Notebook Of Avacyn

GP Nashville 2010 finalist Ari Lax shares with you his compiled observations about Avacyn Restored including how soulbond works in practice and his three favorite cards. Also find out what deck he wants to see at SCG Open Series: Providence.

Avacyn Restored is fairly loaded with interesting cards, and by interesting I mean hard to evaluate. This whole block has been like that, but at least we had a reference point on flashback.

While we’ve only just started to actually play with the cards, I’ve been heavily compiling observations and thoughts for the upcoming Pro Tour in Barcelona. While a lot of what I’ve done has been with respect to Block Constructed, there are still plenty of things I’ve found that translate to other formats. Here are a few of them.

How Soulbond Works (In Practice)

Remember what I said about Silverblade Paladin last week?

Maybe I was right about the whole removal fragility aspect. A three-mana x/2 is very fragile; you don’t want it to always trade for their one mana spell or a turn pass with Huntmaster in play. Standard right now is fairly saturated with good ways to interact with the card.

That said, I severely underestimated how good the actual ability soulbond is.

Before the Prerelease, I viewed the mechanic as an upside you had to work for. Getting multiple creatures in play can be hard work, especially in a world of Doom Blades, Snapcaster Mages, and Vapor Snags. You have to invest extra in a mediocre body that can add to another card, similar to an aura.

Turns out the mechanic is closer to equipment. When they kill your bonded guy you lose the enhancement, but you still have the soulbonder. When they kill your soulbond creature, you still have the original one. This is the exact same outcome as if you had an equipment with that effect.

The downside compared to equipment is that your opponent only needs a Doom Blade to downgrade your creature as opposed to a less flexible Shatter.

The upsides, however, are absurd in return. The first is the obvious bonus of getting the additional body instead of a do nothing artifact. It’s nice, but the real upside is the second part: the effective equip cost of all these cards is zero. That’s a two-mana discount from Fireshrieker to Silverblade Paladin.

The lowest level example of how good this mechanic is? From Limited, we have Wingcrafter. As a base creature, it’s somewhere between Zephyr Sprite and Fugitive Wizard, neither of which is especially playable. As an equipment, it’s best compared to Neurok Hoversail or the more recent Cobbled Wings. I’ve played my fair share of both of those as 23rd cards before, but again they are nothing special.

Wingcrafter, a blend of these two, is now a card I would rarely cut from a blue deck if ever. The most recent comparable card is Chasm Drake, only cheaper. Stonewright, representing the even more unplayable Firebreathing, is closer to Kessig Wolf Run. Once you start looking at the more normally on curve ones in green, you start realizing that Trusted Forcemage is the best Centaur Courser in a long time.

Seriously, the only soulbond guy I don’t like in Limited is Diregraf Escort. Seriously, protection from Zombies? You also rarely use the ability on Galvanic Alchemist, but Horned Turtle is as River Kaijin does.

Thunderous Wrath, Mediocre Results

Moving to a different card I talked about last week, I’ve become increasingly unimpressed with this card the more I play with it. That’s not entirely true; I just can’t imagine wanting this in your average red deck. Specifically, the card I’m going to use as the competitor for the slot is Devil’s Play.

If I can hard cast a Thunderous Wrath, Devil’s Play will do as much if not more damage. If you have six mana, X=5 and then you get the flashback. The same is actually true for five mana, with Devil’s Play hitting for X=4 on the first half and X=2 on the flashback for a total of six mana. So, unless you are on four or less mana, I would rather have a Devil’s Play over a Thunderous Wrath almost regardless of miracle. If I have other things to do at that point, I’d rather have the more mana efficient spell, but how likely is that on five or six mana in a red deck?

On the flip side, Thunderous Wrath from your first seven or eight cards is a complete brick. Even in the next couple cards, it isn’t great.

See, no matter what reputation they have, red decks are still about maximizing the value of your cards. The difference from the traditional sense of the word is that you’re maximizing the damage from each card instead of maximizing how many of their cards you trade for.

Let’s say you draw Thunderous Wrath on turn 2. You obviously cast it, except that means you can’t play your two-drop. You then get one less attack with your creature you didn’t cast, which translates into less net damage per card that game. So when you miracle a Thunderous Wrath early on, it’s actually worth less than the five damage it appears to deal.

So Thunderous Wrath is better than Devil’s Play when you draw it in the midgame, and that’s basically it. Also, this comparison only accounted for both spells being played as Lava Axes, as Devil’s Play has plenty of added value as removal midgame that Thunderous Wrath does not. 

The exception to this is if you’re Brainstorming to set up five point burn spells. Once non-miracled  Wraths become live draws before you hit six mana, everything changes. Welcome to Legacy.

Cavern of Souls Isn’t The Apocalypse

I’ll cut to the chase with this one. This card isn’t as good as everyone is raving it is, at least not in the ways people think it is.

First things first, this won’t break Legacy (given the same disclaimer as above).

Let’s take your average tribal deck and remember a time when they were viable. The reason you lost to blue decks was rarely counterspells. In fact, it was almost never counterspells. The way you lost to blue decks was cards like Moat and Wrath of God that created sweeping advantages to trump your incremental advantage from Silvergill Adept or Goblin Ringleader. The reasons these decks lose to blue decks now are Stoneforge Mystic and Snapcaster Mage plus a one-mana removal spell.

Remember, most control decks board their counterspells out against tribal decks.

This effect is also not new. See Aether Vial. To be fair, Cavern doesn’t require the investment of a non-land card to use, but Aether Vial as a Sol Ring is extremely powerful and would be worth playing regardless of the counter protection. It’s possible that these decks can reform around Cavern to try and grind through Snapcaster Mages, but I find it unlikely.

Most of this logic also applies to Maverick. When you get Force of Willed, your midrange deck just got to cast Mind Rot. You also have to consider relevant numbers for Knight of the Reliquary in terms of having lands to sacrifice and fetches to naturally pump it. If you can’t find room for a full set, you also don’t want only a toolbox copy. Once you activate a Knight of the Reliquary to find a Cavern, they probably don’t have a counter waiting for your next creature. I mean, they let your Knight resolve and didn’t have a way to kill it.

Also: Wasteland. That’s all on that one.

Now let’s talk about Standard, specifically the Primeval Titan decks everyone is scared will take over.

Yes, it makes your mana a little worse, but I’m not especially concerned. If you want to be traditional Wolf Run, Rootbound Crag loses some value due to less basics being around and you’re going to have to move to Whipflare from Slagstorm, but those are fairly minor.

The real issue is that despite the fact your Titans are uncounterable, none of the other spells in your deck are Giants.

So the Delver deck has a Mana Leak. Instead of waiting to use it on your Primeval Titan, they will use it on your Solemn Simulacrum. Sure, the odds of them getting a second free turn out of the exchange are lower as you have many more mana sources to draw once you lose one from Solemn than you do Titans to replace the countered one, but you’re still down a combat step in the race.

Also note that it’s exceedingly convenient that Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is so good and handles both sides of the Cavern + Titan combo so well. Have the Mana Leak? Lock down their land to stall them and counter their non-enhanced Titan. They still have mana to stick a Titan? Well, just start Frosting that one.

So what does this card actually do?

Well, it still is a conditional Ancient Ziggurat if your deck is in the market for that. Zombies will be the flagship deck for this due to Diregraf Captain being easier to cast with Cavern. It also still lets you use the mana for larger spells unlike Ziggurat, opening up the possibility of planeswalkers that Ziggurat didn’t play quite so well with.

It also is still a fine Boseiju. Making a Titan will still be reasonable but not format breaking, and in Eternal formats you can force through bigger bombs. For example, did you know Metalworker and Kuldotha Forgemaster are Constructs? Yes, removal etc. etc., but in general MUD is much more susceptible to counters, more amenable to colorless mana, and less worried about increased Wasteland vulnerability than other decks.

Maybe Ken Nagle Was Right….

The only way I can lead into this segment is just title the list in question.

My Three Favorite Cards in Avacyn Restored:

Entreat the Angels
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

No, this isn’t Bizarro World. That’s three stereotypically Timmy spells, and I think they all are awesome.

From a Constructed perspective. No, seriously.

I’ll skip Entreat the Angels as that is so last April by now, so let’s step into the real heavy hitters.

When I say I like Griselbrand, I don’t just mean as a Reanimator target or Yawgmoth’s Bargain. He’s probably "at his best" in a Sneak Attack deck in Legacy, but that deck is beyond clunky. Reanimator might want some number, but he’s much worse with the namesake Reanimate than the equivalent options of Sphinx of the Steel Wind or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur.

I think the big Demon is legitimately good as a threat. You can argue that eight rounds up to approximately a million, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true given how many Elesh Norns I’ve seen hard cast lately.

The joke is that Griselbrand’s abilities actually line up very well. I’m not just talking about the obvious synergy allowing you to lifelink back what you paid to draw seven. The combination of lifelink and Necropotence actually covers most of the angles you could ask a potential threat to cover.

Let’s start with the easy part. Drawing seven cards is probably going to win you the game even if they immediately kill your Demon, so long as you have time to use them. The main reason this wouldn’t be true is if you couldn’t afford to lose the life against an aggressive deck. Of course, then you don’t pay the life and just have a 7/7 flying lifelink creature.

Basically, regardless of what your opponent is doing, Griselbrand is going to be a game ending threat. Either they’re aggressive and have to try and beat you down through seven power of lifelink, or they aren’t and you can just draw seven them out of the game. Given how powerful the combination of Faithless Looting and Unburial Rites is as a way to cheat him into play, I expect to see a lot of this guy in the next year.

Of course, if you want to get a little more busted, this might be the card that finally puts Goryo’s Vengeance on the map in Modern. The deck was mainly looking for backup copies of Emrakul to haste in, and Griselbrand’s damage output and immediate activation makes it much better than Jin-Gitaxias. You now have eight real monsters (Griselbrand and Emrakul), a couple of reanimation options (Goryo’s Vengeance, Makeshift Mannequin, and Through the Breach), and at least eight good discard outlets (Faithless Looting and Liliana of the Veil). Fill in the blanks with some more card selection, Thoughtseize to double as a discard outlet and interaction, and some extra redundancy or acceleration, and you should be good to start testing.

As for Gisela, she isn’t quite on the same power level as the last two, but it’s just a matter of math as to why she’s awesome. Half damage means you probably won’t die any time soon with her in play, but I expect to kill in one shot with her.

Five power doubled is ten damage. Conveniently, there are a ton of recently printed five damage burn spells that are perfectly reasonable. Devil’s Play, morbid Brimstone Volley, and probably not Thunderous Wrath immediately come to mind.

Worst case scenario? You can just bash in again.

I expect this weekend’s StarCityGames.com Open Series in Providence to help clear up a lot more questions about new cards. The big one I still have is how good Tibalt actually is or isn’t, but that’s only the most obvious one. Personally, I’m just hoping for the Phantasmal Image / Frost Titan theme deck to make an appearance with Tamiyo, but I’m sure something at least as cool will show up. I’ll be watching and waiting.