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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jun 01 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! If you're wondering where my Eternal Masters coverage is, it's coming—the article is mostly done, but I had a busy weekend. Most importantly, I went to GP Minneapolis, and ended up getting second in the Super Sunday Series (winning a case of SOI and a complete set—I can go into details in the comments if anyone cares about a limited tournament report). That went extremely late, and thus I didn't get the polishing done on the article I wanted. The short version is that I like it, even if I dislike a lot of choices (especially when I look at it from an MTGO perspective), but the long version should be coming soon. At least Lorwyn was written in advance—let's get to that, shall we.
After the craziness that was Time Spiral block, Lorwyn has one simple goal: turn the tribal knobs to eleven. The only previous tribal block was Onslaught block, and that was one of the most successful blocks of all time (especially with casual players), so pushing tribal even harder had to be good, right? As it turned out, not exactly—in limited the tribes mostly drafted themselves, and that didn't lead to a great draft experience. In addition, Lorwyn also had many other burdens placed on it. Two new types were introduced, and while Tribal was mostly glue to help the format work, Planeswalkers are continuing to define the game even today. Lorwyn also is the first two set block, and there were some growing pains related to that. Finally, while the lesson of Time Spiral block was to reduce the amount of complexity by reducing the number of words on cards (reducing comprehension complexity), Lorwyn still was one of the most complex blocks in the modern era. The problem is that there were all kinds of activated abilities, and combined with the type line becoming just as important as the rest of the text on cards, as well as a general tendency of the format to create board stalls, the boards became unmanageable for the average player, especially once Morningtide entered the format.
As I mentioned above, Lorwyn has eight main tribes, each of which is based on a race/species. Each tribe is based in one major color, along with one or more secondary colors. This allows each tribe to form its own deck (or even multiple possible decks). As such, the tribes are just as important as the colors, and I don't need to cover their color pairs independently. Instead, I'm going to modify my format slightly: I'll cover the mechanics as always, then I'll focus on each of the tribes, then finally cover each of the colors with a focus on the tribe-agnostic cards. I'm going to miss a couple of themes this way (mostly the cross-tribe cards that fill in the missing color pairs, like Elvish Handservant for RG or Quill-Slinger Boggart for BW), but I don't want every large set to be five-thousand words like Time Spiral. On to the mechanics!
Boggart Birth Rite Elvish Promenade Merrow Commerce
While Bound in Silence was a preview of this card type, Lorwyn is the real debut of the Tribal card type. Existing mostly for rules purposes, Tribal allows creature types to be attached to non-creature spells, which increases the frequency of tribal interactions. While this works well in a tribal set, it just becomes extra words in a non-tribal set. You can choose not to use it in non-tribal-focused sets, but then the interactions become inconsistent (compare Goblin Grenade and its Lorwyn descendant Fodder Launch). As such, outside of Lorwyn block, Tribal only appeared in Rise of the Eldrazi, and has now become depreciated and not even used outside of a tribal context. Despite its problems, Tribal does good work in Lorwyn, helping fit all eight tribes into an average-sized (for the time) set.
Avian Changeling Blades of Velis Vel Woodland Changeling
The other important glue for Lorwyn, Changeling originated on Mistform Ultimus, which was meant to be a flashy card, but now could be generalized thanks to the removal of rules baggage from Wall and the removal of the Legend creature type. Changeling means that cards can fill in multiple types at the same time, both allowing the density of cards necessary for a single type, as well as working with multiple tribal benefits in a deck if necessary. They also help bend the self-imposed rules of a tribe, allowing for small Giants or big Kithkin, for example. This means Changelings are very high picks, as they work well with all the tribes (and even multiple tribes at once), and thus are desired by everyone while keeping you open early.
Changeling Hero Boggart Mob Wren's Run Packmaster
Magic's latest take on evolution, it allows you to replace a creature with a bigger and/or better creature, while getting you the creature back when the new creature leaves the battlefield. However, it also brings the risk of needing another creature (or Tribal permanent) to champion. While you don't target the creature you're championing, you can still lose out if the only creature you can champion is removed at instant speed. Thankfully that shouldn't happen too much, as Champion doesn't appear at common, and the only uncommons with Champion are Changelings that let you champion any creature.
Adder-Staff Boggart Fistful of Force Scattering Stroke
Lorwyn's choice of a smoothing mechanic is one of the weirdest yet, as it allows both players to basically Scry 1, but also improves your spells if the card you're scrying has a higher CMC than your opponent's card. It's weird, doesn't fit Lorwyn at all (other than a general “playfulness” attitude), and was very disliked—do you understand why Wizards evergreened Scry yet?
Wispmare Mulldrifter Shriekmaw
Evoke is tied to many of the Elementals in the set, and reads very weirdly at first glance. All of the Evoke creatures have enters-the-battlefield effects, and you can pay a cheaper Evoke cost to essentially just get that effect. It looks like a downside mechanic at first glance (why would I pay mana, then have my creature die?), but you need to read it more as “spell that you can pay extra to turn into a creature” (as it was in playtesting). However, while the flexibility is the selling point of Evoke, the more-important part is that almost all of the Evoke spells are extremely cost-efficient, even with just the Evoke cost. When you'd already pay 1B for Terror or 2U for Divination, Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter look like insane deals. At most, you're only paying one mana more for the Evoke version of a basic spell than the sorcery/instant itself, and it's often equal—there's a reason why lots of Evoke cards are still played, even today.
The remains of the treasure mechanic from the original design of the set, Hideaway only appears on a single rare cycle of lands. Other than Shelldock Isle being very good, there isn't much to say, and I'm including this section mostly for completeness.
As I mentioned, I'm going to focus on the tribes for this limited review—if you manage to focus on a tribe, you should do pretty well in your draft, especially if you're the only one drafting it.
Elvish Branchbender Lys Alana Huntmaster Imperious Perfect Eyeblight's Ending
Common Uncommon
Elves are primarily in green and secondarily in black, and are probably the best of the eight tribes in a vacuum for two reasons. On one hand, the theme of the Elves is swarming the opponent with 1/1 tokens combined with scaling effects like Elvish Branchbender and Elvish Promenade, and that is naturally a strong strategy. On the other hand, the power level of individual cards is strong: Lys Alana Huntmaster should trigger on most spells in your deck, Imperious Perfect is a lord that creates its own army of 2/2's, and black gives the pair removal spells that synergize with the tribal cards like Eyeblight's Ending and Nameless Inversion. If Elves do have a weakness, it's that all of its creatures are small, but there aren't many cheap cards that can punish it, and Final Revels even works well in the Elf deck as a finisher.
Sentinels of Glen Elendra Dreamspoiler Witches Faerie Tauntings Marsh Flitter
Common Uncommon
Faeries are primarily blue and secondarily black and want to play a tempo game. This involves a lot of small fliers, as well as playing on your opponent's turn with instants and Flash creatures. While the tempo aspects of counterspells and constant advantage plagued the Constructed formats of the time, Faerie's success in Limited is mostly based on having a lot of fliers along with the flexibility of Flash. Sentinels of Glen Elendra is a fine card by itself, and when combined with Dreamspoiler Witches and Spellstutter Sprite, it gives a lot of advantage. One of the biggest problems is that the uncommon Faeries aren't the greatest—Glen Elendra Pranksters and Faerie Tauntings require a full commitment to the Flash theme, and while Marsh Flitter is good, it wants Goblins or Changelings to be fully utilized.
Kithkin Greatheart Stinkdrinker Daredevil Cloudgoat Ranger Thundercloud Shaman
Common Uncommon
Giants are one of the oddest tribes, as while they're one of the five main two-color tribes, they're Giants, and thus don't have small creatures. They're primarily red and secondarily white, and yet the smallest Giant is 3/3 (even though red and white don't focus on big creatures). As such, the Changelings are much more important here; at least Avian Changeling and Fire-Belly Changeling are good cards in addition to their type, and Kithkin Greatheart helps fill in the remaining spots on the curve. You also want Stinkdrinker Daredevil, even though it isn't a Giant itself, as the cost decrease turns a random Axegrinder Giant into a very efficient play on-curve. The biggest draw to Giants are two uncommons: Cloudgoat Ranger is either a 5/3 flier or six power over four bodies, while Thundercloud Shaman is a one-sided wrath in the right deck (though note it doesn't kill opposing Changelings). The problem is that both are good in isolation: Cloudgoat Ranger is probably better as a Kithkin curve-topper than in Giants, while Thundercloud Shaman is fine just wiping Elf tokens, or as a Pyroclasm with a single Changeling. As such, I'd avoid Giants unless you get multiple Thundercloud Shamans or see Stinkdrinker Daredevils tabling.
Hornet Harasser Tar Pitcher Warren Pilferers Tarfire
Common Uncommon
While Goblins were almost certain to be a tribe, the dominance of the tribe during Onslaught block left Wizards weary. In order to shake the tribe up a bit, red was only the secondary color for Goblins, and black became the primary color. In addition, Goblins became a lot more grindy, with death effects (Hornet Harasser), sac effects (Facevaulter), and recursion (Boggart Birth Rite). While the engine can certainly work (especially with a Tar Pitcher), a lot of the power of Goblins comes from the raw power of Warren Pilferers, especially if it's recurring the important combo pieces or removal. The problem with Goblins is that outside of the engine and removal spells, the creatures are awful—I don't want a Boggart Forager or Bog Hoodlums within a mile of my deck.
Judge of Currents Drowner of Secrets Summon the School Silvergill Douser
Common Uncommon
Merfolk made their return to modern Magic with Lorwyn block (as technically Time Spiral was in the past) and exist primarily in blue and secondarily in white. While the blue Merfolk still have an Islandwalk theme, they also have an engine around tapping their creatures. While the obvious way to tap creatures is to attack with theme, and other Merfolk have activated abilities, the true combo part of the tribe revolves around two uncommons. Summon the School is a self-sustaining army along with triggering your Fallowsage and Judge of Currents, and Drowner of Secrets is a powerful win condition (especially if supplemented by the Broken Ambitions you might want anyway). Merfolk is similar to Goblins in its engine, but while Goblins survived by recurring Tarfire and launching Mudbutton Torchrunner at creatures, Merfolk just wants to slow you down with Silvergill Douser and Stonybrook Angler.
Wizened Cenn Plover Knights Goldmeadow Harrier Kithkin Daggerdare
Common Uncommon
Kithkin are the “white weenie” tribe of Lorwyn, so even though they're technically in both white and green, there are only two mono-green Kithkin in the entire block. The problem with Kithkin is that its major theme isn't supported. At its heart, cards like Cenn's Heir and Wizened Cenn want to swarm the opponent, just like Elves, but unlike Elves, the token producers don't exist (just Cloudgoat Ranger and some rares). Instead, a lot of Kithkin's strength comes from raw card quality: Plover Knights is a great flier (even if a five mana card isn't what Kithkin should be doing at all), Goldmeadow Harrier is a cheap tapper), Kinsbaile Skirmisher is a good 2/2 for 2, and Knight of Meadowgrain is a very efficient two-drop. What little green is there also isn't bad; in particular Kithkin Daggerdare warps combat, and doesn't need to be in a Kithkin deck to do so.
Battlewand Oak Thorntooth Witch Cloudcrown Oak Lignify
Common Uncommon
Treefolk are probably the weirdest tribe in terms of color makeup, as while they are in white and black, their focus in green, even specifically focusing on Forests. As such, you want Treefolk to be a near-mono-green deck to maximize your Battlewand Oak triggers, possibly splashing for Thorntooth Witch and some removal spells—hey look, another deck that wants Nameless Inversion! Other than Battlewand Oak, a lot of generically-powerful green cards are Treefolk: Cloudcrown Oak is another great Giant Spider (and stops Faeries in their tracks), Oakgnarl Warrior dominates the late game, and Lignify is the rare quality green removal spell.
Common Uncommon
While Treefolk are the weirdest single tribe, Elementals are weird because they're basically two tribes. One half of the Elemental tribe consists of the Flamekin, a mono-red aggressive tribe with a focus on activated abilities. While it wants to be aggressive (or at least Flamekin Bladewhirl wants to think that), it needs to be more combo-oriented to compete with the rest of the tribes on power, using Soulbright Flamekin and Smokebraider to power Inner-Flame Igniter and/or Ceaseless Searblades. The other half of the tribe is made up of the more-traditional Magic Elementals (also known as “greater Elementals”), including all the colors and all having Evoke. The problem with this part of the tribe is that it's many colors, and while the fixing is there (both Smokebraider and more-traditional fixing we'll get to in the non-tribal section), the Evoke Elementals all are extremely strong and go in the tribes of their colors. As such, an Elemental deck is much more likely to be focused on the Flamekin while splashing an Evoke Elemental or two (or Nameless Inversion, the card that every deck wants).
Now that all the tribes are covered, let's cover the non-tribal cards. Keep in mind this section will only cover the cards not associated with any tribe, and that you're free to take generically-powerful cards from other tribes that are in your colors (especially removal spells, like Tarfire or Lignify).
Oblivion Ring Lash Out Final Revels Entangling Trap
Colored Non-Tribal:
Common Uncommon
Most of the cards in this section are removal spells or utility effects, and most of them have Clash. Two of the strongest commons are Oblivion Ring and Lash Out, both of which are top-tier removal spells. Fertile Ground is one of the best pieces of fixing, while also being one of the few pieces of acceleration in the set. At uncommon, Final Revels doubles as both a Pyroclasm and a finisher, and Incremental Growth, while not as good as it is in (Khans of Tarkir), still works as an Overrun-type effect. There are a couple Clash-matters enchantments at uncommon, but I'm not sure Clash is worth building around—the best one is probably Entangling Trap, as you get an effect even if you lose the Clash. Just be careful with non-tribal cards, as you need a high density to get the most out of your major tribal effects.
Moonglove Extract Wanderer's Twig Vivid Crag
Common Uncommon
Colorless helps glue a lot of the set together, especially with the fixing. Half of the commons are fixing, though none of them are premium—instead, Moonglove Extract is the most important common, as it fills in removal for the colors that don't get any. Instead, the real fixing is at uncommon with the Vivid lands, which are very powerful fixers for only the cost of entering tapped. Those are the cards you need for a three or more color Elemental deck, but the problem is that you're picking between the powerful Elementals, the good removal spells, and the fixing, and the fixing is often going to lose out.
And that does it for Lorwyn. We don't need the color pair analysis since either you're drafting a tribe (in which case your colors are mostly predetermined, possibly with a splash) or you're just drafting good cards (which is honestly what most of the “Greater Elementals” decks turn into). Next time we add some class to this race with Morningtide.

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