Magical Hack – She Wants (Shadow) More For Her Money

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Friday, April 11th – With Shadowmoor right around the corner, it’s the hottest thing to talk about and we’re seeing an awful lot of preview cards to help push the new-card buzz. Of course, I’ve finally got a clue how to draft Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide (… or not, depending on the forum posters’ opinions after last week’s article…), and all too quickly we shall find that I must leave it behind to try something new instead.

With Shadowmoor right around the corner, it’s the hottest thing to talk about and we’re seeing an awful lot of preview cards to help push the new-card buzz. Of course, I’ve finally got a clue how to draft Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide (… or not, depending on the forum posters’ opinions after last week’s article…), and all too quickly we shall find that I must leave it behind to try something new instead. So in the spirit of adventure and putting a bit of forethought into figuring out how the pieces of the puzzle work, I’m going to have a look at the different mechanical bits of Shadowmoor and see what makes it tick.

In case it wasn’t incredibly obvious, there are spoilers inside. If you do not want to see, find the leftward-pointing arrow to your upper right and have a look at this after the Prerelease. See you then!

… Still with me? Good. We see a lot of strange things in this set… and would be seeing many more if we weren’t already used to the notion of “hybrid” cards. To see all of the officially-previewed cards from the set, which includes a lot more than just the cards that have been making it into the articles and showing up on the front page, look here: at the Shadowmoor Card Preview Archive. Let’s look at the different themes:

-1/-1 Counters

We are very used to seeing +1/+1 counters on creatures. We’re even almost used to the notion of seeing a +1/+1 counter on a land, your Treetop Village has probably worn a Spike Feeder counter at one point or another in its lifetime, and Llanowar Reborn had a brief stint in top-tier decks last summer during the Block Constructed season. -1/-1 counters are a harder thing to get used to seeing, and that is because they are usually considered to be a bad thing.

Hold onto your hats. -1/-1 counters are just one way to modulate a creature’s size, after all, so it is only a matter of perspective that prevents you from seeing that your vanilla 3/3 for 4 isn’t actually a vanilla 5/5 for 4 with two -1/-1 counters on it. We are about to enter a strange world where counters are given out instead of damage when creatures do battle, via the Wither ability, and where these strangely harmful counters can be passed around for fun and profit. And there are even cards that can spend -1/-1 counters for profit, instead of just move them around some… after all, we’ve seen Serrated Biskellion, so the idea of moving around or sharing -1/-1 counters makes good sense. Spending them, though… how can you spend something that is bad for you? Isn’t it supposed to be, well, a negative thing to have -1/-1 counters on you?

Lookie here:

And I am sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is, after all, a common… and it is a Craw Wurm that is better because it is Hybrid, and that is better because it comes with a two mana discount… or better yet still, better because it can hoard mana and be a mana-battery that lets you power out another big spell later.


Alongside the -1/-1 counter overall theme, we have the new keyword “Wither.” Wither means that when a creature with Wither deals combat damage to another creature, that damage is dealt in -1/-1 counters instead of actual damage. Overall this sounds like a potent thing… do you block my Grizzly Bear with your Craw Wurm, if you know it is going to turn your Craw Wurm into a Giant Cockroach? Is your regenerating Troll Ascetic safe in Constructed formats, if the creatures it’s trying to block deal damage via Wither instead of something that regeneration is actually effective against?

This sounds like a very interesting ability… and one that plays in with the fact that -1/-1 counters can mean different things to different creatures, and might even be a positive thing if you can spend them or share them or do something interesting with them. It sounds like something that is all positives: it might interact strangely with damage prevention and “Protection” abilities, it definitely shuts off regeneration, and it makes it much more difficult to deal with a Withering creature in combat overall. And start mixing it with other abilities… like First Strike and Wither together… and you can see some sexy creatures indeed.

But what if it’s not all up-sides? I imagine there will be ways your opponent might profitfrom blocking a creature with Wither, making a creature with Wither worse than a creature without Wither just within the context of the Shadowmoor block. The interchange of -1/-1 counters is bound to be an interesting one indeed.


… And no, I don’t mean “Avenue Q,” or the British spy service’s gadgeteer. If I were, I’m sure I would have found a way to add some extra U’s to it, and Craig would never notice unless I got really crazy with ‘em, or I would have to go to great lengths to remind you that the Internet is a wonderful place… for something that is not worthy of mention on a family-friendly website. When we are discussing “Q,” as the Orb of Insight calls it, we are talking about the application of the untap symbol.

… The what? Wait, run that by me again?

Feast your eyes. It’s a Serrated Unbiskellion! It starts out small, and ends large, instead of starting out one size and sharing counters until he dies. How do you untap a creature, you ask? I imagine many of the usual ways would apply… finding a way to safely or economically tap it is the cost now, instead of tapping as a cost, because untapping a creature has some pretty obvious benefits.

In a world where things tap as a cost, untapping as a cost is a very strange thing. We have seen a few things that untap as a cost before, however, one of which has been around since The Dark and which people have been trying to find a way to break for almost as long:

The latest errata on this card will most likely be {Q}: Remove target creature card in a graveyard from the game. Only ten or so years after the fact, Eater of the Dead will finally work as intended! And if you want to argue that the new text breaks it in older formats, because you can untap an infinite number of times to eat the same one creature in a graveyard, please bring that to our weekly Monday Legacy columnists like Chris Coppola to discuss the emergency ban on the now “power errataed” Eater of the Dead / Hermetic Study / any creature in the graveyard Legacy combo deck.

Untapping as a cost is a powerful thing, though. Presuming you can pay the cost, or find a way to reliably tap a creature repeatedly, you can presumably ‘break’ the interaction between the two as you tap and untap repeatedly to pay costs. Whether or not this will actually exist on cards that allow for some sort of an engine to fire up, the potential is going to be there in at least some capacity. Up until now ‘tap as a cost’ has been the way things work, and something that enables you to provide exactly the opposite benefit as a cost is going to be worthy of attention. If Pemmin’s Aura or the “Make Me A Morphling” ability is potent enough that people have looked at how to get infinite mana with that card, creatures that have that untap ability built in for a variety of costs and to provide a variety of effects are going to have to be carefully scrutinized.

… This is probably why there are only eleven instances of “Q” in the Orb of Insight, as it looks like we will be seeing a cycle of five commons and five uncommons in each color, and I imagine one artifact Scarecrow with the “Q” ability.

And speaking of tapping as a cost… we’ll see more about that in just a bit.


Along with the rest of the -1/-1 counter theme, we have a new creature ability… one that brings creatures back for seconds, and thus can make them better than just the average dork.

This is a pretty average dork, in Limited. It’s a bit bigger than a Cockroach, and Trample means at least it’ll do something besides just kill a fair-to-middling creature… but to really be useful this would need an extra bit of “oomph.” In the past, I’ve seen that usually as Haste, with Lightning Elemental and Gerrard’s Irregulars among the small-butted Cockroach-type creatures I have been known to cast in Limited from time to time. Keep reading this one’s text and you’ll see that after your 5/2 has died a useful death, in many cases it may very well come back as a 4/1 who has lived to fight another day. There is a lot of “if,” “and,” and “but” to this ability… but that also works on both sides of the equation. Run this into any Wither creature and you will never get your second shot at the 4/1 this promises after the fact… but combine this with the Leech Bonder, above, and you can use the death of your 5/2 man as a means to generate -1/-1 counters to pass around, and get more extra uses out of the Marauders that just won’t stay dead.

And so we see yet another interesting layer on the dance of the -1/-1 counters, which are the dark shadow to Lorwyn and Morningtide’s +1/+1 counter theme. This goes well alongside a “color matters” theme that contrasts the “tribe matters” theme from before, as we see many different types of card that seem as if they are paying attention to the colors of our permanents and even the nature of our lands while we are at it.

“Color Matters”

Not so long ago, Devin Low discussed the different ways in which you could find cards that “scale” as you want more of them, and the different ways they might play the ‘count me!’ game that asks you to add more and more things like them to your deck. (That article can be found here, for those who want to read up on interesting design tidbits…) As you might expect, then, in a world with hybrid mana, creatures that happen to be two colors might have some extra benefits when we settle down and play the “Count Me!” game as multiple things might count them. We see many of the same sorts of cards in the new expansion, including spells that count the basic lands of a single type you have instead of ‘just’ the colors of your creatures or other permanents in play.

This is an obvious ‘count me’ … the more things that share a color with it, the bigger it is.

This is a less-obvious ‘count me.’ It has a more potent effect on creatures that share its hybrid mana cost, and so is maximized in a deck full of juicy targets, but can still be quite reasonable otherwise.

… And this counts your lands, to see how many of them are of one basic land type and rewards you for the answer being higher and higher. As each of these three are probably of a cycle, you can expect to see some similar ideas bandied about… and yes, the leading theory currently is that the Blue version of this is Flow of Ideas, and the Black version is Corrupt.

But the most interesting thing is this type of card, to me…

Here we see the rules text for Wither, discussed above, and see the interesting {2 / C} hybrid mana cost: spells that reward you for playing mono-colored decks, by having a reduced cost if you can meet their needs… another way of saying that color matters.

Even artifacts can say that color matters…


The latest variant of Kicker, Replicate, Storm, and Entwine is called Conspire, an ability that lets you duplicate a spell if you have some friends of the right color who lend a hand. You can only do it once per spell… so it’s more like a kicker or entwine cost than Storm or Replicate… but it is basically like an optional Replicate: 1 with a Replicate cost of tapping two creatures that share a color with the spell.

This plays into the ‘color matters’ theme of the set, which is played up so heavily by all the hybrid cards we’re seeing, and lets you get twice the bang for your buck if you can put some creatures to the task. What this feels like, exactly, is like this little guy:

This also gives us a good measuring-stick for cards with this ability, as Sigil Tracer could actually be quite potent when you got him working in Limited… and is basically trash in any sixty-card format that doesn’t involve sideboarding in twenty more cards to beat a Dampen Thought deck. At least in Limited, the Conspire ability should prove potent… assuming the spell is any good at all, getting to do it twice should be twice as nice. Creatures have from time to time been known to put themselves to some efforts besides just attacking, and for this card at least “tap two of my guys, kill two of yours” sounds like a very fair deal.

And something else pretty exciting, that has many a Constructed mage smiling…

Next week, we’ll have seen more cards and can start figuring out how all these pieces move together, just in time for the Prerelease! See you then!

(… Or, y’know, two weeks from now for all those people who backed out once I said I was going to be spoiling some Shadowmoor cards. Welcome back, hope you enjoyed the Pre-release!)

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com