Explorations #32 - M10 Sketches
Warning: If you're avoiding spoilers for M10 for whatever reason, please don't read this article!
Usually core sets don't give someone like me very much to write about. I mean sometimes I may have a cool idea about how to apply some returning tech to Standard, but for the most part I deal in either the Eternal or Casual realms. There just isn't usually very much to write about when the main material consists of a handful of cards rotating in, and a handful of cards rotating out.
In the Eternal realm nothing ever rotates, so there's nothing for me to focus on here, unless the card has not been released on MTGO before. In the Casual realm we're dealing with all cards that have been around before. Once again, there's a chance the rotating cards haven't been released on MTGO before, and sure there are always new applications to old cards... but these reprints are generally not as interesting as having brand new cards to talk about.
In addition to this, lots of cards in past core sets look something like this:
Not exactly dream material to build cool decks around. Now I'm not saying that everything in a base set is crap, there are some cool cards for sure - but the picking is relatively slim. If I want interesting cards to build around, then for the most part I stick to the 'expert' level expansions.
Of course, with the upcoming M10 core set everything has changed. People who like to play Magic seem to be largely obsessed with the M10 rules changes (I guess I should say THE rule change...), but it's important to remember that we're also getting 50% new cards when M10 hits!
Having a core set include 50% new cards seems to be a change that's as close to unanimously accepted as we're likely to get in a world of obsessive and passionate Magic fans. People may not like the yearly release, or the car model naming (everything is going so great with the automotive industry, we should obviously copy them right?) - but pretty much everyone I've talked with has been positive about getting new cards in the core set. I mean this one change has actually caused established players to show some interest in a core set - talk about progress!
I'm going to go over a bunch of the new cards, throw out some deck ideas, and talk about whatever else pops into my head. Time to get started!
Some of the new cards are pseudo-functional reprints of old cards. For example, take a look at Nature's Spiral.
Does this one look familiar?
Nature's Spiral is kind of like green's Vintage contribution: Regrowth... except obviously not as good. Still kind of cool, I just don't think this will be making an appearance in Vintage any time soon - unlike it's big brother from Alpha/Beta/etc.
Here's another pseudo-functional reprint:
This card is insane. It's just like old favorite Crusade, which was a strong tournament card in its day - except better and easier to cast. I guess Wizards felt that tokens needed a boost in power? White Weenie seems like a super powerful strategy moving forward. Doesn't something like this list seem really vicious?
I've mentioned my thoughts on RDW post-M10 before, but the above list seems like another pretty obvious and straightforward build that brings some ridiculous power to the table. This standard white weenie list runs some tokens, creature pump, a Kithkin theme, and now somewhat underused gem Mutavault. It also runs a sweet 2/1 for just one mana and no drawbacks at all. Notice Elite Vanguard? Does that guy seems familiar?
That isn't the only 'almost-exact' reprint in M10. Take a look at Zephyr Sprite.
This little guy is just a reprint of Arabian Nights favorite Flying Men, except stamped with the ever-so-useful Faerie type instead of Human.
Thankfully not all of the new cards are functional reprints or tweaks on existing cards. There are even some really, really cool ones! Here's one of my personal favorites:
What a badass card! Start off with Air Elemental, which used to be a quality control deck finisher, and give it a fun and flavorful ability. Sounds like the recipe for a quality card to me! I'm not getting a ton of specific ideas for how to build around this guy, but he seems to play well as a two-ish of in pretty much any deck that runs blue and wants to have fun. In a competitive environment, this Djinn will have a ridiculous target on his little blue face. With cards like Path to Exile running around, Mr. Djinn will be very unlikely to survive long enough to trigger his ability.
The other thing that's awesome about Djinn of Wishes is that he seems to indicate a trend of pushing the complexity level of base set cards up a bit from what we've had access to in the recent past.
I just looked through the list of rares in 10th edition, and I didn't see anything that seems as complicated as this one:
Now I'm not saying that complex cards are better than simple ones at all - but it definitely seems encouraging that Wizards is open to exploring a bit more complexity in core sets. I mean, I actually had to read that card twice to figure out what it does, that's something I haven't done in a base set since 4th edition. In fact, I still don't think I get this card completely. What happens to your chosen card if it IS the one that your opponent named? I guess it gets shuffled back into your opponent's library, but this isn't exactly crystal clear - especially for a new player.
Speaking of new cards, here's one that seems like a lot of fun to build around:
Not only is that effect cool, but a 3/4 flying creature for four mana is no slouch. During the days of Time Spiral, we got a cycle of Magus of the 'artifact' cards, which were iconic artifacts reprinted as creatures with the same casting cost. Here's an example of what we got back then:
Guardian Seraph is almost like Magus of Urza's Armor. Here's Urza's Armor:
I used to play a March of the Machines deck that used powerful protective artifacts like Urza's Armor in order to survive and stabilize the board. Once I had control, March of the Machines came down and turned all of my artifacts into beaters. Here's a rough list, updated with some Tezzeret goodness:
This deck runs a toolbox of different artifacts alongside Tezzeret and Fabricate to seek them up and Tezzeret and March to animate them. There's permission in Remand and Cryptic Command, and card draw in Thirst for Knowledge. Mindslaver/Academy Ruins and Vedalken Shackles function as alternate win conditions. This deck comes with a ton of customization capability. Swap out artifacts based on whatever you think would be fun to play.
Back in the day there used to be a similar deck based on Titania's Song and powerful enchantments. I've always liked decks like this - play out protective/support components and then animate them into win conditions. Cool!
I think we can get somewhat of a similar effect in a deck that runs lots of white creatures with prison-ish effects without having any sort of animation component at all. Instead of playing out protective components and then animating them into win conditions, I think white has enough creatures that accomplish this all by themselves. Guardian Seraph can lead the way.
This deck runs just a huge number of creatures that come with built in protection. Here's a rundown:
Guardian Seraph slows down any sort of damage that your opponent is sending your way. Windborn Muse forces them to choose between developing their board and sending their creatures into the red zone. True Believer helps you dodge spells like Tendrils of Agony and Lightning Bolt to the face. Ethersworn Canonist prevents any sort of high-velocity plays for your opponent, fighting things like Ponder into Ponder or a bunch of spells into something with storm. Gaddock Teeg shuts off a huge number of spells that people love to play. Aven Mindcensor prevents any kind of library searching. Qasali Pridemage fights artifacts and enchantments, while Kataki pitches in against artifacts.
That is a LOT of different protection effects - seems like it has a little something for every deck. Of course there's the issue of drawing the right effects against the deck that you're up against. Maybe something like Congregation at Dawn would act as a way to tutor up the bullets you need for each individual fight? I decided to run Oblivion Ring instead in the list above as a catch-all way to deal with problematic cards. I might do an article on this deck in the future, this one looks like a lot of fun to me and I'd love to give it a spin.
Here's a card I don't really understand very well.
This HAS to be one of those cases that Maro loves to mention in his design articles where they end up needing to build a card around some already-commissioned art right? I mean first of all, the focus of this art is some weird horse steed with big jagged armor. I mean this is pretty cool, but doesn't it seem like the art should focus on light being wielded?
Something more like that? Except without the Angel-theme of course. Maybe like this?
That looks a lot more like a lightweilder to me. Here's another one I don't really understand:
This one just seems confusing for newer players. Why does your creature have to lose flying? I mean I understand the armor is heavy, but that just seems to unnecessary to me. Also why does this prevent non-combat damage when it already pumps toughness by four? Just in case your opponent manages to do like eight non-combat damage to your creature? I mean, how often does that come up? This just seems like a totally inelegant card to me.
Speaking of cards I don't understand... this one takes the prize. Maybe someone can help me out here?
Ok so let's break this down. In a single player game it's a ridiculously expensive Stone Rain variation, so this one is obviously geared towards multiplayer. The only problem is that in multiplayer it might as well read: "4R: Piss off everyone you're playing with, you know the ones who can gang up and kill you whenever they want." This just doesn't make sense to me. Who plays this card?
On the other hand, Vampire Aristocrat makes a lot of sense to me.
Here's another functional reprint just like the ones we discussed above, this time of sometimes-favorite Nantuko Husk. Not only is this a cool card to keep around in Standard for a while, but I love the Vampire flavor on this card. Talk about some badass flavor text:
"I admit, I am a creature of the city. The sights, the nightly excitement, the abundance of fine drink..."
Talk about some refreshingly cool flavor in our crazy world that is trying its hardest to turn Vampires into sparkly pretty boys. At least Magic is still fighting the good fight. In honor of this, at some point I will be sucking the blood of my opponents with a Vampire deck. Maybe something like this?
This deck runs a full sixteen Vampires, topped off with Vein Drinker from Shards of Alara (a card I've always wanted to try) and the new lord Vampire Nocturnus. Nocturnus is often a 5/4 flying creature for just four mana who also pumps your army of the dead up to awesome power levels. The main bummer here is that there aren't many other Vampires here to choose from. You could run old favorite Sengir Vampire or never-favorite Vampire Bats, but other than that you've scraped the bottom of Magic's Standard Vampire barrel. Maybe try out some changelings?
This deck also runs a whole bunch of creature control. Doom Blade is a new card in M10, an different version of Terror with totally badass artwork - regeneration is allowed, but it can take down artifact creatures. Terminate is one of the best creature control spells ever printed. This deck runs a full playset of both. Soul Manipulation is another card I've been wanting to play for a while, and this seems like a solid deck to run it in. Manipulation is a very versatile card, functioning as either an instant-speed Raise Dead, Remove Soul, or both depending on the current game situation. Sign in Blood is another new utility card from M10. This card is either classic black-style card draw or two points of life loss reach to finish off your opponent.
The high end of this deck includes two copies of Cruel Ultimatum and a single copy of Nicol Bolas. If Vampires aren't getting the job done, then maybe you can call on the most badass of all planeswalkers to seal the deal.
Tendrils of Corruption is also returning in M10, but man is that card a lot less impressive without Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth by its side. It's kind of hard to believe that not too long ago your Swamps could easily tap for blue, red, white, or green mana!
There are a few cards that I want to talk about through the lens of eternal formats. First up is a toned-down Orim's Chant:
There are two exciting things about Silence. First up, Orim's Chant costs about a million dollars per playset. Silence is a decent budget-ish alternative that should allow many more players to have access to this unique effect, which reminds me of what happened recently with Meddling Mage. Second, Classic players now have access to a full twelve Orim's Chant effects (Chant, Silence, Abeyance).
What do you think of starting off a decklist with something like this?
I'm not sure how good something like this is in the Classic metagame without testing, or if it even wants a full twelve Chant effects - but I'd love to give this a try. Scepter-Chant is kind of looked down upon as a combo, and relying on it completely doesn't seem like a great idea - but it's still a very powerful board position that requires a farily narrow solution that your opponent may not have access to.
Here's a card that Faeries hate, but may also be decent in Classic:
This card has a lot going for it, but I think that this one is at best a sideboard card. On the upside it dodges Force of Will, Counterbalance, Smother, Terminate, and Chain of Vapor. On the downside it still goes down to Swords to Plowshares, Vedalken Shackles, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Tarmogoyf 90% of the time.
I don't see this one replacing Mishra's Factory in Classic anytime soon. Not only does it require a whole ton of mana to get going, but it doesn't benefit in multiples, and dies to sorcery-speed removal. Might find a home in a Standard control deck?
The most natural comparison for Mold Adder is one of my personal favorites and sometimes Eternal-favorite Quirion Dryad. I wrote a whole article about this babe a while back, you can read about it here if you're interested. When it comes down to it, howver, I don't think that this is a great comparison.
Mold Adder costs one less than Quirion Dryad, but unfortunately your opponent has to cooperate to pump him up - not you. If this guy triggered off of YOUR spells, then he would be off the hook. He costs one less mana, comes down before Counterbalances, and shares many other strengths and weaknesses of Quirion Dryad. But I'm pretty sure that these cards perform two different functions.
The general idea behind Quirion Dryad is to engineer a deck that can get as many +1/+1 counters going as possible. Get that little 1/1 in play and then turn her into a 5/5 or 6/6 before your opponent knows what's up. Complimentary spells to Quirion Dryad generally round out an aggro-control strategy, protecting the Dryad and board state until you can finish off the game. You know what I'm talking about here: Brainstorm, Ponder, Daze, Force of Will... maybe Swords to Plowshares or Lightning Bolt.
Things are different with Mold Adder. Since your opponent is controlling the growing, it's a lot more difficult to run this creature in an aggro-control strategy. I think that Mold Adder's role is in the sideboard of aggressive deck against blue/blue control lists. Don't think of Mold Adder as a creature that you need to grow to huge levels. Think of him as a creature that need to do more damage over his lifespan than other aggressive one-drops in order to be worth it.
|Which creature is the better comparison?
Let's say you're playing some sort of Classic Zoo deck. The gold standard one-drop right now is Wild Nacatl. This creatures is essentially a 3/3 for one mana, is Mold Adder good enough to compete for a slot here? If your opponent casts two blue or black spells before your first attack, then these creatures are on equal ground. If he casts less, then the Mold Adder is playing catchup. In lots of matchups, Mold Adder might as well read "Add a +1/+1 counter whenever your opponent casts a non-Tarmogoyf spell." In this sort of situation, it's not ridiculous to imagine Mold Adder outperforming Wild Nacatl.
Another positive aspect of Mold Adder is what I like to call the Standstill effect. Cards that penalize your opponent for doing things that he really wants to do can often lead to bad decisions. Let's say your opponent has a Brainstorm or something and isn't casting it for fear of growing your Mold Adder. Plays like this seem wrong when typing them out like this, but I've seen plenty of parallel situations with Standstill. If Mold Adder makes your opponent play worse, then there's value there!
There's some talk about using Tome Scour as a card for Legacy or Classic decks. I'm not a dredge expert, but this seems close to the power level of Breakthrough in this type of strategy - which I know if a total superstar. Glimpse the Unthinkable fills a similar strategic function, but two mana is a lot more difficult for dredge to get together than one mana is.
If you run this out on turn one off of a fetchland, then you can cast Tombstalker pretty easily on turn two. That seems kinda cool, but not really the kind of strategy to build a deck around. Also, Vision Charm mills almost as well with some additional utility. I guess this is pretty good compared to what's in Standard for milling, but not in Classic.
Time to wrap things up away from the Eternal world. One of the biggest issues about the M10 set is that for the first time in forever, Wrath of God does not make an appearence.
This is a major bummer to me. Not only is Wrath of God an iconic card, the genesis for countless knocks offs, and the rare in my very first ever booster pack... but it was also one of the longest standing tools used to hold aggro decks in check.
Maybe my read on the future metagame is wrong, but it seems as if we need Wrath of God now more than ever to hold the ever-increasing power level of creature cards in check. It's pretty obvious now that Wizards wants us ramming creatures into each other, and Wrath of God goes directly against this plan, but I really think that the value of having this card in the environment should not be undervalued.
Wrath of God was well-costed, sometimes powerful, sometimes useless, and a defining card for the white slice of the color pie. Sweeping effects like "destroy all lands", "destroy all creatures", and "balance the game" used to be a hallmark of the white mage. I guess this isn't the case any longer. At the least it seems that Wizards is moving away from this type of effect, right? Well, we do get this thing:
This card has really badass art, but it costs six mana. That isn't going to be holding aggro decks in check anytime soon. Also wouldn't you just rather have Austere Command most of the time? Command is a bit easier to cast and gives you a whole bunch more options, although it can't take down Planeswalkers. I know the Command is going to be rotating out of Standard soon, but the quality of white sweepers seems to be taking a pretty big step backwards. White is getting a huge boost in other areas with M10 for sure, so that's something I guess - but this is one aspect of Magic that I'm sad to see taking a back seat.
Well, there are definitely some other cool cards in M10 to talk about - but I've got to call it quits at some point! Hopefully some of the ideas above resonate with you, and hopefully one or two of the deck ideas seem interesting. Do you guys think I'm right about Wrath of God? Wrong? What about my read on the cards and decks discussed in this article? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Before I go though, I want to mention two quick things. First off, I'm still accepting entries for anyone interested in being features in a casual deck doctor article. Just send me an email with decklists and a brief rundown of your idea. If I write about your deck, then I'll ship over two packs of your choice!
Finally, the preorder has begun for volume 1 of Zvi's book at Top8Magic. You can check out the link here:
Zvi is the best and most important Magic strategy writer of all time, by a wide margin. Sure there are plenty of awesome strategy writers, but Zvi is the king. I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on this book, and I encourage everyone interested to preorder.
Join me next week for a deck that's built around Skill Borrower!
Thanks for reading!
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