Innovations – A First Look at Rise of the Eldrazi: What Really Matters?

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Monday, March 29th – Rise of the Eldrazi is on the way, an Patrick Chapin is here to walk us through some of the cards spoiled thus far. From massive fifteen-mana monsters to innocuous common mana ramp cards, the Innovator spills the beans! Warning! Contains spoilers!

Warning: Spoilers!

It’s hard to believe that the Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease is less than four weeks away! I am gunslinging the PES prerelease in Columbus, and I am pumped. WotC has been on a tear lately, and I am optimistic that Rise of the Eldrazi will help keep the momentum going that has elevated Magic to an all-time high with regards to the number of players actively involved in the game.

I still remember one particularly notable experience when I was gunslinging the Zendikar prerelease in Georgia. I have signed countless cards over the years, and that is definitely an honor, but it is hard to express the personal sense of accomplishment that I experienced the first time I was approached to sign a printed copy of my e-book, Next Level Magic. That feeling was indescribable and I can only imagine when people get their hands on the expanded 420 page expanded paperback. Few things I have ever done in my life make me as proud. If you see me at the Rise Prerelease (or anywhere else for that matter), be sure to let me know what you think. The feedback is a big part of how I improve as a writer, and that means a lot to me.

As far as spoiler season goes, it was not that long ago that the rumor mills had become very effective at picking apart spoilers from leaks at Wizards of the Coast, so much so that 4 weeks outside of a set, more than half the set would already be leaked. These days, it is very rare for spoilers to leak at all, with most of the information flowing from Wizards of the Coast as they direct. Still, the work that our friends at MTGSalvation.com and GatheringMagic.com do as far as organizing spoiler data from every source into one place, as well as speculating, studying Orb of Insight results, and sometimes actual leaks is much appreciated. All spoilers today are courtesy of them.

I have found that reviewing spoilers when so much of the set is not yet known is both an art and a science. There is certainly a degree of talent involved, a little imagination, as you have to try to imagine not just how the card would exist today, but how it will be with everything else Wizards might do with the release of the full set.

Some cards are obviously powerful in their own right and require little context; for instance, Lightning Bolt in M10. Other cards require a lot of context, but it can be obvious that the context will be such that they are good, for instance Great Sable Stag in M10 (with Faeries so popular at the time).

Many players will fall into the trap of saying that a card will not be good, despite having the potential on card power, simply as a result of the context they see not being right. This is especially foolish when most of the set is not yet spoiled. How do you know that there will not exist enough other cards to push it through? This doesn’t mean you can’t make initial judgments, but it does mean that keeping an open mind is very useful. While most people know this, it seems that so very many don’t always know how to go about doing it.

Outside of just keeping an open mind, it can be very useful to force yourself to apply cold logic to spoiled cards, not just emotion. Studying the history lessons of previous sets is particularly useful not just for finding the next big thing, but for figuring out which cards are going to go up or down in value. Magic card prices can be so volatile and the disparity of information during spoiler season makes it a particularly profitable time to be ahead of the curve, information wise.

I have always gotten a lot of positive feedback for turning people onto cards like Cryptic Command, Bitterblossom, Cruel Ultimatum, Broodmate Dragon, Noble Hierarch, Bloodbraid Elf, and Everflowing Chalice, but I had been somewhat underestimating how much people valued the financial side opinions. Such an overwhelming number of people wrote to me thanking me for the heads up on M10 and Zendikar Boosters (Up), Jace the Mind Sculptor (Up), Worldwake Manlands (Up), Abyssal Persecutor (Down), and Lotus Cobra (Down) as well as asking for additional “stock tips” that I can see that this sort of “Magic Strategy” is much appreciated. As such, I will continue to occasionally share some opinions on speculating cards, but remember, I am just talking about what I would do, not advising you to do the same. If you make any card purchases or trades based on my opinions, that is on you (though obviously I think it is a smart move, hehe).

To begin with, I want to talk about the first Rise of Eldrazi spoiler, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Very rarely have so many people asked me about whether or not they should preorder a playset. Let’s talk about this card for a minute.

Before discussing the financial, let’s look at the card from an in game perspective. To begin with, it is useful to try to figure how to even think about these new Eldrazi, since they are so much more than just giant fatties. How can we compare them to each other, and to cards that we play with today?

Let’s break down the fundamental parts of Kozilek. The way I see it, there are essentially four primary aspects to the Butcher of Truth.

1. He is a Legendary Eldrazi 12/12 for 10 mana. How strong is that?

2. He has Annihilator 4. How do we evaluate this ability?

3. When you cast him, you draw 4 cards (regardless of if he is countered, though it does not trigger if you cheat him onto the battlefield).

4. If he would go to a graveyard, you get a Gaea’s Blessing trigger.

Okay, that is a lot to digest. Let’s start with the 12/12 for 10 mana. While those numbers are fine and dandy, the truth is that a giant monster at that cost is not going to get its true power from its stats. This guy kills in two hits and costs more than Iona. What does that even mean? I think that the best thing to do is to start with the idea that he costs more than Iona (albeit all colorless) and kills in two hits. Then we evaluate the other abilities before finally returning back to this point to see if he somehow justifies his cost. You have to remember, in the history of Magic, there has never been a tournament creature for 10 mana that people planned on casting (rather than cheating onto the battlefield). As such, it will take a lot to make Kozilek worth it.

My initial estimate would be that in Standard, I can’t imagine wanting to pay more than 6 colorless for a Legendary 12/12 with no abilities. For reference, Lord of Extinction only costs 3BG and sees no play.

Next, we have Annihilator 4. How much is this worth? Well, obviously this greatly depends on when you plan on being able to attack with Kozilek. For the most part, I can’t imagine this ability being worth that much, as how often do you get to just hang out attacking with a 12/12 every turn? That said, how many times do you need to use this ability before it is awesome? I would say that merely activating it at all is pretty awesome.

One of the things I love about Annihilator is that the ability looks so sweet and produces so much action, but takes place in an area that you don’t have to pay much for, since it is mostly just win more. I think Annihilator will be a ton of fun since you won’t miss it the 19 games out of 20 where it never comes up, and the one game it does it will be dramatic, like a more fun Sundering Titan. Something to remember, however, is that if someone is racing an Annihilator creature, the ability could easily not matter at all, since they can just sacrifice a few lands. It’s generally going to be good to kill 4 lands instead of none, but this ability is the definition of brute force, not precision. It is interesting the way these cards can potentially fight people that gain a huge amount of life. Who cares if you are on a million? Kozilek can lock you out of permanents, then simply discarding another Eldrazi can ensure you never run out of cards.

How much would I pay for a 12/12 with Annihilator 4? Well, that is tough because if it costs 7, the Annihilator ability would have a much bigger impact than at 10 mana. To me, a better way to look at it is that if you somehow cheat Kozilek onto the battlefield, he is in fact just a Legendary 12/12 creature with Annihilator 4 (the only relevant on battlefield text). Let’s compare him to other big creatures that have no drawback once on the battlefield.

Iona is the gold standard for best creature to have on the battlefield, but she is a different sort of monster, as she is not even really functioning as a creature so much as a sort of enchantment that makes your opponent unable to win. The better comparisons are Progenitus, Inkwell Leviathan, and most closely Hellkite Overlord. The trouble with the first two is that you are primarily paying for their protective abilities. Kozilek can’t protect himself (beyond having a butt that looks like one of those rap’s guys girlfriends).

Now, compared to Hellkite Overlord, Kozilek is pretty sweet. Often, it will take the same amount of time for Kozilek to kill someone, but the ability to devastate someone’s board is actually quite potent if you are cheating him onto the battlefield somehow. Imagine some sort of a Sneak Attack or Through the Breach type situation. Maybe not as “win now” as Protean Hulk, but it doesn’t require all the dead cards, is much, much better when actually hard cast, and might not actually be that much worse at ensuring victory. After all, getting hit with this guy on turn 3 is probably pretty hard to come back from, right?

I think it is safe to say, when we set casting costs aside, Kozilek is among the best creatures ever to have on the battlefield. For 10 mana, this is not a shock, but remember, we still want to figure out how to frame this guy mentally. Also, it is important to keep in mind that as big and powerful as he is, he is just one of the Eldrazi. Before jumping out the window, consider who he might work for…

How much would I pay for Hellkite Overlord? Progenitus? Inkwell Leviathan? Less than they cost, and as such, it is only by cheating these guys onto the battlefield are they worth it. Kozilek is surely not worth paying 10 mana for just for the Annihilator and body, but of course there is more to him.

How much is it worth to draw 4 cards when you cast him? I think a 6 mana uncounterable Tidings would see play in Standard, for sure. Does a 6 mana spell and a 6 mana creature and an ability that is maybe worth 2 mana make him a 14 mana card? As it turns out, that is not how Magic actually works. You may say that R gives you Lightning Bolt (or even Shock) and W gives you a 2/2, but if you think that RW for a 2/2 that when it enters the battlefield deals 2 or 3 damage to target creature or player would be okay, you are confused. Saving a card combining them matters. Likewise, a Baneslayer Angel for 3WW is a HECK of a lot better than getting two Baneslayer Angels for 6WWWW, even if it is only costing you one card. Context is everything, my friends.

I would generally rather get a Shivan Dragon than deal 1 damage to my opponent, but I would rather deal 20 damage than get 20 Shivan Dragons.

A good rule of thumb I have found is that when you are combining expensive cards, getting two cards on one generally makes them worth about 2 mana more than getting just one. For instance, Broodmate Dragon is like getting two 4/4 fliers that cost 1BRG each. In general, I would think that a 10 mana card would have to be worth two 8 mana cards to be “worth it.” Is a 12/12 Annihilator 4 worth 8 mana? I am not positive, but I would guess it probably is. Is uncounterable draw 4 worth 8 mana? It is not far off, but in general, I would say it is not.

Does this mean that Kozilek is not worth it? No, it doesn’t, as there are other factors that go into it; I am just saying that I don’t think I would want to brute force him, just cast him “because he is that good.” I think if you would want to play Kozilek, you would want to have more incentive, because I think he would be a fine man at 9 (To me, 8+6 is worth just a little bit more than 9). That said, you only need to get one mana worth of value somewhere, somehow to really get back, and if you can get more than one mana of value out of him being colorless or an Eldrazi or the fact that you have DI mana from your Elvish Archdruid, Omnath, Everflowing Chalice, Tron, or anything else, he is just unreal.

Finally, we come to his Gaea’s Blessing ability. How good is this? Well, since I would guess that at least 3-4 of the Eldrazi have this same ability, there will probably be a “best” one to use as your uncounterable Feldon’s Cane, if you are into that sort of thing. It is impossible to tell without knowing the rest, so let’s set that aside for the moment. How important will it be to have that option in general, if that is not your primary reason for playing him?

Well, it is hard to imagine how this does not invalidate any sort of mill strategy. I mean, Gaea’s Blessing was a nightmare for mill strategies, and this guy is colorless and about 10 times easier to trigger, plus mill strategies can take so long that you can actually just eventually cast one of these someday. How many people will play Eldrazi in Standard? Probably not that many, but probably some, and if Mill was ever a good deck, this would be a pretty unbeatable sideboard card, not because they couldn’t get around it, but because it would not be worth trying to (making it more important to turn into a Baneslayer deck, if you started as a Mill deck).

Is it nice to be able to Feldon’s Cane over the course of a game? It is actually better than you might realize. The longer a game goes, the more spells end up in your graveyard and the more value you might see out of having that much more spell density in your library. Is it worth playing for this? Probably not.

Realistically, to make Kozilek worth it, you are going to have to have enough Eldrazi/colorless incentives to give you enough value to not only make up that he is not aggressively costed, but to make up for the inherent strategic weakness that goes along with playing big clumsy spells and cards that try to speed up your ability to play them. That said, Sundering Titan and Mindslaver became awesome in Extended with just a little push from Tron at times, and it is very possible that Kozilek could get the right push if there exist a critical mass of truly excellent colorless enablers. Everflowing Chalice is one, and I think it would take a minimum of at least 3, maybe 4, to push Kozilek into the mainstream.

Okay, what are the practical takeaways from the last few thousand words? Well hopefully they can be of use for thinking about not only this card, but future cards on your own. In addition, it is a suggestion to look for the enablers, as there is no question that some of the Eldrazi will be super sick. Finally, as far as is this a $29.99 card? My initial prediction is that it is not. There is not a lot of room for thirty dollar cards in a set, and I just don’t see this one accomplishing something so unique and so sought after that would push it into the absolute top tier of chase mythic. Is this a good card that will be a sought after Mythic? Probably, but I see it as being worth more than Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, but less than Iona, Shield of Emeria. Maybe, in a week or two, cards will be revealed that make me reconsider, but for the time being, I am cautious on Kozilek, as I think it is a little overhyped.

It is just so likely that the cards not yet spoiled with make it less likely to be a chase card, rather than more likely. For instance, all the people blown away by its sheer awesomeness on the battlefield will probably not even know how to react to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
(Mythic rare)
Legendary Creature – Eldrazi
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn can’t be countered.
When you cast Emrakul, take an extra turn after this one.
Flying, protection from colored spells, annihilator 6
When Emrakul is put into a graveyard from anywhere, its owner shuffles his or her graveyard into his or her library.

Okay, really? Really? After all that discussion we just had about Kozilek, how does one even wrap their mind around Emrakul? This guy is without a doubt the most powerful creature (powerful, not best) in the history of Magic. How can one even process this? We could sit here and debate the relative value of all of these incredible abilities, but at the core, Emrakul is basically:

1) If you actually cast it, you will probably win somewhere between 90-99% of the time.
2) If you cheat him onto the battlefield, he is probably still the most powerful creature in the game’s history (as I think he compares favorably to Progenitus, a card that sees a fair bit of play in all formats where it is reasonable to cheat him onto the battlefield).

It is mind-blowing to me that this is the prerelease foil. Are you serious? This is outrageous to me, and certainly on par with previous foils like Figure of Destiny and Ajani Vengeant. Personally, I think that this guy has the potential to be one of the best cards in the set. Is it ridiculously expensive? No question, and that is going to make it not worth playing for most people. However, you are only going to play it if you have plans to exploit the card somehow, such as a huge supply of colorless mana (i.e. Chalice) or straight up cheating it (I’d Hypergenesis this one…). The fact that Emrakul is the prerelease foil doesn’t even make sense to me, as this could easily be a chase mythic. To me, this is like Iona the release foil for Zendikar. It just seems kind of crazy, though there is a part of me that wonders if this is actually the biggest one. I think it must be, as it is already leagues beyond any other creature in the game’s history in terms of raw power (regardless of cost).

To summarize, 15 mana is too much to pay for “Win the Game” unless you are exploiting it somehow. As such, it is not realistic to play this guy “totally fair.” That said, he is by far the most powerful creature of all time (at least working backwards) and as such is ripe to be exploited. Keep your eye on this one.

Okay, moving away from the actual Eldrazi for a moment, let’s look at some of the other mechanics being unveiled in Rise.

Guul Draz Assassin
Creature — Vampire Assassin
Level Up: 1B (Play only as sorcery)
Level 2-3: B, Tap: Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn (2/2)
Level 4+: B, Tap: Target creature gets -4/-4 until end of turn (4/4)

The way the Level Up mechanic works is that the card starts off as Level 0 (in this case it is a 1/1). You can pay 1B as a sorcery to put a “Level Counter” on the card, which can be played as many times as you like per turn. After obtaining a certain level of experience, the creature upgrades which might seem like a lot to take in, but it is actually fairly intuitive. However many level counters are on the creature tells you how strong the card is.

Guul Draz Assassin is one of the more interesting Level creatures to me, partly because the mere fact that it is a Vampire goes a long way, partly because Vampires could really use a quality one-drop, and partly because of how much of a natural curve it gives you.

Imagine you play Guul Draz Assassin on turn 1. Turn 2 can be spent leveling the Guul Draz Assassin (putting him at level 1). Now your opponent is in a tough spot. If they play a two-drop, you can just level up and then activate his ability, killing it. If they play a removal spell, you can just play another guy. If they try to wait until you Level it, you can just play something else and swing for 1. Besides, they won’t always have the removal spell.

In addition to his ability to exert a strong influence on the board early, he can be very helpful in situations like where you want to kill a Baneslayer Angel with an Urge to Feed, or as the game progresses, eventually turning your one-drop into a Visara of sorts. Nine mana seems like a lot, but just remember how good Figure of Destiny was. This card might in many ways be the Vampire’s version of Figure of Destiny.

It is unfortunate that he continues in the Vampire’s theme of every awesome new card they get sucks against Jund, but he definitely has the potential to increase the overall power level of the deck. I very much love that there is a lot of play to these Level creatures in both Constructed and Limited and think that they will reward skilled players.

Lighthouse Chronologist
Creature — Human Wizard
Level Up: U (Play only as sorcery)
Level 4-6: (2/4)
Level 7+: At the beginning of each end step, if it’s not your turn, take another turn after this one. (3/5)

Another interesting Level creature is the Lighthouse Chronologist. This guy has the potential to be pretty awesome, in my opinion. I mean, think about it, a 1/3 for 2 mana is not actually that horrible. In addition, the fact that he levels for just a single mana makes it easy to level him in your spare time. You don’t need to focus on him, but can simply pump him whenever you have spare mana laying around.

Compare this to Figure of Destiny, which was awesome but always required a pretty big investment to hit higher levels. With the Chronologist, there is no shame in spending a mana here and a mana there. If you were just going to waste it anyway, the opportunity cost is minimal.

It is nice that his body hits a respectable 2/4 when you are over halfway there, particularly since it means that a single Lightning Bolt will not undo 9 mana worth of work. Many might complain that these creatures cannot be leveled at instant speed, but I think it is actually much better for the game this way. First of all, they can be costed more aggressively. Second of all, it avoids annoying complications, instead shifting the skill to correctly gauging how much to level them each turn. If you could do it at instant speed, the correct play would generally be to just wait until your opponent’s end step every time then pump-let it resolve, repeat, etc. This is yet another example of how removing an option actually adds skill, as it forces you to choose between multiple options that each have merits, instead of just a single option that is clearly the best.

The Chronologist has a surprisingly small opportunity cost for a card that has such a powerful impact on the game once you hit Level 85. How big of an advantage is it to take twice as many turns as your opponent? Well, if you are able to take even a single extra turn off this guy, he will have already paid off your investment, especially since he is giving you great value when you would otherwise be wasting mana. How good this guy ends up being is going to require a lot more context, but my initial reaction is that this guy has a lot of potential. I cannot stress enough how good it is to be able to spend your mana efficiently whenever you have extra laying around. Look at Dreadship Reef. That card was a colorless land that let you trade 2 mana for a charge counter that you could then pay a mana to be able to trade it 1 for 1 for colored mana. That is not exactly breathtaking efficiency, yet those lands have been tournament staples many times. The key is that the opportunity cost is low.

This is the release event foil:

Lord of Shatterskull Pass
Creature – Minotaur Shaman
Level Up: 1R (Play only as sorcery)
Level 1-5: (6/6)
Level 6+: Whenever Lord of Shatterskull Pass attacks, it deals 6 damage to each creature defending player controls. (6/6)

This card is actually pretty easy to wrap your mind around, compared to many of the others. It is a Hill Giant that lets you spend 1R to turn it into a 6/6. It seems kind of exciting to be able to play this guy on turn 4, then on turn 5 level him into a 6/6 and spend your other 3 mana removing creatures and bashing. It is sort of a like an echo creature in a way, though he is temporarily small (unless you just have six mana outright) and you have the option of when to pay (if ever).

If you think about it, a 6/6 for 4RR is not even that bad either, but having the flexibility to pay in installments is pretty awesome. The card does scream vulnerability to Lightning Bolt, but that will be the case with a lot of cards and is just another factor to consider. Is this card over-the-top awesome? No, I think not. The biggest factor holding it back is that there is a huge amount of very stiff competition at the four-spot these days. As such, I would not be surprised if this turns out to be a powerful card that doesn’t see much play as a result of too many Ajani Vengeants, Bloodbraid Elves, Ranger of Eos, Jaces, and so on. At the end of the day, all he really lets you do is make an Abyssal Persecutor, and that is just not what Standard calls for these days.

His Level 85 should not be overlooked, as it does give you a kind of sweet Stage 3, especially if you were not using the mana anyway, but it certainly costs so much mana that it is not exactly a primary selling point of the card. How long did you have a 6/6 on the battlefield that was uncontested? Long enough to spend 16 mana pumping it? This one is not out of the question, but he is not my favorite.

The next card I want to examine today highlights the new Totem Armor keyword that is presumably only found on creature auras.

Hyena Umbra
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature gets +1/+1 and first strike.
Totem Armor

This card reminds me a lot of Thrull Retainer, a card that had an impact on the 1995 Magic tournament scene, as it was used as a counter to huge popularity of Lightning Bolt. While times change and power creep is very real, it is interesting to me that the context that made Thrull Retainer good seems to exist again today. There may be cards like Bant Charm and Path to Exile, but Swords to Plowshares was very popular back in the day.

It should also be noted that Totem Armor is actually better than Regeneration, as it “regenerates” the creature, even if the card killing it specifies no regeneration, in addition, it does not tap the creature.

Could Hyena Umbra be good these days? It is very possible, especially if we remember the lessons of yesteryear. The go-to creature to enchant with Thrull Retainer was Order of the Ebon Hand. The combination of Pro: White with regeneration made it especially difficult to deal with. Today, we can see a sort of mirror of that type of situation by putting this card on a Kor Firewalker or White Knight. What is Jund supposed to do about that? These are already fine cards against Jund, as Jund usually has no more than just four Lightning Bolts to Kill White Knight and four Maelstrom Pulses to kill Kor Firewalker.

Sure, Siege-Gang Commander or sideboarded Deathmarks can shift the numbers a bit, but for the most part, early Firewalkers or White Knights are potentially difficult to remove, especially if the White mage draws two and slow-plays one. For instance, sometimes the Jund player will Maelstrom Pulse the Kor Firewalker only to find that a second Firewalker serves as a better Moat. What is even better than a second Firewalker? A Kor Firewalker with Hyena Umbra is, at least against Jund. This combination not only beats Maelstrom Pulse, it is next to impossible for current Jund to address it in any sort of a reasonable manner, beyond maybe Malakir Bloodwitch, or possibly Gatekeeper of Malakir in some sort of a strange evolution of Jund.

A Firewalker with Hyena Umbra is suddenly able to fight a Sable Stag and win. It can’t be effectively dealt with by Pulse. It can actually kill Sprouting Thrinax now, not just hold one off. It even has some resistance to Deathmark. While the power level is not through the roof on this one, I do think that there may be enough value on synergy for White Mages to consider this as a way to make their aggravating creatures even more so. I am particularly interested in Cedric Phillips take on this card. I have a feeling that if it is going to be good in White Weenie, Cedric will be the one to know.

The key to Cedric as an authority on White Weenie is not just that he is a good player with experience with the archetype. Cedric has demonstrated a profound understanding of being able to accurately assess what is important in a White Weenie deck as formats shift. Sometimes you want tricks, sometimes card advantage, sometimes Planeswalkers, sometimes speed, sometimes Crusades, sometimes equipment, sometimes Tribal interactions, etc. There are so many potential areas to consider, and most of us are not able to correctly gauge which are important in new contexts. This is what makes Ced an expert, not just that he has a some good finishes with the archetype.

A lesson to be learned here is that if you want to be an expert on an archetype in Magic, it is not just enough to win events with it. To really be an expert, you need to understand what is important so that when a new format or rotation exists, you don’t have to start from scratch. You don’t just want to know the technique for catching fish down by Lake McGillicudy, you want to know how to find other spots to find fish on your own.

Is Hyena Umbra the best Totem Armor? No, probably not. Remember, this one is common. If I were a betting man (and I’m not saying I’m not), I would be willing to bet that there is a rare Totem Armor that is totally bonkers in constructed, a la Rancor or Elephant Guide. My hunch is that it will be Green, but that is just baseless speculation. As the spoilers come in, watch for the “Good Totem Armor.” I am pretty sure there has to be one. Hyena Armor is solid, but I kind of imagine that there has to be one that is just epic. R&D hate making mechanics with no superstars to highlight them (Steppe Lynx, Luminarch Ascension, Bloodbraid Elf, Cruel Ultimatum, Everflowing Chalice, etc. Even allies have Hada Freeblade or Kazandu Blademaster).

The next card I want to talk about is a fairly unassuming and will surely be overlooked by many, but is one that I think has the potential to make a big impact. Overgrown Battlement is a Vine Trellis upgrade, but for the most part is primarily a reprint of a proven tournament winner.

Overgrown Battlement
Creature — Wall
Each creature with defender you control

Vine Trellis was not as good as Wall of Roots on account of being slightly smaller to start, not having Haste, and requiring tapping, but it at least had the advantage of not shrinking over time which is certainly nice when you consider that its 4 toughness makes it permanently out of Bolt range. Either way, there is a lot of room for a card to be worse than Wall of Roots and still be a tournament staple.

Overgrown Battlement has a number of things going for it. To begin with, it is the perfect size for current Standard. It is well equipped to match up well against Lightning Bolt, Sprouting Thrinax, Bloodbraid Elf, Great Sable Stag, and just about every White Weenie. Yeah, it doesn’t fight Putrid Leech, but at least it can help ramp you into something big enough to win the fight. In addition, it is a two mana accelerator in a day and age where such a thing is highly prized. Just look at the popularity of cards like Rampant Growth and Explore in decks that would normally not want them. There is a real shortage of good two-drops and a surplus of good four-drops. Everflowing Chalice is another example of just how much people are loving ramping on turn 2 these days.

I think Overgrown Battlement is certainly a very real option to consider in Jund, as it may not be particularly aggressive, but it does seem like it might be a better two drop than Rampant Growth or Explore, helping ramp in Garruk, Bloodbraid, Siege-Gang, Bloodwitch, Broodmate, and more, while helping a little bit at defending against annoying White creatures as well as the mirror.

This type of card is traditionally best used by Red/Green Ramp decks, various Blue control decks, and Tooth and Nail combo, so anyone playing something similar would do well to consider it. For instance, there may be no Tooth and Nail, but what about Summoning Trap? Summoning Trap may not trigger Emrakul’s Time Walk, but at least it puts a 15/15 Flying, Annihilator 6 with Protection from Colored Spells onto the battlefield. That is going to be tough for most people to beat.

Overgrown Battlement is a fine accelerator, as you really do want to have at least two accelerators so that you can Trap on turn 4. The downside of such a plan is that you are more vulnerable to getting flooded. Overgrown Battlement is a perfect solution, as it is every bit the accelerator you are looking for, but also helps provide an early defense against quick creature assaults (Summoning Trap traditional weakness). The icing on the cake is the fact that Overgrown Battlement is actually a Vine Trellis upgrade and is capable of producing a geometrically increasing amount of mana, the more you have. A second Overgrown Battlement means you will get four mana from your two defenders. What to do with this potential surplus of mana? What about just straight up hard casting Iona, Shield of Emeria; Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Emrakul, or Kozilek?

While we are on the topic of producing multiple mana with Overgrown Battlement, what other defenders could you use to really exploit the wall tribe? Wall of Reverence and Wall of Denial are obviously awesome for helping you survive initial assaults and Perimeter Captain is another way to get paid from all these walls. What if you opened turn 1 Perimeter Captain into turn 2 Overgrown Battlement? That is actually kind of scary fast, right? Not to mention how mind-numbingly difficult it would be to attack into that board. That seems likely a potentially insane combination that will be very difficult for some decks to fight.

I would not be surprised at all if Overgrown Battlement turned out to be one of the top 10 cards in the set, and if not, then it’s close, as it just seems like exactly what the new format might need. Remember, there is clearly not going to be a shortage of good ways to spend boat loads of mana, that is not the bottleneck. The real key is to find the best ways to make the mana to fuel whatever crazy things you fancy. This is why Everflowing Chalice is making such a big impact on Standard, and why its importance to the format will only increase.

Okay, I’ve really gotta get out of here. I am in the process of working on the second print run of Next Level Magic, as it looks like we are going to sell through the first run even faster than anticipated (a truly excellent problem, to be sure!) A huge thank you to everyone that has picked up a copy. Make sure to shoot me a line and let me know what you think. The feedback I received after I released the initial e-book was instrumental in helping me make the expanded paperback the book it is today.

Next stop, Grand Prix: Houston! (What do you suppose are the chances that I am packing Jace, the Mind Sculptor?) See you next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”