You CAN Play Type I #124: Deconstructing Darksteel, Part I – Creatures

Incidentally, my goal here is not just to point out the top picks. I see the traditional set review as a beginners’ intellectual exercise, and I’m more interested in the thought process, especially articulating why some hyped”Timmy” cards glitter but aren’t quite gold.

As my habit goes, we start with the simplest category, creatures. Talking shadow price, we’re mainly talking power-to-mana ratio (see”Counting Tempo, Part II”). Even if you’re interested in the ability, you’ll still prefer it come with a decent-sized warm body.

Brian Weissman update, erratum

A lot of you were happy to see a little of what Brian Weissman has been up to (see”History of ‘The Deck’, December 2003“), but wondered why his decklist added up to only fifty nine cards. In his haste to rub”0 Brainstorm” in, he left out his trusty Merchant Scroll. Otherwise, all he did was yank Jayemdae Tome and Zuran Orb for his maindeck Chalices, and swap a maindeck Swords to Plowshares for Fire / Ice.

I also got an earful about writing off Chalice, but to preempt the one regarding Merchant Scroll, I guess mine was lost in the numbers crunch. While the blue Demonic Tutor is still wonderful, it was part sorcery/mana cost and part Isochron Scepter.

Magic University: Not Quite Yet

Ted Knutson formalized his call for a Magic University some time back, but I think people focused on the invitation to write theory articles than the idea of structured discussion.

The academe has its own rules to prop up this kind of structure. For example, freedom of speech works differently; you’re not allowed to just say”I’m entitled to my own opinion” until you can back it up with hard facts, cold numbers, and links to established theories. That’s partly why you’re taught to footnote your term papers, even if you can do a JP Meyer and get an A+ just by waltzing to the front of the classroom with an extemporaneous speech on the virtues of Summa Theologica as depicted in Sailor Moon.

But seriously, a lot of newer”theory” articles talk from a vacuum without referencing anything else. Presenting a new perspective is wonderful, but again, you want a structured discussion, not a disjointed series of colorful Magic metaphors.

To pick an extreme example out of a hat, I saw a recent article on”Option Theory” whose author had no idea that a Featured Writer, Israel Marques, wrote”Got Options? A New Theory of Card Advantage” in March 2001.

This would have been an unforgivable gaffe in a real-life university, and”I didn’t know about it” or”I didn’t read it yet” is the academic equivalent of,”My dog ate my homework.” The availability of the old Dojo archives might arguably be one thing, but at least the Fundamentals section of the site you’re submitting to?

Just an anal note from a guy whose profession turns on links to precedent.

[To be fair, the very purpose of writing the University subject lessons is to provide the background to future theory writers that Oscar mentions, and as of right now, there have been no subject lessons. Expect that to change in about two weeks. – Knut]

Deconstructing Darksteel

And we’re back again for another set of looks at the new set, and my customary”I missed the Prerelease because of midterms” excuse.

We go back to our two rules:

Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)

Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?

Now, I made up these rules for Apocalypse in June 2001 (see”Rating New Cards from, Say, Apocalypse“), but they’re the foundation for my discussion of”Shadow Prices” (see”Counting Shadow Prices“), and I’ll be going back to this.

Incidentally, my goal here is not just to point out the top picks. I see the traditional set review as a beginners’ intellectual exercise, and I’m more interested in the thought process, especially articulating why some hyped”Timmy” cards glitter but aren’t quite gold.

As my habit goes, we start with the simplest category, creatures. Talking shadow price, we’re mainly talking power-to-mana ratio (see”Counting Tempo, Part II“). Even if you’re interested in the ability, you’ll still prefer it come with a decent-sized warm body.


Speaking of power-to-mana ratio, this would be a wonderful two-drop for an aggro Mishra’s Workshop deck…

Oh, reprint?

Well, then, let me do the old geezer routine and insist that the old art was still better.

Viridian Zealot

The”Disenchant problem” (see”Why Control Sucks“) isn’t exclusive to”The Deck,” and Green-based decks will be happy to have an alternative to maindecking four Naturalizes. For a slight setback in speed and surprise, you get an average two-power-for-two-mana body while you wait for a target. Not only does it combine Druid Lyrist and Scavenger Folk, it doesn’t have summoning sickness either, meaning midgame removal can’t neutralize it.

This bear is simply solid. The only equivalent is White’s slower Devout Witness, barring the clunkier equivalents like Capashen Unicorn and Nantuko Vigilante. It’s even an Elf, though I wonder how the Mirrodin”Warrior” is different from the Fallen Empires”Soldier.”

Razor Golem

Affinity for land type is an interesting tempo twist, since you now have to factor actual land drops in addition to mana costs (see”Counting Tempo, Part I“). Tangle Golem is a paltry 5/4 after four Forests, barring acceleration, and clearly useless to Green. The rest of the cycle will get played after the third land drop, barring a Wasteland, and we summarize:

Islands: Spire Golem, 2/4 with Flying

Mountains: Oxidda Golem, 3/2 with Haste

Plains: Razor Golem, 3/4 with Eternal Warrior

Swamps: Dross Golem, 3/2 with Fear

Only Razor Golem is looks anywhere interesting, a seeming better Phyrexian War Beast. That’s solid, but nothing it desperately needs.

Auriok Glaivemaster

Red has Jackal Pup and Goblin Cadets, and arguably Goblin Lackey. Black has Sarcomancy and Carnophage. White has always had the strongest offensive one-drop in the game, and the problem of having nothing to go with it, so any White two-power-for-one-mana creature is worth looking it. Besides, it has an uncharacteristically interesting name.

It’s only playable in an equipment-heavy White Weenie like Steve O'Connell pet build:

Holy Tommy Gun, Steve O'Connell, September 2003 test deck

Equipment (8)

4 Empyrial Plate

4 Bonesplitter

Dudes (20)

4 Savannah Lions

2 Jackal Pup

4 Gorilla Shaman

4 Raise the Alarm

4 Auriok Steelshaper

2 Devout Witness

Engine (12)

4 Land Tax

1 Tithe

2 Scroll Rack

2 Isochron Scepter

3 Fire / Ice

Mana (20)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Diamond

1 Lotus Petal

2 Undiscovered Paradise

4 Plateau

8 Plains

1 Mountain

Sideboard (15)

3 Blood Moon

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Powder Keg

2 Aura of Silence

4 Rack and Ruin

I’m tempted to compare this to past, awkward one-drops like Tethered Griffin, though. You’ll only realistically Equip it on turn 3, at the earliest, since you need to play another creature on turn 2. Until then, it’s a vanilla 1/1, and the alternatives have abilities in the meantime. Even, say, Icatian Javelineers gets the same +1/+1 off a turn 2 Auriok Steelshaper.

It might be worth trying out in a deck that can muster the Equipment in the first place, but splashing Red one-drops seems simpler and at least as effective.

Crazed Goblin and Hoverguard Observer

Speaking of strong one-drops, Goblin Lackey was savage, but is Mons Goblin Raiders that close? Throw in Phantom Monster, as well, in this token,”What was R&D smoking?” quip.

Sundering Titan

Moving to strong won’t-drops, Sundering Titan makes your brain scream,”Goblin Welder!” and is potentially the strongest landkill creature since Dwarven Miner in a format defined by dual lands. When it’s done, it can even clean up in three turns.

That leaves the problem of getting the Titan into your graveyard in the first place. Survival of the Fittest is the obvious one. Under Cataclysm rules, you can choose the same land more than once, so an updated Tools ‘n’ Tubbies build shouldn’t be afraid to lose its duals.

Outside Survival, though, finding Titan might be awkward. You have Thirst for Knowledge, for example, but you’d have to maindeck or sideboard multiples of the trick, and you’d rather spend those slots on Blood Moon. Outside Welder, though, you might try various reanimation tricks, and Entomb is thankfully restricted (I never thought I’d say that).

In any case, this is positive reinforcement: Die, Welder, die!

Arcbound Overseer

I compare the Arcbounds to Penumbra Bobcat and friends. While funky second winds are welcome, mana is so crucial early that you want the first version to be at least average, and that’s why only Call of the Herd sees use.

Simply, none of the Arcbounds are even average attackers in themselves, except Arcbound Worker, which is useless outside playing insurance for a real Arcbound attack force that you can’t put together. Thus, your mind wanders to Arcbound Overseer and Goblin Welder tricks. Obviously, pumping things with a Welded Overseer will win games, but so will all the other things Welder already comes with. The best you can do is pump a Triskelion for a pseudo-Fireball finish, but that still doesn’t look like it’ll beat the numbers crunch.

As for the other Arcbounds, none of their abilities are particularly attractive. Arcbound Ravager is just for Arcbound decks which won’t take off even with Mishra’s Workshop, and Arcbound Reclaimer doesn’t add so much to Goblin Welder.

Arcbound Slith draws comparisons to Slith Firewalker, but the lack of Haste changes the math, and aside from the delay in growth, Swords to Plowshares is in Type I.


Speaking of funky creature abilities, here’s one to note along with the likes of Soldier of Fortune. Seriously, though, this is a mean combination with Magistrate’s Scepter.

One day, a set might come up with a charge counter card strong enough to warrant a two-card combo. Ice Cauldron aside, Crystalkeep implies a bit of a wait:

Aether Veil

Altar of Shadows

Arcane Spyglass

Banshee’s Blade

Black Mana Battery and friends

Chalice of the Void

Chimeric Egg

Darksteel Reactor

Jinxed Choker

Kyren Toy

Lightning Coils

Magistrate’s Scepter

Riptide Replicator

Serum Tank

Spawning Pit

Sun Droplet

Talon of Pain

Voltaic Construct

You’re tempted to think up Workshop-powered tricks yet again. Looking over the list of activated artifact creature abilities, the best you can do is an infinite mana combo with Metalworker. That’s hardly easier to set up than Animate Dead / Worldgorger Dragon, or even Grim Monolith / Power Artifact.

Chimeric Egg

Mystic Remora was a stronger effect and Chimeric Idol was more consistent. Anthony Alongi did get a wonderful multiplayer column out of this, though.

Darksteel Colossus

Artifact-based players knocked their heads trying to break this early spoiler, and mostly came up empty. E-groups around the world were filled with abrupt reminders that reanimation won’t work, and Show and Tell and Eureka are pushing it.

The parallel is Serra Avatar, though, and that leads to the casual Oath of Druids decks this was used in, though Colossus isn’t a casual kill. It wins in two turns, just like Serra Avatar, reshuffles itself immediately without waiting for the next Oath activation to trigger Gaea’s Blessing, and has the bonus of shrugging off removal (except Swords to Plowshares) played to stall its attack.

Eater of Days

Here’s another fattie you’d love to break. The comes-into-play cost is brutal, and amounts to at least two cards and two turns of mana for your opponent. Tempting like Tempting Wurm, but for the trouble, it’s be far easier to set up and reanimate or Weld something else.

So, you ask,”Is there a way to avoid the cost without getting awkward?” That leads you to Illusionary Mask, and comparisons to Lord of Tresserhorn as a backup creature for Phyrexian Dreadnought. However, there, you’d rather have a solid second line without relying further on Mask, especially with Damping Matrix getting popular (see”History of ‘The Deck’, December 2003“).

Gemini Engine

Cute six-mana 3/4 which has an ability analogous to Double Strike, plus a free Weld after each attack. That’s all it is, though. You won’t be able to fit in pump with it, and you don’t need that many Welds to win. Moreover, Triskelion and Duplicant have more useful abilities for secondary creatures.

Memnarch and Furnace Dragon

Obviously, these look good for the artifact mirror match, but you just have to ask if they’re better than Rack and Ruin or the other straightforward solutions currently in use.

Memnarch inspires fantasies of controlling Juggernauts, but note that it costs a bit of non-Workshop mana to activate, not counting the effort to put it into play. Moreover, not all the artifact threats are solved by theft, from the older Smokestack and Sphere of Resistance to the Mindslaver than can still be sacrificed.

Same goes for Furnace Dragon, which acts like a different kind of Armageddon that will likely shut down Welder as well, and hopes the opponent has no solution to a non-artifact four-turn clock. It’s not a bad hope, but Dragon just doesn’t have synergy with an artifact-based deck. A Survival-based deck might try this over Elvish Replica, but won’t have as many artifacts for the Affinity, and the rest won’t have a way to find Dragon unless you run multiples.

Myr Matrix

It’s indestructible, and by T.H.E.F.U.C.C. (see”The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution“), it generates card advantage. True enough, but it also ties up your mana and prevents you from playing the cards you draw normally, which are likely better than 2/2s. So, take the holistic W.H.A.T.H.E.F.U.C.C. look (see”Counting Shadow Prices“).

Ageless Entity

Will Darksteel inspire life-based decks that actually work, finally vindicating life’s throwaway nature that broke Necropotence? Will Legions of loyal TheManaDrain.com fans finally be able to board in Noble Panther and Armadillo Cloak with chests puffed out in pride?

Stay tuned for more developments regarding R&D’s planned Type I designs.

Vulshok War Boar and Karstoderm

The rehash of marquee Balduvian Horde has a probable tempo drawback in addition to the extra card. The rehash of Blastoderm doesn’t measure up, even if the art looks more fearsome.

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer

This looks interesting and you wonder what you could do with it, but Sylvan Safekeeper seems stronger with creatures, and Welder tricks seem stronger in general. Squee is still the funnier character, too.

Greater Harvester

The token Black fattie along the lines of Phyrexian Negator. The original is still more manageable.

Grimclaw Bats and Tanglewalker

Mirage block players will recognize the Sewer Rats rehash. Older school players will think vague thoughts about Desert Nomads.

Nim Abomination

Finally, for theme decks, we have this mid-range Zombie to go with Phyrexian Scuta.

I feel obligated to end with some retaliatory dirt on Paragon JP”Polluted” Meyer from the Paragon e-group, but apparently, the bastard covered his tracks too well. I did keep some e-mails tagged”I have enormous balls!” and”First look at another [censored] deck!” but they actually had decklists in them, not confessions about JP’s sexual orientation. I vaguely remember a disclosure about going to a small tournament filled with his Stacker 2 and The Patriot (red/blue/white aggro-control featuring Meddling Mage, and Lightning Angel for a time), and the claim that a girl actually went up to him and exclaimed with glee,”Oh! It’s JP Meyer!”

I’ll have to dig. If I can find vague side comments by Supreme Court justices for my boss, I can find dirt on JP, even if I have to take it out of context.

Till next week!

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

Paragon of Vintage

University of the Philippines, College of Law

Forum Administrator, Star City Games

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Author of the Control Player’s Bible

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