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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 02 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Unfortunately this specific flashback draft isn’t the greatest, as it has been plagued by bugs (Elder Cathar was better than anticipated, and Memory’s Journey was so bugged it put blank cards in your deck, among others). While I couldn’t have known of these problems, it’s probably better as a whole to go over the normal format, as it leaves the article as a more-evergreen resource. Another news item is that we’ll be getting details on the updated Treasure Chests on November 9th (a week ahead of the changeover), and assuming they reveal the Conspiracy: Take the Crown/Commander 2016 cards in those chests, you can expect a short article very soon after (hopefully next Thursday—it’s not like the Magic 2012 article will put me over my usual word count). On to Dark Ascension!
Dark Ascension had an infinitely-high bar to live up to: Innistrad was great in terms of mechanics (the ground-breaking double-faced cards), flavor (the return to top-down design after the disaster of Kamigawa block), and limited (the Spider Spawning deck was hitting its stride at this point), and Dark Ascension was tasked with living up to that in only 158 cards. Even if Dark Ascension was as good as Innistrad, it would still be taking away a pack of Innistrad from the draft format, limiting the accessibility of all of those build-around uncommons. Still, Dark Ascension has to have something new, so let’s get to the mechanics.
While the mechanic itself is boring (let’s make Persist, but with +1/+1 counters), it plays well enough, especially in terms of the monster flavor. It doesn’t directly interact with the set (like Persist did with all the -1/-1 counter manipulation), though there are some counter sources like Hunger of the Howlpack that you can be tricky with. Otherwise, it works well with sacrifice themes (though it isn’t actually in white) and the creatures are just good in combat overall.
Fateful Hour:
Here is the definition of a filler mechanic: it fits the flavor of the Human’s desperation in the story, and it plays with design space opened after the removal of mana burn, but it doesn’t do that much overall (as you both need to be at 5 or less life and have the Fateful Hour spell). However, the key with Fateful Hour is that it costs basically no mana: cards like Gather the Townsfolk, Faith’s Shield, and Gavony Ironwright are all reasonable cards with back-breaking upside.
The main theme of Dark Ascension is that the monsters get more powerful, and nothing signifies that more than the Captain cycle. These are gold uncommon lords for each of the monster tribes, and while they’re powerful, they were a bit too centralizing—if you opened a Captain in your first pack, it wants you to tunnel in on your tribe, ignoring everything else (especially those build-around uncommons everyone loved). There are some Human tribal aspects, but not in the traditional aspects. Instead, a lot of cards either are anti-Human (Scorch the Fields, Death's Caress) or give you bonuses for sacrificing Humans (Falkenrath Torturer, Deranged Outcast), the latter leading to its own archetype.
Other Mechanics:
Double-faced cards return and form other combinations other than creature → creature (and Garruk Relentless), as well as a couple “transforms into CARDNAME” triggers. Flashback completes the off-color Flashback cycles by going the other direction, adds the neat rare Increasing cycle which doubles the spell when cast from the graveyard, and even adds the mana rock Altar of the Lost (though I don’t know why it’s restricted to Flashback cards rather than any spells cast from a graveyard, especially at its average power level). Morbid isn’t changed much, but the addition of Hunger of the Howlpack and Tragic Slip means there are more instants to watch out for.
Limited Archetypes
The archetypes haven’t really changed conceptually from triple-Innistrad, but there are still important shifts in the strength of the cards—so let’s get to it!
White/Blue: Spirits/Fliers
Surprisingly, the Spirits aren’t the most important fliers here. Sure, Niblis of the Mist and Stormbound Geist are fine (though the latter is worse than a 2/2 Undying flier for 3 would look, as both high-flying and UU hurt it some), but the raw power comes from Nephalia Seakite and Silverclaw Griffin instead. Overall, the Spirits are more-focused on messing with the combat phase here, especially at uncommon where Niblis of the Urn gets through blockers, Hollowhenge Spirit messes with combat, and Niblis of the Breath is a surprisingly-efficient tapper with untapping upside. Keeping the ground stalled also works, with Burden of Guilt and Chant of the Skifsang being decent removal.
Blue/Black: Zombies/Self-Mill Value
What happened? While Zombies got lots of constructed tools at higher rarities, it feels like they didn’t get much here at all. Your self-mill options are only Screeching Skaab, Thought Scour, and the awful Chill of Foreboding, and while the other two are good, they don’t have the raw numbers to get your engine going. Your payoffs aren’t much better, as while I like Relentless Skaabs better than Skaab Goliath for the average Zombie deck, Headless Skaab is crippled by entering the battlefield tapped. At least the non-synergy cards are good—Diregraf Captain is good as you would expect, Farbog Boneflinger is a solid two-for-one (even if it seems expensive compared to Slayer of the Wicked), and guest-star Tower Geist works better here than in the Spirits deck.
Black/Red: Vampires/Aggro
Vampires seems like it would be set up well in Dark Ascension, as Stromkirk Captain is the best Captain (First Strike is very relevant), and Chosen of Markov is one of the only common tribal cards in the set. It still seems a little underwhelming though—I don’t like the expensive Undying creatures (Nearheath Stalker and Vengeful Vampire) in an aggro deck, and the other creatures are fragile. I would say Fires of Undeath (one of the few common two-for-ones) is a benefit to BR, but the Flashback decks are probably splashing black for Forbidden Alchemy anyway. I might be underrating it though—I love Markov Warlord as a finisher, and Pyreheart Wolf works in a similar role.
Red/Green: Werewolves/Midrange
Again, what happened? There are only four non-rare Werewolves, and of them only one is actively good (Scorned Villager). There are more Wolves here to pick up the slack, but the good ones are uncommon (Briarpack Alpha, Immerwolf, Pyreheart Wolf), reducing the density for the tribal effects. Instead, you’re left with generic creatures like the Morbid creatures and Kessig Recluse, which might be where this deck wants to be in the first place. Big creatures in general also work, especially with Wild Hunger in the color combination.
Green/White: Humans/Aggro
These are the Fateful Hour colors, but as I mentioned above, you don’t want to plan on being at 5 or less life (especially in a format with Brimstone Volley). Otherwise, there are good Humans like Loyal Cathar, Elgaud Inquisitor, and Thraben Heretic (which is an Undying counter in addition to generic self-mill hate) that function just as well as targets for Travel Preparations as other creatures.
White/Black: Human Sacrifice/Tokens
As I mentioned in the Innistrad article, the addition of the sacrifice outlets Falkenrath Torturer and Skirsdag Flayer make this deck more viable, and fodder like Loyal Cathar and Elgaud Inquisitor isn’t awful. This also works well with Morbid, as Tragic Slip and Wakedancer combine with Morkrut Banshee to give black more great Morbid cards. Speaking of Wakedancer, there are a lot of token-makers in the set between that, Gather the Townsfolk, and Lingering Souls (along with Moan of the Unhallowed, Midnight Haunting and the Humans that die into Spirits), which not only provide more sacrifice fodder, but also make Intangible Virtue into an actual card.
Blue/Red: Flashback/Burning Vengeance
First, let’s state the obvious: when your archetype is named after a card, removing a pack containing that card is going to hurt the archetype. Yes, Secrets of the Dead is meant to replace it, but drawing a card isn’t nearly as good as a Shock when you’re spending all your mana flashing-back spells in the first place. The lack of self-mill I mentioned in the Zombie section hurts here as well, but this is a much better place for Thought Scour, and Chill of Foreboding is slightly better if you’re getting a Shock and not having to spend the card on it in the first place. Faithless Looting is also a big improvement for the deck overall.
Black/Green: Morbid Value
Overall, the Morbid cards are much stronger than the ones in Innistrad (other than Morkrut Banshee), as a Ulvenwald Bear or Tragic Slip is much more flexible than the generic creatures that just get bigger (though Gravetiller Wurm ensures they are still represented). There are also more enablers as well: Falkenrath Torturer is obvious, but Dawntreader Elk might be better for the deck. Don’t forget Deadly Allure either, as while it isn’t great, it is cheap and will ensure Morbid one way or another.
Red/White: Swarm Aggro
Again, this isn’t really a great archetype, though there are certainly enough token-makers in Dark Ascension to make Rally the Peasants worth it. Burning Oil is also a great benefit for this archetype, especially since the Flashback decks are less likely to splash white. Otherwise, I don’t know what else to say about this.
Green/Blue: Self-Mill Combo
Again, everything I said about losing a pack of Innistrad applies here, both in terms of the bad self-mill and fewer Spider Spawnings (and the other parts of the combo). There is other more-traditional support here though: Tracker’s Instinct is the best self-mill card in the set (the Flashback cost is surprisingly cheap), while Grim Flowering is good if you aren’t going the “mill your entire deck” route. Otherwise, there isn’t much to say here either.
Other Important Cards:
Artful Dodge is a card that doesn’t really fit in the spell decks, but is just efficient in the big creature decks (maybe it’s a nice card to mill in GU?). Fling is also decent in those decks, and is an interesting reprint in a format with Morbid. In the “cool design” pile, Crushing Vines is a neat modal spell that’s reasonably efficient, Warden of the Wall is a way to make a generic mana rock interesting, and Haunted Fengraf is surprisingly pushed for a common. Finally, Evolving Wilds is as good here as always, but try to get away from the “crack at end of turn” heuristic if the decision is obvious, since Griptide will make you regret it.
Hooray, a nice, reasonably short article! So next time we open the Helvault so Liliana can kill Grislebrand, right? Not so fast: don’t forget Wizards re-calibrated the Flashback schedule to draft Innistrad over Halloween, which means next week we go back to Magic 2012. And why yes, that does mean we’ll have two core sets in three weeks, with a contender for the worst Limited set in Modern (up there with Coldsnap and the old core sets) in the middle of them—wish me luck.
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