Today I want to talk about one of the role-player cards that I didn’t go over in any detail in my other articles. I initially wrote off Martial Law as too expensive and simply not pertinent often enough to justify. As I heard others discussing it more in-depth, I took a second look at the card and thought I had judged it too harshly. After all, a recurring way to shut down nearly every creature in the format isn’t something you come across often. So I tried it out in a couple of decks to see how it would play out.
After trying the card in a ‘Big’ GW deck and UW Control, I quickly realized that the card is much better than I originally thought. Turning off Geralf’s Messenger, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Thragtusk, and Wolfir Silverheart is excellent, and it doesn’t lose value as the game goes on. It isn’t the fastest card on the block and lets on board creatures get a swing in, but it shuts down threats in a way 95% of the removal in the format cannot. Golgari Charm sadly spoils some of the fun by providing BG decks a way to deal with Law, but we don’t even know how much main deck play that’ll see at this time.
So after playing with the card for a bit, I realized just how strong it was with the proper assistance. It didn’t do me many favors in straight GW—though I believe it could be used successfully in an aggressive deck to help race.
Perhaps WU Humans/Delver could take a look at the card and see how much it helps win races. As for UW Control… Well I was amazed at just how good the card was in that shell. It competes with a lot of other removal spells, yet it still stood out as a unique effect and something that couldn’t be replicated.
Just jamming Martial Law with the full suite of Jace, Architect of Thought and 3 [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card] added a lot of value to the deck as a whole. Being able to play Martial Law into a planeswalker was often the turning point for the game. Even if they eliminated the first planeswalker, it was rare that it died on the first turn it entered play.
Following up Martial Law with Tamiyo? That’s a paddling. Shutting off Zombies or Jund’s two largest creatures frequently put them behind the 8-ball for the rest of the match. If they couldn’t snap-Dreadbore or Golgari Charm, they had to make a tough choice over whether to expend even more resources onto the board. If they did, they played directly into sweepers; and if they didn’t, they often only had one creature available to pressure any planeswalkers.
The two pitfalls in my initial evaluation of Martial Law were these:
1. Underestimating the power of locking multiple creatures.
There aren’t a whole lot of Constructed playable effects that stop creatures from attacking outright, and often they aren’t reusable. Detain gives us an option that not only stops them from swinging in, but can keep up with any growing threat on the opponent’s board.
Unlike Pacifism, you can constantly upgrade the creature you’re shutting down if new threats crop up. It also stops undying without risking Oblivion Ring or Detention Sphere to an Abrupt Decay. Between this and Tamiyo, you actually have reasonable ways to interact with [card gravecrawler]creatures[/card] that you [card geralf's messenger]can’t[/card] simply Verdict away, and buys you time until Terminus.
Of course when you do actually sweep the board, being able to detain the first creature they play post-Wrath is pretty amusing. It solves the issue of needing to trade one-for-one constantly, and gives you a full turn to take advantage.
2. Lack of immediate impact.
The biggest drawback is that there’s no immediate effect and is the best reason to run a different removal spell. If you have a limited number of removal spells I can understand leaving out Martial Law, same goes if you aren’t directly protecting planeswalkers with Law.
UW control is set up the best to negate that drawback, since you gain so much from successfully locking down the board. Most of the time it doesn’t matter that you can’t snap-detain something, and nearly all available removal is bad at certain times of the game, so it’s a drawback that the deck as a whole has to deal with already. It is more pronounced with Martial Law though, so I don’t expect it to make a huge impact barring a massive UW breakout.
Real World Drawbacks:
• Sucks against Lingering Souls for obvious reasons.
• Does nothing against other control decks.
• Slow to get going.
The deck I’m using:
This deck is by no means perfect, and I expect a good many tweaks. What it did excel at was letting me try out a bunch of new cards at once and fully gauge how good Martial Law and Jace were. As it turned out, Jace was solid and one of the best reasons to be blue in this upcoming season. Martial Law is also a very powerful role-player in this type of deck, and one of the best lockdown cards available. Having it on board after you play a planeswalker or sweeper effect completely changes how the game plays out, since you only invest in it once and it just keeps giving until the game is over. Other removal spells don’t play nearly as well with each other, and outside of [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card] none of them are actively at no-cost every turn they stay in play.
What it comes down to is this: detain solves a lot of issues against Zombies and midrange decks that normal removal doesn’t solve. The fact that it scales up with the opponent’s threats is also a good thing to have available.
The biggest problem with ‘UW w/ detain and heavy PW’ as a whole has been the lack of good early game removal. Not only that, but nearly every alternative loses to Abrupt Decay, Pacifism, Rings, Walls—everything short of Knight of Glory just dies to it straight-up. If you fall behind early, you really need that stuff to keep Messenger and other Zombies back. Even if you stabilize you risk losing to Brimstone Volley or [card falkenrath aristocrat]Aristocrat[/card] in the late-game.
Detain partially solves the Gravecrawler and [card geralf's messenger]Messenger[/card] problem, but it may be a necessity to add lifegain or splash green for Thragtusk. Rhox Faithmender is one alternative due to the huge body and life-gain properties, while also making Sphinx’s Revelation an attractive option.
*Update*: After a useful suggestion from my friend Boland about Sensory Deprivation vs. Pacifism and the need for more ways to actually stabilize a game, this is my current test build for a straight UW shell.
Without additional kill conditions the deck had real problems closing out games before dying to burn, so extra lifegain needed to be added into the deck. Sensory Deprivation ended up being Pacifism for just a U when it mattered most, and Faithmender/Reaver gave the deck some late-game way to gain life and get out of Brimstone Volley range against Zombies, Mono-Red, and aggressive Jund decks.
This deck is slow, but actually devotes a fair number of slots to living in the early game and focusing on getting to a locked down board state quickly. It may be a necessity to slam the green splash for Thragtusk though, solving a large number of issues with killing opponents and staying at a high life total. Rhox Faithmender into Thragtusk is unbeatable for most aggro after all.
Miracles ended up getting cut due to how often they were sitting dead in hand as a virtual mulligan and the lack of ways to really gain value out of the miracle cost. If you were to focus more around triggering the alt cost with Thought Scour, Desolate Lighthouse, or other instant draw it becomes a better looking option. Martial Law is in the same vein, but four vs. six isn’t close, and drawing multiples early is actually reasonable instead of being loaded down with sixes and X spells.
Final Conclusion on Martial Law: If the metagame consists primarily of Zombies, midrange, and a handful of large creature decks, Martial Law will be an excellent addition to UWx shells. It protects planeswalkers beautifully and excels with other removal, instead of merely adding more one-for-ones. If the metagame is more open, then you can probably find better options.
Bonus Conclusion: Jace is really good. The complete lack of good card drawing makes Jace the default best card machine in the format and quite frankly if you’re playing a slower strategy you should probably be running Jace. Midrange with very efficient creatures can get away with ducking him, much like old Jund could, and aggro obviously doesn’t care, but unless you plan on going way over the top you’d better have a good plan on beating or matching Jace.
Tamiyo also gets an upgrade in playability since her -2 ends up being relevant a lot more often and the fact that you can have her teamed up with Law or Jace gives you a great defense while you wait to untap. Blue control shells are going to be the main planeswalker strategies going into the new format.