Thursday, April 21, 2011

Snap Judgments #6 - Sheoldred, Whispering One

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Before we get started I'd like to thank everyone for the *numerous* get well emails and tweets I have received from readers out there in Internetland.  As it turns out I am starting to feel a bit better despite the fact that Toronto's weather recently has resembled the climate of Scotland; cold, wet and very windy.  In fact with any luck I'll actually be allowed to head out for FNM this week and play some sanctioned Standard for the first time in over a month.  Until then however I'm practicing with some friends after hours at work and desperately waiting on information about New Phyrexia just like everyone else.

By now most of you are aware that the entire New Phyrexia set has been leaked; if you haven't seen it yet click on this link, a full text spoiler can be found in the very first post.  If you don't see the cards right away try clicking on the color-marked buttons; it will open up a text box containing *every* card in the set of that color.  Naturally of course I have absolutely no idea how this information was originally leaked but reading the cards I have a hard time believing it's a fake; those certainly look like Magic cards to me.  As regular readers know during preview time for a new set I like to set aside a couple articles to look at some of the new cards that interest me most and talk a little bit about their potential in the formats I play; namely Standard, Sealed Deck and Booster Draft.  Until otherwise noted I'll operate under the assumption that the above spoiler is 100% correct but for the first card I'd like to talk about it doesn't matter anyways because WotC previewed it on Monday as the New Phyrexia Pre-release Promo:    

The first thing that comes to my mind looking at a card like this is "that can't possibly be real".  My second thought was "wow 7 is a lot of mana though" which was quickly followed by "I don't care I have *got* to find a way to cast this card".  As a point of historical reference I should probably mention that I felt this exact same way about Grave Titan and that certainly worked out okay.

From a limited perspective Sheoldred is obviously a slam first pick; remember the new pack order rules for Draft mean you'll open New Phyrexia first and I'm pretty sure this guy is worth jumping head-first into black for.  This card is going to destroy games because not only is a 6/6 body with limited evasion (Swampwalk) an acceptable value in draft but both of it's upkeep triggers are absolutely devastating to your opponent's board position.  Think about it for a moment; you cast Sheoldred and go up a creature before shipping the turn and causing your opponent to go down a creature for a net advantage of +2 creatures.  Assuming your opponent doesn't snap kill your Praetor your next turn becomes ridiculous; you return a creature to play (+3), attack and likely force a chump block (+4) and then ship the turn back to your opponent who loses yet ANOTHER creature (+5).  Simply put, much like Consecrated Sphinx from Mirrodin Besieged if you do not kill Sheoldred very quickly after it hits the table you will probably lose the game to this card almost immediately.  What's more at 6/6 and with a colored border it's not exactly going to be easy to kill Sheoldred; format staples like Gavlanic Blast, Grasp of Darkness, Turn to Slag and anything that says "target artifact" will be virtually worthless against it.  Even Arrest and Tumble Magnet will offer little respite from Sheoldred's upkeep triggers; in fact I'd go so far as to say your typical R/W Metalcraft deck is just dead on board to this bad-boy unless you're dumb enough to walk it into a Dispense Justice.  While obviously the card can be answered by Spread the Sickness or Go for the Throat that's hardly a comforting thought to the 4-6 players at your draft table *not* in black.  Potentially the best answer however can be found in blue where either Corrupted Conscience or Volition Reins will not only solve your "Sheoldred" problem but create a whole new series of headaches for your opponent on his very next upkeep. 

Now that we've established that Sheoldred is a house in limited let's talk a little bit about how I think he might fit into the Standard format; make no mistake despite his 7 CMC I firmly expect this card to hit tables almost as soon as New Phyrexia is tournament legal.   The reasoning behind this theory behind this is simple; even at 7 mana Sheoldred still represents incredible value.  How so?  Let's take a look at some previously printed cards with similar abilities to Sheoldred and compare them in terms of value for mana cost.  In my mind the most obvious historical comparison is Reya Dawnbringer; both creatures are legendary, both of them have a form of evasion (flying, swampwalk) and both of them resurrect a creature from your graveyard at the start of your upkeep.  That is however where the comparisons end because Reya costs a whopping *9* mana including WWW and she only has 4 power compared to our Praetor's 6.  I guess you could argue that flying is better than swampwalk (it is) but is it really W1 better?  I think the answer there is a definitive no.  Throw in the fact that Sheoldred is a black creature and thus immune to the still reasonably popular Doom Blade in Standard and it's fair to say that even without counting Sheoldred's 2nd upkeep trigger it's a better card than Reya is.  Of course despite being a casual/EDH staple to this very day it's not like Reya saw a lot of tournament play in her time.  I recall her being a fairly important "1 of" in Entomb based Re-animator decks during Invasion block but she was no Psychatog; something about costing 9 mana in a format dominated by 4CC spells (Fact or Fiction, Flame Tongue Kavu, Mystic Enforcer) just kept her from truly shining.  Still in terms of power level comparison we're talking about getting essentially the same game wrecking ability on a significantly better "beatstick" type body for 2 less mana that's easier to make color-wise.  When you factor in that the current Standard format is littered with quality 6 drop cards (Titan cycle, Wurmcoil Engine, Volition Reins, etc) it's really not a stretch to see paying 7 mana just for the 6/6 swampwalk body and the ability to resurrect a creature every turn.   In my opinion Sheoldred compares favorably to Avenger of Zendikar and Gaea's Revenge and I still run those cards in Valakut today for example.   

Okay so now that we've talked about Sheoldred's first ability and it's value in terms of mana cost let's examine it's *2nd* triggered ability a little closer.  Unfortunately there really is no historical comparison this time but the closest example is probably The Abyss from Legends.  As the first upkeep sacrifice trigger in Magic this card holds a special place in the hearts of Vintage players and later cards printed with this ability (Magus of the Abyss, Kuon, Ogre AscendantAnowon, the Ruin Sage) are described as having "Abyss" effects.  As you can see there's a certain historical precedent for *symmetrical* Abyss effects to cost 4 or more mana; as far as I know there has never been a one-sided Abyss effect printed in Magic until now and you can certainly bet if there had been it would cost more than 4 simply to stay in line with established design principles.  Forcing your opponent to sacrifice a creature every upkeep is a *very* powerful ability in it's own right but when combined with Sheoldred's "resurrection" effect it becomes almost impossible for your opponent to maintain board parity; even if he's drawing more cards than you are!  This is particularly true in a format dominated by "187" creatures and self replicated birds wielding game-wrecking Swords since virtually every deck in the format relies on multiple key creatures in at least some way.  It's also pretty hard to protect your Planeswalkers long term if you keep having to sacrifice potential chump blockers at the start of your upkeep while staring down an ever growing hoard of enemy minions.  On a basic level we're talking about a creature who beats down for 6, generates massive amounts of pseudo-card advantage (permanent advantage?) and functions as the centerpiece of a control package by killing off enemy creatures turn after turn.  Comparable (but worse) abilities would cost you roughly 8-11 mana over at least 2 cards in previous arcs and those arcs weren't nearly as ramp friendly as the current Standard format is.  If the truth be told Sheoldred is an absolute bargain at 7 mana so now the question becomes "how do I make that much mana?"

While I certainly doubt this card will survive into the post Innestrad Standard environment the current "gold seal" ramp card in the format is probably Lotus Cobra.  While it's true that green/black is hardly the most synergistic combination the inclusion of 4x Verdant Catacombs, 4x Evolving Wilds, 2x Misty Rainforests and 2x Marsh Flats should make for a reasonably smooth mana base if you're running Cobras as part of your ramp strategy.  Other possibilities that work well with your snakes include Explore, Harrow and to a lesser (although safer) degree Cultivate.  I would also be tempted to try a couple copies of Garruk in the build but I've always had a serious crush on the mono-green Planeswalker so that's hardly a shocker.  Fauna Shaman might also be a natural inclusion in a Sheoldred deck simply so you can avoid running more than 1-2 copies of your Legendary creature and go fish it up when you're ready to cast it.  I've never been sold on the value of Bloodghast outside of a Vampires deck but it does have decent synergy with Fauna Shaman in a deck running 12 "crack"-lands so that's likely worth exploring as well.  In terms of early disruption it's probably pretty easy to mash together some combination of Despise (New Phyrexia), Go for the Throat and Inquisition of Kozilek without burning away too many spots.  Finally you'll want to run a number of 1 of "toolbox" type finishing creatures; both so you'll have something to resurrect with Sheoldred and because Fauna Shaman can tutor the up easily.  Green cards that spring to mind include Thrun, Acidic Slime, Avenger of Zendikar and or possibly Gaea's Revenge.  Black cards you might want to tutor for include Skinrender, Grave Titan, Vampire Hexmage and if you're a sucker for win conditions that also kill things like I am Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief.  Naturally these are just ideas off the top of my head but it's certainly pretty easy to see how a g/b deck built around Sheoldred could take shape in the post New Phyrexia environment.  There are now doubt an absolutely *huge* number of cards I've forgotten that could work well in such a build and I look forward to having my face smashed in by the best of them once Sheoldred becomes legal.

Well folks there you have it; a quick look at one of my favorite cards from New Phyrexia.  While some (most?) will call me crazy I truly believe that at some point this card is going to carve it's own way into the Metagame and the results with be both brutal and beautiful at the same time.  Agree?  Disagree?  As always leave your thoughts in the comments and once again thanks for reading.  Until next time always remember that "too expensive" is in the mind of the buyer and sometimes it's all about "going big" with a giant freaking Praetor.  Keep it weird gang.




  1. Despise is just great for current standard. I know I am looking forward to throw down someone's Titan on turn 1 abd exile it and I think Sheoldred is a female.

  2. I think when you look at Sheo, you really need to compare her to the titans. The titans trigger happens as long as it resolves, and Sheo's sac effect doesn't. Sure, if you have it in play and your opponent passes the turn, you have the win, but you can say that for any titan. If you want to play toolbox, we already have the cheaper Sun Titan, and if you want the removal, Inferno Titan is there too. If you want a consistent sea of dudes, Grave Titan is there to back you up with a 2-turn kill. You say that the difference between 6 and 7 CMC isn't much, but in fact it's huge. Lotus Cobra +explore is all it takes to get to 6 mana on turn three. To get to seven, you have to have multiple cobras/explores. If you're playing a deck that ramps into bombs, you either need to get there on T3 like RUG does or you need to be playing Ulamog/Emrakul and resolve them by T4.