One of the consequences of the slower and less powerful environment for Magic is that casual play tends to get more than its share of toys. Scourge (and Onslaught block as a whole) was a great example for this, containing cards that would most likely never see competitive tournament play, but brimming with possibilities for the multiplayer and fun crowd.
Mirrodin reflects the same possibilities. Cards like Mindslaver, Luminous Angel, Quicksilver Elemental and more all seem fun, though not necessarily tournament-playable. I want to make clear, however, that I’m not predicting that these cards won’t be tournament playable. I’m just saying that in a casual game, these cards do something unique or interesting.
It’s been a while since I started trying to write for StarCityGames, and one thing you learn about internet writing is that there’s quite a bit to be learned from the more experienced folks out there. Borrowing a page from Oscar Tan, the criteria I want to examine these cards for are similar to the ones he uses for his articles, which, mind you, are most certainly interesting if you play power-laden Type 1. But I am a casual writer, so that’s how we’re going to examine these cards:
Does the card do something new or unique, or do it better than previously established cards – and is it efficient for cost?
I want to look at cards that way, focused on the casual environment. What does this mean? The card doesn’t need to be as efficient, but it does need to do something interesting or be worthwhile. I only plan to cover cards of note or interest here.
With the current color pie division, White was widely played at this prerelease because of the abundance of excellent weenies and abundance of fliers. The same will be true with casual games. White gets nothing earth-shattering in this set, but its power is surprisingly solid.
In terms of removing problem enchantments from the game, there are alternatives like Wipe Clean (which cycles) and Erase (which costs one mana) which might be better. Artifact creatures can be removed by any variety of spells, from Dark Banishing to Incinerate, but Altar’s Light is the first spell (to my awareness) that removes artifacts from the game without having to do it in some roundabout fashion (i.e. animating it with Karn, Silver Golem or Karn’s Touch then using Swords to Plowshares or something similar). (Never forget Splinter – The Ferrett, who realizes not everyone can remember 16,000 cards)
The mana cost is unwieldy, but it is a”versatile” way to have a Disenchant effect at the ready, usable if you’re worried about facing off against a Masticore or Rancor, or dealing with a pesky Jhoira’s Toolbox – however unlikely that is. The only thing holding it back is a high mana cost, which isn’t quite splashable.*
A reprint from Masques – a more thorough Pacifism that takes care of utility creatures as well. The bottom line is, however, that this is temporary removal of a creature, and that’s the biggest disincentive of playing cards like this. Even with that, Arrest is a nice way to neutralize creatures sometimes, especially if you need to keep a creature in play (for pumping Beast of Burden, for instance), and especially if you catch your opponent flatfooted and without enchantment removal. Keep in mind that this only shuts down activated abilities, so don’t go putting it on a Goblin King expecting smaller gobbos.
Something else to buff the white creatures, and for a marginal cost too! There’s a ton of good equipment out there, and this guy makes it easier to use. Moreover, this thing pumps knights, joining the”elite” ranks of Zhalfirin Commander among the non-generic Crusade effects. I guess it’d be too good at one mana – but even at 1W, it’s still quite excellent for a tribal deck. Give it equipment that would increase its longevity, such as Lightning Greaves.
This is an incredible combat trick – especially if you’re able to block the creature with enough to kill it. It’s a crying shame that this thing is a one-shot spell – though most of the time you use it, it’s a pretty cool combat trick, negating this combat phase and the next one from that creature, unless it’s got double strike. Note that double strike will do damage twice, and Awe Strike only negates the next time something would do damage. It’s cheap to cast, though. When people start ganging up on you, this will take a bit of the sting away.
God, what a huge ass on this guy, for 3W, with a nifty ability-that is, the new untargetability, which only lets you target the permanent. The fact that it’s 2/5 means it’s a solid wall, while keeping your artifacts from pesky Naturalizes or Shatters.
A card with an identity crisis. The change control feature is self-defeating of the White Weenie strategy, and unless this guy gains haste it’s not going to be much good. I will say, however, that it is 4/4, and as a result, should be useful somewhere. Personally, I’m considering BW weenie in casual, with this, Flesh Reaver, and painlands-a-plenty to keep control. Actually, it strikes me that this works interestingly well with Dross Harvester – which, coincidentally, is pro white, works at the end of your turn, and is another Suicide Black-style creature.
I’m noting this here just for one reason: I can’t stand block-specific rares. Dermoplasm and Skirk Alarmist were the specific rares in Onslaught Block, and this is one such example in Mirrodin Block. When you open these, trade them away before the Type 2 season goes away. It can get big quickly, but because of the sorcery-speed of equip, there aren’t going to be any surprises when this goes into combat.
Consider this funny but hardly powerful combo: Vulshok Battlemaster in the graveyard, play Volrath’s Shapeshifter, declare your attack phase, declare the ‘Shifter an attacker, discard Loxodon Punisher. Alternatively, try Vesuvan Doppelganger copying the Battlemaster, and then next turn copying the Punisher. Strictly fun, but you know you want to do it!
The immediate comparison is to Verdant Force, which is larger, got you tokens more often, had no immediate method of evasion and cost one more mana. In the end though, there’s a reason that Verdant Force has been labeled the best fatty ever printed. One key difference is that the Angel does not give you something to sacrifice should a sorcery-speed Edict be cast, such as the new Barter in Blood (which wouldn’t save a lone Verdant Force anyway) or Innocent Blood, or Chainer’s Edict. The spirits, sadly, don’t come fast enough. If you hard cast this, it’s most often a Win More card, and thusly, needs to be cast alternately, such as reanimation. That said, it is a flashy card that certainly makes an impact on the board… Though I must say that its art is pretty horrible.
Raise the Alarm
Nothing flashy here, but certainly a solid card. Eager Cadet, as we all know, was a horrendous card – but consider this as two Eager Cadets in one card, at instant speed, providing either chump blockers, for-all-intents-and-purposes-hasted 1/1 attackers, and in an obscure use, a pump spell to use Coat of Arms or something to raise the effective power of Unified Strike. Think of this spell as an interesting combat trick on defense with more uses.
Rule of Law
My biggest thought is that if this ability falls better into the White slice of the color pie, and Arcane Laboratory is uncommon, then why the hell is this rare? Does Wizards enjoy seeing little kids cry when they open up unworthy rares? It bears noting, however, that cycling works under this card. This is just another way to run Arcane Laboratory in a non-blue deck.
This is an interesting way to deal with counters. This is a good response to Plague Wind, Akroma’s Vengeance, and many other mass removal spells – with the notable exception of mass removal permanents, which would also return the offending permanent (unless some sicko is running a Nevinyrral’s Disk/Capsize deck), unless, of course, that would cause such a swing that you would win anyway. Also of note: A nice retort to a mass removal spell gets nicer when you also have 2G and a Caller of the Claw open.
A selective Wrath of God – but it’s overcosted for white weenie, and too slow for anti-weenie use. The beauty of this card, however, is its flexibility. There’s no reason that you can’t build to six lands, build up a defensive weenie army, lay this out, and then lay down your creature pumpers like Crusade, etc. However, that way, you lose out on tempo and speed, which may turn the game around – and not the way you want it to!
Disgustingly weakened counters, horse-that-broke-its-leg drawing, and poor creatures makes this color extremely weak overall for casual play. After all, why play Assert Authority when you can play Counterspell? The good news is that Blue picked up a few good spells in this block, though not exactly flexible ones. Fabricate is the trend for new tutors, ending the disadvantage trend of simply arranging your draws instead of actually getting you a card.
Interesting in the sense that you could use it for a burst of mana, for instance, untapping a Wirewood Channeler or Tolarian Academy. Also useful for a one-shot Rishadan Port effect – which, in the end, will only cost you one mana.
A 2U tutor for artifacts, this will draw a direct comparison to Tinker, except that it 1) doesn’t require an artifact in play and 2) doesn’t put the artifact into play. The immediate conclusion would be to dismiss it as inferior – but sometimes, you don’t have to put the artifact into play right away, or for that matter, if the spell gets countered, then you didn’t just get two-for-oned. But then the problem is that the counter in your opponents’ hands is now waiting for whatever it is you tutored for.
The problem with this card is that your opponent can simply choose the phase that hurts him most, and not even multiples can make this card work, since the effect lasts only for this turn! An aggro deck will choose to skip the draw or main phases, and creatureless decks will choose to skip combat phases. The nice thing, though, is that you know this card is coming, while your opponent does not, so it’s interesting to be able to inconvenience your opponent while planning around this card’s effect. A deck that could use this, for instance, would be High Tide/Palinchron with Stroke of Genius for the kill, which doesn’t necessarily win via attacking, and thus lose the attack phase without penalty.
March of The Machines
This is a nifty little way to create a ton of sudden creatures to alpha strike. Also a way to remove problem artifacts, as well as the potential problem artifacts (with creature elimination, which is a little more plentiful). And lastly, as stated in the rules text, a great way to nullify Equipment cards.
Not the largest of walls, but it serves the same purpose as Wall of Mulch without having to keep that extra mana open. It stops morphs while netting you cards, and though it becomes obsolete later in the game, there’s no reason to just let it chump block. Consider this card with Sandskin or Unquestioned Authority – or better yet, Glory.
The possibilities for this not-so-badly costed 3/4 body are wide and varied. It can mimic a Morphling and swing for 6/1, a Masticore’s shooting and regeneration, Visara’s or Avatar of Woe’s creature killing, Jareth’s protection from colors, or most interestingly to those most intent on taking another hit on the draw-three pipe, Arcanis’ tap ability. Consider also copying other, subtler abilities such as using it as an oversized mana filter with a Birds of Paradise in play. Only for the blue-heavy decks, obviously, but an interesting and a very fairly costed creature to boot.
This baby is a Johnny card if I ever saw one. It’s been noted on the Misetings forums that this card would be interesting with Leveler – or, in a non-block setting, Yawgmoth’s Agenda and Morality Shift. But anything that relies on your opponent’s decks basically means that you’re hoping that you’re playing a good opponent. If you catch your opponent flatfooted with this card, it pretty much seals the deal since he will no longer have access to his kill conditions short of what’s in his hand, or non-draw methods such as Parallel Thoughts, Fact or Fiction, or Abundance. Combine this also with Sylvan Library to draw more cards!
The parallels to Timetwister and Time Spiral are immediate, with one significant difference. Much like the difference between Time Walk and Time Warp, the Time spells are either cheap, or untap the lands you used to cast them – meaning that there’s a small investment involved. To use the Cascade’s entwine means that you’re paying nine mana. How much mana are you going to have left over to cast those new beauties you’ve found? That’s right – not a lot. It is, however, an expensive, inefficient way to immediately rob every one of their hands and graveyards simultaneously. Previously accomplished with Mindslicer, this use of Temporal Cascade makes it usable with a topdecked Avatar of Will or an in-play Lavaborn Muse and Black Vise, Viseling, or other such variants. This also deals with the Lhurgoyfs.
Okay, okay – I’m bordering on obscurity in these card uses. Drawing seven also lets you do seven with Underworld Dreams, Millstoning your opponent, and so on and so forth. But you know, people are bound to think, for some strange reason, that this card is some good. Trade yours to them before they come to.
Thirst For Knowledge, Thoughtcast
I lump these two because these two are, sadly, the best card drawing that blue has access to in this block. Thoughtcast will seldom cost you just U (with the only exception being artifact lands in play), and Thirst For Knowledge is just a Probe without an artifact in hand. And what if you draw into the artifact (or worse yet, artifacts) you need? I can’t think of any cards that would want Artifacts in the graveyard, and that just means that Thirst of Knowledge is weak card draw, but decent card selection, and Thoughtcast is not that great-it will remain in block, and only in the heavy artifact casual decks, as was it was intended. Blue gets shafted in the draw department, at least in the way of sorceries and instants.
I just wanted to point out that the most expensive Enchantress effect costs 1GG. This costs four. You will rarely have multiples in play if you’re rushing your artifacts into play. This card blows. Oh – and this is not something to build your deck around if you open it in a Limited format.
Black’s general inability to deal with artifacts (it being the last color to not be able to, with Blue bounce and counters) shows severely in this set, however, even a slight splash allows it to access
Barter in Blood
Double the effect of Innocent Blood for four times the mana and half the card cost? Obviously, best used in creatureless decks, or in a control-type deck. Playing this with Grave Pact out will make it absolutely devastating, and as one of few black spells that can remove Akroma, Angel of Wrath and other protected creatures, Barter in Blood will make many a creature control deck’s list – but maybe not as a four-of. This card is excellent, since the more players in play, the more cards this will net you. Best used, obviously, in a free-for-all, and less so in team games and Emperor games. But because you’ll know when this is coming and your opponents won’t, it should be pretty easy to take advantage of its symmetry.
Betrayal of Flesh
So Cruel Revival eliminates a threat and returns a zombie card in your hand to be recast, and this – which costs one mana more – eliminates any creature or is a Zombify for two more mana, or both at the loss of three lands. Take note that whatever creature you target can be regenerated, six mana is a lot to hold open, three lands are a big loss, and that there are better options out there.
That said, removing a threat and reanimating a fatty all at the cost of one card is a potentially huge game shift, and should not be taken lightly. Despite the extra cost, flexibility is the key to entwine cards, which this provides in spades. If you’re behind, you remove a creature and possibly get one back. If you’re ahead, you can just seal the deal. This is a good card, especially for newer players to get their hands on.
This is the true successor to Drain Life, seeing that the gain life clause is not tied to how much damage is actually dealt. That alone cements its place in casual play, where Drain Life is still played. I expect this to completely replace Drain Life, since it’s inherently superior.
Tombstone Stairwell has a new playmate, and Suicide Black-style decks have a new toy, albeit not a very good one. You can gain some life back by having your opponent chump it – but generally speaking, it’ll more than likely make you lose more life than you’re gaining, especially if your opponent chooses not to block.
Present because this was designed strictly for tournament use, where mirror matches are abundant.
Note that the discard is not random. This card will serve you well, being a constant source of discard, as long as you have some way of getting around the loss – such as a Phyrexian Arena, for instance.
The problem with playing this in block is that there are tons of ways for this to die without doing any damage, and no good way to give it haste outside of Lightning Greaves. The thing about playing this in casual multiplayer is that it’s relatively cheap, easy to recur, and easier to grant haste to (see Anger). Consider this with an artifact creature and Skeletal Shard, which will let you recur this over and over and over…
Promise of Power
With the slower pace of Multiplayer, you’re more likely to see this entwined. With lifegain more prevalent in Multiplayer, the life loss bit will sting less. With less sting to drawing the cards and more time to hit nine mana, you’re going to see this card swing a lot more games. A great and versatile rare.
Spoils of the Vault
Just how brave are you?
Wail of the Nim
This is the card that answers Nevinyrral’s Disk, Pernicious Deed, Akroma’s Vengeance, Starstorm, Powder Keg, and the newest kid on the block, Oblivion Stone. It wipes out weenies on the opposing side, and keeps your own alive. Wail of the Nim is going to be used more often for its mass regeneration ability, though its one-shot pestilence effect can be useful against the little red men and the little green men and the little white men and the little blue men, and at least in this block, the little black men.
With some reliable evasion, this thing will let you abuse cards like Carrion Feeder and creatures with”comes into play” abilities. Without it, it’s an overpriced Zombie. For some fun, try with Filth and Zombie Trailblazer to give you quick, simple recursion.
The new Hymn to Tourach? Not likely, though it will always at least net an artifact. It’s nowhere near as good as the random Hymn, but worse come to worse, it does give you two for one at a cheap mana cost. Keep in mind that despite the urge to play with new cards, most multiplayer game players tend to stick with the tried-and-true. The first month Mirrodin is out, this card will have less success getting two cards – but later on, it’s going to be almost as good as a non-random Hymn.
On Magicthegathering.com, someone asked which color was hardest to design for. The answer was red, because all it has is damage and not much else. Red’s artifact destruction is highlighted in this set, but overall, approximately 90% of red’s cards are still hosed by Circle of Protection: Red.
Obviously best when used with Goblin Bookie (this is casual, after all) and Krark’s Thumb, Fiery Gambit is interesting and potentially powerful, but there’s so much risk involved that it generally isn’t worth using, unless you’ve got a rigged coin.
Remember how much a pain in the ass Goblin Grenade was? This thing is just as deadly, if not moreso, because of its equal if not greater versatility. Goblins were strictly a red resource, unless you somehow had a Riptide Replicator set to goblins. There are more artifact targets out there. Shrapnel Blast joins Fireblast and Goblin Grenade as one of several surprise burn finishers.
Best in limited, too slow for most constructed formats, but Casual Type 1 is one of those that could use this. There are tons of power boosters out there, and getting something recursive or permanent on this thing is not as difficult as one might think. Global pumpers like Dralnu’s Crusade or Coat of Arms would be best, since it doesn’t mean that a resource would be wasted on a nonattacker. Because this thing can be used on players, cards like Enrage can be used as a pseudo-Blaze effect.
Trash for Treasure
A one-shot Goblin Welder effect, but keep in mind that the sacrifice is part of the cost to cast the spell, as opposed to Goblin Welder’s exchange effect. But four more sources for a Welder effect is a good thing – and not to mention, this one is not attached to a vulnerable 1/1 body. On the other hand, this means that you can’t beat with it in a pinch.
If you play a lot of block-centric casual, then this thing is going to smash face. Even if you don’t, it makes a significant surprise attacker if you’ve got a bunch of small equipment lying around. This card is one of those that require the deck built around it, but when you do have one, it’s capable of some pretty sick things.
A small example: Turn 1 Bonesplitter, Turn 2 Bonesplitter, Leonine Scimitar, Turn 3 Loxodon Warhammer, Turn 4 Golem Skin Gauntlets, Vulshok Battlegear, Turn 5 Battlemaster, someone’s eating nineteen points of damage. It’s not the most amazing thing since Goblins does twenty on turn 3, but this little guy certainly can do his part. It’s gimmicky, but also a lot of fun.
Note also that this steals opponent’s equipment-it makes combat difficult if your opponent doesn’t have some removal ready.
This is yet another Johnny/Timmy card that I was drooling over. The heavy red in its cost and its damage clause can be problematic, but if you’ve got a source of burn in play, such as Mogg Fanatic, Prodigal Sorcerer, Kris Mage – or preferably something that doesn’t cost mana – then by all means, play this. It gets big quickly.
Green diversifies a little with a better”untargetable” ability, emphasizing its artifact destroying side, and as always, large creatures for an almost reasonable cost – most notably Plated Slagwurm, which, in duels (and in some rare cases) may even be better than the legendary Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. Living Hive can swing games because of its exponential growth possibility. The new land tutor, Sylvan Scrying, diversifies green’s choices a bit as well.
What can you do with this card? Most of the time. +1/+1 isn’t much, though you can use it to pump anything with amplify, Forgotten Ancient, the Phantoms… Consider this a one-for-one card for nifty tricks moreso than a combat trick, build a deck using this appropriately, then you’d be better off than thinking of this as a lame combat trick that sticks around.
It’s been said before, but this card feels like something from Prophecy. This thing will seldom be a 2/2, unless for some reason your opponent is running Static Orb and chooses to tap out every turn. This thing is an interesting proposition in duels, getting larger as the game goes on, but insanely vulnerable early on.
In multiplayer, however? This thing is a beast. Okay, okay, I know. It’s a beating. An absolute beating. In large games, this thing is death in one blow, particularly with a Rancor on it. Using this with Multani, Maro-Sorcerer will make opponents drop cards and spells in a hurry, which may or may not be a good thing, because this and Multani’s power values can change. The solution? See below…
A reprint – but a good one! In block, this thing is almost as good as a Vindicate. Outside this block, it will almost never be dead; it may not be super-effective, but it’s never dead. One of the new”staples” for the decks that can afford it.
This, I believe, is the third Timmy card of the set, after Reiver Demon and Luminous Angel. It has evasion. It has size. It has a flashy ability. It has a large casting cost. This will win games if it ever manages to get through a few times. If there’s a way around its casting cost *ahem ahem Reanimator, Oath of Druids, ahem ahem* it’s going to cause a lot of pain. But then again, this card is very self-explanatory.
This thing is fat, fat, fat. A substitute for the legend Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, with similar abilities, but a non-changing power and toughness. The big change? This thing can be Rancored.
Giant Growth is classically used in two ways – to save your creature, or as a pseudo-Lightning Bolt, either to the creature or the player. Predator’s Strike does both when your creature is on the attack. On defense, Giant Growth is superior at one mana, and in the long run, Sylvan Might, with its Flashback may be better. But for”right now” situations, Predator’s Strike works really well, particularly for Double Strikers.
Much like the above-mentioned Fabricate, the”search for something and put it in your hand” tutors are now present once again. One strike against this card is that you can’t do the”Gaea’s Cradle, tap, sac, Crop Rotation for Gaea’s Cradle, tap, sac, Crop Rotation for Gaea’s Cradle” trick won’t work with this spell – but the truth of the matter is that this spell gets you that Cloudpost, Urzatron piece, or heck, your Tolarian Academy without missing a beat in land drops, but at sorcery speed.
Tooth and Nail
A double Eladamri’s Call for this amount of mana is nothing special, and in fact, I see it being used as the”put two creatures into play” spell more often than the”search your library” spell. To be used together requires a significant input of resources, and by the time you have that much mana, you should not be relying on this to win the game for you. If nothing else, it gets you around Grid Monitor’s abilities very nicely, and can also get around the limitation of Arcane Laboratory, Rule of Law, and Yawgmoth’s Agenda.
Mana-equal-to-power ratio is one good thing about this card, but the fact that it regenerates and is untargetable by opponent abilities means this thing will be a really good chump blocker – or a constant attacker that dies only to global, nonregeneratable effects. That’s pretty good. A solid, if not spectacular, rare.
Trolls of Tel-Jilad
A large pricetag on an ability considered significant on Krosan Warchief, Trolls of Tel Jilad will provide your creatures a similar protection that Wail of the Nim does against mass, non-bury removal for a heftier price tag. You’ll have to be more selective about whom to save… But this also gives you a significant body to smack with, or to defend with. It’s middling at worst.
One thing about this set is that it’s infinitely better than how Antiquities tried to do the Artifact theme. It’s also better than Urza block, whose enchantments clearly outshone the artifacts in that block.
Mirrodin did something that many sets before it could not-it met the expectations of the Magic community. With tons of new and exciting possibilities, especially in the artifacts (some of which are very color-tied, such as Proteus Staff) department, Mirrodin is warmly welcomed, at least by this Magic Player. Enjoy opening those packs!
John A. Liu
“Does anyone else think Isochron Scepter’s art is a little phallic?”
– Overheard at a card store
* – Damn you, Wizards, for moving Disenchant to green! It still doesn’t seem right…