Morningtide Sealed Dissected, Episode I

Once again, Eli takes a stab at the newest Sealed format to come down the pike. Morningtide gets cut up and put under the lens. The Japan vet also shoots his mouth about how Lorwyn’s tribes are wrecking casual Constructed Standard. There’s something in this article for everyone.

It’s Morningtide in America, folks.

God, I can’t believe I started this article with a Ronald Reagan speech reference. Riffs on B-movie actors that aren’t Bruce Campbell shouldn’t get article leadoffs, even when punning. And Mark Rosewater has the temerity to blow through a whole bunch of puns in his freaking set introduction articles because he gets a huge amount of lead time in writing his weekly column and knowing the set names way ahead of everyone else. Man, life’s unfair. And Magic’s a global affair anyway. It’s Morningtide everywhere.

Yeah, the new set’s here. The newest 150 cards are clearly a very big deal. Have I gotten a solid handle on the set? With only three days of play so far, no. But I’ll do my damnedest to work it out and to take you along with me.

The thing that I’ve noticed about Morningtide so far is that it takes the tribal focus and fragments it outward by making classes matter at times. I love the feel of the Prowl instants and sorceries, it’s the second coming of Ninjutsu. I love Ninjutsu, it’s my favorite mechanic of all time. It’s not that it’s tied to ninjas. I live in Japan and am incredibly nonplussed by ninjas. When ninjas are used to sell kid’s hygiene products and radios, you stop getting impressed by them.

The reason I love Prowl and Ninjutsu is because the fact that when those mechanics are in the mix, people have to think that harder about whether to block. I love the tension of deciding when to block and when to let things get through.

Reinforce is more versatile and less splashy than Prowl. Yes, it’s a more powerful mechanic overall, and it’s incredibly flexible due to its modality. Wizards made the right call in making sure there was a very flexible, splashy combat mechanic in the set, considering how much creature combat there is in Lorwyn. I love all the Reinforce cards with the fervor of a mother bird protecting her cubs, because it hurts so much when I let them out of the nest, er, hand, yet the creatures that are reinforced really get the ability to shine.

That’s the visceral impact I get from the set.

I haven’t played a lot of competitive Constructed recently, with most of my 60 card games happening in MTGO’s Casual room. Like John Friggin’ Rizzo, who sounded off in a great Premium article last Friday, I’m not really enthused with Lorwyn’s extremely powerful tribal linears. Why? The path’s too straightforward, too cookie cutter.

When Mirrodin first came out and introduced Affinity for Artifacts into the mechanic mix, there were quite a few angles that people took the mechanic. Somber Hoverguard/Shrapnel aggro? Talismans and Megatog/Broodstar fattie domination? The cards that you brought along in the mix varied, and even when Darksteel and Fifth Dawn came out, there were a variety of angles you could have steered Affinity with. It took a long time to figure out the optimal build.

I don’t mind if Lorwyn’s tribal enablers are uncommon as opposed to rare, making tribal linears accessible to almost everyone. Elves are the worst offenders. I find Imperious Perfect and Wren’s Run Vanquishers to be ridiculously powerful and overwhelming in casual one-on-one formats. They’re so warping the casual room’s Standard games that so many players have to run mass removal like Wrath of God or Damnation plus efficient spot removal like Shriekmaw for redundancy’s sake to deal with the brutal pointy-eared freaks, or scoop rapidly. I am fine with how cheap the Elf enablers are, and if people want to spring extra for Garruk, that’s fine too. The Planeswalkers add a lot of flavor and tension to games. The problem with the Elves is that when building an Elf deck, the most efficient path’s already extremely clear and accessible, with all the side alleys being easily discarded. The tribal enablers are so overwhelmingly powerful that casual players don’t feel the urge to go and play with the new, less efficient toys.

Kithkin have one patently clear path, pure aggression, with the only critical decisions being whether the player wants to endanger their mana base by splashing green for Gaddock Teeg or running a minor Rebel chain. The Merfolk have a little more diversity, since they can go for token generation/resource production with the White fish or mix some countermagic or other Blue trickery into the mix. Casual players running Faeries have the choice to turn to pure Skies-style aggression or throw countermagic or bounce into the mix. Giants have the options of deciding how many removal spells and how many big, efficient fatties they’ll pack. The only real option for an Elf player is figuring out how much Black disruption or removal they’ll want to shut down their opponents’ game plan.

The tribal linears are crowding out the far less powerful casual linears of Time Spiral. Thallids don’t have nearly as many powerful enablers and are just plain too slow in so many instances against the superior synergy of Lorwyn. Rebels? They’ve been consumed by the Kithkin. Madness? There’s just not enough to get that theme working properly. The only real competitive Time Spiral linears in casual that can stand up to the Lorwyn crews are storm and Slivers.

With Morningtide’s approach, I think there will be a ton of great paths opened up to players, especially with the class tribes. There’s a lot of new turf to be explored. How will Warriors, Shamans, and Druids fare with their newest toys? I strongly suspect from Patrick Chapin musings that Rogues are going to be a hit. Treefolk will definitely get the most potent shot in the arm. But with the exception of Rogues, who have a lot of awesome spell effects, Lorwyn’s critter decks will infest the casual room and demand that everyone pack mass creature removal or retaliate with a tribe of their own. That’s not my idea of a healthy casual environment.

When it comes to the interplay between linears, my favorite format’s been the Kami versus the world from Kamigawa. Spiritcraft, soulshift, and Arcane/Splice were all fairly incremental mechanics that gave players regular but slight edges. But any given Kami on its own would usually fall to the flesh and blood of Kamigawa’s various species. Samurai generally could prevail in combat thanks to Bushido, Ninjas could wreak havoc with their trickery and resource attacking, and the Moonfolk always had some sort of trick hidden up their sleeves. The material world’s fighters had the edge on an individual basis but couldn’t handle a Spirit army when tweaked to work in tandem. And there were so many different angles of attack the Spirits could take. Spiritcraft had a lot of potential in the casual room. There were a lot of convoluted, challenging routes a Kami player could pursue.

Admittedly, giving everyone easy access to Umezawa’s Jitte through Preconstructed decks also warped the format away from creature decks. I still wish Jitte had never been printed to this day. Kamigawa would have been a lot more exciting without it.

Ravnica block also had a lot of flavorful, interesting mechanics such as Transmute, Forecast, Hellbent, and Convoke with a few different approaches. Dredge was a very powerful and exploitable mechanic, but could be taken on a variety of different angles as well. And with lots of mana fixing and flexible manabases, you could mix and match the guilds and come up with dozens of interesting casual permutations. Ravnica was an awesome time to build casual Standard decks.

With Lorwyn’s tribes, the game plan is so much simpler, more straightforward. And that’s bad for diversity in the casual room when it comes to Standard.

Rant’s over. Time to get to the heart of the article. One Lorwyn tournament pack, two Morningtide boosters. Here’s your 75 card pool. Build responsibly, won’t you?

Plus Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Several posters have praised Tiago Chan approach to writing up Sealed pools by dividing them into sets in order to clarify the cards. That’s a decent pedantic approach, to be honest, and it’s useful when teaching about a new set. But I’ll be frank. Sealed’s challenge is making hash of a whole lot of unsorted information at once. The sacrifice of simplicity gives us versimilitude, a more authentic experience. That’s important. But I’ll take the time to review each and every Morningtide card in the pool, because you deserve it.

Solid: Changeling Sentinel, Coordinated Barrage, Plover Knights, Redeem the Lost
Decent: Burrenton Shield-Bearers, Cenn’s Tactician, Kinsbaile Skirmisher, Sentry Oak, Surge of Thoughtweft
Poor: Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, Dawnfluke, Forfend, Soaring Hope

Changeling Sentinel has the capacity to trade and benefits greatly from combat tricks. The only problem is, we don’t have a lot of White cards that care about tribal here. The Sentinel will spice up many a deck, but not with this pool.

Coordinated Barrage’s mana cost is absolutely right. Just one white mana deals more rangestrike damage than most people are expecting. This trick’s very, very solid. Unfortunately, this pool doesn’t have a ton of tribal goods or changelings, so Barrage isn’t going to shine.

I watched a few games where Redeem the Lost absolutely wrecked the opponent’s day. Violet Pall fizzling was pretty brutal, but the clash buyback triggering really wrecked the opponent’s tempo. For two mana, you get a ton of mana efficiency. You must not leave this card in the sideboard if you’re playing any substantial amount of White.

Burrenton Shield-Bearers is quite a pain in the rear end to kill and can keep a critical attacking flier from dying once, if he doesn’t mind taking one for the team. You’ll rarely get a bad trade out of this guy. The Shield-Bearers aren’t hot in Draft, where your Kithkin team wants a nice, tight curve, but they’re reasonable in Sealed.

Cenn’s Tactician isn’t a half-bad card, really, even when you’re playing with only a few Soldiers. I love Ghost Warden in 10th Edition draft, and while the mana cost is finicky, getting permanent pumps is tons better. If the Tactician comes down on turn one, you’ll probably spend two turns powering it up before sending it into the fray. Over the long run, a growing creature can become a vicious pest, and having a counter to toss on multiple creatures in combat gives opponents migraines. I wouldn’t ever splash the card, but I’d prize it highly as far as filling holes in your early drops go.

Er, the bulk of Soldiers are in White. Most other colors get Warriors, not Soldiers, as their primary martial aids. Ok, so maybe the Tactician isn’t something you’re usually going to splash.

Heaven forfend that you’re in a position where Forfend becomes useful. This card’s just plain awkward.

White’s Kinship cards really tilt games to their controller’s sides, but we haven’t opened any today. That’s a disappointment. We have a few marginal bodies with one lonely flier, Plover Knights, and the lazy but occasionally hard hitting Sentry Oak. This pile of White is best used as pillow stuffing.

Solid: Aethersnipe, Dewdrop Spy, Faerie Harbinger, Latchkey Faerie, Merrow Harbinger, Silvergill Douser
Decent: Aquitect’s Will, Broken Ambitions, 2 Ink Dissolver, Mothdust Changeling, Paperfin Rascal, Ponder, Sage’s Dousing, Streambed Aquitects
Poor: Protective Bubble

I rank any two power flyer for three mana as a Solid card every time with rare exception (see Gossamer Phantasm). Dewdrop Spy’s double Blue cost is a little nitpicky, but Flash never hurts, and the little extra information is nothing to sneeze at. The Spy, Faerie Harbinger, and Paperfin Rascal also help us get the extra card from Latchkey Faerie, the set’s obvious best Faerie common.

Tempo’s always fairly important in Sealed, and 2/1s for two aren’t too shabby. Ink Dissolver’s a fine man when partnered with Silvergill Douser and Streambed Aquitects, and the occasional mill doesn’t hurt anyone either. These guys are necessary for the deck, considering the handy equipment we’ll look at later on.

Mothdust Changeling’s just not cutting it today. I wager that in draft, this little guy’s doing yeoman’s work when paired up with a Merrow brigade. Stonybrook Schoolmaster, Veteran of the Depths, and Fallowsage all appreciate having this bushy-eyebrowed shapeshifter backing them up. But we’ve got none of those cards.

In the late game, Sage’s Dousing should merely cycle. In the early game, it’s rare to get full value out of the spell, and keeping three mana back is too severe a blow to your development. With two Ink Dissolvers, we have to give it a smidge of consideration, though.

Doing the math, I come up with six Merfolk of reasonable to great quality. They’re not going to break games in half, but they’ll keep the decent Sealed player in the game. Add Aethersnipe, three fliers, and a bit of countermagic, and we’ve got the workings of a potential main color.

Solid: Dreamspoiler Witches, Moonglove Changeling, Nameless Inversion, Pack’s Disdain
Decent: Blightsoil Druid, Frogtosser Banneret, Nath’s Buffoon, Nightshade Stinger, Quill-Slinger Boggart, Skeletal Changeling
Poor: Bog Hoodlums, Prowess of the Fair

In a void, I like Moonglove Changeling a lot more than Moonglove Winnower, even though it lacks the point of toughness. There aren’t that many cards that care about other tribes being in play, though, so this guy’s not getting used to his full potential.

Pack’s Disdain is better than Roar of the Crowd, a highly favored card according to the public. No, the Disdain doesn’t get to go to the dome. But it’s two mana as opposed to four and it’s an instant, not a sorcery. Red’s low-toughness men make Roar even riskier. Roar might be a fine splash card in Elf decks, but those Elf decks want to get rid of big ugly thugs standing in the way of their armies, and Pack’s Disdain’s already in color. I’ll go with the more efficient removal spell.

Oh, those tricky designers at WOTC. Blightsoil Druid’s a fantastic addition to one tribe’s arsenal. The tribe in question happens to be Treefolk, not Elves. Mages marshalling treefolk crave mana, and Blightsoil Druid offers that mana at a price they’re willing to pay.

Rogues are generally cheap and small, making Frogtosser Banneret’s discount ability ineffectual. Goblins are generally cheap and small, making Frogtosser Banneret’s discount ability ineffectual. The ideal game plan is clearing the board, then playing this guy out and hitting your opponent with a vicious Prowl sorcery that turns the momentum in your favor. However, I just don’t see that scenario playing out very often.

There aren’t enough bodies of any reasonable size to make me consider Black as a mainstay today. Would I splash the removal? Sure. How about the Moonglove Changeling? There are only three Changelings I’ll happily splash for, Mirror Entity, Changeling Titan, and Cairn Wanderer. Moonglove Changeling’s very good, but it’s not going to have enough impact.

Solid: Spitebellows, Tarfire
Decent: Blades of Velis-Vel, Boldwyr Heavyweights, Fire-Belly Changeling, Heat Shimmer, Hurly-Burly, Lowland Oaf, Release the Ants, Seething Pathblazer, 2 Shard Volley, Stinkdrinker Daredevil, Tar Pitcher
Poor: Faultgrinder, Mudbutton Clanger, Rebellion of the Flamekin

Spitebellows is a fine first pick in Draft. If you’re seriously committed to Red, it’s a card you’ll always play. Disposing of Sunrise Sovereign, Guardian of Cloverdell, or Sentry Oak for three mana is nothing to sneeze at. When hardcast, this guy’s a little awkward, but you’ll still be getting good value for your mana investment.

How many sure-fire removal spells do you have packed? The higher the number, the better Boldwyr Heavyweights clocks in. I’m not a fan of these guys, because your opponent’s best creature gets to hit the board first and crack back. If that’s an evasion guy of any size, you’re probably screwed. If your opponent fetches up a Shriekmaw, you’re probably screwed. If your opponent fetches up an Aethersnipe, you’re screwed. If your opponent has an Oblivion Ring, Weed Strangle, or even a Whirlpool Whelm sandbagged, you’re screwed. There are so many ways for this card to go wrong. Having reliable removal on deck does lessen the pain, but I still can’t say many nice things about this card, even if it is an 8/8 trampler.

There are a certain number of spells with names best shouted aloud. Release the Ants begs for exclamation, just like the patron cry of Ronin Houndmaster, a Mr. Burns-like “Release the hounds!” There are any number of aggravating X/1s in the format, from Cenn’s Tactician (mind the timing) to Goldmeadow Harrier to Judge of Currents to Silvergill Douser. The occasional clashback isn’t bad either.

I’ve warmed up to Hurly-Burly, particularly in draft. The ability to wreck an army of Latchkey Faeries is nothing to sneeze at.

Seething Pathblazer’s quite a nice Grey Ogre. It lets Morningtide’s Evoke elementals feel free to do their death thing at will while getting a little more oomph, and that’s going to be a very critical ability in triple Morningtide draft. In the meantime, this pool doesn’t have a ton of great elementals, thus limiting the Pathblazer’s efficiency.

If you’re playing Boggarts, you don’t usually mind losing a land late in the game, so Shard Volley’s going to be right up your alley as far as Lightning Bolts go. Having two’s great, but with the advent of reinforce, your actual removal may not be guaranteed if you’re the first to shoot.

Don’t play Mudbutton Clanger unless you’re in dire need of Boggarts. The Kinship ability of occasionally becoming a Grizzly Bear does not cut it.

Want removal? Don’t want much else? Then this Red might be your ticket. I’m not inclined to run it, though.

Solid: Briarhorn, Changeling Titan, Cloudcrown Oak, Earthbrawn, Garruk Wildspeaker, Winnower Patrol
Decent: Battlewand Oak, Deglamer, Elvish Handservant, Elvish Warrior, Fistful of Force, Rhys the Exiled
Poor: Luminescent Rain, Sylvan Echoes

Yeah! Planeswalker! Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s look at the other fruits of the forests.

Winnower Patrol is merely a 3/2 that occasionally gets pumps from the Battlewand, Cloudcrown, Titan, Elvish Warrior, and Rhys. I love the card, but in this pool, it’s merely an efficient trader on the ground with a few guys backing it up. Call me hard to excite. Even so, 3/2 for 3 is a reasonable deal. If you have to throw this guy in front of a Rogue early on, it may well be worth the trade.

Earthbrawn’s so much more versatile than Fistful of Force. I love it a ton, especially when you’re getting into a fight in the air. Saving a flier and having it walk away tougher to boot is superlative, and if you have to take down something big, you can handle that too. I love this pump spell. Of course, we have Briarhorn and Fistful of Force too, so that adds more redundancy in combats and should throw fear into the hearts of puny blockers after game one. Bluffing and being able to back up your bluff twice in game one yields a significant psychological advantage later on in the match.

Rhys the Exiled’s one mean elf. We really can’t exploit his life gaining ability all that much, and we’re forced to go into black if we want to regenerate the guy. Even so, he’s still fine fodder on the ground, and there’s virtually no drawback to the guy.

Deglamer’s just plain faster than Spring Cleaning, and takes care of artifacts and oh so obnoxious Oblivion Rings. How relevant is the ability to hit artifacts? A lot more so, given Morningtide’s pesky class equipment cycle’s rather nasty. The additional ability to mess with cards on top of your opponent’s library is not insignificant, either. While Deglamer doesn’t get rid of the threat forever, it does make enough difference in the short term to be worth considering as a fine 23rd card.

Luminescent Rain? More like Purple Rain, if you ask me. This is one of those cards that gilds the lily in Elf decks, and it has some potential against red decks.

There’s some decent beaters here. We should have enough guys on the board in any situation to make Garruk a one suspend counter Overrun and take home wins, if winning in a hurry’s the best plan. Briarhorn’s no slouch either. With few late game bombs, believe me, winning in a hurry’s your best plan. Green looks like a lock for a main color.

Everything Else
Solid: Diviner’s Wand, Shelldock Isle
Decent: Wanderer’s Twig

Diviner’s Wand? Sign me up. Yes, most Wizards aren’t all that sexy, and there aren’t so many in the pool. Throwing this on a Faerie’s pretty useless, since flying is the major perk that makes pumping the equipped guy so good. But any card that allows me to draw more cards and reward me for it is crazysexycool, as TLC put it. The investment’s well worth it. This card housed me on more than one occasion at the prerelease, even when the opponent paid full manufacturer’s suggested retail price on equipping. I haven’t forgotten the scars it left.

I gave myself 20 minutes and actually ran out of time building the deck, which was mighty frustrating. The card pool’s got a few angles of attack, but none of them are particularly powerful.

1: Ponder
2: 2 Ink Dissolver, Silvergill Douser, Broken Ambitions, Earthbrawn, Fistful of Force
3: Battlewand Oak, Dewdrop Spy, Paperfin Rascal, Rhys the Exiled, Streambed Aquitects, Winnower Patrol, Diviner’s Wand, Sage’s Dousing
4: Briarhorn, Cloudcrown Oak, Faerie Harbinger, Latchkey Faerie, Merrow Harbinger, Garruk Wildspeaker
5: Changeling Titan
6: Aethersnipe

8 Forest
8 Island
Shelldock Isle

The curve isn’t superlative. The evasion isn’t plentiful. But the deck’s got enough guys on the ground and in the air and has defensive tricks and a slew of pump effects. Countermagic’s the X factor that I haven’t factored in. The deck’s crying out for a Woodland Changeling or two. A Glimmerdust Nap would also be greatly appreciated, to take care of pests like Stonybrook Angler or Silvergill Douser. Bounce would also have had a warm welcome. But that ain’t happening today. You get handed 75 cards and cook up your best.

There’s a bit of evasion. Three fliers, Diviner’s Wand, and the possibility of Islandwalk can cleave through some armies. I saw a lot of people running blue at the Morningtide prerelease, falling second behind green. So islandwalk is alright in my book. The countermagic isn’t that expensive, though I prefer Broken Ambitions to Sage’s Dousing. But most of the game’s going to be about the ground and pound. With three pump effects, you should hopefully be able to exploit vulnerabilities in the opponent’s line. If only our guys were a little more resilient, we’d be able to have reliable breakthroughs with Garruk.

I had a very tough time cutting Elvish Warrior from the pool. It’s simply a poor late game drop and there’s only two cards caring about its creature types. Those effects aren’t game winners anyway. To play Elvish Warrior reliably on turns two or three, you want to have nine or ten forests in your deck, and I simply can’t do that when I’m looking at the blue cards. Elvish Warrior ended up holding the bag at the worst possible moment.

If you were splashing a third color, I’d probably go with Black for Nameless Inversion and Pack’s Disdain. One more Changeling card couldn’t have hurt, and we have a single fixer, Wanderer’s Twig, to fix the mana. If I had a few more minutes, I’d probably have cut the Broken Ambitions and Sage’s Dousing for those two removal spells, but I was having trouble working out the manabase. That fills me with more than a little guilt and shame, to be honest. Them’s the breaks, though.

Is this a good deck? It has some potential, but it’s going to take a lot of work to pilot to a Top 8 berth in a tournament of any reasonable size. There’s not a lot of concentrated tribal synergy anywhere to be found in the pool. Maybe you took a different road, splashing black or red for removal. Or maybe you found your road to look almost exactly like mine. Why not bring your findings to the forums? Your feedback’s greatly appreciated.

Eli Kaplan
japaneli at hot mail dot com
turboeli on MTGO

Update: So far, one entry has been submitted for my coverage contest. There’s fifty bucks out there for the having, people. Chris Campbell may walk away without a contest if no one else jumps in.