What Is Seen Cannot Be Unseen
When Andy Cooperfauss, our fearless managing editor, asked me what card I wanted to do for a preview spotlight, it was tough to decide. Return to Ravnica has a ton of awesome cards, and I would have been happy to peruse the merits of a number of them. We settled on doing a Facebook poll over on ChannelFireball’s page, with the following options:
Jace, Architect of Thought
Vraska the Unseen
It turns out if you vraska question like this, planeswalkers crush the competition. Vraska was 1st and Jace was 2nd, and by a reasonably wide margin. It was a cool way to see what people were interested in, though I can’t say the result was much of a surprise.
So, let’s take a look at Vraska. Assuming we survive, this is what we’ve got to work with:
Her strongest ability is the -3—letting her eat other planeswalkers, giant creatures, and random artifacts or enchantments alike. Slamming Vraska as a reaction to them playing something large is a huge swing, especially if they aren’t able to kill her immediately afterwards. Even in the cases where she dies immediately, she was a 1-for-1 that gained you a couple life, which isn’t the worst.
She also protects herself reasonably well, likely taking a couple hits, and therefore causing a couple deaths. 6 loyalty is nothing to scoff at, and unless they are Wolfir Silverhearting, one creature isn’t going to be enough.
Lastly, we’ve got an ultimate. It is easily one of the coolest ultimates I’ve ever seen, and even though the Assassins are vulnerable to sweepers, they are definitely going to rack up some kills. She even gets to 7 fairly quickly if you are willing to forgo a couple of Vindicates on the way.
Add all these things together, and you’ve got a card that can play multiple roles—filling in nicely as a catchall for control, the top of your curve in a creature deck, and anything in between. Much like most planeswalkers, she works particularly well with blockers, letting you strategically chump block and use the +1 and -3 abilities for maximum value. She is also green, which means that various flavors of ramp can facilitate a turn three or four Vraska.
In general, Vraska is best used as a response to a threat, rather than as a threat herself. Vraska on an empty board just isn’t all that imposing. You can +1, which has no effect; and eventually she spews out a trio of Assassins, which can be easily dealt with. If you drop Vraska, the opponent now knows not to throw out one big threat, and will instead either kill her (Dreadbore and Detention Sphere being prime candidates), or wait until they can play multiple cards in the same turn. On the other hand, if you let them run out their Jace, Vraska gets a free kill. Even if they kill Vraska later, you are still up a card and probably some mana to boot.
Because Vraska is better as a followup than an opening, that again leads us back to playing either dedicated control or a deck that plans on having a large board presence. In the control deck, you aren’t sad if they don’t play anything. If your deck is built for inevitability, them doing nothing is just fine. When they do finally do something, slam down Vraska and take your card. If you have enough pinpoint removal, you can even kill all their guys but one, letting Vraska clean up the straggler.
At that point, even getting her off the board won’t be easy, and she will serve as both defense and a win condition. I do caution you though: with cards like Rakdos’s Return floating around, a traditional control deck definitely has some threats to worry about. If counterspells are really as bad as they appear to be, it might be better to take more of a ramp approach, and be the one casting the big spells instead of trying to respond to them.
That of course doesn’t rule out Vraska, but does call into question whether she really will be a sweet addition to a UB control deck, or the like.
In a more midrange deck, leading with [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmasters[/card], Thragtusks, and possibly even cheaper planeswalkers seems like a good plan. I can definitely imagine playing a Huntmaster, having the opponent play Jace and +1—thinking that -1 power keeps your team under control. You then slam Vraska, not only forcing them to deal with her, but also continuing to pressure them with your previous army.
Anytime you are ahead, they play a permanent-based answer, and you Vraska it, you end up with a pretty enormous edge. It’s like playing a super-Flametongue Kavu, but instead of a Wrath killing the FTK and your team, it just kills whatever guys you had out earlier, leaving Vraska to threaten them (Planar Cleansing excluded, of course).
An example of such a midrange deck could be something like this:
Obviously, this is just a rough draft, but there are a lot of good cards in Jund colors nowadays, and playing a whole slew of planeswalkers seems pretty sweet. It also features Dreadbore, which I think is going to be pretty good, and Rakdos’s Return, which I touched on a little earlier. I wanted to get a Sign in Blood kind of effect in, but the mana seemed risky with Sign. The planeswalkers plus Borderland Rangers should hopefully keep up the card advantage well enough (not to mention Huntmaster and Thragtusk).
Another direction to go could be full-on ramp, with Farseek, the guild Keyrunes (both the Rakdos and Golgari Keyrunes are quite good), and all big spells. Vraska, Rakdos’s Return, other planeswalkers, with the ever-present combo of Huntmaster and Thragtusk as creature defenders. Not having Primeval Titan does make the ramp strategy a little tougher, but I’m sure there is a solution.
If Mutilate is more your speed, a mono-black deck splashing Vraska could be workable. Between Golgari Keyrune, Overgrown Tomb, and Evolving Wilds, a manabase could be made that supports both Vraska and Mutilate.
I really like the idea of ramping into Diabolic Revelation, even if there might be too much creature removal here. Of course, that’s always been the weakness of mono-black, so maybe less removal and a few more resilient threats might be the way to go. I also like that this deck gets to sideboard some combination of Bloodline Keeper, Vampire Nighthawk, and Bloodgift Demon. Those guys are all good, but I’ve always been a fan of having no good main-deck targets for creature removal and a bunch of awesome creatures in the sideboard.
Even if the decks don’t end up looking like this, Vraska is going to see a good amount of play, and in a diverse selection of decks.