Today I’m going to talk a little about the two planeswalkers from M13, as well as the (non) bans and the Delver deck.
First of all, Liliana of the Dark Realms!
As always, we tread dangerous ground with planeswalkers. They could end up being on a completely different level than they initially appear to be, but I’m pretty confident in saying that, barring some extreme changes in the tournament scene, this card fights for a spot as “the worst planeswalker of all time”—which is no mean feat, considering that the competitors are Sarkhan Vol and Chandra Ablaze. All of Liliana’s problems can be summed in one simple sentence—it doesn’t do anything!
The thing with planeswalkers is that, as permanents in play, they are worth cards. When you play Ajani Vengeant and [card lightning helix]Helix[/card] their guy, that is potentially much better than a two-for-one. The card you’re left with (Ajani Vengeant with one loyalty) is worth more than a card. The same happens with Liliana of the Veil, Garruk, or Gideon Jura. When you play Jace Beleren and draw a card, you’re up a Jace Beleren on two, which is also generally worth more than a card. With Liliana of the Dark Realms, you’re left with something that is, most of the time, worth less than a card—if you’re left with anything at all.
For starters, imagine you played a turn four Liliana. You have two options:
1) Nuke their guy. That’s a play you could make, I suppose, but it’s certainly not a good play—four mana for a sorcery speed conditional removal would be unplayable in Block Pauper. The problem is: if they have a guy and you don’t nuke it, well, you’ve lost your window, because chances are Liliana is going to be die immediately. Even if it doesn’t outright die, it’ll likely not have three loyalty left.
2) Get a Swamp. If you do that, then you have a Swamp in your hand and a Liliana on four in play. Swamp in hand is not worth a card most of the time, especially on turn four when it could feasibly be worth absolutely nothing. But, hey, at least you’re left with a four loyalty Liliana, which does… absolutely nothing too! Assuming they don’t have a creature (if they do, you’re likely forced to use the minus ability), then all you can do next turn is get another Swamp (I suppose you could pump one of your guys once, but that’s really narrow).
But wait, those are the bad scenarios. Let’s look at the good scenarios:
1) You play Liliana and +1 it; then, they play a guy, which you kill. Alternatively, you have a blocker, so you get to play Liliana, +1 her, then kill a guy and keep her. In this case, you’re up a Swamp in hand, a -4/-4, and a one-loyalty Liliana for your investment of 2BB and a card. This is not HORRENDOUS, I suppose, but it runs into the same problem it was running before—Liliana in play is just not worth a card. With her, you’ll get two or three more Swamps, which, at that point in the game, could mean absolutely nothing.
2) You’re playing the control mirror, or your opponent cannot interact with a do-nothing Liliana for some reason. You’re free to use Liliana three times, get five Swamps, and then ultimate her! In this case, clearly she’s worth… uh, not much. Would you play a card that said 2BB, get 3 Swamps? You obviously wouldn’t. You wouldn’t play 2BB get five Swamps—you would probably not play 2BB get as many Swamps as you want (Endless Horizons certainly didn’t make any waves). The problem here is that you’re building into nothing—the ultimate is not a powerful trump that has to be avoided at all costs, it is largely irrelevant by the time you get to it.
I can think of many games in which I’d happily cycle away a card that said 2BB—all your Swamps add BBBB for the rest of the game, because sometimes you just have nothing to do with all that black mana. You know when you’re most likely to have no use for extra mana? When you’ve just searched for three Swamps!! Her abilities seem synergistic, but most of the time they just do the same, and with diminishing returns—every turn you use her, she matters less and less.
In sum, Liliana is bad because none of her abilities are powerful enough that she is worth going through the effort of playing a vulnerable permanent. Your rewards are just not relevant. An aggro deck can easily kill her, but if they don’t, then all you’re up is a Swamp or two, and that’s the best case scenario. A control deck can ignore her, because none of her abilities are threatening. You can let her get to 10 loyalty and she still won’t beat you. Just compare Liliana to Solemn Simulacrum, which is easier to cast, gets any land, puts it into play, and leaves you with a 2/2 that draws a card when it dies—it’d take a VERY specific situation for me to prefer Liliana over him.
For Liliana to see any play, I think it’d require one of two scenarios: first, there is a deck that can really abuse the first three abilities—getting a Swamp, -x/-x’ing a dude and +x/+x’ing your own dude—the first two alone are not enough. I cannot possibly imagine what deck this is, but it might exist. Second, there is a deck that has uses for her abilities, but also incidentally wins when you activate her ultimate. And by incidentally I mean a card you’d play anyway, that just happens to be very good if you have more mana.
Right now, the only good X card I can think of is Bonfire of the Damned, but that doesn’t even WIN the game for sure unless it has gone super late (you need 10 Swamps and a Mountain to do 20) and, if they have guys you want to Bonfire away, they can probably deal with Liliana. You can alternatively play Devil’s Play, which is a fine but not spectacular card in its own right, if you think you can afford the flashback in your mostly-black deck.
“But PV, what about the Ravnica Duals?”
Ah, I’m glad you asked! You see, all those problems I have mentioned are assuming every single land you have is going to work for Liliana. If you’re forced to play Mono-Black for that to be true, then the card becomes even worse. The only scenario that actually improves if they release Rav lands in M13 is that of Devil’s Play, which now becomes flashbackable and an actual good finisher—if you manage to trigger the ultimate. So, all in all, I’d be very surprised if Liliana of the Dark Realms (which, incidentally, has a name and a picture I’m not a fan of) made any splashes in tournament play.
Now that’s a much better card than Liliana, even if I don’t believe it’s as good as people make him out to be (i.e. it’s no Elspeth, but it could easily be better than an Ajani Goldmane—a fine but not broken card in its archetype). I understand that it has effectively five starting loyalty and only costs three mana, but the question is not whether he is going to die soon (he isn’t), but whether it’s worth having him around.
Ajani is an obviously aggressive card, much like [card koth of the Hammer]Koth[/card]—have no illusions of playing him in your control deck to make twenty Cats. The difference is that Koth was self-sufficient, a threat on his own, while Ajani does nothing on his own. If he is your only nonland in play then he is sort of embarrassing, even if you can keep pumping him.
With Ajani, they won’t be able to kill him, but they also don’t have to. If they have instant speed removal (or just a lot of removal), then the only thing they have to fear is the ultimate—which they can also deal with by way of mass removal. This puts Ajani in the unique position of being a planeswalker that can be stopped by creature removal spells, which takes away one of the strengths of the card type (that they’re good against control decks that can’t interact with it). If the control deck has a threat, which almost all of them do, then Ajani is probably going to do some not very relevant things until he eventually dies.
Still, he is by no means a bad card. The second ability gives you some sort of reach, especially in the midrange matchups. Assuming they kill all your guys, a subsequent creature that you play attacks with +2/+2 for free (one activation when you play it and another the following turn, when it attacks), or actually threatens eight flying damage on its first attack. What’s more, his ultimate is actually threatening—even if you’re behind this presents a clock they have to deal with. Granted, it’s not hard to deal with, but it’s something else they have to worry about, that might just flat out beat them if they don’t. If you’re on the play, then you can fire off his ultimate on turn seven, before they get to attack it with a Titan.
Overall, the place for Ajani is the white aggro decks (duh), likely any W/x combination. I think he shines in aggro versus aggro or aggro versus midrange matches, where he is too tough to die to unblocked guys early on, and then just pumps whatever new guy you play, so that they can’t attack past it anymore—while eventually building either a double striking machine or an army of Cats.
One thing that I do think is pretty interesting, both with Ajani and with Liliana, is that they make attacking them not automatic. A card like Jace just screams for you to kill it. If you have three power, that man is going down, and if you have blockers you’re throwing them in front of the attackers. With these new guys, this is not the case, as it’s conceivable that you have the option of attacking them, but choose to attack the opponent instead, since their effects aren’t thatpowerful.
Since I’m talking about planeswalkers and I like “top X” lists, this is my current planeswalker’s power-level list (in context of their respective formats, though obviously a rough list—it’s better seen in tiers than in absolute numbers):
16 – Tezzeret the Seeker
17 – Jace, Memory Adept
18 – Liliana Vess
19 – Nissa Revane
20 – Sarkhan the Mad
21 – Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
22 – Sorin Markov
23 – Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
24 – Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Now, the bans:
Lately, there’s been much talk as to what should be banned in Standard to contain the Delver menace. As it turns out, nothing was banned (and Land Tax was unbanned in Legacy, but I’m certainly not the person to tell you the implications of that). Was that a wise decision?
My initial impression was that there was no need for a ban—the Delver deck was not that powerful, not that much better than everything else. After talking to other people, though, it became obvious that the reason for the ban was not that the deck was much better than everything else, but simply that it was a “strictly” better choice than everything else.
It didn’t matter what was happening, you were spewing value by playing any other deck, in a sort of Nagoya Tempered Steel scenario. If that is the case (and I believe it was), then I fully support a ban of some sort, if only to diversify things—I don’t want to have to play Delver every tournament, but I will do that if I think it gives me the best chance of winning (I actually don’t mind playing Delver, as I love the deck, but I don’t like that everyone has to)
Take, for example, this new card:
As an additional cost to cast Wild Guess, discard a card.
Draw two cards.
No guts, no glory.
This card is interesting because it symbolizes the end of the need for blue or green in a reanimator deck; previously, it’s always felt to me that Faithless Looting, [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] and [card tibalt, the fiend-blooded]Tibalt[/card] were not enough discard outlets and you needed stuff like Forbidden Alchemy or Mulch. But with Wild Guess you not only get a fantastic way to get rid of your big guys, you also get a mechanism of card advantage of sorts, if your deck is built for it. By sticking to three colors (with either white and black as a light splash—probably white since there is Liliana) you can afford to t2 Wild Guess and Tibalt a comfortable amount of the time.
Now, if Delver weren’t legal, I’d be excited about this. I’d probably try a BRw Solar Flare deck of some sort as soon as the whole set got spoiled. Now, I might even try it, but I’m not going to play it. I’m just going to play Delver.
That said, nothing getting banned is definitely not the end of the world—there have been many scenarios in which playing a deck was simply the superior choice that did not cause this uproar. In fact, if it weren’t for the bans last year, I doubt this would be happening—one side effect of those (which, in my opinion, were needed) is that now people just think yelling “ban” is an effective answer to a format they don’t like, as opposed to trying something different.
If they were to eventually ban something, I don’t think it makes much of a difference what it is—the deck is dominant because it is a well-oiled machine, and if you remove any piece of it, it’s going to become much weaker. Snapcaster Mage is the best card, but I wouldn’t ban that—it’s a chase rare, which would leave people understandably upset, plus it’s just an interesting card in that it sees play in other archetypes. Is it very strong? Yes. Is it stronger than it should be? Yes. That doesn’t mean it should be banned, many cards are strong, that’s not a bad thing.
If I wouldn’t ban Snapcaster, what would I ban, assuming I had to ban something? I think if you remove either of Ponder, Mana Leak or Delver of Secrets, you get yourself a fair format. Delver will still be a great deck, but it won’t be a “no-brainer” anymore, and the problem is not the deck being good but the strictly better choice.
That said, I see no reason why you’d ever ban Ponder over Delver himself. In fact, all this hate on Ponder is very confusing. Ponder is a sweet card—it fixes your draws, smoothes consistency, is skill-testing. Sure it’s good, it helps you win. But again, that’s not a bad thing! [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], on the other hand, is an infuriating card. It’s the card you don’t want to see them play, it’s the card that makes you hate magic and variance when theirs flips on turn two but yours never does until turn 17. Since I believe banning either card would fix the problem, I’d rather ban the card that I actively dislike and that is not played in any other decks—Ponder can at least be used in control decks, a Miracle deck or even something like RUG Pod if you want to.
Overall, I’d much rather they ban nothing than they ban Ponder, though I’d rather they’d banned Delver by a small amount. My preference would be like this:
Ban [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card] > Ban Nothing >>>>>>>>>> Ban Ponder > Ban [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card]
“So, should I just play Delver?” – Yes.
“Fiiine, which version?”
I think there are two versions you can play – LSV’s or Yuuya’s:
The main difference between them is that Yuya runs only 19 lands, whereas Luis ran 22 and could afford Cavern of Souls, and Sword/Pike. I think Pike is a little better than Sword right now—it’s faster, hits for more, and the protections and life gain are not that relevant—but I don’t think the difference is enormous (though of course you could play Pike in Luis’s deck as well, even if it wouldn’t be as good).
The good thing about Luis’ version is that, by having way more lands, you can afford some sort of transformational sideboard. Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, Blade Splicer, Sun Titan, Consecrated Sphinx, whatever you want—and with Yuuya’s that’s a lot harder. I also like the two Gut Shot/1 Dismember split, since I believe having something that kills [card restoration angel]Angel[/card] is important, but you can do that in Yuuya’s deck too. Whichever version you choose, I think you’re fine for a tournament, and the mirror is more likely to be decided on skill than a small difference in lists (I actually do think the Delver mirror is very skill intensive, as opposed to most people, from what I was able to gather on Twitter).
“But PV, how about that Delverless deck?”
When I mentioned I thought Delver was the card that had to go, a lot of people mentioned that it’d dominate anyway, since the Delverless deck was already potentially better. I disagree. I have no doubt that the Delverless deck is good, but I think it’s just an inferior version of the Delver deck, and, even if it might still be the best deck after a potential Delver ban, it’d not be an overwhelming choice.
You see, Delver is the card that gives the deck a different dimension—it’s the card that makes you win games you have no business winning. Got this terrible matchup? Well, at least you can hope to flip a Delver turn two and get there. I mean, just look at the finals of the SCG Invitational: the guy went t1 [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], t2 [card phantasmal image]Image[/card] t3 [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card], and the rest was history.
Delver is such a strong deck because it can do that, because it has all those dimensions and angles (aggro-control blah blah)—if you remove its ability to do exactly that, it’ll not be as dominant. Taking out Delver is roughly the same as taking out Putrid Leech in Jund. You just lose a dimension, and the free wins you get from having that in your deck, and I certainly do not recommend you do that.
“I see… how about the UR Delver deck?”
Please, come back to your senses, that deck can’t beat a Geist or an Angel to save its life. Really, just play a UW version.
Well, that’s about it for today—I hope you’ve enjoyed this and I hope you have a nice time trying to dig through your old collection for Land Taxes! See you next week,