Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snap Judgments #5 - "Mark Rosewater Hates Creatures"

The quotation in the title of this article is from a post or several posts made on Twitter during the MBS previews season.  Unfortunately I can't remember exactly who said this and in fact it may have been two or even three seperate people.  To whomever origionally coined this catchy phrase: thanks kindly and I hope you don't mind me borrowing it for this article.

Hello everyone and welcome to another special supplementary edition of The Cardboard Witch.  By now most players will have seen the full Mirrodin Besieged spoiler and already be focusing either on their pre-release event this weekend or the post MBS Standard environment that comes into being on February 4th.  While personally I'm still a little wary of making mass judgments on brand new cards before I've tested them, seeing the entire set in context makes it much easier to identify the cards that really matter in both Standard and limited formats.  Naturally of course having a full spoiler to work with also makes it much easier to identify and discuss environmental trends across these formats.  With this in mind I'd like to examine one of the base concepts I noticed running through the entire set while reviewing the MBS spoiler:

 Design hates creatures as of Mirrodin Besieged.

Now before you get upset at me for making such a bold blanket statement lets examine the current state of creature removal in Standard.  When Shards of Alara rotated out of the format and took with it Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, Terminate, Malestrom Pulse and Volcanic Fallout we were left with a fairly simple and creature friendly Standard environment.  As far as "mass-removal" went Day of Judgment and Pyroclasm were the most popular choices while Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt made up the "gold standard" in terms of spot kill.  Naturally of course there remained other options (Journey to Nowhere, Arc Trail, etc) but for reasons of versatility, synergy or simple "deckslot" economy those cards appeared more often in competitive decks.  Now while this removal suite hardly left control/mid-range decks helpless in the face of creature swarms and Grave Titans, good aggro players could exploit the gaps in these "kill" packages to create game play advantages.  Good examples include running an all black creature base (B/R Vampires), running Leyline of Vitality/Eldrazi Momument to play around Pyroclasm/Day of Judgement (mono G Elves) or even just comboing out for lethal damage faster than your opponent can contain your swarm (RDW and it's 19 variants).  While hardly perfect this at least made it possible for creature based aggro decks to compete effectively in the current format; think Elves, Boros, B/R Vampires, RDW/Kuldotha Goblins or G/W Equipment. 

Unfortunately after carefully studying the MBS spoiler the past couple days I've come the conclusion that weenie aggro swarm is slowly being "hated" out of Standard as a deck-type.  In particular I think there are at least 4 very important cards in Mirrodin Besieged that make winning with creatures considerably harder than it is in the current Standard format.  While these cards are primarily useful for stopping aggro swarm decks even current control finishers like Grave Titan/Abyssal Persecutor suddenly have a reason to look over their collective shoulders.  Lets take a look at each of these 3 cards and talk a little bit about their overall impact on the post MBS Standard environment:

Go for the Throat:

Pros: While this isn't exactly a functional reprint of Terminate it's considerably better than Doom Blade in the current Standard format.  Simply put there are a lot more Black creatures currently being played in Standard than artifact creatures and even with a new "artifact" based set I'm not sure that's going to change anytime soon.  In particular this card allows decks to effectively counter Grave Titans, active Creeping Tar Pits, Abyssal Persecutors and of course about 20 different Vampires that see play off and on in Standard.  You can probably throw Massacre Wurm and Phyrexian Vatmother onto that list as well; I expect both cards to be fairly popular as the Mirrodin Besieged environment plays out more fully.  Naturally of course the fact that this can kill Black creatures does nothing to prevent it from killing all the OTHER annoying creatures in Standard you'd typically want to Doom Blade anyways; I personally find the image of a skanky vampire chick trying to to reach a Primeval Titan's neck amusing.      

Cons:  While Go for the Throat is obviously better at dealing with Black creatures than Doom Blade it's still weak against Standard's current crop of untargetable/indestructible threats; Gaea's Revenge, Emrakul, Ulamog and even to some degree Frost Titan could care less that you have a "better" Doom Blade in your arsenal.  Again you can likely add Thrun the Last Troll to that list as I expect him to see immediate play in Standard; maybe Blightsteel Colossus as well if Summoning Trap decks return to vogue.  Additionally of course Go for the Throat can't be used to destroy artifact creatures; while this may not seem relevant in the current Standard it's probably safe to say it will become more restrictive as the format develops.  Naturally of course if everyone *does* replace their Doom Blades with G4tT the value of cards like Wurmcoil Engine and Molten-Tail Masticore will increase significantly; Wurmcoil in particular could become "the new Grave Titan" in control decks primarily because of this card.    


Pros: In my opinion Slagstorm is one of the most powerful cards in Mirrodin Besieged and I'm genuinely surprised at how little "hype" it's received so far.  As anyone who's ever played Firespout, Spontaneous Combustion or Flamebreak can attest, doing 3 damage to each creature is *WAY* more powerful than simply doing 2; typically extending the range of your "Pyro" effect into the 3-4CC creature range.  It's also 33% more effective against the current crop of anti-pyro meta; Leyline of Vitality and/or playing a billion Elf "Lords" so all your guys survive the Pyroclasm.  Finally of course Slagstorm finds a way to solve the riddle of "what to do with your boardsweeper against control/combo decks" by allowing you to "Bolt" both players to the head for 3 damage.  While hardly "optimal" this ensures that Slagstorm will never be a completely dead card in game 1 and therefore should be a legitimate main-deck option.  Remember folks you *can* redirect the 3 damage at their Planeswalkers (see Jace TMS) which may well solve the currently "Pyrcoclasm" vs "Lightning Bolt" debate in Valakut all by itself.  Just the very existence of this card will make it harder to build/compete with weenie horde decks of all types, unless by some miracle those "weenies" have 4 toughness or more.

Cons:  To be honest I'm actually having a hard time coming up with a lot of drawbacks for this card.  Yes it's RR1 which makes it harder to cast than Pyroclasm but that makes a certain amount of sense considering it's a full 1/3 more powerful.  Alternately I suppose the fact that it's a Sorcery makes it less effective than Lightning Bolt at controlling Jace; although functionally your opponent still only gets to "Brainstorm" once.  Finally of course the fact that *you* also have to take 3 damage to "dome" someone can get uncomfortable if your life total is low but this scenario should occur very rarely against the decks you'd want to use the "Bolt" effect on.  Really I'm just not seeing a lot to dislike here; unless you're a big fan of weenie swarm aggro decks in which case I completely understand your rage.

Black Sun's Zenith:

Pros:   While frankly I would have preferred a reprint of Damnation or Mutilate there are a number of good things to be said about giving every creature in play X -1/-1 counters.  For starters this card pulls an end around on effects like Shroud, Indestructible and Regenerate; it doesn't target, it isn't damage and if the creature's toughness is reduced to 0 there's no way to save it.  Additionally of course because these are -1/-1 counters creatures that survive the effect are still drastically reduced in effectiveness; you may not be able to kill your opponent's Leatherback Baloth outright but wiping out all his mana Elves and reducing the Baloth to a manageable 2/3 body is a good consolation prize.   At this point I'm not entirely sure how relevant shuffling the card back into your Library will be but presumably if you're drawing enough cards (Jace TMS again) than it's at least possible to see the same copy again later in the game.

Cons:  While this card has incredible potential as a  Black "Wrath" effect it's also incredibly mana hungry.  At 4CC this card will be a very poor substitute for Day of Judgment; becoming an expensive although significantly improved copy of Infest.  In fact even at 6 mana this card will still leave enemy Titans running around the table as 2/2's with amazing triggered abilities if/when they attack.  This problem is compounded by Black's general lack of mana acceleration; cards like Everflowing Chalice and Sphere of the Sun's may help mitigate this problem but they compare poorly to traditional answers like Cabal Coffers and/or Dark Ritual.  Finally I guess it's worth mentioning that as a sorcery it won't deal with cards like Gideon, "Manlands" or creatures with Haste very effectively but that's pretty standard for board sweeping effects in Magic.

Massacre Wurm:

Pros:  If the Titans cycle in M11 has taught us anything it's that big splashy creatures with amazing come into play effects and abilities that continue to affect the game turn after turn may actually be *undercosted* at 6CC.  While I'm not entirely sure this monster compares favorably with Grave Titan I feel confidant stating that he's at least "in the argument".  Obviously a one-sided Infest effect is absolutely ridiculous when stapled to a 6/5 for 6CC Wurm but the fact that your aggro opponent is probably going to lose 4-8 life simultaneously as it enters play is insane!  That's not to mention that every time you kill another enemy creatures your opponent loses an additional 2 life as long as the Wurm is in play; assuming you're killing his blockers that may well mean 8 or so damage a turn.  Nobody can survive that kind of terminal clock for very long.

Cons:  While absolutely ridiculous against weenie aggro the Wurm won't be as effective as Grave Titan against control or combo decks.  Also BBB is significantly harder to produce out of your traditional U/B Control mana-base which is currently Grave Titan's most popular home.  This in turn should make the Wurm a less popular main-deck option; perhaps a 1 of or even a straight to Sideboard card.  Unfortunately that won't mean they aren't "out there" and the very existence of a card this powerful will make it much harder to play swarm aggro decks built around 2 toughness creatures.

While of course this only represents one woman's opinion on how the post-MBS Standard environment will shake out but I feel the messaage from design is loud and clear; play bigger/more expensive creatures and firmly expect any weenies you do cast to hit the graveyard both quickly and en masse.  While I'm somewhat loathe to say it control strategies and Valakut appear to have gained valuable tools in the fight against aggro and I'm not entirely sure decks like Elves, Vampires, Boros and RDW will still exist once the post-MBS environment fully takes hold.

Well folks thats about all I have for now; you can do as much speculating on new cards as you like but the only way you'll ultimately know the truth about a new format is to sit down and play with them.  To this end I am currently intending to attend *BOTH* of the Hairy T North's Pre-release events this weekend (Saturday and Sunday); I will likely be playing Mirran because I think the Hero of Bladehold is the better promo and someone has to stick up for the good guys.  For those of you in Toronto and looking for a place to play in a MBS pre-release event check out the Hairy Tarantula North: 6979 Yonge St (Yonge & Steeles).  Both events cost $25 and begin promptly at 1PM.  You can contact the store in advance at 647-430-1263; ask for our Tournament Coordinator Kelly.


  1. Hey Nina, I need a judge's ruling on Shape Anew from SOM:
    [Shape Anew-3U-Sorcery: The controller of target artifact sacrifices it, then reveals cards from the top of his or her library until he or she reveals and artifact card. That player puts that card on the battlefield, then shuffles all other cards revealed this way into his or her library.]
    Gatherer's FAQ has yet to answer this question; if a deck does not contain another artifact except for the sacrificed artifact, does Shape Anew resolves?

  2. Yes, it tries to find the artifact and fails hits the end of the deck and then proceeds to shuffle the rest back in. 100% sure though I can't quote the exact ruling that makes it clear.

  3. Nina you are infact right there, because both abilites are conditional checks, theoretically if you have no other artifacts in your deck it could be used as a free shuffle, but honestly if you need to do that you should have mulled in the first place... and not have been playing with shape anews.