ran into a couple of other columnists by the DailyMTG.com water cooler last week at an office we all just rent for access to a water cooler so we can gossip about Magic, and I was hoping to obliquely compare notes on our various preview cards. Steve Sadin was not much for chatter as he was distractedly trying to recall the stats on Skittering Skirge and Steel Golem and ticking off a litany of manlands. Jacob Van Lunen had a maniacal look in his eyes and was whispering things into the ear of a well-worn and meaningfully underlined Pili-Pala. I have seen that look before and I knew well enough to leave him to his own fiendish devices.
Fortunately, Mike Flores was there and he seemed more than up for a conversation. He was practically jumping up and down, which is pretty much par for the course come spoiler season. Let's face it, Mike has gotten the lion's share of the tournament-defining cards—from Isamaru, Hound of Konda to Lotus Cobra to Knight of the Reliquary—and the list goes on and on.
"My card is from Kamigawa," teased Mike as he literally bounced, splashing his paper cone of water in all directions. Some even got on Jake's Pila-Pala, causing the budget-conscious columnist to whip out a tattered sheet of paper and make a hasty notation on it before stomping off to find paper towels.
"Where is your card from?" Mike continued, oblivious to his inclusion on JVL's list of grievances.
"Hmmmm..." I mused. "Is Gnarled Mass from Kamigawa?"
Mike—his cartoon character powers fully engaged—hung in the air about six inches off the ground with a splash of water poised to snap Sadin out of his internal monologue.
"They reprinted Gnarled Mass...?"
"Nope," I grinned. "They made it better!"
As you can see, simply based on the upper and lower right-hand corners of the card, the Wolfir Avenger is quite simply something like a Trained Armodon, which as Mike Flores will tell you, has been more than good enough for him in the past. You might recall—and if you don't he will tell you—his win at a PTQ with Gnarled Mass in his sideboard.
Mike Flores's Critical Mass
Block Constructed – Winner, PTQ New York, 2005
Obviously, creatures have gotten better in the half decade since this deck earned a blue envelope, so how is Wolfir Avenger going to keep pace with the current formats?
Have you ever played an Ambush Viper during combat to trade with a creature? Now imagine that it lived.
Even against a creature that is dealing 3, it is possible for your Avenger to live. Let's get a look at the card in its full glory and see everything it does.
I know the Wolfir represent some evolution of the Werewolves of Innistrad and Dark Ascension, but I am excited to play with this card in tandem with that mechanic. I'm going to go back to Ambush Viper for a second. If you have ever had a deck with a game-breaking double-faced card like Mayor of Avabruck or Daybreak Ranger, you know how important it is to have flash creatures like Ambush Viper, Nephalia Seakite, or Village Bell-Ringer, so you can pass on your turn to transform your creature and still be able to develop your board by playing the flash creature at the end of your opponent's turn.
Wolfir Avenger | Art by Daniel Ljunggren
I have been kind of obsessed with making Mayor of Avabruck work in a sixty-card deck—Standard, Block, or otherwise—and this is just the card I have been wanting. I can pass my third turn to transform the mayor and still add a 4/4 creature—thanks to the Wolf bonus on the Howlpack Alpha—to my board before I untap for my next turn. Maybe you even get to mug an attacking creature along the way for extra value.
As details of the brand new soulbond mechanic began to trickle out there was concern about getting one creature killed and losing access to the abilities. With creatures getting an opportunity to re-pair, flash creatures are going to make combat a nightmare in both Limited and Constructed formats. With an unpaired Wingcrafter, your Avenger can come in and smite a flier. It can suddenly enter the battlefield and let you untap with one of the mightiest Ohran Vipers of all time thanks to Tandem Lookout. Of course, the present every kid will want to unwrap on the first morning in the Magical Christmasland that is the Avacyn Restored Prerelease will be Wolfir Avenger and Wolfir Silverheart for 15 points of sinew, fur, and damage.
The regeneration ability reminds me of another tournament-staple card from days gone by—Albino Troll. The Troll did more than its fair share of winning over the years. It was a featured player in Christian Lührs's mono-green Pro Tour Top 8 deck from Pro Tour New York in 1999 and was part of the semi-eponymous Con-Troll deck that Adrian Sullivan played to a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Memphis that same year.
Adrian Sullivan's Con-Troll
Block Constructed – Top 8, Grand Prix Memphis, 1999
Wolfir Avenger is just a leaner, meaner version of the Albino Troll. The older version required you to tap mana on your turn—twice in fact; twice in fact—whereas you can sneak Wolfir Avenger out whenever it is most convenient for you to resolve a spell. Did your blue opponent just tap out for a Forbidden Alchemy or a Nephalia Seakite after showing Bone to Ash mana on your turn? Strike while the iron is hot and play it while he or she is tapped out on the end step. Once you get to untap, you can then get to work with it and force your opponent to find a way to deal with a regenerating monster.
I could actually see this card playing very well with the loner mechanic that was on display in Steve Sadin's preview card from this week, assuming there are additional cards that reward you for playing and protecting a single creature. It gets much easier to do so when your 6/4 lifelinked Wolf also has the ability to regenerate.
Who am I trying to kid? If I played with this card it is almost certainly going to be in a green-blue deck similar to the old Con-Troll lists. I laid out a scenario above where a player with countermagic does something else with his or her mana at the end of your turn, but that can cut both ways. You can sit back on your Mana Leak or whatever cheap counter you want to play in that slot and when your opponent passes the turn, fearful of playing into your counter, you can seize the initiative by flashing in a 3/3 Wolf with your countermagic still live for the next turn cycle.
As for Limited, this is easily going to be one of my most-picked uncommons in the new set. I have always taken Trained Armodons, Gnarled Masses, and various Silt Crawlers early and often. Hopefully, I will get a chance to add the Wolfir Avenger to my green menagerie at the Prerelease next weekend. I will be playing on Saturday at the Compleat Strategist, a welcome addition to the New York Prerelease landscape. The Compleat Strategist was the store I bought my very first Unlimited starters and boosters—in all their Mox Pearlescent and Ancestral Recall glory (although the card I was most excited about was Shivan Dragon)—and I am looking forward to bringing it full circle next weekend.