The Battering Craghorn Dilemma: Craghorn!

While a face up Skirk Commando usually means that either Sparksmith is ready to go or you have something to make the Commando unblockable, it has no single card advantage. Battering Craghorn, on the other hand, can step in quite nicely on turn 4 and stop the bleeding. Drop a face up Craghorn, and the beats just stop.

I learned a lot on my trip to Chicago, and I want to share some of the wisdom I gleaned in this tournament. After that, I am going to talk about the next dilemma in Onslaught Limited, which is also something I learned in Chicago.

I realize that Onslaught ranking may seem like old news, but it is far too early to make any accurate judgments about Legions. By the time this series is done, it will be time to look at Legions.

1. The very first thing I learned in Chicago is that January is not the time of year for a Chicago Pro Tour. I don’t know what genius decided that going to the Windy City in the middle of winter was a good idea, but they should be fired before they have any more ideas.

2. The next thing I learned was that I was very wrong about my Black pick order. The main problem is that it is not cut and dry; the pick orders in Black fluctuate greatly. I still think Swat is merely an average card, but it is necessary. Red/Blue is the best color combination by a significant margin. The biggest powerhouse in this deck is Mistform Wall/Lavamancer’s Skill, and Swat deals with both of these. And all things being equal, the order of the other commons goes Festering Goblin, Screeching Buzzard, Severed Legion. In Green/Black, you desperately need Dirge of Dread. All of these things need to be considered while you are drafting.

3. Most of the time it is Your Move Games against the world, the world has a slight edge.

4. No matter how strong you think you are, cigarettes are very addictive.

5. My writing may be more biased than I think. Gary Wise approached me in this matter and I will have to give it more thought, but I am very glad it was brought to my attention.

6. There is nothing wrong with 54th place, even if you expected more out of yourself.

7. Even Anton Jonsson can draft a bad deck.

8. Not all predictions are accurate, but sometimes you look like a genius. Thanks, Crosby.

9. Onslaught Limited is clearly far more skill-oriented than people gave it credit for.

10. Battering Craghorn is significantly better than Skirk Commando.

This 10th point is by far the most important. It is also nice because it fits well into the dilemma themes of the Limited articles Nick and I have been writing. How did I go about discovering this phenomenon? It began on Thursday with some practice Rochester Drafts. These practices began a long string of Craghorns being played face up. I had never seen it done all that often, although during LA I believe I lost a match because I played the Battering Craghorn face down.

When the set first came out I initially frowned on the Craghorn. I was a big opponent of Halberdier and I saw little reason initially that this guy was better. I soon realized how valuable it was that he Morphed. Once I had a deck with him and Skirk Commando, he went up even higher. He never passed the Skirk, though. Once I realized the synergy between the two, I merely had them on the same level – with Skirk Commando being better in Red/White, since there were already so many Morph creatures that punished a defending player for blocking.

The defining difference in these two cards is the face up dynamic. While a face up Skirk Commando usually means that either Sparksmith is ready to go or you have something to make the Commando unblockable, it has no single card advantage. Battering Craghorn, on the other hand, can step in quite nicely on turn 4 and stop the bleeding. If your opponent comes out blazing with the much-maligned Elvish Warrior and follows it up with a morph, you are at a significant tempo and life total disadvantage. If you drop a face up Craghorn, the beats just stop.

While he is easily killed by all the removal in the set, your opponent will have to waste the spell and the turn removing it. If she doesn’t remove it, you have the time you need to get your game going. I believe this integral part of the card propels it far above Skirk Commando.

The other issue to consider is what they do after they do their thing.

In a perfect world, both Craghorn and Commando will both yield you two-for-one, but what then? Skirk Commando will merely be a bad Nosy Goblin (and that is a statement) while Craghorn is still a 3/1 first striking machine. I know I said I wasn’t a fan of Halberdier, but that was in a different time. 3/1 first strike not only shuts down the hordes of 2/2s in this set, but it also shuts down the other cards that shut down the 2/2s.

What surprises me the most isn’t that there is this huge disparity in power, but that it took me so long to recognize it. What made me feel better about it was that throughout the Pro Tour players continually picked the Commando over the Craghorn. Good players, bad players, average players – I saw it happen constantly. I think it was assumed that this dilemma was solved long ago and no one really thought about it again. In fact, I think that had I not seen so many played face up all weekend I would not have thought of it myself.

Now you are probably wondering where my handy-dandy pick order is for red; well, here goes:

1. Sparksmith

2. Shock

3. Solar Blast

4. Erratic Explosion

5. Pinpoint Avalanche (occasionally moves above Explosion)

6. Battering Craghorn

7. Skirk Commando

8. Goblin Sledder

9. Charging Slateback

10. Goblin Taskmaster

11. Wave of Indifference (moves up in Red/Green)

12. Lavamancer’s Skill (moves up to number 2 in Blue/Red)

The rest of the commons are fairly irrelevant. The best you will find of the remaining cards is Lay Waste when you have Astral Slide or Lightning Rift, or a Fever Charm for your sideboard.

I did want to mention a quick note about Erratic Explosion and Pinpoint Avalanche, which was going to be the original dilemma article, but my experience in Chicago pointed me in a different direction. I’ll just run down the points quickly:

Erratic Explosion can hit a player.

In a fast deck, you want the cheaper removal; in a slow deck, you get more bang for your buck; in Blue/Red, you can see the future of your deck.

Pinpoint Avalanche is guaranteed to kill a Mistform Wall with Lavamancer’s Skill.

Those were the primary points – and when I weigh them, I like the Explosion better. There is apparently another dilemma in red which I didn’t think existed.

Apparently some people are under the impression that Solar Blast is a better card than Shock. I am surprised at some of the players who believed this, but it is indeed a mistake. If you look back at my Elvish Warrior article, you can see the primary arguments for tempo…. And Shock is the best tempo card in the set by far. Whether you are Shocking a Morph on the end step of their turn 3 before you drop your own, or Shocking their Morph on your turn 4 and laying your second Morph, Shock is unbelievably powerful in the early game. It does lose some ground to Solar Blast in the late game, but not enough to warrant a consideration of being drafted behind Solar Blast.

Drafting Black is like a jigsaw puzzle in that you need to take the pieces from wherever and get them to fit wherever. Red is more like cracking a code where you need to get all the right toggle switches in the right position. Cards don’t move much (with the exception of Lavamancer’s Skill); just make sure you know what your deck needs when choosing between two cards seemingly close in power.

Ken Krouner

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