Always play this card

From the moment Manamorphose was spoiled, I found myself thinking, “When wouldn’t I want to play this card?” Getting two in my second sealed pool at last weekend’s prerelease only confirmed its value. It replaces its mana, replaces itself, and, as a bonus, can fix colors. It turns your sixty-card deck into a fifty-six-card deck. If you’re in enough red or green to play a second-turn card in either color, is Manamorphose just strictly an auto-include?
My first thought in the negative was “it sure would suck to get a Manamorphose countered.”
But not really. After all, if they just countered your Manamorphose, they’ve gained tempo — but that would have happened anyway. Had they countered an actual value card or yours instead, you would not only have lost tempo, but also a play. That’s actually worse then a counter being burned on the Manamorphose. Note that following this logic, I don’t expect good control players to ever counter the ‘phose when they can just wait and burn your spell instead. So counterspells, not a problem.
I could also see the “I have too much good stuff” argument, but really, this is the same argument that has people playing sixty-two card decks when the minimum is sixty. Your deck always, always has X worst cards, where X is the difference between your deck size and sixty. Given the option to go down to a fifty-six card deck, you really, really should.
That leaves mana curve. In some decks, particularly Boros or Sligh-style aggro decks, your mana curve is low enough that many of your plays happen on one mana, and a two-mana thinning device messes that up. I haven’t experimented with any designs in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor megablock or in Standard to see if that applies, but I can imagine it doing so.
In the meantime, the main question for all my block designs will be “does this deck provide enough red, green, or red and green to support using Manamorphose?” The basic qualification should be that its a second-turn playable almost all of the time. I suspect that most designs in block that support the right colors at all will support this play, making Manamorphose nearly a requirement.
Welcome to the world of fifty-six-card decks.

Killing things in the time of the Aurora

A hallmark of the combined Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block is an abundance of aggressively costed (or undercosted) creatures. This combines with a sincere lack of mana acceleration in the set. This will push the metagame toward creatures crashing into each other instead of the benchmark “best deck” of Time Spiral block, the Relic-driven Teachings build that could wipe the board, gain life back with Tendrils, and generally make things painful for aggro decks.
But I still like killing things before they get a chance to bother my creatures. So what are our removal options in the coming block season? In the extended, I break it down by price, from low to high, then cap it with a second look at mass removal in block.

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Grrr, dude, grrr

Yesterday, Mike Flores previewed a card that fits his mandate as the “competitive play” writer on, Tattermunge Maniac. Here it is:
Before I talk about the card on the mechanical side, check out the great Matt Cavotta art. I just wrote to Matt to compliment his great and appropriate art on this one. It’s a maniac who’s out to eat your face, and it’s wearing a monster hat. Roar!
If you’re curious, “munge” comes originally from Scottish slang for “munch into a chewed-up mess.” Yup, he’s going to eat your face.
Card-wise, this is a beautifully aggressive card, in both of the right colors.
Magic has a history of aggressive 2/x cards for one mana, but they’ve most effectively flourished in white, the king of small, aggressive critters, and in red, where an early aggressive creature can be effectively backed up by a mountain of burn.
Jackal Pup is the best-known 2/x in red, and it appeared as late as Shuheii Nakamura’s second-place finishing Red Deck Wins build at Pro Tour Columbus. Utterly non-aggressive art aside (seriously, click the link), the Jackal Pup was a great enabler of fast, aggressive red decks. It also has a substantial drawback if you don’t just kill the opponent off early, as a Pup catching a burn spell effectively lets the opponent two-for-one you, where you’re one of the two. Ouch.
Lorwyn brought us the Flamekin Bladewhirl, another 2/x in red. It made everyone sit up and take notice for a few seconds, before it became clear that an elemental take on RDW (or BDW) just didn’t work. It’s not looking like Shadowmoor will really change that. In contrast, Lorwyn brought white a new Isamaru in Goldmeadow Stalwart, trading the Legendary drawback of the doggie for a tribal drawback that’s not a big problem in a Kithkin aggro build — and unlike elemental aggro, Kithkin aggro pretty much works.
So on top of all this, we now have a 2/1 Goblin that will come out on the first turn and keep attacking until it dies, one way or another, whether that be from removal or from suiciding into something bigger than it can handle. The thing is that this is just fine — you’re running a 2/1 for one, right? You wanted to be attacking, attacking, attacking, and unlike Jackal Pup, the Maniac won’t deal you bonus hurt when it goes. Not bad.
(And it’s green. And it’s red. Sweet.)
This clearly goes in aggro decks in Standard, and depending on how things shake out once the full Shadowmoor set is known, seems like an obvious one for aggro builds in block, too. All that, and it’s uncommon, so people won’t be clambering over each other with large wads of cash in an attempt to acquire it. Good stuff all around.

Oona could be my gal, seriously

Doug Beyer’s latest Taste the Magic column talks about the faeries of Lorwyn-turned-Shadowmoor, who have not, themselves, changed. The article focuses on the character that is also Doug’s preview card, Oona, Queen of the Fae. If you’re at all a fan of the flavor of Magic and the story behind the game, check out Doug’s article. Lots of good stuff, and some neat concept art. While we’re on that note, you should also go look at the recent feature article by Jeremy Jarvis.
In the meantime, here’s Oona:
A 5/5 flying creature with an additional ability for six mana = dragon. Oona is a solid win condition, with a built in extra win condition. And no, I don’t really mean milling them out. I’m not fond of milling wins, especially as we go into a block constructed season where you might reasonably expect to see Primal Commands running around. I mean that in an environment likely to be chock-a-block with two-color decks, the ability to turn maybe 30% of the cards Oona mills into flying beaters is just grotesque. Much like my beloved Kokusho, Oona becomes a “win damn soon” card when you factor in her ability.
She just may show up in my decks for the coming PTQ season.
The other preview card today is Deep-Slumber Titan, a 7/7 for 2RR that comes into play tapped and won’t untap unless you hurt it. Will that be good? Hard to say.

Card advantage wizard gives card advantage

This is today’s “preview card of the day”:
Oooh. Cards. And life.
The Augury Adept is a pretty cool take on the “pal who gives you card advantage” archetype embodied in other cards like Shadowmage Infiltrator and Dark Confidant. The best thing, of course, is the potential of an extra card per turn. A resolved, defended Confidant or Infiltrator is an exceptional beating, and quickly becomes too much card advantage to recover from. Add in the potential for bonus life as a bulwark against aggro, and the Adept seems quite solid.
However, unlike the Infiltrator, it won’t be some much infiltrating as simply attacking, so if you want to reap those card and life benefits, you need to keep the field clear. However, in a W/U control build, this may not be such a problem.
For super bonus fun, until October, you’ll be able to play the Adept side by side with the Shadowmage in the same deck. Neat, eh? Shadowmoor and Shadowmage, together.

Viral marketing, Shadowmoor style

This week, Wizards sent out a Shadowmoor preview booster pack to five game stores. One of them, Myriad Games in Salem, posted the card images (and the advertising material, which is worth a look on its own) to here. Some of the cards have been spoiled already, but others are brand new. Interesting cards include Sapseep Forest, a Forest with a lifegain ability, the blue-black Avatar, Boggart Arsonists, the first Plainswalker in quite a while, another scarecrow, and Safewright Quest, a cute little land search spell that grabs a Forest or a Plains (perhaps rendered especially functional by the number of lands bearing basic land types in the combined Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block).

Something to wish for

When Shadowmoor officially releases (and becomes tournament legal) on May 2nd, there’s a card you may want to have on hand for your Standard decks:
According to Mark Rosewater’s March 17th Making Magic column, having 7 of 15 cards in the Shadowmoor preview booster be hybrid cards is no mistake, but is instead representative of the set. So what goes well with a set that’s almost 50% multicolored?
Glittering Wish hasn’t seen extensive use so far. When it came it, it briefly showed up in a Rock variant called “Glittering Wish Control,” then kind of slipped off the radar as Ravnica and its wealth of gold cards rotated out of Standard, leaving a meager selection of useful options (and I foolishly played a Glittering Wish deck at GP San Francisco anyway…).
But now there’s a decent chance that Shadowmoor will enable a very solid wishboard for a Glittering Wish control deck. You can perhaps see the outline forming already — maybe five-color blue, or a more modest white-black-green affair that has three maindeck Doran, along with one more and some other fun toys in the sideboard (I always like having Harmonic Sliver and Teneb, the Harvester on standby). Of the cards previewed so far, one might imagine having a lone Fulminator Mage to kill problematic lands…and that’s about it so far, as solutions go. Hopefully, we’ll see more coolness worth wishing for as previews go along.
I’m happy to see one more chance to use the Wish in Standard before it rotates into Extended in October. Of course, when that rotation happens, Glittering Wish will suddenly be the only wish in Extended. Neat, eh?

Shadowmoor preview: Beseech the Queen

In the latest Latest Developments article, Devin Low discusses the origin of monocolor hybrid. Did you miss that? Back when they previewed a booster, one of the standout cards for me was Beseech the Queen, which can be payed for with BBB, BB2, B4, or 6. When I saw that, I wrote to Mark Rosewater about just how cool that looked to me.
Now, here’s the whole card:
A tutor! I do love a tutor.
It will take some testing to see how this works out in practice. If I stick this in a B/G Rock build, will I tend to be playing this at BB2 with four lands in play? Who knows? But the land-based restriction is fascinating, and in combination with the price puts a sort of limiter on when this will be played and what you’ll be picking up with it.
…and it’s Uncommon, which is quite nice.
Now, setting my enthusiasm aside for a moment, Diabolic Tutor grabs any card, sans restriction, for BB2, and isn’t played. After all, 4 mana to put a card in hand suggests that the card really, really needs to do something impressive, because you probably aren’t playing it that same turn. This is why, in contrast, Primal Command is exceptionally strong. Tutoring for a solution against aggro? Tutor and gain 7 life. Tutoring for a solution against a control or combo deck? Tutor and bounce a permanent to put them off tempo. Primal Command succeeds because, even though you “lose” a turn to the tutoring, you don’t have to get completely helplessly kicked around for that turn. Diabolic and Beseech, on the other hand, mean you have to hand over a turn in exchange for tutoring.
Good or not? We’ll see. Cool? For sure.

Shadow previews: The railroad, the ruins, and another 4/4 for 4

The Shadowmoor previews continue apace. This time around, I’m interested in a dual land, an aggressive creature, and another solid creature, and underwhelmed by -1/-1 counters.
Today’s card of the day, Sunken Ruins, confirms earlier rumors and matches the presence of Graven Cairns in Shadowmoor by adding in the blue/black hybrid land. The hybrid lands are good, middle of the road duals that emphasize two-color play without pushing for the use of basic lands (compare with Nimbus Maze). In contrast to the shocks and pains, the hybrids don’t accelerate your game quite as much and aren’t as solid a choice in three- or more color decks, as the wrong two lands in your opening draw can leave you with a dead hybrid. I’ll look forward to rounding out my set of hybrids (naturally, I have the Cairns already), as they are solid in two-color decks.
Over at MTG Salvation, they’ve spoiled the “Vexing Shusher,” a 2/2 Goblin Shaman for {r/g}{r/g} with two abilities:
“Vexing Shusher can’t be targeted by spells or abilities.” (Nice, uncounterable bear.)
“{r/g}: Target spell can’t be countered by spells or abilities.” (!)
Nice, right? Mogg Fanatic turn one, Vexing Shusher turn two, uncounterable Tarmogoyf turn three, and so forth. This may push control players away from more mono-blue approaches, as the Shusher can ram spells right past a wall of countermagic, and demands immediate removal.
Or, you know, X-for-1-ing the aggro player with a turn four Damnation or Wrath after they do that Fanatic, Shusher, Goyf series.
The Wilt-Leaf Liege is a 4/4 for 4 with an ability, which is the Ravnica-and-onward benchmark for green creature power. Its ability is especially interesting — not the Dodecapod ability, but the pump one. Tarmogoyf into Liege is nasty, and dual Lieges is especially nasty, as each one becomes a 6/6 (note that the pumps are on two separate lines, which means that yes, they stack if a creature is both colors).
The Scuzzback Marauders show off the persist mechanic in its basic form — you gotta kill the creature twice. Persist is pretty cool, but I’m not onboard with the -1/-1 counter theme yet. This may just be a function of a very basic human appreciation for absolute, rather than relative values. That is to say, it’s a demonstrated fact that humans are bad at tracking proportional or adjusted changes in values, yet are hyper-aware of absolute differences. If your new pay raise is less than inflation, for example, you just lost money. On the other hand, if the economy is undergoing deflation and your pay is kept the same, you’re unhappy — even though in terms of purchasing power, you did better in the second example than in the first.
So, even if everything in Shadowmoor is priced appropriately for the -1/-1 counters to be fully balanced (and I am confident that everything is priced correctly, because the designers are good at that), it’s still intuitively displeasing to watch all the creatures shrink, and to have the counters on them mean a negative, rather than a positive thing.
Let us all contemplate the humble Quirion Dryad and feel better.

Shadowmoor mechanical previews

More Shadowmoor previews have popped up this week, both on the official site and in various magazines. If you’re not keeping up with every possible preview, they’re all eventually collected here. This week’s previews demonstrate some of the interesting mechanics showing up in Shadowmoor. Here they are:
Persist is basically a “hard to kill” mechanic, intermediate between normal creatures and, say, the annoying unkillability of everyone’s favorite artifact cockroach, Epochrasite. We’ll have to see if there are any really large, difficult, or annoying creatures in Shadowmoor with Persist. Any comes into play ability would be particularly synergistic with Persist, making it extra painful to try and rid the world of the creature (or, at the very least, enhancing the value of RFG effects).
-1/-1 counters are all over this set. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a cool idea, or if it will crush tempo all over the place as armies of creatures are attritioned into nothingness each turn. Certainly, it reduces the value of all your X/1 utility creatures (although as SSO has pointed out, a lot of utility creatures are X/2s).
The untap symbol appears to be the “Q” that Mark Rosewater was hinting at earlier. I’ll watch this with interest, as having an untap symbol on anything feels like an ingredient for combo — which, of course, is why all the untap abilities probably include costs, such as the single blue mana for Leech Bonder’s ability.
Godhead of Awe doesn’t highlight any new mechanics, but it’s another part of the cycle featuring the Demigod of Revenge. In addition to having creepy art, the Godhead plays well with the -1/-1 counter theme of the set, as it instantly makes every other creature on the board an easy target for counter-based assassination. Godhead into Pyroclasm seems reasonable, though — assuming W/R decks become popular again.
Those are the highlights for now. I recommend checking in with Rei Nakazawa’s latest feature article on the story behind Shadowmoor, including an update on how the Aurora twists all the races of Shadowmoor (except, notably, the Faeries…).