Champions and Betrayers Cards on the Move

Last time, I took an early look of some Saviors cards that I thought would prove to be influential in the new format. I want to pick up where I left off and also talk about a favorite archetype of mine, while discussing some Champions and Betrayers cards to keep an eye on.

I’ve decided that I’m going on “Intro” strike for just this week.

That means no blabbering on about family get-togethers or other random stuff that you guys probably don’t want to hear about anyway. This week I’m jumping straight into the Magic.

Last time I did a beginning look of some Saviors cards that I thought would prove to be influential in the new format. I want to pick up there and also talk about a favorite archetype of mine and some Champions and Betrayers cards to keep an eye on.

Setting the Record Straight

The response to last week’s article in the forums was great overall except that many people seemed to think that I undervalue the Sokenzan Spellblade. Sorry guys, but I’m sticking to my guns here.

Think about it, the Spellblade is a 2/3 Bushido 1 for five mana. That’s all, he doesn’t have evasion or trample. Yes he has a pump ability that can do a lot of damage, but what good is that if you don’t have some way to get him through?

I stated last week that I think he’s insane with Mirror-Guard, Sightbender, or even Phantom Wings, but without any of those I don’t see how anyone could think he was much better than Frost Ogre. Another thing to consider is that he doesn’t do any damage at all without a considerable mana investment while Frost Ogre will do a guaranteed five points and still let you cast your spells on the following turn if he is merely trading for another fatty. I’d also like to see your face when you manage to get your guy through via one of the Blue cards mentioned above, pump all of your mana into it and then watch it get Torrent of Stoned or Yamabushi’s Flamed right into the graveyard. What a waste of a whole lot of mana that was, eh?

I agree that there are times the Spellblade will be amazing, but most of the time it is going to serve the same purpose as Frost Ogre. I also understand that people are still going to disagree with me on this, but I believe as the days go on you will start to realize that this guy isn’t as special as some of you think.

Some Updates

There really is a ton of information to go over in terms of what card values have changed with the introduction of Saviors to the environment. Some of it is even hard to put in writing since to understand it you actually have to see the cards in action.

There are however a few very key updates that I wanted to talk about in terms of Champions or Betrayers cards that have drastically changed in value. Even though I’m just scratching the surface here in terms of overall impact of the new set and the completed block as a whole, I think these are some things you really want to be aware of.

Soratami Mirror-Mage and Soratami Mindsweeper

Back in my Betrayers set review I initially said that Mindweeper was amazing and close to a bomb. I was corrected by a couple of people in the forums and realized quickly that it was a solid creature with a good ability, but definitely not a bomb.

Maybe it was just that I had some sort of foresight, however, because the card is unquestionably a bomb now!

The reasons for this are because hand size matters as well as the fact that the format is much slower now and you will win quite a number of games by just milling people out. Just last week at CMU I won six games solely by milling someone out with Mindweeper after I’d stabilized the board.

It helps too that Mindweeper is almost the size of Wall of Air and can stop most attackers effectively while getting its millstone on. Ambassador Laquatus only wished he was capable of blocking.

As far as the Mirror-Mage, I’ve happily first picked it a number of times in recent drafts and I love everything about it. Returning three lands is no longer a huge drawback since there are so many cards that let you take advantage of hand size. Hopefully I don’t have to convince you that using Mirror-Mage a few times is usually enough to win as well.

The key thing to realize here guys is that both of these cards are late game cards that are easily splashable.

You can skimp on Islands because you know that you won’t need Mirror-Mage online until the late game anyway when your opponent has exhausted all of his First Volleys and other easy ways of removing it. You can also be comforted by the fact that if you play either one of these cards and the game is anywhere near a stalemate, you should win virtually every time.

I suggest that you strongly consider taking these guys with the intent of splashing unless there is an equal on-color option in the same pack.


Kodama’s Reach vs. Sakura-Tribe Elder

The last time I wrote about this, I was flamed by tons of people in the forums because I thought that Reach was the better overall card. Since then, I’ve come to realize that both cards are excellent and serve such completely different purposes that you can’t really call one strictly better than the other.

We all know that Elder is the more streamlined card and definitely what you want when you’re playing a two-color deck or possibly just a small splash. It provides optimal acceleration and fixing at the low cost of two mana as well as a suitable chump blocker.

Reach is more of a “power fixer” in my book. It’s one mana slower, but gets that ever important extra land and also sports Arcane which is very relevant.

What am I saying though; you guys already know all of this.

My point is that I’ve watched a number of good players automatically take Elder over Reach since it’s the accepted thing to do. Realize that now that a new set is in the mix, you have to re-evaluate everything from the past if you hope to make the correct choices. There is no longer an “accepted thing” in many cases since the new format is not old enough yet.

As you’ll see next week, my new favorite archetype in CBS draft is 5color Green.

I know, real surprising right?

Nick likes a five color deck?

No way.

Last year it was 5c Trinket Mage, but this year we have even more tools for the five color mage and I’ve been fully exploiting them already. In the 5c deck, it’s very likely that Reach is a better choice for you than Elder is. There are also decks with lots of Arcane triggers where you may prefer the Reach if you don’t need to accelerate right away.

The hard thing here is that you have to make this decision in pack one and not pack three. Sometimes you’re essentially going in blind since you can’t always predict what direction the draft will go in. I don’t think either card is “better” than the other, but I do think they are both powerful and each commands a different type of respect.

So the next time you’re making your 2nd or 3rd pick and you see both Elder and Reach staring back at you, give it some thought. Don’t just automatically take one or the other, have an idea what direction you want to go in the draft and base your decision on that rather than “Oh well I know Elder is the better card so I’m taking it.”

I realize that this section has been somewhat vague, but my goal here is to get people to realize that they do have a choice in the matter and that which card you choose should be dependent on what your deck is shaping up to be rather than what the accepted correct choice is.

Azusa, Lost but Seeking

I know this is a rare, but it has been touted in the past as a piece of trash unless you’re U/G and I think its time has finally come.

With the addition of Elder Pine of Jukai to the format as well as the increase in the power of the Soratamis overall, I think Azusa is now a solid addition to most decks. It’s worth the risk of taking her over something that may be slightly better like Burr Grafter in the hope that you pick up Elder Pine or some Moonfolk.

Psychic Spear

Boy, was I wrong on this one.

I initially felt that this wouldn’t be played much and would be just another Ostracize variant that didn’t do anything. Nowadays I always want one of this card in the maindeck of any Black deck I draft.

I realize that most of you already know this, but Saviors only makes this card better since there are tons of late-game Arcane spells like a Spiraling Embers that is waiting to go to your face that are just hanging around in your opponent’s hand waiting to be knocked out by Psychic Spear.

Some other important notes on the new format would be that Fear has gotten better, since Saviors Black is not amazing and fewer people will be playing Black and able to block your Nezumi Cutthroat. Also Devouring Greed has been restored to its original power since Saviors has plenty of Spirits unlike Betrayers.

More Saviors Hits and Misses

Shape Stealer

The more I play with this guy, the more I like him.

He’s a Spirit that trades with essentially everything or at the very least buys you time so that you can set up and get your air force going. I doubt you’ll ever attack with it, but it can be quite annoying to anyone planning to win on the ground if you trade for a good creature and then just shift it back.

The one problem this guy really runs into is that something like Child of Thorns or Kodama’s Might renders him essentially useless. Other than that, a great card overall for Blue and a pretty high pick. It’s worth noting that I’d always take Shinen of Flight’s Wings over it but I think the choice between Stealer and Moonbow Illusionist is pretty close and deck dependent.

Ideas Unbound

I’m still riding the fence on this card but have had more good experiences with it than bad.

While it is inherent card advantage early in the game, you can use it to great effect later on if you have emptied your hand already. The one thing that I really like about it is that it helps you get to your better cards in the middle of the game if your deck isn’t so hot, since it’s not hard to throw away three bad cards if you’re digging to your bombs. Some other bonuses are that it’s a cheap splice vessel or Arcane trigger. I do like the card overall, but it’s not something I’m champing at the bit to play in every deck I draft it.

Thoughts in the forums anyone?

Akki Drillmaster

One of Red’s weaknesses in this block has been that it doesn’t have a large amount of good three-drops. Ronin Houndmaster is at the helm here of course, but the Drillmaster is a potentially dangerous card that most Red decks are very happy to have.

Anyone thinking about being overly aggressive will have to reconsider in the face of an active Drillmaster since you could easily throw a hasty Frost Ogre at them and change the damage race completely. Drillmaster has been at its best for me in W/R since it makes all of the utility creatures (and there are a ton) immediately online when they come out instead of playing them in the hope that they live to become active. Some good examples of this are Split-Tail Miko, Kabuto Moth, Frostwielder, Kitsune Healer, and Innocence Kami. It goes without saying that Drillmaster is also great in GR/ just because you have so many fatties that would like to start attacking as soon as possible.

Clever one thousand times over.

Death of a Thousand Stings

Go ahead and laugh, but this thing has been amazing for me so far.

If your deck is built to win the hand size war in the late-game with Soratamis or Elder Pine of Jukai or whatever other means you have, the Sting will slowly win long games and is valuable for a number of reasons. First off it can act as an infinite splice vessel for something sick like Glacial Ray, Soulless Revival, Vital Surge *gasp*, or whatever else you feel like abusing. I’ve splashed the card on multiple occasions already and been happy with the results. Of course you need the right deck setup to do this, but I’d recommend running it in any base Black deck as long as you had some way to make sure you were winning the hand size war in the late game so that you can recur it at least a couple of times.

Overall I think this is one of the sleeper cards in the set that most people will initially dismiss as trash but eventually realize is a pretty good tool in the format. If you were wondering how you could take advantage of having a bigger hand size than your opponent, this is one easy way.

Eiganjo Free-Riders

I expected most players to be rating this guy as a very high pick, but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far.

There are plenty of cheap White one-drops so that you can easily pay the upkeep cost and actually turn it to your advantage if you’re returning Kami of False Hope when you have Waxmane Baku out. I really don’t have a clue why people don’t like this card since it only costs one White and is quite a formidable flier for four mana.

My advice here is to pick this highly and be very happy about doing so because it will win you lots of games when it’s in play.

Cowed by Wisdom

This one on the other hand seems to be seeing quite a bit of play and I think it’s utter trash. It’s funny how players evaluate cards so differently when a new set is released, but I guess that’s part of what makes Magic such a great game.

Getting back to the point, I’ve played this card a few times and it did next to nothing for me. Even in a deck with Tallowisp, I still felt like it was a dead card when I searched it up and was happier to just keep it in my hand to increase hand size than to actually cast the stupid thing. I guess in a deck with lots of Soratamis or Elder Pine you could find a use for it, but overall this one is a stinker in my book and I’d try not to play it if at all possible.

Hail of Arrows

I’ve heard some claims that this card is so amazing and almost always a two-for-one if you play it right. While I don’t exactly agree with this assessment, I think overall it’s a good card. This card is everything that Second Thoughts hoped to be.

The reason for this is simply that it’s more flexible overall mana-wise and harder to play around. It is nice that it will sometimes get two for one or more, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’d rather have Moonwing Moth or Kitsune Loreweaver than this card most of the time, but it’s better than the rest of the commons.

Razorjaw Oni?

If you’re planning on casting this guy, I hope you’re not playing a lot of Black creatures.

The nice thing is that he only costs one Black, but is this really something you’re looking to splash? A 4/5 that can’t block doesn’t come too high on my list of things I’m hoping to splash. I guess this guy is best suited for a deck that is based more in another color and has a small amount of Black men and playing Black mainly for removal.

My favorite use for this card would be as a sideboard option against a Black drafter if you can somehow splash it or squeeze it in so that you can just Falter him for the whole game with it. Very tricky indeed.

Sokenzan Renegade

This card is somewhat of a pet project that I’ve tried out in U/R a few times and been very happy with. When you can guarantee that you’ll win the hand size battle, a 3/3 bushido 1 for three is quite the deal. U/R has had trouble with Blademaster and friends in the past and this guy is a better answer than even River Kaijin. I don’t think he’ll be good in any deck that can’t be sure to keep control of him, but he’s definitely an option if you can fit his needs.

Next Week..

Next week I’m planning to do an overview on how to draft the 5c Green deck in the new format and why I like it so much. I’ll be bringing decklists and also hopefully a draft walkthrough to the table. The deck is one of the most fun and also powerful archetypes you can draft in the new format so I think you’ll find it to be a worthwhile read.

Nick Eisel

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