Friday, 19 January 2018

“In Praise Of” Part 4: Underworld Dreams, by Brother Scott

Long before Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker duelled their lightsabers atop a rock floating on a river of lava, a similar location played host to the curious sight of a blond medieval merchant trying desperately to convince an official with a red iPad to not issue them with a parking ticket.
Underworld Dreams

“Honestly officer, that sign is so confusing about where I can park my caravan for the day”

But even if you don’t want to play Underworld Dreams for the art, there are a lot of good reasons to play it in Old School, as I explain below.

The first time I saw the card Underworld Dreams was in 2003, when Mark Rosewater published on Wizards’ website an article about which cards he had selected for the 8th Edition core set to celebrate Magic’s 10th anniversary:

“While I was looking through Legends, I stumbled upon Underworld Dreams. I was around when the card was first restricted, so I remember the terror it used to be. But times have changed and cards like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune were no longer staples in every deck. Maybe, I thought, Underworld Dreams could come back. No one would expect it. It would be quite cool.”

I was immediately inspired to go out and source myself a playset of four 8th Edition Underworld Dreams (later upgraded to Legends once I got into Old School) and put together a casual Vintage-legal Underworld Dreams combo deck. This deck marked a personal Magic milestone for me as in 2004 it inspired me to purchase my first ever piece of Power to go in the deck: a Mint condition Unlimited Timetwister for £125 (sadly sold again in 2006, for £124.90 of all prices).

Fast forward a decade, and imagine my excitement when it transpired that in Old School my Underworld Dreams deck was essentially not just casual-worthy but a potential Tier 2 deck, every bit “the terror it used to be.” But why exactly is Underworld Dreams such a great card in Old School? Well…

  1. It gives you inevitability

Once a new Magic player I’m teaching has mastered the basic rules and is moving on to tactics, one of the first things I advise is to look at the board state and ask yourself “if no-one plays any more cards, who will win?” The answer to that question is the first step in working out whether you need to deal with the opponent’s threats ASAP, or whether you should be pressing for the win.

An Underworld Dreams played onto an otherwise stalemated board it puts the opponent on a clock. All of a sudden their priority becomes removing Underworld Dreams, or creating a faster clock. The pressure is on! Underworld Dreams might be a slower clock than Serra Angel or Serendib Efreet, but as we’ll see below it’s a more reliable one, and it’s a clock that you can speed up.

In addition, a cheeky side-effect of Underworld Dreams is that your opponent is now virtually checkmated on 1 life rather than 0, as once they get to 1 life only an Instant in their upkeep or draw step can stave off their doom – they won’t survive to their Main phase for a lethal Fireball, let alone their combat phase for an alpha strike.

  1. It’s hard to remove

The only frequently-played card in 93/94 that removes Underworld Dreams efficiently is Disenchant. Nevinyrral’s Disk takes out all your opponent’s stuff at the same time (and isn’t that widely played) and if they use their one Chaos Orb on one of your four Underworld Dreams, not only is something of a temporary fix but it means your other cards are safe from the Orb.

  1. It’s still hard to remove in Games 2 and 3

Chances are, your opponent doesn’t have many good sideboard options for Underworld Dreams. Most of the common sideboard options (Red/Blue Elemental Blasts, Gloom, Energy Flux etc) don’t pose any threat to Underworld Dreams. As long as your deck is built correctly with plenty of swamps (and maybe a little help from Dark Ritual) even things like Blood Moon shouldn’t spoil your party.

Circle of Protection: RedEnergy FluxGloomRed Elemental BlastCrumble

Your opponent’s sideboard is probably packed with answers…but not to Underworld Dreams!

Occasionally you may be lucky enough to have an opening hand with Dark Ritual, Underworld Dreams and Hypnotic Specter in hand. Although an un-answered Hyppie can be back-breaking, just remember how many answers there are to Hyppie compared to Underworld Dreams. A first turn Underworld Dreams can deliver a lot of damage in a slowish format like Old School and it can’t be bolted, plowed or bogged down by Maze of Ith.

  1. It doesn’t use resources after you’ve played it

Lots of other “inevitability” cards in Old School put your opponent on a clock, or give you an ever-increasing advantage, but also tie up your gameplay in the meantime. For example, Jayemdae Tome uses 4 mana per turn, Millstone 2 mana, Library of Alexandria forces you to keep hold of cards, etc. However, after the initial investment of BBB, Underworld Dreams lets you play whatever you like. Play your Juzams, Su Chi’s, The Abyss, Fireballs, etc. In the meantime Underworld Dreams grinds relentlessly on.


More than one mage was driven insane by losing to Underworld Dreams before they could mill you out.

  1. Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune ARE still staples in every deck

Playing Timetwister or Wheel of Fortune with Underworld Dreams on the table is the icing on the cake. Not only do you get 7 new cards but you also deal 7 damage at the same time. Suddenly Braingeyser becomes not just “Draw X cards” but “Choose one – Draw X cards or Deal X damage”.

Finishing your opponent off with Braingeyser, Timetwister or even Ancestral Recall is not only amusingly satisfying, but it happens more often than you’d imagine. Just don’t forget that they draw ALL the cards first, then all the Underworld Dreams triggers go on the stack, then they have a chance to play any Instants they just drew before they die – be wary of a cheeky Lightning Bolt to kill you or Swords to Plowshares that gains them a bit of life and makes your Timetwister non-lethal.

Another bonus is that Underworld Dreams acts like a “rattlesnake” deterrent to the opponent playing all of those great cards themselves. With Underworld Dreams out, if they play Ancestral Recall they have to suffer 3 damage too. With two copies of Underworld Dreams out, Ancestral Recall does 6 damage: perhaps enough to (probably foolishly) put them off playing it at all, leaving their critical cards forever un-drawn.

In conclusion

Underworld Dreams is one of my favourite cards, and I hope you are inspired to crack out some swamps and give it a try. A nice part is that there is also no single “Underworld Dreams deck” - my current deck (photo below) is a midrange build splashing red and blue for Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune, but also full of chunky creatures like Juzam Djinn and Sengir Vampire.

You can go more aggro with Mono-Black (Black Knights, Drain Life), control with Deadguy Ale (StP, Icy Manipulator), or full combo as a Trick deck. My next project might be to try pairing it with The Abyss and artifact creatures. Keep us all posted with your own ideas and successes!

In your end step, Ancestral you for 3.  My turn?  Untap, draw, Timetwister you for 7.


  1. Great post Jonas! I really like Underworld Dreams, it gives a whole new dimension to black decks. Also enjoy monoblack prison/distress as a deck where Underworld Dreams really shines.

  2. Thanks Mg! Just to be clear, the wisdom here is Brother Scott's - all I can take credit for is publishing the views of our community here :)

  3. Or all in the same turn; cast wheel of fortune and respond to it with ancestral recall targeting opponent.
    I played long ago(started again recently after many years off,) and I remember both when Legends was released and when Underworld Dreams got restricted; great post.
    Another card for perusal or musings (permusings?) is Chains of Mephistopheles. Again a deep subject matter regarding origin of name of card, and an extremely skewed game state.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mark! Glad to hear that you're back in the game. If you ever fancy writing our blog a guest post - for instance on Chains of Mephistopheles - we'd be honoured to host it here.