The Magic Show #114 – Shard Rock Cafe

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Friday, September 19th – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to take a long, hard look at the myriad of spoilers that have been provided to us mere Magic players. This includes my own personal spoiler, Ad Nauseam. You ready to bask in what will be your new Standard environment? Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to take a long, hard look at the myriad of spoilers that have been provided to us mere Magic players. This includes my own personal spoiler, Ad Nauseam. You ready to bask in what will be your new Standard environment? Let’s go!

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Will Shanks

Ad Nauseam

A week or so ago, Wizards of the Coast sent me a special package labeled “Do Not Open Until September 19th.” So I cracked that ever-so-magical spoiler this morning and here’s what I saw:

Ad Nauseam
Reveal the top card of your library and put it in your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost. Repeat this process any number of times.

Okay… so it’s like Dark Confidant… in spell form. I getcha. But not only that, it allows you to do this over and over. Cool. Fine. I’m up for that. I think this is certainly a neat card that can do all sorts of interesting things in casual play and…

…what, I didn’t specify exactly what kind of spell it was?

Ad Nauseam

Oh yeah, the word that changes everything: Instant.

All right, I bet I have your attention now. This, while a wee bit expensive, can potentially draw you 40% of your deck with no life loss. Sure, the odds of that are low, but still. Before we go into its applications, allow me to draw you a comparison. The first that comes to mind is Midnight Bargain, from Ravnica. This was a heavily-hyped card, called a “Constructed Staple” by Mike Flores in his set review, and a spell I thought for sure was going to kick tournament ass everywhere. It shows you five cards, and you can pick and choose any of them for two life a piece! That’s amazing!

No, it’s not. Midnight Bargain was crap. Total and complete crap. You wouldn’t ever want to pay two life for a land, or a duder if you were in trouble. At five mana, you’d rather be doing other things, like playing a threat, a counterspell, a removal spell, something. And while the same thing could be said for Ad Nauseam, with Ad Nauseam you could, potentially, draw ten cards for zero life, whereas Midnight Bargain only showed you five each and every time no matter what, and you paid two life per card no matter what.

Here’s a few things I can tell you from what limited playtesting I got out of it:

First, playing this with a high life total is absolutely absurd. I was testing out a Mono Black Control deck, based on Adrian Sullivan recent Mono Black Control he and I worked on in Block, and using Ad Nauseam with my life total over 15 generally ended the game by allowing me to draw three or more cards. Even with cards like Bitterblossom eating away your life total, and the scariness of flipping Big Perm (Oona, Queen of the Fae) or Demigod of Revenge, the risk is the same as it was with Dark Confidant. And as we all know, before Bob’s time in Standard was over, people were playing Suicide Rakdos with Greater Gargadons in the maindeck. That’s a potential half of your life lost for just one more draw…and this card, this card allows you to keep doing it.

Here’s another aspect I like about the card: It creates really exciting gamestates. You know how tense it was when you flipped over the Dark Confidant card when you were at two or three life? Just imagine the game in the balance and you need to draw that one creature or removal spell or tutor or whatever. But you have to hit a land first. And your life total is desperately low.

These are the situations in which Magic gets to shine. Beating the odds, risking it all? Big risk and big reward card are a Spike’s best friend. I could definitely see Ad Nauseam making its way into control decks for the pure card advantage coupled with a few lifegain spells, along with its inclusion in some sort of aggro deck, burning through its dudes and burn spells with wild abandon.

Ad Nauseam is a card I still haven’t made my mind up on. Part of me thinks it’s absolutely bonkers and will be a one or two-of in those wacky Five-Color Control decks, or actually bring some sort of Mono Black to the metagame. On the other hand, five mana is quite a lot for an aggro deck, and a deck that can sufficiently power this out may have too many high-casting cost cards to really take advantage of.

Then you remember what they said about Dark Confidant. About how he ‘might’ be good. About how he’s ‘better than you think.’ About how he ‘could possibly’ slip into a few decks.

Don’t underestimate the power of card advantage. Card advantage is one of the most powerful and integral things to the game of Magic. This card allows you to attain that, with a simple and sometimes zero life payment, at the end of your opponent’s turn. Had this card been a Sorcery, it wouldn’t be worth chatting about. But as an Instant, this sucker got a whole new shine that will make it dangerous.

Big thanks to Wizards of the Coast for sharing this gem with me, and I hope you share your thoughts on it in the feedback.

Shard Rock Café

Okay, so Shards of Alara is almost here and I gotta tell you folks, this set is looking more and more sweet by the day. First, I’ve never been this into the flavor of a set since Ravnica: City of Guilds. The Shards, their histories, their stories and their mechanics are all extremely fascinating to me. They’re worlds where, as Bill Rose pointed out, are unique because of what they don’t have. But what they do have is some kick ass style and what may be a bit of power creep as we roll on. But let’s get to those spoilers.

The first is not just one spoiler, but many. We’ll feature a few of the cycle of both enemy and friendly two-casting cost creatures that are simple yet incredibly cool. The first new creature featured in this cycle is Jhessian Infiltrator:

Jhessian Infiltraitor

Simple yet elegant. My favorite kind of Magic card. Compare this to Gaea’s Skyfolk from Apocalypse. Yes, this is most likely blatant power creep. However, upgrading a form of evasion from a card released over seven years ago is probably okay I think. It’s also comparable to Inkfathom Infiltrator, in which it gains a point of toughness while being in almost the same color combination.

Next up is Mesmeric Fiend 2.0, still currently without a name:

Fiend 2.0
When Fiend 2.0 comes into play, target opponent reveals his or her hand and you choose a nonland card from it. Remove that card from the game.
When Fiend 2.0 leaves play, return the removed card to its owner’s hand.

Another fantastically simple yet intriguing monster. I don’t know if Extended can still play Black and White with the loss of the much-loved Vindicate, but this awesome bear certainly gives it credence.

The last creature I want to highlight from the cycle is also currently nameless, but is just incredible:

Mana Bear
T: add G to your pool.

Mana Bear, as he’s currently known, looks to be quite the powerhouse. With the ability to power out Wilt-Leaf Liege to make this guy a 4/4 Vigilant monster with the ability to power out even more huge dorks I expect this guy to be making waves in Standard for some time. The power of this little dude alone could make G/W a valid deck to play.

Speaking of Green and White, why don’t we travel over the G/W/U Bant Shard? It has what could be one of the best Angels printed…well, ever. Take a look at the incredible Empyrial Archangel.

Empyrial Archangel
Creature – Angel
Mythic Rare
Flying, shroud
All damage that would be dealt to you is dealt to Empyrial Archangel instead.

Yeah. That’s like the most insane Angel ever. Not only does it have a built-in Pariah, thanks to its huge ass – er, toughness – it will take a ton of damage to kill it. Empyrial here actually highlights one of the things I’ve noticed about Shards of Alara: The entire set, or, well, a huge portion of it at least, makes Makeshift Mannequin the best card in Standard.

And not just by a little, but a lot. Empyrial Archangel allows you to sit back with impunity, ensuring you’ll most likely take out at least one of their creatures during their massive swing in to kill the thing, and a second Makeshift Mannequin could have your opponent reaching for the kleenex.

But the Angel isn’t all, of course. Take a look at Sharuum the Hegemon:

Sharuum the Hegemon
Legendary Artifact Creature – Sphinx
Mythic Rare
When Sharuum the Hegemon comes into play, return target artifact card from your graveyard to play.

Okay, so I guess I’ll Makeshift Mannequin this guy back, then get the Courier’s Capsule to draw more cards, or bring back virtually any Esper creature since they’re all artifacts anyway. Seems good, right?

But what in the world is Wizards doing with Affinity? Have you seen Master of Etherium as spoiled on the official site?

Master of Etherium
Artifact Creature – Vedalken Wizard
Master of Etherium’s power and toughness are each equal to the number of artifacts you control.
Other artifact creatures you control get +1/+1.

Obviously bonkers in Affinity, right? Well, what they didn’t show you was the real all-star of this Extended season’s Affinity decks, a little dude we call Mr. Medallion for the time being:

Mr. Medallion
Artifact Creature – Human Wizard
Artifacts cost you 1 less to play.

In. Freaking. Sane. Seriously. Good lord what a monster. This guy basically means that Affinity will always be running the Springleaf Drum version, and could also venture into Chrome Mox territory to make their draws even more explosive. Remember, he is an artifact creature as well. This means he’s reducing all of your Affinity spells by two colorless, not just one.

Just imagine: First turn Chrome Mox, Seat of the Synod, play Springleaf Drum for free, then a free Frogmite, then a Thoughtcast using the Drum, and on and on it goes.

Remember, this guy makes Chromatic Stars free as well. Just absolutely bonkers. Those who loved Affinity just got a big, wet sloppy kiss with this dude.

Speaking of low mana powerhouses, with the loss of everyone’s favorite Lhurgoyf, we needed a new incredible green two-drop, and we got it: Check out Manaplasm.

Creature – Ooze
Whenever you play a spell, Manaplasm gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is that spell’s converted mana cost.

[NOTE: This was written while this was spoiled at 1G]

Okay, so this guy seems really fantastic. However, there was another creature that looked very similar to this one, and he didn’t quite live up to the hype. His name is Wake Thrasher. Again, a 1/1 with a powerful ability that gets turned just by playing Magic. Manaplasm is much the same… but a little more versatile. While he requires you to play spells to make him huge, it is the type of spells you’re playing with Manaplasm that make him stellar.

For example, the words “This cards converted mana cost is six” just became music to every aggro player’s ears. So you Shock the wittle 1/1 Manaplasm skirting across the red zone? Okay, I’ll Flame Javelin you, give Manaplasm +6/+6, and you just took 11 damage. From one spell. Tower Above does much the same but exposes you to more risk. Spectral Procession allows a G/W Aggro deck to take advantage of this guy, and Beseech the Queen gives you a tutor and an incredible boost. Could you imagine Beseeching the Queen for a Thoughtseize, playing both for four mana, and you taking the best spell from their hand and dealing them eight damage for the cost of four mana and two life?

The combos and mixtures are endless. Manaplasm is one powerful monster that I expect to see much of in the coming months.

We’ll wrap up with a card I believe will certainly see play, and a series of the most over the top spells ever.

First up is Rafiq of the Many, a kick ass Mythic Rare:

Rafiq of the Many
Creature – Human Knight
Mythic Rare
Whenever a creature you control attacks alone it gains Double Strike until end of turn.

Wuh-Wuh…Wow. Now that’s a friggin creature with Exalted. Sure we saw Battlegrace Angel last week, but Rafiq is the real deal. At one less mana and the ever-important four toughness, the ability to grand double strike to any existing creature… just wow.

I love me some Rafiq. It seems obvious to me that Wizards is pushing Bant very, very hard. Between this guy, Stoic Angel, Empyrial Archangel, and some of the 3/4 Lifelink Rhox War Monk also known as Pancake Flipper, are giving Bant some serious firepower.

But if you want firepower, and by firepower I mean weapons-grade TNT that’ll shake the foundation of any Magic game to its very core…then you have to go with the Ultimatums.

My God, what a cycle. These spells are huge! Let’s take, for instance, the “smallest” Ultimatum, Violent Ultimatum:

Violent Ultimatum
Destroy three target permanents

Bor-ing. Destroy three permanents huh? Yawn. Next up is the slightly more impressive Bant Ultimatum called Clarion Ultimatum:

Clarion Ultimatum
Choose five permanents you control. For each permanent, search your library for a card with the same name as that permanent and put it into play tapped. Then shuffle your library.

Not bad, not bad. This guy can give your opponent a run for its money in the advantage it brings, and I’m guessing it’ll see plenty of casual play. Next we look at the Esper Ultimatum, Brilliant Ultimatum:

Brilliant Ultimatum
Reveal the top five cards of your library. Target opponent separates those cards into two piles. Remove one of those piles from the game, and put the other into your graveyard. Until end of turn, you may play cards removed from the game this way without paying their mana cost.

You could also call this the Fact or Desire Ultimatum, because that’s pretty much what it is. This wild hybrid is much too nutty for Spikes, but I can see all kinds of crazy combo decks trying to go off with this and something like Sins of the Past.

The final two Ultimatums are particularly brutal. Here’s the first one, entitled the Win More Ultimatum – er, I mean, Titanic Ultimatum:

Titanic Ultimatum
Until end of turn, creatures you control get +5/+5 and gain first strike, lifelink, and trample.

They also gain flying, shroud, vigilance, protection from black and red, tap to add any color of mana, take another turn after this one, and when it’s all over slap your opponent for even thinking they had any hope of surviving it.

But that’s not the biggest. Nope. Not by a long shot.

You wanna see it? You sure you wanna see it? This thing is absolutely the most over the top spell I’ve ever seen in my history of the game.

Okay, here we go: Check out Cruel Ultimatum

Cruel Ultimatum

Target opponent sacrifices a creature, discards three cards, and loses 5 life. Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. Draw three cards. You gain 5 life.

[NOTE: I wrote this while this card said return the creature card to play. Hence the wanton hyperbole.]

What this spell could also say is you stomp on the genitals of your opponent, cut out their heart, and eat it while they bleed out. It could say I WIN in big capital letters just so you’re aware. Or it could say Eat Sh** and Die, because that’s pretty much what happens here.

This spell is so over the top I don’t know how else to describe it. There aren’t enough words for this string of My Spell Demoralizes Your Face action going on here. If you play this spell and lose, you should take a picture of it and send it to the National Enquirer. It’s like finding Bigfoot. Or a playable Invitational card since Dark Confidant.

Oh, wait! We have one of those! Here’s the absolute last card this week, Antoine Ruel own Ranger of Eos:

Ranger of Eos
Creature – ???
When Ranger of Eos comes into play, you may search your library for up to two creature cards with converted mana cost 1 or less. If you do, reveal those cards and put them into your hand. Shuffle your library afterwards.

So it’s a double Trinket Mage for one-drops. Yowza. At this point it just says, ‘Go search your library for two Figure of Destiny and put them in your hand,’ but I’m sure we’ll see this ability and its reach to many formats. Though it took about two years to get here, this sort of card advantage for White was desperately needed to make them competitive, and I think Antoine will be featured in many decklists as the months roll on.

So that’s the show for this week everybody. I hope everyone is digging the spoilers and the incredible flavor coming from Shards of Alara. Be sure to stop by next week as we’ll have a separate video for the Eventide Cube Update as well as even more goodness from Bant, Jund, Esper, Grixis, and Naya.

Until next time Magic players, this is Evan Erwin. Tapping the cards…so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
Written while astounded at how over the top Ultimatums are. I mean, damn.