The books were closed on Pro Tour: Philadelphia recently – and with them, a whole new chapter in the debate regarding the demise of American Magic was opened. With young Americans claiming recent Grand Prix and Pro Tour stops (which were, granted, in America), I’m ready to believe that this was no fluke – we, as a country, are no longer completely outclassed at the highest levels. Of course, I’m not holding my breath for a return to American dominance – information is too free, the tech distributed too finely – but I’m cautiously optimistic that the USA will remain a constant contender for the immediate future.
At the same time, Kamigawa Block Constructed had its debutante ball, which is great news for those of us who are planning to become intimately familiar with it over the coming PTQ season. The problem is that, even with the Pro Tour in the rear view mirror, we still don’t really know much about the format. With Saviors of Kamigawa still in the wings, there are some big unknowns.
The last set in a block has always held some surprises that stir the pot: Eternal Witness showed up to help fight Affinity last year, while Goblin Warchief and Eternal Dragon completely overpowered the decks spawned for Pro Tour: Venice. Pernicious Deed, Mageta the Lion, and Mirari’s Wake all sprouted from their block’s final set and sculpted, to greater or lesser degrees, their respective metagames. The decks we saw in Philadelphia will have new contenders to deal with – or may even be completely obsolete – by the time the first qualifiers roll around.
Perhaps the best way to learn about Saviors is to get it straight from the source: official previews. We’ve just had our first full week of official previews at magicthegathering.com, and it’s not too early to at least pretend to understand what these cards are going to mean to Constructed and Limited formats alike. Will this article, or any of the countless others like it that are coming, actually hit the mark? It’s doubtful – but like everyone else, I just can’t resist putting my thoughts out there.
Think of this as a discussion piece. I’m going to try to put these cards in what context we have, but I reserve the right to venture off into unregulated speculation. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Search your library for an enchantment card and put it into play. Then shuffle your library.
Epic (For the rest of the game, you can’t play spells. At the beginning of each of your upkeeps, copy this spell except for its epic ability.)
The first words out of my mouth when I saw this card were, "Holy crap!" Allow me to commend Wizards for creating an effect worthy of being keyworded as "Epic." I am not the biggest fan of new keywords in every set,* but this is something I can live with. It’s not like Epic could have been a full-block mechanic, as even the name pushes it toward being on the absolute minimum number of cards. This mechanic deserves to be one five-card rare cycle – and be done after that.
Regarding the card itself, Enduring Ideal is a very powerful effect that, at first blush, doesn’t really appear to have a home. Ignoring for the moment the fact that neither Kamigawa Block nor Mirrodin Block aren’t particularly heavy on game-breaking enchantments, the fact is that this bad boy costs seven mana. By the time you have seven mana online, you could have already looked at upwards of six or eight extra cards via Sensei’s Divining Top. If you haven’t found the enchantment you’re looking for by then, you can probably survive without it.
Furthermore, seven mana can buy you a lot in Kamigawa. Everything short of the Myojins and Sway of the Stars comes in under the seven-mana cutoff, and turning yourself off for the rest of the game while your opponent is serving with Kodama of the North Tree, Ink-Eyes, or Meloku the Clouded Mirror doesn’t seem like a winning proposition. You would need an extremely potent one-of to even think about using this clunker as a conventional tutor… and if that’s the case, you should really just play more of that card.
Enduring Ideal in particular is (probably) more demanding than the other Epic spells – each time you copy it, you need a card to search for. That not only demands more of the card pool, but it demands more of your deck space. Any deck that is willing to suffer the Epic drawback will need to be specially designed for the Epic benefits, and the tools just aren’t there for that to happen. This is an absolute jaw-dropper of a card, but I can’t fathom it making its way onto any serious Constructed tables this season.
As for Limited…well, I’ll put it this way: The proper description of Enduring Ideal starts with "f" and ends with "ifteenth pick."
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker
Legendary Creature – Human Advisor
Whenever a source an opponent controls deals damage to you, that player sacrifices a permanent.
Every card is somehow similar to other cards, but the first card I thought of when I saw Michiko was Hokori, Dust Drinker. That may seem a little sideways, but there is a distinct parallel – Hokori is a four-mana white Legend that punishes control decks, while Michiko is a four-mana white Legend that punishes beatdown decks. One makes the number of lands you have in play almost irrelevant, while the other makes every permanent matter.
With a completely defensive ability, it would be nearly impossible to build a deck exclusively around Michiko. As such, the best we can do is consider how she fits in to what we already know. Any deck with multiple small sources of damage and little mana acceleration will suffer from Michiko; White Weenie, Snakes, and even rogue Ninjas will be definitely put to the test, although Sosuke’s Summons probably gives Snakes the edge in combating it.
However, Michiko has several hurdles to clear for her to really be effective. First, she has to be in a beneficial matchup, as she would be extremely underwhelming against a Kodama of the North Tree or Myojin of Seeing Winds. That alone probably relegates her to sideboard duty. She may have some small role as a foil to Meloku, but Patron of the Kitsune already fills that void capably and she makes it no easier to break through defensive Illusions.
Second, she has to beat out every other anti-beatdown card – which would be no small feat as a four-mana 2/2. For two more mana, Final Judgment will skip the middle man and just get rid of an opponent’s board. Some decks (like White Weenie) can’t afford that two mana and would like to preserve their own sides as well, so they may use her, but it’s unlikely that mana-heavy control decks will find her sufficient. Finally, she has to remain in play until the Combat Damage step, which could be difficult considering that the decks she excels against all loves them some Umezawa’s Jitte.
For Limited, Michiko earns a very emphatic "fine." As a creature, she is never useless, and her ability can cause some discomfort on the other side of the table, but your opponent has almost total control over when she gets to trigger.
Maybe some of you remember Farsight Mask? It looked good at first… but most opponents would just stop attacking with anything that wasn’t big enough to be worth the card they were giving up. Michiko is a little worse, as your opponent will get to choose the card they lose (rather than you gaining a random draw), but damage also comes in smaller packets in this block, so her net value is a little higher overall. Still, a four-mana 2/2 with a narrow ability and no relevant creature types isn’t going to make me jump for joy, but at least I’ll never be ashamed to play her.
Measure of Wickedness
At the end of your turn, sacrifice Measure of Wickedness and you lose 8 life.
Whenever another card is put into your graveyard from anywhere, target opponent gains control of Measure of Wickedness.
Hooo boy. This is a doozy. It’s a very slick design… but I’m having trouble seeing it actually being good. Let’s assume a best-case scenario – you play it, your opponent can’t get rid of it and loses eight life. It does its job as the World’s Best Lava Axe, but that’s still just doming the opponent. If your opponent is at eight, wonderful. But what if they’re at eighteen? You just spent turn 5 playing this enchantment and a spell (or sacrificed creature) to send it across the table instead of developing your board position. If you’re running a giant Axe, you’re clearly beatdown – but unless you’ve already dropped your opponent to within range, there’s the question of whether another creature might not just be better.
It’s also worth noting that in real life, your opponent is not just going to calmly accept your generous gift. They will be handing it right back to you simply by playing the game. Every attack step, every Sakura-Tribe Elder or Kodama’s Reach, almost every action your opponent takes threatens to hand the bugger back to you for the cycle to be repeated. Especially in Limited, where creature combat alone can send cards to the graveyard on every single turn, the chances of this guy ever actually going off are not great.
In fact, most of the potential ways to "break" the symmetry are counter-productive. If you want to "trap" your opponent by handing it back on their turn, you must do so while still in their main phase – otherwise they won’t have it in time for it to trigger. That just gives them another chance to play some sorcery and ship it back over. Using sacrificial creatures gives you that instant-speed donation, but stacking damage in combat and then sacrificing will just make sure you keep the Measure.
With all of that said, there may be hope for Measure of Wickedness yet. In cases where your opponent is unlikely to play spells on his/her own turn or creatures can’t be relied on to push through the last points of damage – Mono-Blue Control, I’m looking at you – this may be able to serve as a troublesome finisher. Standard black disruption will donate the Measure and even countered spells will get it off your side of the table. Even a Time Stop will skip right over your own end-of-turn step, preventing you from getting axed yourself (unless I still don’t understand that card correctly). This also may have a home in Death Cloud decks, as the resolution of a Cloud will hand the enchantment over to a completely hamstrung (and probably very injured) opponent.
This card also happens to win the Shuriken Award for weird stack interactions: If you end up donating Measure while its EOT ability is on the stack (because your opponent Whispered a creature or hit you with Nezumi Shortfang), you will be an unhappy camper. You’ll successfully give it away, be unable to sacrifice it and still lose eight life. The loss is not contingent upon a successful sacrifice, so you’ll probably be getting the same enchantment back very soon. Of course, if you somehow manage to steal it back before the trigger resolves, you’ll be able to get it off the board – it never left the in-play zone and thus still knows it’s itself. (Right?)
Legendary Creature – Kirin Spirit
Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, you may put the top X cards of target player’s library into his or her graveyard, where X is that spell’s converted mana cost.
Very nice. Very nice indeed.
Cover up that text box for a second. You’ve got a 4/4 blue creature for five mana. That alone is pretty good – blue doesn’t get that kind of efficiency much anymore.
Okay, now move your hand down a little – enough to see "Flying." Now we’re talking about a straight up Air Elemental, which is no slouch. An efficiently-costed flying beater that shrugs off most red removal would be a boon to any Sealed deck, and is certainly capable of winning a game if played at the top of any reasonable curve. It’s less likely to be stranded in your hand than a Dragon, more able to beat through an active Kabuto Moth than your average Soratami, and just happens to have this block’s favorite creature type.
But now, take that hand away completely. This flying horsey-thing comes fully equipped with a hyper-efficient Millstoning ability that requires no additional input from you, the controller. For just playing the game and without spending any additional mana, you gain complete inevitability in the something-less-than-likely event that your 4/4 flier isn’t winning the game anyway.
I’ll be honest – only in stalled games will you have the time to cast the twenty-some mana’s worth of spells you’ll need to completely deck out your opponent, but that will happen at least once every two to three rounds. If your game doesn’t look like it’s going to make it to the long haul, you can just set up some of your Soulshift or get a good peek at your opponent’s cards for future reference. It’s not quite as bankable as Umezawa’s Jitte, but believe me when I say that I will be very inclined to play blue if I find this guy in my stack.
Constructed, sadly, will probably not have a real home for this guy – at least not at the highest levels. Any potential Millstone deck is already equipped with Dampen Thought, and Hikari, Twilight Guardian is a very capable 4/4 flying spiritcrafter for five. This doesn’t even mention the fact that the Kirin must battle Meloku for his spot on the curve – a fight that does not bode well for our previewed friend. I can certainly see casual types embracing this, just like many embraced Dreamborn Muse, but I’m just not feeling the presence of a techy Kirin deck ready to storm the PTQs.
Promise of Bunrei
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from play, sacrifice Promise of Bunrei. If you do, put four 1/1 colorless Spirit tokens into play.
I won’t lie to you; Michael J did a pretty good job cataloguing many of Promise’s potential places. Failsafe against board sweepers? Check. Self-fueled token beatdown? Check. Falling short against gigantic Block beaters? Check.
I suppose I could take this space to mention that the Frostling cycle in Betrayers makes this workable in Limited on your own terms – being able to threaten four little men at instant speed should your opponent even think about attacking with one of his piddling ground-dwellers ain’t bad. Even without a self-trigger, creature combat or removal will cash your tokens without breaking a sweat. Of course, as always, 1/1s are not stellar attackers, but in clusters they make fine defenders while your real critters make with the facesmashery.
I guess that’s that. All that’s left for me is to be the first on record to call it the Promise of BUNZREI OH EM GEE AR OH EF EL!1!
Seriously, am I awesome or what?
Right. Moving on.
Thoughts of Ruin
Each player sacrifices a land for each card in your hand.
Sweet. Fancy. Moses.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s Goblin Warchief has arrived. If any card is capable of single-handedly demolishing the mana-hungry control decks that dominated Philadelphia’s Top 8, it is this. Red is already gripping a very respectable squad of burn and mid-range beaters, but nothing special enough to draw people away from their Isamarus and Gifts Ungivens.
This is special enough.
I find it hard to conceive of any Red deck that casts this on turn 4 losing to any massive-mana deck. Gifts Ungiven Control will certainly have to undergo a dramatic facelift to survive. Against any opponent with Mountains, Gifts players will have to aggressively tutor for four lands as soon as turn 3, and perhaps even use Budoka Gardener in order to get out enough real estate to defend themselves after the bomb hits. Considering that the Thoughts will likely follow closely on the heels of an angry creature or two, that deck will have its hands full regardless.
Granted, this is not going to work in the same way as Armageddon did in White Weenie of old. Deploying a weenie horde before popping this off only makes it weaker, so the weenies (if they are played) may have to wait until the dust settles. Even just tossing it off for three on turn 4 would be a powerful hit – but this will probably run more along the lines of Erhnam-Geddon, where you drop a sizable beater and then cripple your opponent’s ability to deal with it. If the rumors regarding Jiwari, the Earth Aflame are correct, a midrange Red control deck may be a powerful new contender. White Weenie and its Shining Shoals would be a considerable hurdle for such a deck, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Perhaps another article is brewing here…
For Limited purposes, Thoughts of Ruin is much less certain. The best use of an Armageddon effect in Limited is as an elbow drop when your board has outdeveloped your opponent’s, but that same playing of creatures cuts back on the power of the spell. With the new "wisdom" mechanic (as on this card) showing up, players may be more likely to keep creatures back, so you may be more able to strand them there, but those same players will also probably be slow-rolling lands. I could definitely see myself using it in a powerful sideboard role, but I’m not sure what I’d have to be looking at to really like maindecking it.
Well, I guess that concludes the card analysis portion of today’s article. Hopefully you found some of this helpful, or interesting, or something. I certainly enjoyed writing it – and I’m even being informed that there’s an entire second week of preview cards coming up, so hopefully, you’ll all be hearing from me again rather shortly. There’s a forum link at the bottom of this here page here, so feel free to shout back.
clauticea at kenyon dot edu
* – While on the subject of over-keywording, I wanted to mention a certain part of Rosewater’s article that irked me:
"The first set is always shiny and new. It introduces the theme(s) for the year as well as the block mechanics. The second set gets to expand upon the work of the first set makes all the obvious twists (and some of the less obvious ones) on the mechanics. But the third set has a bit of an identity crisis. It can’t just expand on the themes. The second set did that." (emphasis mine)
This sort of explains why R&D keeps pumping every new set full of extraneous keywords: they think we’re kids. They see us as small children in constant need of something new and shiny to distract and entertain us. This saddens me. Magic is a great game and it doesn’t need glitter and makeup for us to enjoy it. The third set can just expand on the themes, I won’t mind – I’m generally excited enough just for the prospect of new cards! There are only five-hundred-some cards in a block, and exploring even just two or three new mechanics in that space would be impressive enough. To force six, seven or eight mechanics into each block is overkill.