How Good is Cryptolith Rite in Magic the Gathering?

When I first saw Cryptolith Rite, my first thought was that this Magic the Gathering card was too good to be true. When I read the comments that people were leaving about it, my thinking was confirmed. Turning all of your creatures into Birds of Paradise with just a two-mana Enchantment seemed pretty broken to me. There was a lot of talk of turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and being able to abuse the Scion tokens from Battle for Zendikar.

The one major problem with this card, however, is that it’s extremely bad to draw multiple copies in your hand. In Commander, you don’t have to worry about that, since you’re only able to ever play one copy anyway. Still, whether additional copies become a dead draw or not, the power of this card couldn’t be underestimated. With enough creature tokens on board, you can have all the mana you could ever want.

Many players called Cryptolith Rite a “win more” sort of card. While the power level of this card was undeniable at the time, it was hard to say just how much it will impact Standard. In fact, Cryptolith Rite would impact Standard, but not in the way many people expected. While the occasional Green/Black deck running some Eldrazi creatures would play this card, the deck that made the most out of the Rite was Golgari Aristocrats.

Crypolith Rite Magic the Gathering

Cryptolith Rite in Golgari Aristocrats

Golgari Aristocrats was a deck that ran tons of cheap creatures, none costing more than three mana to cast. Indeed, there was a card that created Scion tokens in Catacomb Sifter, which could be not only sacrificed for generic mana, but also be tapped with Cryptolith Rite’s ability. The deck played Collected Company, which allowed you to put up to two creatures into play at instant speed. So, this deck simply would revolve around making lots of mana to cast its creatures, then win on the combo of Nantuko Husk sacrificing creatures and Zulaport Cutthroat draining your opponent (gaining you one life while each opponent loses one life).

The Golgari Aristocrat deck also had a lot of consistency. Not only did it run Elvish Visionary to draw you cards, but it also ran two powerful cards in Duskwatch Recruiter and Liliana, Heretical Healer. The Recruiter let you pay three mana (2 generic and 1 Green) to sift through the top three cards of your deck and reveal a creature card from among them and put it into your hand. But, the Recruiter could also transform into a 3/3 that makes creature spells you cast cost one less generic mana.

Liliana, Heretical Healer is pretty much a Liliana planeswalker in disguise, as she transforms as soon as a nontoken creature you control dies, which happens a lot in this deck. Along with the planeswalker Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, you also get a 2/2 Zombie token along with her. While Defiant Necromancer is far from being among the most busted of Liliana Planeswalkers, she’s very good in this particular deck. Her loyalty abilities are very useful in a deck full of cheap creatures, and her plus-two loyalty ability for each player to discard a card doesn’t really hurt you because her minus-X ability will likely just get whatever one or two drop you discarded on the next turn anyway.

Thanks to having all these value engines in the deck, the three copies of Cryptolith Rite make it so you can produce mana at any astonishing rate. If you drew an extra copy, it could simply be fodder for Liliana’s discard ability or serve as backup in case your copy on the field gets destroyed. Being a low-to-the-ground deck that could outpace many other decks, this Golgari Aristocrats deck thrived between April and May 2016 before the deck morphed into four-color Cryptolith Rite, which added White for Eldrazi Displacer and Blue for Reflector Mage. Thanks to Cryptolith Rite’s instant mana dorks offering mana of any color, this wasn’t a stretch at all!

Unfortunately after July 2016, the deck basically disappeared as other decks moved to the forefront. But, for three months, Cryptolith Rite was a key component of a top 4 Standard deck. Sadly, after that, it never did much competitively. It never even cracked Modern in any top-tier decks. Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of this incredible Enchantment

Cryptolith Rite as a Top 25 Green Enchantment in EDH (Commander)

In EDH, Cryptolith Rite is busted in token decks such as those led by Emmara, Soul of Accord, Xyris, the Writhing Storm, Rhys the Redeemed, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Slimefoot, the Stowaway and more. Interestingly, the one type of deck you’d think would appreciate this level of mana fixing, five-color decks, don’t really seem to want this card.

In any case, mana fixing is so important in Commander that you can end up losing games just by not getting enough of one color. So, in any two or three color deck that can spit out tokens at an alarming rate, and also plays Green cards, you have to at least consider Cryptolith Rite. As its original Shadows Over Innistrad printing, plus its promo, are the only available version of this card, it’s become a $10 USD card over the years. It’s been as high as $15 a copy as it was in mid-2022.

While this Enchantment card has an inherently powerful ability, there are ways to do away with Cryptolith fairly easily. Plenty of Enchantment hate exists in today’s Magic, especially in Modern or Pioneer, the only non-Commander formats it would continue to be reasonably played in 2022. Still, this is a sweet card and having played with it in my Rhys the Redeemed decks of the past, I was certainly right to be as high on this card as I was.

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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