Maybe you played in the prerelease. Maybe you’ve been following the spoiler on www.mtgnews.com; maybe you’ve read the official spoiler on Wizards’ Darksteel page. At any rate, you’ve got a brand new set of cards to digest, process, and evaluate for Constructed play. While I appreciate the folks who do a complete, card-by-card evaluation of the set, I’d instead like to share my thoughts on what I think is the cream of the crop, the sharp edge of Darksteel. That’s what we’re all really interested in anyway, right?
I’ll also toss in a quick disclaimer – when it comes to new Magic sets, I tend to be an optimist. Brand new cards excite me, and I do my best to see the silver lining in even the assiest of ass cards. Sometimes you strike gold that way. Hopefully you’ll find my approach more enjoyable reading than the tiresome”this card sucks in comparison to X” pessimistic view that the Eeyores of Magic put forth.
I’ll kick things off with artifacts, since that card type is what Mirrodin block is all about and nearly half the set is artifacts. In my follow-up article I will take a look at the actual colored cards of Darksteel.
Holy Cow, Did They Really Print This?
I was going to give this section a header of”The Best” or”The Standouts” but that’s kinda dull and boring. Really, what I to capture here are the artifacts that cause your heart to race and drive you to call/email/instant message your friends and say,”Holy Cow, did they really print this?” In alphabetical order:
This is like a Super-Sized Isochron Scepter! I was initially going to put this in the grouping one step down from this, and that’s where it will likely end up, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if this card might bust through into Holy Cow! territory. It does have a lot of things going against it. A five mana investment to cast, and then X more mana equal to the converted mana cost of the sorcery or instant you want to imprint. That’s a lot of up-front mana that can all be countered by a two-mana Naturalize, potentially netting two-for-one card advantage without you getting any benefit from it.
With great risks though, come great rewards. Think about imprinting Fabricate on this bad boy. You could fetch Welding Jars (and Myr Retrievers if necessary) to outlast any fiendish attempts by your opponent to destroy your Mirror, and then get on with the business of fetching artifacts more in line with your game-winning plans. There’s also the fact that you can wait until your opponent’s end step to imprint your spell, thereby dodging sorcery-speed artifact destruction netting two-for-one on you. You can even imprint a card on Panoptic Mirror in response to the upkeep-triggered ability. If you do, that card is available to copy when the triggered ability resolves.
There’s a lot of potential power locked up in this card, it’ll be great to see if anyone cracks it open.
There’s been some hype, and there’s been a lot of negative press on this card. Sure, on the face of things it seems like a great boon for combo decks, giving you another way to try and set up a God Draw. Being an artifact means that it’s not even useless if drawn after your opportunity to mulligan is over with, since you will most likely be playing Thirst for Knowledge in most Type 2 combo decks nowadays. But what about broader applications? What about the aggro decks that might trade the possibility of a dead draw later in the game for the ability to throw back a mediocre hand for a more aggressive hand?
What about using the Powder to replace some of your lands, so that if your opening hand doesn’t have any lands but it does have the Powder, you can reset your deck to being a fifty-three card deck with a higher chance of drawing an acceptable number of lands. I think the Art of the Mulligan is something that few Magic players have a firm grasp on, so I suspect that these scholars of the game will find the proper – and quite possibly powerful – uses for the Powder and enlighten the rest of us. Again, I think there’s a lot of potential in this card.
Wand of the Elements
Four mana to cast and no mana to activate, just a simple tap and sacrifice and Boom! You got a creature at instant speed. If ever the Counter Burn archetype is to raise its head again, this card will likely have a starring role, but it is also just fine in many Blue/x or Red/x control decks. End of turn, Starstorm for four damage to kill everything, then tap the Wand, make a 3/3 Elemental creature, untap, cast your Viashino Sandstalker and swing for seven. Blue decks that are terrified of tapping out can create an evasive creature at instant speed, without negating their ability to cast one of their numerous over-costed counterspells.
When trying to get a handle on this card, I wrestled with the fact that control decks in modern Type 2 seemed to be very mana hungry, and wasn’t sure whether they’d want to sacrifice their hard-won lands. But the cheap activation cost of tapping the artifact and sacrificing a land (one of the most plentiful of resources) finally won me over. Besides, once Crucible of Worlds comes out in Fifth Dawn, the sacrifice might actually be a boon.
Oh, and keep in mind that once you get this Wand online, pinpoint LD strategies becomes a bit pointless.
Wow, This Is Pretty Good…
These next cards won’t speed your heart rate, but they’re cards a lot of us will be happy to see and many of them will prove to be da bombdiggity.
If you’ve noodled around with Atog in Affinity, you’ve probably thought on occasion”man, if only this little guy was an artifact…” Well, you get your wish. Arcbound Ravager is Super Atog for Affinity decks. He contributes to the Affinity count, he pumps at half the increase but keeps the boost, and if he dies he gladly passes on the love to whatever Frogmite or Enforcer that’s standing around. Talk about a team player! And just think about if you could fit something like Darksteel Brute in there, a critter than can really hang onto those +1/+1 counters.
The real beauty of the Ravager is that he can sacrifice himself to sling his counters to whatever artifact creature you want. So if you’ve a lethal amount of artifacts to sacrifice, your opponent can’t just kill or block the Ravager to keep from dying, he has to make sure that every artifact creature coming across is taken care of or face certain death! With Aether Spellbombs that could be problematic.
Ah, the”indestructible Jade Statue” that had been hinted about over on magicthegathering.com! Yeah, three mana to activate is kinda hefty, but there’s a lot to be said about a threat/blocker that can’t be killed. So Akroma’s Vengeance and Obliterate ’til your heart’s content, the Brute stays. Like I mentioned above with the Ravager, I could see a couple of Brutes making it into an Affinity build. He’s a pretty much rock-solid, guaranteed artifact to help with Affinity, and if he can catch a few +1/+1 counters he starts to become quite threatening.
A big, splashy kiddie card, right? Sure, I mean eleven mana is a friggin’ boatload! What self-respecting Type 2 player would even consider playing this silly card? Well, how about the U/W Proteus Staff deck in place of Charbelcher? I was noodling around with a decklist when I first got the spoiler and came up with this off the top of my head:
4 Aether Spellbomb
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Talisman of Progress
4 Mana Leak
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Pulse of the Grid
4 Proteus Staff
4 Wrath of God
4 Decree of Justice
1 Darksteel Colossus
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Coastal Tower
3 Ancient Den
2 Seat of Synod
Between the Justice, Alarm, and Blinkmoths there’s plenty of non-creature spell creatures you can activate the Staff on to fetch out your Colossus. Once he’s in play you pretty much swing a few times and win. Is this more reliable than Charbelcher? As someone who hasn’t even tried the original Staff deck, I can’t really say, but I have to say I feel much better about putting my eggs into a massive 11/11 trampling indestructible killing machine.
There’s other ways to cheat him out too… Sneak Attack, Oath of Druids (thank god that’s been banned in Extended!). Someone might even try some weird Aether Vial/Coretapper/Power Conduit combination to Vial out Colossi turn after turn… well, it’s a thought anyway.
Shield of Kaldra
There’s some solid Equipment in this set, but no one I’ve talked to seem to be overly fond of the Shield. What, is making any of your creatures indestructible not good enough for you? First of all, the Shield itself is indestructible, so once it hits play it’s not going anywhere. There won’t be any tricky”destroy your Equipment in response to you paying X mana for it’s equip cost” nonsense. The Shield hits and sticks, waiting for some fortunate creature of yours to pick it up and taste the glorious power of immortality!
Yeah, your opponent can kill the creature itself in response to equipping it, but surely you’re running more creatures than your opponent has instant speed removal spells! Eventually one of them is going to get that Shield and turn into a royal pain in the ass for your opponent. And that’s all-good for you.
Yeah, everyone knows how good this card is. I’ll just mention it here that I agree so no one slams me for missing it. Card drawing for the unwashed masses! Blue mages must be having fits…
Sword of Fire and Ice
I read a review where someone mentioned this was too expensive to see competitive play. Errr… too expensive? The startup cost is three, which is far from outrageous, and the equip cost is only two mana to tack on five extra abilities, each of which is solid. Last I checked, five solid smacks to the head add up to an arse-whuppin’. +2/+2, protection from Red, protection from Blue, toss a Shock and draw a card, if unblocked. Yeah, gimme some of that action. Toss this Sword into a White Weenie horde packing Auriok Steelshapers and Leonin Shikaris and things just get nuts. Yeah, see if you can find four guys who think this Sword is too expensive to see competitive play and round out your playset.
Sitting On The Fence
These are cards that look pretty good at first glance, and still seem pretty good after thinking about them some more. But they may prove to be less than stellar in practice, so I’m hedging my bets by calling attention to them as cards to watch.
Potential sleeper hit here, being able to put creatures into play at instant speed for no mana has a lot of promise.
Definitely stirs the combo juices… with a Ravager in play, you can sac an artifact or two to put counters on the Ravager, sac the Ravager to put the counters on the Reclaimer, then remove the counters to put those artifacts back on top of your deck. Just something to think about.
First with Mirrodin’s Power Conduit, and especially in Darksteel, Wizards seems to be pushing the whole”charge counter” thing. If anything coalesces around that theme, the Coretapper will play a vital role.
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All of the indestructible artifacts deserve careful scrutiny, because the ability to shrug off removal is huge. Could there be some sort of rebirth of TurboHaups decks in store to take Regionals by storm again?
Now this is certainly expensive! Four to cast and five to equip is a hefty mana investment, and for each creature you want to destroy you got to spend four more. The beauty of this card is that it brings targeted creature removal to colors that don’t have it, namely Green (which has the ability to accelerate mana production) and White (which has a way to discount equip costs in the Steelshaper). And if you don’t need to kill anything, it even boosts the equipped creature’s power and toughness. Keep this card in mind as a solution to potential problems you may run across in deck design.
An extremely powerful effect with lots of combination possibilities. Keep your eye on this one.
What is the Matrix? A mana pit of despair? A kill card for a control deck? An incentive to build a Myr deck around? A lot of flavor text in this block points to some nefarious event that the Myr are involved in, so I expect Wizards will be presenting us with a”Myr” deck eventually, with the necessary tools available now or possibly needing a few more components in Fifth Dawn.
If ever a mostly-Blue control deck is to be, this will likely be a part of it. I don’t really see this as something you’d play on turn 3, tapping out (oh the horror!). I see this as something you play for free once you’ve got six Islands in play, a decently large 2/4 flier that leaves your mana unmolested and free to spend on other things, preferably at instant speed.
If Domain decks ever make a comeback, look out! But seriously, the Titan has a huge body ripe for Trash for Treasure or Zombify, and if you’re playing some of the same colors as your opponent, he’s not at all symmetrical. Would he be completely unreasonable in an Astral Slide deck, winking in and out of existence and wiping out multiple lands? Eight mana is a lot though…
Next up: The Rest of Darksteel. Stay tuned!