The M10 Academy - Ready, Aim, Fire! (Red)
No color in the game is more obvious than Red. Give a new player a glimpse of just a few Red cards and the themes become readily apparent. As such it's probably the most one-dimensional of the colors and that contributes to Red being the hardest color to design interesting cards for. Let's see what the Player's Guide has to offer:
Red's specialty is 'burn spells' – instants and sorceries that deal damage to creatures and players. Burn spells keep the opposing side of the battlefield clear for your creatures' attack or they can be hurled at your opponent until there's nothing left but a charred smoking crater. The best burn spell of all time may be Lightning Bolt which deals 3 damage for just R! Even Red's creatures get in on the fun with damage-dealing abilities of their own.
Fire doesn't waste time. Fire doesn't stop to think. The same is true of Red. A number of Red's creatures have haste which means they can attack and use tap abilities (if they have any) as soon as they enter the battlefield. Backed up by Red's feisty little fighters and arsenal of burn spells you weren't expecting the game to last much longer anyway!
Hmm. See there really isn't a lot to Red philosophically. On the plus side philosophy doesn't win Magic games and burn spells do. Let's get cracking on what M10 Red has in store.
Act Of Treason
There aren't many cards that successfully cause a ripple in both Limited and Constructed Formats. A lot of Limited successes are big monsters but with almost limitless removal available for Constructed a creature has to be quite extraordinarily powerful to make it out of Limited and into Constructed. The overwhelming majority fail this test where being a 5/5 Flyer simply isn't enough.
A lot of Constructed cards work best when they're carefully placed within a deck and often when you play with the full set of four copies the rules allow. We saw how a card like Haunting Echoes can be really interesting in Constructed but essentially worthless in Limited.
Act Of Treason is one of the few cards that manages to appeal on both sides. Having this sit in your hand in Limited is a guarantee that if your opponent comes up with a fantastic monster you get to smash them with it shortly thereafter. In any kind of race being able to not only remove one of their blockers but use it to attack as well is a massive swing in the math and will usually see you home. Add in the possibility of finding a sacrifice outlet like Vampire Aristocrat so that you can 'accidentally' put their monster in the bin once you've hit them with it and you can see that this is a premier Uncommon that you're going to love to see in Sealed and Draft.
In Constructed not everyone plays with monsters and that means Act Of Treason will generally start out in the Sideboard. In some kind of Red/Black Control deck you have a great chance of setting up the sacrifice plan with a card like Fleshbag Marauder being particularly cheeky and getting their monster in the bin.
You might think I'm going on a bit about the sacrifice but anything worth stealing with Act Of Treason is a card that's likely to hurt you very severely if allowed to stick around.
There are a couple of rules issues to get out of the way before we discover whether this card is actually any good. First the easy one – Haste. There is nothing bad about Haste. It gets you round one of the most irritating fundamentals of the game – Summoning Sickness – and represents what can be a sizeable surprise for your opponent. Equally knowing what Haste monsters are in the Format is a good plan when it comes to correctly working out whether you're leading a race or not. Even though it's Rare being aware of Ball Lightning against an opponent with three Red available is a good idea.
Our second rules moment comes with Trample another tremendous ability. Here's the wording on the card:
If this creature would deal enough damage to its blockers to destroy them you may have it deal the rest of its damage to defending player or planeswalker.
In other words if your opponent sticks three toughness of blockers in the way Ball Lightning will still get to deal the final three points to the opponent (or occasionally a Planeswalker). This has a couple of important benefits. First it greatly increases your chances of Ball Lightning (or any Trample monster) creating Card Advantage since there will be plenty of times when soaking up Trample damage is critical to survival. Yes a 1/1 will kill the Ball Lightning but at the cost of taking five damage on top.
The second advantage again involves the humble 1/1. Any time you can get value in combat out of a 1/1 you've done well. Without Trample absolutely anything would be able to trade with a Ball Lightning and the only time it would be good was if it had nothing in the way. That inherent weakness is negated by having Trample.
There are still some problems with Ball Lightning though. Trample only comes in to the reckoning if you manage to get as far as dealing damage and with only one toughness any removal spell will send the Ball Lightning packing long before it connects. This is partly recompensed by having Haste since cards like Weakness and Sparkmage Apprentice are eliminated since the Ball Lightning is long gone by the time they could impact it.
Now we get to the last bit of this highly 'wordy' card. Ball Lightning is meant to be a one-shot deal since you have to sacrifice it shortly after you've pounded into the red zone. If you're feeling cute you can get round this by a cheeky little Unsummon for one Blue mana and get ready to sizzle again next turn. For the most part though it really is going away at the end of the turn.
That's fine if you're busy putting your opponent under pressure but almost 100% less useful if you're behind and in need of shoring up the defense. To be honest this is more of a problem in Limited because you can't expect every card to do every job and Ball Lightning belongs in a Constructed deck that's entirely devoted to smashing face at top speed. If you draw Ball Lightning and you need to be defensive in Constructed you've realistically lost already.
So how good is it? Historically it's been brilliant a massively sought-after Rare of proven pedigree that was one of the first cards on the decklist for Red decks for some years. That's enough to make it worth serious consideration but there are plenty of other historically good cards (Serra Angel and Air Elemental spring to mind) that don't necessarily get a look-in any more.
Berserkers Of Blood Ridge
I don't want to give away trade secrets but the monsters in Red aren't always terribly exciting and that's putting it very politely. Because Red is simply so good at burning things to a crisp the downside is that the color has to be bad at something and that something is monsters. When we come across a monster that's actually good therefore we can award it a few extra points because of where it sits in the color wheel. A 4/4 monster for five mana with a drawback would be frowned upon if it was Green but in Red this is really good. Add in the fact that the drawback often won't be and you have a very nice Limited Common.
On the face of it the times the drawback will hurt you are obvious. If you have your 4/4 Berserkers and they have a 5/5 and you have no pump spell in hand your Bersekers are going to live up to their name and suicide themselves into the larger monster. However whilst you have Perfect Information knowing full well that you have no Giant Growth for example your opponent has to operate unsure about what's in your hand. If you can successfully give even the barest hint to them that you might have that math-altering spell there's a good chance that they'll get out of the way regardless of their theoretical opportunity to bin it.
If that all sounds a bit nebulous and counter-intuitive (why would I pass up the opportunity to kill an opposing monster at no cost to myself?) let's put a concrete example to the test. You're at 16 life they're at 10. They cast Berserkers Of Blood Ridge. You cast Ant Queen. They attack with two cards in hand. Do you block?
Of course you don't. Ant Queen can churn out guy after guy any one of which can happily block the Berserkers on subsequent turns. If either of those cards in hand are a Giant Growth we will have traded that Giant Growth one-for-one with Ant Queen. They will still have the Berserkers and we will have nothing.
That's an example of how the quality of our card makes us want to not block. Now let's see what happens when we've got a vanilla 5/5 with no abilities. Should we block then?
Highly unlikely. If we get hit for 4 we're down to 12. If they fail to make a blocker or we have a piece of removal in hand our swingback will drop them to 5. Even the Giant Growth can't catch them up in the race.
What both these examples show is that even when the Berserkers look like they're about to live up to their name all is not necessarily lost. Yet another reason why this is a card that provides very good value in its color at its cost and at its rarity.
As a Mythic Rare you'd hope that the Hellkite did something exciting or maybe multiple exciting things. Oh it does my friends it really does. Let's get the bad news out of the way – eight mana is a lot and it's possible you'll play this in Limited find it in your opening hand and die before you ever get to cast it.
Now I've done the full disclosure bit let's concentrate on all the goodies for they are many. We begin with the obligatory stats. This is a 5/5 Flyer which instantly puts it into the Premier League of Limited monsters. So far we'd be thinking that we were getting a good-ish deal at five mana and a fair deal at six. So what does the extra mana get us?
Flash is an odd ability that sometimes equates to a kind of ambush where you cast your monster in the opposing combat before declaring blockers. More often Flash is a kind of 'Haste in advance.' You cast the monster at the end of the opponent's turn and then untap with it ready to attack. At the very least this versatility is worth adding a mana or two to our value reckoning.
That means that the 'enters the battlefield' ability is to all intents and purposes a free gift tacked on to a card that should already be costing 7-8 mana. And what an ability it is. Spraying five damage around the place is a huge quantity when it can be split any way we choose and when that includes the ability to take five points out of the opposing life total well life in the Mythic Rare slot is very good indeed. Next week we'll talk about a five mana spell called Lava Axe that deals five damage to an opponent. For three extra mana we can do this damage at Instant speed divide it as we choose to include multiple creatures and get a 5/5 Flyer into the bargain. Ridonkulous.
As for Constructed eight mana is an awful lot to pay and so this is best placed in a deck with a veritable avalanche of mana acceleration – in short a Combo deck like that which won the World Championship in 2006 for Japan's Makahito Mihara. What a card.
If a genuine Pro was writing a set review of M10 this is the kind of entry you might expect for this card:
'Why on Earth would anyone play with garbage like this? Now THAT'S a Burning Inquiry.'
We at the Academy meanwhile have love for cards on the flimsiest of pretexts so will persevere. Any time we are confronted by a symmetrical card – one which affects both players in the same way – we have only two options if we are to make it work for us. In simple terms we have to make the card actively better for us or actively worse for our opponents.
One way of making life actively worse for our opponents was flagged up in the forums last week when someone cunningly pointed out that having Megrim in play would equate to six points of damage when Burning Inquiry resolved. Add in Underworld Dreams and you can add another three points to that tally. Nine points of damage for one mana is utterly ridiculous. Don't get carried away though. Getting yourself in that position – Megrim and Underworld Dreams in play and not being utterly destroyed by what the opposition is up to – is no easy task. Nonetheless it does show the kind of creative thinking that can turn this:
'Each player draws three cards then discards three cards at random'
'Each player draws three cards (you deal three damage to target opponent) then discards three cards at random (you deal six damage to target opponent).'
When it comes to making things better for us that's a much simpler proposition involving no particular cards in play. Although the random aspect is problematic once you're down to next to no cards in hand it's effectively no longer random discard. That's when you hope that you have some tasty Reanimator targets that get sent to your graveyard ready for a Rise From The Grave or some such.
Don't be misled that this is somehow a powerful card but it's a good example of how thinking around symmetricality (which may not be a word) can pay dividends.
Burst Of Speed
As so often with this kind of card the cost isn't really about the mana but about the card itself. Haste is a decent ability and can occasionally win games by skewing the math of the race. What Haste isn't (by and large) is an ability that's worth the cost of an entire card to staple on to whatever guy you cast this turn. I say 'guy' because it's probably going to be a single big monster that's even vaguely worth giving Haste to rather than multiple smaller monsters.
You are of course going to feel very smug if your opponent is at two life and you're going to die next turn but cast Wind Drake and then Burst Of Speed to send it into the red zone. That makes it a 'trick' of sorts for Limited but that isn't where it could see most use.
What this sort of card is really for is in some kind of Combo deck. In the last year or so there have been a huge number of Elf Combo decks running around. Depending on the Format they've been known to run out a huge bunch of Elves in a single turn and then wait a turn thanks to Summoning Sickness before swarming the red zone for the win. With Burst Of Speed it's possible to speed things up by an entire turn because this time we're not interested in granting Haste to one big monster but to an avalanche of tiny ones.
Burst Of Speed is the kind of card that may well spend two years in Standard without ever seeing play. In a way it's not even meant to see play. Rather it's meant to sit in your folder a card that you pause to look at every time you're putting together a Combo deck forcing you to check whether the time has come for a spot of indecent Haste.
Did you know that 'Canyon Minotaur' is an anagram of 'Hill Giant'? Okay maybe that’s a lie.
There's almost no chance that something this ordinary can make the leap to Constructed but if you're going to be playing Red in Limited there are only two reasons you wouldn't play the Canyon Minotaur from your pool:
1. You have the strongest Sealed Pool in the history of the world featuring spectacular four-drops aplenty.
2. You're an idiot.
As a natural Control player I hate randomness with a passion. In terms of flavor this is a delightful package but it poses us a problem in how to avoid the potential downside. No matter how you slice it every upkeep you get to dice with death since there's no way to avoid putting one of your non-land permanents in the headlights and waiting to see if it freezes. Let's see some of the ways we might get around this problem.
First up we're going to choose the non-land permanent we care about the least. Assuming Capricious Efreet turns up on cue at Turn Six we might well have a cheap monster that has outlived its usefulness. Something like a Jackal Familiar might be a prime candidate or maybe a Goblin Piker. Basically something that's become outclassed as the game has moved on. Since you know you have the Capricious Efreet in your deck you may well keep these sorts of creatures around rather than throwing them in front of something as a damage preventer.
Tokens are a good way of expanding our expendability. Dragon Fodder gives us two tokens to play with while Spectral Procession grants us three. Although neither of these sit in M10 something like Ant Queen more than does the job. Since the Efreet ability will only rebound on us one time in three on average having those multiple permanents off a single card is a really good way of keeping the odds in our favor.
Then we get cheeky. Although statistically highly unlikely getting an Indestructible permanent into play like a Darksteel Colossus or anything with Indestructibility on it guarantees that this is a one-sided repeated removal spell only interrupted by the inconvenience of missing one time in three.
So after all that it's a 6/4 for six mana with a great potential to put stuff in the bin and at least even if the bin turns out to be ours from time to time we have some ways of taming our Capricious beastie.
At last at the fourth attempt we find a Planeswalker with an Ultimate ability that's realistically within range. Although we want our Mythic Rares to do a lot at five mana Chandra's middle ability represents a perfectly acceptable burn spell that can get rid of all but the toughest of monsters.
Dealing one damage to a player isn't generally much of a deal but here it should be seen in the context of riding Chandra towards her Ultimate. She arrives at six Loyalty and can instantly shift to seven. Deal a second point to your opponent the following turn and you only have one more attack of theirs to survive before you can go Ultimate. If dealing your opponent a total of twelve damage plus nuking their board doesn't win you the game you probably don't want to drive home from the tournament because it's really not your day.
A massively powerful Limited contributor Chandra has suffered like the Black Planeswalker Liliana Vess in failing to find much of a Constructed home. At the heart of the problem is that she's not all that efficient. Spending two turns before a one-sided Wrath Of God is an eternity and while five mana for up to six damage is fine simple destroy effects can be had for far less (Doom Blade costs a hugely smaller two mana.)
To date therefore her only major Constructed appearance has been in dedicated Planeswalker decks designed to overload the opponent with Planeswalker abilities and with hers often the least threatening she's the one that gets to survive and do her thing while opponents look to take down other more outrageous Planeswalkers. For Limited though she'll light up your sky.
As the color of fire you'd expect Red to have some enormous Dragons breathing fiery death left and right and it does. What Red tends not to have is middle-mana flyers like Snapping Drake at four mana or Wind Drake at three mana both in Blue. To find old-timer Dragon Whelp back in M10 is a welcome addition therefore.
The third point of toughness takes it into the second tier of flyers comfortably besting the afore-mentioned Wind Drake and cards like Kelinore Bat. That's before the awesome 'pump' or 'firebreathing' ability kicks in. Whatever term you use to describe this what this does is allow you to make your Whelp's power arbitrarily large. Even in Sealed with a reasonably diverse manabase you can expect to be able to make this a 5/3 and in a near-mono Red Draft deck you're looking at 8/3 or even higher.
Of course the inexperienced Whelp can't handle too much fiery death and has a mechanism whereby it 'burns itself out.' However the way the card is worded ensures that unless you're a member of the Dragon Whelp Protection Society you can go ahead and pump it to the max as long as you're prepared to let it die. Most of the time you will be because there isn't going to be an end step because the game will be over and your opponent will be dead.
In fact about the only negative thing to say about this fabulous Limited card is that the three toughness leaves it vulnerable to Lightning Bolt meaning that you're occasionally going to pump it to kingdom come and then watch it die to one mana before getting the damage to land. Still that's a small quibble for one of Red's top Limited cards.
In every base set up to and including 7th Edition this has been a staple of Red Control decks down the years. The reasons should be readily apparent and they're spelled 'scalable' and 'card advantage'. At three mana the first rush of a weenie horde can be taken out at a stroke and it's entirely possible to visualize two Goldmeadow Stalwarts and two Knights Of Meadowgrain all hitting the bin in a four-for-one piece of card advantage carnage as early as Turn Three.
In general the damaging both players aspect of the card is going to work against you rather than for you since as the Control player you're likely to be looking to preserve your life total early in the game before going on to win at your leisure later on. However if you are ahead this can be used as a finisher and it's one of the ultimate 'draw' cards in the game ever. Yes you may not be able to win but you can make sure you don't lose sinking seven eight nine mana into a 'let's both die together' spell.
Because Earthquake is a Sorcery and because not everything bothers to sit on the ground waiting to be annihilated it's a card that often sits in Sideboards waiting to come in and mess with the landscape. With White Weenie irritatingly featuring cards like Spectral Procession it's not quite as potent as it was in the days in the late 1990s when evasion came more through Shadow than Flying. That said any time you're interested in building a Control deck with a Red component you're going to look at this very seriously.
And Limited? If you've read every word of the Academy and are still unsure whether a scalable Wrath Of God effect is a good idea for your deck it's probably time to break out a deck of regular cards and learn to play Snap.
Starting out as a miserable 2/2 for three this is actually decent again because it's scaleable. For just a single Red mana it gets to compete and trade with the much better Centaur Courser from Green and for a very fair two mana it can take down a Craw Wurm which frankly is a terrific one-for-one.
Since many games in Limited go into topdeck mode this basically innocuous card becomes a real threat if it's the first man on to the battlefield after a reset button like Earthquake. Unopposed this can easily do five to seven points of damage in a single swing and that's massive for a humble 2/2. Whilst that scenario won't occur that often in Sealed in Draft where you have the chance to blow blockers out of the way more often this is the kind of card that fits right into an aggressive (say) Red/White deck where the cost is reasonable but the threat disproportionately large. And in mono-Red he gets really good. A Common you'll play with over and over and one you'll find surprisingly tough to play against.
If you're one of the three Magic players alive who have never miscounted the mana requirements on Fireball congratulations. For the rest of us here's a handy guide...
2 mana = 1 damage to 1 target.
3 mana = 2 damage to 1 target or a hideous 0 damage to 2 targets. (See below).
4 mana = 3 damage to 1 target or 1 damage to 2 targets.
5 mana = 4 damage to 1 target or 1 damage to 2 targets or a hideous 0 damage to three targets.
6 mana = 5 damage to 1 target or 2 damage to 2 targets or 1 damage to 3 targets.
7 mana = 6 damage to 1 target or 2 damage to 2 targets or 1 damage to 3 targets or a hideous 0 damage to 4 targets.
8 mana = 7 damage to 1 target or 3 damage to 2 targets or 1 damage to 3 targets or 1 damage to 4 targets.
9 mana = 8 damage to 1 target or 3 damage to 2 targets or 2 damage to 3 targets or 1 damage to 4 targets. (Oh all right then or even a stupendously unlikely 0 damage to 5 targets.)
If you're that way inclined you can learn this table and never get Fireball wrong again. However there's an easier way.
The initial Red in the cost is for the first target. In your head call it Target One. Now tap the mana for your other targets. So if you want to hit three guys tap three mana and call them Target One Two and Three. Now look at what mana you have left. If you have less than three mana you're dealing nothing because Fireball rounds damage down. Anywhere between three and five mana and each of your targets will take one damage. You need six spare mana to deal two damage to each of your three targets.
Now comes the See Below section. There are occasions when dealing no damage can be perfectly acceptable and most of them involve the rather tasty Blue flyer Illusionary Servant. This gets sacrificed whenever it becomes targeted so if your opponent happens to have a pair of them two Red mana – dealing zero damage to each of two targets – is enough to put eight toughness of flyers in the bin! Good job.
Still with the See Below section and still with Illusionary Servant here's just about the ultimate Pro play from M10 Sealed. This is brought to you by Nico Bohny a former Team World Champion. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally he's also a DCI Judge which means he knows the rules rather better than a lot of players. His opponent was Pro Tour: Berlin runner-up Mattej Zatlkaj no slouch himself so to see this play in all its glory was a fun moment.
Matej had Illusionary Servant and Djinn Of Wishes in play. This needless to say is a pretty exciting board position. Nico untapped and laid his sixth mana. He tapped all six for Fireball spending two Red for the two targets and four Red to deal two damage to each of those two targets. Can you see what's coming?
If you've identified that the Illusionary Servant goes straight to the graveyard once it's been targeted you've made a good start. What's less well known is that Fireball will deal its damage divided equally between all the remaining legal targets when it tries to resolve. So with the Illusionary Servant now gone Fireball had only one remaining legal target the Djinn Of Wishes and therefore all four damage went to the Djinn. What made this play so great was that Matej used his last remaining mana to cast Harm's Way thus saving the Djinn from the clutches of a great play from Nico.
And finally a health and safety notice. The most common mistake with Fireball has nothing to do with incorrectly dividing up the mana. It's to do with the words 'or player'. Players are so excited about being able to kill three monsters with one card or concentrating on dividing the mana correctly that they forget to do the most important thing – check your opponent's life total. If it's less than your total available mana minus the obligatory one for targeting their face they be dead. And they be dead is lest we forget the object of the game.
We're well aware that Auras that enchant creatures - Creature Enchantments as they used to be called - are basically bad news because they allow our opponents to generate Card Advantage with a simple removal spell. Whilst anyone playing this in Constructed probably needs shooting there are legitimate reasons why you might end up with this in a weak Limited Sealed deck:
1. If you have few ways to win turning an ok creature into a Fiery Hellhound-type of threat might be a route to victory.
2. If you have plenty of small flyers but no late game to speak of putting this on one of them can radically shorten the game before the big bombs from the other side overwhelm you.
3. Unlike the loss of some creature enchantments (Unholy and Holy Strength for examples) a card like Naturalize isn't going to adversely affect your guy since you can respond by pumping it anyway. In other words dealing with the Firebreathing itself won't prevent you getting one big hit in.
4. If you've been hitting them with some kind of evasion for a couple of turns it's a good bet that they don't have removal for it available since they may well have used it already to kill your let's say Snapping Drake. If that's the case raising its threat level isn't a big deal since the two-for-one that we fear may not be available to them.
I've re-read this entry and come to the conclusion that the important bit is the first half of the first sentence:
We're well aware that Creature Enchantments are basically bad news.
I've sat staring at a flickering cursor for several minutes trying to decide just how to convey how excited you should be about this card if you've not met it before. For many years this piece of Limited excellence belonged to the Orcs but in terms of flavor Goblins have taken the undisputed title in the idiocy stakes. That implies that smacking yourself in the face is something you shouldn't be doing. Let's be clear:
This card is simply amazing in Limited and has won good players literally thousands upon thousands of games against bad players who wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.
Assuming you've read the whole Academy series thus far (therefore allowing me to assume that you're either my Mum or Craig Stevenson) you're aware that being able to utilise your life total as a resource is an extraordinarily powerful ability. We'll see next week how potentially great a card like Prodigal Pyromancer can be and that only deals one damage when it taps. The Artillery deals two and therefore outright kills no fewer than 57 different M10 monsters on its own. That's a ferocious range of death that you have so to speak on tap.
That's before we get anywhere near the times when you put a humble Warpath Ghoul in front of a 5/5 and finish it off with the Artillery. Or before you realise that you're in front in the race and simply finish your opponent off with Artillery to the face. Or before you realise that simply the existence of the Artillery on your side of the battlefield is going to prevent any number of attacks leaving you free to actually not hit yourself about the head at all.
If you're worried about going too low on life that's a reasonable concern. Fireball is the kind of card that can kill you from anything in single digits so probably isn't worth worrying about too much. Lightning Bolt deals three but a single hit from anything worthwhile is going to kill you from there so once you're down that low there's not a ton of difference between four three and two. At one life you're vulnerable to Rod Of Ruin and Sparkmage Apprentice so for me the dividing line is at six life. There even a 5/5 Flyer can't finish us off in a single hit. Nor crucially can the Red Common card Lava Axe which deals exactly five.
Of course there are times when you'll ride the Artillery all the way down to one and sometimes they'll squeak out the win with a solitary point of burn. However nine times out of ten this is a card that any good player will attempt to terminate with extreme prejudice. One of the finest Magic players I've ever met puts it like this
'Ask a bad Magic player what life they start on and they'll tell you “20”. Me I start every game on 19 Bonus life because one is all I need to win.'
Converting life into a game-winning resource is one of the best things you can ever do and even if you're still not convinced by the arguments play M10 Limited for a while and you'll quickly discover that when it comes to Self Harm For Fun And Profit Goblin Artillery is your weapon of choice.
Goblins have been around forever and at the time of writing there are a huge range to choose from in Standard. Just like the other team leaders from other colors there aren't enough Goblins to make the Chieftain attractive in Limited but once we hit Constructed there are some very exciting options. With the Chieftain in play some possibilities include:
Adder-Staff Boggart – 3/2 Haste (1R) could be 4/3.
Bloodmark Mentor – 2/2 Haste First Strike (1R) everything else has First Strike.
Boartusk Liege – 4/5 Haste Trample (1RRR) gives others +1/+1.
Boggart Ram-Gang – 4/4 Haste Wither (RRR).
Goblin Deathraiders – 4/2 Haste Trample (BR).
Goblin Outlander – 3/3 Haste Protection from White. (BR).
Jund Hackblade – 3/2 potentially 4/3 Haste (BR).
Murderous Redcap – 3/3 Haste deals 3 damage Persist. (2RR).
Tattermunge Maniac – 3/2 Haste. (R)
Siege-Gang Commander – 3/3 Haste plus three 2/2 Haste (3RR).
All of these are massively good deals. The trick of course is to find the Goblin cards that work well when the Chieftain isn't around to maintain a semblance of order. Take a point of power and toughness away and lose Haste and cards like Adder-Staff Boggart don't look nearly so exciting. Add in the fact that the Chieftain is a pretty flimsy 2/2 (one wonders how he got to be Chieftain in the first place with stats like those) and bringing all the pieces together can be tricky. When they do however let the carnage begin.
While the days of Goblin Warchief (an identically costed but truly spectacular rather than good card) appear to be over Goblins in Constructed is the kind of niche strategy that every so often turns up unheralded at a Premier Event and simply tears up the field.
I didn't mention Goblin Piker in the last entry and that wasn't coincidence since it isn't a premier Goblin by any means. However Red doesn't have a ton of stuff to do on Turn Two and this can often sneak in a few points of damage before trading for something like a Warpath Ghoul. It's a good example of a card that can fill a hole in your deck allowing you to smooth out your mana curve and not get ambushed by multiple small White monsters.
Another place that good players get to demonstrate their edge over lesser opponents is in what Sideboard options they have available to them in Draft. The narrowness of Ignite Disorder dictates that it will almost always start out in your unused pile ready to come in once you've established that the hate for Blue and White is worthwhile.
Having done this there's every opportunity to get at least a two-for-one out of this. Taking down a pair of irritants like a Merfolk Looter and a Snapping Drake at Instant speed for just two mana is a great deal and exactly the kind of swing that enables you to win Limited games.
Although narrow it's sufficiently nasty against its limited range of targets that it finds its way into Sideboards on a fairly regular basis. It's certainly not in the power range of old-time 'hosers' like Choke or Boil (which did extremely bad things to people playing the 'wrong' kind of land) but sits comfortably in the pile of cards that help to shore up your percentages in the Metagame.
Just like the secret of all good comedy timing is crucial in Magic and it's crucial to the success of Inferno Elemental. Because of the timing of its ability any opposing monster with three toughness or less will die as soon as it starts to tangle with the fiery one long before it gets the chance to damage our Inferno Elemental.
Where that becomes especially useful is where our opponent might otherwise put multiple small blockers in the way since the Inferno ability kicks in for every blocker. No pair of 2/2s are ever going to take this guy down. As 4/4s go this one has a larger bullseye painted on it than most meaning that it's almost always going to attract a piece of removal. Whilst taking a piece of removal out of their hand is no bad thing it's always a bit disappointing when a six mana guy goes down to two mana of Doom Blade or indeed Essence Scatter before it even hits play.
In other words don't expect it to live very long if your opponent can help it. If they can't you're in business with a decent Limited Uncommon.
Shall I end this week with an obvious 'familiar' gag? Oh all right I admit it I can't help myself. Those of you 'familiar' with the history of the game (oh and it was SO worth the wait) will remember Jackal Pup with considerable fondness/respect/irritation. Whatever your response the reason for it will be that Jackal Pup (2/1 for R that dealt damage to you whenever it took damage itself) was really really good. It was the Turn One play of choice for the Red deck for some time because it was ultra-aggressive.
Jackal Familiar gets an extra point of toughness from the Pup and loses the drawback of taking damage. However and this is a bigger however than usual the drawback that replaces it is a seriously big one. Put simply unless you put yourself through hoops trying to get round the disadvantage your Familiar is going to be at least one turn 'behind' where it should be. Here are a couple of early game scenarios first using Elite Vanguard then with the Jackal Familiar.
Turn 1 – cast Jackal Familiar.
Turn 2 – cast Jackal Familiar 2.
Turn 3 – attack for four.
Already we're two points behind the White version. It gets worse if our opponent objects to our plans. Suppose on Turn Three our opponent kills one of the Elite Vanguard before we attack. We still attack for two damage. With Jackal Familiar killing the second one renders the other obsolete once more. By the end of Turn Three in this scenario the White Aggro deck will have dealt a total of four damage and we playing Red will have dealt a grand total of zero.
One way round this loss of tempo is to play with lots of Haste monsters and if the Familiar was a Goblin Familiar rather than a Hound we might add it to the list of useful cards working with Goblin Chieftain. However a Hound it remains so we look to cards like Raging Goblin which we can cast and attack with on Turn Two alongside our Turn One Familiar to get us out of the downside.
Working around drawbacks is the daily bread of any deck designer but make no mistake – this is a biggie.
Twenty cards done and twenty-one to go. I hope that things are starting to come together as we continue the long trek through M10. It's apparent to me that we're confronting more and more familiar situations as we explore finding that there are parallels everywhere we choose to look for example in the use of life as a resource between Sign In Blood in Black and Goblin Artillery in Red or the idea of a bullseye on your Limited good cards like Royal Assassin or Inferno Elemental.
We'll finish off the Red cards next week and then we'll be on the home stretch with Green Artifacts and Lands ready to close out the Academy. As ever however you choose to use the Academy have fun and thanks for reading.