Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Avacyn Restored Cards for Limited: AVR Meat and Potatoes

Welcome back to another edition of Meat and Potatoes, Avacyn Restored edition!  This coming Saturday is the Prerelease, and this time, we get a special treat.  Normally, we only have one Prerelease a year with only one set (save the summer Prereleases of Core editions of late), but this year we get two!  I like homogenous Prereleases because they allow more consistent and intentional strategies.  Although I had a fine finish last time, I hope my blitz of Limited practice since then will have honed my skills to take the cake.

Avacyn Restored is fairly separate from the block in terms of mechanics; no Werewolves or flip cards, no Flashback and no Morbid.  That’s because the angels under Avacyn have been, uh, restored.  I kind of like that break from a block; Rise of the Eldrazi did the same thing.  No landfall or kicker in there, if I recall; just monstrous Cthulhu beasts.

The spoiler came out Monday and, either despite or because a flush of illness, I was able to sit down and read the spoiler in its entirety.  The powerful cards that were spoiled early seemed to have fairly specific purposes; the multi-colored cards and massive mythics were all very expensive and splashy.  Many players believe this is just how mythics should be, and the “best” cards should be rare so they’re easier, but not cake, to get.  That’s the second time I’ve said cake…I must be hungry.

The set looks like it’s going to give players of all brands something to play with; EDH and Multiplayer/Variant lovers, tournament-cramming Spikes, and a strong Limited game.  Limited, as it is of the most interest to me, will be our first stop.

As we look over the set of all 240-some-odd cards that were spoiled Monday, let’s look and see what stands out as true Meat and Potato cards for limited.  As a reminder, Meat and Potatoes cards are the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff that you’re bound to see in a large portion of every Sealed tournament or booster draft in which you participate; this leaves out rares and mythic rares, for the most part.  In Limited, the commons and uncommons rule and change the game.  That’s why my Cube only consists of those cards!

It was hard to cut down my Top Ten to just that many, so we’ll begin with an honorable mention.

HM) Abundant Growth

These vines just splash all over!
This little gem of an enchantment is a wonderful option for Limited mana fixing.  It solves a lot of problems otherwise created by traditional ramp and color fixing.  First, it provides benefit immediately (if needed), unlike Rampant Growth, Birds of Paradise, Terramorphic Expanse, etc.  Those cards are great, but they often lack relevance late in the game, which is when you’re ripping for that answer or final few points of damage.  This one is useful in an opening hand that otherwise might be unkeepable AND as a late-game topdeck.  Thirdly, if you just need a fix and you don’t know what you need yet, this will relieve your woes.  This is especially relevant in Sealed when you just about have to play two colors and a splash (or two splashes, ugh).  I know I’ve stared at a Terramorphic Expanse first turn and I wasn’t sure what land I’d need because of my awkwardly color-heavy hand.  This solves that problem.  Fix without the mess, and it cantrips; that extra card really seals the deal.  Seems pretty good.  As a sidenote, I want to think this is Utopia Sprawl, but it is not, and remember that, too!


10) Angel’s Tomb

Pretty art.  Zero humor.
A 3/3 flyer for 3 colorless mana is outstanding, but desperately unlikely (though you can get a 3/2 flyer for 1 in Standard right now; still trying to figure that one out.)  However, Angel’s Tomb fills a role in Limited that reminds me of Halcyon Glaze, a legit 1UU Enchantment from Ravnica that turned into a 4/4 flying Illusion instead.  This is pretty flexible, being colorless and all, and with all the ways to blink a creature in and out, flashing a creature in, or through tokens, this will be active a fair amount of the time, making it a slightly conditional, but still solid addition to most any deck.  You won’t want to first pick it in Draft, but it seems like solid 4th or 5th pick material, and it will be an inclusion in most any creature heavy deck in Sealed.

9) Driver of the Dead

Driving Miss Zombie.
This is an interesting card to me due to its specificity (as opposed to the normally lauded flexibility of my choices,) but I think that the card advantage as well as soulbond opportunities afford it a slot on the list.  He’s a big enough body too that he chump-blocks well and you still get value.  There are certainly other better 4 drops, but he goes well in an aggressive deck or a defensive deck all the same.  He should make it around fairly late in Draft, as there are only certain decks that will get to take advantage of him.  Get back a utility creature, an undying creature, or something else.  Strangely enough, I think this guy’s best fit is in R/B aggro or B/G.

8) Pillar of Flame

Woah, a Sorcery Shock.  With an exile clause.

You might think this is weak, but as I surveyed the set, I’ve found very little unconditional spot removal outside of rares and mythics.  White/Red might actually catch a break this time around.  There are enough aggressively costed Humans in these colors to constitute an early guess at a Limited archetype.  Maybe this is just my bias talking, but I just feel bad for these enemy colors that couldn’t effectively suit up in either ISDx3 or DKA/ISD/ISD.  Maybe they’ll get a shot, and it’s little things like this that will help.  It also gets rid of undying creatures before they have a chance to undie, and provides desperately needed non-combat interaction for aggro decks.

7) Ghostly Flicker

*Blink blink*
I had a whole deck for a while built around the blue/white blinking creatures of Shadowmoor Block (Mistmeadow Witch + Mulldrifter, etc.)  It was one of my favorite decks to play and, for my opponents, one of the more frustrating decks to fight.  Momentary Blink with an upgrade in flexibility, the versatility of this spell is boundless in Limited.  Untap two creatures after your opponent attacks, wipe away an enchantment or prevent spell/lethal damage, reset ETB effects or undying counters, choose new targets for a paired creature, untap a land if you need that color of mana (very badly) or to use its effect again in the case of the enemy-colored ability lands, or any number of niche roles.  I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but this is a great trick for any of the above roles, as well as those I’m missing.  Blinking was always so undervalued in my opinion, and Momentary Blink is continually one of my favorite cards to facilitate this.  It also only requires the one color. 

6) Nearheath Pilgrim

Lifelink really tips things in your favor.
The only white card on this list (as most of the best cards I’ve seen in White are rare or mythic), Nearheath Pilgrim seems to be a really good card that requires a pinch of work to extract the most value.  In the early game, he can provide a little edge in a race by giving you a few points of life, forcing your opponent to stay on defense while you develop your board.  In the late game, your largest creatures can get lifelink and bring you back from the brink or secure your place in the lead.  Not too much else to say about him.  He obviously feels like Alabaster Mage, but I think he provides a little more efficiency while requiring a little more skill to play.

5) Wolfir Avenger

One of the more exciting cards I found (my fondness for Green notwithstanding), this guy might even see a hint of Constructed play in Core Green decks when Thrun rolls out.  A flashable Trained Armadon that regenerates?  That seems pretty great in Limited and it fills a powerful role on both offense and defense.  The only disadvantage is his mana commitment; two-color decks shouldn’t have a problem, but three-color brews might want to steer clear; he’s best when you can reliably cast him at the end of your opponent’s third or fourth turn or mid-combat on those turns.  Also, I don’t know if this will make sense, but he just looks like he’d be good.  This is a skill I’ve had a lot of trouble developing.  Consider Dark Confidant.  I thought he was pretty terrible when he came out six years ago.  Now, as a forty or fifty-dollar card and having played with one, I’ve realized my mistake.  Wolfir Avenger looks good.  Maybe it just reminds me of Troll Ascetic or something. 

4) Maalfeld Twins

Maalfeld better if he was a bit cheaper...
This guy feels suspiciously like Grave Titan’s anemic brother.  Nevertheless, a strong 4/4 body with a Moan of the Unhallowed on the tail end seems excellent in an aggressive deck’s top-end.  On defense, it also provides three turns worth of chump blockers on the floor to dissuade attacks from your opponent’s monster ground pounder.  Zombie synergies abound, and he could even find some weird place in a low-tier Constructed Zombie deck.  As I wish for the Titans’ demise at the end of September this year, I hope there will be more room for these conservative monsters to get their chance to shine.  If he was just one mana cheaper, he might be first on this list.

3)  Mist Raven

Oops, you mist your blocks.
Mist Raven is built on a classic template; a simple and effective mechanic with tons of applications and this time, we get an evasive creature, all for the low, low price of four mana!  I’m not sure if you should first pick this, but in a weak pack with a whiff of a rare, I might.  Blue looks pretty strong in the format, both in Sealed and Draft.  Aether Adepts and, previously, Man O’ Wars have always been strong choices for their tempo-swinging, two-for-oneish feel.  Load up on as many of these on the four slot as your deck will hold and you’ll probably sweep your flight/pod. 

2) Zealous Conscripts

Yankee doodle came to town, riding on a po...OH CRAP WHERE'S THE PONY?!?!
Act of Treason on a stick!  A fairly solid stick, too.  Most of the time, the 3/3 for 4X cards in any given set are mediocre filler cards (see Venser’s Sliver, Scourge Servant, or Tuktuk Grunts).  Now, these Conscripts know how to turn a game around.  Has your opponent stabilized at 10 life while they bludgeon you to death with some monstrous Angel, or are you having trouble breaking through with a clumsy board state?  Have no fear, steal their biggest guy and bash them right back!  The fact that you can target any permanent gives this even more flexibility; remove control of some oppressive enchantment, land or planeswalker and bend it as you need.  Although it is a rare and not completely unconditional, it IS a gamebreaker, and those are the cards I like to have when I shuffle up 40.

1) Into the Void

Void where prohibited.
Arguably the most textually boring card that may ever get to #1, this card is vicious and utterly unfair.  Whiplash Trap busted so many games open in a grid-locked board that is the definition of value.  This is an excellent choice against aggressive decks as well as powerfully defensive decks, giving you the time to recover or the window to attack.  Unsummon and its variants have always been a fine choice.  The fact that this hits two creatures should always play on your mind; break paired creatures, erase tokens, remove their entire defense, activate the “one creature matters” clauses for your own creature.  There is a lot of power in this card.  Even if it doesn’t kill the creatures, they will need to spend two turns recasting them most likely, and you’ll have two turns to recover or develop.  It’s easily splashable and in a format without tons of removal, this can be exactly the piece you need for your X/U aggro puzzle.  I don’t feel great about this making the top seat, but I’m not sure what else would.  In Dark Ascension, it was Tragic Slip (though I might amend that to Lingering Souls now).  You WILL get a groan for your opponent as Into the Void resolves.

There are two new mechanics in this set of which a lot has been written and discussed.  The first, “soulbond,” is a mechanic affiliated with certain creatures.  When the creature with soulbond or any another creature comes into play, you may pair these two creatures, so long as both are otherwise unpaired.  When paired, both of those creatures receive a certain bonus.  I really like this mechanic.  Granted, it is only a Limited mechanic with few to no Constructed applications, where each card needs to be fairly self-reliant.  Still, it will offer some interesting reactions within the game as well as some interesting drafting.  You won’t want just creatures with soulbond, as they can only bond to one creature at a time, so you’ll need to balance bonding and unbonding creatures.  I have no idea what that balance should be – eight bonding to eight unbonding?  I’m not sure.  It will take a fair amount of playtesting to see how many is too many.

Next, the “miracle” mechanic allows you to cast some nonpermanent spells immediately as you draw them, so long as it’s the first card you draw that turn, drastically reducing the cost and allowing you to play sorceries with miracle during your draw step.  I’m really not sure how I feel about this; it’s begging to be broken, especially in Constructed.  It adds a certain level of luck to a game where good players try to minimize luck’s role in the game.  That being said, it will create some great Limited stories and it can be strategic; you can still wait to hard cast the spell later, if you feel it would be more prudent.  I didn’t put any of them in the Top Ten because I was unsure how to evaluate their power level.  It’s obvious that Temporal Mastery is just straight up Time Walk in Miracle land, and you can be sure that Ponder will slide that in the right place every time.  Thunderous Wrath, the Lava Axe Miracle, has also garnered some attention.  RDW decks will rarely pass up the chance to Lava Axe you for R.  I also believe that Banishing Stroke will be strong in Limited and some Constructed play as an instant O-Ring.  It’s also important to note that if you cast something for its Miracle cost, your opponent knows that you have not added a new card to your hand; if you couldn’t deal with something before you drew the Miracle card, they still can’t deal with it if the Miracle card didn’t fix it.  This is valuable information in a Limited space, especially where both players are out of gas and have to strategically the contents of a player’s deck and hand.

I’ll be playing up at Bluegrass Magic in Louisville this weekend, and I hope to see a big turn out!  I hope you have fun at your Prerelease, too, as we chalk up another set to the annals of Standard.  Expect to see a Prerelease report from me next week.

Oh, and cake.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write up, I have to agree with you on the into the void. I used to be a very heavy green red player I like the aggressive play style that comes with it. However, I started playing more and more drafts and the U/W Fliers seemed to win it time and time again for me. So I always start looking for blues first. Great picks. Great write up.