Magical Hack – Watching The Tides Roll Away

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Friday, July 11th – With the Eventide prerelease this weekend, the time is ripe to have a good look at the set so far and try to figure out how Shadowmoor-Eventide Sealed Deck is going to work. Having played through the release of Apocalypse to complicate the otherwise allied-color Invasion/Planeshift Limited format, I think that is much more relevant example than the more recent Ravnica-Guildpact-Dissension. Warning: Contains Spoilers.

With the Eventide prerelease this weekend, the time is ripe to have a good look at the set so far and try to figure out how Shadowmoor-Eventide Sealed Deck is going to work. Having played through the release of Apocalypse to complicate the otherwise allied-color Invasion/Planeshift Limited format, I think that is much more relevant example than the more recent Ravnica-Guildpact-Dissension. While RGD was certainly complicated at all points by the addition of more sets, we are specifically looking at an allied-color Limited format that suddenly has to “deal” with the addition of enemy-color cards. Add to that the fact that we are discussing Hybrid, not Gold, and things take a spin all of their own anyway…

… But let’s start. For the purpose of looking at the set we are going to use just the Eventide Visual Spoiler from the Eventide Minisite. More information is available through ‘spoiler’ sites like MTGSalvation in their Rumor Mill, but I tend to like keeping to legally ‘known’ information if for no other reason than it is 100% guaranteed to be accurate. (There’s also the voice of Groundskeeper Willie whispering in my ear, “Hush, boy, d’ye want to get sued?”)

We have three rarities, and how much they impact your Limited play greatly depends on how often you’ll see them… so, let’s start with the commons.

Fire At Will gives us a potent Limited removal spell… a color-intensive and admittedly restricted-use removal spell, but one that can split damage to multiple targets to answer multiple threats. I’ve noticed a lot of one-toughness creatures of relevance in Shadowmoor, likely as part of their efforts to put the “creatures are fragile and made to suffer” part of the block out there to be seen… so this can potentially two-for-one an opponent even before accounting for blockers. Like Aethertow, though, you kind of have to expect that there can be bad results for sending multiple attackers into untapped mana, and thus my verdict is such: while it is certainly a good card and should be played if you can afford to, it also doesn’t greatly change how the Limited format works: you play carefully around untapped White mana in the attack phase. Now, that it can do so with Red mana… that is new and interesting, and powerful… but as far as Sealed play is concerned, I would expect that most decks that are going to play this are going to at least try to play both colors of land.

Fang Skulkin hints at a cycle of cheap artifact creatures with an activated ability for colored creatures, all of which will likely prove to be useful filler men since cheap drops are generally reasonable and bonus abilities will be easy to capitalize now that each and every color should have hybrid men of each and every other color: regardless of the color of your deck, you’ll probably have a few targets for each of the creatures of this cycle, or at least the potential is there. “Off-color” artifact men of this nature, then, will help to define how this Limited format works: everyone has to consider playing theirs, and thus you will probably tend to see them. As artifacts, they will appear in decks with a high frequency… which gives us our first hint, that Shadowmoor-Eventide Sealed Deck play will still be focusing on quick creatures even if “aggression” isn’t the buzz-word of the day.

A recent article I wrote, looking at Shadowmoor Sealed Deck following Grand Prix: Indianapolis, deduced that aggression was a good metric for looking at the format, but the 3/3s for 4 really helped to define what was important to the format. Likely this will still remain somewhat true (though we have reason to believe that the Hybrid Hill Giants are not present in this expansion, presumably due to its small size) and thus these generally-small artifact men will have to have some continued utility besides just being cheap beaters… but you don’t have to have a lot of utility to be useful, especially as one concern many people have in Sealed Deck is that they aren’t doing anything meaningful in the early turns, and having a cheap drop to block their cheap drop is an acceptable use of mana and a card.

Funny how the excellent removal spell doesn’t really tell me a lot about the Limited format, but the dorky bear does.

Banishing Knack tells us something interesting about the Blue bounce spell in this format: it is intended to be situational, but potent. If you remember Consign to Dreams, the three-mana bounce spell that is two mana too expensive for Unsummon, but one mana too cheap for Repel, your Blue bounce spells have to jump through a few hoops to even be good, but if they jump through enough hoops they become amazing. Banishing Knack works with all of the “Q” creatures to bounce multiple creatures, and suddenly we have Pili-Pala’s new best friend besides Power of Fire and Presence of Gond: “1: Unsummon your board”. You need a man who’s not doing something better at the moment to turn this into anything at all, but put it on the right man and we hit “ridiculous” potential. And as yet another excellent answer to the “God” enchantments, we get to reinforce my theory that Limited play in this format really comes down to a divide: sure there are only so very few removal spells to go around, but if you just learn how to not get destroyed by the defining power-commons, things work great. This will be a high pick in Limited and deserves some serious attention for Sealed, where they have even fewer ways to interrupt your going crazy with this and, say, Merrow Wavebreakers.

And again the second card in our duo is the one that tells us the most about Limited with this set. But then, we were just talking about one-toughness guys a bit before, and here we have a one-toughness-guy killer that happens to also function like a Spellshaper: turn your extra lands into this card. “What this means” for Limited is that suddenly the argument for 18 lands became incredibly strong, if not 19 in this crazy world of ours, because you need to hit your early land drops to get up to four mana pretty consistently, plenty of decks want five… and from there if you want to stop playing lands, there is an entire class of cards that turn extra lands drawn into extra uses of a spell. This particular one is a re-buy removal spell, and in case you hadn’t noticed yet how this was different than flashback… Retrace doesn’t say anything about removing it from the game after.

18 lands suddenly should be the default setting for a Sealed deck, in case it wasn’t already, and if you have several Retrace spells instead of just one or two, you can expect to always have one and go even higher if you want to avoid losing due to a shortage of mana. What this also means is that your higher-cost cards are suddenly a liability: sure, you could play Pale Wayfarer as your last playable and not cringe too much because it costs seven… but when you have a single solitary seven in your deck, and everything else stops at five, all of a sudden his casting cost is not just seven mana but two retraces lost that you could have otherwise had. Paradoxically, you want to have more lands in your deck because of this mechanic, because lands are good and now you don’t have to worry about drawing too many… but right next to that fact, you also don’t want expensive drops.

Ah yes, “Chroma,” the new flavor of Color Matters. Color-matters cards like to count things and reward you for playing more similar things, but in Sealed Deck play really you have only a limited card pool to work with… so this will largely be a random benefit rather than a coordinated plan. This guy is a three-mana Raging Goblin, and thus a pretty terrible guy… it’s just in the context of sometimes being a Ball Lightning out of nowhere that he is suddenly worth considering, but that means he is the exact sort of hyper-aggressive card that is usually a liability for most Sealed Decks. As a mechanic, though, we can see that it is going to reward us for trying to stick to a very narrow set of colors, preferably one hybrid color combination… and that does some pretty interesting things, when combining the two sets. Shadowmoor Sealed was allied-color oriented but secretly gave you a bigger card pool if you played enemy colors; Eventide adds an enemy-color set, giving you rewards for playing enemy colors on top of the larger part of your card-pool.

With Chroma being all cards from the new expansion, and so far all mono-colored cards from what we’ve seen, they may very well sneak quite handily into the existing scheme of things. They still have to be good cards before you’ll play them, never mind play them to their fullest and chase the “color matters” count-me theme of Chroma. Phosphorescent Feast is still a five-mana lifegain sorcery, and this guy is still a three-mana 1/1 the morning after.

Unmake, while exciting, is still just another removal spell… if it tells us anything, it tells us that White and Black are very good at killing things when they work together, but it’s still just a removal spell. Show me a lot of things that look like it, so we can get over the idea that Shadowmoor-Eventide Limited is a low-removal format, and I’ll perk up and pay attention. As it is, the most important thing I am noticing is that this is two triple-hybrid instants, White/Red and White/Black, which might suggest a cycle for all five color pairs.

It’s just a little bonus… but boy can this hit hard. A potential +2/+2, lifelink, and hybrid-mana Firebreathing makes this a game-swinging nightmare, even if it only turns sideways once. And again this promises a cycle… though this is looking like one of the stupider ones, as the B/W “God” enchantment is undercosted but ‘only’ gives a potential +3/+3. Eventide Limited, then, will not be free of these stupid things… thankfully it also tends to include just enough answers to these particularly stupid questions, if you look at it right. I do know for a fact, however, that with sealed pools having both allied and enemy pairs, there won’t be a lot of guys to stick your enchantments onto… so both Scrapbasket and Scuttlemutt go up in value, which is almost hard for Scuttlemutt seeing how he is already amazing.

The second, Raven’s Crime… is an amazing Constructed card, and a not-absolutely-terrible means of taking advantage of the Retrace mechanic in Limited, but at first blush is not a card I really want to include in my Sealed Deck pool. Chosen discard, a la Coercion, or multiple-card discard, yes please… but just trading one-for-one, my card versus your worst card? Not really a path to victory. Sure, include it as a last playable rather than something awful, and be pleasantly surprised by how it can punish an opponent’s slow draw if you have a few spare lands to put into it… but don’t look at it as if it is amazing, because it is scraping the bottom of the playable barrel and only gets the potential nod because Retrace is just so powerful for Limited play: they’re like Spellshifters that don’t die.

And then there was one. Shorecrasher Mimic again shows us the two-drops are potent, and that one-toughness creatures are highly relevant in this format. More importantly, it shows us another cycle, the enemy-colored version of the “Duos,” in this case a presumed cycle of Shapeshifters that turn into quite powerful beaters if you cast a hybrid spell of the right color. Sadly, with just a few packs of Eventide in your Sealed pool, you are unlikely to have a large number of spells of that color combination… and one of them was this guy, already in play. Most pools will have 3-4 cards at the maximum in a color combination, out of two packs, because the collation just doesn’t put so very many together… so, they look powerful, but are much more potent when you can choose your pool of cards instead of randomly open it. Watch out for the triple-Eventide draft, these guys will be nuts, but in Sealed, it’s largely relegated to the two-drop beater role. Which can be just fine, even if it’s plain vanilla.

Next up we’ll look at the uncommons. They don’t tell us quite as much as the commons do, since the commons give us the feel for the set since these are the cards we will be seeing far more often from the new set, but they do give us a feel for what the set will do, and they do show up with enough frequency for us to want to know what bombs there are… imagine how destroyed you would be if you didn’t know Incremental Blight existed until it tap-danced across your face?

Phosphorescent Feast still stinks, and we already know about Chroma, so let’s move on. Gwyllion Hedge-Mage tells us about another cycle, and begins to display a very interesting fact about Eventide: we begin here to depart from the races and classes seen in Lorwyn and Morningtide, which has interesting applications for Constructed, but this passes under our radar for the most part simply because we will not be drafting Lorwyn-Morningtide-Shadowmoor-Eventide. (Though we should. That’d be awesome.) We do however see an interesting quirk to the color-matters theme, because only here do we start to see your lands matter. Previously, you could have a pile of Duos stacking on top of each other in your mono-colored deck and you’d never notice you weren’t both color combinations because your cards were working at 100% peak efficiency. Gwyllion Hedge-Mage offers rewards for actually playing both colors, kind of like the “Do Both” hybrid spells (River’s Grasp, Repel Intruders) but this time caring what basic land types you have.

Again, this has interesting ramifications for Constructed — awesome impact in Extended, just to think about it, since you can routinely trigger both sides on turn 3… and absolutely crap in Standard if you want to get both sides, since our nonbasics don’t have basic land types. But skipping Constructed, this means your two-color deck will actually want a pretty evenly-split two-color manabase, and your “three drop” might want to wait till at least turn 4 to get its full effect. This is a Grey Ogre, a free Soldier token (… so, three power for three mana, quite good…), and a free small removal spell if you have the other side as well. Quite playable in either color, and in combination… a powerful, efficient little critter, that combines several small effects into one tasty package.

Another cycle revealed, and more fun with -1/-1 counters. This happens to be an infinite-damage combo with a Shadowmoor common (Devoted Druid) which I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see happen a few times over the weekend, but with a starter of Shadowmoor lending only one copy of Devoted Druid and the second piece being a small-set Uncommon, it shouldn’t come up too often, even when both are present in the same deck… two Quillspikes and one Devoted Druid still only “combos out” no more often than you draw that Devoted Druid, after all. It works amazingly well with Persist creatures, of which there are still a few in the new set (or so the Orb of Insight tells me), and can turn your opponents’ Wither creatures into a liability. Think of it as a Chainbreaker on crack, and we’re good.

The second card reveals a set of Uncommons, apparently the “Hatchling” cycle, which are four-mana Hybrid creatures that start as 2/2’s and can end up as 6/6’s. This seems to be replacing the Hill Giant cycle, and… I can’t complain about getting some 6/6 action for my four mana. All apparently have a special ability to differentiate themselves from each other, and even with a crappy special ability, you still have four-mana 6/6 monsters with some kind of spiffy ability. It takes a bit of work to get your creature there (… unless you have Quillspikes, in which case I guess it only takes mana…) but this shows us that Eventide is going to be more about big monsters than Shadowmoor was. This new information leaves our cheap dorks quivering in fear, and suddenly the acceptability of a 2/1 artifact dude for two begins to plummet from Grade A Meat to Grade D Meat… or from “optimistic and cheerful to include in my deck” to “mostly filler meats, some circus animals”. Eventide, then, should have a very different feel than Shadowmoor did… Shadowmoor’s defining creatures who set the bar for every other man were mere 3/3s for 4; efficient, yes, but still something you can overcome with weenies. 6/6 first strikers? It takes a lot of bears to take that guy by surprise.

Here again we see the Untap mechanic, then, and get to enjoy the fact that we still have Q-happy tricks to play with… this time, a Q-guy that is the same color as your Presences of Gond, so you can push out multiple tokens with targets in the new set, too. Remembering that the counters in this set are all -1/-1’s, this targets your opponent’s creatures, and might just kill the crap out of them. Without evasion or a high toughness, however, he might not get a lot of work done… but with non-attacking ways to tap your creatures, I’m sure he does good work.

Spitemare makes us wonder whether there is another cycle of Hybrid Hill Giants, but if so it is not a ‘clean’ cycle of very identical cards because its ability is very Red/White. It’s a powerful Hill Giant and an excellent inclusion to any deck… it’s a Hill Giant who can take someone else down with him when they tussle. But it doesn’t really tell us more about the structure of the set, and it’s a trick you’ll see coming, so it doesn’t really inform us much about the ins and outs of the format, good though it is.

Canker Abomination right next to Spitemare seems to suggest if nothing else we probably will see a cycle of powerful creatures that cost 2 colorless and 2 hybrid mana, and this one can range from a 6/6 to a dead man stuck in your hand depending on your opponent’s board position. Still a reasonable inclusion in a deck at ‘just’ a 3/3, I assume it will still make the cut in many card pools, as the potential of going first and getting a 5/5 is just too good to ignore. Remember that you’ll want simpler board states if you have this guy, so… be aggressive. And since we now know there might be reasons for apparently-unwarranted aggression from an opponent’s deck, we realize that this set is going to give us a lot of interesting things that make us think pretty darn hard.

Crag Puca is pretty much a straight-up 4/4 for 3, and can block, it just takes a bit of mana to actually block as a 4/4… and just one mana to actually swing as a 4/4. It does however suggest that the cycle of triple-colored uncommon hybrid men from the previous expansion will be continuing here, and this is quite a nice addition.

Another Uncommon Mage and another HHH creature, reinforcing our knowledge from other cards we have seen. The B/W “HHH” creature can swing as a 5/5 or even an 8/8 and has Persist, too… quite powerful, and I suspect this will be one of the nicer Uncommons to hope for in the set.

Sadly the color-changing Goblin is restricted to altering colors on your cards, because I would be all over it if he could meddle with your opponent’s guys… that’s Scuttlemutt’s job after all, and I loves me a Scuttlemutt. As it is, he can power up a lot of things on your side of the board, though it should be noted that merely changing colors doesn’t change mana symbols to count for Chroma.

More Chroma fun, and unlike the others so far, this one is actually good, even just by itself where it does something worth doing even without anything else to back it up. Not a very good Flametongue Kavu or Murderous Redcap by himself, but with a little help from his friends he is a removal effect that can slay dragons… not shabby in the least.

And so ends the Uncommons. While the Rares can teach us more, for sure, they are less relevant… they don’t really define the format, so much as exist outside of that definition (and perhaps conform to it, or perhaps not). We do most of our playing with the commons and uncommons, and so far we can have a pretty good feel for the set.

The tensions of game-play and deck design, then, are going to be a different twist on the “color matters” theme. There are huge rewards to be had for going as full-on Hybrid as you can, with 4cc 6/6’s and aggressive shapeshifters that mysteriously become five-power attackers on turn three. We even have some clever little utility effects on the Hedge-Mages that reward us for our lands being those ‘hybrid’ colors as well, playing B/W instead of “just” a cleverly-disguised mono-White deck. Alongside these however we also have the potential for wanting to chase just a single color of mana, thanks to Chroma, though from what we have seen so far in these previews it is looking like Hybrid is winning: the effects are more rewarding and more plentiful. Add to that the fact that we have to combine it with Shadowmoor and its color-matters themes and I fully expect that the enemy-colored pairs of Eventide will rule the day in your Shadowmoor-Eventide Sealed Deck at the pre-release; you can, after all, get full use out of most Shadowmoor cards with just one color of mana in your deck, so getting all of your White cards (W/U, W/G, and mono-White) plus all of your Black cards (B/U, B/R, and mono-B) alongside a good B/W Eventide pool (which can use your B/W, your mono-Black, your mono-White, and all the Hybrids of your B/G and R/W besides) will largely be “how it works”.

Clearly this means that your pool will play out differently each time… but with a bit of card synergy to suggest an enemy-color structure, your enemy-color cards should dominate the color choices on average. Considering everyone wants to play with the spiffy new cards, on top of that, and… well… probably everyone will be using an enemy-colored pairing, because it really could go either way with a Shadowmoor sealed pool and Eventide’s structure is much more “enemy color matters”-oriented than Shadowmoor’s “color matters” cards.

Now let’s look at some Rares… but I won’t be showing all of them, just the interesting ones. The spoiled cards on the visual spoiler are after all mostly Rares, and if you wanted to just look at all of them, you would have clicked that link and left me coughing in the dust.

More Duals, more Lieges, yay! This particular Liege, if nothing else, grants your creatures Vigilance so you can dive into the fray and still have blockers back… and is a mighty 4/4 even before counting his pump effects and extra abilities… the last of which even affects himself, for once. As for the dual lands, well, it’s always nice when your rare can fix your mana… and for anything more than that, well, their application is largely intended for Constructed formats.

For our next peek, Glen Elendra Archmage likewise suggests another cycle (Rare Persist creatures that sacrifice for an effect). If nothing else that seems like a powerful way to do keen things, presuming the effect they generate is any good at all, and hey… anything that tells us more about the ‘structure’ of the set is worth knowing. Splitting Image is a fun look at Retrace on a high-cost card; if you draw a land for the turn, your mana for the turn can be invested in duplicating the best creature in play for your own uses. Of course, you want to get to six before you can start using it, but that seventh land is mighty powerful by comparison to what it normally gets you.

Necroskitter is a flashy rare that can turn an opponent’s dead creatures into your assets, using many of the same sorts of cards (Incremental Blight, a creature with Wither) that Black already likes to use in ‘just’ Shadowmoor, and having the benefit of stealing a Persist creature after it dies a second time. Worth noting however is that Persist says “under its owner’s control”, so if it dies again on your side, they get it back again with a counter… which might yet again repeat the cycle.

Light from Within is a more interesting use of Chroma, because it passes the bonus on to other cards rather than relying on it itself. As a Crusade effect, you’d presume that if the creature was White it gives a minimum of +1/+1, and can give as much as a +5/+5 to something like Godhead of Awe… possibly more, who knows? Primalcrux was spoiled as a Green card with six colored mana in its cost, a similar White card would gain a huge bonus for the Chroma effect.

Sapling of Colfenor needs a good nickname, and before Evan Erwin gets on board and gives it something as unhip as Oona’s “Big Perm,” I’m going to point out a fun name I saw trawling the MiseTings forums (… ze goggles, zey do nothing!…), “Bark Confidant.” Indestructible is a damned sexy word, even if two power isn’t a lot… sadly it’s not as sexy as it could be, in a world filled with -1/-1 counters, thus making it less good in context. Add to that, however, the card-advantage part of the card attacking, and we see a pretty reasonable Rare that might draw a few cards, but really wants you to keep Wither creatures off the table on their side of the board.

Crackleburr shows what you can do with enough things that look like you, however… pair him with two U/R creatures and he starts handing out Lightning Bolts and Unsummons like it’s nothing, two mana each. Yeah, it requires a lot to get both sides going, but it doesn’t require a lot to get the Red side going by itself, and passing out Lightning Bolts as party favors is a pretty neat trick.

Ashling is a walking Abyss, so long as she’s the biggest thing on the table, and with a judicious use of a removal spell or two to keep things out of the way, she can easily make that plan a reality. Crueler still would be gaining evasion or tapping a prepared blocker, so Aphotic and Niveous Wisps work quite nicely with her, but then I tend to rate the Wisps very highly in Shadowmoor limited. On a 4/4 for 4, I know I would groan every time my opponent played her, and smile every time I did like a grinning fool.

Endless Horizons is a weak little Land Tax… but in a world with Retrace spells, it can fix your mana to help you cast spells that cost more in the 5-8 range of fattie boom-booms, give you card advantage with Retrace, or even ‘just’ thin your deck and provide you with a land every turn for a while, and make it more likely you’ll draw action. However, a slow card-quality advantage spell is not what the format that looks to be full of cheap fatties is wanting, so you really should be looking to abuse this with Retrace and have a controlling angle to your deck already if you want to capitalize on the Horizons’s harvest.

The Rares seem to be odd, and quirky, and some of them quite powerful… after all, some of the monsters you can see in the Rare slot are absolute pinnacles of efficiency!

It’s kind of hard to argue with a 5/5 that can be a 7/7 if it wants to on the first swing, and which just happens to live through the first two attempts to kill it, and can live through an awful lot of Withering, unlike even the “Indestructible” Sapling of Colfenor. Never mind trying to beat this guy with a bunch of bears in your deck… you might just be left asking “did anybody get the license plate of that truck that just hit me?”

Welcome to Eventide. Hope you’re the one driving the truck tomorrow…

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com