Ole¡! (in Portuguese today in honor of our prerelease)
As you might know because I keep ranting about it, among other things, it’s been a very long time since we had a prerelease in Brazil. I do not recall exactly when we had our last one, but I know that I went to Pro Tour Prague in 2006, without ever having seen a physical card from Dissension, so it goes back at least that far. Now, we got them back!
My original intention was to write a little bit of a report about the prerelease, but I was dissuaded from that for two reasons. One, the tournament was actually very small – the organizers were obviously skeptical about our ability to have a prerelease, so they didn’t book a venue and we had to play at the store, which at this moment does not fit more than 40 or so people, so nothing very exciting happened. Two, all the cards were in Portuguese, and I don’t really know all the names in English by now, so even though I have my pool on me I would have to look up translations for every card in it, and this is just too much work 😉 .
What I am going to do instead is give you my first impression of the set in Limited – a few cards that I think are better or worse than they seemed initially, and how I think the format plays in general now. Basically mistakes that I made when analyzing the set at first, so there is a chance that you’ve made them too. Keep in mind that the set is very new, and this is just my impression – I do not pretend to have “deciphered” the entire format or anything like that.
The first impression I had when looking at the set was DIE MYTHICS DIE, and this one hasn’t really vanished. You see, as I’m sure I’ve written before, I don’t actually have a problem with good cards being Mythic per se, but I do have a problem when a card like Vengevine is Mythic because they told us it wouldn’t be! They specifically said “Mythics are splashy cards, legends, Planeswalkers, cards that fit the storyline, they won’t just be a collection of the set’s most powerful cards.” Well, they are now! I mean, what feels even remotely Mythic about Vengevine? I guess this feeling is even more exacerbated by the fact that all the non Mythic rares are just bad – if there were 30 good rares, I wouldn’t mind some of them being Mythic, even if they do not really feel so, but couldn’t they have left like a single good one?[/rant]
Anyway, other than this one, my first impression of the format was that it was not much different than all the other formats before it, in a way that it is just normal Magic. Back when I started playing magic competitively, all the draft formats were relatively similar, and it was hard to find a person who was good in one and bad in the other. Card evaluations were similar – removals were good, bombs were good, fliers were good, two colors were good. More recently, there have been all sorts of “shenanigans” that make draft formats very different from each other – the great Tribal theme from Lorwyn, the Shards from Shards, the landfall and greater than average speed of Zendikar, all those changed the way the draft went. With Rise of the Eldrazi, I feel like we are back to our origins.
“But PV what of the gigantic Eldrazi and the token spawns and the levelers and the Eldrazi and the Eldrazi and the 12/12s and the Eldrazi”
Good question! Well, I think those are all bad. Well, ok, not ALL BAD, but mostly bad. From what I gathered at the prerelease, people are under the impression that bad cards become good when there are a lot of them, but that is not true – bad cards will only become good when they are everything there is. In Rise, there are a lot of gigantic monsters, and there is even some incentive to play them, but that does not automatically make them good, because there are other good, normal cards that outclass those.
My main point here is that it is not because this is the Eldrazi set that you must play big guys and walls. Now, if that was all there was, you would have to play those cards, but it is not – overshadowed by the giant creatures there is a normal draft format, and I believe this is what you should play. It is my honest opinion that, if you go into a sealed or draft with the “12/12 destroy all your permanents mwahaha” mentality, you will not succeed. Of course, some decks will actually want those – I had a teammate sideboard in Darksteel Colossus in an M10 draft for example, so there is a time and place for every card – but those decks are not really very common, and, from what I can tell, not a kind of deck you would want to have anyway. I know for me it is going to be pretty rare, because it is only going to happen if the cards fall on my lap, and that is not going to happen if everyone is actively looking for them.
At the prerelease, I saw a lot of people playing Hand of Emrakul, for example. For the bargain price of NINE mana, you get a 7/7 with annihilator 1, which is almost irrelevant at this point of the game, and without trample. Now, in any format ever, no one would remotely consider playing this card, but I saw many people doing that in the prerelease, because of how the set is designed. I understand that there is mana acceleration, and that you can sacrifice four spawns to pay the cost, but 7/7 with annihilator 1 is not even good!
Another guy that is not as terrible as Hand of Emrakul but is still pretty bad in my opinion and that people were playing universally is Ulamog’s Crusher. Annihilator 2 is much better than 1, but still not very relevant at this point of the game – if you are attacking with an 8/8, then your opponent has to deal with him fairly soon, or he is going to die anyway. The situation where your opponent chump blocks a couple times and races you is still there, because he can just sacrifice some lands and keep doing that, and he can’t even block because he has to attack. The only situation where the ability is going to be relevant is the one where they have a lot of blockers but aren’t doing anything, so they would just chump until they find something, so you shorten their time, but it is still not really something to die for – I’d much rather it had trample. He also has no ways to protect himself whatsoever, so even if you sac a bunch of spawns to play him, he dies to a bunch of common removal spells, which they have a reasonable time to find because he doesn’t really do anything. Did I mention he costs EIGHT?
The fact that I think this, though, doesn’t stop anyone from playing those cards, so you must take that into account when drafting or building your deck. A card like Deprive, for example, would probably always be decent, but is even better in this format where people sacrifice tokens to play big spells. At the prerelease, I had two of those and they were really really good, to the point where I sided up to 2 Deprive and 2 Lay Bare and my Eldrazi opponents didn’t really stand much of a chance.
Level up guys are a different matter altogether, and one of the reasons the format is not as slow as they sold it. There are very few that I wouldn’t play, and many that hit very hard, such as the 4/4 green guy that attacks on turn 3. Really, when you are being hit for four on turn three and the opponent has only spent one card to do so, how do you plan on casting something that costs 9? Cards with level up also add a whole new dimension to the game, and a good dimension at that – do you pump them or play another spell? What if your opponent has them – is he going to pump them this turn or not?
Another thing that I noticed is that evasion is very important, more than it usually is – in fact, this might well be the format where evasion is the most relevant in recent memory, since this one has so many walls and tokens, which make fliers doubly better – first because they fly past the walls, second because the walls hold the ground so your fliers can attack. They also enable you to race the non-trampling giant monsters pretty well, and they can’t really do anything about it. Skywatcher Adept, Merfolk Skyscout, Hada Spy Patrol, the blue and the white invoker, Gloomhunter, and Zulaport Enforcer are all very good and high picks, and I would much rather have a strategy based on those guys than anything red or green have to offer.
The umbra auras haven’t really impressed me, either; I will play an aura that has good base stats alone, like the Drake and the Boar, but totem armor per se is not really enough to make me play any of those. I also saw people playing maindeck enchantment removal, and I think it is really bad to do so, because they don’t have that strong an impact and there are generally other answers to them. I do think they present yet another dimension to the game, because they have a very big upside with a very big risk – should you play your spell or hold your removal mana so you can kill the guy in response to an aura? Should you play the aura or wait for your opponent to be tapped out?
Some cards do get better because of the auras, though – Regress, for example. I disagree with LSV that Regress is bad – I think it is perfect for this format, being an excellent answer to all the game plans – be them auras, leveled up guys or even giant Eldrazi (another reason I don’t like sacrificing a bunch of tokens to play a big guy). I am unsure whether this makes Induce Despair better or worse than Vendetta though – I think you might find out you don’t have big enough guys to kill their enchanted guy depending on what aura they play, whereas with Vendetta it is much easier to keep the mana up to respond to the enchantment, and if worst comes to worst you can get rid of it, but I think Induce Despair is a little bit better, if only because it also deals with black creatures and there are some very annoying ones (all the black level up guys, for example, make a real impact once they are leveled).
Another card that I think is interesting to mention is Domestication, which is really good but a little bit different than Control Magic. With Control Magic, you will generally wait for the best target, but with Domestication you really have to play like a simpleton and just target whatever you see. There are many decks who do not have a lot of early drops, because they are counting on level up guys to give use to their mana early on, and stealing it on turn four is super potent, adding pressure to your board and removing their only blocker – for example, imagine the swing in stealing a Knight of Cliffhaven after they spent their third turn pumping it, though it doesn’t have to be anything nearly that awesome for this card to be very good – people who say this is not good enough because “of the format” are probably holding on it for too long and then playing it when it doesn’t matter anymore.
One nice trick that came up at the prerelease was when my opponent had a 4/4 guy and I stole it with Domestication and then played Shrivel, so I got to keep it for one extra turn and even got to attack with it – also might come up with Induce Despair if you’re really desperate.
I was also very impressed by Ogre’s Cleaver – it took me a match loss to realize how much +5/+0 actually is. Though I don’t think you should play cards that make tokens just because they make tokens, like Brood Birthing or Skittering Invasion, some cards will incidentally make them, like Nest Invader, Corpsehatch, etc., and this equipment makes all your 0/1s very potent threats. Warmonger’s Chariot is also pretty good, and the walls attacking ability is certainly not irrelevant when you have cards like Ogre Sentry at common, and it has the potential to catch a lot of people off guard since it is like it has haste.
Before I go, on the lands matter – if your deck is any kind of normal, that is, without Emrakuls, I think you should play between 17 or 18, and I’m generally more inclined on 17. Levelers are decent mana sinks but they also have their limits (and they often level in chunks so if you have 6 lands or 7 it doesn’t matter, you can still only level twice, for example), and you have to keep in mind that there is no landfall anymore, and also no 3 colored decks with 15 gold spells – I think that, for most decks, 17 is just fine, and I cannot possibly fathom a deck that will make me want to play 19.
This is a bit shorter than my usual article, but I don’t think I really have much more to say – it is a very new format after all. The main point here is that I think the big guys are not much better than they were in any format before this one, and I am sure a lot of people are going to use them in decks they really do not belong, which is the great majority. I actually like the set a lot for limited play, though, because it is finally a normal set – no more “open a lord and hope to get passed cards of that tribe”, or “pick a 3 colored card p1 and hope you can get enough fixing so that you can cast a spell”, or anything like that – just a normal draft!
I know that my view of the Eldrazi is a bit unusual, which is what prompted me to write this article on the first place; I also know a lot of people are going to come and say “but I won three games in my pre-release with Emrakul, so you’re clearly wrong”, but that will sway my opinion as much as when I read “I’ve never lost a game to Jund with White Weenie” or similar things – when I lose to those cards, I will trust the claims, not before (and for the record, I still think Jund beats White Weenie).
I hope this was any useful to you (and again, keep in mind that this is just my opinion and I could very well be wrong), and see you next week!