The value of vanilla or French vanilla creatures varies wildly depending on how their numbers compare to that numbers of other creatures in the set. This
impact is amplified for fliers, which have a narrow range of commons they routinely interact with. This makes looking at how commons play against each
other specifically more valuable than just looking at whether they offer a good rate in a vacuum. Here I’m going to discuss how a few key cards match up to
other cards they’re likely to face in Return to Ravnica Limited.
As I mentioned, matchups are most important for fliers. I think Vassal Soul is generally overrated. I’m willing to play it in my aggressive decks that need
another evasive creature, but it has a lot of strikes against it. If you’re not U/W, it’s very hard to cast for what you get. I like it if I can pick it up
late in white-heavy Selesnya aggro decks where I want a creature with evasion, but most of the time, I’m just not that interested.
Think about the common fliers: Sunspire Griffin is the worst case scenario, but you’re not much happier to see Tower Drake (out of U/W), Concordia Pegasus,
or Runewing. Ideally, they’ll have Daggerdrome Imp, but that guy usually comes with scavenge or enchant creature auras.
I also like Vassal Soul in aggressive Azorius decks that are looking to race ground decks and detain opposing fliers.
I think the most subtle weakness of Vassal Soul is actually its position against Rakdos. It wasn’t something I thought about until I was actually looking
at how I wanted to sideboard when my Azorius deck was playing against Rakdos, but flying is horrible against Unleash. Their creatures can’t block anyway,
and you don’t need flying to block them, so you’re just paying extra for no benefit against the dedicated unleash decks.
This interaction is at the core of the matchup between Rakdos and Azorius. Azorius would often like to be a tempo based deck with a lot of detain, but if
you’re overpaying for all of your creatures, it’s hard to make up the inherent disadvantage by detaining them a few times.
Azorius can counter by siding out fliers for creatures like Armory Guard, but Rakdos can counter by just going bigger, and cutting their small guys that
are easy to block for big creatures like Spawn of Rix Maadi or Golgari Longlegs–of course, if they do that, Azorius can win with early pressure backed by
bounce and detain. This creates an interesting dynamic. Fast Rakdos beats fast Azorius, big Rakdos beats big Azorius, but big Azorius beats small Rakdos
and small Azorius beats big Rakdos (in theory; obviously in game play single cards can change things a lot, and none of this makes up for things like
better deck/draw/cards beating worse deck/draw/cards).
I’ve seen a lot of really horrible Lobber Crew decks. So many, in fact, that I thought the card was bad.
It looks like it’s well positioned against Selesnya, since they have so many three power creatures, but what is it doing, really? They have so many three power creatures. You’ll block one and hit them for one, but they’ll hit you with their other guys. The longer you
go, the further ahead they get with populate.
It’s better against aggressive Rakdos decks, but again, you need to be going somewhere with it.
Lobber Crew is an early stopper for big Rakdos to buy time to fill the board with gigantic four-to-six drops, and it’s a reasonable way to get a few points
of reach at the top of the curve in an aggro deck while buying time for you turn them out after they’ve stabilized.
It fills a similar role in Izzet.
Basically, Lobber Crew isn’t a game plan. It’s not a load-bearing card. It’s a support card that does match up fairly well against some cards in the
format. I almost want to say it matches up well against the cards in the format, but badly against the strategies, but I’m not sure that that’s a rational
statement. My real point is that it’s not a card I’m excited about if the 1-2 damage a turn isn’t going to be quite good for me.
This guy is basically the centerpiece of his own deck. It’s hard to talk about it as Selesnya or Golgari, since you’re usually base green and just playing
whichever good cards you happen to pick up. It’s at its best in base Golgari because of Trestle Troll and Ogre Jailbreaker. Axebane Guardian is a lot
better if it can tap for more than one mana, and can get absurd if you have multiples in play. All of the other defenders in Golgari are absolutely perfect
with Axebane Guardian. Gatecreeper Vine helps splash other colors, letting your deck work if they kill your Axebane Guardian or if you don’t draw it.
Trestle Troll deals with the fact that you can’t block fliers easily, and need time for the big spells you’re trying to cast to win. Trestle Troll’s stats
line up pretty well with the creatures in this format, and it can be very hard for a lot of decks to execute their plans against it. Ogre Jailbreaker is
amazing, since it’s bigger than most everything on the ground, and the Gatecreeper Vines you’re trying to play anyway make it much more likely to be able
The best cards this deck can have are the green guildmages, which let you use all the extra mana you can generate to actually win the game. There are
plenty of other random expensive cards you can play, and I’ve seen a surprising amount of discussion on Twitter of people resorting to Axebane Stag as a
finisher, but I’d really hope to do better.
This is where I often end up thinking of this as a Selesnya deck. I’d generally rather try to populate off Courser’s Accord or Horncaller’s Chant, which
help my Trostani’s Judgments and Launch Parties that I’m relying on to not lose to other people’s powerful late game creatures (guildmages).
Getting back to the discussion of numbers relative to other numbers, this card is absurd.
Those are the cards he stops from attacking entirely, but he also stops every common creature and every uncommon creature (except for Hellhole Flailer)
that costs three or less and doesn’t have evasion from getting through. He also bricks or trades with every four mana common or uncommon creature.
One of the best interactions on defense for Frostburn Weird is Dynacharge, used in a way one might not naturally think of. Between Frostburn Weird and
Voidwielder, it’s realistic to have a board with several 1/4s blocking 3/3s while the opponent tries to push damage. An overloaded Dynacharge will kill
every creature you can block, while letting you keep all your guys. (And if that’s too hard to set up, Dynacharge will routinely let you kill a creature
for one mana when it bounces off one of your many 1/4s, which happens pretty often.)
He’s awesome on defense, but no less impressive on offense. The worst feeling is trying to block with Doorkeeper or Lobber Crew when your opponent has a
Frostburn Weird. Additionally, Frostburn Weird with Pursuit of Flight is an absolute nightmare. 2/2s blockers aren’t common in this format, but they’re
completely hopeless against Frostburn Weird.
Historically, Threaten has been good against green, and relatively weak against other colors. When Red and Black are also full of giant creatures, Threaten
effects gets a lot better. When combined with the aggressive nature of Rakdos and its ability to deal huge chunks of damage with giant creatures, you’ll
often end up in situation where this will win you games out of nowhere that no other card would win because you can take their large blocker (make it
bigger and give it trample) and get your other creature through.
Also, while it’s a ridiculous corner case, I’ve now heard several stories about taking a creature and attacking a Vraska that used her first ability to
kill both the creature and the planeswalker.
Whenever I think about this card, I’m just sad that it’s not Streetbreaker Wurm, but that’s just not a helpful way to think about things. When you need to
block with it, you get a 5/3 for five, which isn’t a great deal and doesn’t stack up well against the other cards in the format. It can trade up,
but realistically, if you’re playing it in that mode, it’s probably because you’re behind and you need to trade with their three or four drop, and it’s not
likely to turn things around for you.
When you can make it a 6/4, we’re looking at an entirely different situation. The fourth toughness means that your opponent is unlikely to have a single
creature that can kill it in a fight (Frostburn Weird and Ogre Jailbreaker being some awesome exceptions). Most likely, your opponent will have to double
block it, and here, the sixth power makes it much better than Golgari Longlegs, since it can kill two centaurs blocking it, rather than being forced to
trade with just one.
The card that might do the most to really put Spawn of Rix Maadi over the top is Deviant Glee. Generally, Unholy Strength is a fine niche card in extremely
aggressive black decks that are looking to steal games by getting a lot of damage in early with an enchanted one or two drop. Deviant Glee can do that, but
unlike Unholy Strength, it’s amazing on big creatures because it gives trample. People almost never live through an 8/5 trampling creature attacking them
if they don’t have the removal spell.
I think it’s easy to underrate this guy. He looks like a zero power creature (I think it has something to do with the zero in his lower right hand corner),
but I think he might actually be amazing.
Shades are generally excellent in mono-black, and the fact that half of the mana you put into this creature can be colorless lets this guy function like
you’re playing a mono-black deck most of the time.
The major weakness of Shades is that they can easily be killed when you cast them, tap out for another spell, or the turn after you put all your mana into
them, but this guy always has four toughness, so he’s not going to get killed off by an Electrickery-type card when you’re tapped out.
I think people overestimate the importance of the one power on Shades. It doesn’t matter when you get one damage in with a Shade. The point of a Shade is
to force your opponent to chump block or lose a massive chunk of their life. Perilous Shadow does that perfectly well, but it also blocks reasonably when
you need to play another card.
This card goes late and people often tell me to cut it from my decks, but I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve had one in play.
This weekend is Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle. Testing with SCGBlack has been awesome–fun and educational as always, but I’m definitely looking
forward to being done with modern and getting to explore a Standard format that is completely fresh and new to me–or just drafting Return to Ravnica all
the time. We’ll see.
I’m not more than 20% likely to play any particular deck in Modern this weekend, but I hope to get it figured out in the next two days. I’m not too
worried. With luck, it’ll be fun coverage to follow.
Thanks for reading,