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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Feb 28 2017 1:00pm
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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!
Monocolored Cards:
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 Disenchants 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 Ebbing 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 and Mourning. 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.
The uncommons start with great removal hobbled by the non-black clause (Annihilate, Reckless Spite), though Slay picks up some of the slack. Again, the problem is the creatures: Phyrexian Gargantua and Goham Djinn are fine, and both Urborg Emissary and Nightscape Battlemage are reasonable bounce creatures when paired with blue, but nothing stands out. Because of this, black looks more like a splash color, whether you’re splashing a removal spell, Goham Djinn, or Urborg Uprising.
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.
Moving to uncommon, obviously Flametongue Kavu is great, and the rest of the removal like Illuminate, Breath of Darigaaz, and Fire (Fire/Ice) is good as well, but what is there besides that? Unfortunately the creatures aren’t that great: Thunderscape Battlemage and Shivan Emissary are both great black/red cards and Bloodfire Kavu isn’t an awful removal spell, but there isn’t much with pure stats unless you like Goblin Pikers with upside.
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.
Multicolor Cards:
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.
Cavern Harpy 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).
Armadillo Cloak 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.
Razorfin Hunter 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.
Goblin Legionnaire 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).
Another great lineup: Aether Mutation is actually castable and does 90% of what Death Mutation does, Temporal Spring lets you target lands for some reason, and both Gaea's Skyfolk and Jungle Barrier are just efficient.

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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Invasion Block by MichelleWong at Wed, 03/01/2017 - 01:31
MichelleWong's picture

Nice article regarding Invasion Block.

The block can be summarised by the saying "When it is good, it is very, very good. When it is bad (ie. most cards), it is rotten."

The heavy enchantment hate seems over the top, however when you consider Armadillo Cloak and Quicksilver Dagger at common, it seems fair.

Thanks. That's an by Cheater Hater at Wed, 03/01/2017 - 16:42
Cheater Hater's picture

Thanks. That's an interesting way to look at it (very good and very bad, instead of the more balanced sets we get these days). It's interesting how I take a card-focused look in these reviews, but then I heard LR say that leveling up means focusing on decks--I'm certainly trying to focus on them in the newer sets (and maybe should invert the order in my MM17 limited article), but it's harder here where they aren't really designing limited archetypes.