Wednesday, 13 April 2016

MTG: 13 Intriguing Casual Cards from Shadows over Innistrad

Hallelujah! We are free from the Eldrazi and Ally menace bore, and are returning to the popular plane of Innistrad.

During the first go around, we were immersed in a well-designed horror world, and Wizards of the Coast, rightly decided that a return to Innistrad was in the cards.

Looking over the card list, and reading the stories, it looks like the return to Innistrad is a successful one. I haven't been this excited for a new set in a long time, and I am enjoying all of the flavour and aroma that permeates the set, such as the short stories, flavour texts, and artwork.

As is usual, there are a large pile of cards that I am intrigued by, either for building a deck around, or just adding to an existing deck.

PAUPER POSSIBILITIES

I have been building plenty of punchy pauper (all-commons) decks in recent weeks, so I have an eye out for common cards that pack plenty of power.


Angelic Purge is an amazingly powerful removal spell that permanently gets rid of a lot of problems. Sacrificing a token creature, or excess land, is not even much of a cost to exile a dirty bomb.

Vessel of Nascency is a powerful one-time dig spell, for green(!), that can also help fuel your graveyard. The fact that you can get so many different card types helps you search for a more specific weapon, especially compared to previous Green tutors, which usually find just creatures.

Murderous Compulsion is a strictly better Assassinate, and allows you to pull the old Royal Assassin trick of killing an attacking creature at instant speed! Two mana to remove any (tapped) creature is great value for a common card. Yes, we aren't getting Terror or Doom Blade back at common, but this is close.

Pyre Hound is a good candidate for Izzet (blue-red) blitz-type decks. Four mana is usually a bit high for that deck, but the fact the pump is permanent, and the fact it has trample, makes this a real possibility for pauper decks that already use Delver of Secrets.


With that out of the way, here are the bigger bombs that intrigue me.

13. UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS



Here, we see the return of the MADNESS mechanic. If you discard the card for any reason, you can play the card as an instant, and at an alternate cost. Of course, you will need to find good outlets to be able to discard your own cards.


As a five-mana sorcery, getting 6/6 of power, and 3 life, is certainly playable. Late in the game, when you can pump 6-7 mana into this, and get a lethal army online, is really what you want to be doing. I'm not sure why you gain life for letting zombies crawl out of the floor, but I won't complain :) (Are they bringing you food from the pantry?)

12. CALL THE BLOODLINE



Speaking of such discard outlets, we have a cheap one that allows you to grow an army of lifesucking vampire tokens. The only downside is that you can do it only once a turn, but the upside is the cheap cost of a single mana. In multiplayer, you can activate it on each of their turns, giving you a lovely army by the time it is your turn again.


For a mini-combo you might get in Shadows over Innistrad, pair the enchantment with Groundskeeper. Basically, it reads "2G: Discard a basic land, get a 1/1 lifelink vampire token into play, and return that land to your hand" Not the most powerful interaction, but you can grind somebody out this way.


11. TIRELESS TRACKER


I played against this at the pre-release, and it was an annoying grind. I was slipping further into the abyss as my opponent draw an extra card every turn. Here, you see the new INVESTIGATE ability in action.


For the simple cost of playing a land (you were doing that, anyway), you get a free clue token. On top of the card advantage engine, the tracker get really hold its own in combat once you crack enough of these clues. You don't need to put this in a dedicated clue deck, as it will just do work by itself in any grindy green/EDH deck.

10. WESTVALE ABBEY



Almost every casual player has some sort of mass tokens deck. Why not sacrifice some of the chum and summon ORMENDAHL!

Left unchecked, ORMENDAHL! is pretty much going to win you the game. Lifelink and indestructible? Yes, I'd love to gain 9 life a turn!

The land, itself, is also a passable mana sink. Creating a token, when you have nothing else to do, is useful.

Now, if Downton Abbey was this interesting, I might actually watch it.


9. SKIN INVASION



One of the strangest cards printed (And creepiest!), we take a pretty uninspiring enchantment, and turn it into a one-mana 3/4?

This card produces a nice level of tension: Do you put it on your own creature, and kick it into the Spartan Pit, or do you force your opponents creature to walk into the pit? Either way, you end up with the creature, when all is said and done. Very efficient, and very intriguing.

8. EVER AFTER



Aww, isn't that a happy couple?

I'm tempted to Photoshop my wife and I onto this card :)  As it is, Ever After is a nice late-game reanimation spell that could replace some of my lesser versions in certain decks.

7. DUSKWATCH RECRUITER



Duskwatch Recruiter is another grindy green card that will slot well into a variety of decks as a value-added mana sink.

Being able to basically draw a free card per turn is really potent. I'd rather this creature not flip, to be honest, and would be happy having him just sitting there, recruiting other soldiers/werewolves for my army of darkness.

If he does flip, and your hand is full, then it's easy enough to flip him back over when you are dumping your hand.

6. RISE FROM THE TIDES



This uncommon sorcery is an interesting build-around-me card that could have a potentially large payoff, assuming your opponents aren't mean and play Bojuka Bog :(

If you have any spell-heavy control decks, why not put a copy of this into it and see how it works? I could easily see some of my control decks getting 5+ zombies out of this card. Just use your spells to remove their threats and keep the board clean, then create your own army! This would pair very well with Under the Floorboards.

Time to stock up on Zombie tokens.


5. GEISTBLAST




When there's something strange, in your neighbourhood.
Who you gonna call? GEISTBLASTERS!

I'm rather disappointed that this doesn't say 'destroy target spirit' :(


On the other hand, this is one of the top cards in the set for high-ceiling potential.

After you are done shocking something, you have the ability to copy one of your best spells. The mana cost isn't cheap, but I could see EDH/Commander decks abusing the hell out of this card.


4. DIREGRAF COLOSSUS



Welcome back to Jes's Combo Corner!

Combine the Colossus with our old friend, Gravecrawler, and you can easily get a free zombie token and a recurring threat. A nice bit of synergy.


Want to make a large army of smelling, decomposing corpses? Why have one, when you can get the next 3,000,000 for free?


Sacrifice the Gravecrawler at the Altar of Phyrexia, and you can get any many Zombies as you want.


3. ARCHANGEL AVACYN




Whatever dark force has come to Innistrad, it has turned Avacyn into a raging, homicidal angel. This is another flavour home-run from a set filled with them.

A Serra Angel with Flash is strong, in and of itself, but being able to make your team indestructible for a turn? What better way to protect your weenies from that devastating Wrath of God.

If one of her flock should die, she'll invoke Hulk Mode and wipe out entire armies. There is a reason she is seeing Standard play, and is well over $30 :( Of course, I didn't crack one out of my box.

2. NAHIRI, THE HARBINGER




Nahiri seems to be the one behind all of this madness, and her first ability is a great Madness enabler.

Most Red-White decks want to be aggressive, but Nahiri seems more like a mid-range control card. You definitely can build around her with the red Madness cards, but simply the fact she is a four-mana 'Walker who can start with six loyalty makes her an easy inclusion for decks with these colours.

Only two turns, and then you can pull out an Emrakul or Blightsteel Colossus and win the game on the spot.

1. SIN PRODDER



Like a little devil, I cackled when I first saw this card spoiled. Red gets card advantage? Yes, sign me up.

My wife and I both had this card at the pre-release, and we made opponents pay for their sins. If you don't kill this quickly, the damage he'll do is like a slow bit of torture. It might not hurt a LOT at first, but you will notice the bruising in about 10 minutes.

Either the opponent lets you draw an extra card for the turn, or they take some sort of damage. Normally, such "punisher" cards aren't good, as your opponent will always make the choice that hurts them the least.

At least the Sin Prodder will inflict physical pain if they choose to not let you draw the card, so this evasive creature will tack on some extra damage. OK, so you milled my bomb, but you still had to take 4-6 damage to do so.

Even if the top card revealed is a land, and they mill it, it's likely you really didn't want to draw that land, anyway. I wasn't too unhappy to have a land milled, and then draw a relevant spell.


What cards are you intrigued by? Any cool combos I might be missing out on?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

MTG: 15 Intriguing Casual Cards from Oath of the Gatewatch


The Eldrazi have launched their offensive on Zendikar, and some of the multiverse's most powerful Planeswalkers must band together to fight off these monstrosities.

Thus, they make an Oath of the Gatewatch, the name of the new Magic: The Gathering set coming out later this month.

It is no secret that I wasn't fond of the previous set (Battle for Zendikar), and I'm looking forward to the next block. That said, every set has its treasures and gems for casual players. Here are the 15 cards that intrigue me the most. 

---

The one major change to the rules comes in the form of COLOURLESS mana versus GENERIC mana.

In the past, these two terms were interchangeable. A Sol Ring tapped for 2 colourless mana, and a Juggernaut needed 4 generic mana (mana of any colour, or colourless) to be cast. They both had the same number denoting the cost (2), so we didn't think much of it.

Now, colourless mana refers specifically to mana devoid of any colour (as it should), and there are now cards that specifically require colourless mana. This new mana symbol '<>' will now show up on any source tapping for it, rather than the old (1). Yup, Sol Ring now taps for '<> <>'.

To illustrate, here are two intriguing cards.

15. WASTES



Magic has always had five basic land types. Over 20 years into the game we get our sixth in the form of Wastes, which taps for a colourless mana.

What makes it special is that it is searchable via any card that can fetch a basic land. Colourless EDH decks will also love the fact they can now have basic lands tailored specifically for them.

If you are playing any deck that needs the diamond mana, you will need a LOT of these. The art, too, is beautiful, especially the Bismuth one on the left.

14. MATTER RESHAPER




Much like the popular Solumn Simulacrum, the Reshaper is a source of card advantage that can slot into many different types of decks.

Granted, this is a little harder to get out (colourless versus generic), and it's just one extra card, but a decently efficient creature that gets you a card, or a permanent (even planeswalkers!) on the board, is the type of thing casual players can easily find a use for.

Oh, and does Matter Reshaper remind you of anybody? No?

Try and unsee this...

13. KAZUUL'S TOLL COLLECTOR


I don't think he has any Toll House cookies :'(

This scary looking ogre hasn't received a lot of attention, but any ability that costs (0) is always worth some sort of look.

You know that feeling you get when you spend three mana to cast Loxodon Warhammer, three more mana to equip your creature, and then your opponent kills that creature in response? Yeah, nobody likes to get Time Walked.

Why not pile on three or four pieces on the Toll Collector and go to town?

If you are playing the Red-White equipment deck, playing Sunforger suddenly becomes much easier.

 

12. REFLECTOR MAGE


I love me some bouncy castles, especially when they come with some killer art.

The problem with bounce spells is that you can boing-boing their big fattie, but then your opponent re-casts it and you are back to square one.

Reflector Mage gives a bit of a reprieve as they can't just simply replay the same creature the very next turn. In a game where you are trying to defend against their biggest threat, or key combo creature, Reflector Mage is a great way to give yourself more time to find a more permanent answer to your imminent problem.

11. KALITAS, TRAITOR OF GHET


Speaking of creatures that give extra value, the new and improved Kalitas seems like he would make a fun Commander general to build around.

Kalitas turns every removal spell into a token generator, and gets rid of that creature permanently. Being able to use those tokens to make Kalitas bigger is just gravy. The bigger he gets, the more life you gain, and the more your opponents are forced to chump-block Kalitas... which gets you even more tokens, etc etc

Equip a Darksteel Plate on Kalitas, wrath the board, and you now have your own personal Zombie army while your opponents can only stare at their empty battlefield.

10. WALL OF RESURGENCE


While this might not be the most mind-blowing card, the fact is that you are getting 3/9 worth of creature for just three mana - That's absurd!

9. THOUGHT-KNOT SEER

"I see what you did there!"

Here we have a card a lot of pro players have had their eyes on, especially as it reminds us of Legacy staple Vendilion Clique. You can swipe your opponents best card in hand, or key combo piece, and then they simply get some random card back when it dies.

For us multi-player Mages, Thought-Knot Seer allows for even more cruelty.

The death trigger simply states 'target opponent', so you don't have to be nice to the player that you swiped the original card from.

You believed I was going to let *you* draw that card? I thought not!

(Fine, I am no LSV when it comes to puns)

8. REALITY SMASHER


Speaking of cards that pro players will look forward to, I expect we'll see a lot of Reality Smasher as a curve-topper in aggressive decks in the upcoming Standard format.

A 5/5 with trample and haste for five mana is already potent, but the fact your opponents need to spend an extra card to simply target it makes this thing a nightmare to see on the other side of the board. Whatever happens, you aren't coming out of a tangle with Reality Smasher without cuts and bruises.

Better get that Wall of Resurgence out! :p

7. GOBLIN DARK-DWELLERS

More like 'dork' dwellers, am I right?

It's not often that red gets blatant card advantage, but Goblin Dark-Dwellers is one way for red mages to experience what blue mages always feel.

I like the idea of the dwellers as a curve topper (probably next to Reality Smasher) in aggressive red/burn decks. Cast the dwellers on turn five, and flash back a Lightning Bolt or some other cheap burn spell. The menace ability makes the dwellers hard to block, too.

In more control/midrange builds, these fellows can flash back a lot of toolbox cards: Kolaghan's Command, Terminate, Electrolyze, etc... It's basically one way for red to get its own Snapcaster Mage, albeit without the flash.


Better yet, flashback something like Ancestral Vision, and build your own bear red Mulldrifter!

6. WANDERING FUMAROLE


Welcome to Jes's Combo Corner! (canned applause)

Today, we have Wandering Fumarole from Oath of the Gatewatch. This land can animate and turn into an elemental than can flip its power and toughness. Seems nifty, right?

Digging into the old junk box, we find Ceaseless Searblades.


As Wandering Fumarole turns into an ELEMENTAL, and its activated ability costs (0), just activate its ability over and over and make the Searblades as big as you want. Easy, breezy, beautiful Cover Girl.

5. LINVALA, THE PRESERVER


Side note: According to my wife, Linvala looks like Lightning from Final Fantasy 13. I didn't play that dreck of a game, so I'll take her word for it

I don't know how I'm going to keep fitting all of these awesome angels into my Akroma EDH deck, but I need to find space for the newest Linvala.


Her abilities hearken back to the aptly-named Timely Reinforcements, one of the cooler control cards in recent history. Beautiful art and relevant abilities make her useful in a variety of decks. Slower decks will appreciate how she can help play 'catch-up'.

4. NISSA, VOICE OF ZENDIKAR


Three-mana Planeswalkers have always been good, and Nissa, the damage sponge, is no exception.

The ability to keep producing chump blockers makes her a great defensive option. In token-heavy builds, or decks that care about +1/+1 counters, her permanent pump is quite useful. She's good early, and pretty good late-game, as well.

3. ENDBRINGER



There has to be a heavy metal band with this name somewhere in the world, right?

Here we have the card that was obviously designed for us multi-player Mages, especially with the "untap Endbringer during each other player's untap step" text.

I love how flexible Endbringer is, and how political you can be with its abilities. Ping off that chump blocker? Clear a path so you can attack her Nissa? Or, maybe I'll just draw a card. The 5/5 body is beefy enough, too.

This is the type of card that you don't really build around, but one you can shove into many different decks that can support the '<>' mana requirement.

2. CRUSH OF TENTACLES


My wife knows how much I *love* tentacles ^.^

As a six-mana mass bounce spell, it's adequate. As a five-mana mass bounce spell that gets you a slimy friend? Much better!

Blue has all sorts of easy cantrips that allow you to play this for the Surge cost... just Ponder your existence or Brainstorm a plan, and then wash away your opponents' tears and leave them staring down an angry, hungry Octopus.

1. ELDRAZI DISPLACER



Welcome back to Jes's Combo Corner!

If you thought the Wandering Fumarole trick was neat-o, wait until you see the #1 casual card from this set: Eldrazi Displacer.

As creatures continue to get printed with powerful 'enter the battlefield' effects glued on, 'blinkers' like the Displacer will continue to be MVPs and sought-after by EDH and Kitchen table players, alike.

You can combo Eldrazi Displacer with either Emrakul's Hatcher or Brood Monitor.




Just sacrifice the three tokens for three mana, and you can blink the token maker infinite times. Combo this with a Soul Warden (+1 life) or Zulaport Cutthroat (-1 life), and you have a machine gun that will mow down any number of rebel armies.

The great thing about the Displacer is that it doesn't have to bother with that summoning sickness nonsense, and it can be used multiple times per turn. As long as you have enough precious diamonds, you can blink to your heart's content.

---

So, I am excited about a few of the cards in this set, even if the Allies vs. Eldrazi storyline is a giant bore. What cards are my other filthy casuals on the lookout for?