You Lika The Juice? – Takes on the Plane(swalkers)

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Gamers aren’t born, they’re created. I remember as a kid, games were big in my family. I can remember learning Risk at a young age, with my mom and dad and my sister and I battling across the globe some Saturday evenings, quickly realizing that trying to hold Asia was a fool’s errand, and learning the joys of Fortress Australia. Whenever the cousins on my Mom’s side got together at my grandparents’ house, we’d break out various board games. One favorite was Clue, and I was always Mr. Green. Hmm, foreshadowing perhaps?

Gamers aren’t born, they’re created. I remember as a kid, games were big in my family. I can remember learning Risk at a young age, with my mom and dad and my sister and I battling across the globe some Saturday evenings, quickly realizing that trying to hold Asia was a fool’s errand, and learning the joys of Fortress Australia. Whenever the cousins on my Mom’s side got together at my grandparents’ house, we’d break out various board games. One favorite was Clue, and I was always Mr. Green. Hmm, foreshadowing perhaps? We also played Monopoly, and I remember when my cousin Tom figured out how to work the Mortgaging thing. Prior to that, none of us really bothered with that since we didn’t see any point, but the game when Tom started gobbling up the properties like he was channeling Donald Trump blew us all away and had us realize there was a whole level of strategy we’d been missing. My grandparents enjoyed Dominos, and Rummikub, which my Grandmother played like a mad genius. She’d watch the board carefully, and then all of a sudden move around runs from two or three other players just to play one tile.

Since those days, games have been a big part of my life, and once I became a father I began to look forward to the days when my kids would learn the joys of gaming. Aaron has gone ape over Pokemon starting this summer, and I have no doubt that in the next few years it’ll be pretty easy to get him into the Pokemon CCG (though I suppose we need to get him reading first). Anna Marie has asked me to teach her chess, which I did recently, but I can tell the game is a little beyond her at six. That’s okay though, she’s smart and will pick up what’s going on as we continue.

This past weekend she expressed interest in learning two new games. One was Backgammon, which was on the flip side of our checkers/chess board. I haven’t played Backgammon in probably 20 years, but it was fun relearning it and then teaching it to her. The rules are pretty easy to learn but there are some strategies to employ, so I think it’ll be a great game for her to grow on.

The other game she wanted to learn was Battleship. My wife still has the Battleship game from when she was a kid — and has all the pieces, which I know first-hand is a miracle in itself — and I remember recently seeing it shoved up in a closet. When Anna Marie wanted to play another game after we ran Backgammon, I suggested Battleship. She picked up on the rules pretty quickly, and as we played I was also pleased with the game as another “one to grow on” — simple rules, but with some nice strategic elements to learn and improve on. At first I’ve noticed that she likes the edges of the board, both to place her ships and to call out for my ships, so I’ve made sure to place my ships there at first and also tend not to seek out hers along the border unless I get behind on successful hits. In our last game I recruited Aaron to sit in my lap and choose the spots to call out our hits on since he doesn’t realize her biases.

So while my weekend gaming was spent with my kids, I spent a lot of time musing on Magic, in particular our brand new card type Planeswalker. Here are the cards based on Wizards’ Planeswalkers minisite and the sneak preview from InQuest magazine:

Chandra Nalaar
Planeswalker – Chandra (Rare)
+1: Chandra Nalaar deals 1 damage to target player.
X: Chandra Nalaar deals X damage to target creature.
-8: Chandra Nalaar deals 10 damage to target player and each creature he or she controls.
Loyalty 6

Liliana Vess
Planeswalker – Liliana (Rare)
+1: Target player discards a card.
-2: Search your library for a card, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
-8: Put all creature cards in all graveyards into play under your control.
Loyalty 5

Garruk Wildspeaker
Planeswalker – Garruk (Rare)
+1: Untap two target lands.
-1: Put a 3/3 green Beast creature token into play.
-4: Creatures you control get +3/+3 and trample until end of turn.
Loyalty 3

[A quick recap of the Planeswalker rules, according to the InQuest issue via MTGSalvation.com:

– effectively legendary (can’t have more than one of each planeswalker)
– come into play with loyalty counters equal to the number in the bottom right
– play only one ability of each planeswalker on each of your turns, including the turn it comes into play, by adding or removing loyalty counters
– when you attack a player, you can assign any number of your attackers to their planeswalker(s)
– the defending player can block creatures attacking their planeswalker(s)
– whenever a spell or ability you control would deal damage to an opponent, you may assign that damage to their planeswalker(s) instead
– each damage dealt to a planeswalker removes a loyalty counter from it
– if all the loyalty counters are gone, sacrifice the planeswalker]

So how are these new cards going to impact Magic? I thought I would offer my takes on it, and hopefully some of you will weigh in with your thoughts in the forums.

#1 Tarmogoyf gets even better
As if this little Lhurgoyf needs any help being even more awesome, but we’ve got to keep in mind the very real possibility of Tarmogoyf’s potential being +1/+1 bigger than before Lorwyn’s release. How many of you out there are like me and failed to secure your playset of Tarmogoyfs when Future Sight first came out, and are now kicking yourselves as Tarmogoyf mania has swept all Constructed formats known to man? Sadly, not only was I shortsighted, but I was actually told that Tarmogoyfs were good back when singles were selling around $3-4 a piece but refused to see it. Witness this exchange on AIM:

[16:45] Bleiweiss: My 5 underrated list was Tarmogoyf, Epochrasite, Heartwood Storyteller, Muraganda Petroglyphs, and Delay
[16:47] Me: I agree with Epochrasite and Storyteller, and I certainly see the potential of Petroglyphs
[16:48] Me: Tarmagoyf is like a bad Werebear, which admittedly might be okay, but I’m still unconvinced

My initial reaction was that Tarmogoyf was like a high maintenance girlfriend, and would only be good to you if you went over and above the call of duty. I just didn’t think a two-mana creature without trample or evasion or regeneration would be worth warping your entire deck around in order to make him consistently large. Boy, was I wrong! Lesson learned: when Ben tells me a rare card is underrated, I think I’m going to believe him, especially if it’s a Green card that I would likely want to play with if he’s right.

Of course by that logic I should have stockpiled Muraganda Petroglyphs… hmm… (looks over at Garruk Wildspeaker again)

#2 Destroy target permanent gets better
They’ve made Planeswalkers vulnerable to combat damage, which means that most decks will generally have a way to deal with them through turning men sideways. Decks that can deal damage to players can now redirect that damage to loyalty counters; you’re already playing Incinerate and Mogg Fanatic, but now they get even better. Still, there are other cards that don’t see a ton of play that might look more enticing this fall when you ask the question “how do I handle Planeswalkers?” Cards that say “destroy target permanent” become more valuable, or at least more interesting, such as Mangara of Corondor, Pentarch Paladin, Legacy Weapon, and Necrotic Sliver. Of course, Blue has a whole host of Blue bounce that conveniently targets any permanent, such as Boomerang, Cephalid Constable, Reality Strobe, Riftwing Cloudskate, Wipe Sway, and Heidar, Rimewind Master (you know you want to get your snow on, right?). Take Possession can just flat out snatch the Planeswalker over to your way of thinking.

Speaking of snatching, Word of Seizing would be fun to grab the Planeswalker during your own turn, use it, and then sacrifice to Claws of Gix or Perilous Research!

#3 Creatures and creature combat becomes more relevant
With Lorwyn’s apparent tribal themes being pushed, it’s appropriate that the Planeswalker cards would actually make creatures even more relevant. “Blocking is for chumps” is a mantra often heard from top-level strategists, and yet if your deck is looking at utilizing the Planeswalker cards, being a “good blocker” becomes useful for more than just saving your own bacon. “Born to chump block” extraordinaire Epochrasite likely will find gainful employ in decks featuring any of the five Planeswalkers.

Also, combat tricks that give a creature trampling gain a boost here if people are protecting their Planeswalkers with small chump blockers. Cards like Fatal Frenzy, Fury Charm, and Strength in Numbers, usually Limited fare, might deserve another look.

How do we use Chandra Nalaar?
If I understand the rules correctly, Chandra can actually attack other Planeswalkers, which makes her strategically interesting, especially since her player-pinger ability is a loyalty booster. At her core though I see her as a creature removal machine, supplementing your burn spells by killing four toughness guys with Incinerates, helping Mogg Fantastic go the extra mile, or just simply mowing down a bigger creature. The big payoff ability has got to be pretty scary for anyone facing down a burn deck, especially since it only requites two +1 activations before Chandra’s ready to blow up big (provided her loyalty counters don’t get knocked off).

How do we use Liliana Vess?
I was high on Liliana Vess when I thought her abilities could just be used during your own turn (for example, on your upkeep before your draw step), but when I heard Planeswalker abilities could be used only at sorcery speed, and that her second ability was more Imperial Seal than Vampiric Tutor, my feet came back down to the ground. Still, Liliana has two big things going for her, first of which is that she’s a card advantage machine. Just hold priority after casting her and use the discard ability; then if your opponent spends a card to destroy her, you’re up two-for-one. The other nice thing about Liliana is her big loyalty count, which can pretty easily withstand conventional burn spells or a small attack, especially if you do go ahead and use her loyalty-boosting discard ability right away. Of course, Black has a ton of ways to handle creatures so hopefully you can shore up that avenue of attack against Liliana. Every turn after that initial cast-and-use turn just ramps up card advantage, and eventually makes the last “home run” ability more viable, especially once your opponent is out of cards (and hopefully having had to ditch at least a few creatures to your discard machine).

Of course, if your opponent eventually has no hand, I suppose using the Imperial Seal ability becomes less risky, letting you set up your end game win. In the right deck though, you can make the Imperial Seal ability more useful by including ways to cheaply draw cards in the deck. Mind Stone jumps to mind, as do Merfolk Looter, Peek, Thieving Magpie/Ohran Viper, Whispers of the Muse, Street Wraith, Edge of Autumn, Horizon Canopy, and the Lorwyn card Ponder (thanks, MTGSalvation.com!). This suggests Black/Blue or Black/Green as the color combinations most likely to get full use from Liliana.

How do we use Garruk Wildspeaker?
I was initially unimpressed with Garruk; his loyalty of three bothered me, striking me as Incinerate bait. Sure, you could boost his loyalty by untapping two lands the turn after you cast him, but spending four mana to get back two struck me as pretty damn weak. Then it occurred to me that, like Liliana, Garruk was also a card advantage machine. Hold priority after casting him to go ahead and make a 3/3 elephant (oh, excuse me, beast). Not only do you know have a blocker for Garruk, but if your opponent goes ahead and burns an Incinerate on him, he just traded card for card and you’ve still got a 3/3 on the board. My feeling with Garruk is that you don’t worry about burn spells and just simply suck away Garruk’s loyalty to churn out 3/3 creatures unless you happen to need the temporary mana boost (or want to do some sort of Scrying Sheets shenanigans).

The big payoff ability comes in handy for the occasional creature standoff, and I like how the boost and trample particularly makes Ohran Viper quite tasty. It also certainly makes large Tarmogoyfs rather ridiculous — especially if you sucked away the last loyalty counter to do to activate the ability. Also, the fact that the abilities don’t use mana means you easily set up a gigantic attack with the Overrun effect, leaving mana up to easily drop a Stonewood Invocation or — heck — a regular Overrun, Wakefield style. Holy Vitalizing Winds, Batman!

Rock the Planes
Remember above when I mentioned the best color combinations to abuse Liliana? It occurs to me that a Green/Black midrange deck could utilize both of these Planeswalkers. What about something like this?

1 The Rack
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wall of Roots
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Terror
1 Naturalize
1 Gaea’s Blessing
4 Ohran Viper
1 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Call of the Herd
1 Damnation
4 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Liliana Vess
3 Treetop Village
1 Vesuva
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Llanowar Reborn
3 Forest
4 Swamp

The focus here is just to keep churning out 3/3 beatings with Call of the Herd and Garruk, and disrupting with Liliana, eventually popping off Liliana’s big payoff ability to get a bunch of creatures on the board. If you’re opponent gets to where he’s just playing off the top of his deck, you can Imperial Seal for The Rack to increase the clock.

P.S. Pimp My Last Hurrah Standard Deck
So it ends up I’m going to be able to play in a FNM Standard tournament this Friday, and I’m thinking about playing a deck I mentioned some months ago based around Heartwood Storyteller. Adrian Sullivan mentioned to me back then he really liked the deck, so while I’ve got access to Breeding Pools I’d like to give it a whirl. This is what I have currently:

Yes, I know I should run 2 more Tarmogoyfs, but see #1 Tarmogoyf gets even better above—I only own 2 and have not been able to acquire more. I may be able to borrow two by this Friday; if so I’ll likely run it -1 Trygon Predator, -1 Epochrasite, +2 Tarmogoyf. For the sideboard I’d be adding 4 Riptide Pilferer, the fourth Teferi, a couple manlands, and maybe some Quagnoths for discard decks. Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve played Standard, so I figure any of you out there who are more familiar with the current format, if you’ve got any creature-suggestions for maindeck or sideboard, I’d love to hear from you in the forums!

‘til next week!
Bennie Smith
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com