Dark Ascension preview season is finally here! Mirrodin Besieged (with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Sword of Feast and Famine, Green Sun’s Zenith, Inkmoth
Nexus) and Worldwake (Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, Tectonic Edge, manlands) are evidence of WotC’s desire to push the second sets in
blocks recently. With Avacyn Restored having been announced as a stand-alone draft format, that means fewer Dark Ascension packs getting opened from
drafting (like Worldwake because of Rise of the Eldrazi). As a result, there is added incentive to push the set a little to encourage people to open
more for Constructed. Will Dark Ascension continue this trend?
Today’s exclusive preview card is a not just a great Limited role-player but has solid chances of transforming into a Constructed card,
depending on what other two-drops are printed. Let’s take a look:
Already, we have a Steadfast Guard, with two notable differences. First, it is a Human Soldier instead of a Rebel. Second, it transforms at the end of
the turn it died, instead of staying dead. If we paid for a 2/2 vigilance, what is it we are getting for free?
The beats continue! Dark Ascension seems to build on Innistrad’s theme of creatures with “flashback,” in quite a number of ways. Remember, Loyal Cathar
doesn’t “lose” vigilance and a point of toughness. The back-side creature is just a bonus! Wizards went to great lengths to make sure the first
double-faced cards in Innistrad were all ones where the back side was better than the front, as many people wouldn’t be ready to see them as two
different cards. Now that we have had a chance to play with double-faced cards enough, we are ready for the more exotic combinations in Dark Ascension.
What’s better, a 2/1 that can’t block (for zero) or drawing a card? It depends on the deck, of course, but the 2/1 may actually be slightly better. A
two-power creature for two that does better than draw a card when it dies? Interesting…
The first card that comes to mind because of today’s preview card is Doomed Traveler, a card that was underestimated by nearly everyone initially. In
many ways, Loyal Cathar is another Doomed Traveler. You may not get flying on the second half, but generally two-power for two is better than one-power
for one. Loyal Cathar is fantastic against Liliana-type effects (especially if you are leading into a Geist of Saint Traft).
Doomed Traveler does have the major advantage of being a one-drop in a format with very few playable one-drops, making the competition for its spot on
the curve much lower. Additionally, when you just want to make sure you have an extra guy lying around to sacrifice, sometimes you don’t care how big
it is. One other notable difference is that Doomed Traveler’s token is white, meaning it works better with Honor of the Pure.
Loyal Cathar actually goes from a Human Soldier to a Zombie Soldier. This is fascinating for a few reasons. First and foremost, it is clear that Zombie
is going to be a seriously supported type in this set. For instance, already Gravecrawler is threatening to singlehandedly make “Zombies” a deck.
Bloodghast was always miles ahead of most of the other Vampires and was the backbone of the archetype. Gravecrawler looks even stronger!
What other support for Zombies will Dark Ascension include? With double white in the cost, it is unlikely we’d want Loyal Cathar in any dedicated
Zombie decks, but there might be some minor bonus somewhere if we can arrange to get a Zombie (such as some equipment or some other creature that
interacts favorably with one). This is especially relevant for draft, where the tribal synergies from Innistrad continue (now starting with a pack of
In Constructed, Loyal Cathar’s most obviously beneficial creature type is Human. He is a natural option to consider for W/u and W/g Human decks,
providing a nice follow-up to a turn-one Champion of the Parish. The W/u Human decks are the most popular version in Standard right now, but one area
they have always been short on is two-drops. Grand Abolisher is a respectable man, depending on how much permission you expect. Beyond that, we have
Honor of the Pure and Mana Leak filling certain tasks, but if we want more beats, we are stuck playing Mikaeus. Mikaeus is a fine card of course; it is
just not really what we think of when we think of early pressure. Additionally, Mikaeus is naturally quite weak to Day of Judgment (while Loyal Cathar
laughs at it).
Does Loyal Cathar being a Soldier matter? I am not sure it does yet; however they could have made it just a Zombie on the back. That they went to all
the trouble to also make it a Zombie Soldier makes me want to keep an eye out. Soldiers had a few tribal benefits in M10, and it is very possible that
M13 may include more of that type of action.
While Loyal Cathar is a big step up from Steadfast Guard, the bar is higher these days. The real question is, is he better than Elite Inquisitor, a
card that sees very little play outside of Block Constructed? Elite Inquisitor is also a 2/2 vigilance for WW but offers first strike and protection
from the creatures of the night. While Elite Inquisitor can be quite a force in draft, being a “better” Penumbra Kavu seems much more likely to matter
in Constructed. Just think of how many Galvanic Blasts and Doom Blades people play. Loyal Cathar is just fantastic against that business.
Then the question becomes: how does he compare to Grand Abolisher, Mikaeus, and any other sweet two-drop that might be in Dark Ascension? This is going
to greatly be a matter of context. How many Mana Leaks do people play? How much removal? Loyal Cathar’s stats aren’t going to set any records, but he
is exactly what you actually want: a two-power threat for two that makes removal look terrible (including sweepers).
Loyal Cathar may have good synergies with the Human tribal bonuses, but he doesn’t work that well with equipment, +1/+1 counters, or auras (which “fall
off”). Additionally, while he would be completely awesome in many other formats, there are so many creatures that come back to life in this set and
block that opponents are more incentivized to play stuff to hose us. However, this is also a format where people really want to play a lot of cheap
spot removal, which Loyal Cathar is just incredible against.
In draft, Loyal Cathar seems like a fantastic addition to decks looking to sacrifice Humans (like B/W), trigger morbid, or just keep beating down. He
is just great value, on a Limited power curve. Costing double white will make him require a greater commitment, but you will always get to decide in
pack one, so that is less of an issue. It’s nice that with vigilance you can keep attacking, while threatening to block, then attack again.
Unfortunately, if Loyal Cathar dies on an attack, you miss a turn of “blocking.”
Another important technique to consider is bouncing Unhallowed Cathar. Once you have traded your Loyal Cathar for their two-drop, you may want to
Silent Departure your Zombie version to “reset” it. This move obviously never worked with Doomed Traveler and could be especially valuable if there is
a repeatable way to bounce your own creatures (or a card whose drawback is that you have to bounce a creature you control.
It is also a little interesting that Unhallowed Cathar doesn’t rise up from the grave until the end of the turn. Why? This might just be a flavor thing
(Zombies seem a little “slow-moving” in this block). However, there may be some mechanical reason to look for.
White Weenie Master, Paul Rietzl, has said that when evaluating new white weenies, the usual order is:
Loyal Cathar’s stats are only average, and vigilance is a very mild form of disruption. He is obviously aspiring to fill the third criteria. Like
Doomed Traveler, he is a role-player, not a linchpin. Will he be the right guy to fill out a few different decks? Very possibly. That will just be a
function of whether there is a better two-drop printed in Dark Ascension.
Loyal Cathar may not be any flashier than Doomed Traveler, but it too will probably surprise people. If you are underestimating him right now, ask
yourself what your initial estimation was of Doomed Traveler. Loyal Cathar is a great option for aggressive strategies in Constructed (making removal
look silly) and a quality draft card. It is always nice to see a set filling out the entire spectrum of good cards, not just the chase rares. As for
fun, there are very few mechanics I love as much as flashback, as getting to use your cards twice is just so much value. Card advantage is the
nectar of the gods, and white doesn’t always get that much (making the card advantage they do get that much more valuable). Loyal Cathar,
like the undying mechanic, helps build more “flashback” creatures.
Without question, this set looks very fun so far. I’m super excited to see what all Dark Ascension has in store for us, as second sets have had their
best cards pushed a little over the line, recently. Maybe I am being superstitious, but I am just not sure R&D could resist the