I’ve been out of the loop lately since my home computer went haywire and various Windows applications stopped working. For example, Outlook Express suddenly threw error messages back at me whenever I tried to send mail. This means I haven’t been replying to mail since I receive them all fine, but have to use another program to send my own. Exam season is not a good time to plan a reformat…
Over the past month, people have been tracking Psychatog-based decks, as discussed in past columns. They’re good, we all know, but how good is something people want to see from credible big tournaments.
Ironically, the word on the grapevine is that the last Dulmen, where Growing Tog was born, didn’t feature”The Deck,” German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies, Growing Tog, or Psychatog. Instead, it featured a twist of TnT using the obscure Smokestack. This tech has been consistently floated by a handful of players online, but this is its first major appearance as far as I know.
I couldn’t catch my German sources in time, so more on these developments next week.
Looking At Legions
A month ago, we looked at the mechanics from a bird’s eye view. I got a bunch of feedback asking about this or that card, and if we could find even a narrow use for it.
It’s important to float these ideas, since even if you come up empty, you might find out something that looks bad today is actually worth a second look: Things like Necropotence and Cursed Scroll are prime examples. I usually spend some time going over cards I don’t think will make the cut, if they’re interesting enough that some people will take second and third looks at them, as many readers who are less active players do.
Drinker of Sorrow
Reviewing new cards, I’ve always applied 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?
Creatures are usually pitted against Rule #1, since you often want nothing more than plain power/toughness. This makes you think about Drinker of Sorrow, a five-power creature for three-mana.
Is it a new Phyrexian Negator, a lot of people ask?
Negator’s drawback is brutal – but when you take another look, it’s actually a non-factor in many matchups. Against a control or combo deck, the worst thing a Dark Ritual-Negator play fears is”The Deck’s” lone Fire / Ice randomly finding its way into the opening hand. Otherwise, you may well not sac a thing.
Drinker of Sorrow, however, has a drawback that will always kick in. Worse, its toughness of three means it’s actually worse against a deck with burn. With Negator, you can still hold it back and hope to finish with it, even if you have to sac three Swamps in the process.
The most intriguing creature in Legions isn’t really Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Phage the Untouchable -not with a creature that reads”Draw X cards and you lose X life.”
In case it doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a rehash of the dreaded Necropotence, and even the watered-down versions of the deadliest card ever printed deserve comment.
On its own, the Muse is a Phyrexian Arena that swings, which isn’t so bad. Of course, you don’t want it on the board alone.
So who else can you throw with it?
Your only playable one-mana Zombies are the classic Sarcomancy and Carnophage, and they eat at your life total. Your only playable two-mana Zombies are Crypt Creeper, Rotting Giant, Whipstitched Zombie, Wretched Anurid, and maybe Nightscape Familiar and Plaguebearer. Looking at splashes, you add Invasion block’s Llanowar Dead, Putrid Warrior, Shivan Zombie, Vodalian Zombie, and Pyre Zombie, and the selection is rounded out by a handful of cute cards from Phyrexian Scuta to Undead Gladiator to Bone Dancer.
You definitely don’t want to screw up the mana curve of a tight Suicide Black structure and still have to forego Hypnotic Specter and Phyrexian Negator. If you try something slower, you end up asking why you’re not using Nether Void as your midgame play instead of putting up with a gaggle of mediocre creatures. And after all this thought, you ask why you’re not trying something with less hassle like Skeletal Scrying or Phyrexian Arena (and why no one uses them anyway).
Graveborn Muse looks fun, but the Zombie bench still lacks depth even after all these expansions. What you might come up with, though, are interesting twists on Zombie theme decks, now that you have another alternative to Zombie Lord. Splashing red, for example, lets you try Balduvian Dead, Pyre Zombie, and Balthor the Defiled, which should give you some style points if you can put it together.
On both function and art, this is nothing compared to the original Hypnotic Specter.
Some younger readers won’t believe me outright, though. The knockoff lets you choose, right?
Yes it does, but it also forces you to sink your mana into the Specter to do it. That slows you down, which is bad for a disruptive black deck.
Still not convinced? In practice, a good black deck should chop away at an opponent’s hand in no time – zero being the ideal number. Paying a bunch of mana to turn”random” into”you choose” just isn’t worth it when your other discard spells are kicking in, especially not when your opponent is reduced to topdecking and Hypnotic Specter starts hitting lone Counterspells or Mana Drains in hand.
JP”Polluted” Meyer presented the only credible possibility for Hollow Specter. With the restriction of Demonic Consultation, Tainted Pact has become a reliable search card for some black-based decks. Mask is one of them, and replacing a Hippie with its wimpier relation helps gel the Pacts in exchange for a slight drop in performance.
They made a small fuss about putting Tap abilities onto Slivers. I didn’t see any problem, except I wondered why they made a knockoff of Clot Sliver. Slivers lend themselves to swarm tactics and not defense, so why waste a Sliver design slot on a poor knockoff?
Taking white, you actually have a credible Cleric bench, from Mother of Runes to Soltari Priest and Soltari Monk to Order of Leitbur. Clerics, in fact, have supplanted Knights in white. I used to consider Order of Leitbur strictly better than Order of the White Shield strictly because of the obscure Knight of the Mists – but many expansions later, imagine how annoying an Engineered Plague set to Cleric can actually be for White Weenie.
While Scion of Darkness’ ability isn’t special enough to merit competitive-level consideration, I just have to note how much fun I had with Bone Dancer in the first months of Weatherlight.
Caller of the Claw
If there’s a weenie that caught people’s attention and even held some for quite a while, it’s this one.
The logic went like this. Four power for three mana is mediocre by Type I standards (look at Phyrexian Negator). Four power for three mana in green just doesn’t cut it. But six power for three mana? Things start looking up.
So all you have to do to make Caller of the Claw work is have at least two creatures bite the dust.
Not too tough for a weenie deck right? All you have to do is wait for an opponent to play a well-timed Fire / Ice or – insert maniacal laughter here – Balance. Then you can start doing imitations of anatomically-impossible Legolas fight scenes. (Hey, I watched the second Lord of the Rings movie with six sorority girls who hadn’t read the novels yet but wanted to see Legolas… It was not a pretty sight.)
It looks great on paper, but start visualizing further. If you have to lose two creatures to make a third work, wouldn’t a counter fulfill the same role but with more flexibility?
Now, you’ll say that you have green but no blue in your aggro deck. Well, that observation still points to how conditional this card is. For example, topdeck this the turn after your creatures are Balanced away and you have egg on your face. Or, you could lose quite a bit of tempo trying to set up the opponent into a set of chump blocks that he may not walk into. Chris Flaaten e-mailed,”I really like Caller of the Claw as a anti-overextend measure (everything dies to Wrath/Balance). It’s very conditional, though, and most likely too situational for T1.”
The worst case scenario is drawing it against a creatureless combo deck that’ll just race your beatdown instead of playing removal. It conjures memories of having Man O’War against a ProsBloom deck.
Some people, finally, will try some kind of token sacrifice combo for Type I, even if only to mourn the inexplicable loss of the Earthcraft/Squirrel Nest combo. Talking casual, older combos like Elf decks with Recycle probably do it better anyway. Talking competitive, this just goes to a world of hassle to do what Type I Psychatog does – and without the stylish Berserk finish.
I mentioned that one good way to sift through Legions is to look for old effects turned into creatures, and see if the knockoffs change interactions and give you something new.
Seedborn Muse reminded everyone about Awakening, and the sadistic thrill only blue players could enjoy associated with using the mana boost to slowly return all an opponent’s permanents to hand:
Rude Awakening, Alan Comer and Zvi Mowshowitz, 1998 World Championships (Rath Block Constructed) (Alan Comer placed #8 overall)
4 Tradewind Rider
4 Legacy’s Allure
4 Whispers of the Muse
4 Wall of Blossoms
2 Spike Feeder
2 Spike Weaver
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Skyshroud Forest
2 Mana Leak
Tradewind and other bounce cards, though, have never worked in competitive Type I. It’s a low return on investment plan because your opponent’s cards cost very little and are easily replayed. And if you stay alive long enough to maintain control and build up the mana you need to start bouncing, a lone protected Morphling or some less-cumbersome combo would have cleaned up a long time ago.
Moreover, with Shattering Pulse and Allay seeing use thanks to Cunning Wish, everything that fizzles them affects Capsize, too. This covers everything from Morphling to Goblin Welder, and even Claws of Gix in some Deck Parfait builds.
Bounce decks are fun enough in casual play, nevertheless. However, Seedborn Muse just gives you Awakening in a more expensive, easier-to-kill form. Awakening has the drawback of letting everyone untap, but you’ve built your deck to take complete advantage of it anyway.
So no, despite the forum threads about it, it just hasn’t worked out.
The phrase”can’t be countered” always gets people excited, so a lot of people took a second look at this card, calling it a new Scragnoth.
Thing is, Scragnoth was never good in Type I. Blurred Mongoose may have worked because it was mana-efficient and actually untargetable, but control decks just use non-blue removal on Scragnoth (and mono blue decks could race it if it really had nothing that could deal with the protection). And incidentally, Mana Drain still makes five mana if cast on Scragnoth.
Now, your new Scragnoth is just as slow, but it even chickens out when Morphling hits and starts beating down.
Oh, this one really caught me.
My high school seatmate, Terence, was doodling on a notebook one slow day in class. With nothing better to do, he started writing up a list of what he called”huh?” cards that he’d love to see print. (It was about 1995, and even non-Magic players had fun with this sort of thing. The people studying death metal riffs, for example, drew up cards with names like”Body of Satan” and I actually still have them.)
One of Terence’s favorites was a 0/1 trampling Elf for one green mana.
Eight years later, when Terence is studying medicine in Australia, R&D came through.
Old school casual players may just compare this to Scaled Wurm (okay, I admit I might’ve tried to trade these commons to kids once… I had a friend who lucked out and traded a Fourth Edition Craw Wurm for a Jester’s Cap when Ice Age was new). Of course, it doesn’t matter anymore since fat has become a lot more sophisticated with things like Multani, Maro-Sorcerer and Verdant Force.
Elf decks have been proving better than expected in more current formats, but probably not in Competitive Type I. Nevertheless, it’s one theme deck that someone will always find cute, with tricks from Recycle/Concordant Crossroads/Vitalize to Llanowar Sentinel to Skyshroud Poacher/Deranged Hermit. You even got newer”lord” types like Elvish Champion to go with older mascots from Kaysa to Eladamri, Lord of Leaves.
Elves have been receiving a deeper bench in past expansions, especially more combat-oriented bodies in addition to 1/1 mana producers. The Strider fits right in, being a 2/2 that doubles as an additional Overrun slot. Of course, you can run steeper mana curves and rely on flashier Coat of Arms, but Gempalm Strider”ability” fits in for free.
I want an opportunity to play with Elves or Thallids one of these days…
Well, we can stop here for this week. Let me get my computer fixed and get back to a bunch of people. Till then…
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
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