I had been anxiously awaiting this prerelease, enough so to play a little hooky from work. (Work on a Saturday? Welcome to the computer game industry – I haven’t had a day off in two months.) The teasers over on the Sideboard have been entertaining, and I downloaded and pored over the prerelease spoilers with great abandon in what little free time I had, picking out what’s good, what’s not, and what I need to trade for.
Of course, reading cards and actually playing them are two different things.
Saturday morning, I get up early (for me, 9:00 is early) and drive over to the DoubleTree Inn where Ken Horton and his stalwart Black Lotus Productions crew are setting up the prerelease. I love having a ten-minute drive to go to a tournament. Please, please, please, Ken, don’t start doing them all in Portland, I’m begging you! I’m lazy and don’t want to drive two hours to Portland!
We don’t quite make the 200 mark, but top out at 179 entrants. Not a bad number, and we get a foil Raging Kavu (in Latin, no less-at least I think it’s Latin, that’s what they told us it was, and my knowledge of dead languages is rudimentary). Let the games begin!
Here’s the love I got:
2x Recover (1 foil)
2x Tidal Visionary
Fact or Fiction
Pulse of Llanowar
2x Aggressive Urge
Breath of Darigaaz
Crown of Flames
2x Savage Offensive
Bend or Break
Strength of Unity
2x Ardent Soldier
2x Crimson Acolyte
2x Tinder Farm
Wings of Hope
Darigaaz, the Igniter
2x Plague Spores
So, how would you put this together? Go, discuss amongst yourselves. For those don’t wish to, spend thirty seconds pretending you’re in an elevator listening to a muzak version of "The Girl From Ipanema."
(Tall and thin and young and handsome… – The Ferrett, humming along)
Finished? Good. Here’s my motley assemblage.
Breath of Darigaaz (co-MVP)
2 Plague Spores
Darigaaz, the Igniter (co-MVP)
As you can see, the white and blue were pretty darn bad, and being as I had a BRG Dragon Legend, green, red and black it was. The deck doesn’t have a mana curve as much as a mana plateau, leveling off at three six multicolored spells -expensive, yes, but I was gambling that in a much slower environment, I could get away with it, and Plague Spores were just too powerful to leave out.
I also was running a very low creature base, but, again, I was hoping that my many removal spells would help carry the day.
Round 1, Game 1 – Ryan Connel
Ryan Connel-wait a minute, did his dad, Ivan Connel, knock me out at the Prophecy prerelease? If so, you know what that means…
One of these days I’ll learn the finer art of taking notes during a match. I think you’d have more luck deciphering a doctor’s prescription than my handwriting. Unfortunately, this ain’t like chess – there’s no simple way to scribble down something like "I block with my Thunderscape Apprentice, tap to give himself +1/+1 and cast Aggressive Urge to kill his attacker." Not as elegant as "QxKB."
Here’s what I can decipher: I open with an early Yavimaya Barbarian, he counters on turn four with a Voracious Cobra (hmm, don’t think I’ll be blocking that much). My turn four swamp is swept away by Frenzied Tilling-now, wait a minute, he kills one of my lands and he gets to go fish one out of his deck? That’s not fair!
My opponent makes a tactical error, playing out Overabundance. Even though he has the life advantage, he’s now given me the ability to play out my bombs, like, oh, I don’t know… Darigaaz? Two turns later, the big Dragon finishes him off.
Round 1, Game 2
I open with a Thunderscape Apprentice (herewith referred to as "Thundarr" for no other reason that it’s silly), and a turn two swamp enables me to start the slow life drain. Ryan opens with three 1/1s by turn four. Having overextended himself a scosh, I wipe the board clean with Breath of Darigaaz. This, without doubt, is the best red removal available in this set. However, he starts out-crittering me and bringing me down in life rapidly. It looks like a late Plague Spitter may finish me off, but I’m forced to use a topdecked Soul Burn to eliminate the threat.
Then, Darigaaz comes out and once again saves the day.
I love you, Pikachu!
Round 2, Game 1 – Alas, missed the name, but he’s playing GUW
Red and black mages, I have seen the future of Standard, and it is not pretty. Look upon thine decks, ye mighty, and despair!
I open with a few points of damage with a Nightscape Apprentice and Slimy Kavu. I get him down to ten when he gets out an Armored Guardian. Combine this with a few Acolytes, and suddenly his side of the board gets very… annoying. No matter, I soon cast Darigaaz. He shall carry me to victory!
At least until he cast Shimmering Wings on the Armored Guardian.
What we have here is a Mexican stand-off.
He continues to play tentatively but is steadily knocking me down on life. Last turn, I’m at two life, he’s at four, and I’m praying for a topdecked Soul Burn to save me. I draw…
Well, that does me no…wait a minute! I cast Cursed Flesh on Darigaaz! Woo hoo! I attack…
…and he Disenchants (or Dismantle) the Cursed Flesh. Bah! If I’d played a little smarter, I might have been able to pull that one out. Ah well, live and learn.
Round 2, Game 2
Early on, I get the advantage with spot weenie removal in the form of Zap and Cursed Flesh. Unfortunately for me, he Fact or Fictions into the Armored Guardian. Bah, pro-color bad!
Then he drops the Sabretooth Nishoba-whatever-the-hell-it-is. Now, wait a cotton pickin’ minute! A 5/5 pro-red, pro-blue trampler for only 4WG? Wrong, wrong, wrong! And, of course, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
So much for going undefeated.
Round 3, Game 1 – Ethan Berlin (R/B/G)
Rather uneventful and merciless beatdown. I play out a turn one Thundarr, followed by a turn two Rat of Discarding A Land. He responds with a Rat of his own, and the two rats end up eliminating each other. A Firescreamer and kickered Pincer Spider provide the beatdown with the help of Plague Spores.
Round 3, Game 2
He starts with the early creatures, dropping a Scarred Puma (which gets Cursed) and Metathran Zombie for early beats. I’m a tad mana hosed until I find the Utopia Tree (take note, this card should go in the same category as mana birds and Llanowar Elves as "something that should be killed as soon as it hits the table"). Thanks to the Tree, I bring out Darigaaz, and thanks to Darigaaz’s special ability, my opponent goes from 16 to zero in two turns. This is also a good thing, as he was at seven lands and had Obliterate in his hand.
Round 4, Game 1 – Jake Mehl (GWU)
All I have for notes is that I dropped a couple of creatures early and plinked away for about a point a turn.
Round 4, Game 2
I start with the early Utopia Tree and Slimy Kavu; he plays a Pincer Spider with the kicker. I play out my Dragon, he plays out his. Unfortunately, his Dragon is not black, so it meets a six-point Agonizing Demise. With annoying blockers out of the way, Darigaaz finishes him off. So far, whenever Darigaaz comes out, I win. Hard-to-kill Dragons can do that.
Round 5, Game 1 – Mike Fulhurn (RGW)
He plays out some weenies, I have no creatures – but I have Breath of Darigaaz, which wipes away three of his creatures, and I try to re-establish board control. He unfortunately has more weenies, and I have only a Plague Spores that aren’t going to save me.
Round 5, Game 2
What a game this was. Back and forth it went.
I start with a turn one Thunderscape Apprentice. He plops down an annoying Crimson Acolyte, but he gets Cursed quickly. He casts an early Meteor Storm (annoying). We play out our early vanilla creatures, and I feel confident when I slap down a turn six Darigaaz.
Who’s your daddy? (I think saying this should be mandatory upon slapping down any of these big dragons)
Not me, apparently, as Darigaaz is downed by Wallop.
I’m sorry, but green should not have a 1G instant that can kill a 6/6 flier. I am lodging an official protest now.
He plays out his dragon, but I’m ready with a Soul Burn. Mmmm, precious life. So we’ve each played out our heavy hitters and lost them both. This ones going to be a grind.
I parcel my burn and removal to keep eliminate his threats as I keep the pressure on. A Serpentine Kavu meets an Agonizing Demise. He’s forced to Shackle a Ravenous Rats. Twice I cast Plague Spores to kill a threat and eliminate his plains; meanwhile, he’s discarding like mad to Meteor Storm to keep the pressure off.
In the end, it gets hairy. I’m at fourteen life, he’s at nine. He has three cards left in library, I have four (and one of them is the Rooting Kavu, which means that there’s no way I’m going to get decked, although he doesn’t know that). He is forced to bounce Shackle back into his hand to be able to kill a 3/3 threat about to knock on his door with Meteor Storm. What this also means is that there is no way he can kill me with Meteor Storm. Sure enough, he has one card left in library when I attack with the Rats and Kavu for five, and cast Breath of Darigaaz for the win.
Round 5, Game 3
For the only time today, the deck putzes out on me as your friend and mine, mana screw, comes to pay us a visit, even after a mulligan. Three swamps in five turns, and a hand full of red and green spells, does not a good hand make. What a way to go after fighting my way to a win in the second game.
Round 6, Game 1 – Josh Dougherty (RWG)
It all comes down to this. Either I pull out the win and get a few packs, or I go home empty-handed. If I go down, at least I’m goin’ down swinging.
I hit the mana curve nicely early, getting a turn one Thundarr and a turn two Yavimaya Barbarian while eliminating his early creatures with cards like Zap and Cursed something. Fast beats ensue until Josh plays out a celeritous Halam Djinn and starts making me leave blockers back. Meanwhile, I’ve got Darigaaz sitting in my hand, and I’m waiting, waiting, waiting desperately for a black mana source. Eventually, I topdeck a precious swamp, and bring the Big Daddy into play. This also has the added effect of making the Djinn somewhat smaller. Two turns later, Darigaaz finishes him off.
Round 6, Game 2
Alas, my notes are again spotty. I did a great job of keeping the board clear early. Turn two Quirion Elf gets Cursed, and a turn three Obsidian Acolyte gets a Zap. From there, my notes have his life total rapidly reducing while only being touched for two mana.
Three packs ain’t much, but I shan’t complain.
So what are my early thoughts on Invasion?
While I’m not ready to jump on the Invasion-bashing bandwagon (I can already hear The Simpsons Comic Book Guy in the back of my brain: "Worst expansion ever! Hey! I had a mouse!"), I don’t think it’s that bad. The burn is spotty, the removal is weak, and the creature base seems pretty iffy, but I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see this stuff in play.
And hearing players already talking about Mercadian block fondly, stroking their chins and waiting for the flashback harp music to start playing, is just plain weird. Wait a minute, weren’t you the same people who were complaining about Mercadian being too slow…oh, never mind.
Here’s my concern. We’re going from a block that basically constrained decks to being one color, maybe splashing another – even after Port was banned – to an expansion that is encouraging, nay, demanding three- and even four-color decks. At least in Limited it will.
When Urza’s and Mercadian blocks were in Standard, just about every Standard deck was, with a few exceptions, basically an Urza’s block deck with four Ports. The two expansions really did not mesh well together.
I don’t see mono-color Mercadian and multi-color Invasion mixing very well either, and Standard may be dominated by Mercadian block decks with a few power cards from Invasion. However, I could be wrong, and the two blocks could be like one of those serendipitous Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials ("Hey, you got your Crimson Acolytes in my Rebel deck!" "Hey, you got your Rebel deck in my Crimson Acolytes!").
Time will tell.
It does look like we’re moving back towards a more control-oriented environment, as blue made out like a bandit with Invasion. Library manipulation, cantrip counterspells – in the now-glacial Standard environment, control will be king. I’m not prepared to call beatdown dead, as it’s still viable in some forms (Brawler-Sligh is probably the best of the bunch, but Stompy is D.O.A. without Rancor and the echo critters).
I will say this: This is a very concentration-intensive and trick-filled expansion. Kicker costs enable you to do all sorts of fun things, and various permanent abilities make for interesting interactions. Invasion is going to reward those who can see the various card interactions and punish those who make mistakes, even minor ones.
But now, without further ado, it’s time for the quasi-traditional Top Ten Invasion Cards I Saw At The Prerelease, from the Home Office in Wahoo, Nebraska, my picks for what I believe the top ten cards out of Invasion are going to be.
10: Blazing Specter
I’d put him higher, however, he’s a fragile 2/2. Make him a 2/3 and he’s broken. At two toughness, he’s powerful but balanced.
9. Crystal Spray
Mostly because I’ve always had a fondness for Magical Hack and Sleight of Mind, and there are a lot of pro-color targets in Invasion. The cantrip part is great – now if only the effect was permanent…
8. Teferi’s Response/Tsabo’s Web
Have thee little doubt, these two exist for only one purpose: to shut down the Port so multicolored decks can work. I’m not sure that they’ll be all that effective in eliminating Ports, however. If I’m playing against someone playing blue, then I may be a little more cautious with Ports, and Tsabo’s Web is Disenchant/Shatter bait once it hits the table. Good cards, these, but situational in my not so humble opinion. They’ll slow the Ports, but we won’t be rid of them until Mercadian block rotates out.
Nice to get in Sealed, this card can be devastating in Constructed. You’re guaranteed some kind of card advantage with Void. It’s possible to wipe out an opponent’s creature base and hand with this one spell. That makes my top ten any day.
6. Crimson/Obsidian Acolyte
Thanks to these guys, mono-black and mono-red decks may be deader than Lincoln. Pro-color is bad, being able to cheaply give your entire board pro-color is just plain unfair. If Sligh and black decks are to get around these guys, they’re probably going to have to start packing Cursed Totems and Rath’s Edge.
5. Fact or Fiction
This card is insane. At worst, it’s a one-shot Browse. At best, you’re getting massive card advantage, thinning the deck and getting good cards in your hand. Here’s a hint: put the one good card in one pile and four others in another pile when you have the chance. Make your opponent choose quality over quantity. Normally, the axiom is "never counter the tutor, counter what is tutored for," but Fact or Fiction is powerful enough to warrant breaking this rule.
4. Yawgmoth’s Agenda
Magic truism #29: If it has "Yawgmoth" in the card name, it’s powerful. So too is the Agenda. The "one spell per turn" keeps it from being truly broken.
3. Trench Wurm
A surprise this high, perhaps, but the Dwarven Miner mechanic is huge in an environment that is now going to be chock full of non-basics. Plus, this fellow is at three toughness (out of Shock range) and is black (most black removal can’t touch him). Mono-red Ponza is dead with the loss of Avalanche Rider, but with the new dual lands this guy could make B/R Ponza style decks viable.
Okay, so maybe it isn’t the "new" Ball Lightning. But not even the vaunted Crimson Acolyte can stop trample damage. Definitely worth paying the kicker cost on, and an easy fit into most any Sligh-type deck.
1. "New" dual lands
If they’d only print decent cross-color lands, then I’d be happier than the proverbial clam in the sand. That being said, these rock.
Man, this was long. I need a nap.