The value of vanilla or French vanilla creatures varies wildly depending on how their numbers compare to that numbers of other creatures in the set. This impact is amplified for fliers which have a narrow range of commons they routinely interact with. This makes looking at how commons play against each other specifically more valuable than just looking at whether they offer a good rate in a vacuum. Here I'm going to discuss how a few key cards match up to other cards they're likely to face in Return to Ravnica Limited.
As I mentioned matchups are most important for fliers. I think Vassal Soul is generally overrated. I'm willing to play it in my aggressive decks that need another evasive creature but it has a lot of strikes against it. If you're not U/W it's very hard to cast for what you get. I like it if I can pick it up late in white-heavy Selesnya aggro decks where I want a creature with evasion but most of the time I'm just not that interested.
Think about the common fliers: Sunspire Griffin is the worst case scenario but you're not much happier to see Tower Drake (out of U/W) Concordia Pegasus or Runewing. Ideally they'll have Daggerdrome Imp but that guy usually comes with scavenge or enchant creature auras.
I also like Vassal Soul in aggressive Azorius decks that are looking to race ground decks and detain opposing fliers.
I think the most subtle weakness of Vassal Soul is actually its position against Rakdos. It wasn't something I thought about until I was actually looking at how I wanted to sideboard when my Azorius deck was playing against Rakdos but flying is horrible against Unleash. Their creatures can't block anyway and you don't need flying to block them so you're just paying extra for no benefit against the dedicated unleash decks.
This interaction is at the core of the matchup between Rakdos and Azorius. Azorius would often like to be a tempo based deck with a lot of detain but if you're overpaying for all of your creatures it's hard to make up the inherent disadvantage by detaining them a few times.
Azorius can counter by siding out fliers for creatures like Armory Guard but Rakdos can counter by just going bigger and cutting their small guys that are easy to block for big creatures like Spawn of Rix Maadi or Golgari Longlegs--of course if they do that Azorius can win with early pressure backed by bounce and detain. This creates an interesting dynamic. Fast Rakdos beats fast Azorius big Rakdos beats big Azorius but big Azorius beats small Rakdos and small Azorius beats big Rakdos (in theory; obviously in game play single cards can change things a lot and none of this makes up for things like better deck/draw/cards beating worse deck/draw/cards).
I've seen a lot of really horrible Lobber Crew decks. So many in fact that I thought the card was bad.
It looks like it's well positioned against Selesnya since they have so many three power creatures but what is it doing really? They have so many three power creatures. You'll block one and hit them for one but they'll hit you with their other guys. The longer you go the further ahead they get with populate.
It's better against aggressive Rakdos decks but again you need to be going somewhere with it.
Lobber Crew is an early stopper for big Rakdos to buy time to fill the board with gigantic four-to-six drops and it's a reasonable way to get a few points of reach at the top of the curve in an aggro deck while buying time for you turn them out after they've stabilized.
It fills a similar role in Izzet.
Basically Lobber Crew isn't a game plan. It's not a load-bearing card. It's a support card that does match up fairly well against some cards in the format. I almost want to say it matches up well against the cards in the format but badly against the strategies but I'm not sure that that's a rational statement. My real point is that it's not a card I'm excited about if the 1-2 damage a turn isn't going to be quite good for me.
This guy is basically the centerpiece of his own deck. It's hard to talk about it as Selesnya or Golgari since you're usually base green and just playing whichever good cards you happen to pick up. It's at its best in base Golgari because of Trestle Troll and Ogre Jailbreaker. Axebane Guardian is a lot better if it can tap for more than one mana and can get absurd if you have multiples in play. All of the other defenders in Golgari are absolutely perfect with Axebane Guardian. Gatecreeper Vine helps splash other colors letting your deck work if they kill your Axebane Guardian or if you don't draw it. Trestle Troll deals with the fact that you can't block fliers easily and need time for the big spells you're trying to cast to win. Trestle Troll's stats line up pretty well with the creatures in this format and it can be very hard for a lot of decks to execute their plans against it. Ogre Jailbreaker is amazing since it's bigger than most everything on the ground and the Gatecreeper Vines you're trying to play anyway make it much more likely to be able to attack.
The best cards this deck can have are the green guildmages which let you use all the extra mana you can generate to actually win the game. There are plenty of other random expensive cards you can play and I've seen a surprising amount of discussion on Twitter of people resorting to Axebane Stag as a finisher but I'd really hope to do better.
This is where I often end up thinking of this as a Selesnya deck. I'd generally rather try to populate off Courser's Accord or Horncaller's Chant which help my Trostani's Judgments and Launch Parties that I'm relying on to not lose to other people's powerful late game creatures (guildmages).
Getting back to the discussion of numbers relative to other numbers this card is absurd.
Those are the cards he stops from attacking entirely but he also stops every common creature and every uncommon creature (except for Hellhole Flailer) that costs three or less and doesn't have evasion from getting through. He also bricks or trades with every four mana common or uncommon creature.
One of the best interactions on defense for Frostburn Weird is Dynacharge used in a way one might not naturally think of. Between Frostburn Weird and Voidwielder it's realistic to have a board with several 1/4s blocking 3/3s while the opponent tries to push damage. An overloaded Dynacharge will kill every creature you can block while letting you keep all your guys. (And if that's too hard to set up Dynacharge will routinely let you kill a creature for one mana when it bounces off one of your many 1/4s which happens pretty often.)
He's awesome on defense but no less impressive on offense. The worst feeling is trying to block with Doorkeeper or Lobber Crew when your opponent has a Frostburn Weird. Additionally Frostburn Weird with Pursuit of Flight is an absolute nightmare. 2/2s blockers aren't common in this format but they're completely hopeless against Frostburn Weird.
Historically Threaten has been good against green and relatively weak against other colors. When Red and Black are also full of giant creatures Threaten effects gets a lot better. When combined with the aggressive nature of Rakdos and its ability to deal huge chunks of damage with giant creatures you'll often end up in situation where this will win you games out of nowhere that no other card would win because you can take their large blocker (make it bigger and give it trample) and get your other creature through.
Also while it's a ridiculous corner case I've now heard several stories about taking a creature and attacking a Vraska that used her first ability to kill both the creature and the planeswalker.
Whenever I think about this card I'm just sad that it's not Streetbreaker Wurm but that's just not a helpful way to think about things. When you need to block with it you get a 5/3 for five which isn't a great deal and doesn't stack up well against the other cards in the format. It can trade up but realistically if you're playing it in that mode it's probably because you're behind and you need to trade with their three or four drop and it's not likely to turn things around for you.
When you can make it a 6/4 we're looking at an entirely different situation. The fourth toughness means that your opponent is unlikely to have a single creature that can kill it in a fight (Frostburn Weird and Ogre Jailbreaker being some awesome exceptions). Most likely your opponent will have to double block it and here the sixth power makes it much better than Golgari Longlegs since it can kill two centaurs blocking it rather than being forced to trade with just one.
The card that might do the most to really put Spawn of Rix Maadi over the top is Deviant Glee. Generally Unholy Strength is a fine niche card in extremely aggressive black decks that are looking to steal games by getting a lot of damage in early with an enchanted one or two drop. Deviant Glee can do that but unlike Unholy Strength it's amazing on big creatures because it gives trample. People almost never live through an 8/5 trampling creature attacking them if they don't have the removal spell.
I think it's easy to underrate this guy. He looks like a zero power creature (I think it has something to do with the zero in his lower right hand corner) but I think he might actually be amazing.
Shades are generally excellent in mono-black and the fact that half of the mana you put into this creature can be colorless lets this guy function like you're playing a mono-black deck most of the time.
The major weakness of Shades is that they can easily be killed when you cast them tap out for another spell or the turn after you put all your mana into them but this guy always has four toughness so he's not going to get killed off by an Electrickery-type card when you're tapped out.
I think people overestimate the importance of the one power on Shades. It doesn't matter when you get one damage in with a Shade. The point of a Shade is to force your opponent to chump block or lose a massive chunk of their life. Perilous Shadow does that perfectly well but it also blocks reasonably when you need to play another card.
This card goes late and people often tell me to cut it from my decks but I've never been disappointed when I've had one in play.
This weekend is Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle. Testing with SCGBlack has been awesome--fun and educational as always but I'm definitely looking forward to being done with modern and getting to explore a Standard format that is completely fresh and new to me--or just drafting Return to Ravnica all the time. We'll see.
I'm not more than 20% likely to play any particular deck in Modern this weekend but I hope to get it figured out in the next two days. I'm not too worried. With luck it'll be fun coverage to follow.
Thanks for reading
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