Nemesis Red In The Limited Environment: A Card By Card Analysis
Yeah, I suppose this is strange time to kick off a series of articles about the Nemesis cards in the limited environment. There's always a flurry of such articles right as new cards are released, and this time of year there's a whole lot more speculation about the contents of the summer release than the spring.
I don't work that way. I need to touch the cards, put them in little stacks and shuffle them into decks for weeks before I get a good sense of their relative quality and interactions. I'm just now feeling confident enough with the set to begin to follow-up my five articles on Masques Block limited, having had two months of local drafts to practice.
Furthermore, the current round of qualifiers is Team Limited, so I hope that any of you teams hoping to qualify will find this useful. While I don't have any real insights into the team format, my comments should still prove valid. An Ancient Hydra is an Ancient Hydra, no matter how many people are squabbling over it.
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Red in the Mercadian Masques limited environment was characterized by high quality direct damage, a host of good, but expensive creatures, and very poor creature choices at three mana and under. It also included a number of finesse cards like Warpath, Flaming Sword and Brawl, which require detailed comprehension of the timing rules to become maximally effective.
Nemesis brings more common direct damage to the table in Seal of Fire, but it is the Nemesis creatures that truly shine. Two excellent creatures were introduced at three mana (Arc Mage and Laccolith Grunt), as well as a number of tantalizing choices at higher mana costs. There are also effective finesse cards at all rarities, including Flowstone Strike, Rupture and Flowstone Slide. It's a good time to be Red.
If Red has any remaining holes, they are the perennial ones, a near complete lack of flying defenders and a weakness to Protection from Red. Thermal Glider has been and will continue to be a bane, and the recent printing of Oraxid makes matters difficult on the ground. Nonetheless, these difficulties are surmountable, and Red remains one of my favorite colors around which to base a Masques limited deck.
Enough introduction, and onto the cards! The remainder of this article is a card by card analysis of the Red subset in limited, keyed by rarity with an emphasis on the draft environment. Stripped down versions of the card text are provided with each entry.
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4R. Uncommon Creature - Hydra. 5/1.
Ancient Hydra is an excellent and versatile card that is often worthy of a first pick in your Nemesis packs. As an offensive creature, it is somewhat fragile, but as targeted removal, nothing in Red's limited arsenal is comparable, save perhaps the Cinder Elemental. Note that you can deal five direct damage with this card, even if you do not have five spare mana on the turn that you play it. During the first upkeep in which you'd have to remove a fading counter, first place your intention to deal with the fading restriction on the stack, then place five activations of the Hydra's damaging ability on top. You'll lose the Hydra when the entire stack resolves, but you'll have eked out an additional point of damage.
2R. Uncommon Creature - Spellshaper. 2/2.
2R, T, Discard a card from your hand: Arc Mage deals 2 damage divided as you choose among any number of target creatures and/or players.
Arc Mage continues the theme of superb red uncommons begun in Mercadian Masques. This card is notable first for its ability to directly destroy every one and two toughness creature in the environment, which accounts for many of the Black, Blue and Red commons, and some of the White and Green ones. Furthermore, at three mana the Arc Mage is efficiently costed and helps fills a hole in the Red mana curve (most of the truly excellent red cards begin at four mana). Previously, the best common or uncommon for this slot was the Blaster Mage, which the Arc Mage surpasses easily.
1R. Common Creature - Spellshaper. 1/1.
R, T, Discard a card from your hand: Target creature can't block this turn.
Bola Warrior continues the theme of unexciting creatures in Red's two mana slot. Though this ability can be occasionally useful (pushing a flier past a single defender, for example), I don't advocate playing this card. Unlike the untargeted War Cadence, it doesn't help you evade creatures with Protection from Red, usually your biggest obstacles. Kyren Glider, Flaming Sword or Flowstone Strike are better two mana commons.
2R. Common Instant.
You may sacrifice a mountain instead of paying Downhill Charge's mana cost. Target creature gets +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is the number of mountains you control
I'd only play this card if I had drafted a mono-Red deck, and even then, it's not an automatic inclusion. The alternate mana cost seems ill considered (since it reduces the efficiency of the effect), using the spell to kill a blocker will likely create a 2 for 1 trade in your opponent's favor, and if you have a healthy crop of spellshapers, spare mountains are probably better spent on the discard than played. That said, four of five extra power can be a nasty surprise for your opponent (see Invigorate). The call will ultimately have to be yours.
1R. Common Sorcery.
Flame Rift deals 4 damage to each player.
I see this as more of a constructed card for fast Red decks than a card for the limited environment. Red isn't swift enough to be confident of an early life advantage, and the Masques environment can depend so heavily on card advantage that I dislike including spells that guarantee a loss of that advantage when played. This card could be a interesting sideboard choice against a Black deck relying on its life total to activate Deepwood Ghouls, Soul Channeling and the like.
3RR. Common Creature - Beast. 4/4.
R: Flowstone Crusher gets +1/-1 until end of turn.
Mmmm. Flowstone Crusher is easily the best Red common in Nemesis, followed closely by the Seal of Fire. 4/4 is simply huge in the Masques environment, and the Crusher should never disappoint you. I advocate grunting "Flowstone Crush-YOU" when you attack with the big guy. He's also lots of fun with Rupture.
A word of caution. Creating a 7/1 attacker after blocking may seem like a good idea, but there are enough spells in this set that reduce toughness or assign direct damage that you should exercise some care. Losing the Crusher to Maggot Therapy or Flowstone Strike . . . sucks.
2RRR. Rare Creature - Beast. 4/4.
RR: Target creature gets +1/-1 until of turn.
This is probably the best limited Red rare in Nemesis, though the Laccolith Titan is also incredibly useful. Given enough Red mana, the Overseer can remove almost any of your opponent's creatures from the game (Oraxids and Thermal Gliders are problems, as usual). A first pick whenever you are committed to Red.
X2RR. Rare Sorcery.
All creatures get +X/-X until end of turn.
Flowstone Slide is another very useful Red rare, in some ways better than the Overseer because it has such a global effect. In a mono Red deck, the card is basically an expensive Wrath of God, which is not a bad thing at all. The card will shine most in a Red/White deck, or a Red/Green deck with Spidersilk Armors. Because White and Green tend to field the highest toughnesses in this environment, the above combinations may allow you to Slide away the opposition and see your flowstone-enhanced army to victory all on the same turn.
1R. Common Instant.
Target Creature gets +1/-1 and gains haste until end of turn.
Flowstone Strike is reasonably useful. Most often, it will be used to kill annoying spellshapers or pumped flowstone creatures. Because it also has a low cost and can launch a newly played creature into a surprise attack, a single copy of Flowstone Strike a reasonable choice to round out your deck. They are readily available in mid pack and should not be drafted early.
1R. Uncommon Enchantment.
Creatures you control get +1/-1.
This is the worst of the flowstone cards. Not only does it make your Kris Mages unplayable, but it makes your already vulnerable creatures more fragile. Unlike the Strike and Slide, it can never double as creature removal. In short, unexciting.
Flowstone Surge may be worth considering if you have a large number of Laccolith creatures and Lightning Hounds, since both the Laccolith ability and first strike are improved by the power bonus provided by the Surge.
2R. Common Creature - Wall. 0/6.
R: Flowstone Wall gets +1/-1 until end of turn.
Flowstone Wall isn't bad, especially because it costs less than four mana. It won't win you games, but it's a reasonable deterrent and an adequate turn three play. Don't draft it early.
2R. Common Creature - Beast. 2/2.
The Laccolith ability is phenomenally good in limited. It's basically a modified form of first strike that's insanely effective on the offense, in exchange for zero-function on the defense. You should always chose to use a Laccolith's ability whenever it becomes blocked, even (especially?) if you only knock out the blocker. The damage will resolve before combat damage is placed on the stack, which often means that there'll be no standing blocker to retaliate. Nice.
Laccolith Grunt is notable as the best common three mana creature in currently in Red's arsenal, taking the crown from Masques' Blaster Mage. The Grunt is generally a fine fourth pick or so.
R. Common Enchant Creature.
Whenever enchanted creature becomes blocked, you may have it deal damage equal to its power to target creature. If you do, enchanted creature deals no combat damage this turn.
Why "you" wasn't replaced with "that creature's controller" on the templating for this card, I'll never know. Thanks to what appears to be sloppy wording, Laccolith Rig is quite a versatile local enchantment. Played offensively, it goes nicely on any large creature, (Green's Snorting Gahr, for example). Defensively, it can also be used as indirect creature control on any of your opponent's creatures that you can block, since you'll be calling the shot's on the Rig's ability. It doesn't help versus evasive creatures though, so be sure that you have plenty of sources of direct damage before you include this in your deck.
5RR. Rare Creature - Beast. 6/6.
The bigger the Laccolith, the better. If you are playing Red, there's no reason to pass this monstrosity up. Your opponent is going to need an army of creatures to even think about blocking it effectively.
2RR. Uncommon Creature - Beast. 3/3.
The Laccolith Warrior is an excellent card that seems to go around second or third pick in the pack. Though it continues that glut of red creatures from Masques that cost four mana, it is always worth including in any deck with a serious commitment to Red.
R. Common Creature - Beast. 1/1.
Due to it's small size, the Whelp is the only Laccolith that I'd hesitate to include in my main deck. Admittedly, there aren't many good choices in the one mana slot save the Kris Mage, but the Whelp simply isn't enough of a threat to really be worth a whole card.
1RR. Rare Enchantment.
At the end of each player's turn, put a charge counter on Mana Cache for each untapped land that player controls. Remove a charge counter from Mana Cache: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool. Any player may play this ability, but only during his or her turn before the end phase.
Every set and every color seems to need a card that makes you scratch your head in befuddlement. Without any serious X spells in this environment, I'm not sure that I see a point to Mana Cache. There doesn't seem to be a huge need for colorless mana in any of the uncommon or common red cards except Cinder Elemental, which isn't enough to justify the deck slot or the potential of giving your opponent free resources. Pass it on.
1RR. Uncommon Sorcery.
You may sacrifice two mountains instead of paying Mogg Alarm's mana cost. Put two 1/1 red Goblin creature tokens into play.
How far we have fallen from the days of Fireblast! A friend of mine really likes this card, but I just don't see its strength. Only in the first few turns of a limited game are two 1/1 creatures likely to make a difference. That's also when your lands will be at a premium, making the alternative casting cost somewhat pointless. If you are playing Mogg Toadies this might be a nice way to help boost your count of creatures in play. Otherwise, I'd rather have one of the 2/2s for 3 mana (Laccolith Grunt, Arc Mage or Blaster Mage) in this slot.
2R. Uncommon Instant.
If an opponent controls an island and you control a mountain, you may play Mogg Salvage without paying its mana cost. Destroy target artifact.
I suppose that this is an interesting spin on Shatter, and may see some play in constructed given that Blue decks often rely heavily on artifacts. With Crash common and weakly drafted in Masques however, you should rarely need to spend a pick on Mogg Salvage unless one happens to pass you near the end of the pack. There's nothing wrong with having one in your sideboard.
1R. Common Creature - Goblin. 2/2.
Mogg Toady can't attack unless you control more creatures than defending player. Mogg Toady can't block unless you control more creatures than attacking player.
Mogg Toady has the best power and toughness of any two casting cost Red creature in the Masques limited environment, but its drawback is too steep in an environment that resolves around creatures. I'd sooner play Bola Warrior or Kyren Glider than this.
2RR. Rare Creature- Mercenary. 2/2.
3, T: Search your library for a Goblin card and put that card into play. Then shuffle your library.
Recruiting is certainly an interesting mechanic for Red, and it has been proven reasonably effective in both White and Black incarnations in the base set. However, Moggcatcher is overcosted for a 2/2 creature, so it's only going to be useful if you happened to draft a large number of playable goblins, which isn't terribly likely in the Masques block to date. There are two substandard Goblins in Nemesis, and a few better examples in Masques (Arms Dealer, Kyren Sniper, Squee, etc.).
Note that that Moggcatcher is a Mercenary, and thus can theoretically be fetched by a variety of Black cards.
2R. Uncommon Sorcery.
Sacrifice a creature. Rupture deals damage equal to that creature's power to each creature without flying and each player.
Red in Nemesis is simply full of excellent Uncommons. Rupture may be my favorite of them all. This is closest Masques block gets to Earthquake, one of my favorite basic set cards. The ability to sweep the ground and inflict direct damage to your opponent simultaneously can be a game-winner, and the flowstone creatures provide reliable methods to produce the requisite high power. Rupture is also one of the few Red cards that works well in a Red/Blue draft, since it leaves fliers intact and two good Blue commons may be able to survive the explosion thanks to their high toughnesses (Stinging Wall, Saprazzan Outrigger).
Of course, I may just like the card because in a Saga/Nemesis/Nemesis draft (we were out of Masques that day) I was able to attack unblocked with a Scoria Worm and then Rupture it later in the turn. Tasty.
Seal of Fire
R. Common Enchantment.
Versatile direct damage that can target either your opponent of creature has always been good in limited. Seal of Fire is efficiently costed and provides a viable turn one play, something of a scarcity in the current assortment of Red cards. I think it's the second best red common, after Flowstone Crusher.
1R. Rare Creature - Goblin. 1/1.
Haste. When Shrieking Mogg comes into play, tap all other creatures.
Or maybe that's TWO cards that make you scratch your head. This combines well with Downhill Charge, I guess. Otherwise, you get to do a point of damage, tap all your creatures, and then pass the turn to your opponent? Am I missing something? Crackdown in White, perhaps? Crackpipe in Red? Throw me a line here . . .
1R. Rare Sorcery.
Each player chooses a card in his or her hand. Then each player reveals his or her chosen card. The owner of the creature card revealed in this way with the lowest converted mana cost puts that card into play. If two or more creature cards are tied for lowest cost, those cards are put into play.
Okay, this is a fun card and in Red's spirit, but I don't see this as playable in limited. Every card counts, and I don't like investing a spell into the potential for my opponent to make a free play. The only real use for this that I can imagine is to get a cheap, double color casting cost, off-color creature into play. Bog Smugglers or Chieftain en-Dal, maybe, but even that's questionable.
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That's it for the Red. We'll see if I can get through the other four colors before Prophecy is officially released next month. I swear, it seems like I'm just getting a handle on the environment whenever a whole new batch of cards is rolling out . . . .