he Shards of Alara prerelease is fast approaching, and while I'd love to start making speculations about Shards Limited, I just haven't seen enough of the set to do so in good conscience. (Though I've already seen a couple of cards that look like they'll be huge in Constructed. Just think about a Wild Nacati in a deck with Sacred Foundries, yowza.)
Give me a week, and then I'll start imagining what Shards Limited will look like!
In the mean time, let's take a look back at some of the home runs and surprise hits from the still vibrant Shadowmoor-Eventide Limited.
Silkbind Faerie is fantastic.
Let's rewind to 2003. The artifact heavy Mirrodin was the new set on the block and I had Magic fever at a dangerous level. I wanted nothing more than to qualify for my first Pro Tour. I had just come heartbreakingly close to qualifying for Pro Tour-Columbus on rating (I actually had a high enough rating to qualify, but the last tournament that I played in didn't get submitted in time for me to get my invite), and I had my heart set on qualifying for Pro Tour-Amsterdam. The qualifiers for Amsterdam were Sealed Deck, cut to Top 8 Rochester Draft.
I wanted to qualify so badly that I was prepared to go to every PTQ that I could get to in under eight hours and, living in the Northeast, that meant a lot of PTQs. My first PTQ of the season was a simple subway ride away at Neutral Ground, New York. I was able to make it to the semis, but that wasn't enough. The next weekend I had a PTQ in nearby New Jersey. I made it to the finals, but that still wasn't enough.
I was heartbroken. I knew that I was good enough to qualify, but I felt like something small was holding me back. The next week I made the six hour trip to Maryland to play in yet another PTQ. I opened one of the worst sealed pools that I'd ever seen and promptly went 0-2 drop.
I was especially heartbroken after this and I started to think to myself "Maybe I shouldn't be bothering to travel so far to all these tournaments." Still, I felt like I should at least see the end of the PTQ season out in order to see what I could accomplish. (Ahh to remember when I thought that a six hour drive was a far way to go for a tournament...)
The next weekend there were no PTQs in driving distance so I was able to spend the time drafting. During one of my drafts I opened up a pack and took a reasonable card, but certainly nothing special, over Icy Manipulator
Brian David-Marshall was watching my draft and he couldn't believe it. Afterwards he came up to me and asked me about my pick. For some reason I just couldn't understand what made Icy Manipulator such a good card. Brian came at me with some very sound explanations like "You can always lock down their best creature," or "it can tap down two blockers, one on their turn and one on your turn, making it fairly easy for you to make a big final attack (and hard for them to make good attacks against you)," or "you don't even have to commit yourself to a color in order to play it." After a little while he realized that something just wasn't connecting for me and he told me that he knew he was right and I should trust him on this one.
Sure enough, Brian was right, and at the very next PTQ I played in I made it to the Top 8, first picked an Icy Manipulator and, before I knew it, had won and was on my way to my first Pro Tour.
You see, Icy Manipulator is awesome. Being able to lock down your opponent's best creature at all times is just an amazing ability. If you're on defense, if you're on offense, if your opponent has a Dragon, if your opponent has an unblockable threat, if your opponent has a flying Wall that's stopping you from getting through for damage, if your opponent has a creature with an awesome enchantment or piece of equipment on it. It doesn't matter. If you've got a problem, then Icy Manipulator is probably the answer.
Now Silkbind Faerie isn't exactly the same as Icy Manipulator was in Mirrodin, but it certainly has a lot in common with it. Both of them can be killed by top-notch removal spells (Shatter was one of the best commons in Mirrodin Limited). Both can tap down your opponent's best creature(s) and both are pretty easy to play. While you have to pay an extra mana to use Silkbind Faerie's ability, and there are times when you will be unable to use it because your opponent has three-power worth of fliers in play that are preventing you from attacking, there are plenty of things that Silkbind Faerie can do that more than make up for these drawbacks.
Being a one-power flier is certainly worth something, as that allows you to nibble away at your opponent's life total while you are tapping down their creatures. But the real upside of Silkbind Faerie is the ability to use it again and again and again and again if you have a way to tap it, such as a Resplendent Mentor or a...
Power of Fire
I think the biggest breakout card from Shadowmoor
would have to be Power of Fire
. The aura that turns creatures into Prodigal Sorcerer
s at first looked like just another Psionic Gift
or Hermetic Study
. It looked that way because it, just like its predecessors, is a two-mana creature enchantment that makes creatures into Prodigal Sorcerer
s. Sure the cards are physically (nearly) identical, but they are functionally very different.
Power of Fire is great because of the cards around it. In Odyssey Block Limited there are no ways to seriously abuse a Psionic Gift. In Urza's Block Limited, the only way to do something truly degenerate with your Hermetic Study is to toss it on a Horseshoe Crab (or a Morphling, but that only happens in the movies) and then go to town by turning each of your Islands into a point of damage.
While the Horseshoe Crab + Hermetic Study combo can only happen if you have those two cards specifically, Power of Fire can be tossed on any number of different Q creatures for devastating results.
When I started playing Magic, Hermetic Study + Horseshoe Crab sounded like a thing of legend: "Fireball every turn, that's ridiculous! You should never be allowed to do that!" Now, it's something that can happen all the time. Oh how things change.
So, while a card like Burn Trail or Snakeform is going to be great in Limited no matter when it's printed, there are plenty of cards just like Power of Fire that could end up being great if the format, or your deck, is right for it.
Oh yeah, and speaking of Silkbind Faerie and Power of Fire: Do you remember recently inducted Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma's Grand Prix-Indianapolis Top 8 deck? Well, he was able to pick up two copies of both Silkbind Faerie and Power of Fire to help lead him to his second Grand Prix title.
For the same reasons Power of Fire is awesome, Banishing Knack was often the card that I most wanted to see when Eventide rolled around. The thing about Power of Fire and Banishing Knack is that even if you aren't able to use them to devastating effect, they are still good cards. And that's very important. There are plenty of cards that are awesome given the right circumstances, but if that card is also good under less desirable circumstances, then you've got yourself a winner.
So, when you start cracking Shards of Alara packs, be on the lookout for good cards that can become amazing given the right circumstances. These are generally the cards that help make a good deck into a great one. If you're able to identify these cards before the other people you draft with do, then you're going to find yourself doing a lot more winning than losing.
Barrenton Medic and Resplendent Mentor are two cards that I feel have been painfully undervalued throughout the length of Shadowmoor and Eventide. These cards have game-changing effects that go far beyond what their looks might suggest.
Most of the people reading this article understand why a cheap utility creature like Saltfield Recluse, Silvergill Douser, or Ghost Warden is useful (for those that aren't familiar with why these types of cards are good in Limited, the short answer is that they are good because they are cheap creatures that are relevant at almost any point in the game). But I think that a lot of people miss just how big an effect the slower utility creatures can have on the game. Sure, it might not sound like a good idea to spend five mana on an 0/4 that doesn't have any obvious offensive capabilities, but then you realize that your opponent can't make any sort of good attack. Oh, and when your opponent realizes that he or she can't retrace Flame Jab for any sort of real profit then, well, you're probably going to be feeling pretty good.
Resplendent Mentor is a bit of a different story, but its ability to help you win almost any (reasonably close) race combined with turning all of your Q cards like Silkbind Faerie into 11's makes it a very maindeckable card.
One other card that has remained painfully undervalued is Oona's Grace. I don't know why more people don't like this card as all of the other good retrace cards have gotten the recognition they deserve, but for some reason players just haven't taken to drafting Oona's Grace as early as they probably should be. I think that this is indicative of how much players tend to undervalue card drawing and card filtering.
When you pick up your first Shards of Alara packs, be on the lookout for good card drawing. If it looks good, it probably is.
Why did the mono-red deck become a force after Eventide was released?
I'm not quite sure what happened but during straight Shadowmoor Limited, the aggressive mono-red deck didn't make any sort of significant impact on the format. Heck, mono-blue, mono-white, mono-green, and mono-black all felt like somewhat real archetypes while countless Intimidator Initiates were left in peoples' sideboards.
Then Eventide was released and the deck rocketed to the top of the charts. It's odd that this happened, because seemingly the most important cards for the deck, Intimidator Initiate, Burn Trail, and Giantbaiting, were all found in Shadowmoor. So if anything, it would seem that the deck would get weaker. But that obviously wasn't what happened.
Maybe the fact that other decks lost a lot of oomph contributed to making the red decks better?
Sure, the fact that there were less Steel of the Godheads and Power of Fires certainly helped, but there's something very basic that happened with the release of Eventide. You see, there were finally enough cheap red creatures for players to be able to reliably draft the deck. No deck in the format got a bigger boost from the Mimics than the red deck did.
So between (almost) always being able to draft the right curve and the addition of cards like Flame Jab, Cinder Pyromancer, and Noggle Bandit to help ensure that the deck will be able to deal the final points of damage, it went from being a non-factor, to being one of the top decks in the format. So, if you see that there's a deck type in Shards of Alara-Shards of Alara-Shards of Alara booster draft that is just on the cusp of being good, then you should keep it in mind when the following set is released. Things just might fall into place.
A card that surprised me...
When I first saw Gnarled Effigy, the first word that popped into my head was "garbage." Then I thought about it some more and realized "Wait, actually this could be fine in control mirrors."
But I was completely wrong. It turned out that Gnarled Effigy had a ton of applications, and was in fact best in decks with low curves. Now it should have been obvious to me from the get-go that Gnarled Effigy would be at its best in a deck that would have enough mana left over to use it, but for whatever reason I just couldn't shake the idea of "Oh this is a control card, you want it in control decks."
I was initially very afraid that paying eight mana for your first -1/-1 counter would just make it completely unusable. But it turns out that there are actually a lot of decks that don't have a ton going on after turn five or so that love having the mana sink.
I've used this example to illustrate Gnarled Effigy's usefulness before, but I'm going to do it again because I feel like it does a very good job of highlighting when the card is at its best, and that is in Jamie Parke's undefeated Grand Prix-Indianapolis sealed deck:
Grand Prix–Indianapolis, 8-0 Day One (prior to last round)
Jamie's deck would often get out ahead of his opponents, and just when they were looking to stabilize he would plop down a Gnarled Effigy and make blocking impossible for them. Even if Jamie had no real desire to use his Gnarled Effigy in a given turn, just its presence would mean that Jamie's 3/3s would be able to stroll right by his opponent's 3/3s and 3/4s without any difficulty.
Don't let your preconceived notions stop you from actually thinking about how a card works. Yes you should apply a lot of weight to your first reaction, but you should always be on the look out for things that you may have missed.
The prerelease countdown is ticking down. And I'm looking forward to it as much as ever.