f you are like me you have been checking the Conflux Visual Spoiler on a daily basis for the past few weeks to get your brain around the new cards that we will all be playing with at the Prerelease this weekend. I don't know about you but I have never been able to get my head around a list of cards quite the same way as I can with that tantalizing visual buffet of cards that have been previewed on this site, different magazines, blogs, columns, and the mysterious "various sources."
One thing that immediately leaps out from the revealed cards is that players will be able to reap big time rewards for stretching their mana bases to the breaking point. The Visual Spoiler shows off five different cards with all five colors of mana in their mana cost and another three that have activated abilities that cost . Without a doubt the card that is most intriguing to me is the Maelstrom Archangel. It gives me the same funny feeling I got when I first got an advance peek at Mind's Desire on the Scourge spoiler.
Now ... I don't think this is broken in quite the same format-defining way that Mind's Desire has turned out to be every other Extended season or so but there is something completely alluring to me about the ability to play cards without paying their casting cost. I have already begun quietly gathering my play set of Bloom Tenders so I can live the dream of a turn-three Maelstrom Archangel. Okay that is actually just the mere fantasy ... The actual dream involves a Crimson Wisps to give the Archangel haste, followed by a free Violent Ultimatum wiping out the three lands on my opponent's side of the board.
Of course one of the big problems with playing a creature is that every single color-specific piece of removal will work against it. Sure, this class of creatures is Terror-proof but they fall to every Slay, Execute, and whatever new treats Conflux might introduce to the party. That makes Child of Alara quite a formidable threat for anyone who can afford the cost. Assuming you have a removal spell for the 6/6 trampler it could come at the cost of all nonland permanents. Well, if you kill it, anyway. If Child of Alara starts playing in Constructed sandboxes then I imagine players will be looking for good ways to remove creatures from the game.
Child of Alara had me looking through Gatherer for ways to sacrifice creatures that don't involve non-land permanents, which leaves ... well ... lands. I don't know if the Child is going to be seen romping around in the Diamond Valley or being taken to High Market but either of those lands would give you an easy way to basically clear the board of everything but lands. A more intriguing possibility is to Flash out the Child in the Legacy format—failing to pay the balance due on its casting cost—as an instant speed board-sweeper for only two mana that could take out everything from crystallized Slivers to suddenly sprouting armies of Elves and Goblins, to pesky enchantments like Counterbalance. I am not sure this is good enough to make a dent in the Legacy metagame but it is something to think about anyway with Grand Prix–Chicago looming.
Some cards are not as tricky as the others. Fusion Elemental is pretty much just dumb brute force for the Elemental tribe. Forget having to parlay your Bloom Tender off of your Figure of Destiny—you can just run this guy with Smokebraider. This five-mana monster is an oddity for its casting cost. To the best of my knowledge it is the first vanilla card at that mana cost as well as the only card with in its casting cost that has been printed below rare. Technically Coalition Victory is categorized as "timeshifted" in its most recent printing but we can chalk that up as a rare. There has been one five-color card that was printed at uncommon, before but it does not contain in its mana cost. Do you know what it is? If so, consider this your Firestarter and share the answer in the forums.
Just looking through the Visual Spoiler we can see plenty of cards that will help make our gold cards hit play or our off-shard cards from the Resounding cycler ... umm ... cycle. Basic landcycling is going to be a Limited player's best friend this weekend. Fiery Fall seems like an amazing Limited card that will fix your mana in the early going or can take down a troublesome fatty in the mid to late game. I have actually been wondering if this card could see play in Constructed. I don't know how often you need to deal 5 damage to a creature in Constructed, but if you do there is little downside to playing this card in a deck with ready access to red mana.
Mike Flores and I have a running joke about Astral Steel—one of the least successful storm cards from Scourge—where I may have referred to the card as "a bloodbath waiting to happen" when we first going over the spoiler. Rumors of its arrival may have been exaggerated in the past but I think I can safely say that Gleam of Resistance is the aforementioned gorefest. If you thought it was scary to attack into Second Thoughts mana in past Limited formats wait until you are on the wrong end of this card. If you hear anyone high fiving their friends on Saturday it is most likely to be because of this card. What makes it really nice is that if you don't feel like waiting around for the bloodbath you can just cycle it for the basic land of your choice.
Exploding Borders is a card I was having a hard time getting my head around when it first popped up on the Visual Spoiler. It seemed a little bit of a do-nothing to me at first; too expensive to really count on as a mana-fixer and unable to hit creatures to allow you to stabilize the board. Upon further consideration—and considerable admiration from some players in my local draft group—the card is looking a little better to me. "Now I have a way to win," was the reaction of one drafter who opts for greedy mana bases and rarely has many creatures in his removal-heavy decks This card will often get you that elusive fifth piece of your Domain while taking a full 25% of your opponent's starting life total. I am not sold but I am considering a short-term lease to try it out.
For Limited I really like the Dragonsoul Knight, Fleshformer, and Worldheart Phoenix that give you early, pre-Domain plays that become dragons, killing machines, and recurring threats in the late game when all your basic land types are present and accounted for. I don't have much to say about them ... I just like that they allow you to play around with Domain while not completely punishing you if the plan doesn't fully come together. The Dragonsoul Knight is a perfectly reasonable card in a 40-card deck even if you don't ever plan to have more than two colors of mana in play at any time as a 2/2 first striker. He is strictly better than Grey Ogre and has the potential to finish the game an impossible to block, 7/5 first striking, flying trampler.
X marks the Spot
The aforementioned cards all care about the quality of your mana. It is not enough that you have five mana—it has to be one of each for many of those cards to be a factor. There is another cycle of cards that have appeared on the Visual Spoiler that care about quantity. I don't know if Apocalypse Hydra will see play in Constructed but I am confident that both Banefire and Martial Coup will be on everyone's must-trade-for list this weekend.
Red spells have always loomed over Limited formats from the very first Fireballs and Disintegrates to the more recent Demonfire but I don't know if any of them will have induced the tick-tocking dread that Banefire will surely inspire with each land drop your opponent makes. Once they hit six mana and have a Banefire in the wings there is virtually nothing you can do except try to offer up a creature for your opponent to dispatch, force them to discard it, or hope for some kind of Deflection spell to be printed in the set because you are not preventing it and not countering it once you get into the "X is 5 or more" portion of the game.
As devastating as Banefire is sure to be, I don't know that it is not outmatched by Martial Coup. Think about it for a second .... Which would you rather have, a Wrath or a Fireball? How about a Wrath that leaves a small army in its wake? There have been multiple occasions when I have won a Limited game after being on the wrong end of a Cruel Ultimatum—I even won a game the other day the turn immediately after getting a Cruel Ultimatum aimed at me. I don't imagine that I will win any games after someone taps seven mana or more mana to pull off a Martial Coup.
In Extended, with the help of one color-producing land, one Signet, and a set of Urza lands you can Wrath the board while making an army of seven soldiers. I would be pretty shocked if Martial Coup did not wind its way into that format as well as newer Constructed formats like Standard and Block. I am sure Mike Flores is already dusting off his trusty set of Temple of the False God.
By the way .... I would not be surprised to see 10/10 Apocalypse Hydras running around in Constructed as well. I am not as certain that will happen as I am of the destinies of Banefire and Martial Coup, but you cannot argue with a one-sided Mana Flare when you play this thing.
That Thing You Do
One of the things that is really pleasing to me about the sneak peek at the cards in Conflux is that it builds on the shard themes from the first set. It always makes me a little sad when things change from one set to the second. While I certainly want to see some new ideas when the next set comes out, I also want to be able to have the cards I draft in the first two packs play nicely with the cards in the third pack.
Maybe I don't want to be a domain player in this format. Bant and Esper have been really good to me in Shards Limited—and judging by some of the cards previewed thus far that should continue to be true. I don't think there are any cards on this list that have me more excited than Esperzoa and Master Transmuter.
I am a big fan of the Glaze Fiend, and Esperzoa means that I should always be able to keep that guy flying in for at least two a turn alongside its big 4/3 cousin. I have been known to take a Sanctum Gargoyle over just about anything and I have certainly entertained thoughts about picking up my Gargoyle every upkeep.
Master Transmuter just gets better and better looking every time I look at it. Since returning an artifact is part of the cost of activating the Transmuter there is no opportunity for an opponent to kill the artifact you are choosing to return. Better yet, because the "return an artifact" and the "put an artifact from your hand into play" clauses are on opposite sides of the colon you are able to put the same artifact you just picked up right back into play—including the Transmuter itself.
Now I understand that I may like Tidehollow Sculler tricks a little too much. I recently spent three straight turns playing a Sculler, putting its "comes into play" ability on the stack, and using Call to Heel to return it to my hand. For three turns I was able to permanently remove my opponent's five-, six-, and seven-drops from the game. In case you don't know how it works if the Sculler's "leaves play" ability resolves before the "comes into play" ability does, you can permanently remove a card from your opponent's hand.
I am already looking forward to being able to Sculler with a Master Transmuter online so I can play the Sculler and use the Master Transmuter on it to strip a card from the game—every turn if I want to. You can do the same thing with a Sanctum Gargoyle or—I can't even begin to imagine how insane this would be—Sharuum the Hegemon. Yeah ... the Transmuter is going to be a must-kill card if your opponent is Esper, but keep in mind that if you are using targeted removal you want to do when the Transmuter is not active since your opponent could just return the Transmuter itself and just put it right back into play.
One of the frustrating aspects of the Bant shard is the lack of removal once you get past Oblivion Ring. Giltspire Avenger will be a welcome salve to that problem that lets you pick off creatures as they damage you while offering its exalted contribution to whatever creature you decide to attack with. If you have any way to gain life, such as a Rhox War Monk or Kiss of the Amesha, you should be able to hide behind your Avenger and win the game. I deliberately left Battlegrace Angel off the list since you don't need much help winning if you have the Angel.
The other frustrating aspect of playing Bant—and the same is true of all the shards—is having three different colors of mana available to play a Rhox War Monk or Giltspire Avenger on turn three. How about playing them on turn two? Thanks, Noble Hierarch! This is sure to be another card in high demand this weekend. Rhox War Monk has already appeared in a handful of Constructed decks—including Worlds finalist Jamie Parke's Standard deck—and this card will allow it to be in play to attack as a 4/5 on turn three. Noble Heirarch would be a perfectly acceptable mana creature even if it did not offer the bonus of exalted.
But Wait ... There's More
That barely scratches the surface of the new set. Nicol Bolas has always been one of my favorite characters in the game's rich history. Is there any card more exciting for people than the newest planeswalker? Where did I put those Bloom Tenders? What is the earliest you can "cheat" this card out? Can the hideaway lands work well to sneak this into play before its scheduled arrival date? I don't know but I will certainly be trying. Maybe with Maelstrom Archangel ....
Scarland Thrinax is a card that I can't wait to playtest in Constructed. Is a permanent +1/+1 counter better than the temporary surge of Nantuko Husk? I can see the rough outline of a deck featuring this, Sprouting Thrinax, Goblin Assault, and Bitterblossom along with either Soul's Fury or Rite of Consumption. His ability also lets you "fizzle" the Control Magic abilities of cards like Sower of Temptation and Nicol Bolas. Think of him as Nantuko Husk and Greater Gargadon wrapped up in one three mana package.
There are so many more cards to discuss but I will leave that to you to do in the forums. Which card or cards are you most excited to get your greedy little mitts on this weekend? I am heading out to LA for the Prerelease for the Champion Challenge, so if you are in the area be sure to drop by, play a couple of games, and tell me about your favorite cards from the new set. You can even win an extra booster pack if you beat me. If not, head to the forums and let me know there.
Good luck this weekend everyone. Have fun!