Innovations – The Worldwake Prerelease and Overrated/Underrated Cards

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Monday, February 1st – With the Worldwake prerelease weekend now behind us, Patrick Chapin talks about some of the stronger Constructed cards that appear in the new set. He also mentions a handful of weaker spells, suggesting it may be prudent if you don’t believe the hype…

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of gunslinging at the Sun Mesa Big Worldwake Prerelease in LA. Wow. I already knew Worldwake was going to be hot, but it was impressive to see how they do prereleases out in California. Aside from a lot of people and tons of diehard gamers going long into the evening (when most TO’s would have long kicked everyone out), the event was full of very positive energy, and much fun for everyone. My hats off to the staff of Sun Mesa; it was truly a pleasure (and they brought one of my favorite people in the world, R&D member and long time friend Matt Place, as another gunslinger!).

I don’t want to discuss Limited too much until I get a better grasp of the new set, as I am not the best Limited player at the beginning of a format, so let’s discuss more Worldwake cards and their impact on Constructed. Many of the cards I mention today are underrated, and many are overrated. Very rarely have I seen a set so misunderstood out the gate. At least it sounds like people are coming around on the “dualmanlands.”

Blue is at least arguably the best color in Standard PRE-WORLDWAKE. It cracks me up to think that just 6 months ago, Cryptic Command was legal, and it was well understood that Blue was the best color, and had been for most of the past who knows how many years. Then the rotations take place, and Blue loses Cryptic Command, Mulldrifter, Faeries, Broken Ambitions, and more.

Now Blue is so “bad” that LSV had to win with Divination. Had to win with Divination? Must be nice to “have to win with Divination.” After the World Championships, where many pronounced Blue truly dead, we seem to have found ourselves in a world where two of the best strategies are U/B/R and U/W/R Control. How could this be?

Here is the better question.

What will it be like once Mindlayer Jace — erm, I mean Jace the Mind Sculptor – is in the mix, along with Treasure Hunt and Halimar Depths? This is to say nothing of Spell Distortion, Sejiri Merfolk, Vapor Snare, or Calcite Snapper. It has become abundantly clear that we are in an era where counterspells are situational and not great. You have to know what counters to have, and you can’t really count on them. This doesn’t mean that Blue won’t dominate… it just needs to adapt. (Of course, eventually the aggro players might start doing things like Runeflaring us into next Tuesday…)

Let’s look at my “wish list” for Blue…

1. Impulse. If you looked at Worldwake and compared Treasure Hunt to Impulse, your heart is in the right place… but dig a little deeper. May I suggest the Halimar Depths (which, in the worlds of LSV, is where the two of us and our friend Jace are going hunting for treasure from now on)? Halimar Depths IS the Impulse that the Oracle told us about. When combined with Fetchlands, you not only get a three-card impulse for one “mana,” you also get the option to keep more than just one card over time, plus there is the huge payoff of Treasure Hunt.

Isn’t this just Ponder, you might be asking? First of all, Ponder’s stock has risen quite a bit, but in addition to that, Halimar Depths truly occupies a land slot in your deck and can be treated as such in deck construction. Ponder is much trickier, since it definitely changes your mana ratios more significantly.

2. A good card draw spell. I have already said my piece on Treasure Hunt here, so suffice it to say, I feel like we got this.

3. A reliable two-mana counterspell (Remand, Memory Lapse, Mana Leak, UU Counter target spell with converted mana cost 3 or less, etc). In this area, we are left wanting.

4. A power card, something on par with Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, Cruel Ultimatum, or Ajani Vengeant. Here, we were rewarded with New Jace, of course, and let the record show, I think he will live up to the hype.

5. A signet. R&D did us a solid and printed Everflowing Chalice (I think people who bash this card will end up looking somewhat foolish). I don’t know how many times Gab, Heezy, MJ, and I have sat around fantasizing about getting to play a “bad Mind Stone.” The part that may amaze you is if you come to see Everflowing Chalice as not a bad Mind Stone.

I know I dedicated over 3000 words to Treasure Hunt (and Jace and Halimar Depths) last week, so I will call it a day on the Blue love-fest. I am just trying to share some perspective. You know what is good? Playing Blue when it has a reputation for being bad. You know what is better? Playing Blue when it’s the best. You know what is the absolute best case scenario? Playing Blue when it’s the best and it has a reputation for being bad.

As I said, my only fear is that I remember how excited I was for Bloodbraid Elf. I thought, “Wow, this is the best card ever, I am going to have SO much fun with this card over the next 2 years.” The problem? It’s a lot less fun when everyone does it. Just saying…

Let’s talk about some other cards in the set that I think are of particular note beyond “this is a sweeper and that makes it good against weenie decks!”

Let’s cut straight to a big one, Abyssal Persecutor. This guy is the only card that has received hype in the same league as the New-Jace, the Mindlayer Angel, err Walker.

A week ago, I received a lot of criticism when I stuck my neck out there, predicting that you will wish you bought Jace, the Mind Sculptor at $30, a set of (20) manlands for $100, and that you will wish you didn’t buy Abyssal Persecutor at $30. Of course, these only apply to people that made these mistakes, but that is a lot of people.

Already, Jace is sold out at $40.

Already, dualmanlands have nearly doubled in price (a playset is up to $160).

What about the Abyssal Persecutor? It is still listed at $29.99 here on StarCityGames.com, and from the looks of things, there aren’t many in stock. This is not surprising, considering the hype.

As a side note, you know what’s better than Abyssal Persecutor on turn 4? Abyssal Persecutor on turn 3 with LOTUS COBRA. Not that that means anything, just a little strategy tip to think about.

Do I think Abyssal Persecutor is bad? No, not at all. Like Lotus Cobra, Abyssal Persecutor is fine if you want that sort of thing. Oh, you don’t have to tell me about the drawback being not that big of thing; I am with you 100%. Abyssal Persecutor has a VERY minor drawback. For all intents and purposes, it is pretty much just a straight-up 6/6 flying trampling demon for 2BB. I am just saying that a straight-up 6/6 flying trampling demon for 2BB would not be that great. I mean its decent, sure, but it has the opposite sort of thing going for it than Baneslayer Angel.

Whereas the Angel can just randomly win games all by itself, the Abyssal Persecutor does just the opposite. It can randomly just lose games all by itself, which must be considered. The real problem, though, is the lack of a good spot to put him. Like Lotus Cobra, Abyssal Persecutor is a powerful card that exists at a tough time and place for such a card. Is it going to see play? Surely. Is it overrated? I believe it is.

Any writers care to place a friendly wager on the number of Jace, the Mind Sculptors versus Abyssal Persecutors in the Top 8 of Pro Tour: San Diego? I would think this is a good bet considering how much better Black decks did than Blue decks at the World Championships. The stakes: Loser writes “I was wrong about Jace, the Mind Sculptor versus Abyssal Persecutor” in an article. In addition, if Jace wins, they must trade me 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptors for 4 Abyssal Persecutors. If Abyssal Persecutor wins, I will agree to the same trade, I give 4 Abyssal Persecutors for 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptors. I am even laying odds now, as last week people were willing to trade them straight up!

Man, I wish, I WISH I could sell Abyssal Persecutors short…

How about Kor Firewalker? I may disagree with Cedric on the Abyssal Persecutor being “underrated,” but I am with him 100% on Kor Firewalker. This guy is totally awesome, and has the potential to be a somewhat defining card in the format (though not a Bloodbraid Elf type, more of a Sprouting Thrinax type). He is pretty awesome versus Mono-Red, Jund, Grixis, and Boros, as well as in conjunction with Earthquake (one of the better cards in the format, in my opinion). If you play White at all, you are going to want a playset of these to work with, and he is one of the better reasons to play White, especially a White creature deck.

While we are on the subject of White life gain that Cedric likes, I am with him on Perimeter Captain, though I rejoice rather than experience frustration. It’s no secret that I love to defend, and Perimeter Captain is the latest in the recent trend of awesome defenders (Plumeveil, Wall of Reverence, Wall of Denial). This card is yet another reason I think Gatekeeper of Malakir is about to experience a newfound appreciation from the community. I mean, honestly, Kraken Hatchling was not that far off, and this guy is almost twice as good.

What is the plan to beat this guy? When he blocks your Goblin Guide, you Bolt it? Just think about how much the Red Mage gets destroyed on that transaction. This guy is no Kitchen Finks, but he is no slouch either. Walls are serious business.

Another card that I don’t hear anyone talking about is No Rest for the Weary. This card is not particularly powerful and it won’t change much, but it is a great new option for combating Red decks, even in Extended. This card is just “2 mana, gain 8 life.” That is really good, assuming you are in the market to gain life. People already play Sunspring Expedition, and this is a much better draw off the top. Having trouble with opponents Lava Spiking you out? You have gained a new option that just happens to be the best at what it does.

It probably won’t matter much in Standard given the presence of Wall of Reverence, Baneslayer Angel, Kor Firewalker, Perimeter Captain, Felidar’s Sovereign and so on, but it is still an option. Remember, your opponent doesn’t have to play a straight burn deck for this to be good. Are you playing a U/W/R control deck, or a U/W control deck? If your Baneslayers are in the sideboard, you may actually consider running one of these badboys if the format has enough aggressive decks. It doesn’t just gain life to combat burn, but also attack steps. I don’t know how many times lately people have thrown away a creature or two against me just to force through 3-4 points of damage. This card lets you trade resources you have to spare (a card and 2 mana) for a resource you value very highly (life/time to get control of the game). Gerrard’s Wisdom was a great card in its day, and this card is better, as you don’t have to leave yourself open on turn 4 to do it.

Ruin Ghost is the last White card I want to cover today. This guy seems pretty far from the realm of Constructed, appearing to just be a landfall enabler for Limited, but with Tideforce Elemental and a land that produces UW (such as Fertile Ground or Heartbeat of Spring types) you have as much landfall as you like. This is sort of a Quillspike + Devoted Druid type combo, though even less deadly, but it will doubtless be explored by many clever deck designers looking for a way to make it work. My prediction: not good enough.

I know I said I was done with Blue cards, but while we are discussing Tideforce Elemental I want to mention the combo that keeps calling to my inner-Johnny, it with Knight of Reliquary. Obviously in Standard you are limited by turning all your Plains and Forests into Blue fetch lands, then Islands, (A turn 2 Knight of Reliquary, turn 3 Tideforce means that on turn 4 your Knight should be attacking for 13-15 damage!) Of course, if you add Harabaz Druid (worth at least two) into the mix, you are talking about the possibility of just activating Knight of Reliquary bound only by the amount of Forests and Plains in your deck (and producing at least that much mana as well).

Do I think this is going to be a top tournament strategy? It will probably not even be as relevant as Bloom Tender + Seedcradle Witch or Umbral Mantle, but it’s something to consider, if that is how you roll.

Keeping with Harabaz Druid, I gotta say, I like this guy thus far (yes, Constructed). Instead of comparing him to Birds or Hierarch, it is much better to compare him to Priest of Titania. I mean, he is pretty much just that, though he doesn’t count opponent’s allies or have a power above zero, but his color fixing abilities are great and he gives the ally bonus to your guys. He is especially appreciated in the world of Ranger of Eos (think Antoine ever thought his card would come to be what it is today?).

I actually like allies a little, namely Hada Freeblade, Kazandu Blademaster, Oran-Rief Survivalist, Join the Ranks, Harabaz Druid, and Ranger of Eos. That said, it doesn’t seem nearly good enough to pull me away from Jace decks, but I think there is definitely a competitive shell there that might be as good as Vampires was, if that makes any sense.

The next card on our list today headlines the following decklist:

Though, I am not sure if Leatherback Baloth is actually better than Joraga Warcaller in this deck, it is just going to take some testing. As far as Arbor Elf himself, I think the guy is a pretty solid upgrade to Boreal Druid, and there is even the possibility of some sicko untapping Forests that have Wild Growths on them in some sort of format some day. Alternatively, if you are more interested in reality:

Terastodon is potentially another sleeper. He probably won’t be a high dollar card or anything, but he will turn out to have some uses. Besides, things are going to change with Rise of the Eldrazi and the beginning of the colorless revolution that will lead us into the second Mirrodin Block (at least, that‘s what I would guess if I were guessing about that sort of thing…). Non-creature permanents? Remember, things change, but sometimes it’s not hard to predict how they will. Sure, he looks unwieldy and expensive, but I think he accomplishes a number a unique things. He can deal with problem permanents, and he provides a lot of threats. He is a Green creature if you happen to have a way to cheat Green creatures onto the battlefield…

How about Red? Let’s start with one that might surprise you: Cunning Sparkmage! This guy is no question totally unbelievable in Limited, but he has very real crossover potential. It seems that people are forgetting how solid Vulshok Sorcerer was, and this guy is mostly better. Sure, he doesn’t carry a Jitte, but who cares? The fact that he is easier to cast might actually come up in some sort of three-color deck featuring Red as the third color. In addition, there are plenty of one-toughness creatures around, most notably Bloodghast.

It is difficult to beat the Cunning Sparkmage without sacrificing value, and he has the potential to move from fringe to Tier 1 if the right metagame emerges, such as a world where Elves, Vampires, Boros, White Weenie, and token decks thrive. Another factor that should be considered is how convenient it is that he upgrades your Lightning Bolts into Malakir Bloodwitch killers (and your Bursts the same with regards to Baneslayers). Manuel Bucher used to put Vithian Stinger in a lot of decks, and this guy is a big upgrade. He probably won’t dominate, but I think he will prove better in Standard than Vampire Nighthawk is in non-dedicated vampire decks, for whatever that is worth.

Roiling Terrain is a subtlety powerful land destruction spell that I think has the potential to turn out to be stronger than people initially guess. I am so close to wanting to play four-mana Stone Rains anyway (which is what Demolish would be, essentially), and this card can actually add a very reasonable upside. Between fetch lands, manlands, Knight of Reliquary, itself, and other land destruction (most notably Tectonic Edge), I would not be surprised to see this card deal 2-4 or more damage most of the time, which is a nice option, both for killing Planeswalkers and for burning opponents out. This card might be a key to a return to Ponza. I wonder what Adrian Sullivan thinks of this one…

Searing Blaze is a card that has garnered a fair bit of attention on the back of the loyal Lash Out following. I too share the love of value (and Lash Out is all value), but I am a little hesitant, as I could easily imagine the format being a bad place for such a spell, since you can’t target your own guy to at least get 3 damage in. There is nothing wrong with a deck having dead Terminate type cards, but usually decks that care enough about burning the opponent to play Searing Blaze are not going to want dedicated creature kill (for the same reason they generally would prefer Volcanic Fallout to Pyroclasm).

Now, I risk being one of those guys that says “this card might be good or it might not; it depends on context,” but that is exactly what I am saying. That statement can be very helpful, and is usually only a problem if every evaluation is along those lines. I stand by New-Jace as a Top 10 card in Standard, and that Abyssal Persecutor is overrated. The reason I bring up Searing Blaze at all is a reminder that this is a great card in the right context, and anyone building a Red deck (even with other colors) should at least ask themselves, “Is it time for main deck Searing Blaze?”

Stone Idol Trap is a card that has caught my eye, and not just because of the flavor and how much it captures my imagination. While the card is obviously a fine Limited removal spell with value, most people I have spoken with are hesitant to consider it for Constructed. Is it really that narrow? Sure, we are talking 3-5 mana on the average for a Pitfall Trap + Ball Lightning, but that is actually not too bad. Then you take into consideration that even against a creatureless deck, it serves as a sort of six-mana burn spell, which is actually not the worst. On top of that, it is quite effective at killing high toughness creatures, which are traditionally an Achilles Heel for many Red decks. I have this one at a surprisingly playable rating.

Worldwake has turned out to impress me, but I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the overrated cards in the set (aside from Abyssal Persecutor). To start, how about a surprisingly Blue pick: Calcite Snapper! A lot of people are buzzing about this guy, putting him in the same sentences as Treasure Hunt, New Jace, and Halimar Depths. I admit, until I actually played with the card, I was one of those people.

The card is good, but it really is not as good as I would have thought. On paper, it is a shroud creature that can block a Thrinax, kill Planeswalkers, race well, and more. I was just throwing them in every Blue deck, and I now think that is a mistake. The card is very powerful as an aggressive option, but it is actually not that good a defensive creature Horned Turtle is not an impressive defender, and the fact that it has Shroud is not super exciting, since it is so bad on defense that you practically don’t want to kill it anyway.

The card cannot defend against Putrid Leech, nor can it actually profit from most interactions with a Jund deck, aside from continuing to blank their removal. It is incredibly vulnerable to Gatekeeper of Malakir (which, as I said, I think will be on the rise). It is not actually what you want to be doing in the control match-ups (you’re more interested in library manipulation, permission, Jacing, big spells, bomb creatures). He also makes a terrible defender against Boros and Mono-Red (which surprised me a little), and he can’t even attack that reliably, since he dies to everything.

Does this mean I think he sucks? Not at all. I just think he is not the all-purpose tournament staple that I thought he had a chance to be. I think he is a potential superstar in an aggro Blue deck, should one emerge, and a possible role-player in Shroud-based strategies. Beyond that, I think we are not going to be that interested in subscribing to his newsletter.

Thada Adel, Acquisitor has been drawing a lot of attention in Eternal circles, including by our very own Stephen Menendian, but I predict this guy will not deliver. What is it you are hoping he accomplishes? Clearly he has little hope outside of a Merfolk deck, right? Let’s look at the formats… Okay, so you are playing Vintage: is hitting your opponent and stealing his Time Vault, Voltaic Key, Black Lotus, or Mox Sapphire better than hitting him with a Dimir Cutpurse? If it is, it’s not by much, and that guy only gets a very few bit parts here and there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you still have to pay the mana for the card, so it’s not like you can take their Inkwell Leviathan in the hope of playing it.

Is the plan really just play a bunch of Trinket Mages to make sure you find your Key, then try to hit them with this to get the combo? That just seems so loose to me. Maybe he will turn out to hose Time Vault decks a little, but maybe that will just get more people playing The Deck (like they should be anyway, hehe).

So what about Legacy? Well, you can steal Sensei’s Divining Top, which is certainly solid, but again, is that better than a Cutpurse? The Merfolk tribe is much stronger here, but I think you will have so many “misses” that it is just not that exciting an option to have. It really seems like Time Vault (and maybe Black Lotus) are the only cards in Magic “worth” planning on taking.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, Omnath is overrated, unless you are playing a multiplayer format (where he could rock).

I will mention a few Limited observations before I roll out. First of all, the format is still very fast. The Zendikons, manlands, Quicksand, and more lead me to believe that it might be right to just play land destruction spells a lot more often (like Desecrate Earth).

Surrakar Banisher is a card that a lot of people seem to be sleeping on. You think this guy is not going to be a Man-O’-War often enough? Plus, he is a 3/3 in a world of 2/2’s. Add to that his natural ability to punish someone using Zendikons and you have a hit. One last note: don’t be afraid to pick up your own multikicker creature later on. This guy is just about always going to find a way to be worth some value.

Canopy Cover is a surprisingly powerful weapon. Maybe that is obvious to Green mages out there, but I was playing a B/R deck with ten good removal spell and I made the mistake of tapping out for a Torch Slinger. My opponent put a Canopy Cover on his Territorial Baloth and I had almost no outs.

Is it just me, or are their actually slightly fewer tricks in Worldwake than in Zendikar? I only played Sealed Deck, but it sure seemed like my opponents had a lot less to surprise me with than they used to. I am not sure if I am just imagining that, or if that is how it is, but we should consider the implications.

Thanks again for joining me, and thanks again to every TO organizing a big prerelease. You guys do a service to the community and I, for one, appreciate all that goes into running one of these events. See you guys next week, when we look at actual decks in the new formats with Worldwake!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”