The Echo Tracer Dilemma: Seaswift!

The potential for card advantage exists in all sorts of places when you’re playing Echo Tracer – either by returning an enchanted creature or saving a creature (even itself!) after damage is on the stack. The problem with this card advantage plan, at least in White/Blue, is that you don’t care about being up on cards. As long as you have evasion creatures beating down on your opponent, they could have a hundred cards in their hand, for all you care.

If you’re about to attend a Pro Tour in a foreign country, ask the right questions. Have you packed enough clothes for the trip? Check. Do you have your toiletries? Check. Do you have your passport? Check. Has your passport expired?…

Uh oh.

Apparently passports don’t last forever, as I found out very recently when I tried to travel to Venice along with Turian and Harvey a few short weeks ago. The exchange at the airport after I took it out to look at it was actually rather amusing, as the first thing I said was,”What month is it?””March.” After a bit of thought, I figured out that the four on my passport was greater than three and I was okay.

Then a second later:”What year is it?” Given the fact that the year of the expiration date clearly ended in two,”2003″ was not the answer I wanted to hear. A trip to the airline counter and two hours of shuttles and buses later, I was back at home and my teammates were on their way to the Pro Tour. Ah well.

It turns out that normally passports last for ten years, but if you’re younger than eighteen when you get it, it only lasts for five. So I figure that I’m now paying penance for my parents taking me out of the country at a young age. What can you do?

Renew your passport before traveling to foreign Pro Tours, so that the photo place and the government can be a little richer and you can feel a little smarter. The fact that I should be qualified for Yokohama makes this less than a total disaster, but it’s still pretty close.

Anyway, the topic at hand is the drafting of White/Blue in OOL. Ken and I have decided that since Legions is a small set, we’ll concentrate on color combinations rather than individual colors. I’ve always been a bigger fan of White/Blue than most others, but even I recognized that it had serious problems before the release of Legions. With the addition of Provoke and a lesser concentration of common creatures with ridiculous activated abilities, the combination has become much more viable. It’s also worth noting that all decks tend to have less removal, so White/Blue isn’t as far behind in that area as it was before.

The key to White/Blue these days, without a doubt, is aggression. You can’t possibly match other decks once they deploy their creatures that activate to produce powerful effects. Sparksmith is obviously the poster child of this, as well as being the one creature that White/Blue still scoops to unless it draws Deftblade Elite or Willbender. All the other creatures, like Wellwisher, Timberwatch Elf, and the Invokers, must be raced. Thankfully, White/Blue has a lot of tools for this, due to the decision of R&D to cement White as the good weenie color and the status of both White and Blue as the best flying colors. Cloudreach Cavalry is the perfect example of this; it’s almost impossible for other decks to race a Cavalry with double bird backup.

No other deck values the early turns as much as a White/Blue deck. While it’s important for all decks to have a nice curve, only White/Blue truly relies upon at least having a two-drop and occasionally even a one-drop as well. Winning the die roll and choosing to go first also makes a huge difference for White/Blue, because your deck should be consistent and fast enough that it will rarely falter due to the loss of the card, while the loss of the initiative will truly cost your opponent. If the game ever progresses to the point where your opponent is off of his back foot, you’ve likely already lost. White/Blue really has no ways to pull off a surprise win, such as Dirge of Dread or Wave of Indifference, and has trouble handling Green’s big beasts almost as much as the activation creatures if the game goes long.

Unfortunately, Ken and I agreed on much of the pick order in White/Blue, but I agreed to take on a challenge and defend the pick of Mistform Seaswift over Echo Tracer. I know that many would call the mere idea of this pick order blasphemy – and while I’m not entirely convinced myself, I think it’s close enough that I’m willing to put myself out there and try to prove it.

There is no doubt that Echo Tracer is extremely strong. It does something that has been completely skimped on in Onslaught Block – namely, bouncing a creature. The potential for card advantage exists in all sorts of places, either by returning an enchanted creature or saving a creature (even itself!) after damage is on the stack. This is taken to the extreme by morphing it on turn 3 and attacking on turn 4, then bouncing itself after damage if it’s blocked by their first morph.

The problem with this card advantage plan, at least in White/Blue, is that you don’t care about being up on cards. As long as you have evasion creatures beating down on your opponent, they could have a hundred cards in their hand, for all you care. The key is that their expensive cards are stranded in their hand, while your cheap ones are all deployed on the table and taking chunks out of the opposing life total.

Echo Tracer also presents the chance for stealing some tempo, but only once it has already been morphed. Note that you are certainly losing tempo by morphing the Tracer, as you really aren’t accomplishing anything on the turn you do. Once it is on the table, the fact that you can bounce a creature and still have that Gray Ogre means that you have sort of recovered the tempo – but only if your opponent has no other creatures available to block the vanilla 2/2 that you’ve uncovered. This won’t often be the case, so you have just spent two turns to bounce a creature and play a creature that can’t effectively attack.

The key to being fast in this format is this: Avoid morph as much as possible. Morphing consists of casting a Gray Ogre, which is far from fast, and then paying more mana to get an effect. You are getting a lot out of one card, which is great for a control deck, but you are also slowing down your development tremendously. To be truly fast, you must play creatures that are immediately effective and have efficient non-morph costs.

Those who played and understood triple-Legions draft quickly realized that White/Green was the best. Why? The best cards of the format in those colors were Daru Stinger and Timberwatch Elf. The best cards of the other colors were Echo Tracer, Skirk Marauder, and Skinthinner. Which deck is going to be faster? The Blue/Black decks had some amount of hope once we all realized the power of Crypt Sliver, but even then they were under immense pressure as early as turn 5. Morph is extremely useful, but remember that it is also inherently slow.

Now let’s take a look at Mistform Seaswift. The first thing to appreciate about this card is that it is a three-power flier for only four mana. This immediately calls to mind comparisons with Ascending Aven, which is certainly Blue’s top common from Onslaught. It doesn’t ever get better than three power of evasion for four mana, so immediately I’m pretty satisfied with this creature. The nice thing is, it doesn’t stop there.

The power of the mistform ability is something that has become clear over months of drafting. R&D made every effort to make the format revolve around creature types, so it certainly makes sense that a creature that can be any type would be nice. The Seaswift can be targeted with Piety Charm, can gain the abilities of opposing slivers, can get around Aurification, can avoid Cruel Revival and Deathmark Prelate, can assist your tribal effects, and can even receive bonuses from an opposing Gempalm Strider or your own Gempalm Avenger.

On top of this, its morph ability is rather undercosted, making it occasionally the right play to morph it on turn 3 and swing with it in the air on turn 4, if you have an extra two drop in your hand. It can also be right to morph it on turn 3, lay the fourth land, and attack with it morphed on turn 4, bluffing Daru Lancer, and then play your four mana flier after they don’t block. On turn five you can unmorph, swing for five in the air, and still play another morph or a Gustcloak Harrier. This plan gets hosed if they do block – but few people will when you have four mana including double white open, as it could be Gravel Slinger, Liege of the Axe, or Daru Lancer. Finally, if you don’t decide to morph it, the full mana cost only has one blue in it.

You do lose a point of toughness, but I have found that the difference between one and two toughness is fairly small in this format. The most frustrating thing is to lose a Seaswift to Crown of Suspicion, but other than that there are very few effects that deal only one damage. Cycled Solar Blast comes to mind, but again we don’t really care that much if our opponent is up a card. The important thing is he killed our creature, which Solar Blast could have accomplished regardless. There are few playable one-power fliers in the format, so the fact that it trades with one is fairly negligible.

I realize that one argument for Echo Tracer is that it does something that nothing else can, but there are actually better answers in White/Blue for each of Echo Tracer’s potential tasks. For dealing with opposing Spitting Gournas and Needleshot Gournas, Deftblade Elite does a better job as it can keep it up turn after turn. Pacifism also does the job perfectly. For getting rid of Lavamancer’s Skill, Piety Charm is usually the better card, as a morphed Echo Tracer will sometimes be shot immediately when the Skill is deployed. For saving a friendly creature from removal, you really want Mage’s Guile or Willbender, as those will maintain tempo by leaving your creature on the table to attack again next turn.

Granted, the Echo Tracer’s main advantage is its flexibility; my only response to this is that you often won’t have time in White/Blue to wait for the flexible answer. By the time you’ve used the Tracer to solve a problem, you’ve lost your pressure and the game is starting to slip away. You either have to race your problems or have answers in their quick and correct forms. Remember that none of the cards I suggested above cost more than two mana, except for the Willbender… But his effect against removal and tricks is so devastating and tempo-generating that it’s generally worth it.

Essentially, the first four or five turns are the most important for the White/Blue deck. Mistform Seaswift plays an important role in those turns by being the best option for the fourth one and a viable one for the third one as well. Echo Tracer is certainly a better late-game card – but White/Blue is not a late-game deck. Blue/Red, on the other hand, uses the Echo Tracer in a much more effective fashion.

With all that said, here’s my pick order for Onslaught White/Blue. I rate Keeneye Aven a lot lower than most would, but my feeling is that the three toughness is not as important for this deck as it would be in a more controlling deck like Blue/Red. Two-power fliers for four mana are a dime a dozen, so you’d really like to fill in other holes like the one drop with Deftblade Elite or the three mana-flier slot with Wingbeat Warrior.

  1. Mistform Seaswift

  2. Echo Tracer

  3. Deftblade Elite

  4. Daru Stinger (moves way down without enough soldiers)

  5. Wingbeat Warrior

  6. Keeneye Aven

  7. Aven Redeemer

  8. Gempalm Avenger

  9. Covert Operative

  10. Whipgrass Entangler

  11. Daru Sanctifier

  12. Glintwing Invoker

  13. Starlight Invoker

  14. Lowland Tracker

  15. Voidmage Apprentice

As always, send me feedback if you disagree or want to discuss something, and I’ll do my best to respond in a timely fashion. Thanks for reading.

Paul Sottosanti

Team CMU

[email protected]