As it turns out, she’s back, and I’ve had to keep quiet about that for some time now. Luckily, I get to reveal her new incarnation today!
Linvala is still an extremely powerful card, and still looks to make an impact against creature-heavy decks. She does a fantastic job of preserving your life total and your board presence, both of which I’m interested in keeping healthy.
Let’s break the card down further:
At 6 mana for a 5/5 flier, Linvala is going to need do a little more than just be a big flier, which she clearly does. If both of her abilities trigger, she’s outrageous. A flying Thragtusk with better stats for only one more mana is absurd, and the token she makes even has flying. Even at legendary, if Linvala always double-triggered, she’d show up in tons of decks.
Once we factor in the conditions she needs, how good is she?
The great part about this card is that the abilities are more likely to trigger when you need them most, especially the life gain. If you are far ahead on life, gaining 5 isn’t a huge deal, and it tends to be much more important when you're behind. It’s a little tricky with fetchlands, as leaving uncracked fetches on the table can let you adjust your life at instant speed, which I’m sure will leave plenty of people disappointed when their Linvala resolves. Still, the life gain ability is near enough to “gain life when you need it,” even if some games are going to be a little trickier than that.
The second ability, making a 3/3 Angel, is one you always want, and will trigger much less often. It requires the opponent have at minimum two creatures, and there are some decks that will just never meet that condition. And unlike the life gain, your opponent not having creatures in play doesn’t mean you don’t want or need a 3/3, because pressuring decks like Esper is very important and has nothing to do with how many creatures they have in play. This ability is powerful, but way more difficult to pull off than the first.
Even when you assume Linvala triggers sporadically, she’s an incredible card. She offers way more than 6 mana worth of value, and is capable of winning a game by herself, even a game you were losing badly. What I’m really interested in seeing is how she affects gameplay, because she’s powerful enough to see plenty of play and conditional enough to be worth playing around.
If your opponent is playing Linvala (or is a deck that could be playing her, with white-based control being high on the list), consider keeping your life total similar. If you are at 14 and can deal 14 damage next turn, say with Temur Battle Rage, it’s better to leave the opponent at 14 than to take them to 13. Even in games where they will eventually gain life with Linvala, making it unprofitable to cast her for just one turn represents a big mana loss for your opponent.
Don’t play excess creatures, especially ones that don’t do much. If your opponent has one creature out and you have two, maybe keep that Elf in your hand for a turn. Again, 6 mana is enough that the opponent may run out Linvala anyway, so there’s no need to give them a free 3/3 to boot.
If you are the player with Linvala, manage these resources to maximize Linvala, but try not to be too obvious about it. Chump-blocking a 3/3 instead of a 4/4 screams Linvala, and could let your opponent adjust their play accordingly. On the other hand, doing that can also convince your opponent that you do have Linvala when you don’t, and could be a sick bluff!
Linvala does everything I love. I like cards that spur comebacks, especially since I often play the kinds of decks that end up down on life and creatures. I like interesting and powerful cards, and I like that she introduces new gameplay puzzles to the environment. A card that promotes sweet bluffs and unconventional plays is one I enjoy, even if I never play with it myself.