Insert Column Name Here – Shards of Alara First Impressions!

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Monday, October 6th – I’m back to writing about Limited for once, because I still do love it – and I did a little drafting and sealed play this weekend to take Shards for a spin. So let’s talk about the cards that were better than they looked… And the cards that were worse!

Hey, I’m back to writing about Limited for once, because I still do love it — and I did a little drafting and sealed play this weekend to take Shards for a spin. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with the stupid “Shard-only” mana rule that a lot of the launch parties had to deal with, so I got to play with, well, the cards I opened.

The overall impression? Hard to say, but it’s a lot of fun. I didn’t enjoy Shadowmoor Limited all that much, but for some reason Shards seems both complex and surprising, full of stupid-crazy power plays that almost work, giving it the feel of a good multiplayer game.

It’s been a long weekend, though, and I’m tired, so let’s get to!

This was a far better mechanic than I thought it would be for two reasons: the lack of reliable, instant-speed pinpoint removal in Shards, and Deft Duelist. Basically, Exalted when done properly seemed to be encouraging you to leave behind creatures you wouldn’t be attacking with anyway — a first-turn Akrasan Squire is nice, but you’re not going to be doing much with a 1/1 by turn 5. But by then, hopefully you’ve ramped into a Rhox Charger or a Waveskimmer Aven, and then they get all the nice bonuses.

That’s great, if you curve out. If not, sometimes you have pretty dorky late-game draws, and sometimes someone swallows your attacker with a timely Resounding Silence, making you feel very silly. I’m not saying it’s a top-tier mechanic, but it’s definitely not the bottom-of-the-barrel mechanic I thought it would.

That said, I died repeatedly to Exalted carried on the back of Deft Duelist, who I couldn’t target and I couldn’t quite kill in combat thanks to stupid First Strike, but happily got the bonuses all the same. So if you’re attempting to draft an Exalted deck, or looking to build one in Sealed, make sure you have multiple Duelists, as she gets very frustrating.

I thought they were, like, fourth to sixth picks. They didn’t usually make it that far. I had to snap them up a lot earlier than I wanted, particularly in the second and third packs, leaving me with one Draft deck with two Obelisks as mana-fixers. And you do not want Obelisks as mana-fixers in draft, as they’re pretty darned slow and clunky.

The Resounders
They’re all decent, and as many have noted the alternate costs are surprisingly doable. I did face a deck that had snagged three Resounding Thunders, making every standoff pretty much his game, and Resounding Silence is often the end of many decks. You have to make a gulping noise when you cycle it, though.

Plus, they’re great in the hands of greedy players, who won’t want to waste the uber-cool cycling ability by blowing that stupid Resounding Roar now to save their guy. But that’s often, if not usually, the correct play.

Now on to specific cards…

I’m generally only a middling fan of Fog effects in Limited, since in my experience they generally go like this:

“I Fog!”

“Great. Do you draw anything next turn?”

“Uh… no.”


However, this is good for two reasons: It cycles, making it absolutely dispensable when you’re in the lead or just need some other answer. Also, it’s a common solution to the otherwise-lose-the-game rare of Titanic Ultimatum, which showed up four times in a ten-man Sealed event. Yeepers.

Dispeller’s Capsule/Naturalize
Some have noted that “Naturalize is like Shatter was in Mirrodin!” Well, no, not quite. There are a lot of nice artifacts, but generally folks have to have really committed to the U/W/B shard to really make that work. Which means that just like every other format, sometimes your Naturalize is gonna be a dead draw.

That said, I took to maindecking a Dispeller’s Capsule, since even if it couldn’t hit an artifact creature, it’d happily destroy an Obelisk, sometimes screwing someone out of their off-color. It didn’t happen as often as I’d like, but it did allow me to kick someone harder once they were down, and that’s always good, innit?

Drumhunter/Exuberant Firestoker
I played one Sealed event with the “five-power matters” mechanic, and it was a lot better than I thought it would be. Like Exalted, it forces your opponent to make an ugly choice — do they use their removal to pop the enabler, sitting back on the sidelines, or do they kill the carrier?

Essentially, when you have Drumhunter out, which catapults you right into the sweet spot of six mana for your big juicy dude, your opponents have to decide whether to pop your fattie and chance you drawing another fattie (and then getting a steady stream of cards off of that), or whether it’s worth wasting good removal on a 2/2 when a big fattie might do them more damage. It was a lot of fun, watching them choose.

The Exuberant Firestoker’s off-color mana-adding (when does Red accelerate?) actually does quite a nice job, too, and the two damage made the difference in a few games, chipping away until I could get it in. I thought this would be dross, but it made it so much more satisfying to cast a fattie when my opponent was tapped out — oh, he might kill it with his next card, but I’d already snagged a card off of it.

I initially downplayed this because it was sorcery-speed. I shouldn’t have. There aren’t a lot of enchant creatures that are really dangerous, but like I said, this is a relatively removal-light format, and having something that gets rid of their worst guy for a turn often lets you swing in enough to change the board.

I’m maindecking this in Sealed every time now. (I’d probably have known it if I’d played 9th Edition Sealed more often, but hey. Never did.)

Executioner’s Capsule

I’m not entirely sure why I was able to pick up four of these in a draft, sometimes going as late as 11th pick, but this should never have happened. It’s solid removal, obviously, and just as good as you’d think.

Feral Hydra
Nicely flexible, and an easy fit in the “Five power matters” mechanic, but still. In the end, it’s a generic dude.

I did, however, win a couple of games by pumping this up to obscene levels — it’s not too hard to get it to a 12/12 — and then blowing them out with Soul’s Fire. So if you see the two somewhere in a Sealed, it might be worth considering. And it’s fun.

Gift of the Gargantuan
If you haven’t gotten the memo, this is an absolutely great card — the environment seems to be slower than the blistering pace of Shadowmoor block, and spending your third turn getting a land and a fresh guy is well worth it. And in Sealed, where you’re often just hunting for your bombs, it’s even more insane.

Okay, well, it’s not insane, but it’s perfectly decent and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Grixis Charm
All the charms are good, but I’ve seen people making a mistake with this card by categorizing it as “removal” and then forgetting that it can turn a small attack into a game-ending sweep. The +2/+0 is significant enough that you should never forget that it’s deadly on the attack. Keep it in mind.

Gustrider Exuberant
Never as handy as I would have liked. It seemed like an awesome thing to have, but in general I was lucky to have two fatties on the table at the same time. I’d be happy if this did fire, but generally I needed either a fatty back on defense or having a gigantic 5/x guy out was enough where I didn’t need too much evasion.

Hissing Iguanar
Again, you might not have gotten the memo, but this is a surprisingly effective card — essentially, any trade in combat leaves your opponent down two life when they all hit the graveyard, and I’ve seen it ping away for eight damage just in the course of the usual Red Zone wars. Plus, it’s respectable power for what you get, making this a solid, solid pick in a removal-heavy deck.

Jhessian Infiltrator
If you can’t get a Deft Duelist, get some of these for your Exalted deck. Seriously.

Jungle Weaver
I saw some folks skipping out on this in their Sealed Deck, which is a mistake. It’s pricey, yes, and a mostly vanilla body when it lands. But in a Sealed deck with potentially-clunky mana, every cycler that gets you to that much-needed land drop is gold — and something useful in the early and late game is worth having.

Kederekt Creeper
I played with two of them in a draft game, and it wasn’t quite as good as I’d have liked. It’s potent, sure, but it’s also a very slow clock, and getting the mana out early is still a pain. I wouldn’t leave it out, but some folks have indicated that it’s a must-have — I’d put it as a nice-to-have.

Knight of the Skyward Eye
I have learned to hate this man. The pump is expensive, but it gives you ugly choices in combat on the attack — do you block with something large and trade? Not block or let it hit you for five? Or take the 2/2 hit when you really don’t want to and have them spend their mana on something else? It’s a kind of quasi-evasion, and people were noting it as being better than they’d first judged it.

Oblivion Ring
Still good. That is all.

Onyx Goblet
My friends tell me this is actually very good; I can’t find it in my heart to believe them, thinking of it as a three-mana 1/1 that can’t block or be blocked, but I can see how it’d blow open stalemates. In fact, I did see, though not on me.

Qasali Ambusher
Yes, I forgot it existed when I was attacking into a G/W player who was tapped out. I won’t do that again. How about you?

Rhox Charger
Not a gamebreaker, but one of those creatures I know I’ll always be happy to see in my Sealed deck. A fifth-turn 4/4 trampler (and potentially fourth turn with a bit of mana acceleration) is something I’m generally okay with.

Rockcaster Platoon
It seemed like this would be potent in Sealed, and indeed it can block pretty much anything on the ground, but it’s going to take two activations to clear out the skies, and when you’re facing down the U/W/B shard, that’s asking for ten mana.

Sigil of Distinction

Yeah, this hurt a lot. I finally popped it with a Capsule, but it’s a monster in Sealed.

Others have noted that three damage doesn’t seem to kill all the things you’d like it to in this fatty-laden format, which is true — but it’s done the job often enough, if a little awkwardly. The best usage for it, I find, is when you’re facing an attack that will devastate you, and you destroy their smaller guy and then throw the 1/1 in the way of the oncoming train.

Signing off,
The Ferrett
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