth a look with all the dual lands out there.
#7. Silver Seraph
Does Silver Seraph make the cut in your angel deck? Angel players seem more likely to run 8-drops than most other players, right? A decade ago it might have made it. I’d still run Seraph for the art.
#6. Possessed Nomad
How is Possessed Nomad the least played of the “possessed cycle” from Odyssey? Vigilance? Tap to destroy a commander at the table, most likely.
#5. Reborn Hero
Reborn Hero is an important card in my Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck. Why isn’t it in yours?
#4. Kirtar’s Desire
Tell me you don’t want Kirtar’s Desire at half the cost of Pacifism in your enchantress or Sram, Senior Edificer decks. How is this card only in about a hundred decks while Pacifism is in 4000+? Sure it’s an old card with no reprints, but this is the kind of “wisdom” you’re reading stuff like this for!
#3. Divine Sacrament
I guess anthem tribal is a thing? What else are you going to do with your Soraya the Falconer from Homelands?
#2. Kirtar’s Wrath
I know wraths have come a long way, baby, but there’s probably a place for Kirtar’s Wrath.
#1. Cleansing Meditation
Cleansing Meditation is a pretty awesome reset for your triggers in Enchantress decks with the upside of smashing nasty things lurking around your EDH table.
Blue Threshold Cards Ranked
Blue was really good at putting cards in the graveyard and abusing that at the time. There were only three threshold cards for blue, maybe as a check?
#3. Cephalid Sage
Yeah, okay, Cephalid Sage has to go in your Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor tribal deck. Otherwise, not so much.
#2. Possessed Aven
All these “possessed cycle” cards are super janky, yes, But I have three(!!!) arguments for you.
One, Possessed Aven is a bird solider horror. Two, the art is literally a screaming red-eyed bird version of the Will Ferrell meme (also known as what all my class pictures from junior high look like). Three, it’s a flying 4/4 for four that can tap to kill blue things with threshold.
If the blue mages at the table are off on their bounce versus counters ratios and you can get this to stick for a bit, that’s pretty useful.
#1. Aboshan’s Desire
Aboshan’s Desire is the cheapest aura you can use to make your commander hexproof in a blue deck that likes to use the graveyard. That’s not bad, especially if you’re running an Enchantress style deck with a Bant () commander like Amareth, the Lustrous.
Black Threshold Cards Ranked
There are some really useful effects in here for graveyard shenanigans.
#19. Patriarch’s Desire
Patriarch’s Desire is in six decks on EDHREC. That’s like, six too many.
#18. Treacherous Vampire
Treacherous Vampire feels like it could have been created for a Magic comedy bit where players made up old creature cards that had really terrible drawbacks.
#17. Treacherous Werewolf
Treacherous Werewolf isn’t quite as bad as its buddy below.
#16. Dirty Wererat
Dirty Wererat isn’t even good enough for rat tribal.
#15. Childhood Horror
For folks who don’t play Horror tribal this is your PSA that Childhood Horror’s concept and art exists. On a card. Definitely not under your bed or in the closet.
Although, is that your toe sticking out from under the covers?
#14. Rancid Earth
I guess Rancid Earth doubles as a micro-wrath if you’re making enemies of the table with a land destruction deck?
#13. Cabal Inquisitor
Cabal Inquisitor feels like it’s nice in a long game of Commander. But who gets to play those games anymore? And this is the kind of card selection that prevents you from getting to those long games, anyway.
#12. Cabal Torturer
Is Minion tribal a thing? Cabal Torturer is better than the next card we’re looking at, but that’s not saying much.
#11. Boneshard Slasher | Frightcrawler
I guess Boneshard Slasher and Frightcrawler go in Horror tribal as 2-drops?
#10. Masked Gorgon
I guess you play Masked Gorgon in your Gorgon tribal deck with Damia, Sage of Stone. But that first line of text is pretty sobering, right?
#9. Toxic Stench
Toxic Stench is so. Frustrating. It can handle a Brash Taunter or a Toski, Bearer of Secrets only until you get threshold. Then it’s a Doom Blade which isn’t that bad except it feels like it’s more useful without the threshold “upgrade.”
#8. Decaying Soil
You can see how Decaying Soil would work with Syr Konrad, the Grim and cards like Viscera Seer. Blood Pet and Cathodion also want to join the party.
#7. Gloomdrifter | Infected Vermin
Will you stop reading my ideas about Magic if I admit I used to run Gloomdrifter and Infected Vermin in my Alesha, Who Smiles at Death deck?
Most other cards that want to constant mill drip also want cards in the graveyard to use. Maybe Bloodcurdler is okay in a Syr Konrad, the Grim deck? More sweet art from Odyssey that we never see because the cards don’t quite hold up.
#5. Repentant Vampire
If you’re going to pack Anowon, the Ruin Sage or Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief into whatever Vampire deck you’re running, why not Repentant Vampire? I get that all of that is a ten-years-ago rate for Vampires in the world of Cordial Vampire, but this is another card I just think players forgot exists.
#4. Cabal Initiate
A newer card from Modern Horizons, Cabal Initiate allows you to drop a lot of cards in the graveyard fast. There are only a half dozen cards at this mana value or less that let you discard as much as you want for free: Heir of Falkenrath, Olivia’s Dragoon, Oona’s Prowler, Patrol Hound, Putrid Imp, Seasoned Hallowblade, Stromkirk Condemned, Tireless Tribe, and Trained Pronghorn.
So this probably joins those if you’re trying to throw Vehicles into your graveyard for your Greasefang, Okiba Boss deck.
#3. Putrid Imp
Putrid Imp is the most efficient way to throw mass amounts of cards in your graveyard. It’s a repeatable One with Nothing and is a zombie, which is the deck you want that in. You can also reanimate it for more graveyard fun since it’s a creature. There’s a lot you can and should be doing with this card.
#2. Stitch Together
Stitch Together is a sweet rate for a reanimator card. Sleeve it up.
#1. Cabal Ritual
You want Cabal Ritual if you’re in a fast mana deck running Dark Ritual.
Red Threshold Cards Ranked
All of the red threshold cards are pretty much unplayable. Read this bit as a test of your mettle. Or as a dare. Otherwise skip to green.
#11. Kamahl’s Sledge
For seven mana? Nizzahon ranks four burn spells as worse than Kamahl’s Sledge. I love Nizzahon, but really?
Demoralize is for when Panic needs a buddy for your “people with mouths open and hands outraised” meme tribal deck. I guess.
#9. Thermal Blast
I’m really getting the sense that the Odyssey designers didn’t want people to play red damage spells.
#8. Shower of Coals | Swirling Sandstorm
Compare Shower of Coals and Swirling Sandstorm to Burn Down the House and have some respect for your Magic elders.
#7. Kamahl’s Desire
Jank brewer test of the day: if you see Kamahl’s Desire and immediately think of Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin, you may have a problem.
#6. Possessed Barbarian
Possessed Barbarian is no Possessed Aven, let me tell you.
If there’s a pinger tier list, Chainflinger has to be on the bottom.
#4. Fledgling Dragon
Only in Dragon tribal, natch. Fledgling Dragon’s art is strictly cuter than both versions of Dragon Whelp, which may be a factor in this card showing up anywhere, ever.
#3. Pardic Arsonist
Pardic Arsonist is totally going in your Balthor the Stout Barbarian tribal deck, but I think the world is waiting for a good Boros () blink commander (hint, hint, Wizards, as you look for new Boros identities besides aggro and equipment). You know you can see it with all the white blink effects and then Impact Tremors.
#2. Lightning Surge
Devil’s PlayLightning Surge is not. But there’s a place for burn spells with flashback.
Maybe you’re the kind of player who has a Numot, the Devastator mass land destruction deck. Maybe you only whip that out if an EDH Rule 0 conversation goes horribly wrong and you need a stick for negotiation. “Well, if you’re going to play Edgar Markov, I’m going to have to run this Numot deck.”
If that’s your life, you need Epicenter in that deck to bring the pain.
Green Threshold Cards Ranked
There are some classics in here that still really matter. Green’s floor for threshold cards seems much higher than the other colors.
#22. Krosan Avenger
#21. Springing Tiger
Even in cat tribal there are, like, 175 better cards than Springing Tiger.
#20. Crashing Centaur
That’s a lot of time and effort to get a 5/6 hexproof creature. Good thing no one plays board wipes ever.
#19. Stone-Tongue Basilisk
Stone-Tongue Basilisk is for use with Seton’s Desire. I guess.
#18. Seton’s Desire
Seton’s Desire is Lure the hard way for all you rampage true believers! You know if you’re still trying to make rampage work that you’re doing everything the hard way, so let’s go.
#17. Anurid Barkripper
I love the art on Anurids, and I love that they’ve been errata’d to Frogs. But Anurid Barkripper is tough to justify, especially with those two green pips.
#16. Seton’s Scout
Seton’s Scout is a 4/3 reach for two with threshold. That’s okay. And it has the same kind of gotcha vibe as Scurrid Colony because it has a weird later trigger. I know that’s still not good enough, but it catches players by surprise.
#15. Battlefield Scrounger
Look, if you’re dead set on Centaur tribal in mono green you might need Battlefield Scrounger. I guess I’d want this if my Commander table had two mill players sitting there. With my luck it would be in the last pile of milled cards before I lost.
#14. Nantuko Calmer
You already have Caustic Caterpillar but why not pay three more, including another green pip, for Nantuko Calmer.
#13. Metamorphic Wurm
Yes of course there’s wurm tribal, but Metamorphic Wurm is also an Elephant. I guess a 7/7 for five is okay in the late game in that context.
#12. Excavating Anurid
Maybe Excavating Anurid is the overcosted card advantage you need in your Frog tribal deck?
#11. Possessed Centaur
I guess Possessed Centaur counts as removal in your Centaur tribal deck? Players at your Commander table are playing green, right, so maybe even outside of the Centaur deck.
I don’t care what you say, I play Chlorophant in my mono green counters deck. You know you have one too.
#9. Krosan Beast
Krosan Beast was the very first Squirrel! If you’re in Squirrel tribal you gotta play the O.G.
#8. Nantuko Blightcutter
Nantuko Blightcutter isn’t the worst thing in your Grist, the Hunger Tide Insect tribal deck. Lots of players at the EDH table are playing black.
#7. Centaur Chieftain
If you absolutely need another weaker and more fiddly Overrun variant in green then there’s Centaur Chieftain?
#6. Nimble Mongoose
A powerhouse 20 years ago in decks that stacked the graveyard with cards like Careful Study, a 3/3 with shroud for one is no joke. Raphael Levy’s deck was the most famous of many in this archetype back in the day. These days hexproof creatures serve a similar function in a Slippery Bogle deck in Modern, but you can’t target your shrouded Nimble Mongoose and suit them up like you can Bogle.
#5. Grizzly Fate
Come on! Grizzly Fate is a sneakier and better pun than Werebear and Professor of Zoomancy, both of which you’re also running in your Bear tribal decks. And the flashback on this really helps when you need some tokens.
Werebear was a big part of Nimble Mongoose back in the day. Now it’s a good mana dork, especially for Bear, Druid, or Human tribal. But it’s unforgivable that they erased the worst (best!) pun in Magic’s history with its reprint in Eternal Masters.
Dads with jokes will not forget. And we will not forgive.
#3. Nut Collector
Nut Collector is the nuts in Squirrel tribal.
#2. Krosan Restorer
Krosan Restorer enables just as many combos as you imagine.
#1. Far Wanderings
Far Wanderings is either a lot better or a bit worse than Kodama’s Reach depending on threshold. If you want green ramp, you want this.
Multicolored Threshold Cards Ranked
#2. Mystic Enforcer
Mystic Enforcer is for when you want to play the Pestilence decks on hard mode.
#1. Hunting Grounds
If you can draw cards or tutor up creatures Hunting Grounds is kinda busted. Let’s say you’ve got a Fauna Shaman and one of these in play. That’s just a good time for everyone, isn’t it?
Colorless Threshold Cards Ranked
Most of these are the weird threshold pain lands. One of these is great, the rest are just for boomer nostalgia.
#7. Otarian Juggernaut
I have a lot of Odyssey cards at home. But I’ll be honest, I had no idea Otarian Juggernaut was a card until writing this. How is this a rare when Juggernaut was always uncommon? Can you imagine ripping open a booster and seeing this staring back at you as your rare when your buddy just pulled Upheaval?
#6. Nomad Stadium
#5. Centaur Garden
Stop hitting yourself in the face, Centaur tribal player.
#4. Cabal Pit
Cabal Pit seems decent in decks where you need the loss of life, like Vilis, Broker of Blood or Strefan, Maurer Progenitor.
#3. Barbarian Ring
All of the threshold pain lands are hard to justify. Even though a land you can sac to do two to the face made Ramunap Ruins ban-able in its Standard that’s not quite enough damage for Commander. Still, by all means toss Barbarian Ring into your Kari Zev, Skyship Raider deck and go if you think it’s fast enough.
#2. Nantuko Monastery
Compare the rate on Nantuko Monastery to the Forgotten Realms manlands and it comes out decent, I think.
#1. Cephalid Coliseum
Cephalid Coliseum is as big a loot effect as you’ll get, and that’s more than worth the damage for a lot of decks. The kind of graveyard or spellslinger decks that wants this can usually sac it right away anyway.
Best Threshold Payoffs
The reason to explore some of these threshold cards (aside from just grabbing wacky cards like the “possessed” cycle to do things in a color that you usually can’t and amaze your friends and neighbors with your hipster-boomer chops along the way) is to combine these graveyard-oriented cards with currently popular commanders that care about the graveyard.
Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver, Kess, Dissident Mage, and Osgir, the Reconstructor are five of the top thirty you want to fill your graveyard.
Kenrith, the Returned King wouldn’t mind it.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, Breya, Etherium Shaper, and Teysa Karlov just fill your graveyard quickly based on their play patterns.
Commander creatures create complicated board states. Threshold cards add complexity that you can take advantage of if you’re one of the only players at the table who’s used to how the cards work because they can change as graveyards grow and then are hit with Bojuka Bog and shrink.
Threshold vs. Delirium
Delirium has a kind of similarity to threshold in that it changes the text of a spell or creature based on the state of a graveyard or graveyards. Dragon’s Rage Channeler on the delirium side and Nimble Mongoose on the threshold side each become bigger creatures when their ability condition is met.
But the key difference is that delirium cares about card types, not just the numbers of cards. I don’t have delirium if I have seven lands in the graveyard, but I do have threshold. If I have an Ancient Den plus an instant and a sorcery in my graveyard, I have delirium but not threshold.
Does Threshold Check on Activation or on Resolution? Or Both?
Threshold checks on resolution for spells, activation for activated abilities, and at each step during combat or game phase where it might be relevant.
Let’s say I cast Cabal Ritual with seven cards in it for threshold. If an opponent does something to reduce the number of cards in my graveyard in response like casting Cling to Dust, that effect resolves first. By the time my Ritual resolved it only gives me the three mana instead of five unless I find another way to put cards in my graveyard before then. Like with a Wild Mongrel activation. Keep in mind that while the Ritual is resolving its own card does not count as being in the graveyard while threshold is being checked, and so it can’t count as the seventh card I’d need while it’s being cast.
For activated abilities, let’s say I want to use Possessed Centaur to destroy your Llanowar Elves. I can only tap it if threshold is met, and then the resolution of the ability goes on the stack. But just as destroying the Elves after they tap for mana doesn’t remove the mana they create in that moment, disrupting threshold after the “destroy” ability from the Centaur is on the stack doesn’t stop that effect Threshold is checked to see if I can use the tap ability, which only exists on the card if the condition is met. After that the effect is independent of the status of the Centaur that created the effect.
For creatures with phases and steps, let’s say I have Mystic Penitent and only six cards in my graveyard. You cast Hurly-Burly and choose the first mode. In response I cast Consider and fill my graveyard to threshold. My Penitent now flies, and the Hurly-Burly doesn’t affect it. Plus it now has two toughness.
The same kind of thing could happen with combat tricks or damage. If my Penitent attacks without threshold and you block with Pale Bears then I cast Consider to hit threshold I’m already counted as being blocked, so my newfound flying won’t help, but my stats buff means we’re both 2/2 and kill each other.
In terms of phases, I need to do something to reduce my graveyard if I only have Repentant Vampire and Dystopia in play so that I don’t have threshold on my opponent’s end step, or I’ll have to sacrifice my Vampire.
What’s “Reverse Threshold”?
Reverse threshold is an unofficial term for mechanics that check opponents’ graveyards. The first of these was Jace’s Phantasm, but these effects were memorably used in the Rogues deck after Zendikar Rising, which used cards with reverse threshold like Drown in the Loch and Thieves’ Guild Enforcer alongside cards that milled opponents.
Childhood Horror | Illustration by Larry Elmore
Any contemporary Commander deck that’s interested in putting cards in the graveyard should take a look at these threshold cards. Most won’t be worth the trouble, but a few might just be a bit of buried treasure depending on your deck.
What do you think of these threshold cards? Do you disagree with any of my ratings? Let me know in the comments down below or pop over to Draftsim’s Twitter to yell at us.
That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: