Tribal Thriftiness #40 – Shards of Alara Parsimonious Previews

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Tuesday, September 16th – Dave breaks out the college words this week in the title, but the article is all kindergarten words, as he digs into the first week of Shards of Alara previews to see what’s available for the thrifty player. Except “Thoctar” – that’s another college word, presumably. Warning: Contains Spoilers.

The first week of Shards previews are behind us, and I have mixed emotions. Part of me wanted to talk about the powerful Sarkhan Vol, and ultimately how expensive he will be, seeing as to how he’s a Mythic Rare, but so far, it’s really been a tale of two sides when it comes to the thrifty player… and it would be unfair to spend an entire column railing about how Wizards might be affecting the secondary market with this new rarity.

Instead, I’d like to focus on what Wizards is doing right in this set, in terms of rewarding the average player who won’t spend two hundred bucks on a playset of… well, anything.

Shard of Alara is, by and large, a collection of five three-color sets. In order to reap the maximum benefits of any one Shard, a player is going to want to play all three colors. So what should Wizards do to make sure that each and every player has not only the desire, but the ability, to play all three colors? Here’s my list.

1. Provide Mana Fixing In Lesser Commonality

Invasion was a great template for multicolor blocks. It built the allied colors into something with definition, and provided the average player with uncommon dual lands that supported the allied color pairs. Coastal Tower and its brothers saw a lot of play while Invasion was Standard-legal, and they got reprinted in Eighth Edition. Ravnica’s common Guild-affiliated bouncelands also provided great color-fixing, and became the focus of Ravnica’s Limited environment.

But these two cycles were only for two colors each – and while these two cycles were both great, they were overshadowed by the rare colorfixers in each block (the Apocalypse enemy painlands and the Ravnica shocklands, respectively). Wizards needed to not only figure out how to support three colors for Shards, but also how to prevent the more common cycle from being outshone by a rare cycle.

Naya Panorama
Land (C)
T: Add 1 to you mana pool.
1, T, Sacrifice Naya Panorama: Search your library for a basic Mountain, Forest, or Plains card and put it into play tapped. Then shuffle your library.

Assuming this is a cycle might be a leap of faith; Naya is, after all, the Green-centered Shard, and so it could be possible that this is a standalone mana-fixer in the common slot. It’s balanced – it offsets its lack of “comes into play tapped” and immediate colorless mana production by an additional cost to activate the search function, and it limits itself to basic lands.

Arcane Sanctum
Land (U)
Arcane Sanctum comes into play tapped.
T: Add W, U, or B to your mana pool.

This, however, is surely a cycle, and an excellent one at that. Upgrading straight past Coastal Tower, these new uncommon taplands adhere to the flavor of the set by providing all three colors of a Shard, without unnecessarily being forced into the rare slot. The delay of waiting a turn due to its comes-into-play-tapped nature has proven to be less of an issue as time has gone on, and that should prove especially true in a format where your focus is to achieve three colors as soon as possible; playing this on turn 1 or 2 won’t slow your development to having WUB available on turn 3.

These lands, in fact, are so good that they pretty much have started at the top of the Shards Essentials list.

2. Give Us a Reason to Focus on One Shard

Ravnica was all about flexibility. The ten guilds intermixed pretty much at will; it wasn’t uncommon to see a deck with Orzhov’s Mortify, Boros’s Lightning Helix, and Rakdos’s Demonfire all hanging out together. The previews for Shards have shown that each Shard will have cards that are only one or two of its allied colors, and so the tendency to “mix and match” will probably be strong. I mean, it hasn’t been that long since Ravnica.

To give Shards its own flavor, Wizards should really be set on giving us not just great rares in the triple-color slot, but also great commons and uncommons in the triple-color block to push us into one (and only one) Shard.

Woolly Thoctar – RGW
Creature – Beast (U)

… yup, that’s it. Vanilla may not be flashy nowadays, but I think this guy might be a minor exception. His power greatly outweighs his casting cost, he doesn’t have a puny toughness to offset his high power, and he makes up for his lack of evasion by being in a color that has enough removal to clear a path for him. A 5/4 for three mana is certainly better than most creatures in any one of those colors, and provides a great reason for getting those three colors rolling early.

Sprouting Thrinax – BRG
Creature – Lizard (U)
When Sprouting Thrinax is put into a graveyard from play, put three 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens into play.

Is what is essentially a Penumbra Trained Armodon exciting enough to try and get to three different colors of mana by turn 3? Sprouting Thrinax gives you a decent downside for pressing the attack, giving you back three 1/1s instead of another 3/3 to run into whatever killed your Thrinax in the first place; having three guys instead of one could be advantageous on either offense or defense.

Rhox War Monk – GWU
Creature – Rhino Monk (U)

French Vanilla with that wholly-White keyword, higher toughness than casting cost, and still not offset by a wimpy power. I think it compares favorably with Watchwolf, as that point of toughness is easily worth the extra mana, keeping it away from most burn spells not named Flame Javelin – not to mention that the Lifelink is pretty nice as well. A solid creature on offense and defense.

These three are probably part of a CDE uncommon cycle, and are solid creatures with stats and abilities that reward you for playing all three colors. There are potentially many of these cycles in Shards of Alara, to include the following spoiled cards:

Tower Gargoyle – 1WUB
Artifact Creature – Gargoyle (U)

Ravnica’s Moroii was a 4/4 flyer for four mana, and made you lose a point of life every upkeep. The two 4/4 flyers for 4 before that were Chisei, Heart of Oceans and Horobi, Death’s Wail, both of which had severe drawbacks on top of being Legendary. The only drawback on this guy is that he gets hit by Disenchant. Small tradeoff.

Windwright Mage — WUB
Artifact Creature – Human Wizard (C)
Windwright Mage has flying as long as an artifact card is in your graveyard.

A good common creature that flavorfully uses all three colors of her Shard. We just had Azorius First-Wing, a 2/2 flyer with a sometimes-relevant ability, for WU; I think Windwright Mage compares favorably, with a more relevant secondary ability (lifelink) offsetting the conditional flying.

3. Give Us Good Commons and Uncommons with Flexibility

While we want Wizards to give us a reason to pick one of the Shards, forcing us to use only cards with all three colors of mana would get repetitive and dull. Shards needs to provide the thrifty player with commons and uncommons that are powerful enough to be played, while still being flexible enough to be used outside of the Shard that they are designed for.

Blightning – 1BR
Sorcery (U)
Blightning deals 3 damage to target player. That player discards two cards.

Blightning, to me, is gravely undercosted. Incinerate deals 3 damage to anything and is an instant at 1R; Mind Rot should be the standard for discarding two cards at 2B. Blightning should cost in the range for 2BR-3BR; the fact that it’s a sorcery and only targets players should probably put it at 2BR. It’s 1BR. That’s a fabulous amount of value. Standard decks will be able to start out with Thoughtseize, turn 2 Ravenous Rats, turn 3 Blightning – your opponent should have close to no hand at that point. Good thing The Rack is rotating out.

Bull Ceredon – 4WR
Creature – Beast (U)
Trample, haste

Quite possibly not the best five-power creature listed in this article, but certainly an impact-maker. I think he’s more suited as a win condition in a more controlling deck; his trample will let him run over any time blockers that you may not feel like wasting burn on, and the haste can get you on the offense quicker.

(Granted, he’s no Demigod of Revenge, but so few uncommons will be.)

Wild Nacatl – G
Creature – Cat Warrior (C)
Wild Nacatl gets +1/+1 as long as you control a Mountain.
Wild Nacatl gets +1/+1 as long as you control a Plains.

Certainly Wild Nacatl rewards you if you’re playing all three Naya colors, but would you sneeze at an limitless (un-Nettled) almost-certainly 2/2 for G in GW or GR? I don’t think you would.

Courier’s Capsule – 1U
Artifact (C)
1U, T, Sacrifice Courier’s Capsule: Draw two cards.

Sure, four mana for two cards is substandard by today’s card drawing… uh, standards, but the ability to spread costs out over time has proven to be very beneficial in the past (see Echo, Morph). Drop any of the Capsules early, and use them when you need them. I like ‘em.

Shards: Budget-Friendly?

So while it seems that Shards of Alara certainly will have its money “chase” rares – what set doesn’t nowadays? – it also appears that Wizards has taken the time and effort to spread the flavor and the interesting cards down into the lower commonalities. This makes Shards of Alara very interesting for me; I am looking forward to seeing everything that each Shard has to offer!

Pre-Releases are September 27 and 28; you know I am a huge proponent of the big Pre-Release scene, so get out there and show some support to the TO who has been running your Pre-Releases. Let them know that you appreciate their hard work!

Until next week…