June 24, 2015

Strength in Numbers

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Last week we brushed up on our Limited toolbox, and I hinted about the Magic Origins previews that we would be talking about this week. We have five cards to show you this week, all part of a cycle. They are all different, though, and will require that we use the tools we talk about last week.

This is the fun part, of course. We get down and dirty with some brand new cards (and one reprint) that we now must evaluate in a vacuum, using only our experience, knowledge, and tools. What could possibly go wrong?

All five cards for today are commons. This is generally and specifically important. It's generally important simply because you'll see these more often than the uncommon or rare cards, making them more influential in Limited. It's specifically important because the cycle we are looking at rewards you for having as many copies of each card in your deck as possible. I want to remind you also that you can play as many copies of a card in Limited as you draft or open in your sealed pool. The normal four-card limit doesn't apply here.

Sound confusing? It's not. Let's get down to business and you'll see how I mean.


First up, we have Cleric of the Forward Order:

Looking back to last week, you know where we are starting: Vanilla Test. As far as passing or failing the Vanilla Test, Cleric of the Forward Order is a pass. It's about as yawn-inducing a pass as you can get at 2/2 for two mana, but it's a pass nonetheless.

But if we are being honest, modern day Limited drives a hard bargain. Even though a 2/2 for two passes the test, we still expect something pretty good in the text box if we are going to be excited about playing it.

And this particular cleric does a pretty good job. I think.

One thing to get out of the way right away: You do gain 2 life when Cleric of the Forward Order enters the battlefield, even if it's by itself. The key "other," that would signify that it didn't count itself, is missing.

So we have a baseline now. A 2/2 for two mana that gains you 2 life when it enters the battlefield.

Sure. I'll take it.

I often talk about life-gain spells and why you shouldn't play them. Cards that only gain you life are so rarely worth playing that it's safer to just call them unplayable and move on with your life. But then I follow up with a concept called "incidental life-gain." This is something I'm much more enthusiastic about. You see, life gain is actually pretty good in Limited. You just don't want to have to spend an entire card on only life gain. But when it comes incidentally attached to things that affect the board (like creatures or removal) it's more than welcome.

All of that said, a single Cleric of the Forward Order still isn't that exciting. Gaining 2 life isn't a ton. So the next question becomes, "What if I get a bunch of these?"

When your second copy of Cleric of the Forward Order enters the battlefield, you'll gain 4 life; 2 for the original, and 2 for the new one since it counts itself. Just by playing these two creatures, you've now gained 6 life total. That's a heck of a lot of life. It only gets bigger from there.

This kind of life gain can be quite good if you find yourself in a race situation. That is, a situation where you and your opponent are trying to deal damage as quickly as possible. Still, I would anticipate this card being a mid-level pick, playable in most white decks but rarely much more than that.

At the end of the day, it's still a 2/2 body for two mana.


Next up we have Faerie Miscreant:

I've warned you about cards like this before, haven't I? One-drop 1/1s with some ability (like flying) are almost never playable in Limited. Even though they would technically pass the Vanilla Test, they actually don't, because they simply don't meet the minimum threshold for power level. What I mean is, they aren't powerful enough at all (even if they are somewhat mana-efficient by normal standards) to warrant inclusion in a deck.

We can use the Quadrant Theory to illustrate this:

How good is a 1/1 flyer for one if we are…

Developing—The best-case scenario for this card. And it's still not that good. If our opponent plays a 2/2 on turn two, they win the race handily, and we have no profitable blocks.

At parity—Terrible. When the board is stalled you need big, powerful effects to dominate the board. Not 1/1 flyers.

Winning—Even though most cards that aren't lands are usually pretty good while you are winning, a 1/1 for one actually isn't even that good here. That says something.

Losing—In the most important quadrant, the 1/1 flyer falls flat. When you need a good blocker or removal spell to stabilize the board, a small effect like this just doesn't cut it.

So. A flying 1/1 for one is not a good baseline here for the Faerie Miscreant. But we know that this cycle rewards us for drafting and playing multiple copies of a single card. And this one rewards us by letting us draw a card. I do love drawing cards. Let's look a little deeper.

We have to note that this is different than Cleric of the Forward Order. This has an "if" clause. IF you control another creature named Faerie Miscreant, draw a card. It's not "for each other creature you control named Faerie Miscreant." This means you'll get one card maximum per extra Faerie Miscreant you play.

This sounds like a pretty good deal up front. One way to make a 1/1 flyer for one playable would be to have it draw you a card when it entered the battlefield. I'd play a bunch of those. But that, sadly, isn't what this is. The first one is most definitely not free. The second one and beyond that basically are free, but they are ultimately still just 1/1 flyers. Even getting one for free isn't game breaking.

My guess is that the opportunity cost of drafting and playing a bunch of these will outweigh the potential benefits pretty significantly. I'm going to avoid this little pest until someone shows me differently.


Next up is Undead Servant:

Vanilla Test Results: Not bad. Not great, but not bad. A 3/2 for four mana is a bit fragile, but the 3 power is just good enough. I'm not sure if I would say this passes the test, but it doesn't fail it by much if it does at all.

Now for the whole "cares how many of these you have in your deck" thing. You get a 2/2 Zombie token for each copy of this you have in your graveyard whenever Undead Servant enters the battlefield. This is interesting. Getting one of these in the graveyard seems pretty easy. The 3 power means it can trade pretty nicely, and the 2 toughness means it will die to basically any respectable removal spell. I think these will find their way to the graveyard pretty regularly.

Now you cast the second one, and you get 5 power and 4 toughness over two bodies. Nice. That's good. Then what is your opponent supposed to do, not attack into the thing? You trade it off, and by the time you cast your third one, you are getting 7 power and 6 toughness for your four mana. Which is clearly insane.

But allow me to come back from Magical Christmas Land for a moment here. Your worst-case scenario with Undead Servant is that it's a card that almost, sort of, passes the Vanilla Test. The best case is that you get to cast something resembling a four-mana Grave Titan. I like it.


We've had three creatures so far, but the red part of this cycle is an Aura instead. Meet Infectious Bloodlust:

They went pretty deep with this one. At face value, Infectious Bloodlust looks like a card to avoid. Sure, it might be ok in a hyper-aggressive deck that just wants to pile in damage. But the risk involved with putting an Aura like this on a creature is high. And sometimes it's not even going to help you win at all.

But they've gone and made this really enticing. Here's how it plays out: You play a two-drop on turn two. A three-drop on turn three. And then for your big finish, you play another two-drop plus this on turn four. Since Infectious Bloodlust gives haste, you get to attack for a ton of damage and keep maximum pressure on your opponent. Normally, this is when your opponent untaps and kills your Aura-ed up creature in an attempt to stabilize the board.

But Infectious Bloodlust cares not, assuming you have more copies of it in your library. This turns the two-for-one your opponent was hoping to get into a reasonable one-for-one. You go search up another Infectious Bloodlust and throw it on your weakest creature, transforming it into a real threat. Rinse and repeat as needed.

I like this card. It's aggressive, fits well in a strategy with a bunch of small creatures, and is a real form of card advantage.


Last of the cycle also happens to be our only reprint, Timberpack Wolf.

Timberpack Wolf was originally printed in one of my favorite Limited sets of all time, Magic: 2013. It made for a cool little sub-theme in a green deck, as either you wanted all of the Timberpack Wolves or kind of didn't want any.

Timberpack Wolf does have that word, "other," on it. If it's by itself, it's just a 2/2 for two. Fine, but pretty unexciting—as we talked bout with the Cleric earlier. But once the second one hits the battlefield, you've got two 3/3s on your side. As if this wasn't a great deal already, you get the added bonus of a sort-of haste-like boost since the original wolf can now attack as a 3/3.

The third copy is usually game over if you get them onto the battlefield in the developing stages. A trio of 4/4s is a lot to handle, especially when you get that kind of power from a common that's easy to cast and easy to pick up during the draft. Timberpack Wolf has a very fair baseline at 2/2 for two mana, but a completely unfair top end if you can curve multiple copies of these together.

I'm a fan of keeping an eye out for this card, and maybe even picking up a ton of them. I would play as many of them as I could get.


Multiplier Bonus

As you can see, the tools we have at our disposal can be quite valuable when new cards start showing up. I expect some of these to have a strong impact on the new format, while others I expect to see some people try, but ultimately end up avoiding.

Time will tell, but I do know one thing; if you plan on going for multiples of these cards, take as many as you can get!

Until next week.

@Marshall_LR



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