Tribal Thriftiness #17 – Shadowmoor Steals In

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Thursday, April 3rd – Hybrid mana? Untapping as a cost? Color-dependent creatures? Shadowmoor is kicking off its previews this week, and Dave can’t think of anything else but digging in and seeing what’s already been spoiled.

I know, last week I said I’d finish the preconstructed deck contents series, but I’m diverging. I’m just too excited about Shadowmoor to be talking about anything else. This week marks the beginning of the Preview Weeks over at the mothership, and every morning I find myself clicking there first, before even my own website, to find out what goodies are lurking about the columns for the day.

Singlehandedly the best thing that Wizards has done in terms of previews is the creation of the Preview Archive. Magazines around the world are constantly getting previews and leaks beforehand, and it’s nice to be able to see the cards that are being showcased without having to track down, say, Lotus Noir and going through the trouble of translating it. (Even when I lived in Germany, I had the hardest time finding Lotus Noir. I’m not entirely unconvinced that it’s not on regular magazine-shop bookshelves.) It’s also nice because it gives a glimpse into the set beyond the flashy rares that usually seem to dominate the MTG.com-sponsored previews.

So with that in mind, let’s take a little walk on the dark side.

(All cards referenced in this article can be found in the Wizards’ Shadowmoor Preview Archive.)

Hybrid Costs: Bonus or Liability?

For a long time, Wizards has used colored mana as a way of “increasing” a card’s mana cost without actually increasing the bottom line. A creature that costs 2GG, for instance, is “more expensive” than one that costs 3G, and so can be a little flashier.

But on the flip side, in a mono-Green deck, the mana spent to pay 2GG and 3G will generally be the same: GGGG. So the cost becomes less of a factor.

With hybrid mana, you are getting the best of both worlds. Cards that cost {G/W}{G/W}{G/W} are treated as if they cost GGG or WWW, and have stats and abilities associated with that. But in terms of mana spent, you have a much easier time supporting it in a two-color deck, where the mana cost could be GGG, GGW, GWW, or WWW.

From the mothership:

Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers – {G/W}{G/W}{G/W}
Creature – Elf Knight (U)
Every elf in Shadowmoor is charged from birth with a terrible duty: to strike back at the ugliness and darkness, even though they are all around and seemingly without end.

Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is in pretty lofty company as a 3/4 for 3 mana. There are 18 creatures, historically, with those stats, and generally they come with a drawback: two have Echo (Simian Grunts and Vug Lizard), two have the Horobi drawback (Tar Pit Warrior and Skulking Fugitive), two can switch control (Wild Mammoth, Rogue Skycaptain), two damage you each turn (Serendib Efreet, Nim Abomination), and the rest either have odd drawbacks or… are rare. So to see an essentially vanilla, non-drawback 3/4 for 3 in an uncommon slot is definitely a little different.

Also not to be taken lightly is the fact that he’s an Elf and a Knight, playing off of the tribal synergies from the last two sets. In fact, he’s an ideal target for Kinsbaile Cavalier’s double-strike, seeing as how he already plays both sides of the battle.

Knights of the Wilt-Leaf

4 Kinsbaile Cavalier
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
4 Skyhunter Prowler
4 Riftmarked Knight
3 Zhalfirin Commander
2 Juniper Order Ranger

4 Oblivion Ring
4 Strength in Numbers
4 Thrill of the Hunt
2 Cyclical Evolution
2 Overrun

4 Treetop Village
4 Arctic Flats
3 Saltcrusted Steppe
7 Plains
5 Forest

Rare Cost Summary:
Kinsbaile Cavalier ($1.25 x 4 = $5.00)
Zhalfirin Commander ($0.50 x 3 = $1.50)

In order to reliably cast Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers on turn 3, the deck needs to be both Green and White. Since (ideally) Kinsbaile Cavalier will be on the scene to grant double-strike, this deck uses Green’s pumping spells to push the double-strike up to greater levels. Rares you could consider for this deck, if you have them: Might of Oaks is another great card to cast on a double-striker; Loxodon Warhammer pumps and acts as lifegain – twice if you have Kinsbaile Cavalier around; Garruk Wildspeaker gives you another Overrun-like ability.

Untap: Not Just a Phase Any More

“Untap” is a not a word we use often in the game of Magic, outside of that one single solitary step each turn where we turn everything back right side up. But with Shadowmoor and the “Q” (untap) symbol, things look to be being turned right side up more often.

Personally, I think it’s a little… awkward. Here’s why. Tapping a card is a way of showing that you’ve expended that resource for the turn. Lands tap for mana, indicating that you can only draw so much mana from each land each turn. Creatures tap to attack, indicating that you’ve committed them to the offensive for the turn – or they tap for their ability, meaning that they were held back from offense for a specific reason. The tapping is indicative of a finite or limited resource.

The “untap” cost doesn’t do that. It actually does the opposite – it denotes an ability that can only be used once you’ve already spent the resource that you want to re-use. And unfortunately, my mind just can’t wrap around the flavor of that. “Leech Bonder! Attack! And when you’re done, would you mind sending one of your leeches over onto that guy there, and then getting ready to play D?”

Leech Bonder – 2U
Creature – Merfolk Soldier (U)
Leech Bonder comes into play with two -1/-1 counters on it.
U, Q: Move a counter from target creature onto another target creature. (Q is the untap symbol.)
Some don’t know his face, but his pets are a dead giveaway.

Maybe it’s not as bad a thing as I think it is. Moving counters around, especially his own, is a fairly big deal, and requiring you to do something (anything really) with Leech Bonder before being able to use his ability has … at least a little merit. He essentially starts out as a 1/1 counter-move for three mana, and only gets bigger once you find a way to get him tapped without putting him into harm’s way too much.

Fortunately, the Merfolk tribe from Lorwyn had a secondary win condition built in, and did a lot of the tappity-tappity tricks already.

Leech Mill

4 Leech Bonder
4 Drowner of Secrets
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Sage of Fables
4 Ink Dissolver
3 Judge of Currents
2 Ambassador Laquatus

4 Unstable Mutation
3 Merrow Commerce
3 Summon the School
3 Careful Consideration

4 Boreal Shelf
4 Calciform Pools
5 Plains
9 Island

Rare Cost Summary:
Ambassador Laquatus ($2.50 x 2 = $5.00)

Given a proper supply of counters, Leech Bonder becomes a machine gun with Drowner of Secrets. The Sage of Fables is in there to make sure you always have a counter, but between Leech Bonder himself and Unstable Mutation, you should have a steady stream of -1/-1 counters to, ahem, help your opponent with his creature problem. (His problem: he still has creatures!) Summon the School and Merrow Reejerey also give you ways of tapping the Leech Bonder if you haven’t found a Drowner yet.

You could also consider another preview card, Curse of Chains:

Curse of Chains – 1{W/U}
Enchantment – Aura (C)
Enchant creature
At the beginning of each upkeep, tap enchanted creature.
The giant’s real punishment was the fleeting moment when he was allowed to stand before being dragged down to his knees again.

The Curse gives you a little bit of dual-functionality: placed on a Leech Bonder, you’ll always be sure to be able to activate his ability – and placed on an opponent’s creature, you can remove it from combat considerations.

Thanks to Hybrid, Color Matters Again

A final underlying theme of Shadowmoor appears to be that the colors of your team matter. Cards like Ballynock Cohort and Wingrattle Scarecrow check to see what else is on your team, and get bonuses based on having certain teammates.

Ballynock Cohort – 2W
Creature – Kithkin Soldier (C)
First strike
Ballynock Cohort gets +1/+1 as long as you control another white creature.
A kithkin’s worst enemy is solitude.

The Cohort is always going to be a 3/3 first-striker for three in a Kithkin deck, and since she matches the cost-reduction creature types of Ballyrush Banneret, it’s even more likely that she’ll be a 3/3 first-strike for TWO mana. Kithkin have a ton of ways to make sure you have at least one other White creature: Militia’s Pride generates a buddy for the Cohort even if she’s the only creature on the table, and Kinsbaile Borderguard prevents you from being stuck with a 2/2 after a board-sweeper.

Wingrattle Scarecrow – 3
Artifact Creature – Scarecrow (C)
Wingrattle Scarecrow has flying as long as you control a blue creature.
Wingrattle Scarecrow has persist as long as you control a black creature. (When this creature is put into a graveyard from play, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, return it to play under its owner’s control with a -1/-1 counter on it.)

Probably one of a cycle of common Scarecrows, this one may end up only being Limited material, but if Merfolk end up in Blue and Black as it appears, Wingrattle Scarecrow could end up as a persistent (pardon the pun) threat in a deck with Leech Bonder or some other way to keep moving that -1/-1 counter.

I Want ShadowMORE

I’m sure, if you’re like me, you’re getting excited about the new set. Keep watching Wizards’ Preview Archive for the commons and uncommons that are being previewed in magazines, and keep watching here for more Shadowmoor goodness!