Chatter of the Squirrel – Gems, Part 1

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Wednesday, July 23rd – While I rarely do “set reviews” in the strictest sense, taking each card line-by-line and spouting such wisdom as “It’s cool that Mogg Fanatic and Incinerate were reprinted; those cards might find a home in aggressive Red decks,” every once in awhile a set is released that contains a higher than average density of cards with atypical applications. It seems to me like Eventide has many of this type of card.

While I rarely do “set reviews” in the strictest sense, taking each card line-by-line and spouting such wisdom as “It’s cool that Mogg Fanatic and Incinerate were reprinted; those cards might find a home in aggressive Red decks,” every once in awhile a set is released that contains a higher than average density of cards with atypical applications. As a deckbuilder, I’m known for my evaluations of cards not by some objective continuum of “power” or “quality,” but simply by whether or not they accomplish something that a given deck needs. I have made money at Grand Prix and Pro Tours playing cards like Beacon of Destruction; Svogthos, the Restless Tomb; Search for Tomorrow (in Extended); and Deranged Hermit (in Legacy), so I’m open to new ideas as long as they are part of a coherent and effective plan.

It seems to me like Eventide has many of this type of card. The common consensus among deck designers I respect is that Eventide is a comparatively weak set for Constructed. On the surface, of course, you have your lands, your Figures of Destiny, but there are very few obvious “stand-outs” in this set that are immediately going to catch $40 on the secondary market. At the same time, Eventide features a slew of new and largely-unprecedented effects that are difficult to evaluate at a glance. The goal of this “set review,” then, is not to highlight what everyone knows already, but to pinpoint certain specific role-players that might just be lurking on your periphery, waiting to be unveiled.

Endless Horizons

Everyone who has looked at spoiler of this set at least did a double-take when they saw this card, even if is applications weren’t immediately evident. Talk about an ability we’ve never seen on a single card before! The trouble, of course, is that you have to be playing a whole lot of Plains, and (especially with White’s identity being cemented as of late as “the color of small efficient creatures” and less as the “taxing” color far more suited to Parfait or Stax-style control decks) that’s not particularly easy to do. Of course, you can get plenty of value out of this card simply by removing three or so lands, marginally thinning your (say, Reveillark) deck, and gaining card advantage while ensuring you hit your land drops. The problem with that is you’re clearly not using this card to its fullest – namely, “Spells every turn from now on, as well as the land to cast them,” and especially in an environment as large as the current Standard, you frequently must maximize the spells you choose to play. Still, in any kind of control mirror, there are few spells I would rather resolve.


Tom LaPille and I had a conversation before he went to work at Wizards about what cards it would truly take to make White Weenie a good deck again – not like Kithkin, with its twenty-six lands and Stompy-like brute force, but genuine aggressive White Weenie with small, efficient guys and spells like Armageddon and Parallax Wave to seal the deal. One of the cards we wanted reared its head in a Smurf uniform in the very next set, calling itself Cursecatcher, and another was a Seal of Exhaustion variant that might have actually been too powerful. The common thread, though, was that you needed creatures that allowed you to keep or maintain tempo while increasing your board presence. Flickerwisp seems like just this type of card, offing a very efficient body while either clearing out a blocker or resetting a Comes-Into-Play ability. I’m not saying go and throw four of this guy into your White decks, but it’s worth noting that with Somnomancer, Niveous Wisps, Goldmeadow Harrier, and this guy in the format, you can build a White deck that never lets your opponents block.

Dream Fracture

This one is tricky to evaluate. Clearly the most obvious comparison is Remand, and you can view Remand as an exact copy of this spell except that with Remand your opponent always drew the same spell that he or she just cast. Put inside that framework – sometimes you want the opponent to re-draw that spell, and sometimes you don’t – my gut says that this card won’t frequently be worth the extra mana, at least as a purely tempo-oriented spell. On the other hand, it’s exceptionally good at saying “no!” to a particular problem, while providing you with additional velocity that gets you to the real goods. My verdict: you’ll play this card, but don’t try to get it to do the same things that Remand did.

Glen Elendra Archmage

While this may be one of the most awkward-to-resolve spells in recent memory – four-mana 2/2 on your main phase, for a Blue deck – this card is extremely good at accomplishing two particular tasks: forcing through a key, game-winning, Upheaval-like spell, or stopping a key, game-winning, Upheaval-like spell. It’s actually even better at the latter task because they can’t counterspell back. Basically, this card is always going to draw at least one counterspell, and if you get it to stick, you’re golden.

Idle Thoughts

I have an unnatural, unhealthy obsession with this card. Clearly, this is not your standard blue card-advantage engine…nice counterspells, for example. But this thing just screams “engine.” I tried it out in a mono-Black control deck with Raven’s Crime, which was sort of a beating, but is there not some combo deck that would just salivate over this card? Infinite rituals, draw-sevens, and this card to fuel the spaces in between (in those kinds of decks, the only time you typically need to draw cards is when your hand is empty, and this can conceivably draw a lot of cards in a given turn). You’re competing with cards like Future Sight, and it rarely seems play right now, but 3U and 2 per card is frequently more manageable than 2UUU, and Future Sight lets your opponent know exactly what is going to happen to them.


I was quite the fan of Wash Out back in the day, and this card seems almost tailored to fit the sideboard of a Merfolk deck in Standard up against anything from Elves to some kind of Kithkin strategy that might emerge. It’s hard to engineer a bigger tempo swing than this.

Wake Thrasher

My preliminary testing with this card has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a Blue-based tempo deck I’m working on for Nationals, and against that deck my opponents have had to do things like trade Colossus and Tarmogoyf for this guy. That’s a good position to be in. He’s a little like Ashenmoor Gouger in that he’s a tremendous offensive threat that has next to no potential to gain initiative, but unlike Gouger he’s going to die to all the removal in the format. On the other hand, he can get even bigger, and in concert with Cryptic Command the opponent is frequently just dead. Against Sam Black yesterday, I just straight-up soloed twenty damage with this guy and a bunch of bounce spells. Many times people aren’t even aware of how dead they are going to be until they start counting, and if you can find yourself any playable untap effects then obviously this guy is even more ridiculous.

Crumbling Ashes

Alright, it’s not hard to imagine the best way to use this card. But I have an unhealthy obsession with Necroskitter in general, and you don’t really have to go far out of your way to turn this card into The Abyss.

Raven’s Crime

You have no idea how badly I want this card to work in Standard. Smallpox isn’t a bad start, especially with the Rack, and it’s not a bad way to build a Storm count either while ensuring that the opponent can’t really interact with you. The trick is getting all those lands into your hand without dying first. In Extended it’s easy – Life from the Loam, thanks – but in Standard you have to jump through some more hoops. I’m thinking Tilling Treefolk may not actually be that bad; he helps with Pox, and you’ve got Terramorphic Expanse and Horizon Canopy potentially already, but after that it’s more difficult. Still, it has not been this easy to Mind Twist the opponent in quite some time.

Chaotic Backlash

Nice Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger. Nah, but seriously, this is a whole lot of damage.

I just said “Nah, but seriously.” Ahem. Yah, trick, yah.

Flame Jab

This card of course obviously is sheer insanity in the Pyromancer’s Swath deck, and not just for the obvious reasons. What’s great about having access to Jab is that no longer do you have to kill the opponent immediately in one fell swoop with the Swath. If you’ve got a hand that can deal, say, fourteen, now you can just go for it, because there are only twelve cards in the deck (Bloom, Rite, and Empty, minus of course the copies you have cast already) that fail to kill the opponent within two turns. This card increases the consistency of that deck immensely, and it seems completely fine in any burn-centric Red deck to smooth out the math. It’s basically the best conceivable card with which to kill a Birds of Paradise.

Heartlash Cinder

In addition to being completely ridiculous in Limited – and no, for once that’s not hyperbole – I think this guy has a future in a mono-Red Sligh-type strategy with Figures of Destiny, Intimidator Initiates, and the like. I don’t know whether this type of deck would run cards like Boggart Ram Gang – which would make this guy even more insane – but you don’t exactly have a problem pushing your men through blockers. The “well, don’t they just block it with an Elf” argument doesn’t really work, because a) you’re killing their dumb dorks and b) they’re not leaving back dudes for the hypothetical Haste creature that no one plays. Be on the lookout for this guy.

Puncture Blast

I’m sure Adrian will mention this card soon in his column on the non-free side, but this spell accomplishes so many thing that Red decks positively pine for. All of the sudden Chameleon Colossus is not particularly a problem. Your random 2/2 now no longer gets killed by any creature in their deck, because you just use this thing as an inverse-Giant-Growth. And if all’s going strappingly, just aim it at the face like you’ve been doing since ‘92.

Unwilling Recruit

What’s great about this spell is that it alleviates a common bane of Red decks – mana flood – without forcing them to play X-spells like Fireball that are hideously inefficient early. This can always be a Threaten. I don’t see this making a splash as much more than a sideboard card, but whenever you see a strict upgrade (almost) to a card that is already excellent, you have to pay attention.

Bloom Tender

This is another card that caught my eye when I saw it and made me say, “is that what this really does?” The main issue is finding something to accelerate to. But with Kitchen Finks already being a perfectly-acceptable mono-G card that gets you to 2 total mana, you’re looking at a card that can routinely be as fast an accelerant as Rofellos. I’ve taken the Tender in a lot of directions. You can play permanents like Wistful Selkie, play some defense, and generate insurmountable mana advantage culminating in spells like Warp World or Titan’s Revenge, sitting behind (for example) a Magus of the Moon the entire time. Or, you can simply use this guy as an uber-Medallion of sorts: he’s actually completely ridiculous with Evoke, giving you a good chunk of the mana back to cast other spells that might just stick around a little longer. If this guy fails to see play, I would wager that’s less because of anything inherent about the card itself and more a function of incredibly good competition.

Nettle Sentinel/Twinblade Slasher

I lump these guys together because they’re likely to go into the same type of deck, a kind of Stompy/Warrior strategy with a whole lot of Anthems. What particularly excites me is their interaction with Obsidian Battle-Axe. I’ve always thought that card was powerful, but what made it awkward (particularly in a format defined by Terrors and Counterspell) was that you had to spend a turn not affecting the board, allowing your opponent to deal with the one spell per turn you’d cast after that point (since you frequently used up the one turn they couldn’t interact with you by playing the Axe). Now, you can lead with an Elf or Bird, hit an excellent threat on turn 3 (a Perfect, an Ascetic, a Ram-Gang, or maybe just a Civic Wayfinder to set up the next turn), and then cement turn 4 with an Axe and one of these guys, crashing in for six or more damage and never giving the opponent any breathing room.

Of course, they are perfectly acceptable by themselves as well, boasting extremely large bodies for the cost.

Wickerbough Elder

For a while I didn’t realize this guy had mana in his activation cost, and I was completely blown away. Right now I can’t really gauge whether or not he’s better than the Stomphowler, and I certainly can’t do a “Wickerbough” impression nearly as well as I can stomp and/or howl. Still, I suspect that being able to sneak this guy in preemptively will prove valuable enough for numerous decks to find him worth the effort. If only I had access to this guy in Freshmaker!

Alright, that about covers it for the non-hybrid spells. Next week I’ll tackle the Hybrid possibilities, and clue you in to my preparation for Nationals. I’ve got some innovative strategies for both Limited and Constructed, and while for obvious reasons I can’t talk about everything, Madison is a wellspring of technology, and I’d be remiss if I kept it all to myself!

Sampai Nanti…