Welcome back to Flashback Favorites! Turns out I actually missed a Flashback Favorites in the interim—the Throwback Standard Gauntlet crashed and burned due to old cards not working right (where have I heard that before…), so a triple-Khans of Tarkir Flashback draft was put up as a last-minute replacement. I could have covered that quickly (like Xger did), but I already have a lot of articles going up in the next month or so (two articles on Invasion block, one or two articles on Modern Masters 2017, and the MM17 Treasure Chest update—more on that later), so I didn’t want to flood the market, especially since the format came out relatively recently (less than three years ago). Now it’s time to get back to Invasion block: last time
we covered the mechanics and themes of Invasion block, and this time we’re covering the cards and archetypes, so let’s dive right in!
Starting with white’s commons, we can see just how far down we’ve dropped in terms of creature quality. The 2/2 flier for 4 sets the standard for efficient creatures, including the to-be underwhelming core set staple Razorfoot Griffin
(though both Glimmering Angel
and Aurora Griffin
seem fine as well). The generic “power and toughness” ground creatures aren’t much better, though Benalish Lancer
is shockingly big for common (and a six mana 4/4 First Strike isn’t awful stats, even before you consider the option of playing a Gray Ogre). However, the utility creatures are where white shines, with Eternal Masters standout Coalition Honor Guard
, amazing Samite Healer Samite Pilgrim
, and the pair of Crimson Acolyte
and Obsidian Acolyte
(Protection is naturally better in a gold set, even before you consider all the color-changing). The removal is also good, with Benalish Trapper
as your standard tapper and both Hobble
and Manacles of Decay
as decent Pacifism
variants (even if they’re closer to Guard Duty
without help). The Disenchant
s are also surprisingly good: both Dismantling Blow
and Orim's Thunder
have good upside (though you still need a target to get the Kicker, even if it’s your own), and even Aura Blast
is efficient. Finally, make sure you’re reading the cards—I almost put Divine Light
here as a sleeper since it looks like a cheap Safe Passage
variant, but then I realized it was a Sorcery.
Unfortunately, the uncommons don’t live up to the standard set by the commons. The color starts out well with efficient fliers Angel of Mercy
and Voice of All
, and Benalish Heralds
is an interesting Pillarfield Ox
. However, the complete lack of removal hurts a lot: Diversionary Tactics
seems bad without a tribal theme, and Order (Order/Chaos
) isn’t great on its own in an era of efficient removal. Lashknife Barrier
seems very cheap though; but I don’t know how good a better “Creatures you control get +0/+1” enchantment is worth.
Blue commons are where all the Wind Drake
variants live, as Tower Drake
and Coastal Drake
both have good utility to make up for their one-toughness. Bigger fliers are also good, as Faerie Squadron
is the rare common 3/3 flier for 5, Hunting Drake
is good value (even before you consider the value of Time Ebb
ing a Gating creature), and even Living Airship
seems good as a resilient threat. Stormscape Apprentice
is also amazing if you are Esper, as you have both a tapper (its primary purpose) and an inevitable win condition. As I mentioned earlier, bounce is good in this format, and there are a trio of amazing bounce spells (Repulse
, Rushing River
, and Jilt
) helps with that a lot. Moving to counterspells, everyone knows about the efficiency of Exclude
, but Confound
also works well in that vein, even if it’s a lot more situational (though it might be maindeckable). However, the reason for all of these efficient cantrips is that there isn’t much actual card draw at common in the block: just Probe
, and that isn’t raw card draw (and needs black to be good).
Moving to the blue uncommons, my first impression is amazement is just how bad all the creatures are. Yes, Zanam Djinn
is amazing (and even in its weakened state isn’t awful) and Stormscape Battlemage
is a removal spell, but other than Sky Weaver
and maybe Rainbow Crow
everything else looks awful. However, the non-creature spells are still decent at least. The lack of raw card draw is remedied here, and while Allied Strategies
needs you to be three-color to be playable, Fact or Fiction
is as good as you would expect (especially when people are less-likely to know the good cards). Sway of Illusion
also joins the “neat cantrip” pile with all the color-matters stuff in the format.
Black is in a strange position, as its typical nonblack restriction (both with Fear and the typical “nonblack” rider on removal spells) hurts in a gold set with lots of color-changing. This makes cards like Duskwalker
and Agonizing Demise
worse (but still playable), but the removal compensates with color-specific cards like Phyrexian Bloodstock
, as well as alternative removal like Soul Burn
. There is also a lot of card advantage in recursion with both Recover
and Urborg Uprising
. The problem is that the creatures are mostly awful. Standbys like Phyrexian Rager
and Ravenous Rats
fit the grindy aspects of the color (and work well in a Gating set), and the color-specific pseudo-Deathtouchers (Zombie Boa
, Phyrexian Slayer
) are clunky but reasonable, but your best threat is the flawed Duskwalker
While you wouldn’t expect red to have great creatures (especially considering what we saw during the beginning of the Modern Flashback Series), they actually aren’t that bad here. The cheap end has the aggressive Rogue Kavu
as well as various useful three mana 2-power creatures like Caldera Kavu
, Tundra Kavu
, and Slingshot Goblin
. Higher on the curve there are some creatures that are actually reasonably-costed, like Mire Kavu
, Ancient Kavu
(the colorless ability counters shenanigans), and Pouncing Kavu
. Of course, you go into red for removal, and while Slingshot Goblin
is already the common highlight (and worth building around if you somehow get multiples), the burn spells Tribal Flames
, Magma Burst
and Scorching Lava
are all decent as well. The trend of cantrips continues, but it’s better in red due to its natural lack of card advantage. Sure, Smash
isn’t maindeckable, but Stun
is interesting, and Turf Wound
might be playable.
While all the mana fixing I discussed in the first part is something that draws you to green, it doesn’t seem like it has the big creatures to match that, at least at common. While Kavu Climber
and Serpentine Kavu
are nice five-drops and Savage Gorilla
is good if you can access all three colors (and if you’re green, you can), your options for pure stats are Llanowar Elite
(a nine-mana 6/6 trample) and Glade Gnarr
(a six-mana 6/6 that requires work to reliably turn on). However, the cheaper cards are decent: Penumbra Bobcat
has nice stats, while Thornscape Apprentice
dominates combat. Checking in on the non-creature spells, while the mana-fixers are good, there isn’t much else: just some pump spells (notably Aggressive Urge
and Explosive Growth
, among others) an interesting Safe Passage
variant in Falling Timber
, and strangely both Tranquility
and Tranquil Path
(apparently someone at WotC really hated enchantments).
Moving to the uncommons, there are some bigger creatures, with the Kavu theme paying off with Kavu Howler
and Kavu Chameleon
, as well as Penumbra Kavu
(which is efficient, even if the stats aren’t all at once). Moving to utility, Thornscape Battlemage
is great as you would expect (even if it appearing in the same block as Verduran Emissary
is strange), but the crazier card is Mirrorwood Treefolk
: it’s a brick wall against non-lethal attacks and can use “threat of activation” to be unblockable (though watch for double-blocks). The non-creature spells haven’t really improved though: Tangle
is an interesting Fog
variant and there’s some flying hate, but not much else.
I covered all the mana-fixing in the previous part, and when you take those out there aren’t many colorless cards remaining. There is a lot of Domain support in colorless, but while something like Power Armor
wants you to be trying for all five colors, Emblazoned Golem
is fine with two colors (a 3/4 for 4 with additional flexibility) and Stratadon
seems fine if you have three land types. There isn’t much else, though Sparring Golem
doesn’t seem awful if you need a three-drop.
Starting with the Gating cards, Silver Drake
dominates the skies, but Sawtooth Loon
doesn’t seem great as just a double-looter with bad stats. Riptide Crab
is interesting as you get the card almost for free, and Samite Archer
looks very strange to modern eyes, but remember that pinging is blue at this point. Finally, Angelic Shield
seems very good, as the toughness boost is good and the bounce is just extra.
is insane: it’s a 2/1 flier for two that’s basically unkillable that somehow is common. However, other than Recoil
(an awesome “Chinese menu” design that’s sadly too pushed for modern day) and some average creatures like Urborg Drake
there isn’t much else—even Marsh Crocodile
doesn’t seem great despite the decent stats since you aren’t likely to be empty-handed in this format.
The removal color pair has the standout Terminate
as well as its comparable cousin Plague Spores
(which seems almost as good, especially if you can ramp it out), but the quality goes beyond the removal. Lava Zombie
is another good Gating card, and Cinder Shade
is nice (especially since the “shade” part is at-rate even before the removal aspect, even if that part has been hurt greatly by the removal of damage-on-the-stack). Smoldering Tar
also seems great as a combination removal spell and win condition. Even the relatively-boring Vicious Kavu
is a fine aggressive creature.
Where is the power here? Horned Kavu
has good stats but requires you to play one-drops, Hunting Kavu
is clunky, and even the constructed star Fires of Yavimaya
isn’t great in limited. There are some stars though, as Frenzied Tilling
is a nice ramp target and Voracious Cobra
wins combat (even if RG seems like a weird color combo for it despite it all being within the color pie).
is the flashy “why the heck is this common” card everyone knows, but something like a Charging Troll
is almost as exciting based on pure efficiency. There are also a pair of good combat tricks in Fleetfoot Panther
(both a surprise blocker and/or counter to removal) and Gerrard's Command
(it’s weird seeing this here now that “untap and pump” is an established part of green now, but it’s still good).
Nothing is great here: Gerrard's Verdict
seems fine in a Gating format and Putrid Warrior
is okay (but “MN” two-drops that are just aggressive are worse than they look), but the other two don’t seem good unless I’m underrating some kind of lifegain deck Martyrs' Tomb
can go in.
and Quicksilver Dagger
both seem like good pingers (and the latter doesn’t seem common, even before pingers were moved to uncommon), but Minotaur Illusionist
seems better than its stats would say (even if this is a card clearly hurt a lot by the removal of damage-on-the-stack).
Wow, these are all very good—the only iffy one is Death Mutation
, but if you can get to eight mana the effect is worth it. Even Ebony Treefolk
is good because it is a 3/3 for three baseline, even if the shade ability is inefficient.
is what I’m looking for when I want a “MN” bear to be relevant late game, even if it’ll just be an Ember Hauler
the majority of the time. Captain's Maneuver
is also good (especially when people won’t know it’s in the format, or if you use it when attacking so it isn’t obvious), but the interesting card is Squee's Embrace
: I know pump auras are bad in this era of removal, but the pump is a fine rate and if you can get past casting the card it becomes a one-for-one at worst (even before considering enter-the-battlefield effects).
If you’re looking for the traditional archetype analysis by color combination, you sadly won’t find it here: there are just too many combinations (all ten two-color pairs and all the shards and wedges seem viable, at least at a baseline), and most of the archetypes seem like they’re “put good cards together” regardless (as seems to be the case with earlier sets). Instead, I’m going to look at this at a high level in terms of the format. In general, it feels like other than the five-color green deck, the best balance of power and mana comes from two colors and a splash, where the size of the splash varies (from a couple off-color kickers/activated abilities to multiple colored cards. However, the imbalance of the gold cards in the block leads to an interesting question: do you want a shard or wedge, and do you want your main color pair to be enemy or ally? All of them can work, but if you want the highest power level you want your main pair to be an allied pair, simply because you have two sets of gold/aligned cards for that pair. The more interesting question is if you want to go with a shard or a wedge, which determines whether your splash color forms two enemy pairs or an allied or enemy pair. It’s a trade-off, as the enemy pairs in Apocalypse are generally more powerful, but having both pairs in the same pack means you’re likely to get fewer of those powerful gold cards. As such, I think you want to tie it to your mana fixing: the decks that are closer to three full colors feel like they want to be shards, while decks with a smaller splash are more likely to be wedges. The most important thing is that you don’t have to decide your colors that early, especially if you’re prioritizing mana fixing and easily-splashable cards.
That’s all for Invasion block! Before I go, we have a lot of reprint set news to talk about. Let’s start with the start of Modern Masters 2017 spoilers, and wow. Enemy fetchlands, Damnation
at rare, and even the normal stuff like Goblin Guide
and Restoration Angel
is nice. If nothing else, that means the value is more evenly distributed than it was in Eternal Masters and Modern Masters 2015 (even before you consider probable things like Snapcaster Mage
and number crunch-able Cavern of Souls
), which should make packs feel better at least. We also got confirmation of the allied/shard layout for the set, with the five allied color archetypes confirmed (WU Blink, UB “Instant Control”, BR Unearth, RG “Go Wide”, and GW Populate), as well as the fixing that goes with them (shard trilands at uncommon, Guildgates at common). Unfortunately there are no hits there from my archetype (other than the Unearth overlap with my UB self-mill archetype), but both WU and BR have shown up in my MM2 design. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes—I’m writing this on Monday afternoon, so plenty of the set is yet to be revealed.
However, the other surprising thing isn’t related to MM17 at all, but instead the Treasure Chest update coming alongside it. On Thursday, the MTGO Tumblr published some amazing news
: Monarch is finally coming to MTGO! While only three are confirmed at this point (Palace Jailer
, Queen Marchesa
, and Thorn of the Black Rose
), the article says “many of the (Monarch) cards” will show up (I’d expect the rares at least), and they’ll appear in the PZ2 set and slot (alongside the other Conspiracy/Commander cards) and will be more common than the older cards. Furthermore, a Twitter conversation
between Alli Medwin (one of the more visible MTGO R&D members) and Alex Ullman brought hope of other Pauper-relevant Conspiracy cards (like Custodi Squire
and Sinuous Vermin
) showing up on MTGO, though nothing was confirmed and they wouldn’t show up until Hour of Devastation at the earliest. Next time we should be starting coverage of Modern Masters 2017.
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