My suitcase sits here next to me, packed for the LA plane. Still no real idea what I’m running in Hollywood, but since when has that gotten in anyone’s way? Blasted Fae, stupid Swans. Standard has always been my worst format, and I feel about as clueless now as I did a month ago when I started testing in earnest. Typically I can blame time, but I’ve been playing more Magic than I have in months. Has my time passed? Had it ever really arrived in the first place?
Hollywood will be my last Pro Tour – at least for the foreseeable future – and though I’ll have U.S. Nationals this summer, and hopefully Grand Prix: Indianapolis, this really does mark my last big competition for at least a year. Yep, even though Worlds will be in Memphis this year, it will sorely lack a Chatter. My Luce placement in Malaysia has been confirmed. I’ll be working at the Center for Independent Journalism, a community development and research organization that allows me to pursue basically every one of my interests simultaneously. The consequence of that, sadly, is a notable absence of off-hours, and the weeks of preparation that PTs require (coupled with potential Visa complications that I’d rather avoid worrying about) are probably an unattainable luxury. Still, the entire situation lends itself to self-reflection, and I’m left wondering what my place in the Pro Tour world really is.
Incidentally, does anyone know much about the Magic scene in KL?
My preparation for this PT hasn’t exclusively revolved around sixty-card decks, of course. There’s always the Team Draft scene, and so of course I’ve had to brush up on my Shadowmoor. I feel like I understand the format very well even though I absolutely hated it at first, and I can’t stop signing up for Limited events. My local FNMs have been either Draft or Sealed Deck, and I’ve won my fair share of foil Pendelhavens.
I want to talk about undervalued cards both in Draft and in Sealed Deck. About a month or so after a new set comes out, some author always writes one of these types of articles, and I know that thematically I’m not presenting anything especially new. I think this kind of analysis is among the most useful for understanding a particular format, though, because it allows you to get a leg up on the competition and capitalize on their being on the trailing edge of the tech curve. Moreover, independent of the analysis of the actual cards themselves, often getting a sense of why certain spells are either inflated or deflated in their importance can provide insight into the nature of a format, and of what people do or do not yet understand. It’s somewhat valuable once a set comes out to sit down and analyze whether an individual card is good or not, but anyone can do that without having played in a single draft. “Removal: solid. Big flier: awesome. Six mana 4/3: not so much.” Nice insight. Those types of articles – really, those types of experiences – frame a draft format’s initial climate. From there, though, the next level of analysis becomes all about taking the cards that aren’t immediately obvious as bombs and deriving maximum value from them before everybody else catches up. That’s exactly what this article attempts to do. It’s also, incidentally, why I feel like I’ve always done better at MTGO-free triple-base-set draft Pro Tours but (as in KL) fall short once the format has been explored more thoroughly. So I’m playing to my skillset here.
With the rationale out of the way, let’s chatter:
While I initially rated this guy as “playable but unexciting,” I now view him as central to almost any Blue-based deck’s arsenal. I also choose to lead with him because his value reflects several essential truths about the format. The first is that you have got to have ways of dealing with the God enchantments, or you’re going to lose to them time and time again. Problem is, removal is scarce, and it’s awkward to maindeck enchantment removal for cards that your opponent may or may not have in his or her deck. It’s the age-old problem: if he has the threat and you don’t have the answer, you lose. If you have the answer and he doesn’t have the threat, you’re minus one card. If he has the threat and you have the answer, you haven’t really proactively accomplished anything, you’re just back to square one. This guy prevents you from having to run awkward do-nothings in your maindeck, and can completely and utterly turn the tide of a combat. All of the sudden your opponent’s 4/4 Lifelink Evasion guy got blocked by a Tattermunge Duo and 0-for-2’d him. Awkward. The Prismwake also makes your cycle of hybrid 3/3s marginally better, can power up your scarecrows, and is generally an incredibly useful sixth man in a grand variety of situations. I would definitely start taking this man higher.
Speaking of the God enchantments…
Initially, I didn’t understand this spell, either. I mean, five mana for an enchantment? Then it became evident how good the enchantment cycle was, and I lumped this in with the rest. But I noticed a trend. Every time I was up against a player with a R/G permanent out, I kept saying to myself, “I hope he doesn’t have the Runes, I hope he doesn’t have the Runes.” Whenever he had the Runes, I tended to lose. Then I started drafting Red and began to notice a similar trend on my opponent’s side of the table whenever I was holding it. This card and Tattermunge Duo go together like OJ Simpson and criminal activity, and don’t even get me started on a Scuzzback Marauders. It’s even fine if all you’re doing is granting double-strike, because that’s usually still around +3 or +4 in this format with the plus of never dying in combat. If you’re R/G, do not let this card lap, and certainly don’t take marginal guys like Wildslayer Elves over it.
To continue the theme of isolating individual cards in a cycle, I highlight this guy to demonstrate that even cards with identically-templated abilities aren’t always created equal. For one thing, whereas many of the other God enchantments grand some form of evasion, the B/U one does not – but it comes with a very powerful, game-swinging ability attached. Thus it’s of utmost importance to put it either on an evasive critter or a creature (such as the Rootcutters) that will be the largest guy on the table when he starts attacking. Furthermore, Green creatures tend to be the biggest blockers, and so the “can’t be blocked” ability offers more marginal utility than, say, “can’t be blocked by Red creatures,” as Red’s not known for its array of high-toughness defensive powerhouses (neither is Blue, to be fair, but Blue is also the color most likely to be running the Wingrattle Scarecrow, which seemed like it was designed explicitly to stop the Hill Giant cycle).
This applies principally to Sealed Deck, since I’m not too excited about the prospect of spending six mana to remove a pair of 1/1 counters in that much-faster format of Shadowmoor Draft. Shadowmoor Sealed, by contrast, is an extremely slow format, and furthermore Chainbreaker’s going to have plenty of opportunities to remove -1/-1 counters from other creatures besides himself (as Sealed is the home of more big dumb monsters upon which counters are more likely to stick around). He’s also an optimal target for an early Fate Transfer, combining early removal with an easier-to-cast Watchwolf. Perhaps most importantly, though, he fills my favorite role for a two-mana card in Sealed Deck: a speed bump who is never useless at any point in the game. People always tell me that I undervalue mana curve in Sealed, that I never play dorky 2/1s, and that I’m going to get blown away when they “curve me out.” Yet that never happens, because my decks are packed with guys like Chainbreaker. When it’s clear that my opponent’s a doofus, I just throw the Breaker in front of his Sickle Ripper or Somnomancer or Medicine Runner or whatever and trade, counting on my superior card quality to win the long game. But on turn 6, when I topdeck Big Barney Breaks, I’m the one neutralizing all my opponent’s Scars and Cultbrand Cinders and Wither effects and Gnarled Effigies while his X/1s are falling victim to my Scars, Cultbrand Cinders, Wither effects, and Gnarled Effigies. It’s a nice feeling, let me tell you.
While we’re talking about Sealed…
Is not only a perfectly reasonable maindeck card, but will probably wind up being an all-star. Your average Sealed Deck probably plays two or three Scarecrows and one more random artifact – a Trip Noose, an Effigy, a Mantle, something good. Not only will decks have targets, then, but those targets will be among the better cards in the deck. Smithereens then functions as a very tempo-efficient removal spell at two mana that also throws a hefty bolt to the dome. What’s not to like?
Another two-drop that I love to have in my Sealed pool, this little man is quickly rising up my pick order to become Blue’s top common. People keep telling me I’m picking him too highly, and then they keep complaining when my turn 2 Cohort turn 3 Cohort start kills them before they know what’s happening. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Blue’s at a hurt for cheap Blue creatures because of this guy and its two excellent Scarecrows, so the more you can pick up of the Cohort, the more problems you solve. He feeds himself in multiples, he’s a quick clock, he turns on your Crows, and perhaps most importantly he’s a two-drop in a format where they’re scarce. Don’t go crazy and pick him over the ridiculous Silkbind Faerie or anything, but he’s better than all the Blue non-Hybrids.
I keep wondering when this card will cease to impress me, but so far that moment has yet to arrive. Most of my White decks are incredibly tempo-intensive, so a single-mana Stun is more than fine by me. The “color matters” ability on this card is also especially relevant since White’s Cohort, the Ballynock, can strike first into an opposing 3/3 (your “average” defender who’d block this guy) and gain you card advantage if you, say, turned a Scarecrow White all of the sudden. Finally, I just have to share a blowout: I was playing with my friend Aaron White on his Beta account, and my opponent attempted to Firespout away my two Spectral Procession tokens. I responded by Wisping his Shield-of-the-Oversoul-attached Wilt-Leaf-Liege-enhanced Medicine Runner, thereby killing it. That certainly was.
“It’s expensive.” Sure it is. So is Magic Online, and yet 2am comes and we find ourselves maniacally clicking F2 like our lives depended on it (or so I hear). I think of this card like a Gloomlance that can kill utility creatures for cheaper and permanently deals with problematic Wither creatures. Sure, against bigger guys, it’s worse than the â€˜lance, and it’s probably a worse card overall. Still, it’s removal, it’s solid removal, and I shouldn’t be able to get one of these thirteenth like I have done on multiple occasions. To put it in perspective, I guess, I always play this card. I will probably always play two copies of this card. Don’t get scared away by the high up-front costs.
This guy is Fires of Yavimaya! Seriously, I expect him to be making a tournament splash eventually. He’s extremely powerful in any predominantly Black or Red deck, and the prime ridiculous when you’re straight B/R and he’s a Fervor that gets in there for one and begs to have his Fists enhanced by the Demigod himself. He’s also been known to hang out with the Scuzzback Marauders on weekends at local coffee shops. They’re said to look real cute together.
I think you’ll find that these cards go much later than they should in your drafts. If you’re able to capitalize on these and other cards like them, you’ll have an edge on people who are basically still performing first-level analysis of cards independent of the format within which they operate.
Wish me luck!