Sullivan Library – Driving a Prius in Extended

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At first glance, it’s easy to spot the chase cards in Morningtide. There’s Mutavault, for example. And Murmuring Bosk. Another card that is warranting a lot of attention is the three mana beatstick Countryside Crusher. Today’s Sullivan Library sees Adrian examine some of the uses that this particular monster may have. Could he actually be… better than Tarmogoyf?!

One of the wonderful things about prereleases is seeing the actual pieces of cardboard themselves. The very tangible, touchable cards hold something that simply can’t be matched by merely reading a spoiler list. Prereleases flood us with cards in a Limited format that can make some things particularly clear to us.

Take Umezawa’s Jitte. I remember getting one at a prerelease. I clearly remember Mike Hron and Matt Severa urging me to cut the card for something else that we clearly knew was good from Champions of Kamigawa. I played it anyway, thinking that it just seemed like it was going to be good, and wanting to try out a new card. I still remember thinking that even if the card wasn’t as good as the rest of the cards in my ridiculously good card pool, it would pay to see this new Betrayers card in action.

Let me tell you, it was pretty good.

This became abundantly obvious the moment people actually started putting the card into decks. Even the people that had seen the spoiler and huzzahed about it most likely didn’t realize just how potent the card really was.

That’s the magic of a prerelease. It’s our first real shot to have the cards in play, with verified texts.

For me, before this weekend, it was all about the Crusher.

Countryside Crusher is one of those cards that nearly begs to have decks made around it. Without even talking about how crazily powerful the card is just on its own, it becomes even more impressive when you start to put it into contexts.

How big can a Crusher get, and how fast?

Well, I made a sample Standard deck to explore that.

4 Countryside Crusher
56 Mountain

This deck is only designed to make the Crusher consistently big. In 5 quick trials, I was mightily impressed. My first Crusher averaged 27/27, my second Crusher 12/12, and my third Crusher 8/8. In one game, I mulliganed to one card, a Crusher. I cast it after three draw steps, and attacked for 40 on the next turn. Against the Goldfish, I killed my opponent by turn 4 over 80% of the time in my next set of trials.

Clearly, this is not a deck to play at a tournament. It has problems with counters, terrors, and more than three blockers. It does, however, show off how truly impressive the card can be. In a more conventional deck, you can take an absolutely atrocious draw, and the Crusher can make it something worthwhile. A terrible hand like, say, Birds, Crusher, and all land, can instead become a potentially terrifying one, especially if several of those lands are Onslaught sac-lands.

For another example, imagine, if you will, redesigning the Legacy 43 land deck to include some Crushers. It may or may not make sense, after testing, to do this, but it doesn’t seem so outlandish to consider the possibility of adding the massive killer.

Think about the card in synergy with some common cards in Extended. Sac-lands in combination with the Crusher make it very much like a Vinelasher Kudzu. Dredge, for any reason, makes the Crusher potentially grow. Even more shocking, Crusher can make the decision to Dredge or not Dredge incredibly easy. Do you want to Dredge, thus guaranteeing a particular spell, or is that card that you already know is on top warrant keeping? Maybe it is that Burning Wish you’ve been waiting for, and now you know.

There are inherent risks to the Crusher. It does stop you from seeing another land. If you need that land for some reason, that can be a real problem. I mentioned the idea of Crusher in a Ponza deck to Ponza creator Brian Kowal, and he scoffed. “That is exactly the kind of deck that wants its mana,” he replied. He seemed more interested when I mentioned the possibility of alternate mana, both in the form of Mind Stone, Coalition Relic, or even a card like Dakmor Salvage, which would let you find the land even if the Crusher isn’t interested in you actually getting to it. Other ways of sneaking around the Crusher’s “drawback” include spells that search for mana, such as Search For Tomorrow and Korlash, Heir to Blackblade.

The clear thing about the Crusher is that it actually looks like it can reliably challenge Tarmogoyf for being the king of the castle when it comes to cheap creatures of enormous size. The obvious inclusion of him in a deck that makes use of Dredge, potentially Devastating Dreams, and the like make me shy away from creating the nearly build-it-yourself Extended Loam deck. I’m sure that you could probably make a reasonable facsimile of your own, if not better than that.

Instead, I’m inclined to examine the card into the space of Red Deck Wins. Here we can have a deck that might be able to cast any spell it could possibly need on only 3 land. Further, the Grim Lavamancer certainly won’t mind the extra potential food. I keep putting Slith Firewalker into and out of this deck (part of the reason for the inclusion of the Chrome Mox). Without a card like Sensei’s Divining Top, a part of me wants to have some kind of “out” if you need a little more mana, but it may just be completely unnecessary to include them.

Mike Flores preview article served as inspiration. It brought up another application that could abuse the Crusher. Using the Crusher as a Sensei’s Divining Top manipulator is truly fantastic, as becomes obvious the first time you actually spend the mana doing it. Once you step into Sensei’s Divining Top territory in an aggressive deck, it becomes easier to also start thinking about your friend and mine, Pro Tour Champion Bob Maher, the Dark Confidant.

As I’ve spent time looking at the development of Extended, it seems clear to me that there are certain cards that I’m going to want to be included, just generally, to muck up the works for some of the most common decks. It’s clear that Vedalken Shackles is seeing more and more play, and Chapin’s (among others) championing of Next Level Blue and its variants makes acknowledgement of the problem that that card represents very real. Porting over Pillage seems very worthwhile.

I’m almost inclined to have the Terminate (a card that is so good in this format, if only you can cast it) replaced by the slower, though more versatile Engineered Explosives. I still lean to the Terminate, if only because it is so good at killing anything that isn’t named Akroma. While clearly more susceptible to Counterbalance, the particular leaning one way or another is something that can be tweaked to taste.

One thing that was particularly shocking was the potency that could come from a Crusher. Take this serious of plays:

Turn 1, Birds of Paradise
Turn 2, Crusher
Turn 3, flip over 2 Land (5/5), reveal Tarmogoyf, lay and sack a Foothills (6/6), cast Bob and Goyf (currently 1/2)
Turn 4, use Bob first (receiving a Pillage), flip over a land (7/7), draw another Goyf

Or in another:

Turn 1, Lavamancer
Turn 2, Terminate
Turn 3, Crusher
Turn 4, reveal one land then Top, lay and sack a land, cast Pillage and Top, attack for 5
Turn 5, spin top, reveal Bob, lay and sack a land, cast Bob, attack for 6, reset top of library with a Crusher and two land on top
Turn 6, reveal two land, recheck top of library, Bob reveals Lavamancer, draw Crusher, lay and sack a land, attack for 9, cast Crusher

In trial after trial, the Crusher was consistently more powerful than a Goyf in the early game, and in the mid- to late game, a new Crusher very quickly caught up to, and then outstripped Goyfs. Especially relevant was the continuous drawing of non-land, further fueling the Crushers ability to outperform an opposing aggressive deck.

One of the things to remember about a Top is the sheer amount of times you can use it, even with just a little mana. If you want mana, even after flipping a bunch away, you still have time with a Top out to reshuffle the top three cards and potentially find more.

It’s honestly crazy how rarely you run out of gas when you have a Crusher in play. Pretty much the only thing that really matters is not losing your Crusher to a Shackles. Any good creature can get Putrefied. We have to accept that. Opposing a Crusher is just too powerful. If you thought that losing your Goyf was bad, wait ‘til you lose a crush.

It’s funny. Actually playing with Crusher almost makes me want to go buy a Prius. The feeling of almost never running out of gas is pretty exhilarating.

Countryside Crusher just eliminates the kind of whining that we’re all used to in Magic. It’s just so classic. “I had a great opening hand, but I just drew nothing but lands!” Nearly every one of us has been guilty of saying probably that exact series of words. Now, if you’re playing Crusher, you really have no such excuse to fall back onto. Who are you going to have to blame but yourself if you get mana screwed after casting a Crusher? If you’re playing against an opponent who happens to have some way of holding down your mana (Cedric, I’m talking to you. And I’m talking to you, Rashad.), then you only have yourself to blame for dropping the Crusher down in the face of that.

The thing about a Crusher for Extended, is that even though it gets so many benefits from the format’s options, it still fits into the problem of just being a man, and unlike a Terravore, not even a mana that can Trample. At three mana, you’re getting to the pricey stage for most aggressive of decks. For more controlling decks, the Crusher is hard to fit in, largely because you want your mana.

One place I could easily imagine brainstorming a Crusher into is as a two- or three-of, where you’re looking to use the Crusher largely for its “Mana Severance” ability. If you’re playing, say, a Red/Blue control deck, Crusher might be an excellent theoretical finisher, capable of being large very quickly in a heavier mana deck, and yet cheap to cast. At a certain point, every mana you draw approaches the state of a dead draw, and so your own ability to simply not have this draw one out of every two or three-ish draws is almost akin to card-drawing.

This kind of use for the Crusher would be especially exciting. Maybe someone will have just such a deck by Hollywood, who knows. Until then, you can expect I’ll be plugging away, trying to make something happen with my new favorite creature.

‘Til next week.

Adrian Sullivan