Looking at a Random Card: Foul Familiar
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Foul Familiar: Gatherer gives me another creature, another really old and another black card; so let’s talk about it: Firstly, I have to remind myself that this card predates damage on the stack, although I am used to look at it with this rule in mind. How much of a difference this makes, especially in a limited environment, should be obvious – being able to attack with a 3-power-creature and save it after its damage is “locked in” for a black mana and 1 life is huge. But then again, that was already almost all this card had going for it. It cannot block, and it wasn’t too impressive an attacker even by the standards of its time (especially considering that most of the small creatures which got actually played then had first strike, protection from black, or both). It offered some value as an ever-recurring threat against a creature-light, removal-heavy deck, but these decks never really existed – creature-light decks would usually win by locking down your mana (The Prison, Turbostasis, Decks with Armageddon or Jokulhaups), and/or protect themselves with a circle of protection, and/or win the attrition war with discard which would get the Familiar out of your hand without much effort. And anyway, with or without damage on the stack, Foul Familiar was never efficient enough to be of interest in constructed environments.
I used to keep it in my limited card pool for a while for two reasons: Damage went on the stack since not too long ago, and this card was a spirit which you could recast again and again, giving it great synergy with spiritcraft. When the first reason fell to the wayside again, the second just wasn’t enough for me to keep it, especially since I have access to Blinking Spirit and Lantern Spirit (BTW, check out my entry about Blinking Spirit, where I already said a lot about the self-bounce mechanic). The comparison of Foul Familiar and Lantern Spirit is especially enlightening: The Familiar is worse in nearly every way, with the sole exception of boasting a higher power. In a constructed environment, this would only make it superior if the metagame really was vulnerable to a single recurring creature, but just as I already wrote when discussing Blinking Spirit: Such an environment never existed and will very probably never exist, and even if it did, it would be no fun to play in. So Foul Familiar will, in all likeliness, forever be a dud in constructed.
In limited, it got obsolete with the loss of damage on the stack. If any 1-power-creature can trade with it, its ability becomes useless, and all that’s left is a 3/1 for 2B that cannot block – a possible inclusion in some draft decks, but nothing you’d want to put into your cube in the first place, especially since it features that potentially interesting, but effectively nearly irrelevant additional ability. The exception is an environment with spiritcraft, of course – obviously, the Familiar wasn’t designed for that, but this just shows how open-ended self-bounce on a creature is. It is also conceivable that you want it for other repeated enter or leave triggers. So it still has a possible use for deck-builders, but since its originally intended function of an unkillable, recurring threat doesn’t work anymore, it is an inelegant execution, inferior to both Lantern Spirit and Blinking Spirit (albeit in another color, obviously), but partly making up for it with interesting flavor – that life payment is convincingly black – and clearer focus, rewarding players who have a plan for its use. To recapture its original function under current rules, it would need an additional ability though, like, for example, “Whenever this becomes blocked by a creature, destroy that creature at end of combat”. In the end, it has become a bit too narrow (that’s why I don’t use it anymore in my limited pool), and thus only gets a D+ from me (Blinking Spirit got a C-).