August 05, 2015

Chandra's Traps, Tryouts, and Trumps

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We've worked our way around a good portion of the color pie so far, and today we have landed on red. Red mages will be happy to know that the color is very much alive and well in both Limited and Constructed these days.

Magic Origins is a fast Draft format. What does that mean exactly? It means that there are multiple viable, aggressive decks available to play. It does not mean that every deck is fast, or even that you can't draft a slower deck if you want. It does mean, however, that you will have to keep in mind the relatively fast nature of the format while you are selecting your cards and building your deck.

It's a respect thing.

If you don't respect the fact that your opponent could curve out on you with a potent mix of creatures, removal spells, and combat tricks, you'll pay the ultimate price.

The most obvious route to take is to simply join 'em rather than try to go against the grain. You'll find that within many of the color pairs there are viable decks similar to what I described above. Go forth and bash face, so to speak.

The other option is to draft a slower deck. This brings to mind the concept of Defensive Speed. Defensive Speed is the idea that in order to combat the quick decks, you need early-game plays that affect the board and allow you to go into the long game.

A good example in this set is Bonded Construct.

On its surface, Bonded Construct looks aggressive. It's a 2/1 for just one mana. The peculiar thing about this card is that it's often better in a defensive deck than an offensive one. Since it can't always attack, but can always block, it can come down early enough to counter a Topan Freeblade or similar threat before the slow removal in the set is online.

Some of the best removal spells in the format cost four or five mana. These are often too slow to defeat a quick start from a good aggressive deck. Since there are so few cheap removal spells to take care of these small threats, you'll want creatures to do the work for you, setting up your powerful late-game plays.

Traps, Tryouts, and Trumps

It's time for Traps, Tryouts, and Trumps: Red Edition. Red is pretty straightforward in this set; the cards basically do what they say they do and perform about how you'd expect them to. Which, thankfully for red, is pretty darn good.

Traps

First Trap is Ghirapur Æther Grid.

Oh, Ghirapur Æther Grid, you are so tempting. I've tried to make this thing work, and haven't yet found any reasonable level of success with it. It's been so bad, even in the decks that were effectively built around it, that I've given up on it as a viable strategy.

The promise of pinging damage around for every two tappable artifacts is strong. The main issue of course is that you need too many artifacts to make this potent enough. It also exposes you to many different forms of blowout, as once the opponent knows that you are trying to Æther Grid them out of the game, they can start pointing removal at your artifact creatures and shutting down the grid.

You'll also note that this card seems particularly well-suited to defeating decks with a bunch of small creatures in them. While this is true, it's at odds with the fact that it costs three mana and often doesn't affect the board at all. Not the kind of strategy you want to employ against the small creature beatdown decks.

Next up is Goblin Glory Chaser.

Goblin Glory Chaser is the kind of one-drop that wants more than its lot in life, but rarely gets it. Look, if you are aggressive enough, you can play one of these in your deck and not feel too bad about it. But if you have a more average, midrange style deck, this particular chaser of glory drops down a lot. The main reason is that if you play it any time other than turn one, you aren't happy with it.

Looking back to our discussion about Defensive Speed at the beginning of the article, and knowing how people react to a fast format, we can see that even the slow control decks will be adjusting smaller to combat cards like this.

If you do manage to stick one of these on turn one, especially on the play, it can get in for a reasonable amount of damage before it becomes double-blocked and put out of its short-term Goblin misery.

I wouldn't drop the Glory Chaser down to the unplayable rank, because I've encountered people who think the card is good. I am not one of those people.

Next is a perhaps distant relative of the Goblin Glory Chaser: Bellows Lizard.

Along the same lines as the Glory Chaser, except even on turn one this card is relatively miserable. People sometimes overreact to format assumptions, and cards like Bellows Lizard start popping up more often than we'd like them to.

It makes logical sense at a base level: If the format is aggressive, I'll be more aggressive and pick up a bunch of one-drops to beat down with.

That does work, but only to a point. Once you start dipping too low, it's hard to recover. And Bellows Lizard is too low. It simply suffers from not having enough board impact early in the game to being too inefficient to be good later in the game.

It's the worst of both worlds!

Tryouts

Some things that could change the fate of the Bellows Lizards and Goblin Glory Chasers of the world are cards like Infectious Bloodlust.

Playing an Infectious Bloodlust (with more in the library) on a one-drop is a way to push through a ton of damage early in a game. It's a fairly niche strategy, however, and not one that I've seen prove itself fully in real-life play.

The main idea here is to make cheap, early creatures better with Infectious Bloodlust, and then if it trades off for another creature or gets killed, you don't mind since you get to just search up another Infectious Bloodlust. Expendable creatures that don't cost a lot become a focus of this archetype.

One thing that slips through the cracks sometimes is the fact that Infectious Bloodlust gives haste to the creature being enchanted. This lets you set up some surprise attacks with a creature held in hand until an Infectious Bloodlust can suit it up and get it attacking for a bunch of surprise damage.

Next is Act of Treason.

They've been printing this kind of effect for years, and on its base level, we know what it does. It's often used in aggressive decks as a finisher, stealing the opponent's best blocker and attacking with it. The impact on the board state can be massive. It's effectively a two-for-one, with a one-turn expiration date.

But none of this is why it's in the tryouts section this week. The reason it's in the tryouts section is because it has synergies with cards like Nantuko Husk, Blazing Hellhound, and Fleshbag Marauder.

You see, you can steal a creature, maybe even attack with it, and then sacrifice it to one of your sacrifice outlets. This effectively turns Act of Treason into one of the best removal spells in the format. But is the setup cost too high? That's the part we need to try out.

In past sets, this deck has been viable, and in Magic Origins many of the pieces are in place to make the deck work. I figure that as long as you are playing cards that are good enough on their own, but excel in a situation where you find both, the strategy should work just fine.

Trumps

Red gets one of the better removal spells in the format in Fiery Impulse.

Cheap, instant-speed removal is at a premium, and Fiery Impulse is one of the best options in Origins. You can use it to clear away a blocker to get your renown creature in for damage, or in response to a combat trick early in the game to blow out your opponent—and it even scales with the game thanks to spell mastery.

Sure, you can't go to the face with Fiery Impulse, which is a bummer, but as the premier early-game removal spell in the format, it certainly holds its own as a trump card.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Seismic Elemental.

The five-drop slot is usually quite crowded, so it takes a great card to be the best of the bunch, and Seismic Elemental has what it takes. First, you get a darn reasonable 4/4 creature for your five mana. But just as importantly it "falters" your opponent when it enters the battlefield. (This slang term, of course, coming from the original card Falter from Urza's Saga.) If you look at the original Falter, it costs two mana, and of course a valuable card slot in your deck.

The effect of a Falter can be profound on games where you had a quick start but where the opponent has now stabilized and is hiding behind a wall of high-toughness creatures. With Seismic Elemental, you effectively get a two-for-one: You get the 4/4 and you get the Falter effect all in one card. That's a great deal!

The tricky part about playing Seismic Elemental is determining when to deploy it. Sometimes you just need the 4/4, and sometimes you'll want to wait until you can get a lethal force built up so the one-time Falter effect will win you the game on the spot.

Friendly Reminder: It doesn't affect flyers.

Planeswalker Glance

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is a powerful creature that can turn into a powerful planeswalker. She comes down and threatens some life totals with her pinging ability, but threatens life totals even more after she's transformed into Chandra, Roaring Flame.

The cool trick about Chandra while she's in creature mode is that you can actually just attack with her, get in for two damage, then cast a red spell, untap her, tap her and get her transformed. The more traditional way is to tap her for damage, cast a red spell, tap her for damage again, cast another red spell, and then tap her for one last point of damage before transforming her.

Once she's transformed, it becomes pretty easy to figure out which of her modes to use. If the board is relatively clear, you can use her +1 ability to start finishing off the opponent. If there is a good threat on board (especially one that threatens Chandra herself), it's usually correct to kill it.

Overall, Chandra is a good card, but not an amazing one for Limited. If you are in red, you'll be very happy to have her in your deck, but you won't likely change colors in pack three just for the privilege.

That's going to do it for this week, but we'll talk next week about our last section of the color pie: green.

Until then!

@Marshall_LR



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