There were a lot of thought-provoking forum responses to my last article, which I always appreciate. After some thought, I realized that the best way to respond to them would be in next week’s article rather than this week’s article, as next week should have some concrete in-game examples that I can use to better illustrate what I’m talking about. However, before I can do that, I need to… well, actually invent the deck I’m going to test next week. (First things first!)
For this week, as I still think I’m on the right track, I’m going to continue with my goal of playing a more interactive, tricky – and, most likely, Blue – deck in the post-Eventide environment, and I’ll respond to some of the criticisms of that strategy I heard last week in more detail next week.
The current must-have card for a strategy like this is Cryptic Command. Even if you’re not playing control, I cannot think of a reason to play a base-Blue deck without making the mana support Cryptic Command. With that one restriction in mind, let’s have a look at some of the cards that might fit into the type of strategy I’m pursuing here.
The conflict here is that in order to make this card powerful in a deck with Cryptic Command, I have to be either straight U/W or tone down the land thinning capabilities of the Horizons by only running, say, seven plains and another 20 or so nonbasics to support three or more colors. In that case, although the card’s thinning properties would no longer be exciting, I could at least always count on making my next four land drops after I play it, and usually more than that. In a big late-game control deck, or in a deck packing several Retrace cards, that’s quite valuable – though I don’t see big late-game decks or decks with lots of Retrace cards making it this season. Where’s a Mystical Teachings or Urza’s Factory lookalike to sink all that mana into when you need one? On the record, I don’t think this is going to make it in Block.
It’s two mana more than Firespout, but it also kills Doran, Chameleon Colossus, Mistbind Clique, and a board defended by Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender. The colors are, however, potentially more amenable to a U/W/x Control strategy, though the fact that it is harder to defend from countermagic than Firespout (for five mana I can play a Firespout and defend it with Negate) is a big point in Firespout’s favor. I’m interested, though I have to intrinsically wonder if any deck packing this expensive a sweeper will have a shot against Faeries.
Though its cost puts it in a different league altogether, this card’s functionality is reminiscent of Remand. In both cases you counter the spell and cantrip, but Fracture replaces the countered card with a random draw, which usually has over a 1/3 chance of being a land. On the other hand, it’s also possible that Fracture will dig the opponent closer to a stronger card than the one you are countering, so there remains a bit of danger to it.
Another way to think of this card is “Remand meets Vendilion Clique,” or simply “Cancel, then we both draw a card.” I would expect that Fracturing a late-game spell will lead to consistently better results than Remanding it would have, which makes me think it is worth trying despite the cost increase. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Glen Elendra Archmage
The more I looked at this card, the better it got. Sure, at first it’s 3U for a 2/2 Flyer, but like Kitchen Finks, since it can trade with something (even against Faeries!) and then counter something as a 1/1, it is a practically guaranteed two-for-one. You probably break even (or better) on mana a decent amount of time; playing it and activating it twice costs a total of six mana, and trading with a Vendilion Clique followed by countering a Cryptic Command actually means you paid six mana to take out seven mana worth of cards and gain a point of card advantage. I’ll consider this thing for my sideboard.
If this were less expensive, I could think of it as a weird version of Compulsion, but paying 2U just to cycle only lands does not seem worth it. In a U/W deck with Endless Horizons, I could maybe see some value, but I’m not expecting this will work out.
One of the best parts about Tarmogoyf in a Blue deck was that you could sneak him in whenever there was even the slightest lull in the action (without dropping your countermagic defenses) and go on the offensive right away with something so big your opponent couldn’t often block and trade with it.
While Wake Thrasher is more expensive than Goyf, does not share his defensive capabilities, and is vulnerable to Nameless Inversion and small burn spells, he will generally be even better at turning a damage race around on the cheap than Goyf was. If you tap six lands every turn, you will untap to a savage aggressor with Wake Thrasher out.
Obviously in a Merfolk deck he has even more applications, but I’m not writing this guy off in a non-tribal Blue deck just yet.
For the type of strategy I’m pursuing, this is the only mono-Black card I can find in Eventide that might make the maindeck. Four for an effective 2/2 is no bargain, but this is a Damnation against Faeries for everything but Sower of Temptation and Mistbind Clique (unless they have two Scions out). It’s less impressive against Kithkin, where Wizened Cenn can mute its effect, but this marks an important milestone: the format now has “sweepers” in Red/Green, White, and Black. Will I end up playing it? Probably not.
Overall, this has the makings of a reasonable removal spell for a tricky deck. Against non-Persist creatures, White and Black have better three-mana removal spells to offer, but as a Red card, Puncture Blast offers you spot removal to complement Firespout and Lash Out in a U/G/R deck. It also goes to the dome, which certainly has applications in a race. It also has the important characteristic of “taking out” a Mistbind Clique at instant speed; I used to try to squeeze Flame Javelin into all sorts of decks precisely because of the “Clique you on Upkeep” play. Puncture Blast doesn’t actually stop the Champion trigger from tapping your lands, but it does knock the resulting 4/4 Flyer (a big part of the problem) down to 1/1, and usually when you kill a Clique on your upkeep, you don’t have much (if any) mana left over anyway.
If this were an Instant, I would look at it a lot more closely. Being able to kill Chameleon Colossus is good, but it’s more important to be able to kill Mistbind Clique… and killing a Clique at Sorcery speed is not nearly as productive as it needs to be. Not making the cut.
Divinity of Pride
Having played a solid chunk of games with Brion Stoutarm, I’m not thrilled with this guy. Brion was at his best against Faeries, and as the Divinity can play defense, it’s even better there – yet I’m not sold. Divinity costs one more to cast and… well, costs all White and Black. A week ago, that wouldn’t have been a problem for me, but this week I’m on a mission. Five Orzhov mana is too much to ask of a Blue deck that aspires to play Cryptic Command.
Okay, so it doesn’t kill Chameleon Colossus or Oversoul of Dusk. It takes out the rest of the format’s creatures at instant speed, and removes them from the game without leaving the opponent with a 1/1 Changeling like Crib Swap does. My main concern with it is the triple-Orzhov cost. Can I make triple- Orzhov for Unmake and triple-Blue for Cryptic Command work in the same deck? I hope so.
Call the Skybreaker
I like to call this guy Dumb Triskelavus. At seven mana, this is a pricey finisher, but wow is it ever durable. Picture this. I pay seven to Call out a 5/5 flyer on a relatively empty board. Next turn my opponent Oblivion Rings it. I shrug, untap, tap seven, pitch a land, and put him right back. Like previous seasons’ Triskelavus/Academy Ruins combo, including this as a singleton in a Blue control deck pretty much gives you absolute inevitability. It’s not as versatile as Triskelavus because it can’t make little Mogg Fanatics, but it’s also bigger – and how sick is it that you can use this card to summon up a Dragon on one turn, untap, attack with it, and then summon another Dragon? Given lands in hand, it’s both offense and defense at once.
Very powerful, but very narrow. Where’s a Coalition Relic when you need one?
This reminds me of Phyrexian Ironfoot. 2/4 instead of 3/4, granted, but you can pay two to make him essentially a 4/4 until end of turn (though watch out for Nameless Inversion in response to activating the ability). It’s also nice that he attacks back for 4 per turn instead of 3, though he doesn’t have the “Vigilance” option that Ironfoot did. I could see this as a sideboard card against Kithkin… though seriously, how annoying is it that Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender works on this guy?
Rise of the Hobgoblins
This doesn’t have the Instant-Speed convenience of a cycled Decree of Justice (or Goblin Trenches, for that matter), but it does have the First Strike option. That bit makes the army of soldiers you create actually formidable on defense, while Decree and Trenches were pretty much relegated to chumping or gang-block trades. Rise can actually hold off a team of ground-pounders, which is something new in a mass token generator. I’ll keep my eye on this, though – say it with me now – it’s a bit expensive for the Faeries matchup.
Besides the obvious Merrow Reejerey interaction, this might be a reasonable sideboard choice for a non-tribal Blue deck. As a Finkel impersonator, Islandwalk is probably worse than Fear these days, but there are a lot of decks that legitimately fear this guy on turn 3.
Overbeing of Myth
Another candidate finisher for a Blue control deck, this one seems the riskiest. When it first comes in, I have no idea how large it will be. Maybe five for a 3/3? It has the potential to clean up thereafter, but I’m not sure this matches the profile of what I want in a finisher. Often you want to play a finisher because you have run out of answers, and its role as a blocker is what you really need; in these situations, the Overbeing will fail by definition, as you are playing him because you’re out of gas. When you’re ahead, how does his card drawing and Maro ability compare to something that’s just consistently big? Or flies? I’m not sure, but I’m tentatively disinterested.
A two-toughness 2/2? Sounds like Kitchen Finks, but in reality, plays a lot better with Mulldrifter and advances the desire to make drops. Sadly, I’m not convinced that’s enough for it to make the cut.
After all that, it’s looking like U/W Control might have some possibilities. We’ll see where that takes us. In the meantime, here’s a modification of a Springleaf Drum-based Merfolk list that Zac mentioned to me. After looking at the list a bit, I realized too much had to go right for Cold-Eyed Selkie to work maindeck. Wake Thrasher, on the other hand… man, does that ever look good.
I wanted to include Cold-Eyeball Selkie in here, but didn’t have the heart. I just don’t see that card as maindeck-worthy in a list like this. I expect Wake Thrasher and Merrow Reejerey will do more, and I’m really not sure I want to cut any remaining one-drops, two-drops, or Surgespanner (let alone Cryptic Command) to make room for the three-drop Selkie.
Upon closer inspection, the problem is that most decks can just block the 1/1, and Faeries doesn’t really care if you want to expend three mana to draw a couple of cards while they find a Nameless Inversion, Peppersmoke, or Sower of Temptation, as it puts them up on the damage race in the meantime. It might be worth a board slot for the QnT matchup, I suppose, but I don’t see it making a big dent otherwise.
In keeping with Patrick Chapin thesis that there are only a few very powerful strategies in this format, and Mannequin-Mulldrifter is one of them, this is a straightforward Mannequin-Mulldrifter take on U/W Control. It’s a bit skewed to fear Bitterblossom, featuring 3 maindeck Negate and 4 Oblivion Ring to back up turn 2 Broken Ambitions and late-game Cryptic Commands as answers. Sadly, I don’t think that will prove enough; this will need work if it’s going to have a shot against Faeries, but I’m not sure how to accomplish that yet. Turn 2 Bitterblossom on the play demands a resolved Oblivion Ring or resolved Cryptic Command-into-counter very soon, and I suspect that will not often work out.
Next week I’ll see which of these decks (or any others I might come up with in the meantime; several of the cards I eyed with interest above didn’t find a home in these two lists) is faring best against the Faerie Menace, and find out where that deck takes me.
See you then!