The rotation of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion left a giant hole in the metagame. For two years, the format was partially defined by white’s premier six-drop. The past three months, however… well, there’s been a drought.
The drought is over.
How hard is it to arrange to be behind in life when you play your six-drop? Well, it’s a lot harder to arrange to be ahead, I’ll tell you that much. The nice thing is that Linvala gives you the five life when you need it most, i.e. when you’re behind in life. If you’re facing some control deck that never damages you, it’s not that big a deal if you don’t gain the five life, right?
How hard is it to arrange to be behind in creatures when you play your six-drop? Well, this one is a bit tougher, as Linvala, herself, counts as one. This means even if you have nothing else, your opponent needs to have multiple creatures for you to get the bonus Angel. It’s not trivial, but it’s also not the end of the world when you don’t get the bonus; and when you do, a 3/3 flier is a pretty awesome payoff.
Here are the basic scenarios:
● You’re behind in life and creatures, so you get a 5/5 flier, a 3/3 flier, and five life; which means you’re way ahead of what Broodmate Dragon would have done for you (which was an awesome, awesome tournament card that was harder to cast). This is the epitome of ability to turn a losing game around.
● You’re behind in creatures, but not life, so you get about a Broodmate Dragon worth of bodies; though still easier to cast and it implies you aren’t doing too badly against aggro.
● You’re behind in life, but not creatures, so you a 5/5 flier that gains five life when it enters the battlefield. While we wouldn’t normally sign up for that, at six mana, it’s close. However, this is the scenario only when we’re not too far behind on board, but are behind on life, so it is giving us what we need.
● You’re not behind in life or creatures, so you are stuck with a 5/5 flier all by herself. Two pieces of good news: First, you aren’t behind in two of the most important areas, so this wasn’t where you needed help the most. Second, you can just not play Linvala this turn if you want. If she’s worth playing, a 5/5 flier is still a big influence on the game, and if she’s not worth playing, hold her until she is!
In order to get your money’s worth, you generally have to have a reasonable expectation of getting the 3/3 flier. If you play Linvala and they kill her, leaving you with the flier, you are going to be less likely to trigger another Linvala, though. This makes the card a clear candidate to consider the diminishing returns of.
Besides, the more copies you play, the easier it will be for your opponent to play around it. For example, let’s say it’s about to be turn 6 and you’ve already cast one Anticipate, and we’ll assume you don’t have the mana to Dig Through Time. Your opponent is debating whether to play a second creature or not.
If you have two copies, there’s a 44% chance you’ve got a Linvala. That could be a pretty big sacrifice to have a 44% chance of “killing” a 3/3 flier. On the other hand, if you’ve got four copies, you’re talking about a nearly 70% chance under the same circumstances. That can make it a much easier call to make.
The normal use of Linvala is going to be in a U/W/x control deck, so let’s start with a straight U/W approach.
Dragonlord Ojutai and Linvala make a great one-two punch. That they cost different amounts is nice, but it’s also great that one of them is very resilient, while the other is very good at defense and helping us catch up from behind. It’s also sweet that Linvala is pretty decent against Crackling Doom, should that card remain in favor.
Silkwrap is great and all, but we do want to make sure we’ve got plenty of answers to creature-lands. Wandering Fumarole, Needle Spires, and Hissing Quagmire are serious additions to the format; and an over-reliance on Silkwrap, Planar Outburst, and Quarantine Field is a recipe for disaster.
I’m not 100% sold on Immolating Glare yet. It seems pretty mediocre. It’s certainly worth a shot, though. It just sucks that it can’t kill Jace and isn’t particularly efficient, considering how awkward it can be to have to wait until a creature attacks to do anything about it.
It’s not going to come up all that often, here, but it’s important to remember that Surge of Righteousness can actually take out blockers, unlike Glare. We might need to kill a Dragonlord Silumgar or something; but really, we’re in it for the two life. Take a look at the creature-lands again:
All four of the targetable creature-lands are black or red. That means an awful lot of decks will have targets for maindeck Surge of Righteousness.
Mirrorpool’s primary function here is to copy a Dig Through Time to put the game away. Occasionally, it helps win counterspell wars or copy a removal spell. It’s not the greatest on Dragonlord Ojutai, though it can get you out of a bind when your opponent Murderous Cuts your Dragonlord Ojutai that attacked without protection. Even though Linvala is a legend, copying her has a few more potential tactical implications. Outside of combating removal, you might just be interested in an extra 3/3 flier and five life when you find yourself in a jam.
Sphinx of the Final Word isn’t the most ruthlessly efficient kill condition of all-time, but it is one of the most reliable. It’s amusing that the seven-cost is actually upside against any potential Ugins.
Even if your opponent has a grip full of counterspells and a sweeper (be it Ugin or Planar Outburst), you can still really leverage the Sphinx for a big advantage. Drop it (uncounterable) and then fire off your Dig Through Times and start clawing your way back in! Just remember, if they have a Crackling Doom or Foul-Tongue Invocation, they can kill the Sphinx and then counter your spell.
What about adding black? After all, Esper is a good time…
We’ve got to be careful about playing too many expensive cards, but Linvala adds a nice dimension to an already sweet deck. She also makes a totally reasonable sideboard card, letting you bring her in when you know you’re particularly likely to be behind in life and/or creatures.
There can be a bit of a tension between Monastery Mentor and Linvala, so we have to be mindful that a random Monk doesn’t keep us from the 3/3 flier we so richly deserve. In general, however, if Monastery Mentor gets rolling, we can afford to risk a 3/3 flier.
Another possibility is to splash red. After all, Jeskai Control just gained two creature-lands. There are some very different manabases possible now.
The use of eight creature-lands (all of which hit for four!) means we don’t have to be overly concerned with durable victory conditions. Instead, we just need to recoup the lost tempo from so many tapped lands. With so many creature-lands available to us, there is even more reason to err on the heavy-side for our manabases. 27 with three Anticipates is a lot, but eight of the land double as spells!
Wandering Fumarole makes for a reliable blocker, and it’s nice that it can do so and still tap for a blue to contribute 50% on our Dig Through Time or Anticipate. When attacking, it’s especially good at attacking through 1/1s. Even if they have a Hordeling Outburst, they can’t effectively block you, and then after they don’t block, you can make it four damage. Just remember: If you activate the zero ability and they have a burn spell, your Fumarole is toast. Even if you try to zero again, at some point, the Fumarole will end up a 4/1 with damage on it.
Needle Spires is less good here since we can’t really take advantage of the double strike. That said, it does fight 2/2s better than the Fumarole. Having so many creature-lands that can attack for four with five mana is going to radically change the format for people playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. If they drop a Gideon into an open board, then make a Knight, it takes only a single Fiery Impulse to ensure your Spires or Fumarole kill the Gideon for free when you untap (assuming you have a fifth mana that comes into play untapped).
Jori En, Ruin Diver isn’t so much a victory condition as a card draw engine. Sure, it’s going to die a lot, but hopefully, we can usually play it on turn 4 or 5 and draw a card before it does. If it lives? We go nuts! A detailed breakdown of the card can be found here.
It was tempting to add something like a Soulfire Grand Master, but I wanted to avoid it initially in order to reduce the chances of interfering with our Linvala. That said, it’s a totally reasonable option. Dragonmaster Outcast, on the other hand, actually lines up pretty reasonable. By the time you can cast Linvala (where the Outcast would actually interfere), you’re getting something better than a 3/3 flier because of it.
While the most obvious use of Linvala is in a blue control deck, it’s conceivable that she finds non-blue homes.
It’s cute the way that Ob Nixilis and Painful Truths play so nicely with Linvala, but I’m concerned about the amount of token-making. We (probably) can’t just play her as a 5/5 flier that gains five life… can we?
Another possibility I did not include in here is Mortuary Mire. It’s awkward with Knight of the White Orchid, but I generally like Mortuary Mire as a way for midrangey decks going long to get a little extra mileage out of their manabase. This deck has too few creatures, being built around ‘walkers instead, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Another possible home for Linvala is Abzan Control:
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 1 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 4 Den Protector
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 1 Linvala, the Preserver
I’ve seen a lot of people discussing Oath of Nissa that seem to be debating between playing one copy versus four. So, why am I playing three!?
Oath of Nissa is two cards in one, which is rare for one mana. The first is relatively weak, an enchantment that lets us slightly more reliably cast our Gideons and Ob Nixilis. This ability is going to matter, and in some decks, matter a lot; however, it’s a minor part of the card when compared to the other.
How good is looking at the top three cards of our deck and putting a creature, planeswalker, or land from among them into our hand? Well, to start with, how often is it a cantrip? Well, the above deck has 42 “hits,” meaning we’re looking at about a 97.9% success rate for one or more. That is really reliable.
Okay, well, how often are we going to actually get to choose between two cards, Sleight of Hand style? We’re still looking at an 80.3% chance of seeing two or more. We’ve even got a 35.3% chance of seeing three hits. That’s seeing an average of 2.1 cards each time. Even though that doesn’t subtract the possibility of flipping three copies of Forest, that is pretty intense stuff!
Of course, it’s not a true Sleight of Hand, since we’re seeing a disproportionate amount of lands, and there are many cards we just can’t find. Still, we’ve got a 62% chance of seeing at least one creature or planeswalker (for the above deck).
Playing random one-offs is a lot more satisfying (and powerful) with Oath of Nissa to find them. Finding Den Protector lets Oath of Nissa “find” a removal spell when you need it. Oath means we’re drawing more Siege Rhinos than our opponent. It also means we’re drawing more creature-lands (as if the eight weren’t enough already).
On the surface, Oath of Nissa looks sweet. It might just be crazy not to max out, however, it is a tempo-loss of a mana. We’re already playing so many tapped lands. I’ve got serious concerns about getting run over. Playing three copies strikes a happy balance between “wanting to draw one” and “not wanting to draw two.”
In this case, it’s not even the legend rule (since a second one wouldn’t do anything anyway, and this way you can Den Protector it or delve with it), but rather than the risk of having to cast a turn 3 Oath of Nissa, just trying to get something going. There are going to be plenty of decks that just jam four, and with good reason. I just think there’s a risk of playing too many, just as we found with playing too many Anticipates.
Here’s another possible home for Oath of Nissa, providing some much needed draw-smoothing to Bant tokens:
Each time we Oath of Nissa in a 23-land deck, we’ve got about a 78% chance of hitting a land. As a result, we can trim lands (though we’d prefer to not force ourselves to take land every time). It’s interesting to note, the addition of Oath of Nissa makes cards like Felidar Cub more attractive as sideboard options, since we can find them so much more reliably.
So, that’s it, eh? We’re just using Oath of Nissa as a cantrip? Not gonna live the dream?
Okay, okay. I’m not really going to leave without making a crazy five-color superfriends deck, partially fueled by Oath of Nissa’s mana-fixing…
- 2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
- 1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Narset Transcendent
- 2 Sarkhan Unbroken
- 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- 1 Chandra, Flamecaller
Oath of Nissa certainly makes it easier to get crazy with Sarkhan Unbroken and Sorin, Solemn Visitor fighting side by side, but our manabase still gets bailed out by fetching up Battle lands. For instance, normally, we would not be satisfied with just eleven sources of black for Sorin; however, four Oath of Nissas means we have a virtual fifteen.
Wait, doesn’t Oath of Nissa leave Utter End and Dragonlord Silumgar wanting? I guess it’s a good thing Oath of Nissa also has a better than 50% chance of flipping a black mana when we cast it turn 1 with no black in hand!
Happy New Year, y’all. Let me know what you want me to cover next week, and I’ll see you there!