Hello everyone out there on the "intar-nets", my name is Nina Illingworth and welcome back to another edition of my blog; The Cardboard Witch. Recently I had the good fortune/opportunity to get one of my articles published on what I consider one of the up and coming MtG websites in the industry; Jon Medina's own LegitMtg.com. For those of you who haven't checked it out, you can find the article here; it's an in-depth review of M13's Rancor and unlike my blog it was professionally edited! I mention this now for two reasons:
- Shameless self promotion. Writers generally prefer it when people read their work afterall. *grin*
- As the Rancor article mentions; I'm quite old by MtG standards and have been playing this game for a very long time. I began playing Magic casually in Fallen Empires and started entering local Magic tournaments just a little while after the release of Ice Age.
To be fair, Watchwolf itself was hardly the first time I fell madly in love with a 2 drop 3/3 critter in my life. Some of my fondest memories of my first go around with tournament Magic revolve around beating my opponents to a fine paste with Mogg Flunkies in Dead Guy Sligh style decks for example. Back then I wasn't a very good player but even I could tell that a 3/3 would beat 2/2's in combat all day; while Cursed Scroll probably won me a *lot* more games, I personally thought the Flunkies were the best card in my deck at the time. In reality the Flunkies were the ultimate boom/bust card and their drawback made them very awkward in a Sligh deck. In fact they weren't even included in the best versions of the Sligh deck itself. Pro Tour Los Angeles (98) was won by a build with 4 copies of Ironclaw Orc and zero copies of Mogg Flunkies; presumably because the last thing an aggressive Red deck would want to do is skip an attack phase for any reason. I was however blind to these faults because I wasn't strong enough as a player to understand anything more than "bigger is better", drawbacks be damned. I really can't tell you how many games I lost to "Flunkie lock" back then but I am willing to bet it was more than just a couple. What I can say with absolute certainty is that there were many, many more games I won at least in part because my Mogg Flunkies were simply bigger than the creatures my opponents were casting in the early game. Despite my overall lack of skill as a player it was pretty hard to actually lose games with openings like:
Turn 1 Jackal Pup
Turn 2 Mogg Flunkies
Turn 3 Ball Lightning
Turn 4 Some combination of Incinerate, Shock, Fireblast
I even remember times when better, more established players in my environment would scowl when I cast a turn 2 Flunkie before openly criticizing my use of such an all or nothing card. Unfortunately their admonitions fell on deaf ears; at that point I was simply locked into the idea that 3/3 is "strictly better" than 2/2 and since I was willfully ignoring the times when my Flunkie couldn't attack or block my play experiences appeared to support that conclusion. Virtually nothing could convince me to give up my Mogg Flunkies; that is of course until Urza's Saga introduced me to Albino Troll. I snap dropped my Mountains for Forests in about 5 seconds flat after seeing what this block had to offer; Pouncing Jaguar was an improved Jackal Pup and Albino Troll was basically a Mogg Flunkie on steroids. Looking back I can safely say that I fell into the same trap with Mono-Green Stompy as I had with Mono-Red Sligh. In my obsession with "numbers" I was completely blind to the fact that Echo was a serious drawback; fortunately I also had Gaea's Cradle and Rancor to hide behind this time in the same way I'd hid behind Cursed Scroll and Fireblast before. Once again I won a lot of games on the back of these better cards all the while believing that my kitties and trolls had carried me to victory. Naturally, this relationship too would pass eventually; Albino Troll rotated out of Type 2 and after a brief but ultimately unfulfilling relationship with Rotting Giant I drifted away from aggro strategies and learned how to play control/tempo decks for a while.
I had recently acquired a playset of Umezawa's Jitte for a very reasonable price from a friend getting out of Standard. I wasn't playing at the time but just reading Jitte made me want to build a deck around this obviously broken card, so I bought them anyways. The next day at work I was pretty pleased with myself and more than willing to show off my new purchase to anyone who showed the slightest interest in Magic whatsoever. My memory is a little hazy but as I recall, that day I got into one of those silly, raging nerd arguments with a customer at my shop. He maintained that I had wasted my money; the card was not that powerful and even if it was, the environment had warped to include maindeck artifact hate specifically to neutralize Jitte. We argued in circles for at least an hour before frustration and my need to get back to "real work" lead me to boldly declare that "Jitte is so broken I can throw it into a Ravnica block deck with no rares and still beat your crappy Standard decks that don't run Jitte!" To my complete and utter shock he accepted my challenge and after informing me that he would be back tomorrow to "settle this once and for all" marched directly out the door. As I stared at the empty doorway in horror it dawned on me that I probably should have kept my big mouth shut; of course I was far too young, proud and arrogant to accept that at the time. I was absolutely determined to prove the customer wrong and as soon as traffic died down I grabbed the Guildpact Binder and went to work. Luckily for me, the Magic gods were smiling that day because nestled in the back of the binder I found my newest love: Scab-Clan Mauler. I may not have been an expert on "current" Magic but I certainly knew an improved Flunkies/Albino Troll when I saw one and I immediately decided to build my entire deck around the Mauler. I quickly threw together a fast and dirty R/G aggro deck with cards like Tin Street Hooligan, Scorched Rusalka and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. To be honest with you the deck was pretty terrible but both Scab-Clan Mauler and Jitte performed admirably and I managed to eke out a 6-4 victory in the "battle of the know-it-alls" the next day at work. More importantly I was hooked on Magic again; before long I was building multiple casual and semi-competitive Magic decks almost entirely out of cards I found lying around the shop. I did eventually discover Watchwolf itself and I'm not ashamed to admit I had a wonderful time combining it with Armadillo Cloak in near endless games of casual Magic.
Silvergill Douser but I lost a tough 3 game set in the finals to an absolutely wicked G/B Elf deck. The first two games were pretty back and fourth affairs but in game 3 my opponent cast a turn 2 Wren's Run Vanquisher and I immediately lost on two levels; first I lost the match but I also lost another battle with my Magic addiction. Within 48 hours I'd already purchased 4 Vanquishers, 4 Imperious Perfects and a full set of Gilt-Leaf Palaces so I could build a variety of awesome block Elf decks. By this point in my Magic journey however I'd become a seasoned veteran of competitive card gaming and even the "best Albino Troll ever" couldn't keep me from seeing how powerful Faeries were. Within a couple of weeks I'd built a "Lorwyn-only" Faeries deck around ridiculous cards like Thoughtseize, Mistbind Clique and Spellstutter Sprite. Naturally there were still a tremendous number of "janky" cards in the deck; I was using Pestermite, MB Clique and Familiar's Ruse as a soft control engine for example. I also had to make do with cards like Nightshade Stinger, Peppersmoke and Scion of Oona simply due to tribal/set requirements but overall this deck would turn out to be frightfully similar to the Fae decks that would define Standard after the release of Morningtide. This was all lost on me at the time though; I just knew I had two tribal decks and while the Faeries deck was good enough to beat many Type 2 decks (using only Lorwyn cards) the Elf deck was way more fun to play. In fact to this day I still have a completely foiled out "no rares" casual Elf Warriors deck made entirely out of Shadowmoor/Lorwyn cards (and 4 Lawnmower Elves obviously) while the Faeries deck was torn apart for resale roughly 30 seconds after Bitterblossom was released.
Red Deck Wins thrown in for good measure. Actually, it was while updating my then-current build of RDW that I stumbled across an M12 spoiler featuring Stormblood Berserker and my love affair with the "Watchwolf" began anew. Suddenly I was 21 years old all over again and staring at probably the single best 3/3 for 2 in the history of Magic; I was immediately overcome by the urge to turn creatures sideways with reckless abandon once more. Unfortunately no matter how hard I tried I was never able to work more than two copies of the Berserker into that version of the deck but when Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede finally rotated I was ready to spring into action. I showed up to the very first Innistrad legal FNM at my store with a deck built around the Berserkers, Stromkirk Noble, Chandra's Phoenix and Shrine of Burning Rage. To say this deck was successful would be a mild understatement; I very easily went 4-0 while gleefully casting "Watchwolves" all day. What's more, the deck kept winning for a little over a month; through a little bit of skill and likely a whole lot of luck I managed to amass a 31-1 record in sanctioned tournaments with it before my environment finally caught up. Eventually the combination of Snapcaster Mages and Timely Reinforcements reached a critical mass at my local FNM and I was forced to mothball the design if I wanted to keep winning tournaments. Although I would go on to play U/W Tempo decks based around Geist of Saint Traft for the better part of the next year, I didn't forget how much I loved slamming a 3/3 Berserker on turn 2; I was merely biding my time, waiting for the next "Watchwolf".
- He costs 2 mana
- He can reasonably be cast as a 3/3 on turn 2
- He has some sort of drawback: in this case you'll need a Mountain in play for him to evolve from "bear" to "wolf".
- Cast a 1 drop and have it survive to deal damage on your second turn; alternately draw Gutshot in your first 7-8 cards?
- Play a Mountain?
Flinthoof Boar even manages to out-wolf the Watchwolf itself; after all you can play the pig if you don't have a Mountain in play but absolutely nothing is going to help you cast a Watchwolf if you can't make both W and G mana. In other words; there simply has never been a 3/3 for 2 mana that's as easy to both cast and use as Flinthoof Boar.
Thundermaw Hellkite then the Boar actually becomes easier on the manabase and is therefore a much better fit. Additionally the reprinting of Rancor in the upcoming Core set could spawn entirely different base Green aggro strategies than the ones we already see in Standard; no matter how you slice it, turn 2 Flinthoof Boar into turn 3 Rancor is a legitimate threat to clock your opponent out of the game incredibly quickly.
Rampant Growth with Farseek you don't need to be Nostradamus to see the writing on the wall. Besides, how can you print a set called "Return to Ravnica" with completely new dual lands? Isn't Ravnica one giant, massively overdeveloped city? You'd think that if there were other vortexes of mixed mana available we'd have already discovered them in that case wouldn't you? I'm only joking of course but I think it's certainly fair to suggest that if WotC doesn't reprint Ravnica shocklands the customer base as a whole will be both shocked and disappointed. To be fair reprinting Stomping Grounds won't solve all of the mana problems in aggressive G/R decks post-rotation but it will certainly do a long way towards improving them. Combined with the rotation of stalwarts like Sword of War & Peace and Dungrove Elder it's not hard to imagine a format where Flinthoof Boar is a vital lynchpin in G/R aggro strategies; serving alongside cards like Strangleroot Geist and Wolfir Avenger rather than attempting to replace them. The downside to this of course is that if history does repeat itself exactly the Gruul dual wasn't released until Guildpact came out and that means we might have to wait as long as 6 months to unlock the pig's true potential in Standard.