Well, my attempt to answer Maro’s clues didn’t work out so well (for those keeping track I was 0/6, although close on Blasphemous Act, which should be black on name alone). Now that we know some of the toys that are coming, we can stop the guessing games and see how much WotC loves the Casual Tribe…and boy did they give us some treats with this one! Here is some analysis and a few deck ideas for the cards that were previewed as of last Friday. On Tuesday and Wednesday Bruce and Brandon will be looking at their favorite cards, and on Thursday we’ll discuss the Mythics together. Finally, on Friday we’re going to unleash a preview card that may just blow the minds of both Timmies and Johnnies! Stay tuned!
Werewolves—I know the mechanic is called Transform, but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s all about the fur and the fangs. I played Werewolf: The Apocalypse when I was still in New Zealand, and have always loved wolves (at least from a distance), so the fact that werewolves are here, they work really well with wolfwolves, and they actually change between human and werewolf forms is just a home run as far as I’m concerned. Anyone whining about the different card backs needs to get over that crap right now and get in on the furry fun!
For duels, I’ll be dusting off my Fallow Earth and Plow Under, as well as putting in far too many wolves. Mana curve be damned, I’ll start with four Howl of the Night Pack, just because I can. No elves, but I think Master of the Wild Hunt would be a great card to include; tapping wolves so that werewolves can get thru unopposed, and offering some decent human synergy with the untransformed wolves, especially Mayor of Avabruck.
For multiplayer, there are more turns each round, which means that the chances of someone not playing any spells is much better, although this is somewhat balanced out by the increased number of players who could potentially cast a spell on any given turn; someone might cast an instant during someone else’s turn just to stop something from transforming.
Most of the lycanthropes we’ve seen so far aren’t particularly scary, so at least in the early game you should be able to run out a straight-forward aggro strategy without incurring the wrath of the rest of the table; it’s not like you’ll be dropping Primeval Titans and Blightsteel Colossi, after all. For the late game, red and green offer a ton of options for a strong and cunning Plan B. I think I’ll begin by emulating the eco-warrior flavor of Werewolf: The Apocalypse with a strong artifact destruction package, but follow your own muse if pure beatdown (bitedown?) isn’t your thing.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to stock up on Moonmist, which is going to be dynamite.
Morbid—Creatures dying? I might be able to make that happen. Basically, Morbid as an ETB trigger on cards like Hollowhenge Horror or Morkrut Banshee is fairly weak and doesn’t gain anything in multiplayer that I can see, but there are some cards that do something every turn, as we shall see, and that is multiplayer gold. There’s a reason why Verdant Force is considered one of the best multiplayer creatures of all time, and it has something to do with the extra number of turns that a triggered ability like that has to offer.
Flashback—I’ve never been a fan of this mechanic, because I’m obsessed with the idea of being able to use all of my cards again and again until an infinite number of opponents have been beaten to death. However, objectively I realize that the ability to recast a spell from your graveyard is not just card advantage but a defense against resource depletion, discard and so on. Moment’s Peace, which for my money is the best implementation of flashback we’ve seen so far, even gives you some protection against countermagic. I know I’ve lost games when someone countered my last-chance Fog, but as long as you leave up an extra three mana, you can recast Moment’s Peace if it’s countered and probably survive the onslaught.
Even paying seven for a simple Cruel Edict is not necessarily a bad deal when it’s kill-or-be-killed. Don’t just judge a flashback card by the cost, but by how badly you might need the effect in the late game.
The Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Dawn of the Dead—Maro said that they’d explicitly gone for the slow, creeping inevitability of the George Romero zombies in black this time around, symbolized by many of the new tokens coming into play tapped, but absolutely epitomized by the art on Endless Ranks of the Dead. Check out that art—absolutely crapmypantstastic!! Army of the Dead costs eight and is slow, but I can’t wait to load up a deck full of them, possibly with help from Eldrazi tokens (Spawn of the Dead, anyone?). Sure, you could be cheesy with Doubling Season or Pandemonium, but I’m perfectly content to let the horror build as my terrified foes feel the undead hordes closing in for the killfeast. Bwaaaaahahahahaaa!
The Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Frankenstein—Did I say evil laugh? Innistrad’s zombies come in two flavors: George Romero and Mary Shelley! The build-your-own zombies are potentially much trickier, if only because blue is the color of tricks. Rooftop Storm and a deck full of zombies and card draw? I can live with that. I’m also looking forward to dropping Thraximundar (Zombie Assassin!) into play for free, although if I play him from the Command Zone I need to pay the +2 each additional time.
I’m particularly interested in the possibilities of Undead Alchemist. Undead Warchief plus Altar of Dementia might be an instant kill with the Alchemist against a creature-heavy opponent, and because the creatures you put into their graveyard are exiled, Tombstone Stairwell becomes all kinds of interesting.
Bloodgift Demon—Phyrexian Arena is awesome, Sign in Blood is very strong, and Bloodgift is right up there with both of them. The first two can help you develop your early game, whereas Bloodgift is a mid-game card, but it’s a serious evasive clock as well. Most importantly, Bloodgift says “target player,” which means two things: reach and alliances. You can use the demon to whittle down those last few points of life on someone, or you can give someone a few extra cards to help them deal with a mutual threat (as well as whittling down their last few points of life for when you eventually stab them in the back—you are playing a demon, after all).
Of course, at this point in Magic’s history, any fatty is going to have a pretty tough row to hoe to make the cut in your deck. The five-spot is pretty stacked in black, but five power worth of flying plus a card each turn is pretty competitive. Casual players, we have found our Dark Confidant!
Curse of Death’s Hold—A permanent answer to all those annoying token decks. Unlike its predecessor, Night of Soul’s Betrayal, Death’s Hold doesn’t hurt your stuff, and you can drop multiples in response to a Marshall’s Anthem and what not. Consider it a metagame call at worst and a one-sided sweeper at best, and don’t forget to pack your Massacre Wurms.
More generally, I’m a fan of the curse cards on flavor grounds at least. We’re supposed to be wizards so why not start throwing curses at our foes? Avada Kedrava!
Screeching Bat/Stalking Vampire—Imagine a three-drop 5/5 with echo four. Do you think this might be worth playing? Stalking Vampire looks a lot like that, except that it starts out as a 2/2 weenie until you pay the ‘echo.’ That’s where the disadvantages end; other than that it’s all upside. You can pay the ‘echo’ any time you like without any drawback, and you can transform it back just as easily. I’m not completely convinced that a 5/5 vampire shouldn’t fly (she certainly doesn’t look that heavy), but if you need a flier, or even a creature with less power (for example, if there’s a Meekstone or Ensnaring Bridge), then the ability to transform back can have value. Stalking Vampire isn’t just dripping vampiric flavor, it’s also a strong and flexible option for any multiplayer deck.
Village Cannibals—Is it wrong that I love this flavor? Here’s what you want to do: make a note of every creature that gets played in your next multiplayer game, then check them out on Gatherer to see which ones are human. All of the creature type updates we’ve seen over the last few years amount to a kind of human renaissance, and that’s before all of the strong white humans in this set. Village Cannibals won’t be a house in every game, but it will often end up as eight or ten power for three mana against the right decks, which ain’t too shabby.
Firstly, I’m a huge fan of this Slith-based mechanic in red. Blood-Crazed Neonate is probably my favorite common in the set and I dearly wish I could afford a set of Stromkirk Noble. The eternal dilemma in multiplayer is how to balance the need for early plays with the need for critters that are still relevant on turn 18, and these go some way towards solving that problem. There’s always someone you can smack around with a 1/1, and you only need to get through a couple of times before your Neonate is ready to step up to the major leagues. You may even be able to talk an opponent into accepting a couple of hits in order to make your creature big enough to attack a shared enemy, although really if you’re playing that type of deck you won’t be thinking about politics.
Falkenrath Marauders is basically worse than Slith Firewalker in every single way, but the evasion and the fangs are valuable, as is the warrior creature type. Brighthearth Banneret could be a great complement, as cost reduction accentuates haste and lets you pile on the counters faster.
Curse of Stalked Prey is a great part of this mechanic, especially for multiplayer, not only because it makes your beaters badder, but because it is fantastic at sending attacks away from you. It is similar to Edric, Spymaster of Trest, in the sense that it gives people a solid reason to attack your opponents. As with Edric, you will eventually have to deal with opponents who have more resources, but that shouldn’t be too hard to do, because all of your critters are going to get bigger too, and if anyone starts to get out of control, you can just slap a curse on them. Crucio!
For extra fun and games, dust off your Kulrath Knights. Accumulating all of those +1/+1 counters can also allow you to get more mileage out of an old favorite like Harbinger of Night. Harbinger of Knights!
Divine Reckoning—I’m contractually obligated to discuss one white card every set and this is a doozy; definitely one of the best flashback cards you’re ever going to see. Every set brings more and more variations on old cards, but once in a while you get a variation that is so different it becomes a qualitatively new card. Case in point: Divine Reckoning is not a Wrath, it’s a way to take out the competition and ensure that you have the baddest dude on the battlefield. You are unlikely to use this in a control deck, but in a mid-range deck it’s potentially awesome. “Each of you can keep your favorite elf, destroy the rest, and I’ll keep smashing you in the face with my disgustingly huge beatstick!”
Cackling Counterpart—You just know that an instant-speed clone for three is going to be strong, well worth the limitation that you can only copy one of your creatures. Hell, the best part of being blue is the ability to always have the best creature that your opponents have to offer; now you can keep a token copy of the creature you stole even if its owner takes it back. What really makes this sing, though, is the flashback. Like Moment’s Peace, instant speed flashback can be a lifesaver. Admittedly, 5UU is a tad steep, but in response to “kill your blocker, swing for lethal,” seven is a small price to pay to copy your blocker and cheat death.
Murder of Crows—Don’t call the SPCA; ‘murder’ is the collective term for a group of crows, just like a flock of seagulls, a pride of lions or a shower of arseholes.
As someone who enjoys dabbling in tricksy blue decks from time to time, I find that two of my big weaknesses in monoblue are getting the right cards together before I die, and putting in the right amount of beef. Murder of Crows is surprisingly tough compared to other birds (poor Scarecrow is only a 2/2!), putting it on a par with Air Elemental, a totally respectable beater. However, this card is one of the sleepers of the set, and you’re going to find it invaluable because of its looting ability. Most cards with the looting ability are limited in various ways (e.g. the original Merfolk Looter tapped, Riddlesmith requires you to cast artifacts and Sky-Eel School only does it once) and are otherwise pretty useless, but Murder of Crows is both a great blocker and a reasonable wincon, with an added ability that is almost guaranteed to trigger more often than any other looter. Imagine having this out when someone Wraths; you’ll have a perfectly sculpted hand as well as, and this is important on Innistrad, a perfectly sculpted graveyard!
And if you ever meet Drew Baker, please feel free to show him what a crow actually looks like! The crows here in Tokyo are big black bastards that have been known to carry homeless people away, whereas this picture seems to be stock art for “birds; generic.” That is probably my only complaint with a set that has some of the best art we’ve ever seen.
Lhurgoyf flashbacks—Garruk (more about him on Thursday), Boneyard Wurm and Spider Spawning all count creatures in your graveyard. This offers great value in multiplayer, where games are longer and graveyards tend to be fuller. Boneyard Wurm is going to make casual players forget Tarmogoyf in a hurry, and might be one of the best two-drops in all of green, while Spider Spawning is just a heapin’ helpin’ of card advantage (with Arachnus Web in M12, which I have been using to great effect in Sealed, it seems that a spider deck is actually begging to be made).
Finally, our preview card. No I can’t tell you what it does until Friday, but I can tell you this: WotC has been very generous in using these preview cards to help out small, independent sites like Muse Vessel and it seems to be working. After this weekend, if everyone who wins a game using Friday’s card becomes a regular reader of the Muses, then we’ll soon be the biggest Magic site on the web. My only concern is that people who get beaten by it may hold a grudge against us…
 I’m watching Dawn of the Dead—the awesome 2004 version—as I write this, to get in the mood. I apologize if I get a little carried away.
 Cheat Death, 1GG, Instant.
If target green creature dies this turn, return it to the battlefield.