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Insert Column Name Here – Alara Reborn: First Impressions!

Read The Ferrett every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!Tuesday, May 5th – Now that my wife’s birthday celebration of last weekend was over, I got to go to an Alara Reborn draft this Friday. (I wanted to attend the Sunday draft as well, but I stayed up too late partying with bellydancers. Yes, it was as fun as it sounds. No, you can’t have the videos.) I played six matches and went 5-1, so here are my initial impressions of the cards as I played ’em!

Now that my wife’s birthday celebration of last weekend was over, I got to go to an Alara Reborn draft this Friday. (I wanted to attend the Sunday draft as well, but I stayed up too late partying with bellydancers. Yes, it was as fun as it sounds. No, you can’t have the videos.)

What I found was a set that really was flat-out entertaining to play. I like Alara Reborn a lot better than I did Conflux, which I wasn’t expecting to; I thought the Gold cards would kill it, but Wizards did a very good job keeping everything in line. Way to go, folks!

In any case, I played six matches and went 5-1, although two of those matches were against people who’d just started playing in tournaments and one was a rematch in the semifinals. But here are my initial impressions. Going in alphabetical order….

Architects of Will
I wasn’t thrilled to put this in my deck — I mostly used it for the cycling to flesh out a sketchy mana base. But on the one occasion I did cast it, I was ahead on board position and remembered the “griefer” strategy that allowed me to put a land and a useless card on the top of my opponent’s deck. He had no outs, and he quit.

According to Wizards, a lot of novice players overlook that you can affect your opponent’s deck. Don’t.

Bant Sureblade, Esper Stormblade, Grixis Grimblade, Jund Hackblade, Naya Hushblade
I saw all of these being used to fine effect all weekend. I think the Esper is the best out of the cycle, since that’s the only one that gifts flat-out evasion, and Naya is the worst (since Naya likes targeting things with Behemoth Sledges and Giant Growth-type effects) — but all of them are good two-drops.

Will they continue to be just as good in a three-block draft? I dunno. With two Reborn boosters, it was almost a given that you’d have a castable two-color three-drop, making these slightly stronger than I suspect they’ll be in the many real-world drafts to follow. Still, a two-mana 2/1 that can be something more is a useful thing.

Behemoth Sledge
I did not have any artifact removal in my deck when I faced this, and it killed me. Yeah, I was able to forestall it with a Fatestitcher — but when the Stitcher bought it, the lifegain was too much to catch up on. We all know how crazy Loxodon Warhammer can get, and this is pretty much a Loxie that does a little less damage but makes the attacker harder to kill. Just as irking.

The Borderposts.
I know they’re all the rage, but I didn’t play with any; I felt like the lack of tempo playing it early just wasn’t really worth it for me, and my mana was already okay. Some folks really loved them, however, and I’m not entirely sure whether my take on ‘em is correct. They’re great for enabling second-turn X-blades, naturally, and they’ll be more useful once you have a single pack to grab an Obelisk from… But I’m not sold yet. Only time will tell.

Deathbringer Thoctar
I only saw him twice, but each time I had to deal with him immediately or he would have killed me dead. This is the sign of a decent card, I suppose… But unlike, say, a flying 6/6, it won’t win you the game flat-out on its own. This is a six-mana card that wants to break open a stalemate, not a flying frickin’ Dragon that can blast your opponent dead even if you’re behind.

Demonic Dread
Just a lesson in Cascade construction; I played this card because I wanted to see how Cascade did. I also misbuilt my deck with a Puppet Conjurer that really had little synergy with any of the other cards, and all my other two-drops were Agony Warp, Terminate, or other powerhouse things.

Guess which card kept popping up every time I Demonic Dreaded? Yup. If you’re gonna play with Cascade and then put in a filler 22nd card, make sure that card isn’t going to be the Cascade puppy.

Demonspine Whip
I really don’t like this card, and yet it won me games. There’s something within me that says, “No, sinking all your mana into something like this is a chump move! Better to cast a steady stream of threats rather than walking your turn into a Terminate!”

And yet in the late game, or even the early game, this turned every threat I had into a “block me now or lose a third of your life” option. And given that I didn’t have to pump it to gigantor proportions if the opponent blocked — just enough to kill whatever was in the way — it wasn’t a bad way to force trades. And it turned any creature I drew in the late game into a powerhouse.

Is it good? It’s not overpowered, but it functioned better than I thought. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for weaker players (including me) to use this sucker to eat up all their tempo, so approach with caution.

Deny Reality
This was the best Cascade spell I saw all day, regardless of who was casting it — though admittedly, I saw not a single Bituminous Blast. It bounced anything I wanted, and got me a free four-drop.

Note to self: Cascade’s just as fun as you thought it’d be!

Giant Ambush Beetle
This one kept hurting me badly against quick decks. I kept going, “All right, so I’ve taken nine damage, all right, fine, I’ll stabilize with this larger guy.” And then the GIANT AMBUSH BEETLE would come out and run headlong into the larger guy, and I’d be down way more than I’d like. He was, in every situation, irritatingly useful to my opponent.

I kept wanting to make “Ambush Bug” jokes, but you’d have to be a real comic book nerd to get that one.

Illusory Demon
Not good on turn 3. Good on turn 5 or 6, when the board is mostly in your favor and it’s time to start sailing overhead for four damage a turn.

I will say, however, that I won my fair share of games with second-turn Demonspine Whip, third-turn Demon, fourth-turn attack in the air for eight damage. I generally wound up with my Illusory Demon dead after that, whether due to my opponent killing it or me having to cast something else – but who cares?

Lavalanche
I am contractually obligated to tell you that this is a bomb. And yes, I did break out of my U/B/R deck to snag it, and yes, it did win me at least three games on its own, but I’m still not sure about bomb. At least in Draft.

See, the thing is, I was lucky enough to be playing at the Alara Reborn release draft, which has a disproportionate number of X-blades and weenie guys running amuck. And to kill them, I had to wait until turn 5, which was often enough to be down way more on life than I’d like.

I’m not saying it’s not good, but the essential fact of Lavalanche is that you’re going to be three turns behind when you cast it. On turn 4, barring mana acceleration, you’ll do a single point of damage. On turn 5, you’ll do two points, when they’re starting to cast their 4/4s. And on turn 6, when the big guys are starting to come out to play, you’ll do three points, clearing out the weaker guys but leaving all of those x/4s and above waiting for you.

It’s good, don’t get me wrong, because it doesn’t touch your guys. And I don’t regret picking it, but I also am not sold on its current status as capital-B bob-bomb. In the late game, it did seven damage and pretty much destroyed my opponents, no questions asked. But it won’t do that without a metric fudgeton of mana, and that’s something you can’t necessarily rely upon.

I’ll take it if it’s near my colors, of course, since the possibility of one-sided blowouts is too strong to avoid it. But it’s also one of those things where I also won’t rely upon it to carry the day for a weak deck.

In short: Yes. Pick it. Hold off on the auto-victory dance, though.

Mind Funeral
I never got to cast it, but I picked it just in case I got Nemesis of Reason somewhere. Will someone tell me how this does on average? I really am curious.

Nemesis of Reason
I did not see him, but my opponent in the fourth round did, and apparently it just won games for him. And why not? Barring flat-out removal, what creature do you have on turn 5 that’s going to stop it? And it’s removing your deck! Man, I want to play with this one.

Qasali Pridemage
I played against a newer opponent who had a very strong deck (perhaps inadvertently so), but forgot entirely that the Pridemage could be sacrificed to kill artifacts. In the strange world of Alara Reborn, a lot of the best creatures are artifacts. Look closely, grasshopper! Is there something you can kill? I bet there is.

Sangrite Backlash
Exactly what it says on the tin. Solid removal. Occasionally a nice boost to a gigantic monster, but… No, really. Solid removal.

Singe-Mind Ogre
I was intensely disappointed to cast this and realize they kept the card. I was hoping it was a discard thing. Alas, he did get to keep it, and while he paid a dear six life to keep that Pale Recluse, it eventually pounded the crap out of me.

Skyclaw Thrash
I loved this card. I generally don’t have issues declaring an attack with a 4/4 in Limited, but half the time this also picks up a point and flies. That just endeared me to this sucker, who I’ll happily place in just about any Sealed deck who can cast him. He’s one of those cards who plays a support role; you won’t go into colors to get him, but if he’s in your colors you’re happy to have him there, doing his thing.

Soul Manipulation
The surprise hit of the set for me, this card wrecked someone almost every time I saw it. “No, you do not get to have the best creature in your hand. But I get to have the best creature you’ve killed.” And plus, with all the landcyclers in the deck, I often went, “Second-turn cycle, wait, fifth-turn Soul Manipulate to stop that gigantic dude you’re casting, and I’ll get back my big dude now that I can cast him.” It was the cycle of life that led to death, and I loved it.

If I am in U/B, I have zero problems playing this. Yes, it’s more of a late-game card, but still. It stops much larger cards (Dragon BroodWHAT?) and allows you to keep up the pressure.

Stun Sniper
Just as irritating as it looks. Perhaps more so. Thank God it costs mana to activate, but having played against it more than I’d like, I wish it cost more.

Terminate
Still fun.

Unscythe, Killer of Kings
I played with this one, and it shut down the board almost every time it hit. Even if it was a three-to-one against me, my blocker was so large (and made other blockers when he killed things) that barring removal, they didn’t want to risk it.

Which is exactly what you’d think it does, natch. The Equip cost is low, but the intensity involved in casting it is high, so I’m not sure where I fall on this one. If it’s in your colors (as it was in mine?) sure.

Finishing Up
As usual, I’ll ask the two questions I ask after every release:

1) What card was better than you thought it would be, and why?

2) What card wasn’t as impressive as you thought it would be, and why?

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy