July 22, 2015

Jace's Traps, Tryouts, and Trumps

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Since we last spoke, I've done another Magic Origins Sealed Deck Release tournament, and a more casual Booster Draft as well. So far, so good. I've been trying to get a feel for what each color pair is doing. I've also been experimenting with some of the more fringe cards in the format. Just in case there are some hidden gems out there.

I even resolved a Talent of the Telepath. Why would I do this? I did it for you. I gave this card a very low grade while doing the Limited Resources set review for Origins. But sometimes looks can be deceiving, and I figured it was worth a try.

As it turned out, it performed about as badly as possible and I probably lost at least one game because I had it in my deck. But onward I trudged in the name of science!

Talent of the Telepath | Art by Peter Mohrbacher


Big Picture for Blue

So what is blue up to in Magic Origins? Given that Origins is meant to be true to the color pie and the colors within it, you'll find that blue is doing very . . . blue things. What do you think of when you think of blue in Magic?

Flying. Counterspells. Drawing cards. Bouncing stuff.

That's what I think of anyhow. And we get all of that. We get the bouncy tempo plays with cards like Anchor to the Æther and Disperse. We get the counterspells aplenty with cards like Calculated Dismissal, Clash of Wills, and Bone to Ash. We get card draw and flyers in there too.

One interesting side effect of the well-documented shift in removal for Limited is the ability to interact with the opponent's creatures early in the game. Over the past few years, we've seen the removal spells of yore replaced by similar, but far more expensive, variants. But since blue doesn't get to just outright kill creatures, the price has remained low.

Disperse is the headliner here.

A card like Topan Freeblade, for example, is one that can apply massive pressure early in the game. If you are in any other color, the best you can do besides Fiery Impulse and Celestial Flare are combat tricks or spells that effectively cost more than two mana (Fiery Conclusion and Ravaging Blaze, for example). Blue gets Disperse, Turn to Frog, and to a lesser degree, Send to Sleep.

That's a big boon for blue, usually thought of as a color light on removal.

Let's get to the Traps, Tryouts, and Trumps for blue.


Traps

Faerie Miscreant is first.

This so looks like the kind of card I'd love to play. I previewed the card in this column and didn't give it high marks. Apparently not every Magic player reads this column, as I discovered much to my dismay at the local shop this weekend.

If you're an optimist, like me, you may read this card as just always drawing you a card when it enters the battlefield. That would be a good card. You get to affect the board for just one mana, and you even get your card back. The big problem here, of course, is that you don't get a card back on that first one. And that's a big cost, since it doesn't do enough on its own to be worth a whole card.

After you play one, the second one draws you something like half a card's worth of value when you play it (think of it as tax for playing such a weak card). The good news is that you'll be able to pick up just about as many of these as you want. The bad news is that's because it's not very good.


Send to Sleep is next.

Why is a Send to Sleep in the Traps section? It's here to act as a warning and to help expand your thought process on cards. Many people see Send to Sleep and think it's not a bad card. And while it's not a good card, you could do a lot worse. The thing about evaluating cards is that you don't get to just put a label on them as bad, good, medium-good, or whatever and call it a day.

Limited is all about context. You can usually find a scenario for almost any card where it could be useful. The cards that have very few scenarios like this are called "bad cards." You won't want to play them often. The cards that have very few bad scenarios are the good cards. Send to Sleep is in the middle.

In some decks, this card will serve nicely. Decks that want a card like this are assertive, aggressive, and usually have a good amount of evasion in them. Cards that most definitely do not want this are slow, controlling, and looking for the long game.

Falling for the fallacy that a card is inherently good or bad is the trap, and Send to Sleep is one that is easy to do this with.


Dreadwaters is last.

Don't do it.

Don't you do it.

I know how tempting the mill plan can be in Limited. After all, we start with just 40 cards, seven of which usually start out in our opening hand. That's just 33 cards left.

We can do this. We got this. Yes.

No.

I've been focusing a lot lately on the dividing line between cards that affect the board (namely creatures and removal) and cards that don't. It's my contention that you want relatively few cards that don't affect the board in your deck. Dreadwaters not only doesn't affect the board, it doesn't even affect your hand, your next draw step, or even your life total.

Unless it actually mills out the last cards of your opponent's library, it doesn't affect anything. That's right, milling some cards from your opponent's deck does nothing. Weird, right?

It's all about your expectation over the long term. Even though sometimes you'll mill away their big bomb, you'll also mill away all of the cards on top of their bomb some percentage of the time. The expectation for a card like this is that, on average, it does nothing.


Tryouts

Continuing this conversation, let's look at our first Tryout: Sphinx's Tutelage.

Sphinx's Tutelage doesn't affect the board. It doesn't even affect your opponent's library until you draw a card. So why is this in the Tryouts section while poor, misunderstood Dreadwaters sits in Traps purgatory?

Because it could be a win condition. If left unchecked, Sphinx's Tutelage will win the game, eventually. Basically it mills your opponent for two cards per turn, at the cost of zero mana. Sometimes it will be four cards, or more.

Going back to the math, by the time you cast this thing, your opponent will have 30 cards left in their library. With one activation per turn, that's around ten turns until they die. (Don't forget their normal draw step.)

If you have any card-draw spells, you can reduce that to eight, or fewer turns. If you hit a run of same-colored spells, you can do the same. And every time you dump the enormous sum of six mana into this thing for a single loot ability, you hasten the process further.

I dislike cards that don't do anything when you cast them. Even stronger is my dislike of cards that don't do much after you cast them. But for some reason I have my eye on this card. The clock is real, and inevitable. You do need a good deck surrounding it to make up for the deficit of playing a card that doesn't do much, but I think there may be some promise here.


Next is Artificer's Epiphany.

Divination was printed in Magic 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014. It's a sorcery, and it saw play in all of these formats. With Artificer's Epiphany, we have an interesting twist on this old classic. Now we get it at instant speed, but have to discard a card if we don't control an artifact.

At face value, it's not good enough. But if we control an artifact some percent of the time, it becomes very good. Especially if you can combine it with other good instants so that you can leave the option of other spells up, and cast Epiphany in the case that you don't have to use them.

This one is close. Time will tell how good it really is, and how many artifacts you need in your deck to make this worth it.


Trumps

You know where I'm starting.

"Man-o'-Four" is a clever nickname I've heard for this card. While I'm not ready to compare this mere Human Wizard to the perhaps more majestic jellyfish of similar stature, Separatist Voidmage still does work in this format.

Resetting renown creatures, knocking pesky Auras off opposing threats, knocking Auras off of your own creatures, returning a big threat back to hand, or even clearing the way for a Jhessian Thief. All of this and more made possible by the help of our friend the Separatist Voidmage.


Sigiled Starfish is back, and next up.

I love this little guy. Sigiled Starfish is one of those cards that is so easy to overlook, but that punishes you so harshly for doing so. In any type of game that is going to go on for a while, Sigiled Starfish just dominates.

Yes, I realize that saying and 0/2 creature "just dominates" is a little strange, but it's true.

The value that this card generates over the course of a game is remarkable. You can use it to find lands, dig for your bombs, or find a key piece of removal. You'll activate it every turn you can, but when you do so will change. If you need something right now, your upkeep is a great time to use the ability.

One very small thing to remember: it does not have defender. It can rumble. This won't come up often, but the next time you have a Joraga Invocation in your list, you'll be happy to know that this Starfish means business.


Last of the Trumps is Whirler Rogue:

The fact that this card is uncommon is mind-boggling. It's comparable in some ways to the excellent rare Pia and Kiran Nalaar (also known as "Mom and Dad"). Both are 2/2 for four mana. Both bring in a pair of Thopters. Pia and Kiran have built in removal with them, but at a high activated-ability cost. Whirler Rogue has built-in evasion, but at the cost of no mana, and available immediately.

You can cast Whirler Rogue and activate the ability to have, say, your 6/6 be unblockable this turn. And probably just win the game. Or that Jhessian Thief from before.

Even in the scenario that you don't have much else to use it on, you are still getting a whopping 4 power and toughness, half of which has flying, for just four mana. An epic bargain for one of the best uncommons in the set.


Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

Like last week, we'll take a quick look at the mythic rare double-faced card that headlines the color before signing off.

Much like our five-armed (legged?) friend above, Jace doesn't look like much on the surface. Wizards hasn't printed Merfolk Looter since Magic 2012. It's been a while, as that card was likely deemed too good for Limited at common. Bumping it up to a mythic rare may be extreme, but a looter is indeed what we get out of Jace here.

That may not seem super exciting, but I think it is. It's like a Sigiled Starfish. And we all know that Sigiled Starfish is exciting.

After doing some looting, we get to turn Jace over to see his more unbound side.

He's not bad as an unbound telepath either. Using his +1 ability will often take one creature out of the equation for the whole next turn. It also leaves Jace at a hefty 6 loyalty. The -3 ability will often be used on a removal spell. (Remember that you still have to pay any costs for it.)

The ultimate is at a hefty -9, but in Limited it would end the game in short order, making it a real threat.

I love blue, I love Jace, and I love looting. I love this card for Limited.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR



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