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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Feb 21 2017 1:00pm
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Welcome back to Flashback Favorites! We’re into new territory, as Invasion block limited is the first format that I didn’t cover in the Year of Modern Flashbacks. While that isn’t bad by itself, adding an entire block at once means I have a lot of ground to cover. As such, I’m splitting my article into two parts. The first part will be a general view of the format, covering the various mechanics and themes in the set. The second part will go deeper into the cards (though not quite as deep, since there are over 400 non-rares in the block), as well as a base-level look at the archetypes.
Invasion block is a massive step back from all the Modern formats we’ve covered during the Modern Flashback Series. While this is one of the first reasonably-balanced limited formats (other formats have either awful cards in general or broken commons like Pestilence and Rolling Thunder warping color selection), it still suffers from many of the same characteristics of these old formats: spells are generally better than creatures and you have to struggle to get enough high-quality playables. In addition, this set’s main theme is multicolor, and as this is the first time WotC has tried to make a set in limited where you are encouraged to play (or splash) multiple colors, the process is a little rocky. The block is also nice since it was one of the first blocks to have a crystal-clear place for the third set (Apocalypse had an enemy-colored theme, in contrast to Invasion/Planeshift’s allied-color theme). Still, while the format is a little rough, it is the first “great” limited format and thus is remembered fondly.
The only named mechanic in Invasion block (at least when it was printed), Kicker is one of the original “mana sink” abilities, and the flexibility it provides is much better than it looks. In Invasion, there are three forms of Kicker: colorless, on-color, and off-color. The first two are simple: a colorless Kicker makes the spell bigger (Explosive Growth, Kavu Aggressor), while an on-color Kicker adds an extra effect such as a creature keyword (Duskwalker) or (additional) spell effect (Thicket Elemental, Scorching Lava), The off-color Kickers add an off-color effect (or at least one that could be off-color), and there are two allied cycles: a common cycle of spells going WUBRG (Probe) and an uncommon cycle of spells going GRBUW (Tolarian Emissary).
While the initial implementation of Kicker was simple, it was evolved in the later sets in the block. Planeshift expands the mechanic by adding non-mana Kicker costs and cards with multiple Kicker costs. The main non-mana Kickers are the cycle that let you sacrifice lands to double a spell (Rushing River), though Primal Growth and Arctic Merfolk are also relevant. The Battlemages Nightscape Battlemage are a cycle of uncommon creatures with two off-color Kicker costs aligned with each shard, each providing a spell effect. Apocalypse has a common cycle of enemy-colored spells (Jilt), but the more-interesting cycle is the rare Volvers (Degavolver). These creatures have two off-color Kicker costs like the Battlemages, but instead of giving spell effects and being vanilla otherwise, these Kicker costs give +1/+1 counters and keywords. The theory is that the amount of counters on the creatures tells you which keywords it has, but it was still confusing. Two other unique Kicker cards are the one-off Illuminate (which was uncommon for some reason), as well as the proto-Sunburst Emblazoned Golem.
While this mechanic was not named in the original Invasion block, it became one of the most-popular “mechanics” in the block. Interestingly, this is the only non-evergreen mechanic to be retrofitted with an ability word, since Worldly Counsel was reprinted in Conflux with the ability word, and it would be weird to have just one of the old cards with the mechanic (plus it let Tromp the Domains and Tribal Flames be reprinted in Modern Masters). As for the cards themselves, they sadly aren’t that great for the most part (generally needing three basic land types to be at-rate), especially since there is almost no colorless mana fixing. At the very least, it isn’t worth building around in the full-block format, since Apocalypse has only two Domain cards (and neither is common). Still, if you are playing green, getting three basic land types isn’t that difficult and you can treat additional land types as a bonus.
Split Cards:
While the part split cards played in the block was fairly small (only two uncommon cycles: an allied-color one in Invasion and an enemy-colored one in Apocalypse), it was certainly the flashiest mechanic: it wasn’t mentioned during Invasion previews at all, and even the initial leaks didn’t know what to do with it (when an uncut sheet was found on an online auction site prior to release, some people thought WotC hadn’t decided which card they wanted in that slot yet). Yet another flexible mechanic, what’s amazing is how powerful the individual halves are: Fire (Fire/Ice) and Deliver (Stand/Deliver) have been functionally reprinted multiple times while being fine (Twin Bolt/Chandra's Pyrohelix, Regress) and cards like Malice (Spite/Malice), Assault (Assault/Battery), and Wax (Wax/Wane) are fine cards even before considering their other half.

Planeshift was the first set to include “return a creature to your hand” as a cost, and it only appears in that set. The set includes two cycles of allied-color gold creatures (a common and uncommon cycle), and the creature you return must be one of those colors. While the common cycle mostly just gives you stats that are better than average (Silver Drake, Horned Kavu), all but one creature in the uncommon cycle has enters-the-battlefield abilities (Marsh Crocodile, Razing Snidd) and Fleeting Panther’s Flash lets you save a creature, giving them more utility (mostly through bouncing the creature itself, giving you a reusable spell). The Lairs (Darigaaz's Caldera) also fit into this mechanic, though you can’t play as many tricks with them. This mechanic may look fairly innocent (especially now that cards like Whitemane Lion have become commonplace), but WotC was scared enough to put a hate card in the set below rare (Warped Devotion), though I don’t think it matters in the full-block format (unless you’re pairing it with bounce spells).
Beyond the actual mechanics of the set, the main theme is that what color(s) your permanents are matters. For the first two sets a lot of the color-matters stuff is focused on helping your allies, notably with the uncommon Weaver cycle in Invasion Sky Weaver and common Familiar cycle in Planeshift Thornscape Familiar. Similarly there is also a lot of enemy hate, highlighted by the common allied pro-bears in Invasion Vodalian Zombie and various other cards like Hunting Drake and Slingshot Goblin. There are also the Djinns at uncommon in Invasion Ruham Djinn which are strange (they obviously want to be splashed, but they count your opponent’s permanents too).
As you would expect, Apocalypse turns the color-matters stuff on its head, so you help your enemies and hurt your allies (though the latter doesn’t show up below rare other than the marginal Shield of Duty and Reason). The main cycle of helping your enemies is the Sanctuaries at uncommon (Necra Sanctuary), and that wants you to not only play enemy colors but play a full wedge instead (though I think it’ll be better in the full block format if you splash the Sanctuary in an allied-color deck). There are also more cards that care about color in general, most clearly indicated by the most-confusing common this side of Balduvian Shaman: Dead Ringers. While the card isn’t that confusing once you’re given an example (it destroys two white creatures or two red/green creatures, but not a white creature and a white/blue creature), but what makes it worse is that while Balduvian Shaman and Ice Cauldron aren’t great cards, Dead Ringers is a top common as a two-for-one removal spell in most cases, with the fallback of possibly an expensive “fight” card.
Mana Fixing:
Yes, the mana fixing is so important in this block that it needs to be prioritized very heavily. Here I’ll go through all the non-rare fixing available, and how important it is:
  • Common “shard” sac-lands (Sulfur Vent) and Archaeological Dig: Reasonable in a slow format, but only useful for late-game splashes.
  • Uncommon allied tap-lands (Shivan Oasis): Awesome: the highest-quality pure mana-fixing there is.
  • Uncommon allied Cameos (Seashell Cameo: These look awful, but if your deck is slow enough these could actually work.
  • Uncommon shard Attendants (Dromar’s Attendant): These don’t seem nearly as bad as they look, because the body isn’t awful for the time period (size is hard to find outside of green) and it serves as ramp in a pinch.
  • Uncommon shard Lairs (Darigaaz's Caldera): These are very interesting, as while they set you back a mana overall, you get the full mana on the turn you play it (as they don’t enter tapped and allow you to bounce a tapped land).
  • Terminal Moraine: Very good—yes, Warped Landscape wasn’t great, but any fixing that doesn’t cost a card slot is good here, and the fixing is necessary (while there were plenty of ways to get lands in the graveyard for Delirium in Shadows over Innistrad).
  • Miscelaneous: Star Compass isn’t actually fixing (but a fine mana rock and double-color fixer), while Multani's Harmony is way too fragile in a format with good removal.
That’s all on Invasion block for now. Before I go, the packaging for Modern Masters 2017 was revealed this week, and it shows four pieces of art. Three of the pieces of art are reprints (Domri Rade, Griselbrand, and Stoic Angel) and the choices are interesting. Domri Rade and Griselbrand are fine choices (though everyone is worried about what showing a CMC 3 Planeswalker and black mythic means for Liliana of the Veil’s chances), but Stoic Angel is strange—not only is it not that great of a card, a three-color rare could mean they’re actually going the three-color route I was experimenting with for Modern Masters 4 (in fact, if they weren’t starting previews next week this would be the kind of expectation-redefining information I was talking about in my last article that would cause me to rebuild the set). Furthermore, why would you choose three old pieces of art to headline the boosters (before this, the only old art was in Modern Masters 2015 for Noble Hierarch and Karn Liberated, both highly-desired cards)? At least the art on the box itself isn’t old, and I’m betting that’s the new Snapcaster Mage art everyone will be complaining about in a month (as always happens when a piece of Invitational art is replaced). Next time we’ll continue with the cards of Invasion block.

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Looking forward to ti by TheWolf at Wed, 02/22/2017 - 03:10
TheWolf's picture

I am really looking forward to playing this format. It was my introduction to Limited and I have fond memories of beating people down with Armadillo Cloak, or the one deck where I had 3 Phyrexian Scuta. Good times.