Eternal Warrior #37: Forged in Fire

As of last Friday, the full spoiler for the new set is available, and for those of us in the eternal community that means it’s time to sift through the Standard and limited chaff for the cards that might have a shot at making it to the Big Boy Tables of Legacy and Vintage. There are plenty of good candidates in Fate Reforged for the eternal formats, though not really any sure-thing locks in my estimation. Given the impressive success of the delve mechanic and its powerful draw spells Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, the return of delve in Fate Reforged seems like a good place to start:

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Among the lazier trends in Magic design has been giving players a new version of an iconic and powerful card, but at a much higher cost or with a ton of hoops to jump through. It turns out that perhaps Treasure Cruise was just a bit too easy to turn into a sorcery-speed Ancestral Recall. So will the delve-Time Walk be the next big thing?

Time Walk is a good card in any deck, but ranges in power from being merely an Explore – which isn’t really too shabby – to being worth an extra attack step, plus a card, plus a few mana, and with a planeswalker or Deathrite Shaman in play you can easily reap several cards worth of value from taking an extra turn. The conventional line on Time Walk spells is that they need to be cheap to be good, in order to allow you to cast both the Time Walk and another spell. But that simple analysis probably puts board development too far ahead of the spell’s other utility. The extra attack step can be among the most valuable uses, especially in the UR Delver decks.

Triple-blue is not a common spell cost, but I don’t think it’s too difficult. Thanks to the popularity of Daze, the three-color tempo decks in Legacy usually play no non-Island lands other than Wasteland, while the two-color U/x decks may have a single Mountain or Plains.

The biggest problem for this spell is that the graveyard as a resource is already being over-exploited to the point of breaking. Before the resurgence of delve, it was supporting Tarmogoyf, Grim Lavamancer, Deathrite Shaman and Snapcaster Mage, as well as Yawgmoth’s Will in Vintage. People haven’t really stopped playing those cards, at least not entirely. But we may be close to the tipping point, and I doubt the graveyard can accommodate yet more delve spells on top of all the work our yards are already doing for us. The KTK delve spells go to the yard after casting them, and give you 2-3 additional spells that will end up there. Temporal Trespass exiles itself and yields just one additional card, so compared to the KTK spells it is much harder to restock the yard after Temporal Trespass for a future delve.

The card has a shot. It doesn’t require any setup beyond just casting a bunch of cheap spells and cantrips – doing what a blue deck does naturally. But at present, it seems likely that Treasure Cruise will effectively crowd this spell out of the format.

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When it comes to hardcasting big-mana spells, there is a huge difference between 7 and 8 mana. In Modern, Urzatron produces 7 mana on Turn 3. In Legacy, two Cloudpost and a Glimmerpost also produces 7 mana on Turn 3 – because Cloudpost enters the battlefield tapped, three Cloudposts will only give you 6 mana on the third turn. Of course Candelabra of Tawnos can get you there, but you won’t always have it. On the other hand, perhaps I’m being a bit too finicky about the casting cost. Theoretically, you would want to drop this on the table to clean up the board and then build up to the ultimate a few turns later. But you aren’t really going to run a spell as good as this into a Daze, are you? Even if this were 7 mana, you probably wouldn’t just jam this onto the table into a soft counter. So rather than see it as a replacement for things like Oblivion Stone, maybe its best to see it as a complement to them.

The card itself is amazing, of course. The +1 protects itself by Ghostfire-ing an opposing creature, the minus ability wrecks the board, and the ultimate should easily win you the game. A walker this expensive pretty much has to be that good. Since you cannot cheat walkers into play with Show and Tell, 12-Post probably is the only home for this. The deck is good but not extremely popular, and I don’t see this card changing that too much.

MonasteryMentor

The card with perhaps the most hype in the set is Monastery Mentor, and it’s easy to see why. It is very similar to Young Pyromancer, which we already know is amazing, so surely this card is destined for greatness, right?

The card has many advantages over Pyromancer. Many players have adapted to Pyromancer decks by adding spells such as Zealous Persecution, which have the benefit of also being good against True-Name Nemesis. Not only does the Monastery Mentor survive those spells itself, but the creatures it creates can do the same if you have an instant handy to trigger their prowess. Heck, given the abundance of cheap cantrips and counterspells in that type of deck, even Pyroclasm might not get the job done. And when it comes time to close out the game, these monks put the Pyromancer’s elemental tokens to shame. A few monks and a couple Lightning Bolts can easily win out of nowhere in a single attack step.

But maybe the card to compare this to is not Pyromancer, but rather Stoneforge Mystic. There are a few creatures in Magic that have the distinction of being both cheap to cast and powerful enough to completely take over the game if unchecked. There is a long tradition of Legacy deckbuilding that uses a ton of cantrips, free countermagic, sometimes a bit of discard, and 8-12 of these cheap threats that you plan on riding to victory. Dark Confidant takes over a game with card advantage, Tarmogoyf – like Quirion Dryad before it – owns the board by having the biggest body on the table. Stoneforge Mystic has become white’s equivalent to these, a spell you can plan to resolve and protect for one turn, then take over the game. And SFM is really more like several plans in one, if you don’t like the Batterskull plan, you can grab a Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice when called for.

I don’t think Monastery Mentor beats out Stoneforge Mystic. Going wide with tokens is a fine plan, but you don’t want to put all your eggs in that basket as long as Terminus and other sweepers are around. If your plan is to double-down with both Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor, a sweeper will undo all of your work. But if you diversify by playing SFM alongside Pyromancer, as the UWR decks presently tend to do, you can avoid overcommitting and you often have a nice piece of equipment left over if your board is wiped, ready to turn your next threat into a lethal one.

If you want to play this in UWR, you can’t increase the creature count, so you pretty much have to cut either the Delvers, the Young Pyromancers or the SFM’s. It’s pretty clear I don’t favor cutting SFM, and I think playing it alongside Pyromancer is powerful but a bit too one-dimensional. One possibility would be to cut red from this style of deck, and simply play UW Delver using SFM and Monastery Mentor alongside each other. I don’t really expect that to develop right now. Red Elemental Blast is just too good a sideboard card in the current format, and Lightning Bolt provides so much reach. But it’s a possibility to keep in mind, and Standard players moving into Legacy would be quite at home with the UW shell for this type of deck. For paper players, if Volcanic Island continues to cost 50% more than Tundra, there will be a financial incentive to make a non-red version of this deck work as well.

cloudform

There are several instants and sorceries that have the manifest ability, and a cycle of auras that attach to the manifested face-down card. Of course blue gets the best one, as always. When I saw the first couple cards in this cycle spoiled, I mused that if they gave us a blue hexproof aura it could be Legacy-playable. They actually one-upped me and gave the thing flying too. Thanks, development team!

So what do you do with this? Well, ideally you want to manipulate what card is on the top card of your deck. The best option is likely to be Phyrexian Dreadnought. As long time players will know, if you can put a Dreadnought onto the battlefield face down, then turn it face up, the sacrifice trigger will never occur. Originally this was accomplished with Illusionary Mask, and up until about 2010 you could routinely find Dreadnoughts tearing up the top tables. The big problem with Dreadnought right now is that you have to combo it with something, be it Stifle or Torpor Orb, and that’s too much work to put into it if a single Swords to Plowshares or uncounterable Abrupt Decay will spoil all your effort.

With Cloudform, you get protection for the Dreadnought. They can remove the Cloudform, but you still have a 12/12 trampler and they’ll need a second spell to handle it. Both halves of this combo can be searched for by Enlightened Tutor, which conveniently leaves the Dreadnought sitting on top of the deck where it needs to be. This puts us in some sort of UW deck with a bunch of enchantments and an E-Tutor toolbox, which is pretty solid. [Editor’s note: Zur the Enchanter anyone? — PlanetWalls] You could perhaps lean towards controlling the game with the Rest in Peace plus Energy Field combo, and Brainstorms and Jaces to set up the top of your library for the kill.

That being said, there’s a very good chance that this hypothetical deck would just be a worse version of the UW Control decks that already exist. If you’re just a worse Miracles deck, you should probably play Miracles instead.

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I didn’t intend to write about this card, and don’t consider it eternal-playable. However, according to an article on the WotC website last week, the development team thought this “might be a card in Vintage”, so I suppose it’s worth at least considering whether they are right.

There are very few 4-power creatures in Magic that can be cast for 2 mana, and even fewer which have only a single color requirement and can therefore be cast Turn 1 off a land plus any color of Mox. If you don’t count Tarmogoyf or Quirion Dryad, which will reach 4 power within a turn or two in most games, there are only two 4-power 2-drops that I could consider even marginally playable:

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Neither of these has seen play recently – Flesh Reaver hasn’t seen play since the Clinton presidency [Editor’s note: Probably because he’s never paired with Death’s Shadow — PlanetWalls] – and all the others have drawbacks that are completely unworkable and/or unsustainable for a card that you would want to cast in the early game. Compared to this batch of creatures, Frost Walker’s drawback is extremely mild. So in comparison to its peers, the card is certainly above the power curve.

But in Vintage, it is very difficult to justify playing creatures that don’t disrupt the opponent or generate card advantage. Yes, this is a pretty good clock, but the idea of damage as a clock on the opponent is suspect to begin with given the number of “I-win” combos in the format that don’t care about life total. At 2 mana, either Goyf or Young Pyromancer seems like a stronger option that this. This does have the advantage of being blue for purposes of Force of Will and Misdirection, but it’s also extremely fragile compared to those non-blue threats. Goyf grows vertically to where it can beat anything on the board, and Pyromancer grows horizontally to where a single spot removal spell won’t undo the work it did. Frost Walker dies to literally anything that targets it. If it had evasion I could overlook all of that, but without that I think I’d just rather cast a Delver for 1 mana less. WotC development are smart folks, but I’m just not seeing this as Vintage playable. [Editor’s note: Is Dandan better? – PlanetWalls]

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My favorite Legacy deck recently has been the UB artifact deck based around Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. One of that deck’s weaknesses, like all artifact-prison decks, is the inability to manipulate the library effectively to find threats. You play Chalice of the Void, so you don’t have the cheap blue cantrips. As a result, your opponent may have enough time to draw his way out of trouble because you were unable to leverage your Chalices and Trinispheres into a win. Some of the Tezzeret deck’s enthusiasts had experimented with Dack Fayden almost entirely for the double-looting ability. Could Monastery Siege be just what the deck needs?

This card has a lot going for it. The first ability will usually be a bit better than Thassa, God of the Sea in terms of card selection. It’s worse only when you are hellbent and have two good cards on the top of your deck, in which case you would be forced to discard one of them, but a deck with Academy Ruins and the Sword of the Meek combo can mitigate the discard requirement even in that event.

theresmore

Hooooooooold it, Ron! If you act now, not only do you get a free loot during your draw step, plus the Pocket Fisherman, you also have the option of turning yourself and all of your permanents into Frost Titans! In fact, it’s a bit better than the Frost Titan ability, as it increases the cost of those spells by 2 rather than counter them, which is relevant primarily for Abrupt Decay.

There’s a whole cycle of those modal enchantments, but I’ve already shown you the blue one. Yeah, blue won this cycle too.

In fact, that’s where we leave off. But I didn’t talk about red, green or black spells! Well, there aren’t any. Sure, there’s a half-decent black delve guy, but we already have Tombstalker, so who cares? Blue wins the set, albeit with a crop of cards that are not sure-bets to see play. Despite blue’s historical strength, the other colors had been getting a few more eternal playables over the past few years. It seems that blue has the most interesting eternal cards for the second set in a row and is firmly back on top, so congratulations to the best color in Magic for getting some love and attention it didn’t even remotely need!

 

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