Entries from July 2010 ↓

Why Inferno Titan is the Best Card in Standard

Concerning:

Inferno Titan ∙ Sun Titan ∙ Frost Titan
Grave Titan ∙ Primeval Titan ∙ … and why Inferno Titan really the best card in Standard!

Well, at least that’s what my Twitter bud @Triphos asked me to say :)

But who can say no to someone with a Patsy Walker crafted by Colleen Coover as his Twitter icon?

Anyway, even though seemingly every article on the Magic Internet two weeks ago was about Titans (and then every article this week was about actual Titanic Titan performances) there has been relatively little practical comparison of how the Titans really roll. And by “roll” I mean… How much effective mana do these Titans tally?


Inferno Titan

Let’s break down the Titans. Basically they mirror the Kamigawa Dragon cycle… They all cost six and have the same frame; rather than being 5/5 flying creatures, these are all six mana 6/6 creatures. In addition each Titan has some kind of superpower that 187s the battlefield not just when the Titan comes into play, but every time it attacks!

Yes, you heard it here first.

Sun Titan
We talked about Sun Titan back when it was “merely” the It Girl-to-be come M11 Prerelease time. Now… Actually a contender for the best Titan performer. When we originally wrote about Sun Titan, we didn’t yet know about the competition in the cycle… What about Sun Titan’s 187?

Whenever Sun Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may return target permanent card with converted mana cost 3 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.

This ability has a variable mana effect. It can be as little as one (getting back some kind of one mana doodad that is actually worth one mana) and as much as a free Jace Beleren (probably an immediate mana value of, again, one… But with the promise of more one mana packets of “drawing one card” value). In case you were wondering, buying an untapped land directly into play is worth slightly more than two mana; for reference: Rampant Growth.

It may be worth noting that among all the Titans, Sun Titan’s ability may be the least reliable. That is, if you haven’t got a saucy target in the bin, no dice.

Frost Titan
Originally I was a seller of Frost Titan, but the Big Blue of the Titan Team has grown on me. You may recall that in my first speculative article on TCGPlayer.com I suggested a U/G/R Titan / Destructive Force strategy including Garruk, Jace, some obvious cards like Cultivate and a less obvious duo of Frost Titans.

Well lo and behold!

I mean some of the details are off (Lightning Bolt and Mana Leak over beloved Spreading Seas for instance), but the old girl still has some gas in her.

Okay! What about Frost Titan’s 187 ability?

Whenever Frost Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, tap target permanent. It doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.

Despite the ability to trump another Titan going long, or lock down lands after a Destructive Force, I put Frost Titan’s ability at a value of one mana (about a Twiddle).

It may be worth noting that between the regular keyword abilities like Vigilance and Trample, Deathtouch and “Firebreathing” … Frost Titan probably has the best of the bunch; it is the most durable besides…

Grave Titan
Wow!

How are you supposed to kill a 6/6 Black creature? Yes, yes… Martial Coup or the equivalent still works just fine… But Grave Titan is yet quite the durable army in a one-man package.

And its 187?

Whenever Grave Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, put two 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield.

This one’s mana is a bit difficult to evaluate on a single-ability basis. Sun Titan is not exactly comparable to known effects, but the value of what you are actually getting back is a fine clue. Frost Titan is like a Twiddle or an activation on an Icy Manipulator… But what makes two 2/2 creatures?

I would shudder at calling it a Grizzly Fate because I don’ t know if anyone would pay five mana just for the two 2/2s (though they are Black, which is a durability upgrade generally). I think that a more reasonable approximation would be WW, though I would be willing to take some input on this.

Inferno Titan
And we return to the best card in Standard!

[not really]

Inferno Titan’s 187 is very familiar to many of us, and hearkens back to one of the most skill-intensive periods in Magic’s history. The aforementioned ability basically attaches an Arc Lightning to a firebreathing 6/6:

Whenever Inferno Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, it deals 3 damage divided as you choose among one, two, or three target creatures and/or players.

So what is this worth?

The easy answer is 2R — exactly the cost of an Arc Lightning. That might be defensible on the basis of Arc Lightning’s rampant popularity back in 1999 and the fact that we would probably pay 2R for the effect now in 2010. [Firestarter: How does Arc Lightning, in your estimation, compare to Staggershock?]

However I think that a more reasonable estimation of its value is R + .5 mana. I feel like two damage is worth about one mana, and this makes three, or one-and-a-half mana worth of value. That you can split it across multiple bodies is gravy.

Primeval Titan
Primeval Titan is probably as good as the hype. Not only does it have Trample (Josh Ravitz’s favorite keyword slapped onto an animal), but this impressive 187:

Whenever Primeval Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may search your library for up to two land cards, put them onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

How much is that one worth?

More than four.

More than “I win” mana according to the Zvi Mowshowitz scale!

Not equal to “I win” mana… More!

Why is it worth more? Is it because we earlier referenced Rampant Growth saying that was worth (unsurprisingly) about two mana? Nothing so fuzzy around the edges my dear students.

Don’t forget that in previous formats we had Block-dominating effects for G3 that weren’t as good as a Primeval Titan’s repeating 187.

Don’t forget that Explosive Vegetation was an absolute monster and that the venerated team in Renton, WA changed the Legend Rule partly because Billy Jensen failed to win the Pro Tour due to Osyp Lebedowicz’s playing Akroma first when Billy otherwise had a highly likelihood of winning. Primeval Titan can do everything we would be willing to pay four mana to do with Explosive Vegetation… But can do even more! Can Primeval Titan get a ho-hum Forest and Mountain like Explosive Vegetation did? Sure? But it is more interesting when it is getting cards like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, isn’t it? Or perhaps when Valakut is already online a pair of Mountains? Isn’t that kind of like twice as good as Inferno Titan (which we have already decreed the best card in Standard)? Dealing two different packets of three damage instead of splitting up one (as good as that can be)?

Well at least we know why Primeval Titan has the price tag it does.

LOVE
MIKE

Ignoring Dark Tutelage

Concerning:

Dark Tutelage ∙ Phyrexian Arena ∙ Dark Confidant
being overrated ∙ killing yourself ∙ … and Dark Tutelage


A lot of people have asked me why I haven’t added Dark Tutelage to any Top 10 (and by “Top 10″ I clearly mean Top 11) Lists, and deck lists, any laundry lists, &c.

I had to go look the card up after the first incoming email.

First:
Was this the same card I thought it was?

Yep.

So:
Why the hell is everyone asking me this question?

As far as I can tell, Dark Tutelage stinks.


Dark Tutelage

Superficial comparisons:

Superficial Comparison #1 – Phyrexian Arena
I’ve played Phyrexian Arena a couple of times (I even came within one game of winning a PTQ once), but I never really liked it. Phyrexian Arena — back in the Beach House days — was mostly important so that you didn’t fall behind another Beach House deck should it have come to an attrition mirror; a lot like Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a lot of decks… It wasn’t really proximate to winning, but could be necessary to avoid being blown out. Because when one person has one and the other one doesn’t, he is going to get ahead due to the opponent’s [probable] softness in the threats department.

Anyway, Phyrexian Arena was never really that great; it was just whatever with a small up-front investment; but each incremental card (after maybe the first) was relatively discounted. A card is worth about two damage, so paying only one life for an incremental card (with no parallel mana commitment) would put you ahead and further ahead over time (theoretically); like I said, I have never really liked Phyrexian Arena very much.

Dark Tutelage is like awful by comparison.

Remember: The bar isn’t very high.

Same effect as Phyrexian Arena, same CMC (three versus three), but generally much higher investment in life.

If you are flipping lands 100% of the time (or even cheap cards like Duress or, I dunno, Scute Mob, it’s basically the same (or maybe better). However you’re probably going to be wanting to draw real cards. At the point that you are flipping twos, you are actually handing Shocks to your opponent… Shocks he doesn’t have to pay for. If you are flipping more expensive cards, you’re just falling the eff behind. It can be a disaster!

Caveat: There are two things that can be plus signs, even given this framework. First of all, you can conceivably side this in against [another] mid-range control deck; you can edge them in the same way that Phyrexian Arena was pivotal in the Beach House mirror.

Remember: Dark Tutelage is easier to cast than Phyrexian Arena, being 2B rather than 1BB… Not that that probably matters given the awesome mana bases we get to play with.

Superficial Comparison #2 – Dark Confidant
As you probably know, I feel like Dark Confidant is the most overrated card of all time. That isn’t to say it’s bad, just not the best creature of all time or whatever. Dark Confidant is basically Kobe Bryant. Not only does it have Fortier’s PT win under its belt and the Billy-Sadin connection (you know, like TCGPlayer.com) with The Best Deck of All Time, but Bob Maher’s smiling face. Good! Yes! It’s good! Just not the best of all time.

That said, Dark Confidant is a disaster about half the time.

Most of the reason that it looks so damn good is that people don’t know how to play against Dark Confidant. I have stood in the Feature Match of a Pro Tour and watched a player coming off a Top 8 that season burn three consecutive Dark Confidants in a game where he had six burn spells in his hand. I mean that is just terrible. His opponent obviously won as he had exhausted all of his resources instead of easily killing him like he was supposed to. Of course Dark Confidant looks good if you are going to donkey punch yourself.

Anyway, Dark Confidant is often a disaster. I think lifetime I have won half my games against Dark Confidant proximately because my opponent killed himself. My overall win percentage in games where my opponent plays Dark Confidant is something ludicrous like 80%-plus; BDM says that’s because I play weirdo decks, but half the time I just have something like a Jitte or an Exalted Angel and my opponent has problems racing two different ways. Whatever; it’s a disaster a lot of the time.

I would even go so far as to say that I have had no way to win but my opponent played a Dark Confidant. I remember one PTQ I was playing for X-2 v. a name player (you would know this player). I lost the first due to being a donkey. Game Two we are at a standoff. I have Jitte; opponent has Sword. Nobody wants to brawl. We just accumulate more and more animals on both sides of the table. Call of the Herd tokens; I have Baloths; opp with Troll Ascetic. But there aren’t really any attacks. If I move forward I will start accumulating Jitte counters but I will lose a guy to gang blocking, and Sword is going to keep me from any mid-combat shenanigans. Opp can’t swing, even with Troll; I will accumulate Jitte counters for free because my defense is big enough.

Then Dark Confidant comes down — ostensibly to bust the game wide open with card advantage — and it does; by giving me a way to win!

That is how most of my games v. Dark Confidant have gone, lifetime.

And Dark Confidant still pees all over Dark Tutelage.

First of all (and ironically in the “mathematics” case), 2 > 3.

That’s right, two is bigger and bolder and better than three. Dark Confidant is cheaper and gets his first card first.

Secondly, Dark Confidant helps you race the face. Both cards are going to hurt you, but Bob at least smashes the face back. You are less likely to kill yourself with stupid Dark [whatever] damage if you’ve killed the opponent to death.

Most importantly, Dark Confidant — besides bashing for two like a good little Bear — is a 2/1 creature. A 2/1 has one toughness… Basically the smallest possible toughness! You can kill your own Dark Confidant if it seems like you are going to die to it! There are lots of different ways but my favorite one is this:

“I once had to Hit my own Dark Confidant after I had flipped Hit // Run with it. Embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as it was for my opponent. I won that game.”
-Patrick Sullivan

Dark Tutelage on the other hand is an enchantment; Black is basically awful at killing enchantments. That’s part of what makes it cute. Har har, you can’t kill your own Necropotence! This time around, you’re probably going to flip over like a Grave Titan.

You deserved it for playing Dark Tutelage in your Grave Titan deck.

LOVE
MIKE

Most embarrassing Dark Confidant story:

At that PT that LSV won with Elves, Andre Coimbra went x-1 v. Zoo (most popular deck), largely because his Flores Blue* deck had all Islands and didn’t take damage from its own lands. Anyway, he’s full on ahead in a Game Three situation v. some Zoo deck. He has it all… Jitte on board even! Opponent has nil, topdecks a Dark Confidant. Andre steals its face with like a Vedalken Shackles or perhaps a Threads of Disloyalty.

Can’t lose, right?

Great shades of World Champion to come, right?

Nope; flips over Spire Golem.

That’s roughly 600 damage.

X-1 is pretty good though.

* Yeah, I said it.

How is War Priest of Thune Real?

I mean, it almost goes without saying.

War Priest of Thune
War Priest of Thune

I am trying to figure this out.

Looks like Magic 2011 is going to be a set where tournament staples of times past are just going to be strictly outmoded by the M11 versions.

If you don’t have a lot of context, War Priest of Thune might just look like a pretty good 187 creature. That doesn’t quite capture it… War Priest of Thune is in fact full court bananas. You see there used to be a creature Monk Realist; Monk Realist was played main deck in basically all of the Survival of the Fittest decks of its era.

And War Priest of Thune is twice the man Monk Realist was.

Monk Realist — also a Cleric mind you, so there isn’t much wiggle room around creature type — was a mere 1/1 creature for the same 1W mana cost.

And now that there is a new Survival of the Fittest with legs? I think War Priest of Thune might just pick up where Monk Realist left off ten years ago.

Of course a 2/2 for two mana with a very serviceable special ability (I’m looking at you Oblivion Ring) is plenty good enough for regular old inclusion in a beatdown strategy. I don’t know that I would want to be the Pyromancer Ascension rogue in the room once the War Priest comes legal.

Snap Judgment Rating – Role Player (high); Staple (in White-enabled Fauna Shaman decks [one-of])

LOVE
MIKE

The Pros and Cons of Ember Hauler

One of the exciting new M11 cards that seems to be a “goes straight in” for Red Decks is Ember Hauler:


Ember Hauler
Ember Hauler

Ember Hauler is efficient. He is a 2/2 for two mana, and unlike previously “good enough” Red two drops like Ironclaw Orcs or Goblin Raider (I actually remember having a conversation with Randy Buehler where he told me he made sure to have Goblin Raider in the Core Set to make sure Dave Price had a two drop), instead of a crazy drawback… it has a crazy superpower!

Goblin LegionnaireThere is a clear precedent for this card. Remember Tsuyoshi Fujita’s Extended Boros Deck Wins deck? The old man played four copies of Goblin Legionnaire.

Ember Hauler is like a Goblin Legionnaire that only has the “Red” ability.

Ember Hauler is clearly better insofar that you don’t have to play White to play it; plus, no one has ever played Goblin Legionnaire’s White ability in Constructed combat. No, never, not one time.

So: advantage Ember Hauler.

In addition, there are subtle plus-ones for Ember Hauler. Sure, neither one can run by a Silver Knight… But unlike the supposedly better Gold plated version, Ember Hauler can set up a Malakir Bloodwitch for a Searing Blaze instead of being ignored [like, you know, the White ability on Goblin Legionnaire].

Advantage Ember Hauler.

So if all those advantages weren’t enough, Ember Hauler costs two colored mana to play (same as Goblin Legionnaire), but unlike the Apocalypse Gold Goblin, Ember Hauler’s operating mana is colorless! So if you have a stray Tectonic Edge or whatever, you can funnel that mana into Ember Hauler instead of having to make sure you didn’t spend all your Mountains at the main phase candy store before passing the turn. This is probably going to be at least medium important for the “chump block that giant and deal to to your motherlovin’ face” phase of the Red v. Green matchup, as you desperately hope to draw burn before being overrun (or possibly even Overrun).

Advantage. Ember. Hauler.

So Goblin Legionnaire was good enough. Good enough in fact to Top 8 an Extended Pro Tour against Psychatog and Life from the Loam. By all early indications, Ember Hauler is just the better Goblin Legionnaire (minus the goofball eviscerated Healing Salve wannabe that no one ever played anyway).

So why does this blog post speculate on the “Cons” of Ember Hauler?

Other than the possibility of opportunity cost (the great Katsu Mori found room for only two Kargan Dragonlords, leaning on old school Hellspark Elementals on two, instead), there is just one:

No more damage on the stack.

Part of the reason Goblin Legionnaire was such a bruiser was that with damage on the stack, he was a 2/2 that could play like a 4/2 (or I guess in pretend unicorn land he could tackle the opponent’s x/2 and save two points of damage or maybe win some fight elsewhere). Ember Hauler lives in a different universe.

Who’d win, Hulk or Superman?

I mean any reasonable person would just say “Hulk” — and the fact of the matter is that the Hulk is the strongest one there is, and the Hulk writers say they wrote him to be able to beat up Superman if it ever came down to it…

But Superman is the poster boy of a different universe.

Can you have a conversation that includes both Hulk and Supes? Yes.

Will fanboys agree as to who would win this battle of biceps? No.

Does it really matter? Again no.

They are from different universes and don’t really meet under regular circumstances. That is the problem with Goblin Legionnaire and Ember Hauler. The new mono-Red guy seems like it might be better — certainly comparable — but because they exist / existed in such non-compatible environments, the comparison is almost moo (you know, like a cow’s opinion).

Snap Judgment Rating – Role Player

LOVE
MIKE

Is Phylactery Lich Flagship?

M11 Rare Phylactery Lich – It sure ain’t a Role Player.

In the unlikely case you haven’t seen it:


Phylactery Lich

Phylactery Lich is certainly powerful. It is like a Phyrexian Negator… But instead of tearing apart your board when he tussles, Phylactery Lich annihilates eradicates anything that gets into the Arena with it. Not even a first striking Baneslayer Angel can walk away from a brawl with this indestructible Zombie.

And what a cut of Zombie it is!

Phylactery Lich is absolutely gorgeous. Usually I don’t cotton to Black cards’ art, but this painting is just perfect. It evokes the fear and flavor of the old AD&D Liches; great light; great variation of detail; great power-to-casting cost ratio.

Okay, back to the Magic: The Gathering strategy.

A 5/5 indestructible creature for only three mana is a near no-brainer in terms of playability… Only there is that whole:

As Phylactery Lich enters the battlefield, put a phylactery counter on an artifact you control.

When you control no permanents with phylactery counters on them, sacrifice Phylactery Lich.

Basically:

  1. You need to have an artifact in play when you play Phylactery Lich.
  2. You need to have enough cheap artifacts in your deck to have an artifact in play when you play Phylactery Lich… and they have to be good enough to play in Constructed even if you don’t have Phylactery Lich in your opening hand.

That is the problem.

There are plenty of reasons to play a 5/5 for three mana… The question is if there are enough artifacts to play in Standard to play this particular 5/5 for three.


Blast from the Past:

Covetous Wildfire – Kai Budde

4 Cursed Scroll
4 Fire Diamond
4 Grim Monolith
2 Mishra’s Helix
4 Temporal Aperture
4 Voltaic Key
2 Worn Powerstone

1 Karn, Silver Golem
3 Masticore

4 Covetous Dragon
4 Wildfire

3 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
13 Mountain

sb:
1 Mishra’s Helix
1 Phyrexian Processor
2 Boil
3 Earthquake
2 Rack and Ruin
2 Shattering Pulse
4 Spellshock


Kai Budde won his first Pro Tour — if you can even count the 1999 World Championships as a Pro Tour — with the card Covetous Dragon; which is kind of like a Red parallel to Phylactery Lich. You had to have an artifact in play for Covetous Dragon — not a particular artifact mind you — but even that card (arguably less powerful than Phylactery Lich) was good enough to build around.

Some notes:

A well-placed bounce spell is going to kill Phylactery Lich. To death.

Multiple Phylactery Liches can all jump on the same phylactery counter-wearing artifact. That means if you run it on a Relic of Progenitous or Armillary Sphere (and you have to spend it), np.

Some artifacts that are cheaper than Phylactery Lich and might be worth playing:

Everflowing Chalice *
Basilisk Collar *
Executioner’s Capsule
Expedition Map
Pithing Needle *
Relic of Progenitus *
Armillary Sphere *
Dragon’s Claw
Prophetic Prism *
Scepter of Fugue
Mistvein Borderpost *
Veinfire Borderpost *

Phylactery Lich isn’t a Staple; it doesn’t “go in decks” (unless they are Black artifact decks!) … You have to build around it.

Phylactery Lich isn’t a Role Player; as above.

It’s really a question of Flagship or Constructed Unplayable.

Why it might be Flagship
Phylactery Lich is just TDG. Relic of Progenitus is good enough against Vengevine and Bloodghast, Scepter of Fugue is good enough against Mana Leak, and Phylactery Lich is good enough at rasslin’

Pepper with Consume the Meek, Consuming Vapors, and All is Dust.

Potential Problem – All is Dust doesn’t care that Phylactery Lich is indestructible.

Why it is probably Constructed Unplayable
You can make a deck… It just isn’t good enough.

We shall see.

I think that the presence of Nantuko Shade in M11 is a good omen for this cool new card. I’m pulling for you Phylactery Lich!

LOVE
MIKE

* Probably playable main deck.