"What is that which I love more than just about anything in a game of Magic?"
That is correct but are all forms of card advantage created equal...?
Today's exclusive preview card Lead the Stampede captured my interest and imagination the moment I first opened the file. This card is without a doubt my favorite card to have had the privilege to preview not close. This is the exact type of card that a month from now I'd look back and sure would've liked to have previewed. Well this time I actually get to be the one to preview it and I'm super pumped. In fact I'm so pysched about this card that rather than start with the card image I want to ask a couple questions for some context.
First let's just get something out of the way.
I love card advantage.
Like an unnatural amount. We are talking Wafo-Tapa-esque love for card advantage. I'm the type of guy that played blue a year ago (yes before Jace). Drawing cards is just the best. Still nowadays it sure seems like there's no shortage of blue being played or blue card draw. Well let me ask you another question...
That's right; the functional difference is that one is a blue draw three for four mana; the other is a green draw three for four mana. Tempting to say the blue card right? The dark secret is that Harmonize is actually better! Seriously! Blue may be legendary for its card draw and it does have the best no question but it's because blue has so much card draw to choose from that more blue card draw spells aren't particularly amazing. A card's strength isn't just in its numbers but also in whether or not it does something that mages want done.
Blue card draw? We aren't exactly short on that.
Green card draw? Now we're talking! Green isn't nearly as overabundant with card draw so when it gets tournament-playable draw spells that's a big deal. Harmonize was super important for years both in Standard (with decks like R/G Snow Ramp...) and Extended (Scapeshift). The threshold for what it takes to make a green card drawer good is certainly much different as there just aren't as many options for green mages. That said the options that it does have are potentially very strong especially thanks to green's dominance of mana acceleration.
Here are 25 green card drawers off the top of my head:
Survival of the Fittest
Wall of Blossoms
Tooth and Nail
Glimpse of Nature
Life from the Loam
Oracle of Mul-Daya
Okay not every single one of these "draws a card" and some are more cantrip than card draw but the fact remains that it's easy to overlook green card advantage until it starts dominating tournaments (which happens over and over). When green gets to draw cards exciting things can happen. Let's take a look at the newest tournament Green card draw spell:
Yeah go back and read that one again!
Where to start with this one? Well Lead the Stampede like Kitchen Finks Path to Exile and Bloodbraid Elf is uncommon. This is significant because people are quick to point out when a good mythic could've been a lower rarity like Lotus Cobra or Vengevine but sometimes forget how awesome it is to get tournament-staple uncommons that nobody would've thought it strange to make rare at all. We also see that Lead the Stampede is 2G a very reasonable cost for a card drawer but what do we get for that mana?
When we look at Lead the Stampede one of the first things that jumps out at us is the link between this and Commune with Nature. The other is the question "How does this compare with Gift of the Gargantuan? How about Divination? Treasure Hunt? Compulsive Research?"
Commune with Nature but you keep them all...? Sure but what does that tell us? Gift of the Gargantuan? We're pretty far past Gift as we not only get to look an extra card deeper we also get all business plus we have a much more reliable two cards not to mention the possibility of hitting more. Glimpse of Nature? Whoa! Let's take a moment to regain our senses.
Basically we're looking at a three-mana draw spell but one that has a lot more variance than just a simple Divination. Let's start with a comparison to Divination as that's pretty much the baseline three-mana draw spell. Yes Divination isn't legal right now and yes it wasn't the most exciting but it's the most simple and basic starting point and it was a tournament card despite how many people underestimated it for so long. Besides as Harmonize reminds us a card drawer in green is often better in context than the same card would be in blue.
The first question that comes to mind is how many creatures do you need to play to average the same two cards you would've gotten from a Divination?
The answer: 24 creatures.
How many Standard or Extended green decks play at least 24 creatures? Oh hai Fauna Shaman! Obviously there's no shortage of decks that want to run 24 or more guys already and this provides big incentive for even more to be built. Still let's assume that we have 24 creatures; are we getting paid enough? After all is Divination really what we want? Is Divination really the right comparison? Compulsive Research was a powerful staple for years that is much like a Divination but gives you a little selection in that it generally gives you more business spells than a Divination would.
If your deck is built in such a way that your creatures are good cards (not a hard feat) then Lead the Stampede doesn't just draw "an average" of two cards; it also makes them both "business." While it's a drawback that Lead the Stampede doesn't draw you out of mana screw (unless you play cards like Sylvan Ranger Birds of Paradise Overgrown Battlement...) nor does it help Jace Control decks or Valakut it does let you look five cards deep. That's a lot of shots at Vengevines Titans Acidic Slime Fauna Shaman Sparkmage Stoneforge Mystic even Thrun the Last Troll.
Now those aren't decks that are necessarily going to want a draw two even if it is with selection (though they might). We can push it harder however. Why do we only need to play 24? Here are the "average number of cards drawn" at a few different totals:
Yes those average draws are pretty absurd but before we go uncorking the champagne we ought to take a moment to consider how difficult it is to play that many creatures in a deck after we add four copies of Lead the Stampede and however many land. Okay maybe you can build some mono-green Elf deck with only nineteen land or twenty land. Are you really not playing any Eldrazi Monuments? Planeswalkers? Okay let's say you cut the walkers for the Lead the Stampedes. You can get pretty close to three cards per Lead the Stampede if quantity is what you want. That's pretty nuts and surely a fine direction but even less "all-in" setups are excellent value.
Consider Extended Jund. Fauna Shaman Putrid Leech Kitchen Finks Anathemancer Bloodbraid Elf Shriekmaw and Demigod of Revenge provide a good start. Maybe Thrun the Last Troll is an option. Maybe Sylvan Ranger can make it possible to play fewer lands and more guys. No question hitting 28-30 creatures is pretty easy and that's some pretty excellent card advantage. Can you imagine Bloodbraiding into Lead the Stampede revealing another Bloodbraid Elf and anything else?
Now this process is somewhat reminiscent of Treasure Hunt a reasonable card but hardly format breaking. What's the difference? While both have a great deal of variance that costs you some of the possible value of cards drawn (do you really care that much about the sixth land you got off of that Treasure Hunt?) Lead the Stampede gets you all business whereas Treasure Hunt could never get you more than one business spell unless your lands are your "spells." Perhaps to evaluate Lead the Stampede we need to figure out if the decks that can actually Lead the Stampede want to draw cards in this fashion.
What kind of a card is this anyway?
Well as we can see from the Jund example this is a fantastic midrange card. Seriously how is it fair that Jund gets a Compulsive Research that digs them to more Bloodbraids Demigods Anathemancers and more? It even looks for Cloudthreshers Fulminators Shriekmaws and countless other "spells." I don't know about you but I kind of miss the midrange days so I'm super happy to see it filling this role but is that it?
We saw from the Mono-Green Elves example that this card can complement an aggro strategy giving you a fantastic refill card for your second wave or letting you set up a crazy first wave. Imagine your opponent is hoping you'll commit a little more to the board so that they can hit you with a Day of Judgment. You play this instead... and now they're way behind on cards as well as on the board. Still mono-green is hardly the only aggro strategy that can take advantage of this sweet card drawer.
All sorts of Fauna Shaman decks as we mentioned are naturally well suited as they have a tendency to play a disproportionate number of creatures. They also have a use for extra random creatures chilling in your hand not to mention how well this card sets up Vengevine. It's not just that you can generally count on it to at the very least give you enough guys to trigger your Vines. It also lets you set up turns where you have so many creatures in your hand that you actually get to discard a Vengevine that you just drew. I have a feeling this is the push that will bring Fauna Shaman back to the forefront of the Standard format.
Existing Naya Bant Jund RUG Dredgevine G/W and Mono-Green aren't the extent of the possibilities though. What about Mono-Black Vampires? Yes adding green is much harder than adding red. Still you do get four Verdant Catacombs which is a start and Lead the Stampede needs only a single green. Maybe some Fauna Shamans and Lead the Stampedes to complement a full-on Captivating Vampires list can find its way into the format?
What about combo? Imagine this card in an Extended or Legacy Elf combo deck. It will be pretty easy for this card to draw close to three cards (and all business). That makes it pretty easy to imagine going off the next turn. It's no Glimpse of Nature but it might be the best thing Extended has. As for Legacy it gives you additional draw plus it's often a better topdeck than Glimpse.
Now it's probably a good time to consider the ramifications of trying to actually break the card. What if we knew the top of our library? Yes this is card 5473189 that you can use with Jace the Mind Sculptor but there are other combo cards that let you stack the top of your library. What about Footbottom Feast? I mean that's pretty slow but that's kind of a funny mondo combo. What about Dwarven Recruiter? If you can find a clever way to stack the top of your library you can build your own draw five.
Okay so we can try this card in midrange aggro and combo. What about control?
Control is probably where the card drawing aspect pays the best (other than maybe combo) but it's also going to be the most difficult to pull off. Playing 24-28 creatures in a control deck is often no small feat but it's certainly possible. What creatures this would mean I'll leave as an exercise for the reader but suffice it to say there's no shortage of good creatures worth considering for such an undertaking.
The first reaction is to look for creatures that approximate spells or have an immediate impact on the board such as Shriekmaw Plumeveil Fulminator Mage Cloudthresher Kitchen Finks Overgrown Battlement Sylvan Ranger Bloodbraid Elf Mulldrifter Qasali Pridemage Sunblast Angel Wurmcoil Titans Baneslayer and Sea Gate Oracle. Can such a deck be built without falling squarely into the midrange department? Maybe maybe not. Regardless the space is there to explore.
Every sort of deck can try this card drawer that's like the green Compulsive Research? It has the potential to pay big for some decks but might it be playable in a lot of other decks? What's the catch?
Well to start with please understand that not everyone gets as excited by a Compulsive Research as I do. Second of all this is a card with some pretty big swings. It's going to be kind of crushing when you play the mirror Lead into just a single Birds of Paradise then your opponent casts the same spell and just straight-up draws five binning two Vengevines. In this regard it sort of comes from the Bloodbraid Elf school of cards.
Next this is a card that places some pretty serious design constraints on its users. This is hardly a death sentence however as Bloodbraid has a similarly difficult restriction which hasn't exactly held it back. This card certainly isn't in the same league as Bloodbraid Elf on power as it doesn't give you the same tempo boost but it does offer pretty massive card advantage and for less mana. This is a card that doesn't fit into most existing Jace decks Valakut decks and Vampires decks. That's already enough to scare a lot of people away but those who stay have access to the most powerful green card draw "spell" in years.
Outside of just providing a card-draw engine for a wide variety of strategies across the formats there are still subtle layers to understand about Lead the Stampede. For instance will you ever want to not reveal a card? You're allowed to reveal some or all of your guys so if you'd rather put one or more of your creatures on the bottom you have that option.
It'll be interesting to see how deckbuilders respond to this new tool. It's tempting to be unreasonably optimistic with how many cards we expect to draw off of Lead the Stampede but even the modest estimates reveal good value. While this card won't be universally adopted (not every deck can play that many creatures while still being in the market for a card draw spell) it will find lots of homes and is one of the most important cards to understand coming out of Mirrodin Besieged.
Players familiar with Compulsive Research will surely see the value of Lead the Stampede very quickly. Those not familiar with it let's just say this is significantly better than Divination a modest card to be sure but quality card advantage.
Besides it's green!