"Computer programmers in the mid-20th century made a timekeeping device that looped around at some point. That obviously means they predicted that the world would end on January 1, 2000. It didn't. Checkmate science!"
Hey everybody, who wants to discuss missed triggers? Never Mayan, let's talk Gatecrash spoilers...
Return to Ravnica has proven to have a dynamic and interesting Standard format that has gone in some cycles but with new mutations each time. There exists a precarious balance between Rakdos, U/W/R, Bant, Jund, and Naya, as well as variants of these strategies (often involving fewer colors). That balance is about to be thrown out the window.
Gatecrash brings with it Stomping Ground, Sacred Foundry, Godless Shrine, Watery Grave, Breeding Pool, and their respective guilds. Even if Gatecrash was five shocklands and 244 variations of Great Wall, the metagame would be shaken up. That is some pretty incredible mana fixing, and it will have an impact, if only because of the options that open up as a result. It's not just that there are five more good duals for color combinations currently short, it is also that M10 and Innistrad duals will come into play untapped quite a bit more.
When Dissension, original Ravnica's third set, came out, the printing of Hallowed Fountain changed the landscape of Standard in a major way. People already wanted to play blue and white cards together, so giving them access to good mana had a major impact on the format. Today, we have decks that are just a little bit better mana away from viability, such as BUG Control and R/G Aggro, and existing decks with strained mana that may pick up a lot of steam with new duals, such as Naya and Boros.
As a side note, if I were going to make a guess, I would guess that B/W will have a new major archetype that is possible as a result of Gatecrash that is not just an extension of B/W Tokens. It will surely use Lingering Souls, but putting myself in R&D's shoes, I have to imagine that they would have looked at Guildpact Standard, with B/W Hand-in-Hand, B/W Husk, and B/W Ghostdad, and considered what kinds of cards they might need to print to give B/W access to a few different dimensions of game play. People love B/W because it is so exotic and among the least played color combinations.
I am certainly excited to see what B/W decks are born out of Gatecrash, but the cards to give them life have not yet been spoiled. However, some new cards are starting to emerge, and I'd like to discuss two of them today. The first, not surprisingly, is a new planeswalker, Domri Rade.
Domri Rade 1RG
+1: Look at the top card of your deck. If it is a creature card, you may reveal and draw it.
-2: Target creature you control fights another target creature.
-7: You gain an emblem with "Creatures you control have double strike, trample, hexproof, and haste."
How good is that first ability?
+1: Look at the top card of your deck. If it is a creature card, you may reveal and draw it.
Well, let's be generous and say you have 30 creatures in your deck. That is +0.5 cards per turn on a +1 ability. Compare this to Jace Beleren. With Jace, the usual play pattern is to draw three cards and make your opponent draw one card every three turns. This is a net +0.67 cards per turn with no gain of loyalty. You might argue that drawing creatures could be slightly better than random cards, but the bigger factor is the change in loyalty.
What if we were actually trying to increase Jace's loyalty by one per turn? Now we actually draw three cards and make our opponent draw two cards every three. That is a net of only +0.33 cards per turn. In fact, we actually only need 20 creatures in our deck to draw that many cards per turn with Domri Rade. However, it is worth remembering at this point that when you have a Jace, you and your opponent each drawing a card is not worth zero...
What does this tell us about Domri Rade? Well, it's pretty clear that if you are just using it as a raw card drawer, Jace is much better. He gives you so many more options for drawing.
- Take Jace down to zero and you can draw three cards.
- Keep Jace's loyalty generally even and you can net 0.67 cards per turn.
- Add a loyalty to Jace per turn on average and you can still net 0.33 cards per turn.
Of course, Jace should have more ways to draw cards. We are talking about two of his abilities, compared to just one of Domri Rade's. So what about Rade's -2 ability?
-2: Target creature you control fights another target creature.
Like Jace the Mind Sculptor's -1, this is an ability that will be easy for people to overlook. Why should you have to -2 instead of gaining +1 for the fight ability? Well, when it's good, it's often quite good. You aren't being forced to use this option, with it costing you loyalty left and right. Rather, when you are in a situation where you need to solve a problem, Rade does this for you, and that's not even why you put it in your deck. On the other hand, the Mind Sculptor's -1 ability was a stronger effect for half the loyalty, so we shouldn't get too carried away with the praise, though comparisons to the Greatest of All Time are rarely fair.
It is particularly nice that you can play a good creature then drop Rade the following turn and immediately have your creature fight theirs, with Rade still living. Now, they are behind a creature and a planeswalker on the table, and even if they deal with Rade, you are still up a card. Overall, the rate is not incredible on the second ability, but it is a novel option that gives you something different from what you already had.
Finally, we come to Rade's ultimate. This one has to be part of the formula if he is going to make it into tournament decks since the card draw ability means you are paying for the ability to net honor. The fight ability is too modest a payoff to be the only incentive to build honor on Rade.
-7: You gain an emblem with "Creatures you control have double strike, trample, hexproof, and haste."
Wow. What does that even mean? It's always tricky evaluating planeswalker ultimates that do not match any printed card text or win the game outright. Let's try to wrap our minds around what such text is worth in the abstract, as well as how it'd actually play out.
Double Strike - 4RR - Rage Reflection
Trample - 1G - Primal Rage
Haste - 2R - Fervor
Does this mean Rade's Ultimate is worth 9RRRGG?
No, actually mana doesn't work that way.
For starters, adding effects together doesn't add up to the total mana worth of value you are getting. In general, getting two effects each worth a card and four mana is available for just six mana and a single card because the opportunity cost of playing more expensive cards is actually much higher. Before even tackling this issue, however, it is important to note that Rage Reflection, Primal Rage, Dense Foliage, and Fervor are hardly the definition of the power curve.
What about True Conviction? Now we are talking six mana for both double strike and lifelink, and while Rade doesn't give lifelink, I think it's fair to say that giving all of your creatures lifelink is at least somewhat comparable to giving them all haste. Even True Conviction, however, is not strong enough to make it into any of my Constructed decks.
What about Asceticism? Here's a card that has seen some fringe play, but not much. It gives 1G: regenerate to all your creatures, but we might be able to weigh that similar to giving all of your creatures trample. Normally I might slightly give the edge to the regeneration, but contextually we are talking about double striking hexproof creatures. They are less likely to need regeneration and would probably benefit from the trample.
So how much is True Conviction and Asceticism worth? Well, I haven't really been one to use either in Constructed, but there is a rate at which I would. Would you play a card that has the text of both for seven mana?
To try to get a gauge of how much we need an effect like this to give us to be legitimately good, let's look at Akroma's Memorial. Akroma's Memorial costs seven colorless and has appeared in a few different winning decks over the years, suggesting it's a solid Constructed card (when you are in the market for that sort of a thing).
Akroma's Memorial gives us flying, first strike, vigilance, trample, haste, and protection from black and from red. While none of these abilities are as good as double strike or hexproof, the Memorial sure makes up for it in volume. Trample and haste line up on both sides, so we can cross those off. While it does not say first strike, the Rade package effectively gives first strike to all of your creatures, so we can cross that one off as well. This leaves us with flying, vigilance, pro: black, and pro: red.
Flying and Vigilance are great abilities, but in general double strike is probably worth more. A 1/1 double striker for two is better than a 1/1 flying, vigilance creature, and a 4/4 double striker for five is better than a 4/4 flying, vigilance creature. How about pro: black and pro: red? Obviously this varies a fair bit, but they are likely worth slightly more than hexproof. Paladin en-Vec certainly wouldn't have seen as much play if he was merely hexproof, but, of course, this sort of thing is very contextual.
Overall, while Rade's ultimate may appear to be worth roughly the same as Akroma's Memorial in play, in practice it is probably a bit better. To begin with, emblems are far harder to deal with than artifacts. This is important because when you are talking about an effect that basically trumps many games unless it is dealt with, not being able to deal with it is quite big.
Additionally, Akroma's Memorial makes you pay for lots of abilities that you don't fully take advantage of. Conversely, Rade's ultimate has just four abilities, and they are all very relevant. While it doesn't win you the game on its own, Rade's ultimate still seems like a solid option at seven mana. In this case, it is a three-cost suspend four that happens to draw you a few cards in the meantime.
Of course, like all planeswalkers, Rade can be attacked. The point is that this ultimate is worth quite a bit more than Jace Beleren's (which is roughly as powerful as five-cost Traumatize) but less than Liliana of the Veil's (roughly worth about eight mana). In case you were wondering, Jace, the Mind Sculptor's ultimate is worth about twelve mana (compare to Enter the Infinite, and twelve mana is usually the baseline for "Win The Game").
Ok, ok, so Domri Rade's card draw ability is weaker than Beleren's, not to mention puts constraint on your deck design, but gives you a nice option for fighting as well as a solid ultimate. Where does this put his power level? I'd say about one notch below Ajani, Caller of the Pride, a card that turned out to generally be a role-player in some creature-heavy decks that could take advantage of the flying and double strike, as predicted.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride is certainly not as good as it gets, but there is room for cards below it that are still quite good. Besides, we haven't even gotten into actually abusing Rade yet...
How do we abuse Rade? No, using creatures isn't abuse. That's just "using him." Rade is costed assuming that the top card of your deck is random. What if it wasn't? What if we had some ability to control the top of our library? Sylvan Library and Sensei's Divining Top would be the nuts, but we wouldn't even need a card that good. If we had access to Mirri's Guile, Rade would be pretty close to just +1: Draw a card.
While it is unlikely WotC will print a card even that good at manipulating the top of your library as long as miracles are legal, we can look to cards like Mwonvuli Beast Tracker to get added value as well as any other card that might put creatures back on top, perhaps Volrath's Stronghold style. So far, we have Gravepurge, which isn't great, but isn't the worst either. Keeping our eyes open for cards that put creatures on top would be ideal, as it is more likely that WotC would print such a card at a decent power level (since it wouldn't necessarily work with miracles).
Another possibility is to look at Modern, where there are quite a few more options for library manipulation available to us. The bar is higher for what we'd want in return, but any time we can consistently juggle the top of our deck to make sure we hit creatures, we could be looking at a pretty solid source of card advantage.
Overall, my verdict is playable but probably not a big star unless he gets support from some top of the deck combo in Standard. He is a solid role-player, and there are a lot of great creatures that you'd be super happy to draw. I like him, I just don't love him. Here's a first draft that is surely missing at least eight Gatecrash cards that have not yet been revealed:
- 3 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Centaur Healer
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
I suspect in the finished version that such a deck is unlikely to contain Farseek and will be replaced by some other hot two-drop that people don't know about yet. Farseek is a great card, but it doesn't really fit into what this deck is trying to do once you have access to a second mana Elf (Arbor Elf). I did not cut it here, as there isn't anything you really want...yet. If I were WotC, one of the first things I would have done for Gatecrash would have been to build first drafts of all the shards and wedges that were not supported in Return to Ravnica and see what holes existed. The big hole on the curve here is the two-spot, as there are lots of good options at most other costs.
The other card I'd like to look at today could fit in this same color combination but does not necessarily take you down this same path. Pay close attention on this one, as Angels are often underestimated by tournament players and heavily valued by casual players...
Aurelia, the Warleader 2RRWW
Legendary Creature - Angel Mythic
Flying, haste, vigilance
Whenever Aurelia, The Warleader attacks for the first time each turn, untap all creatures you control. After this phase, there is an additional combat phase.
To begin to evaluate this one, let's figure out what cards it is most like. To start with, let's compare Aurelia with Rorix Bladewing. She is effectively a 6/4 instead of a 6/5 but gains vigilance. She effectively only deals three damage to creatures but effectively does double damage if pumped. Finally, she has slightly more strict mana requirements, but you get to attack with all of your creatures twice, almost without even paying for it!
Ok, so she is clearly at a higher power level than Rorix Bladewing. Additionally, her power is in places that are customizable. For instance, you get to decide what other creatures to play with to choose how powerful to make her double attack ability as well as if you play with any pumps, which are twice as effective.
Her "drawbacks" are merely restrictions on what kinds of decks can actually use her. Here, those limitations are decks that can produce double red and double white that also play other creatures that want to attack. Once you meet those requirements, you have the potential to get access to a card that is above rate (since it is balanced with those factors in mind).
Merely being better than Rorix Bladewing does not ensure that a card will be good or successful. Times have changed, and the bar is certainly different for fatties than it used to be. Inferno Titan was much better than Rorix Bladewing.
Looking at today's format, what is the competition that Aurelia is up against? Armada Wurm, Niv-Mizzet, Soul of the Harvest, Reaper of the Abyss, and Nefarox; there really aren't that many other six-drops, and none of them really put you on the same path as Aurelia. The closest one is Armada Wurm, but that is the opposite type of card as Aurelia. Armada Wurm makes removal bad, while Aurelia is a "Baneslayer." Armada Wurm gives you board presence to try to take over the game, while Aurelia tries to end the game right here and right now.
Next to no competition at the six spot is promising, but why do we even have to go that high on the curve? What about the five-drops?
Now we are talking! Standard is not short on good five-drops, though true be told, most of them are in green and red. That Aurelia is red means she is going to butt heads with Thundermaw Hellkite and Zealous Conscripts. After all, Thundermaw Hellkite is also clearly more powerful than Rorix Bladewing, and Zealous Conscript is pretty good at ending games right here and now. Additionally, even though Thragtusk is a different color, anything that costs five or more has to be compared to it. Maybe our deck isn't supposed to use Thragtusk, but that is part of the opportunity cost that always has to be factored in.
It seems of those that Thundermaw Hellkite is the closest analog. After all, I'd rather have a 5/5 flier with haste for five than a 6/4 flier with haste and vigilance for six. The 5/5 flier isn't even a legend, and it comes with a bonus comes into play ability that is sure to get better once Godless Shrine and the rest of the Orzhov guild spark a resurgence of Lingering Souls.
If we don't capitalize on Aurelia's double attacking ability as more than just making her a 6/4, she is basically only as strong a card on the table as Thundermaw Hellkite, potentially slightly less. It is possible we just want more than four Thundermaws and she is the next best option, but I suspect we can do better. After all, how much do we need to attack for to make up for that one mana?
We have to aim higher than getting one mana worth of value out of the ability, as some percentage of the time we will get none. It's not just that we won't always have other creatures in play, but there are also going to be times that we have creatures but can't afford to attack with them.
Once we imagine what it looks like to actually summon Aurelia, it quickly becomes clear that flying is a pretty nice ability for your creatures to have because ground creatures are far more easily blocked. Remember, she doesn't actually give creatures double strike. If they die in combat the first time around, you are none the richer.
This also leads us to want a plan for opposing fliers. It would be really unfortunate if our Aurelia was brick walled by the rare defensive Thundermaw. Interestingly, Thundermaw Hellkite is a high power flier (both attributes Aurelia loves) that has the potential to break your entire team through if you play it the turn after you play Aurelia. It is super nice to be able to get some amount of this without diluting our deck too much with removal. After all, the more removal we play, the more we risk drawing all removal and no creatures to make double attack.
Another interesting feature of Aurelia is her ability to let you stack attack triggers. A card like Hellrider is just going to be sweet each time you do it, but an alternative direction to consider is exalted. Aurelia has to attack alone to pull it off, but if you have a Knight of Glory, Aurelia will get +1 on the first attack but will be +2 on the second attack. Getting +3 damage out of exalted is cool and all, but what if we push it to the max?
What if we combine Aurelia with Sublime Archangel?
Aurelia will have to attack alone, but Sublime Archangel will give it a bonus for every creature you control followed by what amounts to double the bonus for the second attack. Even with just two other creatures, perhaps Spirit tokens from Midnight Haunting or Lingering Souls, Sublime Archangel would make Aurelia +4 for the first attack, +8 for the second attack for eighteen damage right there. One more added creature puts us at 21 in one shot if we couldn't sneak in two points of damage at some point. What if we don't have any other creatures? Well, Sublime Archangel and Aurelia can just attack together, giving you a quick fourteen.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride is another interesting one. Ajani's +1/+1 counter are twice as effective when your creature attacks twice, but his ability to give a creature flying and double strike effectively becomes quad-damage when you have two attack phases. Ajani plus Aurelia is already twelve points of haste damage without adding anything else in. Talk about a nice follow up to an opponent's Supreme Verdict!
While we could just stick an Aurelia or two into a R/W/U deck, doubling our Thundermaws and Restoration Angels (possibly even Geist of Saint Traft if things are going well), if we are going to make a dedicated Aurelia deck, we are going to have address the issue of just how expensive it is. After all, six mana is a lot for a deck without green (ramping) or blue (card draw). Maybe a dedicated Aurelia is supposed to be green or blue, but if not, we are going to have to play a lot of mana. Finding ways to make sure that we don't just flood out is going to be important.
Slayers' Stronghold is an exciting option to consider. The haste and vigilance it offers may seem like nombos, but remember that not all of our creatures are going to have all of Aurelia's abilities. Once we are combining it with Aurelia, it's the +2 damage aspect that is most appealing. Getting double damage out of it due to Aurelia is awesome to be sure, but what makes the card awesome for us is the relatively low opportunity cost.
It may be that a third color pushes Slayers' Stronghold out, whether its green for ramp, blue for card draw, or black for Lingering Souls. However, even if we go three colors, the action lands are worth considering. The most appealing are probably the ones that give us combat abilities to double, such as Kessig Wolf Run (and Slayers' Stronghold). Gavony Township, Vault of the Archangel, and Moorland Haunt are all totally reasonable to consider as well.
Consider the following mana base:
Now, maybe we play a full set of Guildgates, or maybe we play none at all. Either way, the mana for Boros decks is going to look a lot different once we have access to more duals than we need. Still, playing just 26 mana is going to make it a little tough to consistently hit six on six. How do the control decks get away with it? They draw extra cards! The green decks? They are over half mana counting Pilgrims and Borderland Rangers!
If we play just 26 lands and don't draw any extra cards, we are only going to play a sixth land on turn six 42% of the time (when on the play). After all, playing a sixth land on turn 6 means we drew at least six land out of twelve cards!
This reveals one of the underlying constraints of Magic deck design and why cards that cost six really are much more expensive than cards that cost four. It's not that your six-drop comes out two turns later, but that if we don't take measures to ensure we hit our land drops, the six-drop may be four or more turns later. When you think about the damage a Hellrider can deal in four turns, it is clear this is a big cost.
While the occasional R/W "Control" deck has popped up from time to time, they are generally "bad" Mono-Black Control decks (as if that was that high a bar these days). It doesn't mean it's impossible to make some big mana R/W deck, but it is definitely not an archetype that has existed lately. Now give us a Thawing Glaciers...
What does this mean for Aurelia? I'd divide the possible paths into the following:
1) Adding one or two to the top of a R/W/U curve. The good news is that this strategy already draws enough cards to support her and has some creatures worth doubling. The cost? Every Aurelia could have been a Thundermaw or a Sphinx's Revelation.
2) Naya. Here, we have an even larger supply of creatures to double plus accelerators to actually cast her. The downside? There are no shortage of good fatties for these decks, plus lots of the Naya creatures don't fly. Obviously Thundermaw and Thragtusk are competition; the real question is if Aurelia is actually as good as Angel of Serenity. On raw power level, she is not, but if you are on some "kill lane" type of time, she is ruthless. Just don't get stuck being blocked by someone's Restoration Angel.
3) Big-mana Boros. Here, she has less true competition, and we could set up some pretty lethal attacks, perhaps with Sublime Archangel or Hellrider. We could even splash black for Lingering Souls. The downside? You have to figure out how to make the mana work. The colors will be no trouble, but the raw quantity is a real question. It is nice that Aurelia is an Angel for added value of Cavern of Souls (and possibly even some Avacyn Restored Angel rewards).
4) Reanimator. Here, she has to face competition like Angel of Serenity and Craterhoof Behemoth, but haste is a very powerful option and it doesn't seem unreasonable to set up a 20-point attack fairly easily. I wonder if she might prove to be a better Craterhoof Behemoth than Craterhoof Behemoth. She is less "big" but far better to actually cast.
5) Blazing new ground. What kind of a new strategy might we devise to capitalize on Aurelia? My first guess is one that kills in one hit, but I guess it is also interesting just how many tournament playable Angels there are these days...
Aurelia isn't going to be the format staple that Thundermaw Hellkite is, as it asks more of you and is just not as perfectly engineered to dominate as Thundermaw. That said, its power level is reasonably high, and it is quite exploitable. It is the type of card that goes from good to epic if a deck is built to truly take advantage of it. It is also worth remembering that Aurelia is a super fun Angel with big dreams for group games, so the casual crowd is going to want this one, too.
Despite surface similarities, Aurelia isn't the same type of card as Thundermaw Hellkite. It is going to have fewer homes, but it is likely to get hot a couple times when the right home emerges (like Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Craterhoof Behemoth).
Return to Ravnica Standard has proven to be a pretty great format, but I think we are all ready for Gatecrash to turn the format upside down.