Last week we took a look at the creatures of Eldritch Moon hunting for eternal-playable critters, and this week we will combing through the non-creature spells.
The amazing thing about this set is how many abilities and effects in the set are of a sort relevant to older formats, and at mana costs that are at least within the rough range of acceptability in eternal Magic. There’s tutoring, cheating things into play, cheating on mana, random discard, and even a new “wish” spell! Will the price be right for any of these to make an impact? Let’s dive in and find out!
At just 1 mana, Sigarda is offering her aid at a very affordable price, so the question here is whether it’s worth the card slot. With cards like this, there is often an inherent deck-building tension. If you build around it, you’ll want multiple copies, but they aren’t cumulative so the second copy you draw may be dead. If you just toss it in as a singleton, your deck needs to already be doing a lot of things with auras and equipment to make this worth a card.
Equipment in eternal formats is typically paired – where legal – with Stoneforge Mystic. SFM already lets you “vial” in equipment at instant speed and often at reduced cost, as well as tutoring for it. The advantage of an SFM package is that you can keep the total number of slots devoted to equipment very low. Perhaps you run as little as a single Batterskull, perhaps you add an Umezawa’s Jitte or a Sword of Fire and Ice, and that’s usually where the equipment package maxes out. In Vintage, you might have your deck built to use Skullclamp. All these cards are already very powerful, especially in conjunction with SFM, so I suspect this doesn’t aid your plan quite enough to merit inclusion.
Giving Auras flash could potentially open up some new avenues in deckbuilding. It might have been interesting combined with Splinter Twin in Modern perhaps, making both halves of the combo instant-speed, but Twin is banned there now and has no more than “pet deck” status in Legacy.
Modern has a dedicated aura deck, commonly called Bogles after the hexproof namesake Slippery Bogle. Playing auras at instant speed reduces the chances of being blown out by removal, which is of course the reason why hexproof creatures are used. But removal in response to casting an aura is only part of the problem, as unconditional removal drawn later will still ruin your day even with a Sigarda’s Aid on the table. It counts towards Ethereal Armor, but to justify inclusion you would have to wholly reinvent how Bogles plays so that holding open mana on the opposing turn was part of the plan. Currently Bogles runs few instants other than Path to Exile anywhere in their 75.
There are a few equipment with very high equip costs, and this is certainly the cheapest way to cheat equipment onto a creature that doesn’t require you to jump through a ton of hoops. Unlike Quest for the Holy Relic, this does target the creature and give your opponent a chance to remove it in response, which is a definite drawback. Both Argentum Armor and Worldslayer have expensive equip costs and powerful effects, but are too expensive on the front end to expect to cast fairly. If you’re relying on SFM or Tinker to find them and get them into play, and then Sigarda’s Aid to attach them, you probably should have just been winning with those broken cards instead of trying to set up a quirky combo.
This card is cutting mana costs, letting you deploy huge sorcery speed threats out of nowhere at steep discounts, and only costs 1 mana to cast. It sure feels like it ought to find a home somewhere, but at the moment it is simply redundant with other cards that form a more powerful self-contained plan than this does.
Celestial Flare saw a fair bit of sideboard play in Legacy Death and Taxes decks during the heyday of True-Name Nemesis. Blessed Alliance is mostly an easier-to-cast version of that card, and if it were nothing more I’d call it Legacy-playable on that alone. You do lose the ability to use it on a blocker, which does come up. But the easier mana cost and ability to pay 2 generic mana as a kicker for useful effects makes this an upgrade in my book. Incidental lifegain will swing some races, but the untap ability is particularly exciting. Sticking with Death and Taxes decks, you could untap Mother of Runes, a Stoneforge Mystic, a creature equipped with Manriki-Gusari, or just a first-striking blocker. Mangara of Corondor is less commonly played in Legacy now, but has popped up in the Maverick-style Modern GW Hatebears, and she definitely enjoys getting an instant-speed untap.
Even if it were a straight-up Hymn to Tourach at 1B, this likely wouldn’t be good enough for Vintage. It’s true that the BB casting cost is part of the reason it’s awkward in the format, but since you can’t actually just go “land, Mox, Whispers of Emrakul” and get a Hymn out of it on Turn 1, I’d say we can write that off.
Legacy decks with Hymn don’t really want copies 5-8, so I’d say it doesn’t make the cut there either.
In Modern it compares favorably to Rise // Fall, but it’s a touch harder to get delirium quickly in a proactive deck. You won’t have room for this in a dedicated Dredge-style deck, so you’re talking about Jund or Junk or Grixis or any of the myriad grindy decks out there. A fetchland and a Gitaxian Probe or Thoughtseize gets you halfway there, and you might Bolt an early creature of theirs, but reaching the fourth card type on the second turns seems unlikely. Hitting one of your creatures off a Thought Scour seems like a reasonable way to do it, so I’d look to try it out in a Grixis or BUG midrange shell. If you can’t cast it by Turn 3, you’ll mostly lose the chance to randomly mana-screw your opponent, at which point it becomes questionable whether this will actually work out better than just casing a Duress effect.
There are two sorts of decks that want a bounce effect. One is combo decks that need to remove permanents that are preventing them from combo-ing out. A bounce effect that only hits creatures isn’t optimal there. But the other sort is “tempo” decks where you are looking only to buy time and come out ahead on mana in the exchange. For those purposes you want the effect cheap first and foremost.
For 2 mana, Unsubstantiate will let you either Remand a spell (minus the cantrip, of course) or bounce a creature. If they’re playing with expensive spells, you win either way. If they tap out for a big threat and you cast this, at least for the moment you’ve come out a few mana ahead and they’ve wasted their turn just as much as if you countered it outright. If you were caught without this in hand, or without mana open, you can still use the bounce effect to undo the time and resources they spent on a creature. If it were a delve creature like Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang, or something they cheated into play, they may not even be able to replay it right away.
Despite the flexibility, I think 2 mana is probably too much for this in eternal formats. Vapor Snag has seen play, but at 1 mana is a much better card in decks that often pair it with Snapcaster Mage or just want a ton of cheap spells to fuel delve. If your Vapor Snag could occasionally remand a Jace, you would likely find that useful some percentage of the time, but you would find yourself frustrated by the extra mana cost a far greater percentage of the time, based on my experience with the RUG Delver family of decks.
There is enough card selection in Legacy, with Brainstorm and fetches, that I couldn’t rule out trying this as a singleton in order to have wider options late in the game. Modern doesn’t have the card selection of Legacy, so I think this would be a liability there if it crowded out a more efficient and direct answer.
There has been a ton of virtual ink spilled talking about this card, and of all the cards in the set, I’m most curious to see how Unsubstantiate pans out. I suspect it will be a dud, but many smart players think otherwise.
This spells does very little that you couldn’t already do with Living Wish more cheaply. But it’s blue! You could already use Intuition to tutor for Emrakul at this price if she was a maindeck part of your plan, but this lets you keep a few Eldrazi in the board to pull at need. Got all the mana in the world, but Ensnaring Bridge is spoiling your fun? Grab an Ulamog out of your board to blow it up!
But where would this fit? Legacy 12-post already plays green and wasn’t using Living Wish, though perhaps this being blue and pitchable to Force makes a difference. Sneak and Show doesn’t run green, but is going to want Griselbrand most of the time, and it’s tough to justify a mini-toolbox of Eldrazi in the board if you aren’t packing at least two (and more likely three) of these maindeck.
Modern’s mono-blue Tron decks are a good place to look. They’ve been far less successful than RG Tron over the years, but this might be the tool they need. Particularly important to non-red Tron variants is the fact this can grab All Is Dust in addition to the small number of top-end threats they might wish to run.
Used fairly, this is a powered-down Natural Order, but that still might be good enough for Modern. Birthing Pod was a staple of the format the entire time it was legal. While not a repeatable engine – exiling itself so you can’t reclaim it with Eternal Witness later – this still gives you access to any midrange creature early in the game. You aren’t required to sacrifice a green creature, and there are plenty of good persist or undying creatures to sac off for profit. You could just directly tutor for the other half of your Melira or Anafenza-based combo, as the Pod decks of old did, rather than try to hit them with Collected Company as Modern Melira combo does these days.
The really cool possibilities come in when you consider cards with huge mana costs that you can sneak into play early on. Lead with a mana-dork, then on Turn 2 cast the 7-cmc Allosaurus Rider for the “free” alternate cost by pitching a couple other dorks, and use Eldritch Evolution to immediately turn it into a Griselbrand and recoup your lost cards. Sacrificing the creature is part of the cost, so there isn’t even all that much risk to this plan apart from countermagic.
If this is killing x/1′s for you, then it’s pulling its weight. If not, I can’t see any reason to ever use it over Liliana of the Veil. An early LotV always does what you want it to do, but the -2 on Lily the Last Hope may not even be worth a card draw if you run her out early and whiff. Recurring Snapcasters and Shardless Agents in a Legacy BUG deck seems pretty nuts with this, and should easily pull you ahead in any matchup where the action is on the battlefield, assuming again that you can squeeze value from the +1. The list of good targets in Legacy includes Dark Confidant, unflipped Delvers, Young Pyromancer, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Mother of Runes, Phyrexian Revoker assuming they didn’t name this Lily, most Elves, and all 12 of Infect’s nonland creatures from Blighted Agents to Glistener Elf to Noble Hierarch.
But against combo or control, the +1 isn’t attacking any important resources at all, and the threat of the ultimate is quite slow. For that reason, I don’t think this is maindeck material. But I could easily see it coming in out of the board and dominating certain matchups.
In Modern, Grixis control already plays Kolaghan’s Command which has similar abilities, and we know it’s in the market for recurring Snappies and filling its yard. But recent Grixis lists simply aren’t playing enough creatures for this to reliably recoup a card until later in the game. Modern Jund is also playing Kommand, as are some Delver versions of Grixis which do have higher creature counts. The creature counts of 13-15 that those decks feature are probably the minimum floor you would want to run this.
Cards with “wrath” in the title are supposed to generate 4-for-1 trades! Nahiri may walk the planes, but she’s certainly no God. This is always card disadvantage. Copying it somehow won’t do any good either, as X would be zero on the copy.
The most obvious analogue to this is Firestorm which is a staple sideboard card in Legacy dredge. But Firestorm costs only 1 mana and is an instant. Firestorm has a tough time killing a Goyf, but it doesn’t really have to. Legacy dredge primarily uses it to clear the board of problematic creatures, such as anti-graveyard critters that Darkblast won’t get. In a pinch, you can use Firestorm just as a cheap discard outlet by targeting each player. Firestorm is in no danger of being replaced by this.
In Modern, where Firestorm is unavailable, perhaps things get a bit more interesting. Modern dredge is a bit like Vintage Shops in that people always think otherwise unplayable cards will be great in those decks, despite the fact that those lists don’t really have a ton of room. As a discard outlet, this is just far too slow. It could perhaps be a sideboard card there, since acting as even a subpar discard outlet at least means you aren’t watering down the core gameplan of your deck so much to bring this in.
There are combo applications to this card as well. In Modern, you have Boros Reckoner, and in Legacy you have Repercussion to pair it with. I don’t think either of those is a competitive deck, and this is a pretty suboptimal card to board in just to get that synergy.
This type of effect is nearly always playable in constructed formats. Replenish was actually banned in old Extended at one point for its role in the powerful Pandemonium + Saproling Burst combo deck. Open the Vaults also saw tournament play.
In the right deck, this is an amazingly powerful effect for 4 mana. Life from the Loam decks might have an interest in it, though it could be “win more” there. A single cast of Loam isn’t as powerful, but it’s an engine card. You also get to play one of the Loam’ed lands and use it immediately, whereas this returns them tapped. Dark Depths, Glacial Chasm and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale don’t really care about it, but Wasteland and Thespian’s Stage do.
Whether any of these see immediate play or not, I think WotC development did an outstanding job with this set. The types of spells they’ve printed here are fun and powerful, and do the exact sort of things that advanced players want to do. In recent years, I believe they would have priced all of these higher in order to relegate them to the halls of Commander and casual play. They’ve taken a chance here by printing some cool effects at costs that will guarantee some experimentation with them. It’s a direction I’m glad they took.
To have this many legitimately interesting cards in a small set is just fantastic. I hope you enjoy brewing with some of these and taking them into the leagues this summer.
I will be heading to GenCon this week to play some Vintage. I’m not at all sure what deck I’ll be playing, and the new set release has given me some interesting ideas. I don’t feel quite as intimidated by paper Vintage this year as I did last year, and feel a bit more free to experiment since there are up to 4 tournaments I could play in if I wished to, assuming they all fire as they did last year. I’ll be back next time to report all the action!