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Initial Technology – First Thoughts on Alara Reborn

 

Alara Reborn is right on the horizon, which makes writing articles all the more difficult. Most formats are in the lame duck phase, and all anyone really wants to hear about is the exciting new cards. While I normally don’t like speculation all that much, being more of a tried-and-tested kind of guy, I see no reason to bore anyone with my thoughts on formats that are about to change in less than two weeks. Plus, some of the new cards do seem pretty sweet, so I might as well take a crack at them. After all, the what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I’m going to say Tarmogoyf is terrible, right? (Sorry Riki, I just couldn’t resist!)

Sadly, the best looking cards also happen to be aggressive green ones, and not more ammunition for Faeries. I know people hate playing with or against Fae, but some people (me) also hate playing the kind of decks that will utilize Bloodbraid Elf (which seems unreal).

Bloodbraid Elf 

The Cascade mechanic is clearly very powerful, since it provides a free spell regardless of whether the original spell is countered. Breaking the rule that mana has to be paid for every spell usually leads to overpowered cards, as can be seen in many of the previous “free spells”:

Mind’s Desire
Force of Will
Daze
Gush
Thwart
The Shoal cycle from Betrayers of Kamigawa (Disrupting Shoal, Shining Shoal, and Sickening Shoal)
Contagion
Unmask
Commandeer

Most of these cards are quite old, because R&D is quite aware of how dangerous it is to make spells free. The Shoals were actually pretty balanced, and still saw quite a bit of play in Block and Type 2. Even Commandeer, which requires a hefty two card discard is playable in Vintage now, and was a speculative sideboard card for the Faeries mirror in Type 2 last year.

So, Bloodbraid Elf. The most natural comparison is to Ranger of Eos, since they share the same casting cost and power and toughness. Ranger is just now coming into its own in Extended, and has been solid in Type 2 for a while. Bloodbraid Elf may be better than Ranger, and certainly seems better on turns four through six or so. Rather than a 3/2 dude who fetches two other guys, you get a hasted guy who plops another threat into play for free. Later in the game, Ranger will probably be more effective, since getting and casting two guys is likely to be stronger than the one random guy Bloodbraid Elf gives you, but in the earlier turns the Elf seems like much more of a beating. This of course is fine, since the majority of the decks that are interested in this card are focused on the early turns anyway.

Cascade will certainly influence deckbuilding, but I don’t think Bloodbraid Elf will require too much thought. In order to break cascade, you could only include one card that the ability could hit since it continues until it hits a cheaper card. Doing that with a four-drop cascade card is probably not realistic, since I doubt its possible to build any sort of competitive deck without spells that cost less than four. In the case of Bloodbraid Elf, you will ideally not be playing anything that is potentially dead, like removal that can only target creatures. Past that you are probably fine hitting any of your aggressive low drops, since they all serve roughly the same purpose. Woolly Thoctar is going to be the dream, but even getting a Wild Nacatl or Hellspark Elemental (or whatever low drops are in your deck) is going to be fine. Worst comes to worst, you will hit Incinerate and settle for bashing them for six.

The aggressive ALA Block Naya deck is perfectly suited to run some Bloodbraid Elves, although 4 Elf and 4 Ranger is probably pushing it. For the reasons I outlined above, I suspect these decks would rather have the Elf on turn 4 and the Ranger on turn 6 or 7. That seems to suggest a 4/2 or 4/3 split on Elves vs Rangers, depending how many four drops the deck can manage.

There isn’t a deck in Standard where Bloodbraid Elf directly fits, but that isn’t a big problem. This beater demands play, and I would be surprised if some aggressive red deck didn’t take advantage of him. It’s possible that he would even find a place in a Naya deck, along with the next card I wanted to talk about, Qasali Pridemage.

Qasali Pridemage 

When the Pridemage was initially spoiled, I didn’t realize he had exalted, and I still thought he was an excellent card. A Kami of Ancient Law that can hit artifacts (or alternately, a Viridian Zealot that takes no mana , or possibly a Vindicate that can only hit arti’ ok, that’s going a bit far). No matter how you look at it, Qasali Pridemage is going to see quite a bit of play. All I can see is my precious Bitterblossoms ruthlessly trampled under the foot of our new Cat overlord, much like my actual cats trample on anything of value I carelessly store in my own house.

Besides Bitterblossom, there aren’t that many good targets in Standard. Glorious Anthem is certainly a good one, and any stray Oblivion Rings, although O-Ring was marginal to begin with and the addition of the Pridemage won’t help things. A 2/2 for two mana with exalted is a pretty reasonable deal, so even if your opponent doesn’t have anything for the Pridemage to eat, its nowhere near a dead card. That is of course its strength, and part of the reason everyone is excited about it. There is a GW beats deck (not to be confused with GW tokens) that I seem to play against pretty often on MTGO. It is kind of like WG elves, with the whole Wilt-Leaf squad (Liege and Cavaliers), Gaddock Teeg, Llanowar Elves, Noble Hierarch, Kitchen Finks, etc. I can’t imagine that four Pridemages won’t find their way into the deck, as they seem perfect for it.

In Extended it will rock, since most Extended decks have something worth killing, and Naya Zoo can use a better two-drop than Ethersworn Canonist. By the time Extended is seriously played next, many rotations will occur and a narrow card like Canonist is unlikely to be good enough.

Again, Block Naya gets sicker as Pridemage adds another quality low drop to the deck. Turn one Nacatl turn two Pridemage is a pretty fast start, and even just hitting Pridemage off of Bloodbraid Elf is pretty filthy. Bash for 4, kill your O-Ring/Tower Gargoyle/Obelisk of Alara. Exalted also gets better the more you have (since it makes the disadvantage of only attacking with one guy less of a problem), and Noble Hierarch fits pretty well into most decks that want Pridemage.

Of course, Pridemage isn’t the two-drop that is getting most people excited. That honor goes to:

 

Meddling Mage

Another reason I don’t like Mage is because of removal. Yes, saying a card is bad because it can die to things is kind of silly, but let me explain. Against Faeries, which most people seem to want to crush, the obvious name is Bitterblossom if you play Mage early. Nothing will stop them from just Terroring it, and you don’t gain a whole lot. They might not even have Bitterblossom! So what if you name Terror? Take that, Faeries! Well, then they just play Bitterblossom (or ignore the Meddling Mage). Most decks play redundant removal spells anyway, especially since Standard is full of creatures that need killing. Faeries is even a deck that relies a lot on one card, and I don’t think Faeries is overly threatened by the Mage. Imagine it against 5-CC, which is just all “good” cards, none of which the deck has to have to function.

Now I don’t want to sound like I think Meddling Mage is trash, since I don’t. It will be played and it will be decent. It just seems that most people are a little optimistic in their assessment of what it will do. In an aggressive deck, like Merfolk perhaps, the time gained by Maging a crucial spell is good enough. That is a use of Meddling Mage I can get behind, since it doesn’t treat Meddling Mage as the Cranial Extraction most people seem to expect it to be. Most UW decks aren’t too aggressive, and something like Reveillark isn’t really best served by this particular Wizard.

Block does change a little bit, since the cardpool is so much smaller. Decks are more often reliant on a few critical spells, and there are less ways to remove a problem 2/2. Faeries in Standard can play Terror, Agony Warp, Nameless Inversion, Eyeblight’s Ending or even Shriekmaw. Granted, only Terror and Warp see heavy play, but there are many options. In Block, the Naya control deck doesn’t have nearly as much selection, so a pinpoint Meddling Mage goes a lot further.

The last card I want to talk about is Soul Manipulation:

Soul Manipulation

The only reason this stands out is that it could possibly find its way into Faeries. I doubt more than one or two copies will be played, but it certainly is a powerful effect. Countering a guy and returning a Spellstutter Sprite is pretty nice. Once you start bringing back Mistbind Clique or Sower of Temptation, it gets even more filthy. Countermagic is pretty bad in Standard and Block right now, so any reasonable Counterspell is worth looking at.

Those are some of the cards that stand out at me the most, although there are many more to come. It does look like Alara Reborn is going to have a pretty solid impact on Standard and Block, and despite my desire to just play Faeries I can’t say that’s a bad thing.

LSV

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