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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jan 12 2016 1:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Before we move on to the second set in the Mirrodin block, let's put a capstone on the triple-Mirrodin format. I didn't get around to putting up a separate article, but I did end up doing two drafts of the format, and have videos of each:

Draft 1:

Draft

Round 1

 

Draft 2:

Draft

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3 Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2

 

The one lesson I've learned from these two drafts is that while the tools for getting lots of artifacts are plentiful (artifact lands were tabling often, for instance), the actual Affinity cards are insanely hard to get. My first draft only got two Affinity cards (though admittedly I wasn't blue), while the second only saw Tooth of Chiss-Goria and Scale of Chiss-Goria. Similarly, while every guide was warning not to run that much equipment, I saw virtually no power-boosting equipment in my first draft, and that draft was gearing up to be a RW Equipment deck. That feels like an oddity though—in the second draft I saw three Viridian Longbows floating around, and even passed one since I had relatively few creatures in the deck. I feel like that my priority on the cheap artifacts is a bias from what I know about the later draft formats (as they have been in previous flashback drafts)—as we will see, Affinity for artifacts, along with many of the cheap powerful artifacts mostly disappear from the later sets in the block.

 

As for the games, the Round 1 loss in the first draft was to a good green deck, aided by the unbeatable Troll Ascetic. As for the second draft, only the second round wasn't a good game, as my opponent somehow drafted a bunch of equipment with the Protection from artifacts green creatures. The first round was a grindy game, where Viridian Longbow was an all-star. The third round was even closer, and I hate the technical difficulties (and that I don't have the technique/motivation to fix them), as it's worth watching—it went to three games, and the third game was very, very close. Overall, I feel like these drafts were a good experience, and hopefully can set me up well for the next format.

 

Our third set in the Modern Flashback Series is Darksteel, presented in the context of MMD draft. Unlike the previous two sets, Darksteel is a small set, which presents multiple changes to the context we'll view it in. There are fewer cards (165 total, 55 at each rarity), meaning there are fewer cards to look at, and thus each one is more likely to be in any individual pack. The set has only one pack in draft, so the cards are less of an influence than the two packs of Mirrodin cards. The set is drafted last (a change for players who started recently), meaning every time you see a pack of Darksteel cards you'll have 30 cards already in your pile. Finally, the mechanics and themes of Mirrodin continue through Darksteel, and Darksteel is very much Mirrodin 2 in that sense. However, Darksteel does include some new mechanics and concepts, and I'll cover those now.

 

Darksteel Citadel Darksteel Gargoyle Darksteel Pendant

Indestructible:

While commonplace now, Indestructible made its debut in Darksteel in the form of the titular material. The cards range from the lowly Darksteel Citadel to the massive Darksteel Colossus, but importantly it only appears on three creatures (Darksteel Colossus, Darksteel Brute, Darksteel Gargoyle). While these only appear at uncommon or higher, and all of them are expensive, it's still worth noting that there is almost no removal that can deal with them (only Altar's Light, Soul Nova, and Barter in Blood below rare), so these are very powerful creatures.

 

Arcbound Stinger Arcbound Hybrid Arcbound Lancer

Modular:

This is the much more important mechanic introduced in Darksteel, and is the continuation of the mass-artifacts theme for this set. While the Arcbound creatures like Arcbound Hybrid and Arcbound Stinger look overcosted at first glance, if you can ensure you have an artifact creature their effective stats are doubled. In addition, you can Modular onto another Modular creature to mitigate some of the risk. Finally, note that Modular only triggers when the creature dies, so exile removal (Altar's Light and Soul Nova) becomes more valuable.

 

Quicksilver Behemoth Spire Golem Tangle Golem

Affinity (for land types):

While Affinity isn't a new mechanic, Wizards's take on it in this set is: they realized Affinity for artifacts was kind of oversaturated (and broken) at this point, so they only printed three new cards with the mechanic, with only Quicksilver Behemoth being non-rare, and none being artifacts. Instead, Wizards printed a cycle of artifact creatures at common which each had Affinity for a basic land type. These cards are all very good—their base costs aren't entirely unreasonable for artifacts (Oxidda Golem probably being the most expensive, while Dross Golem is weaker than average due to Fear being lackluster), and if you assume you just have two of the required basic land type they become competitive with colored cards (and above-average for common at that—compare Spire Golem with Fighting Drake for instance), meaning the ability to become near-free is pure upside.

 

Barbed Lightning Death-Mask Duplicant Leonin Bola

Returning Mechanics:

Entwine, Equipment, and Imprint have all returned, but none have really changed from Mirrodin. Entwine still is a utility mechanic defined by its standouts (the removal spell (Barbed Lighting) and the overrun-effect Stir the Pride). Imprint only appears on three cards, and they're all wacky (though Death-Mask Duplicant feels like it could be good, if expensive). Equipment is still as unbalanced as ever at every rarity, from common (Leonin Bola is a mini-Opposition), to uncommon (Skullclamp isn't quite as broken when you can't build around it, but it's still Skullclamp), to rare (the Swords are weaker here since everyone has artifact removal, but they've been removed from many cubes for a reason).

 

Before we get to the color roundup, let's do a quick recap of where we were with each color at the end of the Mirrodin review:

White: Equipment

Blue: Affinity/lots of artifacts

Black: Lots of artifacts/artifacts dying

Red: Sacrificing artifacts, destroying artifacts

Green: Anti-artifacts

 

Loxodon Mystic Emissary of Hope Purge

White:

Commons Uncommons

When you only have 7 commons and 5 uncommons to work with, you have to make at least a couple cards stand out, and unfortunately white doesn't do that. The best common is Loxodon Mystic, which is just an expensive tapper. The only card tied to equipment outside of rare is Auriok Glaivemaster, a one mana 1/1 with only minor upside. The only decent non-rare flier is Emissary of Hope, which continues the trend of all the fliers having double-white in their mana costs. The best removal spell is Purge, which while still good, is restrictive and uncommon to boot. All of this leads to a sharp decline in power level for white from Mirrodin. White is still good though; it just means you need to focus on the synergies in Mirrodin, while fighting for the generally good cards in Darksteel.

 

Neurok Prodigy Hoverguard Observer Psychic Overload

Blue:

Commons Uncommons

The Affinity theme continues in blue, though the costs are more reasonable now (Magnetic Flux certainly isn't pushing any boundaries). However, that doesn't mean the cards are bad; in particular Quicksilver Behemoth looks bad at first glance, but all that cost means is that you can't play it in a non-artifact deck (unlike Somber Hoverguard, which is a fine Snapping Drake). There are also the efficient fliers Neurok Prodigy and Hoverguard Observer. Finally, Psychic Overload is a good piece of removal, especially against a deck that isn't running artifacts—this is the way to beat Tel-Jilad Archers out of the green deck (along with Quicksilver Behemoth for that matter).

 

Chittering Rats Grimclaw Bats Echoing Decay

Black:

Commons Uncommons

Black actually takes a hard right turn from its Mirrodin theme; the only mass-artifact cards in Darksteel are the awful Hunger of the Nim (note it's a sorcery) and the rare Mephitic Ooze. Instead, black has many more generally useful cards. To start with, one you may overlook is the Pauper all-star Chittering Rats, but the Stunted Growth-style effect is very powerful (and at a reasonable cost, unlike Chimney Imp). Combined with Grimclaw Bats and Emissary of Despair, the mono-black strategy being advocated by Consume Spirit in Mirrodin is a lot more powerful here. The mono-black cards aren't the only tools available in Darksteel though—black gets a ton of removal, with Essence Drain and Echoing Decay being efficient tools, while Murderous Spoils is often a 2-for-1 (or even more). All of this means that Swamps aren't just the cards you need to play to splash your Terrors anymore!

 

Echoing Ruin Fireball Vulshok War Boar

Red:

Commons Uncommons

Red was certainly the best color in Mirrodin, and while nothing quite reaches the level of Spikeshot Goblin, the color certainly isn't letting up. Not only does red get a sorcery Shatter with upside Echoing Ruin and a good burn spell (Barbed Lighting) at common, even Unforge has a decent upside (though I don't know if I would start it). Uncommon doesn't let up, as not only does red get yet another Shatter with upside Dismantle, it gets straight Fireball as well! However, at least red does have a weakness this time, as the creatures are awful for the most part. While Krark-Clan Stoker is okay, and Vulshok War Boar is a good uncommon if you can support it, the other non-rare creatures are Goblin Archaeologist (risky at best, a Squire at worst), Drooling Ogre (only really good against green, though note artifact lands don't trigger it), and Crazed Goblin (the rare one mana 1/1 with a pure downside). Even Furnace Dragon, the only rare creature isn't worth the effort. Stick to Mirrodin for your red creatures, and use Darksteel for artifacts and removal.

 

Tanglewalker Tel-Jilad Outrider Tangle Spider

Green:

Commons Uncommons

While green continues the anti-artifact theme it had in Mirrodin, outside of Oxidize and Tanglewalker the power level doesn't live up to Tel-Jilad Archers. Tel-Jilad Outrider is a decent card, but it's just too fragile to rely on at one toughness in a world of Spikeshot Goblin and Echoing Decay, while Infested Roothold would be great if it wasn't a five mana 0/3. Instead, Tangle Spider is a good, efficient creature that works on everything (and is big for common), but it's a card you can't really hold up and surprise someone with. As such, pick up cards like that and Stand Together early, when people new to the format are playing. Unfortunately for consistency's sake, most of green's power in Darksteel are in its rares: Pulse of the Tangle and Fangren Firstborn are great creatures, while Roaring Slagwurm and Rebuking Ceremony are truly anti-artifact cards, more than a Shatter or overcosted creature with protection from artifacts.

 

Juggernaut Coretapper Spawning Pit

Artifact:

Commons Uncommons

Most of the artifact creatures in the set have already been covered in the mechanics roundup: all the Affinity for land type creatures are great, Modular is generally good, and the few instances of Indestructible are strong (though don't get too fancy and play Darksteel Colossus). The few creatures that don't fall into that paradigm are generally easy to decipher: Juggernaut is as strong as you would expect (especially since the Wall rider is slightly meaningful), while Auriok Siege Sled can completely dominate combat. (Myr Moonservant) also isn't quite as bad as it looks, as not only is it still a cheap artifact for Affinity purposes, it's one of the few artifacts that red wants to sacrifice.

 

One interesting card is Coretapper, which touches on one theme in Mirrodin block I haven't discussed yet: the charge counter theme. In Mirrodin block, all the non-creature artifacts that use counters use charge counters, but in Mirrodin, only a handful of cards used them at upper rarities, while only Power Conduit interacted with them. However, in Darksteel, not only is Coretapper a much more reasonable way to abuse charge counters, the charge counter cards are both more accessible (Arcane Spyglass is common and isn't awful, both as a mana sink and a way to use a Coretapper) and good (Spawning Pit is by far the best charge counter card, and both it and Chimeric Egg are worth running on their own merits).

 

As for the rest of the non-creature artifacts, unfortunately five slots are taken by the modern lucky charm cycle, and while they're still reasonably cheap artifacts, two mana is on the high side for cards that likely won't do much (even if both players are the given color, each deck probably doesn't have more than 8 or so cards of that color at most). On the other hand, Darksteel Pendant is a 2-mana artifact that's certainly worth it if you want artifacts, especially since the Affinity deck doesn't want to flood.

 

Overall, other than watering down the mass-artifact strategy, Darksteel doesn't do that much to change the basic strategy of Mirrodin block. Enjoy that peace while it lasts, since when we next convene (unless I actually get a separate article out for my Darksteel videos) Mirrodin block will take a hard right turn into the world of color.

 

Vincent

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