Feature Article – Talen Lee on Morningtide Green

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Run for the hills, ye little children. Oh, grab your skirts and start for the border, little ankles flying a-everywhich way, some jackass has given me a table on which to stand, and there will be hollering. Maro has done it now – the fool has gone and printed cards, and that means people will look at them and then they’ll form opinions on them. New sets, new sets, new sets.

Oh yes.

You knew this was coming.

Run for the hills, ye little children. Oh, grab your skirts and start for the border, little ankles flying a-everywhich way, some jackass has given me a table on which to stand, and there will be hollering. Maro has done it now — the fool has gone and printed cards, and that means people will look at them and then they’ll form opinions on them. New sets, new sets, new sets.

I’ve been biding my time on this one, waiting to see the Lorwyn block in full before I leap to my lonely writer’s garret with its bare bulb waggling helplessly on a long cord, and as I pen this manifesto to the Magic-playing government and begin the process of distilling anthrax to put in the envelope, I can only say: You brought this on yourselves.

For it is time, noble readers, to indulge in an analysis of Morningtide’s Green. Why didn’t I do this for Lorwyn first? Well, by the time I did so, it was irrelevant. I speculated a fair bit, then blinked and looked around and found that hey, wow, Lorwyn got released even online a month ago and don’t I feel like a bit of a Spectrum user in a Linux world? Besides, this kind of message needs to strike while the iron’s hot. This is a big topic to a lot of players, and we’re not going to take this kind of crap laying down any longer.

A new set has been released. There are Green cards in it, which I believe is the requirement for me to rouse from dead dreaming, seize upon myself my living blade of human suffering, whose ashcloaked name is unutterable in any human language but the screams of a dying child, and close about me my cloak of black wings, to visit that most heinous of punishment on those rabbling peasants and foolish advisors who would counsel one another in their smoke-filled rooms, and to offer my opinion.

Brace yourself, younglings: Horror awaits.

The State Of Green

Um, it’s fine.

… Yes, it is me!

Good god!

No, seriously, shut up!

No, I am not going to wear that sweater you got me!

Green in Morningtide is festooned from top to bottom with novel cards, pushing limits and, for once, it feels like it’s actually getting a lot of design time. There aren’t nearly so many cards that feel dumb for the sake of filling a hole, and while there are places where I feel the set’s mechanics could be pushed a little harder, to complain would be churlish.

Here, reader. Take my claw.

Ambassador Oak
Creature – Treefolk Warrior
When Ambassador Oak comes into play, put a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token into play.

One of the benchmark statements we amongst the AmDrams (that’s Amateur DRAAAAMAAAA) of the Magic Green Crusade is that Wizards never prints a straight-up 4/4 for 4 with some cute ability like trample at common. The line that Wizards sells us is that if they do print a 4/4 trample at common, Durkwood Boars and Fangren Hunter will look stupid. That’s not a terrible reason if you accept the implication that it puts forward: that these cards don’t already look quite stupid for anyone shuffling up enough cards to beat up a poker deck. So of course, it’s quite easy to miss when they actually do it.

For intents and purposes, across a clear board, Ambassador Oak is a 4/4 for 4. He lacks the trample that we so artfully whine for, and instead gives us an amazing triple-dip into the well of tribal interaction. Ambassador Oak gives you more bang for your buck if you’re running a Gaea’s Anthem deck; he gives you more play out of Cream of the Crop (omg omg omg Cream of the Crop, wait, ahem, holding on and waiting until we get there, but still, suffice to say, later), and he is an elf, a treefolk, and a warrior. Given that these three tribes are being pushed so eagerly in this format, I cannot help but giggle with glee at the idea of playing this guy at the end point in a curve that features his buddies.

All this is out of a common with a subtle twist on ‘just’ being a 4/4 for 4. He’s clever, and his cleverness is not so complicated that he has to be pushed out of the common slot. Wizards struck the balance here, and instead of shunting this fellow up a step in rarity, they put him at the common slot. I don’t know how good he is in Limited, but I am very glad to see this guy. Brilliant, brilliant design.

If you don’t mind, I’ll finish returning two Islands to my hand and drawing two cards.

Bosk Banneret
Creature – Treefolk Shaman
Treefolk spells and Shaman spells you play cost 1 less to play.

One of the quirky things with these Banneret creatures, the general utility of their design, is that you want to keep them around. Utility creatures tend to fall into two general fields: those that you want in play, or those that you don’t care about once they’re in play. Compare Sunscape Familiar to Eternal Witness; the two cards are fundamentally different in how much you care about their lifespan, and since you don’t care if a Witness that’s hit the table lives or dies, you want it to go red-zone as quickly as possible.

A better metric is the Harbingers from Lorwyn. Faerie and Merrow Harbingers are both faff creatures because they bother to pay the premium to be actually decent clocks in their own right, or acceptably flexible. Instead, Green’s Banneret creature, rather than building in such a way that means he’ll want to get into the red zone at times, knows he’s part of a tribe that wants to take its time arriving. He knows he’s a stepping stone on to bigger, badder creatures, and he’s exactly the kind of body a casual gamer wants in the early game while they patiently work on the next iteration of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Verdeloth (a far less popular play).

They could have made this guy a 2/1 or a 1/1 for his costs and we’d probably still grumble and go with it. It would not be out of keeping with the past — remember Thornscape Familiar? A great aggressive creature who occasionally discounted an Urza’s Rage, I suppose, but lords, it felt like a waste, didn’t it, sending him into the red zone?

Bramblewood Paragon
Creature – Elf Warrior
Each other Warrior creature you control comes into play with an additional +1/+1 counter on it.
Each creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it has trample.

I just fell out of my chair.

One of my golden metrics for a lord is affordability. Lords have to stack up alongside Lord of Atlantis to be really in the running for my consideration, and I will not lie, one of the things that has eternally pissed me off about that gilled git is that he costs two mana in a color that actually can leverage his ability to be good, while his Green compatriot costs 3 and can’t. Merfolk historically have been much better than elves up and down the mana curve, and this guy proudly stands up and starts changing that, without having to cover old ground. He doesn’t make Elvish Champion look like a chump (hate that card, hate hate hate hate that caa~ard), but he does make you re-glance at your favorites and wonder how many Warriors you’ve got.

All this is on an uncommon creature. Yes, he has to come out before the warriors. Yes, he will be giving 2/2s and 1/1s trample a lot of the time. So? This little two-drop enables an Ambassador Oak to be six power and toughness, plus trample, as the tasty bit of bacon in your lovely potato bake of Just Fun To Play With Cards.

All this and he’s clever too, playing into Green’s history of creatures that tool with +1/+1 counters.

Chameleon Colossus
Creature – Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card is every creature type at all times.)
Protection from black
2GG: Chameleon Colossus gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is its power.

Wait, protection from Black?


I’m not going to complain, per se, but doesn’t that feel random? It smacks to me of something like Goblin Piledriver and its Protection From Psychatogs. It’s just a bit of an odd stand-out. Also, the art for this one, while technically brilliant, can’t help but make me flashback to Gantz, and I wind up vomiting a little inside.

So, I suppose I’ll be sideboarding with the chunky taste of carrot I never ate in my mouth, because this guy looks rock solid. In an early game position, he’s just a 4/4 blocker who can hold back a lot of ground pounders (not that I see many of those that really frighten me that aren’t actually whole gangs of ground pounders, in real goblin tradition), and as a late game topdeck, he can threaten to kill a player almost entirely on his own. That he triggers all the ‘comes into play’ equipment, plays with any tribal interaction, and only asks that you have mana to do his Cute Trick, and I really am hard pressed to complain.

I know, I know! It’s hard for me too! It’s like Wizards of the Coast are listening, and trying to make cards that are fun, creative, and clever! The bastards!

Cream of the Crop
Whenever a creature comes into play under your control, you may look at the top X cards of your library, where X is that creature’s power. If you do, put one of those cards on top of your library and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

First things first, 1/1s don’t go anywhere with this. Second, I don’t think I care. This isn’t an Impulse every turn, but good grief, it’s close. I’m already a player who’s fascinated with deck manipulation, and I love the kind of deck that runs on two- or three-power men, cards like Eternal Witness or Yavimaya Druid. This card works well with Evoke (Walker of The Grove, for example, lets you peek at the top 7, then sigh as you actually look at the top 4 unless you’ve got Fecundity or something running… but still!), sets up Clash and Kinship and just generally lets Green play silly buggers with the mechanics of the block, all while being eminently in color, unlike the damnably artifacty Sensei’s Divining Top.

(There is 1/1 who does love this card, and that’s the ever-venerable Sakura-Tribe Elder. Being able to peek a card ahead and decide when to strategically sacrifice the little scaly bugger can be a real boon, as Top-spinners already know.)

Target creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.
Reinforce 1-1G (1G, Discard this card: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.)

Elvish Warrior
Creature – Elf Warrior

Game-Trail Changeling
Creature – Shapeshifter
Changeling (This card is every creature type at all times.)

Luminescent Rain
Choose a creature type. You gain 2 life for each permanent you control of that type.

Hunting Triad
Tribal Sorcery – Elf
Put three 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature tokens into play.
Reinforce 3-3G (3G, Discard this card: Put three +1/+1 counters on target creature.)

Some readers will be disappointed if I don’t whine about these, so I revel in disappointing them. These cards are for Limited. Stop bothering me. Let the Limited players have the cards that test their skills and fill their decks and stop acting like you’re so bloody persecuted when they do. It’s not like One With Nothing.

Creature – Elemental
Fertilid comes into play with two +1/+1 counters on it.
1G, Remove a +1/+1 counter from Fertilid: Target player searches his or her library for a basic land card and puts it into play tapped. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

Again, my love of utility creatures finds itself tickled. I have a Green/Black deck that wants to cast Death Cloud for as much as it possibly can, leaving you with three mana at the end of it all. This guy fits just fine in that strategy, being a topdeck that lets you recover. Of course, in that same deck, deck space is already strained — I was honestly considering cutting out the Sakura-Tribe Elders thanks to Shriekmaw. Maybe it’s time to Go Abe and just add more cards…

Gilt-Leaf Archdruid
Creature – Elf Druid
Whenever you play a Druid spell, you may draw a card.
Tap seven untapped Druids you control: Gain control of all lands target player controls.

What can I say about this guy that hasn’t been covered, and better, by other writers? Probably that this is an instance of a Green card getting a massive effect that isn’t pinched back somehow by natural control mechanisms like a tap symbol, or a need to attack. This creature gives you exactly what Green has wanted for a while: A colossal threat that’s hard to answer. Don’t get me wrong, offing a druid at a time doesn’t seem that hard — but then, preventing the effect becomes much more about outplaying your opponent than it becomes about some giant retarded 2/4 flier.

Greatbow Doyen
Creature – Elf Archer
Other Archer creatures you control get +1/+1.
Whenever an Archer you control deals damage to a creature, that Archer deals that much damage to that creature’s controller.

My only concern here is that he doesn’t have Reach. At all. It feels like an oversight. But these ‘errant lords’ in Morningtide are just wonderful, adding to existing tribes (Elf decks don’t generally get a body like this), and giving that crucial glue to hold together all those potential archers that exist. Hopefully, Elvish Archers will be reprinted sometime soon, with an appropriate creature type, eh?

Leaf-Crowned Elder
Creature – Treefolk Shaman
Kinship – At the beginning of your upkeep, you may look at the top card of your library. If it shares a creature type with Leaf-Crowned Elder, you may reveal it. If you do, you may play that card without paying its mana cost.

I’m only going to say this once because I’m under my hyperbole quota for this month: BEN BLEIWEISS IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

Lys Alana Bowmaster
Creature – Elf Archer
Reach (This can block creatures with flying.)
Whenever you play an Elf spell, you may have Lys Alana Bowmaster deal 2 damage to target creature with flying.

And the borders continue to be pushed. Finding a Green card that just plain out deals damage — even with these limitations — is really rare, and I’m happy to see her. She’s reasonably costed, she triggers off a common enough spell type, and she gives you an effect you’d want. I can see myself running her alongside other elves, but I don’t see her making me make an archer deck.

Orchard Warden
Creature – Treefolk Shaman
Whenever another Treefolk creature comes into play under your control, you may gain life equal to that creature’s toughness.

This guy is a perfect reason to run Leaf-Crown Elder.

Well, I wouldn’t want to pay retail for him.

Warden here is actually quite nice in that he synergizes with Reach of Branches, isn’t unreasonably costed for the body he offers, isn’t exceptionally vulnerable, and isn’t so exciting or flashy that people will be trying to kill him, and just him, as quickly as they could. In a multiplayer game, being exciting can often get you killed, and being ‘just’ a 4/6 that gains you life can be the difference between getting cacked before your next upkeep and letting you cheekily sneak in twenty or twenty-five bonus life.

Reach of Branches
Tribal Instant – Treefolk
Put a 2/5 green Treefolk Shaman creature token into play.
Whenever a Forest comes into play under your control, you may return Reach of Branches from your graveyard to your hand.

This one gets my vote for the single best card design in the set. No, it’s not a super aggressive card, but treefolk aren’t about being aggressive — they’re late-game creatures, creatures that love to take their time, grow slowly, and one of the needs for that strategy to work is a renewable way to slow the game down. You could run Stasis, I suppose, but you’re not going to get anything you really want out of that, aside from the odd contusion from your friends, or a Kenji quote-fest.

Reach of Branches rewards you building long; it rewards Forests without needing basic Forests; it lets you get cute with things like Dryad Arbor, and it’s an instant-speed Big Fricking Wall if you need it. You don’t have to play oddly to use the card, either. You can simply throw it out mid-combat like you do with any other combat trick, assured that you’ll be able to get it back later without too much chicanery.

Recross the Paths
Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into play and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order. Clash with an opponent. If you win, return Recross the Paths to its owner’s hand. (Each clashing player reveals the top card of his or her library, then puts that card on the top or bottom. A player wins if his or her card had a higher converted mana cost.)

I’ve often said I love mana-ramping cards, and this one’s not an exception. The kind of deck that wants a three-mana accelerator probably also wouldn’t say no to being able to cast it twice (or three times, perhaps), and I’m really happy to see this one. It’s also got a cute trick of letting Green fiddle with its library a little before it clashes; by definition, when this spell resolves, you have one fewer land in your library, and the chances of the top card being an automatic clash-loser is reduced. Not significantly per se, but enough to make me smile. It’s a clash card for the long game as well, letting you slowly but surely strip lands from your library — each one makes the next one better.

Rhys the Exiled
Legendary Creature – Elf Warrior
Whenever Rhys the Exiled attacks, you gain 1 life for each Elf you control.
B, Sacrifice an Elf: Regenerate Rhys the Exiled.

So, they’ve made Wellwisher able to attack, and regenerate, and given it a really aggressive body. I feel like Forsythe is just trying to get me into bed at this point, but I’m honestly not going to complain.

I suppose Rhys really reinforces something that Fox was talking to me about the other day. A card — or design — doesn’t have to do anything new, it just has to do it well. Rhys here is a very refined, very clever creature, pulling together three fairly disparate pieces and doing a little bit to make them fit together (decent body, regeneration, and lifegain), and then wraps the whole package up and gives it to us at a very nice cost. Some might whine that the two toughness is not necessary on a regenerator, but they’re shortsighted; it’s easy enough to ping for one these days, and you don’t want to have Rhys never attacking, eating his way through your entire force in the hopes that you’ll be able to deal with your opponent’s Prodigal Pyromancer.

Sacrifice any number of lands. Search your library for that many land cards, put them into play tapped, then shuffle your library.

Just wanted to draw this one to your attention, casual johnnies: it says land cards, not basic land cards. My incredibly boring suggestion was to sac 4 lands to search up a Lonely Sandbar, a Tranquil Thicket, and 2 Breeding Chambers, because any deck running this wants to consider the merits of running Life From The Loam.

Unstoppable Ash
Creature – Treefolk Warrior
Champion a Treefolk or Warrior (When this comes into play, sacrifice it unless you remove another Treefolk or Warrior you control from the game. When this leaves play, that card returns to play.)
Whenever a creature you control becomes blocked, it gets +0/+5 until end of turn.

See, Doran and other Treefolk do have synergy.

Walker of the Grove
Creature – Elemental
When Walker of the Grove leaves play, put a 4/4 green Elemental creature token into play.
Evoke 4G (You may play this spell for its evoke cost. If you do, it’s sacrificed when it comes into play.)

There isn’t much to say about this card — and really, it should probably be up in the normal part of the review, up with the Limited cards — but I have to just sit in awe of Todd’s art here. This guy is awesome. He reminds me of the ancients from Warcraft 3, and I loved those guys for their awe-inspiring, creaking style. They felt massive, they felt like real, living, colossal creatures that strode across fields and engaged in war. The kind of creature that it would take dozens of your opponent’s hapless warriors and soldiers and shaman to slow down, maybe stop. This guy’s visual is beautiful, and I for one am not about to make fun of him for peacock feathers. He looks like he could eat my house.

Winnower Patrol
Creature – Elf Warrior
Kinship – At the beginning of your upkeep, you may look at the top card of your library. If it shares a creature type with Winnower Patrol, you may reveal it. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on Winnower Patrol.

I think printing Nessian Courser in Future Sight was a really healing experience for R&D. They could stop dancing around the fact that Trained Armodon fixes clocks, if you follow my meaning, and being able to set aside that old benchmark meant that a lot of guys who feel like they might have been, once upon a nonesuch, grey ogres or whatever we call 4-mana 2/2s get to be much more aggressively costed.

Winnower Patrol is a decent card if you never successfully trigger his Kinship. With all the synergies around elves and warriors right now (and imagine plonking this guy down the turn before Bramblewood Paragon), he’s going to be at least vaguely playable, and he can sometimes go off the chain and gain three +1/+1 counters in subsequent turns — without any chicanery involving fondling your library improperly. When you add in Green’s newly-refreshed subtheme of ‘naturally selecting’ the top card of your library (omg omg omg Cream of the Crop did I mention?!), it’s much easier to see Kinship — and this guy’s use of it — as a ‘Green mechanic’ that the other colors can play with too.

Blue might be able to play Kinship as well as Green — I don’t really care. The base bodies they get out of it are nowhere near as good, and the effects rarely as potent. No, Kinship is Green, feels Green, and that the other colors get to futz with it this time around — worse than Green — is exactly how a shared mechanic with a home should feel. This is how they treated Morph in Time Spiral, and I hope they keep this trend up.

Wolf-Skull Shaman
Creature – Elf Shaman
Kinship – At the beginning of your upkeep, you may look at the top card of your library. If it shares a creature type with Wolf-Skull Shaman, you may reveal it. If you do, put a 2/2 green Wolf creature token into play.

I think I already broke my brain gibbering about ‘good Kinship’ cards with the Winnower Patrol, which is a damn shame, because this little guy just gave me a geekgasm. I love this card. Something to bear in mind, amateur spikes who haven’t realized it yet; if your deck is Snow Lands + (Elf or Shaman creatures), Scrying Sheets becomes a great way to ‘force’ Kinship.


Heritage Druid
Creature – Elf Druid
Tap three untapped Elves you control: Add GGG to your mana pool.

Well… this kinda sucks.

If I wasn’t already strapped for time at this point, I’d put in a huge spiel here, parodying Rivien Swanson hateful vituperation about this card. Instead, I’m just going to shrug and move on. Oh no. It’s a bad card. In my set. How dare they. I’ll get right onto caring that after Wizard gets around to issuing an apology for that 6/6 for 7 uncommon from Kamigawa.

So Now What?

Green in Morningtide is… really good. It’s nice. It feels powerful, it feels right for the mechanics, and it feels like it’ll be a lot of fun to play. The art is great across the board, the mechanics are clever, the Limited cards aren’t super-obtrusive (indeed, if not for Chameleon Colossus, I can see myself playing Game-Trail Changeling across a lot of other decks), and there aren’t any rares that make me grind my teeth and sigh when I get one.

I don’t think it’s my fault at all, and I sure as hell don’t know if Morningtide is a barometer for how design and development are approaching the colors from now on, but I’m going to shuck loose my dour shoes, cynical pants and dance, barefooted and in my underwear of cautious optimism. Green really looks like a great color right now, with Morningtide doing a lot within the color to make cards that are the right mix of clever and fun.

Now, about White…

Hugs and kisses
Talen Lee
talen at dodo please email me I am so very lonely dot com dot au