Innovations – M11 Spoiler Heaven

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!
Monday, June 14th – M111 is fast approaching, and Patrick Chapin is prepared! Today, he takes a look at a selection of common and uncommon cards spoiled thus far, both new stock and reprint, and suggests how the various formats may look when the new Core Set arrives! [Warning: M11 Spoilers!]

Spoiler season is upon us, so we have quite a few cards to cover today. As always, thanks to our friends at MTGSalvation.com for compiling these spoilers, but many of these are not “official” so make sure to double check that these cards are actually the exact way listed. So far, most of the cards available are just commons, as a result of the primary source of recent spoilers being leaked Intro Decks. Nevertheless, the commons reveal quite a few interesting surprises.

Let’s start with Blue, which, as surprising as it sounds, may very well be the best color. (I can hear the rejoicing!)

Aether Adept
Creature- Human Wizard
When Aether Adept enters the battlefield, return target creature to owner’s hand.

This is one of the cards that makes me happiest with M11 thus far. Man-o-War is one of my 25 favorite cards of all time, and Aether Adept is a better design. To begin with, Human Wizard may not be as funny as Jellyfish, but the joke gets old. Meanwhile, the Wizard tribe is well supported. Riptide Lab? Don’t mind if I do! Outside of a better cohesive flavor, the second Blue in the cost is much appreciated. Man-o-War is quite a powerful card, and a couple of particularly bad offenders in the thievery game were White Weenie, Black Aggro, or Five-Color Green, each of which splashed the Man-o-War without really being Blue decks. Still, it is not actually that limiting in Constructed, as there is such good manafixing now; it won’t be much trouble at all to produce double Blue in most decks.

On the flipside, the second Blue means Aether Adept gets to be common for Limited. You might be saying Man-o-War was common, therefore so what? The thing is that Visions Blue was one of the most unbalanced card pools ever. Getting Man-o-War reprinted was already a mean feat, but the effect of splashable Man-o-Wars on Limited is potentially undesirable, plus it’s nice that there is a common reward for playing a relatively serious amount of Blue.

How good with Aether Adept be in Standard? Obviously it is a little early to tell, but we do have some facts to work with. Man-o-War was one of the best creatures of all time when he debuted, but creatures are quite a bit better, in general, than they used to be. The flipside to that, though, is that there are even more creatures being played, making Aether Adept more likely to have a target. A downside, however, is that removal is also better and more plentiful, meaning that opponents are more likely to have decks that have adapted to a plentiful collection of good removal, such as Next Level Bant or Super Friends.

Still, I think that Aether Adept will probably be a solid contributor to Standard. Next Level Bant is the first and most immediate home that comes to mind, as he does a great job of providing early defense, bouncing an early Thrinax or Knight of the Reliquary. He can help make tempo plays to fight Planeswalkers, he can combo with Ranger of Eos or Sea Gate Oracle or Wall of Omens or Sphinx of Lost Truth, and he is better at being Kor Skyfisher than Kor Skyfisher ever was. Finally, NLB is a little shy at the three spot, as you don’t actually want to have to use Borderland Ranger if you can help it (which won’t be legal any more after three more months).

Outside of Next Level Bant, I think he will still see lots of play. In fact, any random two- or three-color deck that includes Blue has got to at least consider Aether Adept, as he is a very cost effective three-drop. As long as you are consistently bouncing creatures that cost three or more, you are getting great value. Even if you only bounce a two-drop, you have only spent one mana more than they have, and you have advanced your board with a 2/2. I think this card will be greatly misunderstood by most, as many will use him when they shouldn’t, whereas others overlook how awesome he is. Still, as the format matures I think he will likely be a tournament staple. Besides, Man-o-War is just fun… really fun. If you have never played with it before, you are in for a treat.

Augury Owl
Creature- Owl
When Augury Owl enters the battlefield, scry 3.

Wow, Scry 3 is SO much better than Sage Owl for 4. Some many people love the Sage Owl, but then when they use him, they want to quit as they see their fate has been sealed. Regardless of the relatively hopelessness or not of the card, Scry 3 is just much better than rearranging 4. I mean, if you don’t like the three, you can actually jump straight to the fourth card anyway. As it is, you can also keep OR ship the first three. Sage Owl was never a “real” tournament card, despite some playing fun combo decks using Call of the Wild back in the mid-nineties; however, that isn’t the real bar anyway.

Will Augury Owl see tournament play? Well, to begin with, he seems sweet in Limited. I have a sort of rule of thumb about value. Value is good.

Okay, that was a joke. Another guideline to try is that Scry 1 is slightly better than half as good as Scry 2. Scry 2 is not quite as good as “Draw a card, then discard a card.” Scry 3 is a little better than draw a card, then discard a card.” Scry 4 is not quite as good as draw a card. Scry 5 is about as good as draw a card. Draw a card, then discard a card is a little better than half as good as draw a card.

I guess what I am saying is that if I valued “Draw a card” at U (and U= 1.5 colorless), my “buy-list” might look like this:

0.5 Scry 1
0.9 Scry 2
1.0 Draw a card, then discard a card.
1.2 Scry 3
1.4 Scry 4
1.5 Draw a card.
1.5 Scry 5

Now keep in mind that these values fluctuate depending on a number of factors. For instance, if you are in the market for controlling the top card of your library, you will value Scry more heavily. Likewise, if you are playing Dredge, or Madness, or whatever, you might value Looting more heavily. These baseline values can help give some concept of intrinsic power level, however, which can be good for providing a starting point on which to build understanding. If Flores and Sacher’s Unifying and Stock Mana ideas are useful, I think it is in terms of framing card power from the stand point of how much mana worth of value they produce.

That is a big part of how one could tell that Jace, Vengevine, and Bloodbraid Elf would be among the best of the best. Was it a secret that those cards were good? No. However, none of them had natural homes, and all three had many naysayers that doubted the full power of each, thinking they would merely be “good.” However, an examination of the intrinsic power level, the amount of mana of value you are getting, reveals that each of these produces so much more than four mana’s worth of value that a home must come to exist for them.

The other side of this, however, is that the cost you are paying must be weighed compared to the market. Right now in Standard, the amount of “value” you get out of a two-mana card doesn’t have to be that high, since the two-mana cards aren’t that good. However, the amount of value you get out of a four-mana card can’t be “only” four mana, since the market is Jace, Elspeth, Bloodbraid, Vengevine, Ranger, Ajani Vengeant, and so on. As a practical example, look at Foresee. That card is much stronger than Divination. Scry 4 is definitely worth more than a mana to me, most of the time. However, Foresee may not see as much play as Divination, simply because the market has a very high standard for what you get for four mana these days, whereas three doesn’t have much stiff competition, all things considered.

In fact, part of what made Blightning and Knight of the Reliquary so incredible is that they were the two truly awesome three-mana spells in a world of good four-drops. Blightning and Knight are just about the only insane value you can get for three mana, so a card like Divination might just be the best you could do. How many Foresees are you going to play in the world of Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Maybe some, but the competition is fierce.

Target creature becomes a 1/1 until end of turn.

Not much to say on this one, other than to remember Snakeform. This card is not that strong, but it does do a unique thing, which can be of especially great value if you are playing Cunning Sparkmage. This card is definitely the type that ends up being a filthy piece of technology once or twice, even if it has little replay value.

Scry 2, then draw a card.

In the words of The Counsellor, Matt Sperling, “Some cards are just Preordained to be played in Vintage.” Preordain is the latest in the Blue one-mana library manipulation department. Where exactly on the BrainstormPonderSerum VisionsPortentSleight of HandOptMental NoteObsessive Search spectrum does Preordain fall? For starters, it obviously is a natural comparison to Serum Visions, with the only real difference being the Scry happening before the draw a card. How much does this matter? As it turns out, a ton.

Look at Ponder. Ponder is a Portent that CAN’T hit opponents (whereas Portent can). The upside is that you draw the card immediately instead of during the next turn’s upkeep. Despite the lack of ability to hit the opponent, the fact that you get the card NOW is so big, Ponder is restricted and Portent is not played. Preordain is similarly an improvement. Whereas you don’t get the added information of the new card you are drawing in order to make your decisions, you do get to manipulate the top of your library then get access to the card you want NOW. Whereas Portent is better minor value, as is Serum Visions, Ponder and Preordain are more gas ASAP, which in Vintage means everything.

Is Preordain as good as Ponder? I say no, but I think it is very probably the next best thing, if you are in the market for that sort of thing. As far as other formats go, I think the card is certainly an option for various threshold decks in Legacy. Brainstorm and Ponder are still king, I think, but many times those decks play ten or more one-mana cantrips, and Preordain seems like the next best option.

Preordain is also a reasonable card for Extended combo decks that need more library manipulation, but it is unclear if it is the right spot on the curve to accomplish much of what needs to be done right now. As far as Standard goes, Preordain will probably share a similar fate to Ponder, fringe play where it is decent but without broken cards to find, its utility goes down a fair bit. It does help push towards a critical mass of cards that manipulate the top of your library, should you be so inclined as to use cards like Summoning Trap or Explosive Revelation.

Scry 4, then draw 2 cards.

Okay, this is cute, haha. There is a beautiful sort of symmetry to having Preordain, which feels like a natural Ponder type and Foresee, which replaces Divination in the draw 2 department. Yes, Foresee is just Scry twice as much and draw twice as much, but is it good enough? I played Foresee in my Korlash deck back in 2007 and loved it, but Careful Consideration usually drowned it out in those days, with the mana requirement usually being the only reason to rock it.

Nowadays, we certainly don’t have Careful Consideration anymore (man, do I miss THAT one), but we do have Jace, the Mind Sculptor, making the four slot a tough sell for a “Do Nothing” that doesn’t advance the board. You could get card advantage out of your Jace, your Ajani Vengeant, your Ranger, your Vengevine, your Elsepth, or your Bloodbraid Elf. Do you really need to spend that critical four-mana turn on a Draw 2? I vote: Probably not, but I could see some combo deck that might, though that kind of a deck is probably too busy Oracle-plus-Jacing to bother.

Jace’s Ingenuity
Draw 3 cards.

Finally! The Mysteries of the Deep that Mysteries of the Deep wishes it was! Jace’s Ingenuity is, for the most part, a Mysteries of the Deep that you don’t have to work for, which may be the missing nudge it needs to make it into the tournament category. Is this card like a cross between Fact or Fiction and Tidings? Or is it a five mana spell that doesn’t affect the board enough to see play? To me, this looks like it might be the best no investment card draw spell in a while, and it is very intriguing that it is an Instant. If only there was good counter magic, this might be a huge book. Talk about a way to punish your opponents for not playing their best cards first.

I have heard some rumblings about the Planeswalker’s names appearing on cards, such as this. I, for one, welcome it. Teferi’s Response? Umezawa’s Jitte? Gerrard’s Verdict? There is nothing wrong with that sort of naming of cards, and this lets the set continue to paint a world for us to enjoy, a world where the planeswalker characters are more and more relevant to the game. It is interesting to see this card now, as counter magic is SO bad that it is not clear if this card could really be better than Mind Spring. It also faces tough competition in Sphinx of Lost Truth.

Personally, I am guessing this card probably doesn’t make it as far as many people will think, in Standard. In Extended, it has chances of being a fringe outside card, but it is slow. It is certainly not an option higher than that. At the end of the day, every single spell that costs four or more is going to have to be able to handle a comparison between it and the Planeswalkers. Could Jace’s Intuition work? Maybe, but my intuition is that unless there are more compelling reasons to play at instant speed, Planeswalkers should be the default card advantage engines. This is far from a rule, and this card does look sweet… I am just saying that Jace, Elspeth, Gideon, Ajani Vengeant, and so on set the bar high, for the time being.

Now, if you were going to play some classic U/W permission strategy with a lot of Counterspells

Jace’s Erasure
Whenever you draw a card, you may have target player put the top card of their library into their graveyard.

It really is a Blue Megrim. Just as Liliana’s Caress calls to players, so too will Jace’s Erasure. A big difference is that whereas many players “know better” than to play Megrim (and by extension, Liliana’s Caress), people don’t yet know “not to Jace’s Erasure.” The deck calls to you, it wants to be built. In fact, as evidenced by the number of Howling Mine decks that continue to get played in Standard, it is clear that there is no shortage of players, even top players, that WANT this deck to be good. I am not saying it won’t win some tournaments, as it will. I am just saying that it will probably enjoy most of its success for three reasons:

1) Preying on a specific metagame, such as too much U/W.

2) Preying on the unprepared, i.e. free wins against opponents who don’t know how to fight you.
3) Preying on FNM competitors, and what I mean here is not that is can only work at local levels, but rather that it is a strategy that scales faster than most. When people have Bloodbraids and Vengevines, this card gets bad really fast. When they have Stoneforgers and Nighthawks, the card starts to improve pretty quickly.

Liliana’s Caress
Whenever an opponent discards a card, that player loses 2 life.

I wonder how many times in the past week I have heard or been asked “If Megrim cost a mana less, would you play it?” My answer is, probably almost exactly as much as I play it now. I would play it if it was the right kill card, but thus far, I haven’t really seen it be that. That said, Megrim is the type of card that 12-year old kids and 36 year-old corporate men enjoying an FNM are going to run, no matter what. This is a little like Wizards of the Coast letting children and slightly less serious tournament players everywhere collectively all save a mana. Those people are going to run Megrim regardless, and they aren’t the threats. Honestly, you and your Jund deck or NLB deck are still going to rip them a new one, so let’s just let them save a mana every time, and maybe it is going to help them win an extra game against Vampires here and an extra game against Monument Green there. How many games will they get to win as a result of that saved mana? More than zero, and that is okay by me.

Additionally, no one knows what “Megrim” actually means, whereas Liliana’s Caress is a good branding opportunity and is just condescending enough to put a smile on the faces of some that would actually play a card like Megrim. I also like that the card is uncommon, as I appreciate when WotC takes care to do things like make Bloodbraid Elf and Vampire Nighthawk uncommon. I do think Mythics have been great for the game, but I also think that it is undesirable to have all the strategies people want to play start with Jaces, Elspeths, and Gideons, followed by Vengevines or Baneslayers or Cobras or whatever.

Liliana’s Specter
Creature- Specter
When Liliana’s Specter enters the battlefield, each opponent discards a card.

This card makes me smile, no two ways about it! Shrieking Grotesque was always a fun one out of Guildpact, and Liliana’s Specter is basically just an “always kicked” Grotesque. The card is solid upgrade over Ravenous Rats and this type of card is generally solid, a good honest two-for-one. The biggest factor probably holding it back initially is that plenty of opponents will simply look through their hand and find a Vengevine to discard. Still, fans of true discard strategies get an exciting and potent three-drop, whereas others simply have yet another option for a solid two-for-one, such as maybe some kind of Grixis deck, B/U, or B/R. One of the keys to making this guy shine is to combine it with other Mind Rot style discard spells, such as Blightning.

Discard that makes the opponent choose a small number of cards in their hand to discard generally scales quickly and well, but starts weak. It’s like they always say: the first Blightning isn’t so bad, it’s the second one that really stings. This is because the first Blightning generally hits two cards you weren’t going to play, or at least not for a while. The second Blightning generally greatly interferes with your game plan and immediately cuts your options down dramatically. Simply making an opponent discard a card is no great feat, as they will often have an extra land or a spell they weren’t going to play until later, if at all (like Doom Blade). However, if this guy is combined with Blightning, then generally, by the time they have selected the third card to go in their hand, they are already making really tough choices that leave them with fewer and fewer options.

While Liliana’s Specter’s power level is not through the roof, the card is solid and will see some play.

Put target attacking creature on the bottom of its owner’s library. Its controller gains life equal to its toughness.

Wow. Talk about a card to get excited about! Condemn is a truly awesome cheap removal spell that actually deserves the comparisons to Path to Exile that will surely arise. The card wasn’t as good last time it was legal, mostly because of Faeries, but the card did make for an awesome sideboard and some maindeck play. Nowadays, instead of Faeries to oppress it, we have cards like Vengevine, Sprouting Thrinax, Bloodghast, and more. It is also well positioned against Putrid Leech, Raging Ravine, Celestial Colonnade, and the entire Mythic deck.

Condemn may not look like that dramatic a card printing, but my snap judgment is that it may be one of the most format-impacting cards in M11. Just compare it to Path to Exile, a card that dramatically warps the format itself. They both cost one mana, but Condemn doesn’t give them the land, by far the biggest cost to Path to Exile and very key early. In exchange for this, you have to put up with a number of additional restrictions. You can’t Condemn your own guy to as great an effect (though Condemning your own guys for life is real and sweet), you can’t end step it or remove a blocker protecting a Planeswalker, and you do give the opponent life, which can hurt a race. That said, a one-mana removal spell that hits most creatures is a very reliable tempo advantage that will go a long way towards buying time for players with sick middle games and endgames, such as U/W and U/W/r.

I will say one more thing about Condemn’s effectiveness, though. It is SO good at what it does, it may actually end up hurting itself. People are not going to just let you Condemn them left and right, leading into a Jace/Elspeth/Gideon game that they can’t win. As a result, I think that more and more people are going to adopt creatures that can combat Condemn, such as Ranger of Eos, Cunning Sparkmage, Black Knight, Liliana’s Specter, Sphinx of Jwar-Isle, Avenger of Zendikar, Rampaging Baloths, Oracle of Mul-Daya, Ob Nixilis, Malakir Bloodwitch, and Condemn’s biggest weakness… Knight of the Reliquary.

Mighty Leap
Target creature gets +2/+2 and flying until end of turn.

I don’t have a ton to say on Mighty Leap, as it is not much of a Constructed card. However, I just thought it was interesting that this card is an Instant. White doesn’t usually have that many Giant Growths, and this one is among their best, not to mention it is one of the best “Jump” ever and it is common, continuing the White Philosophy of making up for their inadequacies by stepping on more and more of Green and Blue’s pieces of the pie. At this point, White really is “Bant,” am I right? I am not saying all White decks have Blue AND Green, but how many people these days play Black/White or Red/White? (Yes, I know that Boros “exists.”) It is not really about B/W and R/W decks, though. It is about how White as a color feels like the entire Bant Shard. Look at Green, for instance. Does Green “feel” like the entire Naya Shard? I don’t even have much of a point… I’m expressing myself as the special snowflake I am.

Ember Hauler
Creature- Goblin
1,Sacrifice Ember Hauler: Ember Hauler deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

See, now this is what I am talking about. Yes, we get it, Mogg Fanatic was robbed during the M10 rules changes that killed Magic almost a year ago by dumbing it down. Well, here we have an example of the big picture at work. Ember Hauler was obviously designed using the new rules, and as such, they got to take a little more liberty with him. Goblin Legionnaire was always totally awesome, seeing play in both Standard and Extended, despite having a surprisingly awkward casting cost. Ember Hauler trades the Legionnaire ability that no one ever uses in exchange for an easy casting cost, no vulnerability to Pro-White guys, and even an easier cost to activate.

Is this guy awesome? For sure, this guy seems so good to me. It is just so hard to tango with this guy without losing value. He is a two-drop that you don’t want to deal with, but every turn you don’t he Shocks you. If you try to kill him, he gets a free Shock in. Even if you have the board totally locked up, he is still a burn spell. He is not out of this world, by any means; I am just saying he is definitely a Min-Max creature, where the power that he does have has been conveniently arranged by the designers to make him as good as possible.

Ironically, the biggest thing holding this guy back is an abundance of riches. Just a couple of years ago, Red’s biggest weakness was the two spot on their curve. Blood Knight was just about the only not embarrassing man you could run, then what? Vexing Shusher? Stigma Lasher? Nowadays, Red doesn’t exactly have any creatures at all but two-drops. Kargan Dragonlord, Plated Geopede, and Kiln Fiend all smash any hopes of Hellspark Elemental. Where does Ember Hauler fit in? Well, fortunately, he doesn’t try to compete for the same space as Geopede and Kiln Fiend. Kargan Dragonlord still beats him out, but that is because it is the best by a mile. When it comes to what two-drop to compliment your Dragonlord, it may be that you want to entirely sidestep ground based combat, figuring it is too tough to get a Geopede or Kiln Fiend through. You may not be able to get Ember Hauler through, but at least he is a burn spell that gives you the “option” to fight with it until you want to use it. It is like a Seal of Fire that likes to beat down.

I am guessing that popular opinion may actually start out a little down on this guy, mostly from people continuing to whine about not putting damage on the stack. Guess what? If you could, this guy wouldn’t cost this little. Eventually, he will see some play in a variety of Red decks, but unless he finds a place to break out besides Mono-R, how good could he be? Here is a question for you…

… How many Goblins does it take before Goblins is a real deck?

Fire Servant
Creature- Elemental
If a Red sorcery or instant you control would deal damage to a creature or player, it deals double that damage instead.

This guy seems unreal bad in Constructed, but is my Megrim pick of the set thus far. Talk about a card that will inspire hundreds and hundreds of FNM decks that average a record of about two wins and three losses, but lead to good times by the pilots. Fire Servant is expensive, doesn’t have much impact on the board, dies to stone cold anything, requires you to use (generally) bad cards (burn spells) in a less effective way (doming instead of removing creatures). IF you do all of this, you can build a sort of five mana Furnace of Rath? Still, I love this guy’s flavour, and I love how much happiness he will bring. He will bring happiness to the people living the dream, and he will bring happiness to the guy that casts Path to Exile on the Fire Servant and attacks with an Eldrazi Conscripted Mythic creature.

You don’t want to have to play against Mythic, NLB, Jund, and U/W every round, right? Fire Servant helps make that possible!

As an additional cost to cast Fling, sacrifice a creature.
Fling deals damage equal to the sacrificed creature’s power to target creature or player.

This card already has the warning bells going off in my head. Fling was always a very misunderstood card, as many people scoffed at it, not realizing it is actually pretty much better than Berserk in many ways. As anyone that has used Soul’s Fire or Rite of Consumption in Extended can tell you, this type of effect is not to be underestimated. How does Fling compare to Rite, Soul’s Fire, or Fatal Frenzy? I think it is generally better than all three. On top of that, it is exciting, flavorful, and fun. A nice card indeed. Fling is a card that rides the line between combo card and utility burn spell, though it does veer towards combo. Still, at two mana, it is a strong option if you are in the market for that sort of thing.

Search your library for up to two basic land cards, reveal those cards, then put one onto the battlefield and the other into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Michael Jacob fantasy is finally a reality. For years – YEARS – all MJ ever asks for is non-Arcane Kodama’s Reach. Finally, that dream has come true, and it couldn’t be at a better time. Cultivate is a good, honest two-for-one that is certainly more powerful than Divination, since fetching a basic of your choice is generally about as good as drawing a card (a little less here), but the ability to just put an extra land onto the table in this situation is probably worth somewhere around three quarters of a mana.

Pros: Cultivate is great Green card advantage. It fits in awesomely with these new Turbo-Land decks. It is just more powerful a ramp card than Growth Spasm. It greatly assists in fueling mana-hungry mid-range decks full of four-, five-, and six-drops. It is one of the best non-creature spells you can play at the three spot, a place without much competition these days.
Cons: It doesn’t ramp you to four, the best casting cost in Standard.

Verdict: Awesome tournament card staple and will see tons of play, in fact helping spawn new archetypes. This card is a fun one, because it is not so obnoxiously powerful that you lose to it over and over like Bloodbraid Elf. However, it is good at what it does, and casting it even once ensures that you will be able to cast most or all of your realistic spells. Being able to cast your spells is a LOT of fun.

Garruk’s Companion
Creature- Beast

Let’s just say that Garruk has much better taste in chosen companions than Nissa…

Seriously though, once we set aside the audacity of Garruk’s Companion, the taboos it violates, how good is it really? Usually, there is not just a line of three-power creatures for two with no drawback floating around. This one is not only common, but it even has the slightly taboo evergreen “Trample,” which I think will be surprisingly relevant. Yes, it does get “stopped” by Wall of Omens, but you could Vines of Vastwood, or Lightning Bolt, or Exalted if you wanted to.

All I am saying is that Garruk’s Companion offers a fine option to discriminating Green Mages for what to do on turn 2, which is much appreciated in this era of a shortage of good two-drops. What are the options? Putrid Leech, Nest Invader, Wall of Omens, Lotus Cobra, and Stoneforger… then what? Qasali Pridemage and Bloodghast? I don’t think this guy is that good, but he certainly isn’t bad. He has applications, I appreciate the option he offers, I am thankful that more people will want to use this against me, and I like that he is such a Beast for Limited. Green could use a little boost. Bennie, Jamie, thoughts? Yes, I get that it is neither or Overrun nor Green Pacifism or a “Trick,” but you have to admit, it is a nice addition to Green’s arsenal, right?

Greater Basilisk
Creature- Basilisk

Little kids everywhere get +1/+1!

Sacred Wolf
Creature- Wolf
Sacred Wolf can’t be the target of spells of abilities your opponent’s control.

This guy seems like he pretty much sucks, but will be beloved by many. Troll Ascetic was decent, but in addition to the extra point of toughness and the regeneration clause, he also had gear worth wearing, like Jitte or Swords. Troll Ascetic could fight anyone without fear. Sacred Wolf might as well be the Scared Wolf, as he is afraid of stone cold everything. Still, the very printing of that ability on the card ensured that it will see play, since there are people who want that ability at any price. He is better than Pincer, I’ll give you that, but I don’t think by enough to make it. Still, Pincer Beetle was terrible and saw a lot of play, so there seems like chance Sacred Wolf won’t.

Sylvan Messenger
Creature- Elf Scout
When Sylvan Messenger enters the battlefield, you may search your library for a basic land, reveal it to all players, then put it into your hand. If you do, then shuffle your library.

Sylvan Messenger is interesting… I mean, how does he compare to Borderland Ranger? Borderland Ranger is just on the edge of decent, which is interesting because Civic Wayfinder was actually great, with nothing more than the creature type mattering improving it. Sylvan Messenger is back to being a good creature type, but unfortunately the Elf type doesn’t matter nearly as much as it did during Wren’s Run’s days. Next, we see that for a mana less, we accept -1/-1. How much does this matter? Well, it really comes down to three primary factors.

First of all, how relevant is a 1/1? Most of us would rather have a 2/2 for 2G that gets a land than a 3/3 for 3G that gets a land. Does it keep going? If a 1/1 doesn’t trade with anything, we could be stuck in the Elvish Visionary world, where it is a great card, but doesn’t see much play since it gives you something that you don’t want that much.

The flipside to this is point two, how much of Sylvan Messenger is the body and how much of it is value? You know what the difference between a Sea Gate Oracle and a Wall of Omens is to some people? Sea Gate Oracle can wear the Eldrazi Conscription. If all you care about with Sylvan Messenger is the warm body (to be utilized by Elspeth, Ajani Goldmane, Sledge, Exalted, Glare of Subdual, Glorious Anthem, Beastmaster Ascension, or whatever) then Sylvan Messenger is a great deal. Saving a mana is a huge boon, and if all you had to give up was a little “value,” then awesome!

The final factor to consider is how much does it matter that it is a different place on the curve? My snap reaction is that this matters a ton. Mana-fixing being able to be played on time is crucial, and there are few things as painful as keeping two-land Borderland Ranger and not getting there. Sylvan Messenger being able to be played on turn 2 seems awesome, assuming you actually want the body. If you don’t care about the body, some kind of Rampant Growth is probably better, but if we assume you actually care, then it seems to be very much costed like Elvish Visionary, where it is a totally awesome card if you want the body, but if you don’t it probably doesn’t have a huge impact on the game. Remember, there may not be much competition at the two spot, but Elvish Visionary isn’t good enough for most Standard decks today, so the burden of proof is definitely on Sylvan Messenger to convince us he is worth using.

Context. Look for it. When you are evaluating the Messenger in the weeks to come, ask yourself how much you actually want a 1/1. If you really do, then he is the man for you. If you just want the fixing, keep looking.

Wall of Vines
Creature- Plant Wall
Defender, reach

Because all Wall of Wood needed was reach…

Yavimaya Wurm
Creature- Wurm

Why am I talking about a reprinted common that won’t see any play in Constructed? I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that while Craw Wurm was pretty weak in M10, Yavimaya Wurm was really strong in Saga Block draft. Now that all the kid’s Craw Wurms have Trample, I think it changes the playing field a little and Green looks a bit better. I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of Craw Wurm actually being good. It is such a fun and flavorful creature. If all it takes is giving it trample to make it playable, I am all for it!

As you can see, we have a little selection of cards to start with this spoiler season, as it is mostly the commons that we have had access to out the gates. As a result, we should be cautious when forming our opinions, as a few key rares and mythics can really swing a set. For the time being, the set looks like it may continue the core-set improvements for drafting seen from 9th to 10th to M10. The set seems to have captured more of that flavor, that fun of M10. Scry is a sweet ability to put into the core set. I love the card advantage cards. I am pumped to see what next week brings!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”