September 16, 2015

Ingest and Process for Value

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Last week, we took a look at five uncommons from Battle for Zendikar that harkened back to the good old days of our favorite adventure plane. Allies, landfall, and a new twist on the Eldrazi were not unexpected in this new visit to Zendikar. But we did see some kind of weird stuff; namely devoid and something about exiled cards your opponent controls. We saw Ulamog's Nullifier, which looked like a potentially powerful card, but it wasn't entirely clear exactly how often we'd get to use the triggered ability.

This week we have five more preview cards from Battle for Zendikar for you, and they answer that question and more. Here we get a much clearer look at the fact that Ulamog's Nullifier is not alone on this plane, and in fact has many like-minded friends.

Let's dive into the cards for this week to illustrate what's actually going on here.

First up is Culling Drone:

From the onset, we can see that Culling Drone has devoid. This is something we'll be seeing a lot of in the new set; in fact, each of the five cards we are looking at this week has devoid. Culling Drone seems to represent a sort of baseline devoid creature. It's a simple 2/2 for two mana, a Vanilla Test staple.

In most formats, a creature like this would be totally fine. You wouldn't scramble to play it in your deck, but it wouldn't find itself on the cutting room floor too often either. A solid playable.

But Culling Drone has an additional ability: ingest. The first thing to note is that ingest means that it will exile one card per hit. It's not reliant on how big Culling Drone is, the ability only requires that it does some amount of combat damage to the opponent. Also of note here is that it's going to be pretty difficult to actually run your opponent's library out of cards this way—they'll just be dead from damage first.

If milling your opponent isn't the main plan with ingest, what is the upside?

Firstly, you get some information. The cards exiled with ingest will be exiled face up, which means that you'll get an idea of what your opponent is up to as far as color and strategy goes. While this isn't super important, it's not irrelevant.

It's worth noting here that the card is effectively random, meaning that even if you get lucky every once in a while and exile their sweet bomb, the average case means that there is no discernible advantage gained simply by exiling a card.

So what is ingest actually about? Like anything in Magic, you have to pay for what you get. In this case, there are a subset of creatures (some of which we'll talk about today) that give you a massive payoff for exiling a few of your opponent's cards. Ingest creatures let you get those cards exiled, so that the Eldrazi Processors can do their work.

One issue you may see here is that sometimes your 2/2 creature with no evasion doesn't get to hit the opponent at any point.

Let me introduce you to Benthic Infiltrator:

Benthic Infiltrator can't be blocked, meaning that it will quite reliably connect and get it's ingest on. Also a reasonable blocker in the early to midgame, the Infiltrator should be a serviceable way to get a card or two exiled for future processing, while also holding the ground nicely for your game plan to come to fruition.

Additionally, creatures that can't be blocked have obvious upside in that they can carry Equipment, Auras, pump spells, or can even just peck away if you find yourself in a midgame stall. I really like Benthic Infiltrator as a versatile attacker, blocker, and Processor-enabler.

There are also other ways to get cards into exile besides ingest, like Complete Disregard:

Here we have a solid removal spell for three mana that, at instant speed, kills a meaningful subset of creatures. And by "kills," I mean exiles, which as we have found out recently can be a pretty big deal down the line. It's hard to imagine a better way to enable the Processors, as this is effectively a one-for-one that can give you a card of value later in the game.

And all of this comes in a package that you'd happily play anyway. It's not the perfect removal spell; it only hits smallish creatures, and your opponent can even counter Complete Disregard on resolution with a pump spell. That said, this will always make the cut in your deck.

Remember Ulamog's Nullifier from last week?

This guy:

Well this week I have even more Processor goodness for you. It turns out, if you can get some cards exiled from your opponent and you cast one of these Eldrazi Processor cards, you'll be quite happy with the result. They often give you a full card of value back for your trouble, in addition to the creature itself.

Let's look at Mind Raker as an example:

The trusty old Hill Giant is back (remember we had two of those last week as well), and just like before, we want to see some upside to make these worth the mana. With Mind Raker, we do get some upside—assuming we can meet the qualifier of having a card available to process (I'm using this term to describe the whole "putting a card into their graveyard from exile" thing).

And if we do get to process something, we get the upside of our opponent discarding a card, which is nice but not super exciting. Sometimes you'll get the last card in their hand—hopefully their almost-castable seven-drop. Other times you'll just get a land or a weak spell of some sort. But either way, you'll get something. Even if it's a land, you'll be preventing a future landfall trigger.

If Mind Raker didn't have the Processor requirement, you'd run it in basically all of your black decks and it would be a strange case to have it on the bench. As it sits, with the additional requirement, it's not entirely clear how good it is. It seems like a solid mid-level playable that rewards you for being able to process, but don't forget that you can also just play it for four mana as part of a curve-out.

Finally, I've saved my favorite preview card for last.

Murk Strider is my kind of card! It's got the devoid ability that all of these cards have, but it's also a Processor. It can return a creature to its owner's hand, assuming you can get your process on.

In a game where you are going for a big tempo play, Murk Strider can be a nasty addition to the board. Not only does it send back a creature to the opponent's hand, it also adds a formidable 3/2 body to the board. One circumstance that pops up from time to time with cards like this is when you can chain them together. Casting these guys on back-to-back turns can be really nasty, but it's more difficult than it would be normally thanks to the processing requirement.

A 3/2 body will often trade up in the case that you are the defensive deck as well. Murk Strider is my kind of card, but I want to see some pretty good Processor-enablers in my deck to be happy running a bunch of these things. The fact is that a 3/2 for four mana just isn't a great deal in the current Limited environment. If I am going to run a bunch of these, I'll need assurances that I'll hit the Processor value pretty often to make it worthwhile.

The good news is that it seems like there are enough of them around at common (all of our preview cards this week were commons) to enable it.

Wrap-Up

These cards are unquestionably interesting and powerful. The question that I am left with is, is the whole ingest/process thing an entire archetype that we should draft towards, or will it happen organically such that we can just get occasional value from our Processor creatures?

To start things off, I'd want to stick to drafting creatures with ingest to go along side my Processors. Even if the occasional Complete Disregard-type card pops up in the set, I want a sure thing when it comes to getting my value from Processors. And given that the two ingest creatures in this column were both quite playable, I don't see it being a big issue.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR



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