elcome to the Magic 2011 Red Carpet Show where we take a look at what all the colors will be wearing this weekend at the M11 Prerelease galas taking place all across the globe. The Visual Spoiler for the entire set has been posted since Wednesday—and if you have not looked at this handy playbill then you should check it out now.
The first new white cards down the walkway are a pair that are part of a cycle of two cards in each color that refer back to the classic planeswalkers that are all being reprinted in M11. Ajani's Mantra is going to make some Limited games feel like running up the down escalator but is not as exciting for Constructed as Ajani's Pridemate will be—although I will not be surprised to see the former make people try out the latter in the Tournament Practice room.
There are abundant life-gaining cards already kicking around in Standard that the Pridemate could be a real threat that has to be dealt with quickly. Perimeter Captain, Kor Firewalker, and Baneslayer Angel immediately jump to mind. With Baneslayer you even get a modicum of old-fashioned damage stacking since you can block or attack with both and have the Angel take care of her business first and get a one point boost of power and toughness for your Pridemate by the time he gets to do his thing. (Just a quick reminder—this card does not work like Kavu Predator. You don't get a counter for every life gained, just one counter for each time you gain life.)
I look forward to having a couple of these guys on the battlefield along with original Ajani and being able to boost the loyalty on my planeswalker AND put +1/+1 counters on my creatures by gaining 2 life.
Knight Exemplar is another card that begs players to try and build a deck around him. If you have ever had fantasies about playing a White Weenie deck that also packed four copies of
Wrath Day of Judgment then this is the card for you! With two copies of Knight Exemplar on the battlefield all your Knights survive and with only one he takes one for the team, but they live to swing into an otherwise empty Red Zone.
Are there any Knights in Standard worth pairing with this new card debuting this weekend? Just staying in white—and not looking ahead to post Scars rotation—there are plenty:
Knight of Cliffhaven
Knight of the Skyward Eye
Knight of the White Orchid
Knight-Captain of Eos
Paragon of the Amesha
Student of Warfare
Now obviously these are not all playable in tournaments, some are too expensive, such as the Lightwielder, or are tied to other strategies (Talus Paladin). Some have abilities that require additional colors of mana—Paragon of the Amesha—but there are more than enough within the right range of mana costs and stats to consider building a deck around the Exemplar. And that is without even taking into account cards in additional colors like ... oh, I don't know ... Knight of the Reliquary.
If you have been following tournament results over the past few weeks than you undoubtedly have a new-found respect for a first turn Mountain in Standard. Regardless of how you feel about the name for the archetype, red decks have certainly done more than their fair share of winning over the past few weekends. Just look at the deck that Katsuhiro Mori used to win the Japanese Nationals this past Sunday.
Katsuhiro Mori's Red Deck Wins
Standard - 1st Place - Japan National Championships
Are you tired of having your turn-two play killed and taking 3 in the process from a Searing Blaze? Well the next card down the carpet completely shuts down Searing Blaze and just about any other burn spell that has the words "target player" on it. Leyline of Sanctity may be the most intriguing of the four new Leylines being added to the Standard mix in M11. We know that the reprinted Leyline of the Void is going to see a lot of anti-Vengevine action, but even it could easily be outshined in tournaments by its white counterpart.
Sure the red player can try and finish you off with Ball Lightnings, unearth creatures, and Earthquakes. But if you actually don't have to worry about them Lightning Bolting you at the end of your turn, you can get the time you need to stabilize and figure out a way to not get crispy. Leyline of Sanctity is also good against black decks looking to subject your early game to Kozilek's Inquisition, make you sacrifice creatures with Gatekeeper, and bury you under the card advantage of a Mind Sludge.
Of all the new Leylines, this is the one that seems to have an impact on the most formats reaching all the way back into Vintage. Turns out a better-than-Ivory-Mask Ivory Mask that you can have before the game starts is really good in formats where people are looking to Tendrils of Agony you out in the first few turns of the game. Obviously the ability to have the Leyline before the game starts makes it better than Ivory Mask but the fact that you can still target yourself makes it even better. Especially in formats with targeted card draw like Compulsive Research or ... Ancestral Recall.
Serra Ascendant is another card that lets you gain life for your Ajani's Pridemate but this is a card that I know every EDH player who has ever shuffled ninety-nine cards is looking forward to casting on turn one. Since you start out at 40 life in EDH the Ascendant comes down as a 6/6 flying and lifelinked bull's eye. I may have to switch generals just so I can play with this card.
Squadron Hawk is a card that hearkens back to Howling Wolf—a card I used in Constructed as a draw engine in concert with Brainstorm and Credit Voucher. I am looking forward to trying this new model out with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and fetch lands, but it also has obvious synergy with Vengevine. It is an intriguing card that is perhaps flying below the radar or more bombastic offerings like Sun Titan—which I will be playing in a black-white control deck with Fleshbag Marauder. I think we have already spent plenty of time with white though—onto blue, that poor, put-upon color that never gets anything good—you're not buying that either are you?
I had the opportunity to preview Conundrum Sphinx for Top8Magic.com and I was so happy at this upgrade over my M10 Mold Adder preview. Keep in mind that Conundrum Sphinx costs exactly the same amount and colors of mana as Thieving Magpie—and that was a card that has seen a fair amount of tournament success in its day. The only thing that seems to be standing in the way of the Sphinx is the fact that there is a logjam of great cards at four mana, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Oracle of Mul Daya. It might be hard for this card to get play time enough to find out how good it really is.
I do know that I want to try the Sphinx out in a mono-blue deck which requires having some kind of removal. Diminish seems like the perfect answer to a Baneslayer Angel that managed to sneak in through your countermagic. That's fine, you can do a point of first strike damage and gain a life. Go ahead ... now put it in your bin. By the way, this is a card you will have to get used to playing around in Limited. One blue untapped can now spell disaster in Limited where it used to only mean watch out for an Unsummon.
Probably the biggest card that blue is gaining in M11 is not a new card but the reprint of Mana Leak—and going straight into my Sphinx-centric blue deck. This is a card that has always been good in every format it has been legal in and I expect it to make its presence known from the first round of Limited on Saturday through whenever it rotates out of the Standard and Extended formats.
Preordain may have to wait for Ponder to wander off into older formats to see play in Standard but it still makes me so happy to see scry in the core set and has me very optimistic about playing Magic 2011 Limited. (I can't tell you how many times I have seen this site's editor, Kelly Digges, utter words he would never allow to appear on this website as the next four cards revealed to him by his Sage Owl did not include his third land. Augury Owl has his fingerprints all over it.)
Redirect is another compelling piece of pseudo-removal for the blue deck. Unlike Twincast—which this card replaces in the core set—your opponent does not still get to resolve the spell to their satisfaction. Twincasting a Path to Exile might be a fine play but it is not nearly as good as Redirecting it from your Conundrum Sphinx to their Knight Exemplar—which is going to be my go-to demonstration card from now on.
Æther Adept and Scroll Thief are updated versions of some blue classics. I have been playing with Sedraxis Alchemist in the Dredgevine deck for the past couple of weeks and while it is fun to bounce the occasional Sprouting Thrinax or Baneslayer Angel, I like the flexibility of being able to also bounce planeswalkers and Eldrazi Monument. One thing that Æther Adept is very good at, though, is bouncing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn when it has been Polymorphed onto the battlefield so I may throw a couple copies into my Sphinx sideboard. I am certainly going to try out Scroll Thief. I do like to be able to kill whatever happens to block it with Diminish so we will see if it is any good.
So what is this deck looking like? Here is a first pass that I will be tooling around with in the Tournament Practice room as soon as this set is available on Magic Online.
I wish one of these two cards cost two mana so I could play with the combo of Dark Tutelage and Crystal Ball. At three each I don't think I can do both in the same deck—but that does not mean I won't try!
Demon of Death's Gate has been the subject of a steady stream of water cooler chatter around the Top8Magic.com offices. Cards like this have existed before, going back to Spirit of the Night, but few have seen play under tournament conditions. You don't have to stretch your imagination very far to see this card making a surprise guest appearance in an aggro Vampire deck that led off with Pulse Tracker or Guul Draz Vampire and follows up with similar beaters for the next turn or two.
You can even play him with Viscera Seer. It is not unreasonable to have this card on the battlefield before your opponent even makes a second land drop. Of course if you get Path to Exiled, that extra land will hardly make up for the three cards you already sank into him. If only black had cards that let you look at an opponent's hand and force them to discard the one you want ...
A card that does not suffer from that inherent card disadvantage is Grave Titan—vying with Inferno Titan and Sun Titan for the position of Titan Runner-Up to Primeval Titan. I already posted a potential mono-black deck list in last week's preview of Nantuko Shade. This is one of the cards I am really hoping to open this weekend at the Montreal Prerelease.
Phylactery Lich is a card that fills me with fear. I am terrified of getting blown out by an artifact removal spell but I am even more terrified of staring across the table at this card on turn three with no way to deal with it in sight. Prophetic Prism and Borderposts are already seeing plenty of play in Standard and the temptation to make this 5/5 work is tremendous.
So how good is Combust and how twitchy is Baneslayer Angel feeling these days? Twitchy enough that maybe it is time for Harm's Way to make a brief Standard reappearance? Something to think about.
Something else to think about while looking at red as it comes down the carpet is that the one thing that Destructive Force does better than anything else is to give your Knight of the Reliquary +5/+5 and clear a path for it—or them—to swing in. I was always a big fan of Wildfire and I will be trying very hard to ignore / offset the extra mana in the mana costs. If it provides me another way to deal 5 damage to a Baneslayer Angel then I think I can look my way past it.
Show of hands—how many of you have ever used the white ability on a Goblin Legionnaire? Those three of you with your hands up will probably be disappointed with Ember Hauler. The rest you will be happy to channel your inner Tsuyoshi Fujita and attack for 2 with this.
Speaking of your inner Fujita—how much do you like Leyline of Punishment? As much as red mages are unhappy about the Leyline of Sanctity they are excited about making Kor Firewalker into a chump blocker—since damage can't be prevented the Leyline essentially shuts down protection from red in combat. Of course, decks that are running Kor Firewalker have access to the types of cards that trump a Leyline while red decks will have to look at keeping a Plains in their sideboard to fetch with Arid Mesas.
What happens if you Reverberate a Redirect? I don't know but I sure hope I find out this weekend. There were actually a few players in the Twitterverse who referred to this card as "the red Twincast." I would like to think I am old enough that I can restrain myself from telling them to go Fork themselves but alas I am not.
Wild Evocation is a card that has my combo brain buzzing—as does just about any card that will let me actually cast my Emrakul without paying its mana costs. The question becomes one of how fast can I empty my hand and get this onto the battlefield? A deck filled with cheap burn spells, Pyretic Rituals, Everflowing Chalices, and four Emrakul might be able to do the trick. You just have to wince your way through your opponent's next upkeep.
If you were on the play you could Lightning Bolt your opponent at the end of turn one, cast an Everflowing Chalice on turn two, aim a red spell their way on turn three, and then on turn four cast Pyretic Ritual and Wild Evocation with one card left in hand. If you are holding Emrakul there is little you care about them casting for free on their turn other than their own Eldrazi. Probably not good enough for prime time but that does not mean it is not worth trying out. Hive Mind decks ended up being playable with Pacts during the last Extended season and this has a very similar feel.
Coming soon to a sideboard near you! For when you absolutely can't keep enough mana open for Mana Leak, Autumn's Veil is going to be the perfect solution. Guttural Response saw plenty of play when it was Standard legal and while this does not do everything that Response did, it does some things that the other could not. Protecting your creature from Doom Blade and Mind Control is often more important against the control decks than forcing through a spell.
Back to Nature is another hoser for Mind Control but it also takes down the Leyline of Anticipation that let your opponent cast it as if it had flash. All you need is access to one green mana and you can free all your creature-lands from the shackles of Spreading Seas, your planeswalkers from under those Oblivion Rings, and bust up that annoying Pyromancer Ascension combo while you are at it.
I mentioned earlier that I have been playing with the Dredgevine deck which uses eight Looters to stock its graveyard with Vengevines, Bloodghasts and Extractor Demons. The deck currently has no way to actually cast a Vengevine but that may change with the introduction of Fauna Shaman. What would that deck look like?
You can even give your Fauna Shaman "haste" by casting it with a Renegade Doppelganger in on the battlefield. I am excited to try this version out and will be looking to trade for Shamans this weekend in Montreal.
Mitotic Slime is another card that is high on my trade-list as I have been toying around with Bloodthrone Vampire in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online. This guy can feed a hungry Vampire to the tune of +14/+14 all by itself and if you have any way to give that Vampire evasion—say with an Eldrazi Monument, which also plays quite nicely with Mitotic Slime—it can get out of hand very quickly.
The card that might be the most exciting of all the cards being introduced in M11 is the Primeval Titan. Lands have become increasingly powerful over the past few sets and the Titan gives you access to whichever ones you might want to fetch out of your deck when you cast it and when you attack. You can fetch up Smoldering Spires and Sejiri Steppes to slip creatures past opposing defenses, Bojuka Bog to uncounterably drown those pesky Vengevines and Bloodghasts, or simply set up your even bigger Eldrazi monsters by getting a trio of Temples into on the battlefield with an Eye of Ugin. You can even go and get a Mystifying Maze—just make sure not to use it on your opponent's Titans!
Actual Red Carpet
One of the reasons I led off this column with the admittedly thin red carpet analogy was because I had an actual red carpet experience this past Tuesday in New York when the fine people I work for in Renton offered me a pair of tickets to the World Premiere of The Sorcerer's Apprentice at The New Amsterdam theater in Times Square. Other than the presence of posters advertising the movie in the tournament hall at Pro Tour–San Juan I did not fully understand the connection but jumped at the chance to cut out of work early and do a little celebrity sighting.
The event was quite a big deal as it all but shut down Times Square to accommodate the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub, Nicholas Cage, and the rest of the cast of the movie. I even got to walk down the red carpet after picking up my tickets and credentials—granted it was the backside of the red carpet and we got to admire the backs of a lot of celebrities giving interviews about what they were wearing, who they were seeing, and how they were coping with the oppressive New York City heat wave.
Matt Wang, Alex Shvartsman, and Justin Gary
I went with Grand Prix–Boston winner Matt Wang and we were seated in the mezzanine with the likes of Cedric the Entertainer, Kelly Choi from Top Chef Masters, and various and sundry Real Housewives from the tri-state area. Pro Tour–New York Top 8 competitors Alex Shvartsman and Justin Gary were seated in the orchestra section and they assured us that the level of celebrity—much like the level of tournament success—was much better down in front.
It was not until halfway through the movie that I understood the connection and there was a key scene that introduces a supporting villain. He is a stage magician who has a sanctum filled with various posters, playbills, and mementos of his career. Prominently featured among them are two large promo stand-ups for Magic: The Gathering, featuring this Ertai-looking magician as a character in the game. I thought it was pretty cool, but not as cool as finding out that there were plenty of Magic fans in attendance, all of them reacted audibly to the prominent placement of their favorite game.
No one was more audible than the boy behind me who could scarcely believe what he had just seen. After the movie he was still stunned and kept talking about it to his mother, who was much more interested in getting an up close look at Nic Cage.
As for the movie itself ... it was a lot of fun. The director is the same one who made the National Treasure movies and if you liked them—and wizards—then you will likely have a great time watching The Sorcerer's Apprentice in good old-fashioned 2D!