estow has been the defining mechanic of Theros block. At first sight, bestow was interesting to evaluate. I remember being confused about what kind of risks I was taking by bestowing a creature, only to learn that I was taking essentially no risk at all. Bestow offers risk-free Auras as well as flexible, resilient ways to use your mana during the course of a game.
Oh, and it also is the glue that makes heroic possible. If bestow didn't exist, heroic decks would rely too much on actual combat tricks, making critical mass of both combat tricks and heroic creatures in the set nearly impossible. Bestow fixes this problem nicely. More than anything, though, bestow offers us value.
Art by Sam Burley
In this column, I have previewed two different cycles of bestow creatures.
Our first look at bestow was a cycle of commons that added some basic, evergreen abilities to the bestowed creature in addition to the requisite power and toughness boost. As an introduction to a world where bestow existed, these were quite a leap. They were also easy to overlook, but as we played with them it sank in just how good these cards are.
For Born of the Gods, the cards I previewed went a different direction: the bestow costs went down, but we didn't get any special abilities with them. This put bestow to the test: would it be good enough even if the creatures just gained power and toughness? If you have played any Born of the Gods Limited, you know the answer to this question: Yes. I wondered in that article if Nyxborn Rollicker would set the low bar for bestow, but it turned out to be a reasonable inclusion in the right deck, furthering the notion that bestow is simply good no matter what.
This week, we have a cycle of uncommon bestow creatures from Journey into Nyx to preview that will push the boundary even further. These ones have drawbacks. Most of the drawbacks are minor, but they provide a fascinating twist on a proven value mechanic for this Limited format.
Let's take a look at our preview cards:
And we start off with a bombshell. Crystalline Nautilus gives a view into what we can expect from this new cycle of bestow creatures. First, it's a 4/4 for three mana. In blue.
Wow. Big pressure, early in the game, on offense or defense.
Second, it bestows for a reasonable five mana, granting a life-total crushing +4/+4 at "bestow speed." (Bestow speed is about as fast as haste speed, for the record)
In terms of raw efficiency, Crystalline Nautilus has the market cornered. But, of course, there is a catch. There is no way we are getting power and toughness at this price in blue without a hefty drawback. And hefty it is.
If the Nautilus gets targeted by basically anything in the game, you have to sacrifice it. This applies to your own effects like combat tricks, Equipment, and of course, other bestow creatures. But more importantly, it applies to essentially everything your opponent has that can interact with your creatures.
Before we put everything into one bucket, though, there are some important considerations to ponder. The first thing that comes to mind is that the opponent is forced to deal with this if it comes down on turn three or if it's bestowed onto some evasive threat. There will be some percentage of the time he or she simply dosn't have a way to interact with your creature and you get full value. This will happen relatively rarely.
If your opponent is forced to use an actual removal spell on this, then it's no different than any other good threat.
So far, so good.
Now the big downside: Crystalline Nautilus dies to many things in this set that aren't removal.
Bounce spells? They get upgraded to kill spells.
Combat tricks? Not only can you not use them yourself to protect it, you turn on all of your opponent's Savage Surges, Mortal's Ardors, and Coordinated Assaults into removal spells. In a pinch, your opponent could even bestow his or her creature onto the Nautilus to kill it, leaving your opponent with the bestow creature left over!
In a heroic universe where ways to target your creatures are everywhere, Crystalline Nautilus doesn't seem resilient enough to stick around for long.
So where is this good? It's good when you can bestow it and get in a huge hit of damage. Then, even after your opponent kills the creature you bestowed, he or she has to deal with the 4/4 that is left behind. I'm not sure there is a deck that wants such a thing, but if there is, this is the best possible version of it.
I mentioned that this cycle of bestow creatures all come with some sort of drawback. In the case of Mogis's Warhound, the drawback is minimal. In fact, I have heard people say that this ability is actually not a drawback as it forces you to play "correctly." While meant in jest, I think that given the color of the Warhound and what we know about that color in Theros Block Limited, it may not be far from the truth.
Let's be clear here: Mogis's Warhound is all about the beatdown. It's an aggressive, brutally efficient killing machine. It's hard to imagine a better start than, say, Akroan Skyguard into bestowed Mogis's Warhound. Bestowing the Warhound onto anything with heroic in any semblance of a curve-out situation should provide immense pressure on your opponent.
And make no mistake: bestowing is the name of the game with the Warhound. I can think of worse options than playing a 2/2 for two mana that must attack each turn, but the bestow cost of just is incredibly low and far too enticing to pass up. I predict that this gets bestowed something like 90% of the time it's cast.
About that downside... what downside? Attack!
One-drops with 2 power have been around in black forever. Anyone who has played a Cube draft before has seen a slew of them floating around the table. Cards like Carnophage, Gravecrawler, Diregraf Ghoul, and—most recently—Tormented Hero are nothing new for black. They often come with some sort of drawback, and it usually seems to affect blocking for some reason. Sometimes they enter the battlefield tapped, or even can't block at all. This is the story with Gnarled Scarhide.
In Theros Block Limited, black has been a decidedly controlling color. There just isn't a deck to be had that is looking to curve out with black aggressive creatures. Too many of them have low power and high toughness to really fuel an aggressive strategy.
And this has me a bit concerned about where Gnarled Scarhide will fit into the format. The inexpensive bestow cost of just is enticing. Still, taking away the ability to block from a black creature is not where we want to be.
The obvious comparison is to Nyxborn Eidolon.
Simply put, the advantage of being cast as well as bestowing a turn sooner just doesn't outweigh the disadvantage of taking away the ability to block. It is interesting to consider that you could bestow the Scarhide onto your opponent's creature in a close damage race to prevent it from being able to block, but experience tells me that this will come up infrequently.
I think the old Scarhide won't see much play unless the black-red deck gets a ton of help from Journey into Nyx.
Sightless Brawler is a confusing card to grasp. On one hand, it's a 3/2 for just two mana. Quite nice. You could see this slotting into a beatdown strategy, or even playing defense in the right situation. But then things get murky.
It can't attack alone. (Because it's blind, it needs someone to help it get to battle.)
This reminds me of Loyal Pegasus. It's an undercosted body that needs friends to be good. Sort of. The big difference here being that Sightless Brawler can block no matter what. He's actually quite a good blocker, even if he looks to be much better at attacking on the surface (and he is). So he requires a lower level of commitment than the Pegasus, but also awkwardly costs two mana. If the brawler is your turn-two play, and you cast some other creature on turn three, you aren't doing any attacking until the fourth turn of the game. This is a pretty big deal.
Additionally, if he is your only real creature on the battlefield, and you have a castable bestow creature, things get even more awkward.
Adding even more fuel to the weirdness, Sightless Brawler has bestow, himself. The idea with a lot of heroic decks is to pile up a bunch of Auras and bestow creatures onto one massive heroic threat that is bigger and better than anything your opponent is doing. Old Zero-Eyes here can make that situation weird as it makes the underlying creature huge, but possibly not able to attack.
I don't quite know what to make of this card. It sort of feels wrong at all spots on the curve, but at the same time it's a 3/2 for two mana with bestow that can at least block all the time, so it's never just a dead card.
I'll keep my eye on this guy as we get to the point where we are actually cracking Journey into Nyx packs, that's for sure.
Spirespine is a really cool card, that is very difficult to analyze. I tried to think of any cards in memory that had the ability "blocks each turn if able," and I couldn't. I dug around a bit and found a couple of examples, but none of them were recent. The ability is a strange one, but there are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about it.
- If the opponent has nothing to attack with, Spirespine isn't blocking.
- Being 4 power, it will trade with many of the things which will be attacking.
- You can choose to block whichever creature you wish.
The turn after you cast Spirespine, your opponent gets to attack you and force you to block with it. This ranges from quite bad for you to not too shabby at all. One big fear is that he or she trades away a useless token for a three-drop, but realistically this means your opponent isn't attacking with his or her other creatures for a whole turn. The real fear is that you play your Spirespine thinking your opponent may trade off a creature for it, only to have your opponent bestow up his or her guy, making it bigger than your Spirespine. That is a disaster.
So what is the moral of the story with this card? First, I think that bestowing it is the name of the game. Whatever you bestow it upon will be massive, and if that happens to be an evasive threat, the game is going to end quickly. The best way to mitigate the downside of this card is simply to keep the bestowed creature from blocking by turning it sideways turn after turn.
Another way to look at this card is to make an obvious comparison to Nyxborn Wolf.
Since these cards are so similar, the question becomes, "Is the extra point of power worth the downside?"
I think the answer is that it's close enough. I wouldn't say that this card is leagues better or worse than Nyxborn Wolf, instead that they are in the same general vicinity, with the footnote that Spirespine wants to be bestowed and attack a bit more of the time than Nyxborn Wolf.
Looking Back on Bestow
Bestow has been a fascinating journey so far, and this last cycle of cards is the most complicated and hardest to gauge of them all. Most bestow cards have fallen into a relatively narrow range of playability so far. Namely, they have all been playable. This cycle will show us a broader range of playability, and maybe even teach us a thing or two along the way.
I predict that Mogis's Warhound will have the most immediate impact on the format, as it slots so easily into the aggressive red decks that already exist. I think Crystalline Nautilus will prove too fragile to see consistent play, though I'll be checking in on that one for sure.
No matter how they turn out, I know I'm excited to get my hands on them, as I'm sure you are.
Until next week, where yet another cycle of previews awaits!
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.