We’re almost at the end of the Academy series, which is just as well, as Zendikar is closing on us fast. I’ve had people asking if there’s going to be a Zendikar Academy, and the simple answer is ‘no.’ Why? Well, there’s a couple of good reasons, depending on where you stand on the value of the Academy series.
If you’ve found it valuable, you might be disappointed, but you shouldn’t be. The M10 Academy was designed to give you the tools you need to analyse each and every new set, and while some of the cards in Zendikar might seem complicated at first glance, thinking about what they’re meant to do, what they cost, what they could do for you with the right deck support, and so on, will soon see your ranking improve.
If you’ve found the Academy series a lengthy review of a set with little relevance to you, I’m sorry. Just as R&D says from time to time, sometimes things just aren’t meant for you. As one major Pro said to me, ‘I started reading but couldn’t find much I didn’t know already.’ Okey-dokey. Rest assured, if I was coming up with masterclasses for the Pros, I’d be coaching the Pros full-time. Once the Academy is over, in a couple of weeks’ time, Removed From Game will return, and that will be the usual mix of the weird and the wacky, the Pro highlights, issues of the day, and so on.
But for now, let’s finish off those pesky Green cards, beginning with a design classic…
+3/+3 is a lot. It should, by rights, always be enough to be a difference maker. Even your 1/1 Llanowar Elves gets to mix with the big boys for a single extra mana. Ideally, though, you want to get above the opposing monster, not level with it, because turning your 1/1 into a 4/4 against a Stampeding Rhino is actually generating a two-for-one card advantage for your opponent (your monster and Giant Growth trading for their monster.) Sometimes you’ll do this anyway, since the example I’ve used is exactly the kind of situation you might face late in a game, and getting their 4/4 off the board any old way is good times.
As long as you have a monster on the table that can get involved in combat, this acts as a form of removal. Your Runeclaw Bear gets to defeat their Stampeding Rhino in combat, which is functionally exactly the same as aiming a Doom Blade at the Rhino. One card of yours goes away, one card of theirs goes away. The difference, of course, is that their monster was a big investment, probably taking an entire turn to cast, and likely to be a big part of their winning gameplan. Giant Growth meanwhile is a neat little spell that you can very happily live without, but find a solid use for when it appears.
Defensively, Giant Growth can act as a counterspell. When you have a Goblin Artillery in play, which is dominating the board, and your opponent aims Lightning Bolt at it, responding with Giant Growth takes the Artillery out of range, since it will be a 4/6 with three (essentially) meaningless damage on it. Both the Giant Growth effect and the Lightning Bolt damage disappear simultaneously at the end of the turn, so functionally you’ve counterspelled their Bolt.
There’s one other use for Giant Growth, and it’s the one that newer players use most frequently, and most incorrectly. That’s where Giant Growth is a burn spell. You make an Elite Vanguard or something on Turn 1, and then attack on Turn 2. With ‘nothing better to do’ you use the Giant Growth to make the Vanguard a 5/4, dropping your opponent to fifteen. This is almost always wrong, just as it’s almost always wrong to lay a Mountain and aim Lightning Bolt at your opponent on Turn 1. The circumstances where this is the right play are very, very narrow. It’s not that dealing three extra damage to your opponent is bad. The perfect time to do this, though, is when you have three attackers, they have only two potential blockers, and you can finish them off with the Giant Growth to whichever one they leave alone. Giving them the extra information that they have to play the game from fifteen rather than eighteen life is the kind of information you really don’t want them to have.
All in all, this is a brilliant little spell that’s been around since the very beginning, and one hopes will be here through to the very end.
Another spell with a long and honorable history, this is the kind of monster that rarely wins games alone, but facilitates you winning many duels just by sitting there and being dependable. A lot of flying decks beat you with some pretty vulnerable toughness guys. Razorfoot Griffin — two toughness. Wind Drake — two toughness. Snapping Drake — two toughness. Giant Spider doesn’t just trade with them, it kills them outright. Realistically, a single Giant Spider can hold off two or three regular flyers.
Once your opponent gets to three or four, it’s possible they’ll start sending everything in, prepared for one to die each turn in exchange for getting four damage through. By then, though, your dominant Green ground forces should be in place to start making them think about how to deal with your Enormous Behemoth and Craw Wurm.
Even against a gigantic flyer, your Giant Spider can buy you a turn, and it’s worth remembering that it also looks at really good ground monsters like Rhox Pikemaster, and laughs. If spiders laugh, that is.
It’s not immediately apparent why this is Rare while Centaur Courser is Common. Both are ground monsters weighing in at 3/3, and both cost three mana. Arguably, the Stag is worse, since it requires a double Green commitment, making it less likely to come online on Turn 3 in any Limited format, especially Sealed.
While it’s fine in those settings, the Stag isn’t about Limited, it’s all about the sixty-card formats. Typically, Control decks like to use Counterspells to prevent nasty spells from ever seeing action. That isn’t possible against the Stag, because the first line of text says so. That line, incidentally, is an instant alarm bell to anyone who likes Blue.
On its own though, that isn’t enough to keep Control players awake at night. They will always have a second line of defence for anything that sneaks through the wall of countermagic, and most often that means removal. Terminate, Doom Blade, maybe even Consume Spirit or Tendrils of Corruption, none of them can touch the Stag, because of the second ability. As a Control player, you might be thinking, ‘Well, if it’s that good, perhaps it should be on my side,’ perhaps by stealing it with Mind Control? That doesn’t work either, because the Protection ability means it just can’t be targeted by anything Blue or Black.
Of course, nothing’s perfect, and Great Sable Stag dies without a whimper to Lightning Bolt, Divine Verdict, and diverse other answers. Nonetheless, it forces Control players to adjust their plans, and any time you can do that, you’re gaining an edge in the game.
Howl Of The Night Pack
Scaleable cards are hard to design, because you have to try and calculate just how foolish a card can become. If you’re Drafting Mono-Green, you’re going to have as many as eighteen Forests in your forty-card deck. If Howl was the third last card of your deck, it’s possible that you’d laid every single one of them. Hmm. Eighteen 2/2s for seven mana. Seems like a bit of a bargain…
Now let’s be realistic. In Sealed, you’re probably looking at three or four Forests in play when you cast this, and might be able to up this slightly in Draft, outside the mono strategy we’ve already mentioned, where you’re at 7-8 range most of the time.
When are three 2/2s better than a single 7/7 (Enormous Baloth)? When are four 2/2s better than a single 9/9 (Kalonian Behemoth)? I’m aware that I’ve used examples where the single monster is slightly better statistically, but that’s not a major factor. What cards like Howl, or Captain Of The Watch, do is help us to diversify our threat base. In other words, Divine Verdict and Doom Blade and other point-and-click removal spells are far less effective against our army-in-a-box than when facing a lone big guy (although the Behemoth has Shroud.)
You might assume that this is basically an Aggressive card, but it’s surprising how infrequently this comes true. Supposing you’ve managed to make six of the little howlers, let’s see how a typical combat might play out. You attack with your men, plus a Craw Wurm. Their Runeclaw Bear trades with one, Giant Spider kills a second outright, Centaur Courser kills one outright, Awakener Druid’s Forest trades with the Craw Wurm, and they take six damage.
Now, that’s not hideous, and is a fairly average exchange off an actively good Howl. When all that clears, you have three Wolf tokens left, against a Giant Spider and Centaur Courser that you can’t get past. That’s a lot less exciting than a spell that costs seven mana should be. Let’s see if we can find a better use for it.
Topdeck Magic is when Howl does the business for you. 2/2s, even in large numbers, will often not get the job done in Sealed amidst a cluttered battlefield. When the board is clear, however, is when that diversifying of the threat becomes so problematic. Even a lowly Drudge Skeletons can block and survive all day against one of the big-hitters we mentioned earlier. Against four or five 2/2s, it’s a horribly uphill battle. At that point, the only real hope for the opponent is a succession of Safe Passages or, in a perfect world, Pyroclasm.
To my mind, this spell most often gets used defensively. It might be hard to punch through with them in attack, but a pack block is going to take down a lot of powerful opponents if they decide to venture into the red zone. Their Craw Wurm gets destroyed by just two tokens, and losing maybe 40% of a card in exchange for 100% of theirs is a cracking bargain. At the very worst, you’ve put up a substantial roadblock.
If I seem down on the Howl, it’s because, at this cost, you really want your spells to come very close to winning the game outright, and that happens less often than you maybe feel it should.
You see, this is my idea of what seven mana gets you. You could legitimately make the point that Howl Of The Night Pack is good against exactly this kind of threat, but most of the time this might as well read, ‘Tap: Target opponent sacrifices a monster’. At 9/9, this isn’t something you can just let through unmolested, and getting up to nine power of blockers is going to involve some serious card disadvantage most of the time.
There are crumbs of comfort, however, if you find yourself facing this guy down. First off, it’s missing the Green ability that finishes millions of games, Trample. That enables you to sacrifice your worst monster each turn, without taking a beating to your life total. If you happen to have a Wall Of Bone, Cudgel Troll, or Drudge Skeletons, you can utterly shut the Behemoth down on offense.
The second thing to point out, which is worth remembering when you’re playing with him as well as against him, is that he has Shroud. Although that means you can’t get rid of him with a timely removal spell, it also means that he plays fair in terms of power and toughness. Your opponent can’t Giant Growth to take him out of range, so for the most part, your nine power of blockers will wrestle it to a standstill. Glorious Charge, of course, doesn’t target.
Overall, this is a prime piece of Green meat. It’s big, it’s dumb, it’s Green, and it puts monsters in the bin.
While Birds Of Paradise may produce any color of mana, they’re Rare, and this isn’t. As a result, Llanowar Elves is going to be your ideal opening play time and time again. Remember, Magic is a game where costs are very carefully worked out by the designers and developers, so any time you can get a spell cheaper than you should, you’re almost certainly abusing the system. Technically, you’re not getting it cheaper with the Llanowar Elves, but the one land per turn rule means that you effectively get to lay two on your opening turn, while your non-Green opponent will be generating mana from his solitary land.
On Turn 2, that leads you into Centaur Courser territory. Turn 3 sends you toward Cudgel Troll, Turn 4 gets you Stampeding Rhino, and that’s a sizeable army against a reasonable opening of Stormfront Pegasus, Veteran Swordsmith, and Razorfoot Griffin. If your opponent happens to have a slow opening, the tempo acceleration you gain from playing your monsters ‘a turn early’ is something they may easily never recover from.
A more subtle effect of Llanowar Elves is in the building of your Limited deck. As a rule of thumb, you can calculate each additional mana producer as ‘half a mana’. Eh? No such thing! Of course you’re right, but for every two mana producers you have in your deck, you can decide to shave one land off your manabase. Typically, you might have 22 creatures/spells and 18 land in your 40 card deck. If you have a couple of Llanowar Elves, you might go down to 17, and that means you’re drawing more spells overall. These are just guidelines, and your actual manabase will depend on how many huge creatures you’re trying to run, or whether your deck is packed with cheap beats.
Once we hit Constructed, Llanowar Elves excels, because, with four of them in your deck, you’re giving yourself the maximum chance of accelerating straight away. Add in the fact that they are, unsurprisingly, Elves, which work perfectly within a Tribal framework, and it’s no surprise that this is a card that continues to see top table action in many Formats.
And one final word — if your opponent opens with Llanowar Elves, and you have a removal spell for it, use it. Use it, use it, use it. The first few times you make this correct play, you’ll feel stupid for spending a precious removal spell on a 1/1. The first few times you don’t make this correct play, you’ll feel stupid for losing.
As a general rule, any card that doesn’t have power and toughness, and doesn’t impact the board position directly, is a card you want to think carefully about before putting in your deck. Fine, think carefully about this, and then play it, and watch it destroy people. There’s so much potential card advantage here, it’s ridiculous. Every single time they cast a spell, you get the chance to get a creature for free. That’s FREE.
There’s a pretty awesome second prize in this particular raffle too. If there’s a land sitting there, and you don’t fancy it clogging up your hand, just send it to the bottom of your library. By the time you cast Lurking Predators, you may well have all the land you need for the rest of the game, and with this in play, you’re going to hugely increase your chances of seeing spells during your draw step.
But what if there isn’t a creature on top, and there isn’t a land on top, but a tasty removal spell that you would really rather have? That’s where the favorite month of every mage — May — comes to the fore, since there’s no obligation to put the spell on the bottom of your library. Instead, decline that offer, and proceed to draw your killer spell next turn.
I’ve heard many Pro players say that it’s very hard to lose from anything even approaching parity if you get this into play, and it’s impossible to argue. If your opponent drops this, you’d better be ahead. A long way ahead.
Master Of The Wild Hunt
In my playgroup, this is considered to be the card you most want to open in your first Draft pack, and the creature that has the highest threat level of just about anything out there. Just like Lurking Predators, FREE is a key component of what makes the card so good. Although, superficially, both cards present you with extra monsters, where they differ is that what Master Of The Wild Hunt really provides is free removal spells.
There are so many ways to use the Wolves we could spend an entire Academy session just on that, but suffice to say that you can start doing naughty things with your very first token, trading for, say, a Stormfront Pegasus or Razorfoot Griffin, both mildly obnoxious for Green to deal with. Get a second one in play, and you can trade just one of them for a Centaur Courser. With a third online, almost anything is going down in a heap, and all of this is happening with the automatically-generated upkeep Wolves, while your actual spell — the Master — sits back and calls the shots.
Yes, it’s possible to lose with this in play over a few turns, but exceptional things have to happen for this to be true, of which the most mundane is a very large Fireball. The majority of the time, this owns the battlefield, and as a result, you might want to limit its interaction with the red zone if your opponent is showing signs of having a Divine Verdict handy.
Might Of Oaks
It can be very disappointing when your pump spell doesn’t get the job done, and that’s one of the reasons cards like Righteousness and this exist. At four mana, this doesn’t really qualify as a ‘combat trick,’ since it’s pricey enough to be probably your only play of that turn. We mentioned that Giant Growth, if used as a burn spell, is best used when your opponent is going to die as a result. The same is true here, but +7/+7 is a lot of damage, and means that a Giant Spider kills your opponent when they’re seemingly a long way out of range.
Since this is Rare, it’s essentially impossible to play around on defense. If they have it, they have it, because you can’t go around factoring Rare pump spells into every combat decision. That in itself contributes to plenty of games being won by this, since it tends to ‘come out of nowhere,’ and win you races you appeared to be far behind in.
Naturally, the ideal recipient for this is a Trample monster, where their blockers become largely irrelevant to the fact that their almost certainly dead. Stampeding Rhino plus Might Of Oaks badly requires action. Like any pump spell, this is a less-than-amusing topdeck with an empty board, but otherwise this is a fine addition to your Limited armory.
This is the tenth card we’ve looked at this week, and the first one that’s less than good. That’s a good indication that Green is what we call ‘deep,’ meaning that the quality doesn’t go away quickly during a Draft. That in turn makes it more likely that Green can support multiple Drafters at a table in a way that, for example, mono-Black can’t. Of course, everyone else at the table knows how deep Green goes, and adjusts accordingly.
As for Mist Leopard, if it belonged to one of the other colors, it might be given a little more consideration than it gets here. With only two toughness, and the inability to impact it with a Kindled Fury or Giant Growth, it becomes one of the weaker offerings in Green, and a card that you should be very disappointed if you ever feel the need to play with it.
There’s a huge amount of cost/benefit analysis under the hood of Magic, and the same is true of risk versus reward, which might sound like the same thing, but isn’t. Cost/benefit is based around concrete facts you can point to, while risk/reward is much more about playing the odds in a sometimes cavalier fashion, bringing in external factors, like whether your opponent is better than you, how explosive your gamble will be if it pays off, and so on.
Mold Adder is a risk/reward kind of card, and I’m constantly surprised by the number of Drafters who maindeck it in the hope that it’s going to be good. Against mono-Red (this happens), mono-White (definitely), mono-Green (plenty, although less likely if you’re Green yourself), plus the three pairings of these (RW, WG, GR, all of which are perfectly viable), your Mold Adder is a 1/1 for one mana with no ability whatsoever. People tend to think of this as the worst case, but it’s cases plural, and that’s significant.
Let’s make it look a bit better at least. Suppose your opponent is playing Blue-White, or Red-Black. On average, half their spells are going to trigger the Mold Adder. Unless, heaven help us, you’ve decided to play multiples, there’s every likelihood you’ll be playing this on Turn 4, not the optimal Turn 1. In that scenario, your opponent might cast a Red spell on Turn 5, and a Nightmare on Turn 6, something that turning your Mold Adder into a 2/2 isn’t going to discourage.
Back to the drawing board, and this time, I’ll try my best to make this look good. You draw it in your opening hand, and lay it on the play. Your opponent lays an Island, and chooses not to Ponder, as he wanted, because he doesn’t want to make it a 2/2. He also can’t cast Weakness, because the trigger on the Mold Adder will resolve before the Weakness lands, and that means it will already be a 2/2, too big for the Weakness to kill. From there, our opponent adds a Swamp, and makes Drudge Skeletons, turning our Mold Adder into a 2/2.
Look, I give up. The thing is, if this ever looks like being any kind of threat, your opponent just deals with it. Oh look, your Mold Adder just became 5/5 as I sent it back to your hand with Unsummon. Oh no, your Mold Adder just became 4/4 as I cast Ice Cage and made sure it’s not getting involved. Oh woe is me, while I’ve been casting Illusionary Servant on Turn 3 and Air Elemental on Turn 5, your Mold Adder has become (gasp) a 3/3. Maybe, just maybe, things will get so bad that an actual Doom Blade has to go on it, or it gets big enough to bounce off a Horned Turtle until hell freezes over.
Please don’t maindeck this card; you’re letting people beat you because you do.
Now, that’s only part of the story. By all means bring this in once you know your opponent is playing Blue-Black, since it can be fine early in the game. More relevantly, this might find a home in a Constructed Sideboard, where four of them bring you the expectation, rather than the hope, of making an early play.
If, like Great Sable Stag, this had Protection from Blue and Black, it would be catapulted into superstar status instantly. As it is, it’s basically a moldy piece of overripe nothingness that doesn’t “adder up.”
One day, somebody will write the Magic encyclopaedia. Or, more realistically, one year, because that’s how long it will take, at a conservative estimate. When they do, there’ll be a picture of Naturalize under the entry for ‘Utility.’ At just two mana, and at Instant speed, this is the definitive answer to the multiple types of Permanent that don’t turn up too often, but can often swing games when they do.
None of these are Rare, and all can have a significant impact on the game. At the very least, that should show you that even against opponents without Rares in the Enchantment or Artifact slot, you need to have removal for these classes of permanents in your Sideboard. In Draft, I like to have at least two copies of either this or Solemn Offering available, or Negate/Cancel in Blue, and it’s this extensive list of irritations that makes Mono-Red, with only Shatter for Artifacts and nothing for Enchantments, such a gamble.
Quite how you manipulate the situation to your advantage is up to you, but much of the time Naturalize will do a whole lot more than simply remove the offending permanent. Armored Ascension — your guy just got much smaller, and it doesn’t fly. Please Sir, may I block now? Whispersilk Cloak leaves them similarly vulnerable if removed just before blockers, and sending Ice Cage or Pacifism packing achieves the same thing.
If Naturalize has a target, it’s almost never bad, and the holy grail with this is, of course, to destroy a Mythic Rare Platinum Angel while your opponent’s at negative life. A long way further down the scale though, it’s very good news to have around. It’s the ultimate insurance policy.
Many cards in the game rely on an understanding of what’s going on around them to evaluate them properly. If you’re planning on playing Baneslayer Angel and two Berserkers Of Blood Ridge in your Draft deck, it’s a good bet that the value of Siege Mastodon in the third pack goes down, since you’re unlikely to play it. If you’ve already Drafted Goblin Chieftain and Siege-Gang Commander, the value of Goblin Piker goes up, and so on.
Nature’s Spiral is a card that relies massively on what else you have in your deck. If your deck is all about a smooth aggressive curve, this is really bad. It’s a turn where you draw a card that doesn’t have power and toughness, nor impact the board, nor have a likely target in your graveyard.
Now suppose you’re playing a defensive Green-Blue deck, that expects to win with Garruk Wildspeaker and Air Elemental. If you’re playing cards like Horned Turtle, Deadly Recluse, and Giant Spider, you’re in good shape to get towards a mid and late game. If you have key cards, Nature’s Spiral acts as insurance. You cast Garruk Wildspeaker, but they find a way to deal with him. You draw Nature’s Spiral on Turn 7, and get Garruk back, and still get to cast him that same turn.
In short, the value of Nature’s Spiral goes up the more eggs you’re attempting to put in a single basket. Frankly, if you have even one ‘I absolutely win the game’ card, this is worth considering.
If you don’t know the bad news about this card, you haven’t been paying attention. Auras scream ‘two-for-one,’ and not in a good way. If you don’t know the good news about this card, you also haven’t been paying attention, because +3/+3 is a lot.
By and large, you won’t want to play this at the earliest opportunity. On Turn 3, creating a 5/5 Silvercoat Lion seems good, and can be amazing against a mana-light or outright screwed opponent. More reasonably, they’ll have one of their answers for a creature in their opening hand (otherwise why did they keep their opening hand in the first place?), and your guy is going to find himself on the wrong end of a Pacifism, Ice Cage, or similar.
Where this shines is in the late game, when much of the removal has been spent, and players are relying on the monsters onboard to get the job done. Turning your 2/1 Stormfront Pegasus into a 5/4 late game means you probably get to force them to put their Giant Spider in the bin, thus avoiding the two-for-one, and then you can go about the business of killing them.
Even in weaker scenarios, this isn’t terrible. Sticking this on a poor guy to voluntarily give up a two-for-one against a Craw Wurm wouldn’t be the worst thing ever, since you were probably putting two actual monsters into that trade without the Oakenform help. Like any Aura, relying on it to succeed against a Green mage with Naturalize mana open is a risk, meaning that this is never a high Draft pick. It’s just that, every so often, you’ll lose to the one you can’t deal with. Don’t let that make you think it’s actively good, though, because it isn’t. It’s just fine.
Drafting into a color from the get-go can pay off handsomely, and as long as you’re prepared to leave that first pick aside if the color just isn’t coming your way, there’s little downside. Overrun is the perfect example of a card that you open, and simply say ‘Looks like I’m Green, then.’
Now this is a card. The trouble with a card this good is it’s hard to explain quite how good it is, but I’ll try this: In most Limited games, if there’s any kind of extensive stall, you win the game casting Overrun. Stalled games happen a lot, and knowing that you have this in your deck is your guarantee that you’re winning even while you’re ‘drawing’ on the board.
Let’s get the exceptions to the ‘you win the game by casting Overrun’ rule. There are five that I can think of, and they vary widely in frequency:
1.They’re on a gajillion life, and your 36 points of Trampling monsterness is insufficient.
2.They cast Safe Passage.
3.They cast Negate or Cancel, and Overrun never resolves.
4.You only have two or three creatures, and need a couple more to seal the deal.
5.They have Mythic Rare Platinum Angel, in which case all bets are off.
Generally, I don’t have nerves of steel. That makes me scared of cards like Prized Unicorn, because having generously-proportioned stones (sic) is a prerequisite for playing with a card that has so much potential to go wrong. The upside is you getting to end the game one turn after this appears on the battlefield. In a classic ‘look everybody, he’s getting away!’ moment, the Unicorn, for reasons best known to its magical self, persuades absolutely everything to go chasing after it, presumably out of some weird desire to bring their master the fabled unicorn horn. Or something.
Forget the flavor, give me the mechanic. Alright then, everything lines up neatly in front of the Unicorn, and everything else gets through unmolested. And ‘everything else’ ought to be enough to win you the game.
Since we’re dealing with the good news, let’s add that any time you can saddle up the Unicorn with a Gorgon Flail, you’re going to feel even dirtier than you did in the first place. With this particular combo, you can deal one damage to each of three blockers, and kill them all. All, I tell you. Mwah ha ha (etc).
I think we can assume that if you allow yourself to walk into the Assassin or Artillery (or, God forbid, a Siege-Gang Goblin token) then you deserve everything you get, which will likely involve most, if not all, of your monsters in the bin. However, all the rest are Common, and exactly the kind of cards you’d expect opponents to be playing with. If they’ve seen the Prized Unicorn in Game 1, or have been scouting your deck (something you should automatically be doing if you’re Drafting in Magic Online), the odds of pulling this off get worse, since they will certainly not want to get beaten by it.
At heart, this is a potentially huge monster with the potential to get huger. If you’re playing with it, there’s a really simple rule — don’t let it die. Let it get hurt, please, let it get hurt, but don’t let it die. If you’re facing it, there’s an even simpler rule — kill it. Don’t hurt it, please, don’t hurt it, but kill it. In general, it’s going to be easier to follow the rule if you’re facing it, because stopping things dying is pretty problematic in Limited, where this has a home.
Since it dies in all the ways that other creatures do, let’s look at ways to keep it alive. The number one candidate for humorous interaction is Harm’s Way, especially if they’ve decided to block your Hydra, get some counters off, and then finish it off with something like a Lightning Bolt. Redirecting damage is always high on the comedy value list, but when it turns your 6/6 Hydra into an 11/11, the chuckles are definitely in town.
If you’re confident that your Hydra is well out of range, it’s possible to do cheeky things with stuff like Prodigal Pyromancer, Goblin Artillery, or even full-on damage spells like Seismic Strike. While it should be obvious that you will nearly always have a better use for these, using the end of their second main phase to wildly pump up your guy via the Strike might just be a gamewinner.
Oh, and just in case it isn’t clear, damage absolutely does get this guy dead. Sure, the damage itself is prevented, but those +1+1 counters get removed instead, and anytime the power and toughness gets to zero, that’s it.
Overall, this is far from the best of the Mythics, but as long as you half a dozen mana around when you cast it, the battlefield is going to feel its impact.
Mana acceleration perfection. Three words to describe this evergreen card that is an absolute Godsend in Sealed, a 24-carat way to find your ‘Fireball splash’ in Draft, and sufficiently full of goodness to find its way into many so-called ‘ramp’ decks down the years in Constructed. Starting with Constructed, it’s easy to see why such a simple spell can cause so much havoc. You’ll typically start out with Llanowar Elves on Turn 1, with Rampant Growth the follow-up on Turn 2, ideally with a second Llanowar Elves. Even without the second 1/1, you’re looking at five mana available to you on Turn Three, and if you’re on the play, you might well be staring at a couple of land on the other side of the board.
In Constructed, what you do with all that mana acceleration very much depends on the overall Metagame, but one standard use is to avail yourself of otherwise-expensive land destruction spells to turn those two land opposite you into one, and then, hopefully, none. Further down the road, you’re going to find yourself with seven, eight, nine mana available round about Turns five or six, and that’s the place where you get to unload utterly monstrous spells, like Bogardan Hellkite.
In Limited, where finding an edge is so hard to come by, you making your guys a turn or two ahead of your opponent is going to create favorable matchups all over the field (and yes, I’m watching the NFL as I type this sentence). Add in the fact that you can reduce your splash commitment, since the Rampant Growth will go fetch your lone Mountain or other solitary basic, and the fact that in the act of doing so your chances of drawing spells have marginally increased, and you can see why this has stood the test of time. It’s the sound of smooth acceleration toward a serious kicking.
Whereas Nature’s Spiral does a job of protecting your investment in a creature (or sometimes something else) once it’s left the field of battle first time around, Regenerate looks to ensure that your investment doesn’t vanish in the first place. The ability to regenerate varies from year to year, depending on how many cards in the Format kill monsters via giving them minuses to toughness. In this case, we’re talking about Weakness, and no amount of Regenerating is going to bring a one toughness monster back once Weakness goes on. Regenerate is there for when lethal damage is heading for your guy, and you’d rather that didn’t mean he was gone forever.
The best possible use for Regenerate is when you’re apparently behind in the race, and they know that you’re obliged to block unfavorably to stay alive, and that therefore your best guy won’t be a threat. You duly block, but get to Regenerate your guy, which then proceeds to kick their head in on the following turn.
Unlike Nature’s Spiral, though, Regenerate isn’t terribly versatile. You have to have guys on board, you have to have one of them die, the guy has to be worth saving, and the resultant save has to be worth a card and a spot in your roster. Once you start looking at it in those terms, it becomes something of a stretch to see it making the team.
What feels like a long time ago, I wrote this about Silvercoat Lion:
Once upon a time, there was a card called Grizzly Bears. It cost 1G and was a vanilla 2/2. It was an utterly iconic card from the beginning of the game, and although it had no special abilities, players liked it because it was cheap, could attack and block, and generally do lots of useful things on the battlefied that didn’t require a ton of rules explanation. It killed, and was killed. This was a long time ago, and Grizzly Bears isn’t a card you can play with in Standard if you want to. Most people don’t, because we’re a demanding lot, and we want something with a little more pizazz most of the time, but forever more, two mana 2/2s with no abilities would be known as Grizzly Bears.
Once upon a time, there was a card called Cylian Elf. It cost 1G and was a vanilla 2/2. This particular once upon a time wasn’t that long ago. In fact, it was so recent that you can play with Cylian Elf in Standard if you want to. Most people don’t, because we’re a demanding lot, and we want something with a little more pizazz most of the time, but forever more, two mana 2/2s with no abilities would be known as Grizzly Bears.
Once upon a time, there was a card called Silvercoat Lion…
Right then, something original to say about Runeclaw Bear. Hmm. Wait, I know…
Once upon a time, there was a card called Runeclaw Bear…
Just about my favorite keyword, Trample is the perfect blend of flavor and mechanic, and is, in my view, just about the only thing to actively love about Green. There’s much to like and admire about Green — the mana fixing, the efficient monsters, the pump spells, utility, mana acceleration…these are all fine and decent things, but love requires something more, and Trample delivers.
At anything less than 4/4, Trample is usually irrelevant, and even with the Rhino, it can often be moot. However, in topdeck mode, when they breathe a sigh of relief as they find their Drudge Skeletons, that Trample word is going to look really sweet as you pound those Skeletons into the dust and deal three to your opponent. As we’ve mentioned, this is a perfect candidate for a pump spell, and one of the better places you can stick an Oakenform (mild shudder), Unholy Strength (similar shudder), or Holy Strength (authentic shudder.)
As a Common, you have a decent shot of getting two or even three of these into your Draft deck, and if ever you get a pair onto the board, there’s going to need to be some pretty good stuff on the other side to offset them. I will now leave this entry, before temptation proves my undoing, and I start doing jokes on a theme of ‘spearmint’.
Efficient, simple, elegant, did I mention efficient? Windstorm is the Green Earthquake, but for the air. However, every Limited deck, and I mean every Limited deck (please don’t write in with ‘Dampen Thought’ entries in the Forums) runs ground monsters, and that isn’t true for flyers. Air men are always at a premium in Draft, and Red and Green in particular have very little to offer in that department anyway.
As a result, Windstorm is primarily a Sideboard card waiting to come in against an air-heavy Blue-White deck, or as an additional answer to a bomb Rare like Djinn Of Wishes, or a Mythic Baneslayer Angel. If you want high comedy, bringing it in against the man who thinks Levitation is a good idea could lead to huge entertainment…
And we’re done. Only Artifacts and Lands remain, and we’ll have timed things just nicely to send you off into the exciting world of Zendikar, hopefully better-equipped to batter your way past the people who don’t take the time to think beyond their next upkeep.
Until next week, as ever, thanks for reading.