ne of the more satisfying aspects of Darksteel is the lack of a clear “best in set”. When a set produces multiple cards that intrigue tournament and casual deckbuilders alike, it's usually a pretty good sign. Sets like Apocalypse and Mirrodin (neither of which has a clear stand-out “#1 best card”) please many players because they encourage the use of multiple cards and deck types. For a game built on creativity, that's essential.
As the set actually rolls out into players' decks, I have to say I'm still as uncertain about the “best multiplayer card” in Darksteel today as I was several weeks ago. While I did a quick Top Ten list with Bennie Smith in Scrye magazine, I wanted to use the benefits of more time and space here at magicthegathering.com to explore a few of my initial picks and suggest some more detailed uses of the cards.
Here, in my current thinking, are the four most qualified candidates for “best multiplayer card” in Darksteel. (A fifth possible candidate I already mentioned in a recent column is Death Cloud – despite its ugly, Balance-like, killjoy tendencies. Brian David-Marshall, reborn “Spike” columnist, loves this card and has already done a recent, thorough treatment of it. In celebration of the hope that multiplayer and tournament enthusiasts can one day play nicely together on green lawns under fluffy clouds with baskets of puppies – multiplayer-lovin' clouds, mind you; and multiplayer-lovin' puppies – I hereby defer to his analysis and judgment. Also, the column was too long with five cards.)
These are in no particular order.
The “Signature” Card
When casual players look back four or five years from now at Mirrodin
block, they're going to remember cards simply because they embodied the “flavor” of the set. Darksteel's
overriding flavor is the introduction of indestructible artifacts at sky-high prices, and the king of them all is Darksteel Colossus
The Colossus screams “kiddie card” to many constructed tournament players. That's fine, because I don't want their paws on it. (I tried to fit that puppy metaphor from above back in here, but it didn't work. See, dear reader: I show you my successes and my failures.)
Basic fact #1: Colossus will work wonders in an Oath of Druids or Sneak Attack deck. (We'll have more “duh” moments as we go along, friends. 11/11 tramplers are kinda like that.)
Basic fact #2: For those of you with collections that don't go back that far, you're still in luck: there's some buzz out there regarding Colossus and Proteus Staff, a more recent and obtainable rare. Here's how you might construct a deck, throwing in one or two obscure old-school cards to satisfy the other half of my audience:
Casual and/or multiplayer deck
4 Darksteel Colossus
4 Darksteel Brute
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Chimeric Egg
2 Xanthic Statue
4 Proteus Staff
4 Last Word
(31 other spells)
While the Proteus Staff and Polymorph are fairly important and set the flavor of the deck, there are plenty of decent substitutes for the other rares: for example, any counterspell will work in place of Last Word. And there's nothing mono-blue about the deck – if you want to throw in a Squirrel Nest or some other non-creature card that can generate decent blockers, go right on ahead. (Xanthic Statue is a bit of a joke – just in there for the “early” game, until you can hard-cast a Darksteel Colossus! Throw in whatever you like.)
Bottom line: The Colossus is almost never bad, assuming you get him into play. (However, Viashino Heretic is horrific for you.) With high board impact, high threat level, and a habit of showing up again and again, he's in the same league as Bloodfire Colossus and Mageta the Lion, which is darn good company.
Anthony's statistics for Darksteel Colossus (scale of 0 to 8):
Blended Score: 4.34
Compare other artifact creatures:
Platinum Angel: 4.54
Beast of Burden: 4.12
(If you need a primer on my “animal elements” or how I come up with these scores, check Which Came First?, the archives for my Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame last autumn, or skim through any number of recent articles.)
The “New Angel”
Every block seems to have a new variant on a white 4/4 (or 4/5) flying house. Darksteel
brings us an intriguing tweak – something that can untap at instant speed and protect itself from all sorts of silliness.
In multiplayer, this effect actually loses some steam because there are always cards like Wrath of God and Mutilate floating around – not to mention multiple players who may want to see the angel dead, and who might stack their effects together to do the angel in. (Rules reminder: if someone attempts to Terror your angel and you play an instant – say, Whispers of the Muse – in response, the angel's activated ability goes on the stack. This represents an opportunity for that player, or anyone else, to play a Dark Banishing on the Angel before it untaps. Naturally, you may have a second instant ready to go in response, so that the angel will untap before that Dark Banishing hits…and so on. Whoever plays the last spell wins.)
My favorite combinations with this card will be alternate play cost spells. It will feel wonderful to bait enemies by attacking with the angel, “forgetting” that you're tapped out…and then playing Misdirection on the Terminate to untap your angel, protect it from future nonsense, and destroy another creature as well. And don't forget that in an artifact-rich environment, a card like Abolish finds much use!
Let's take a look at a full deck, following a fairly routine white-blue “fortress” model:
Sometimes, rules research while writing an article can be cool. According to 409.1i:
“Once the steps described in 409.1a–409.1h are completed, the spell or ability becomes played. Any abilities that trigger on a spell or ability being played are put onto the stack trigger at this time.”
That doesn't mean much, until you realize that steps 409.1a through 409.1h include the part where you tap the Pristine Angel to pay for Angelic Favor. So if someone is attacking you and you need one more body, you'll have both the angel card and the angel token available to block by the time the dust settles.
Notice the Leonin Battlemage in there. This kid brother of the Pristine Angel doesn't get much attention; but he's quite nifty himself. He can boost an attacker or defender and surprise an awful lot of people. (Just don't try to play a spell for the Battlemage and pump the Angel!)
It seems that I've put in another joke – Sunstrike Legionnaire. Honestly, I have four of these things and I'm dying to find a use for them. This looks like as good a place as any.
I can't possibly build every deck I create for an article; but this one's singing a nice tune on paper (except for the Legionnaires, which will likely turn into Fog Banks before all is said and done).
Bottom Line: Pristine Angel is a card that helps white be tricky. At first, that doesn't compute – since when is white truly tricky? – but the untap-and-protect intersection has such wonderful flavor for white, I have no complaints.
Anthony's statistics for Pristine Angel (scale of 0 to 8):
Blended Score: 4.28
Compare other white creatures:
Something Borrowed, Something “Blue”
A couple of weeks ago, I spent a parentheses or two digressing on this card. Memnarch
borders on insanity, given its ability to steal things permanently, at instant speed, over and over again. Not even lands are immune.
Memnarch feels like the “win condition” that comes at the end of a combo creating an arbitrarily large amount of (blue) mana. “Okay, with 7,000 blue in my mana pool, I play Memnarch, take everything from everyone, end turn, go!” Wheeee.
On the less cynical side, Memnarch can make for a fun and challenging strategy when played in moderation. And even with a plump 4/5 body, he is still as frail as any other given artifact creature – most decks should have a solution to him, even if the solution comes at sorcery speed. (Those of you who have not figured out how good Null Rod, Hull Breach, Rack and Ruin, or Decimate can be in 2004 are just not paying attention.)
Decks built on cards like Memnarch tend to look fairly uninteresting, so I'm not going to bore you with one. How good the deck is, after all, depends a great deal on how good the permanents are in your opponents' decks. But I will suggest ten different cards that you should at least consider, in rough ascending order of “duh”…with the understanding that even the first one on the list is not exactly lacking in “duh”:
Seedborn Muse: perpetually the most “duh” combo with good multiplayer cards. Ask for it by name: “DUH?”
Bottom Line: Memnarch is ST[UUU4]PID. But I can't hate him, not with that cool artwork and impressive 4/5 stats. Some closers are just that: closers. You accept them for what they are, and move on.
Anthony's statistics for Memnarch (scale of 0 to 8):
Blended Score: 4.30
Compare other blue creatures (who are we kidding…it's blue):
Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor: 4.45
Arcanis the Omnipotent: 3.88
The Not-So-Sleepy Choice
It's very easy to get caught up in these big, powerful creatures and assume that the best multiplayer card in a given set must be some huge trampler that never dies, or a tricky angel with protection from everything, or a wizard legend that steals all the permanents you like. And maybe you'd be right in that assumption. But as a possible alternative, I'd like to offer something a bit more subtle.
Well, as subtle as threatening direct damage can be.
First, what I don't like about the card: it feels a bit like a “win more” card – it only works if you hit a player, and it only really works if you hit a player multiple times. I also don't like that you only get a single charge counter when your Phyrexian Dreadnought smashes through – the same number you get if you hit with a Mons's Goblin Raiders (or if you tap your amazing Coretapper, for that matter). And it's unfair you have to regrow the charge counters, even after you've hit for damage through other means and paid X and everything. So it's not a perfect card, no.
That said, this is a card that feels like it was built for multiplayer. (No, I don't care if it's technically true; and yes, I do get dizzy when the world stops revolving around me for even a moment.) Talon of Pain rewards you for hitting the open player, by giving you the means to hit the fellow hiding behind a fortress. The potential damage is out there for everyone to see, which is reassuring.
As I've said in the past, damage that sits on the board and waits doesn't just do X damage – it does roughly X to the Y power damage, where Y is the number of times an opponent adjusts strategy to avoid losing a creature or getting tagged. Every time that Shivan Dragon an opponent controls looks like it's headed your way but veers off and hits someone else – that's your Talon of Pain dealing damage to an opponent. Every turn you survive longer than you should, draw a card, find a new solution or damage source – Talon of Pain gets credit for that effect. Every bad block an opponent makes so they won't take damage and grow the charge counters on the Talon – that's card advantage your Talon is giving you.
You can go a couple of ways on this sort of deck. I really like the possibilities with goblins and/or Kyren Negotiations and/or Savage Beating – but since I didn't actually do a deck for Black Week, I figured I'd do a swamp-based version:
Weenies – zombies, in this case – are one way to get multiple instances of damage through. The Thrashing Wumpus is another (though be warned, it's a bit frail in this deck…so I added some Barbed Wire as a backup plan). Tombstone Stairwell and Noxious Ghoul should ensure the board stays fairly clear of defenders – and any that remain will have some unappetizing blocking assignments (Festering Goblin, Lim-Dul's Cohort, Vengeful Dead). Naturally, the Withered Wretches ensure that there won't be any expendable zombie token blockers.
I didn't mean to create the stupid win condition of Vengeful Dead and Tombstone Stairwell; but it's there, I guess. Come to think of it, an occasional player in our group has that going. (See how my subconscious works against me? I've just validated one of the stupidest decks of all time. Cripes, I even remember whining about that deck now. What am I thinking?! Take out the Vengeful Dead, for heaven's sake! Put in something warm and fuzzy, like Undead Warchief.)
There are other applications of Talon to fairly well-known deck types – sliver decks with Aluren will have both the creature mass and mana available to work the Talon; stupid Hermit Crab – Hermetic Study decks will like the damage source that sticks around after their pinging combo is inevitably destroyed; and even boutique decks with win conditions like Squallmonger/Urza's Armor may want to consider the Talon's positive synergy.
Bottom line: I think the Talon will be an underrated gem in many play groups. Try it out for yourself, and see if you don't surprise a few folks. The trick in an aggressive deck will be to keep enough mana open to make the “X” threat viable.
Anthony's statistics for Talon of Pain (scale of 0 to 8):
Blended Score: 4.14
Compare other artifacts:
Coat of Arms: 4.42
Jinxed Idol: 3.87
And The Winner Is…
Even if you bought all of the silly, subjective math behind the “scores” (and Darksteel Colossus fans will do just that), you have to realize that the difference between a score of 4.1 and 4.4 is virtually meaningless, when compared to the way you use the card and the types of decks your group plays and how much fun you actually have playing the card.
So it's really your call.
Okay, I can't be competely weak here, so how about this: it should be the Talon. In the perfect world, the Talon's made a bit better, and people like the Talon more. But we don't live in a perfect world (I can tell this every time I glance at the plastic-and-yarn-and-paper carnage in my eight-year-old's bedroom). Darksteel Colossus will burn in multiplayer enthusiasts' minds the longest, followed closely by Memnarch. I further predict Pristine Angel, as a function of her creature type, is already outclassed – and will be outclassed again, before too many blocks go by. (She's still really good. Play her!)
And if your favorite multiplayer card isn't one of the four I've mentioned today (five, counting Death Cloud)? Well, you're way off; no, I didn't forget it; and yes, you can disagree with me on the message boards. Off you go. Note if I hear too much noise about Skullclamp, I'll have to hurt someone.
You may email Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org. He cannot provide deck help.