Thursday, June 28, 2012

Snap Judgements #7 - "Stop Dragon My Heart Around"

Hello everyone and welcome back to a special "quicky" edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Way back when I first started this blog I used to do a regular feature during card previews time called "Snap Judgments".  The basic idea was to look at a recently previewed card and without any playtesting whatsoever talk about it's pros, cons and potential applications in a "new" Standard format that doesn't exist yet.  To keep the discussion interesting I tried to focus on cards that I personally would be excited to try out in Standard; it wouldn't be much fun to write "I highly doubt this card will ever be played outside of Limited, thank-you and good night" ad nauseum.  Over time I've had some hits and some misses but I've enjoyed writing the feature regardless because it allows me to share some of the brainstorming process I go through whenever I consider a new card in constructed Magic.  I also found that it was a great way to keep writing about Magic even when I was too busy or sick to attend regular tournaments; you see where I'm going with this don't you?  Yes gang, it's previews season; my foot is still a mess and aside from a few practice games here and there with my fellow Dickwolves, I'm simply not playing much Magic right now.  With virtually no other outlets to sate my desperate Magic addiction I am spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the M13 spoiler on MtG Salvation, and like any other good citizen of the internet I feel this qualifies me to pontificate at length on the quality of the cards therein.  Naturally this type of discussion is purely speculative; I am after all attempting to predict the future here and I can assure you that I have no special powers of precognition whatsoever folks! *grin*  Keeping these caveats in mind, let's take a look at a brand new creature from M13 that I have really high hopes for in the world of 75 cards; Thundermaw Hellkite.

Let's be 100% honest here guys; the good people who design Magic do not exactly have long history of printing awesome Dragons in the mythic rare slot.  In fact you could fairly say that it's been one epic failure after another with at best a few interesting but ultimately uninspiring cards in between.  In fact, the only really good mythic rare Dragon I can think of is Bogardan Hellkite and he was simply upgraded to mythic from regular rare status in M10.  Given this somewhat terrible batting average I wouldn't blame most players for snap disregarding anything WotC prints that has a mythic rare symbol and the creature type Dragon; smart money plays the percentages after all.  In the case of Thundermaw Hellkite however I think that might turn out to be a serious mistake.

Pros:  When you look at a card like TMHK the first thing that really stands out is the sheer amount of "value" you can potentially milk him for.  You start with the numbers; 5/5 for 5 mana is basically right in line with what we expect in modern Magic where the P/T to CMC ratio is fixed at 1:1 as a minimum baseline.  Tack on Flying and you get the kind of body that can easily dominate air-to-air combat in a Standard populated by Delvers, Spirit Tokens and 4/4 Angels.  Most importantly, this guy mows through flashed-in Restoration Angels like a kid eating an ice cream cone; as previously mentioned I'm no soothsayer but I have a funny feeling this interaction might come up in the new Standard once in a while. 

Even despite this natural environmental relevance however I wouldn't play a stone blank 5/5 flyer for 5 if you paid me; thankfully Thundermaw is well aware of this and he also finds time to bring a serving of Haste to the supper table for our enjoyment.  Let's face it, Magic has evolved to a point where mid-sized creatures *have* to provide either immediate or lasting value in the face of removal effects to justify a deck slot.  Haste isn't as strong as making a 2/2 Wolf Token (Huntmaster of the Fells) or fishing out a couple of lands (Primeval Titan) but it does allow a patient player to guarantee extra "unexpected" damage against a tapped out opponent.  What's more, by tapping out (or killing) my opponent's flying blockers the 'Kite really goes that extra mile one to ensure I will get at least 5 damage out of dropping my fat Dragon onto the table. 

At this point even if the rest of the card were blank I'd be prepared to wager on THMK seeing at least some play; worst case scenario it's a souped up Thundermare for Birthing Pod decks and it's upside is actually quite a bit higher than that.  The rest of the card isn't blank however and what really excites me about Thundermaw Hellkite is the one-sided mini-Hurricane he unleashes on your opponent's flying critters.  I won't lie; even just the potential of creating a 2 for 1 (or better!) exchange while simultaneously throwing down a flying Lava Axe has me licking my chops to get my hands on this card. Now before you call me loopy for getting excited about a "sideboard card" please allow me to remind you that we're heading into a Standard format where Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt will be legal but Ratchet Bomb will almost certainly not exist.  Both of these cards are extremely powerful and very popular right now and somehow I doubt rotating to a smaller format is going to make them any less so.  In light of this the upcoming Standard wouldn't be the first format where main-decking an otherwise useful creature against a ubiquitous strategy was a good idea.   Of course one can argue that Thundermaw Hellkite isn't Cloudthresher but it's not like Lingering Souls is Bitterblossom either; I feel like the "answer" has reasonably been scaled in power towards the "threats" this time around.

Cons:  Despite the sheer multitude of things going for it, TMHK isn't without its flaws.  For starters it's a 5 mana creature entering a format that's basically front-loaded towards the first 4 turns.  To illustrate what I mean let's take a look at some common opening lines from a variety of decks already here in Standard:

U/W Delver:
  • Turn 1 - Delver of Secrets
  • Turn 2 - Mana Leak,Vapor Snag + Ponder/Thought Scour, Snapcaster Mage
  • Turn 3 - Geist of Saint Traft
  • Turn 4 - Restoration Angel, Runechanter's Pike + Equip
G/R Aggro:
  • Turn 1 - Llanowar Elf, Bird of Paradise, Avacyn's Pilgrim
  • Turn 2 - Strangelroot Geist, Wolfir Avenger, Borderland Ranger, Sword of W&P
  • Turn 3 - Huntmaster of the Fells
  • Turn 4 - Wolfir Silverheart, Zealous Conscripts
W/x Humans:
  • Turn 1 - Champion of the Parish
  • Turn 2 - Thalia Guardian of Thraben, Gather the Townsfolk
  • Turn 3 - Mirran Crusader, Silverblade Paladin, Geist of St Traft (if blue)
  • Turn 4 - Hero of Bladehold 
G/x Infect:
  • Turn 1 - Glistener Elf
  • Turn 2 - Ichorclaw Myr, Blighted Agent (if blue), Plague Stinger (if black)
  • Turn 3 - Wild Defiance, Phyrexian Cruasder (if black), Livewire Lash
  • Turn 4 - Infinite Giant Growths, Revenge of the Hunted (if you're lucky)
Wolf's Run Ramp:
  • Turn 1 - Nothing
  • Turn 2 - Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns
  • Turn 3 - Solemn Simulacrum, Huntmaster, another Rampant Growth
  • Turn 4 - Primeval Titan, Wolfir Silverheart (if Huntmaster on 3)
Naya Pod:
  • Turn 1 - Bird, Elf, Pilgrim
  • Turn 2 - Thalia, Birthing Pod, Blade Splicer, Strangleroot Geist
  • Turn 3 - Huntmaster, Blade Splicer + Pod into Huntmaster
  • Turn 4 - Umm, use Pod AND cast something good already on the list?

To be completely honest with you this list is by no means exhaustive but it certainly exemplifies the point at hand; Standard is a pretty fast format right now and waiting around to cast 5 drops all day is a pretty good way to wind up dead in the face of all this aggression.  Surviving and thriving in this Standard all but requires that you curve out properly and it's almost at the point where any hand that features multiple 5/6 drops is probably a mulligan unless you're playing some sort of Ramp deck.  In other words; this environment is naturally resistant to "slow" cards and simply "costing 5 mana" is a legitimate drawback even for something as potentially game wrecking as Thundermaw Hellkite.

This ties in neatly to my second point; assuming that space in your deck for 5 drops is in fact limited, running a full 4 pack of the 'Kite is a pretty risky proposition.  What's more this simultaneously forces TMHK to compete with other, more established 5 drops already in the format; namely Zealous Conscripts and Acidic Slime/Wolfir Avenger.  While I don't feel that the Dragon fares poorly in these comparisons he's not "strictly better" either.  Sure, TMHK is arguably more powerful than Conscripts but it's certainly less splashable at RR3 and unless the entire format switches to mono-Spirit tokens.deck it's hard to imagine the 'Kite will ever approach the kind of game 1 versatility the 'Scripts bring to the table.  Assuming you're working with a G/R shell you end up with the same problems; Wolfir Silverheart provides more raw power, Acidic Slime destroys artifacts/support lands and usually trades way up the turn after in combat.  More importantly both of them work with Green Sun's Zenith and the Dragon simply doesn't.  Ultimately I believe that Thundermaw Hellkite is too powerful not to find a home in these decks but the simple truth is that he'll be competing with some very good cards for deck space and there is no obvious "best choice". 

The most obvious problem with the 'Kite however is that unless your opponent controls some flying creatures he's just a 5/5 Flyer with Haste.  As I previously mentioned I believe he'd still see some play in those situations but the question really becomes, how much play?  Are you ever going to be happy to draw this card against someone who leads with a turn 1 Copperline Gorge?  Haste is certainly pretty cool on a flying Lava Axe but it's not a true "187 effect" and even if you do freely connect for 5 damage the turn you cast Thundermaw Hellkite what then?  If your opponent untaps and snap kills the Dragon how much further are you really ahead at that point?  Obviously you did get some value out of your TMHK but I highly doubt anyone is going to write home about 5 damage/discard a kill spell for 5 mana.

Finally I should mention that I have a minor quibbling point with how Thundermaw Hellkite interacts with some of the better cards in the format.  I don't like that the timing on his 187 effect doesn't work particularly well against Moorland Haunt or Restoration Angel; it's not bad per se because the Dragon will devour both creatures in combat but the fact that you simply can't stop them from blocking is not ideal.  I also question the overall value of doing 1 damage to every flyer in a format with Insectile Aberration, Restoration Angel and most important Intangible Virtue; I'm pretty sure it's basically impossible to outrun 2CC Crusade effects with a 5CC Dragon folks.

Final Destination:  Overall I'd have to say that Thundermaw Hellkite is a pretty tricky card to evaluate in the upcoming Standard format.  If U/W flying decks remain incredibly popular in the format then I think you'll see a number of decks slide 2-3 copies into the maindeck quite happily.  However if the format begins to diversify to the point that you can't guarantee 4 rounds against Lingering Souls/Delver decks in an 8 round PTQ he starts to look like strictly sideboard material.  Ultimately I feel like TMHK will find a home quickly in G/R builds; probably 2 main and another 1-2 in the sideboard.  Whether or not the Hellkite finds a home in other decktypes (RDW, Mid Range Jund, etc) will depend a great deal on the metagame as a whole, but I can legitimately see him sliding into the board of virtually any deck that can make RR3 pretty quickly.  Probably the nicest thing I cay say about Thundermaw Hellkite is: I'll be snap buying 4 when M13 comes out and I suggest that if you're interested in tapping Rootbound Crags in the new Standard you do the same.




  1. I like TMHK for the simple fact that depending on what is printed in RTR, big red might actually be a viable archetype again.

    1. Gonna need a mana engine now that Koth is gone; Jund or Naya Midrange is still a very real possibility though

    2. Plenty of 4 drops in Jund. It's a deck in block. Nearly the only deck.

  2. It's kind of funny that I know the game that you stole the dragon picture from. Besides that, informative article as per usual and I can't wait to see how exactly this dragon will play out in standard

    1. The picture WotC posted was too small and wouldn't image properly on the blog so I had to make one with MSE. I just typed "Baby Dragon Cartoon Images" into google and that was the cutest one. :)

    2. the game is called maplestory, it's kinda sad cause I play it.

  3. Nice article Nina. I really think that this is a card that we'll have to evaluate now and then re-assess it once RtR drops. I hope it finds a home.

  4. RobotLarge - thank you as always. Yeah I mean I really do think he has a place in the format now simply because Pod and Rampant Growth exist. I don't know how I feel about him when those cards don't exist however; it's a bummer too because if the format were 1 turn slower he'd be a brick shit-house.

    Btw if you guys haven't already checked it out, LegitMtg was crazy enough to publish an article I wrote and I think I might do some more writing for them in the very near future:

  5. Just think how good this could be with rancor though!!! :)

  6. In all seriousness, this is one of those cards that initially I am wowed and thinking how much value I can get. But then looking at the meta, I really can't slot it into standard. Maybe using it with some blink effects to get more value? I dont know...