Planeswalker Theory :: Why Some Players Don’t Understand Card Valuation :: … and Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
“You’re overwhelmed, Freeze was underwhelmed; why isn’t anyone ever just ‘whelmed’?”
-Dick Grayson / Robin, Young Justice
In the circles I run in — and by “run” I actually mean “sitting around eating Shake Shack after watching a movie” — we often talk about things like how we would make a super cheap Planeswalker.
Previous to Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, the cheapest Planeswalker was Jace Beleren [<-- CLICK ME, ooh, CLICK ME!].
If you click back to that blog post from November of 2010, I had Jace Beleren as the number two card in all of Standard! Why? Because Planeswalkers are awesome, Magic is a game that is ultimately tied together by mana costs, and being the cheapest Planeswalker allows you to get a massive advantage on mana. More-or-less every Planeswalker ability is worth something. Even abilities that have you scratching your noggin a little bit like Baby Jace’s symmetrical draw are worth something. Think back to format-defining cards like Howling Mine or even corner case Extended kill cards like Words of Wisdom… There are reasonable mana costs attached to making both players draw a card. If you stop thinking about things purely in terms of a paradigm that has lasted essentially unchanged in the minds of most players for the last 17 years, you can see why getting to do something like this is actually advantageous — if not card advantageous — with a 0 mana price tag attached.
Then, of course, you can just use Jace Beleren as a card drawing machine; you can draw draw, level up to keep him alive, etc. You can literally never Ultimate, but generate so much regular card advantage along the way Jace Beleren is doing you just solid, just fine.
Jace Beleren — way back when the cheapest Planeswalker ever — rose to a position in the Top 10 just below Jace, the Mind Sculptor (aka the most beloved / reviled Planeswalker ever)… Primarily because it was just the cheapest Planeswalker (that mightiest of card types). Sure, you can say it was because you could Legend Rule the bigger Jace dead or pre-empt the opposing four with your three, but Liliana of the Veil is a pretty respectable Planeswalker on three. Even in the age of Lingering Souls and Strangleroot Geist, Liliana has been able to continue to thrive in some decks. She gets played all the way back up to Legacy!
… Which brings us to the titular Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded:
Zac Hill put more thought into this week’s Latest Developments than I likely will at 7am the next day (when I am first seeing Tibalt); so I am just going to talk about the things Zac couldn’t have seen beforehand… the forums comments.
… I’ve never had a Planeswalker make me MAD before…
… interesting character / mediocre Planeswalker…
I could go on for a while, but these are from the first page only (five and counting at 7:24AM).
There are two truisms of Magic cards I want to go over right now, as they relate to Tibalt and to one another:
- Planeswalkers are all awesome
- Most people who comment in any forums don’t understand Magic
I mean you can look at any deck I ever post and know from the comments that the second is generally true
The first is that Planeswalkers are all awesome. All of them are g-d awesome. They are all awesome to somebody. They might not be awesome to tournament Spikes… But most of them are, even if the Spikes don’t know it yet. Almost every single four mana Planeswalker has been highly playable in Standard. More than half of the five mana Planeswalkers have taken down big tournaments. My man Brian Kibler cackled gleefully a few weekends ago in Baltimore that he had taken down a Legacy match with Gideon Jura in play.
By the same token, not every Planeswalker is immediately appealing to casual players. Liliana of the Veil — as she makes both players discard — gives some players the heebie-jeebies. Casual players don’t like bad stuff happening to them. They don’t like lands that make them take damage. They don’t like all the creatures (or lands) being destroyed, because that means their lands or their creatures might be destroyed.
Let’s go back to Planeswalkers being awesome.
What is awesome about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
It costs two mana.
Both the three mana Planeswalkers have been highly playable in multiple formats. They have taken down big tournaments, challenged Pro Tours, all kinds of awesome.
What is awesome about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
As far as I care, Tibalt could have had two abilities [+1] (no text) and [-something] (ultimate) and I would have at least thought about how to break him. In reality, he actually has a playable [+1]!
Are players really so not-creative that they can’t see ever wanting to do Tibalt’s first ability? No, it isn’t exactly the same thing as a Merfolk Looter, but Merfolk Looter has been an almost universal Lightning Bolt-rod since the moment it was printed, and almost continually playable. Did you know Merfolk Looter is legal in Standard right now? Adam Prosak did, and used it in his Star City Invitational Championship deck a few months back.
Tibalt isn’t quite a Merfolk looter, but it is harder to kill in a world of Tragic Slips and Gut Shots (and every other format).
Patrick Chapin’s rule of Magic card valuation is that sometimes Wizards makes library manipulation that is too good, and it is our job to play it. He cited Preordain (a card that some decent deck designers apparently still refuse to play despite it being basically one tick under Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard impact) “then” and Desperate Ravings “now”. He thinks very highly of Desperate Ravings. I am certain he has thought of it as at least a Top 10 card sometime in all those times he played it… You know like when he went X-1 in Standard or came in second at that Grand Prix with Desperate Ravings proudly headlining his Grixis decks.
Is Tibalt a Desperate Ravings machine?
Here’s the thing about Tibalt: He costs you so little, then he costs you nothing at all. Do you know how unbelievably awesome a two mana Planeswalker can be? NEITHER DO I. Because we’ve never had one. Some players might be underwhelmed by this one, but the last thing WotC wants is a casual player (or Spike) Affinity disaster.
Is Tibalt quite a Desperate Ravings? No. But you also don’t have to spend either a card or two mana to activate his [+1] ability.
Is his ability productive?
Often, I think it will be.
We live in times when some Red Deck players are willing to splash for the back end of Desperate Ravings and card advantage-destroying Faithless Looting is considered playable across Standard all the way to Legacy. Red players are finding good reasons to discard cards.
What if you have six cards in hand and need to draw a third land? Say you have 24 lands in your deck. Say you hit the 24/X that you need to rip a land… You are now only 1/7 to have to discard it! I don’t hate those odds, especially if I REALLY REALLY NEED TO DRAW A LAND.
… Again, for no mana.
You know when you don’t use Tibalt’s [+1] ability? When your hand is perfect. How do you think the game is going when your hand is perfect?
How about his [-4] ability? I mean you are just going to kill some people with this; it’s easy to level into and it is potentially lethal. It’s like Shrine of Burning Rage … You know … “I’m coming”. Except they can’t Divine Offering this.
Oh, and there is a whole school of Red-inclusive decks designed to discard something so they can bring it back with Unburial Rites (which you also don’t mind discarding).
But yeah, sure, be as underwhelmed as you want. My guess? (and it’s just a guess right now) Tibalt gonna get ya.
Just some initial thoughts.