Avacyn Restored is finally (almost) here. All 229 cards have been spoiled, giving us reason to brew up new strategies to crush tournament tables. Wizards did not disappoint. There are many powerful cards just ready to be broken: Angel of Glory's Rise, Silverblade Paladin, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, Griselbrand, Burn at the Stake, Temporal Mastery, and Cavern of Souls. However, none of these even compare to the cheapest planeswalker in existence.
I didn't always love this card as I do now. I thought the same things as many other players initially. "This card doesn't do anything," is the first thing I thought to myself. Then I played with Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded.
This card is frickin' fantastic! (I think I've been spending too much time with Evan Erwin.)
In one of our playtesting videos, Gerry Thompson and I challenged ourselves to play at least seven cards from Avacyn Restored. I really wanted to play Necrotic Ooze and Griselbrand but was having a tough time finding the second card that would be good in the deck. I was already splashing for Faithless Looting, so the only card that would fit this strategy was Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. I didn't think it would be that great in the deck, but I thought it was good enough and that people would be interested in seeing the card in action.
This is what I played:
The deck ended up being very fun to play, but not something I would consider taking to a competitive event. What I did get out of playing the deck was the power of Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. He impressed me a lot, and it wasn't even a good deck to play him in. The mana base doesn't support him, there really aren't enough things to make his plus ability relevant, and games didn't play out in a way I could utilize his minus abilities. It was time to find him a new home.
It's very difficult to evaluate a planeswalker like Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. The first thing holding this guy back is the fact that he's red. Red planeswalkers have always had difficulty breaking out in tournament Magic because of how restrictive the color red is. It's very rare that non-red based decks want an effect that a red planeswalker can provide. This leaves most of them only finding homes in mono-red decks. The problem with that is that when a mono-red deck is good, they have no need for the 4+ casting cost planeswalkers to help them close out games.
You could try to squeeze this guy into current versions of Mono Red, since he does have synergy with Chandra's Phoenix and Grim Lavamancer, but decks like this don't need this effect. They need to be putting pressure on early. Turn 2 has to be used to cast Stormblood Berserker or Shrine of Burning Rage, else a Mono Red deck will fall behind. The late-game effects of this planeswalker can't compete with the late-game power of the other decks in the format.
The other thing holding this guy back is how random all of his abilities are. All three abilities have zero synergy with each other. You tick this guy up until maybe one of the minus abilities is relevant. Wizards couldn't make the minus abilities powerful at all, since this is the first two-mana planeswalker, and it's too easy for it to be broken as a result. The minus abilities aren't impressive. This puts all of the pressure on his plus ability. That's the only thing that has to be relevant to make this planeswalker work.
His plus ability stretches the color pie a little. It doesn't deal damage! It's breaking the mold of red walkers before it. Yes, you have to discard a card at random, but that isn't such a bad thing.
In the right deck, your graveyard can be an extension of your hand. The graveyard is more relevant now than it has ever been, and almost every deck is utilizing it. Graveyard decks dream of a planeswalker like this to gain incremental card advantage at the low cost of two mana. What happens when you build a graveyard-based deck around Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
Gerry Thompson was working on a red-based Solar Flare deck utilizing the power of Faithless Looting long before Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded even got spoiled. We both found it to be missing something. Guess what it was?
The main idea behind this deck is almost every card can have an impact on the game from the graveyard. The deck is filled with flashback spells, Sun Titans, and Unburial Rites to ensure you always have something to invest your mana in. Faithless Looting is card disadvantage, but this is made up with the fact that 25% of the cards have flashback.
Half of these cards cost less mana when in the graveyard compared to in your hand. There isn't much of a downside to casting this card, but the upside is huge. It not only helps set up some devastating turn 4 Sun Titans, but makes it so you rarely get mana flooded or screwed, which is one of the biggest problems in most control decks.
This deck is an engine in itself, but Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded puts it into hyper drive. Activating his plus ability every turn lets you see so many cards that it's very difficult to not find what you're looking for in every single game.
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded could only have its plus ability and would be an all-star in this deck. The sweet thing is that it does have other abilities, and they actually change the way you get to interact with control decks.
I've already said that his other two abilities aren't strong enough to win a game on their own, but it doesn't mean you don't get to use their strengths. Both can deal some amount of damage to an opponent, which means you can use that when playing sideboarded games against control.
Most control mirrors are decided by cards like Jace, Memory Adept and Karn Liberated. These powerful planeswalkers have an immediate board presence and can close a game on their own if unchecked. These decks build a strategy around these cards and bring in cards to help get a game to the point where they can play and protect these cards.
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded allows us to do things a little differently. Instead of winning the game with different planeswalkers in the sideboard, we can simply make the cards in our maindeck have a bigger impact in post-sideboard games.
Lingering Souls is more of a defensive card in game 1, since control decks are prepared to play against that card if they don't already play the card themselves. This changes in sideboarded games; they have to take out cards that interact favorably with Lingering Souls to be able to find room for their planeswalker sideboard strategy. This is where Intangible Virtue comes in.
Two Intangible Virtues and four Lingering Souls will often not be enough to win a game. This is just an early game strategy to diminish an opponent's life total enough to be able to burn them out with Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. Not only this, but other Lingering Souls control decks will have smaller Spirit tokens, which means we'll often control combat.
If that doesn't work, we have Devil's Play to punish them if they ever try to resolve a planeswalker. "Karn resolves... Devil's Play you for lethal," is something I think I'll be saying multiple times in the next couple months.
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded is also the game Solar Flare decks needed against U/B Control. This matchup was always a nightmare for white-based control decks, since U/B Control is more efficient at controlling the stack and could easily find time to mill the opponent out with Drownyard.
This changes now that Tibalt can come down before any countermagic gets online, and you can pressure them with his second ability. It doesn't take too long to activate this guy twice when you're in a control mirror. I don't think U/B will be a strong choice, but people will play it to prey on the other control decks in the format.
Intangible Virtue is actually a very interesting card for this deck since it gets boarded in almost all the time. The reason it's so good post-sideboard is that every deck has a game 1 strategy to deal with offensive Lingering Souls. This means you want to use this card as a tool to buy more time and get to the point in the game where Sun Titan can take over.
This flips entirely in sideboarded games when opponents bring in ways to disrupt your graveyard shenanigans. This lowers the value of a Sun Titan but raises the value of Lingering Souls, since most of the anti-creature cards should be in the sideboard. This makes investing spells to create 2/2s way more effective.
The only thing I'm actually afraid to play against with this deck is Sword of War and Peace. This card is almost unbeatable in game 1. We only have two Oblivion Rings and one Ancient Grudge to interact with the card, and two of our answers are sorcery speed. This means someone can simply wait for five mana to hit us with the equipment and almost always deal close to ten damage.
This is the main reason that green has to be splashed; we can play two more copies of Ancient Grudge in the sideboard and then have a good chance of beating Sword post-board. I would consider adding a Forest to the sideboard if you expect to play against multiple Sword of War and Peace decks in the near future.
I've been working on this deck for the last week, but there are still some kinks to work out. The biggest concern is the mana base. It seems that every day I cut one blue source to add another white one, and I'm not even sure that trend is going to stop. Shimmering Grotto seems like the land I want to lean on most to cast my blue and green cards, so I think I'm fine with only having four natural sources of blue along with three Evolving Wilds.
I would love to add another Seachrome Coast to the deck, since you get to play almost every card in the deck off of it and a Blackcleave Cliffs, but I don't like playing too many lands that come into play tapped after turn 3. I'm happy with where it is now, but I advise anyone testing this deck to keep the mana base in mind when making changes.
One matchup that I'm not preparing for much of is Humans. This deck seems more like a regional deck choice, so you'll want to make changes to this deck if you feel Humans is popular in your area. Cards like Day of Judgment and more white sources to support it are at the top of my list for cards you want to find room for. Hero of Bladehold is very powerful against this deck, and you want more ways to deal with it.
I really hope you guys start playing with this dude because he's one of the most impressive cards I've seen in a long time. Two mana is unbelievably cheap for a planeswalker, and I feel that this deck shows only the tip of the iceberg of his potential. My only concern now is obtaining seven- and nine-sided dice.
I have one more thing to talk about before I go. This weekend is the Avacyn Restored Prerelease, and all over the world people are going to get their first chance to play with the new cards Wizards made for us. Not only did they make a new set, but they included a sweet promotion (the Helvault). Many types of Magic players show up to these events ready to enjoy a weekend of playing Magic. I assume most of you reading this are seasoned Magic players who have played in numerous Prereleases before, but for some this is their first taste of tournament Magic.
This is a great opportunity for you to go out of your way and make this weekend one to remember for these new players. Magic is growing every day, and that's good for everyone. It's important to make new players feel at home in a tournament setting and make them want to come back for more in the future. Wizards of the Coast may make this game, but we are the ambassadors of it. Don't take this responsibility we have to the game lightly.
I wish you all good luck, and may you all open Bonfire of the Damned!