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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jan 19 2016 1:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Before we turn Mirrodin block on its side, let's take one more look at MMD draft. I had planned to do more with this draft series (since I want to learn more about what adding a small set does to the environment), but unfortunately I've been busy most of the week, so you only get one draft this week. Thankfully it's an informative one:
Draft
Round 1
Round 2
Terror Grimclaw Bats Echoing Ruin
This draft was interesting—after picking Electrostatic Bolt over Blinding Beam (to avoid the weak white in Darksteel), P1P2 was a choice between Terror and Domineer, and while Domineer is almost certainly stronger, I wanted to see what black looks like with Darksteel in the format (and I've already drafted UR in one of my Mirrodin drafts). Unfortunately, I didn't get many of the payoff cards; just a couple of Grimclaw Bats. Instead, I managed to get two Echoing Ruins, including one 6th pick in a pack with a lot of great cards.
 
As for the matches themselves, the first round is a lesson on how the white equipment deck can be very boom/bust: the first game was a disaster for me until I Echoing Ruined both Leonin Scimitars, while the deck never came together in the second game. Of course, my opponent conceded way too soon in both games, but the main point still stands. As for the second match, it showed the power of one card I vastly underestimated (and should have picked over a Grimclaw Bats: Emissary of Despair. I valued the durability and CMC of the Grimclaw Bats more, but the Emissary isn't just a powerful flier, it warps how the opponent plays, and I underestimated that. Overall it wasn't that bad (other than all my play mistakes in the second game of that match), and it's a very interesting format. Of course, now that I've learned all that about the Mirrodin format, it's time to throw a lot of that away this week with the new set.
 
Set number four in the Modern Flashback Series is Fifth Dawn, and by this point Wizards that having 50%+ of the set being colorless was not a good thing for Constructed. As such, the final set in the Mirrodin block needed to not allow all the good cards to be played in the same deck while still being an artifact themed set (as that's what Mirrodin was as a block, and blocks were still built around a central theme at this time). How could Wizards do this with only 165 cards (55 of each rarity, just like Darksteel)? Let's find out by going through the new mechanics:
 
Skyreach Manta Pentad Prism Heliophial
Sunburst:
In retrospect, the solution to "color but artifacts" seems simple: care about the color used to cast artifacts. However, the power of Sunburst drastically changes the format. In particular, Skyreach Manta is crazy for the time period: this is an era where a 3/3 flier for 5 mana is stretching the curve for common, and now you can theoretically have a 5/5 flier for the same cost in addition to the flexibility of cases that aren't the best case. Skyreach Manta isn't the only source of power though--Suntouched Myr is very efficient for the time period, Pentad Prism both ramps and improves your later Sunburst cards, Heliophial is good (if expensive) removal, and that's only covering the commons.
 
As I said, the presence of Sunburst warps the way you draft Mirrodin and Darksteel, especially since Fifth Dawn is the last pack you draft. Artifact lands, mana Myrs, and Talismans in Mirrodin become even more valuable, as off-color sources just aren't neutral for most decks, but are actively helpful. Average cards in Darksteel like Darksteel Ingot, Mirrodin's Core, and Viridian Acolyte become easy ways to stretch to the fourth and fifth colors, while Vedalken Engineer goes from underrated to an absolute bomb. Splashing becomes the standard, so all the Oxidizes and Terrors in the early packs become even more sparse. This is all in addition to the lessening of the mass-artifact strategy due to fewer packs existing of Mirrodin.
 
Serum Visions Lose Hope Magma Jet
Scry:
Three sets, with three currently evergreen mechanics introduced? I thought everyone said Mirrodin was a low point for Magic's history? Anyway, Scry is mostly how you know of it from how it's used today: as a rider to provide selection (likely included mainly to help smooth these crazy Sunburst manabases). However, the implementation of Scry is much more basic than its newer uses: it is always Scry 2, and always occurs after the main effect of a spell (compare Serum Visions to Preordain). Still, even if it isn't fancy, Scry is generally still good if the cards are good (and not just because Serum Visions is still over $2.50 online).
 
Qumulox Rain of Rust Cranial Plating
Returning Mechanics:
Everything in the previous two sets in the Mirrodin block returns except for Indestructible, even if they aren't a big deal. Affinity returns to its artifact roots, though the four cards stay mostly in blue (except for the Affinity “lord” Mycosynth Golem). Imprint and Modular both only appear on a single card, and both Summoner's Egg and Arcbound Wanderer are more weird than good. Entwine only appears on cards, and they're running out of basic effect for the cards (other than the expensive Rain of Rust). Equipment has the most done with it, as along with interesting twists like Ensouled Scimitar and Grafted Wargear, there is a cycle of equipment at common that allows you to equip at instant speed by paying a specific color of mana. While the cycle may have been overshadowed by the massively undercosted Cranial Plating (one last shot in the arm to the mass-artifact strategy), the entire cycle is decent, as the utility provided by instant-speed equipping makes board states intensely complicated, and they all have cheap costs of 2 to cast and 1 to equip normally.
 
As I did with Darksteel, I'll be going over the current place of each color in the format prior to the introduction to Fifth Dawn:
White: Equipment, but Darksteel had almost nothing
Blue: Lots of artifacts
Black: Lots of artifacts/Mono-black synergies
Red: Sacrificing artifacts/destroying artifacts
Green: Anti-artifacts
 
Leonin Squire Stasis Cocoon Skyhunter Skirmisher
White:
Commons Uncommons
White needs to take a lot of steps to get back to its power level in Mirrodin, and at the very least Fifth Dawn is providing options for the Equipment deck, both directly (though Armed Response should never be dealing that much damage in a normal scenario) and indirectly (Skyhunter Prowler is a good creature to stick equipment on, even if it doesn't mention it directly). However, white also has a small subtheme that's new in Fifth Dawn: the cogs, or artifacts with CMC 1 or less. This is an interesting mechanic, but it doesn't change much since cheap artifacts are already powerful: Spellbombs and other artifacts that cycle are already high picks, as are the powerful CMC 1 equipment (Bonesplitter, Leonin Bola), while most other artifacts (artifact lands, bad artifacts like Tanglebloom) probably aren't going to the graveyard. Still, you're getting the cog abilities for free, so prioritize those cogs (especially the creatures, like Arcbound Worker) higher if you're in white. Other than the subthemes, Stasis Cocoon is a good Arrest for artifacts, while Loxodon Anchorite and Skyhunter Skirmisher are reasons to dedicate yourself to white—but note that double-color mana costs are inherently at odds with the Sunburst theme, so watch out for that throughout the entire set.
 
Trinket Mage Thought Courier Plasma Elemental
Blue:
Commons Uncommons
Blue has an interesting problem: the quality of its cards is extremely top-heavy, and most of those good cards are common. The top cards are all very good: Trinket Mage is a very good tutor that can almost anything if you draft decently (a land, a creature, a powerful equipment, or even just a Spellbomb), Qumulox is a cheap big flier (though note the double-color mana cost), and Thought Courier is just Merfolk Looter (which can work well in the Cog strategy with Auriok Salvagers and other white recursion)). After that you have a decent selection of commons with Advanced Hoverguard, and a couple of Scry spells, but then the quality just plummets at the upper rarities. Everything is expensive (Plasma Elemental, most of the rares), weird (Fold into AEther, Spectral Shift) or both (Wizards made very sure Blinkmoth Infusion wasn't breakable, both in the cost and that it untaps all artifacts, even your opponent's).
 
Cackling Imp Fleshgrafter Nim Grotesque
Black:
Commons Uncommons
After the pivot black took in Darksteel into the mono-black archetype, you would assume that would give black problems in the multicolor world of Fifth Dawn. It actually isn't nearly as bad as you would think, as while there still is some payoff for staying mono-black (Cackling Imp and Devour in Shadow are both great cards), it isn't nearly as important here. Instead, black pivots back to the mass-artifact theme, but it actually does so with good cards this time! Fleshgrafter is much better than it looks due to the threat-of-activation, as well as the ability to kill out of nowhere. Similarly, Nim Grotesque is expensive, but it's a Nim creature that can actually survive combat! The biggest problem for black is that it's seriously lacking in removal—outside of Devour in Shadow the only removal is the small Lose Hope.
 
Rain of Rust Krark-Clan Engineers Vulshok Sorcerer
Red:
Commons Uncommons
I feel like Wizards finally realized red might have been overpowered in the previous two sets! Instead of giving red multiple efficient Shatters (the only non-conditional Shatter effect is Rain of Rust, which is anything but efficient), they get to actually use the artifact sacrifice theme! Not only is Krark-Clan Engineers the most impactful effect so far (even though it's inherently a 2-for-1), there are more artifacts you don't care as much about sacrificing, such as a used-up Pentad Prism. There are also more generically-powerful cards for red (notably Vulshok Sorcerer and Furnace Whelp), but they have double-red in their mana costs, so that works against them.
 
Sylvok Explorer Tel-Jilad Justice Ouphe Vandals
Green:
Commons Uncommons
As you might expect, green is the color you want if you want to go fully into Sunburst, and cards like Sylvok Explorer, Dawn's Reflection, and Channel the Suns (along with cards earlier in the block). However, the synergy with the set's main theme does come at a cost, and that cost for green is much of the anti-artifact theme. Sure, green still gets the Shatter effects Tel-Jilad Justice and Ouphe Vandals, and Viridian Lorebearers is a blowout against even a few artifacts, but notice what they have in common—they're all uncommon. Other than that, there's nothing special with green—nothing particularly good, but nothing awful either.
 
Wayfarer's Bauble Thermal Navigator Ferropede
Artifacts:
Commons Uncommons
The problem with the artifacts in Fifth Dawn is that a lot of the power budget for the artifacts is tied up in the Sunburst spells—cards like Skyreach Manta and Suntouched Myr aren't good unless you can reliably get three to five colors. Even the powerful cards that don't require a large Sunburst commitment like Wayfarer's Bauble and Pentad Prism are mostly tied to the Sunburst theme. When you take those cards out, you're left with one cantrip-ing artifact (Conjurer's Bauble) and some mediocre creatures (Thermal Navigator, Myr Quadropod) at common. Thankfully there are more generically powerful artifacts at uncommon—Energy Chamber is another good support card for the charge counter archetype (which importantly works with all the Sunburst cards), Relic Barrier is a surprisingly cheap Icy Manipulator variant), Ferropede is both removal and a clock, and Synod Centurion has almost no downside if you're building your deck right.
 
Now that Fifth Dawn has been completed, I'm in an odd position. After MD5 draft has its flashback week, the Oath of the Gatewatch release events will put the Modern Flashback Series on hiatus for three weeks before we return with Champions of Kamigawa. As such, I get to take a bit of a break (or at least be able to get a bit ahead of the curve) from regular articles. However, I still plan to release an article next week. Along with the standard draft videos (hopefully multiple) from MD5, I plan on writing a summary of Mirrodin block, as well as how the format changed over the course of the block.
 
Vincent
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