We now know the newest Buy-a-Box Promo, the new largest black bordered
creature in Magic.
There’s always been a special honor to being the biggest creature, no
matter how bad the biggest creature was at the time. The biggest numbers
available in Magic have now officially doubled since Alpha, when
Force of Nature reigned supreme. This removes the mantle from Emrakul, the
Aeons Torn as we inch toward a natural 20/20.
We had to know Emrakul wouldn’t be the biggest forever, but it was cool
that, for a surprisingly long time, honestly, the biggest creature was also
the most powerful to put onto the battlefield and a truly epic part of the
story, but everything in Magic changes, and now that special honor is held
by Impervious Greatwurm.
Buy-a-Box promos are still new, and we’re still figuring out exactly what
kinds of cards to expect and Wizards of the Coast is figuring out the best
kinds of cards to print.
They’ve painted themselves into a tricky corner. It’s important for Magic’s
economy that these cards are desirable because they’re a tool WotC is using
to support brick and mortar stores, which are an important part of Magic’s
infrastructure because they offer a place for people to meet and play in
person that online retailers and big box stores don’t offer. So these cards
really have to matter.
At the same time, for now, they’ve decided that part of making them matter
is making them uniquely available through this promotion and making them
foil, which means the card only exists in foil, which can be a problem for
tournament players, especially in humid regions where foils often warp.
The other issue is that WotC has decided to make them Standard legal. This
means that if the card is powerful, it will show up in Standard decks,
which will force people to play with foils. A solution is to print cards at
a power level such that they won’t show up in Standard decks, but that
creates an interesting puzzle. How do you make a card that players want
that isn’t good enough for Standard?
The first attempt we saw was Firesong and Sunspeaker, a card that was
clearly designed for Brawl and Commander. This is a natural fit for the
card, and something players expected to continue. The Buy-a-Box promo would
be expected to be a card designed for singleton formats. Nexus of Fate
showed that we can’t expect that, and it was met with mixed reactions.
Now, we have a creature that will be desirable to some players just because
some players always want the biggest creature. Honestly, I think that’s a
good solution: flashy enough to hold some value, but a card that won’t be a
major player in Standard. It’s regrettable that Emrakul’s time at the top
had to come to an end, but we knew this was coming.
The question is what it means for future buy-a-box promos. There aren’t a
lot of analogues to this, and they certainly can’t just make a 17/17 next
set (right…?) For now, that’s just a problem for WotC.
For most of us, the most important immediate takeaway is that we can expect
that convoke is back as the Selesnya mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica
. If the mana and surrounding card pool push Goblin Chainwhirler out of the
format, that could be a big change for which green and white cards are good
moving forward. More speculative players might want to start taking an
interest in cards like Legion’s Landing that are extremely powerful when
you want a lot of creatures–if one toughness isn’t a huge liability.
Similarly, it might be a good idea to pull Saproling Migration out of the
bulk and into the playable commons box if you organize your cards that way.
At the same time, convoke is a mechanic you need to be really careful with.
I think it was too pushed in M14 Limited, which was largely
defined by Triplicate Spirits, and there have only been a few convoke cards
that really mattered in Constructed (off the top of my head, I’m thinking
of Chord of Calling and Stoke the Flames, and obviously, we won’t see
something like Stoke the Flames in Selesnya). It’s tricky to balance
convoke because it’s so much better in Limited, where there are usually
creatures on both sides of the table, than in Constructed, where
overextending as a core strategy can be a huge liability. So we may or may
not see convoke actually shape Standard.
The other question is what this implies about other returning mechanics
from Ravnica: City of Guilds. Personally, I really doubt WotC
would lock themselves into reusing all ten original guild mechanics, and
undoubtedly some are seen as successes and others as failures. And besides,
can you really imagine them reprinting haunt? (In before I look really
stupid.) I imagine this means we’ll see a balanced mix, reusing mechanics
where they can to try to get a roughly even split of old and new.
As for Impervious Greatwurm itself, what are we working with? Does this
have any utility?
Conceptually, there’s something to be said for a big indestructible
creature as a payoff for a go-wide strategy, in that most sweepers won’t
kill a big indestructible creature, so you’ve added to your battlefield but
diversified your threat portfolio, as it were.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to cast this on turn 5, let’s say, that
means you need to have untapped with five creatures on the battlefield and
played your fifth land on turn 5, or untapped with six creatures and only
four lands. Rather than attacking with those creatures, you tap them to
play another threat. Why, in this scenario, is a big creature better than
an anthem or overrun effect?
Look, if I had a good answer to that question, I wouldn’t have lead off
with the understanding that this card just won’t be much of a factor in
The other problem, beyond “why do we care about making this big threat when
we already have a battlefield” is “Why is this the threat we want?” How
good is a 16/16 indestructible? There are so many creatures in Standard
right now that resist dying: indestructible Gods, Rekindling Phoenix, and
eternalize creatures, for example, that players don’t lean heavily on
“destroy” effects, instead putting a heavy premium on exiling. Many of
those threats will be rotating out, but the removal suite available in
Standard will still include Settle the Wreckage, Vraska’s Contempt,
Doomfall, and Ixalan’s Binding, just as some examples. And, of course, with
no evasion, it’s not clear the opponent even realistically needs to answer
it. Ghalta, Primal Hunger frequently attacks into large battlefields and
demands that the opponent chump block with several creatures before dying
the following turn. The payoff for Impervious Greatwurm is often far less
You might be more interested in a large creature than an anthem if your
opponent has a high enough life total that a mass pump effect won’t make
your 4-6 1/1s lethal, like, if your opponent started with more than twenty
life, but I still doubt this will be the threat you want in any but the
most casual Commander settings. It has some chance in Brawl, just because
there’s a lot less competition for this kind of card, and the singleton
format might mean you’re in the market for an extra, weaker Ghalta.
More likely, if you’re thinking about this card, you’re interested in it
just for its printed power and the rules text is meaningless. As I
remember, when Krosan Cloudscraper was the biggest creature, it was used in
conjunction with Sutured Ghoul on occasion just to exile to make the Ghoul
big enough to be lethal in a single attack. Unlike Emrakul, the Aeon’s
Torn, Impervious Greatwurm can hang out in a graveyard without issue, which
allows it to be used for things that care about its base stats like The
Mimeoplasm, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a large portion of the time
this card is played, it’s played in decks where The Mimeoplasm is the
commander, because this is the best creature you can exile to add counters
to the Mimeoplasm, and that’s one of the cleaner concrete things that this
card is the absolute best in the game at.
No matter how bad a card is, if it’s the best at something, it’ll
find a home. For now, Impervious Greatwurm is the best at printed power and
toughness, and there are certainly other cards that are also just looking
to check that value.
What this means is that, contrary to a first reading of this card, the best
Impervious Greatwurm decks are extremely unlikely to care that this card
has convoke. Indestructible is also basically flavor text.
While it has a lot of power and some of the competition doesn’t stay in a
graveyard, this is unlikely to be a desirable reanimation target since it
doesn’t have evasion or any useful abilities, and it’s too expensive to use
with something like Pandemonium or Varolz, the Scar-Striped. It has to work
with cards that are literally only concerned with the printed stats, like
The Mimeoplasm and Sutured Ghoul; I believe there are likely other cards,
but they’re not coming to mind and I can’t think of a useful search term in
Ultimately, people will complain about this card because they’ll end up
owning it even though it’s not for them. A lot of casual products these
days go straight into the hands of casual players exclusively, because
they’re sold in Commander products that most competitive players don’t buy.
Competitive players do buy boxes, so they’ll end up owning Impervious
Greatwurm and it won’t look useful to them. That doesn’t mean the card has
no purpose and it doesn’t mean printing it was a mistake.
Any card with unique utility has a purpose somewhere, and you don’t even
have to look that hard to find a purpose for the biggest creature. As to
whether it’s a mistake, I ultimately think the current set of conditions
guiding Buy-a-Box promos is unsustainable. It’s too hard to make something
desirable but not for Standard because it only exists in foil, but also
Standard legal. I think something has to give. The promo needs to stop
being foil, non-foils need to be available somehow, the card needs to not
be legal in Standard, or something like that, but while all those
restrictions exist, I actually think this was a reasonably safe and clever
solution to a difficult problem, and I think it will have and hold more
value than Firesong and Sunspeaker.
One of the biggest points that will inform what direction these cards take,
I expect, is the success of Brawl. The card pool in Commander is so large
that it’s really hard to make a card that will really see play in Commander
but that isn’t good enough for Standard, even targeting the format
specifically without being as heavy handed as something like Command Tower.
I suspect that WotC’s hope is that Brawl is popular enough that they can
design these cards specifically with Brawl in mind and that that will lend
them enough value that people care about getting the promos. Personally,
the move to a lower life total in two player Brawl games took a bit of the
wind out of my sails on the format, but I’m not sure how well it’s doing
with other players, and it’s okay that a change was made that didn’t appeal
to me personally.