Picture this. You're playing Birthing Pod, let's say, or Tempered Steel. Your opponent leads with a Birds of Paradise on the play. You play out a one-drop of your own—your own Bird, or maybe a Vault Skirge—and pass the turn back. And then your opponent plays another land and drops Daybreak Ranger.
“Ha ha! Silly Twilight lover!” you think to yourself as you move to your next turn. “Everyone knows werewolves suck! Even if he can ever flip that thing, I can easily play two spells to flip it back!” You take your turn, playing out another creature and then suddenly have the unfortunate realization that Daybreak Ranger doesn't even need to flip to kill your one-drop flier for free. The archer shoots down your creature, and your opponent plays a four-drop and proceeds to run over you.
Alright, let's rewind, then. Let's say your turn-one creature was Signal Pest or Llanowar Elves (ignoring for the moment the fact that neither of these is your deck's optimal play). They don't fly, so why should they fear Daybreak Ranger?
Because as the red priestess is fond of saying—the night is dark and full of terrors.
You play your Elf and then maybe a Birthing Pod, or your Signal Pest into Porcelain Legionnaire, and pass the turn back. Your opponent draws and says go. During your upkeep, that harmless archer turns into Nightfall Predator. But why worry—you can flip it back this turn by playing two spells, right? Until your opponent stops you.
I've seen so many people talking about how the Werewolves suck, and they're right—about most of them. It's hard to get value from a card like Mayor of Avabruck or Kruin Outlaw because they have to start your turn transformed in order for their abilities to matter. That can happen in one of two ways. Your opponent can fail to play a spell on their own turn, or you can pass without playing a spell and your opponent can't play two spells on their own turn to transform them back. In a world sure to be full of Snapcaster Mages, I don't see either of these as a scenario I want to rely on.
On top of that, the value you get from Mayor or Outlaw even if they transform isn't really that high. Sure, Mayor gives you a Wolf token every turn it stays transformed, but that requires it do exactly that—stay transformed. Outlaw certainly hits hard, thanks to double strike (especially if you pair it with Kessig Wolf Run), but giving up your turn to maybe hit your opponent for some extra damage doesn't seem terribly exciting to me either.
Daybreak Ranger, though, is incredibly exciting. Unlike its fellow Werewolves, Nightfall Predator doesn't need for it to be night very long before it can do serious damage. If you spend the turn after playing Nightfall Predator playing nothing to transform it, you can immediately use it to fight (and kill) one of your opponent's creatures.
The operative questions when it comes to Werewolves is “How hard is it to transform?” and “How much is transforming worth?” The answers to those questions in Daybreak Ranger's case are “Very easy” and “A whole lot.”
Anyone remember Contested Cliffs? Contested Cliffs was such a powerful card that people built decks full of otherwise unimpressive Beasts just so they could use the land to pick off their opponent's creatures one by one. Daybreak Ranger is Ravenous Baloth plus Contested Cliffs in a single card! Can you imagine trying to play a Bant Birthing Pod deck against this guy? You'd better hope you have a Fiend Hunter waiting for every single copy they play, or it's going to get really hairy for your poor utility creatures come nighttime.
The last time I saw a card that I thought was vastly underrated on the spoiler, I went to preorder a dozen copies at a dollar cents apiece from StarCityGames.com. At some point during my order, I got distracted and forgot to finish it. Not all that much later, I happened to see a message on the screen indicating that I had items in my cart with a total cost of over $100. Turns out those Spellskites had increased in price by over 1000% since I'd first thought about ordering them.
Not so this time. While I don't expect Daybreak Ranger to explode in value quite like Spellskite did, I certainly do think it will be worth dramatically more than the $.25 I managed to preorder them at from a number of sites. Spellskite was an artifact, which meant it could go into any deck, and it was an answer to the popular Splinter Twin combo deck. Daybreak Ranger is effectively a two-color card, which dramatically limits the number of decks that can play it and probably won't see play outside of Standard or Block Constructed. That said, even if Daybreak Ranger peaks at $5 (which I think it could easily surpass, at least for a time), I'll be seeing a tidy profit on the nearly 200 copies I pre-ordered for an average of a dollar each or so once you take shipping into account.
But I'm no Jon Medina. I'm not here to tell you how to make money trading your cards. I'm here to tell you how to use them. So try this list on for size:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Daybreak Ranger
- 2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Skinshifter
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
This is quite clearly a port from my favorite pre-Innistrad deck, Blade Breaker. With so many of Caw-Blade's tools rotating out, there's obviously no reason to play some kind of anti-Caw deck, but my experiences showed me that the core of the R/G deck was powerful on its own. Skinshifters have a way of killing people very quickly!
There are a few obvious differences between this deck and its predecessor other than the cards that are obviously gone with the rotation (like Lightning Bolt, Lotus Cobra, Goblin Ruinblaster, and Raging Ravine). The most glaring is the omission of Sword of War and Peace. Sword of War and Peace was originally a big draw to playing the deck in the first place, but with the departure of Caw-Blade and the introduction of Innistrad, I don't feel like Swords are where I want to be right now.
The reasons for this are manifold. First, and most obviously, Sword isn't the guaranteed powerhouse it once was against a huge portion of the field. Just playing a Sword and equipping to just about anything was often enough to win some games against Caw-Blade. While I expect U/W Blade style decks to still be popular (likely featuring the new Geist of Saint Traft, who seems like one of the most powerful cards to come out of the new set), they won't have the same vulnerability to protection from white as they once did, since at a bare minimum they're going to have Snapcaster Mage to flash in to block a potentially lethal attack. This isn't a world of Squadron Hawks and Emeria Angels as far as the eye can see anymore, much to the detriment of Sword of War and Peace.
Secondly, I expect black control decks featuring Liliana of the Veil to be quite popular. While in the old Standard I was happy to spend my turn equipping a creature and sending it in, I'm much less happy to do that against an opponent who can undo that entire expenditure with a single activation of Liliana. Sure, I could have a mana creature in play that I could sacrifice sometimes, but I don't want to have to rely on that, since Sword is competing with other cards that are quite good against Liliana (which I'll get to shortly).
Thirdly, I expect artifacts to be much less safe than they were in the past. With the exception of reanimator decks, all of the major strategies that people seem to be advocating for the new Standard use artifacts, whether Swords or Birthing Pods or Signal Pests or whatever else.
Well, Ancient Grudge is back, and it's no joke. We saw people playing maindeck Nature's Claims last season, and Nature's Claim is nowhere near as powerful a card as Grudge. How much of this is really going to be going on isn't clear, but for the time being I'd prefer to avoid potential splash damage if I can.
Thankfully, there's a new card that can help fill some of the roles that Sword played: Garruk Relentless. Now Garruk isn't going to be killing your opponent in two hits like Sword could, but he is going to make you much more resilient to mass removal. Garruk pumps out a stream of Wolves to fight against Day or to give you fodder to sacrifice to Liliana. I haven't had a chance to actually play with Garruk yet, so I'm not sure if I want the full four copies rather than any of the bigger versions, but the gap between four and five mana is a lot bigger than it used to be now that Lotus Cobra is gone. The transforming Garruk also offers some pretty appealing abilities beyond token creation, as his front side teams up with Nightfall Hunter to keep the opposing board completely clear of small creatures, and his back side lets you upgrade any of your creatures into whatever you need at the moment.
Garruk is the real reason for the seemingly random creature assortment in the list. All of the creatures are still generically good—they're not a bunch of silver bullets like you'll often see in Birthing Pod—but can be situationally amazing, and you can fetch them with Garruk when you need them. One particularly exciting thing about that power in a deck like this is that it gives you a good use for mana creatures later in the game. Playing eight one-drop accelerators gives you the best chance to play a fast Daybreak Ranger or Garruk or whatever, but can often give you weaker draws later in the game. Not with Garruk—you can always upgrade them into a Hero of Oxid Ridge or an Inferno Titan, or a Phyrexian Metamorph to kill an opposing legend (or just copy a Titan!).
The other new card that makes mana creatures much better and fills some of the roles of a Sword is Kessig Wolf Run. The firebreathing-trample land makes any of your creatures potentially lethal regardless of chump blockers. It's even better than a Sword in many situations, since trample means your opponent can't completely outclass you with cards like Grave Titan and Consecrated Sphinx—on a long enough timeline, the survival rate of any creature trying to block a Wolf Run'd creature drops to zero. It makes an opposing Gideon much less scary, since you can just dump your mana into to the Run and kill him as long as you have just about anything in play. Not to mention it gives you a great sink for your mana if you want to transform a Daybreak Ranger later in the game.
Keep in mind that you can use the Wolf Run to pump the Ranger itself before fighting with it, so you can kill just about any creature around. It also kills Illusions for free, since you can target opposing creatures with the land itself!
Hero of Oxid Ridge is still around but less prominent because of the departure of Hawks and the impending popularity of Snapcaster to trade with him. He's still great—don't get me wrong—but he's not going to be your go-to guy all the time anymore when many opponents will be able to trade a two-drop with him.
I'm not sure on the removal selection, so I went back to Arc Trail plus Dismember. Dismember is particularly sweet with Daybreak Ranger, since you can kill a Consecrated Sphinx with it before you draw no matter which side you're on, plus take out Titans after you shrink them to 1/1 with Nightfall Predator (though sadly Grave Titan still kills you with deathtouch). Depending on how the format shapes up, other choices may be better, and I've even considered trying Beast Within (which is especially sweet with Predator to kill the 3/3) or splashing black for Doom Blade/Go for the Throat, depending on what sort of creatures turn out to be popular.
The sideboard is pretty much just all ideas lumped together. Most of it is pretty self-explanatory. Nihil Spellbomb is a card that I think will see a lot of play in the near future to fight graveyard strategies, and you can even cantrip it with Birds (or if you decide to splash black). Sword of Feast and Famine is a nod to Grave Titan decks and Dungrove Elder, since those are both really hard to attack through no matter what creatures you might have. Bramblecrush seems like a decent catchall card and should perhaps be in the maindeck, but just isn't aggressive enough for what I feel like I want to be doing at the start of the format. Koth seem super powerful against anyone playing Liliana decks, though it might be the case that Garruk is all you need.
Anyway, that's where I'd be starting my testing if I were playing in SCG Open: Indy this weekend. I'm not, but I'll be playing in Nashville in a week, and I'm sure I'll have a huge stack of Daybreak Rangers ready to trade to people who didn't get in while they could….
Until next time,