Dragons of Tarkir appears to be chock-full of Constructed-quality, expensive creatures. Browsing the spoiler feels like waiting in line at the ice cream parlor. You see dozens and dozens of mouth-watering choices, but in the end you know you’ll have to choose just one or two. You could choose more, but too much ice cream can make you bloated and slow, and too many expensive creatures will have the same effect on your Magic deck.
Most decks only want a small handful of 5- and 6-drop creatures, and yet the new Standard format is going to offer so many. So how do you choose?
It’s helpful to have some criteria for evaluating bomb creatures for Constructed. Today I’ll explain what goes through my head when I see a powerful but expensive creature. Along the way, I’ll explain why Dragonlord Silumgar is my pick, in the context of Standard, for the best Dragons of Tarkir has to offer.
Category One: How Often Will You Cast it Before the Game is Decided?
Dying with spells in your hand is very bad. When this happens, not only did you lose the game, but it’s very possible that the loss came in part from a mistake in deckbuilding. You want your cards to come to your aid early, often, and with a big impact on the game.
Rating a creature in this category is relatively simple. How much mana does it cost? Are there steep color requirements or additional costs?
Silumgar is 6 mana, which I feel is a fairly good place to be in Standard. After all, Hornet Queen and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon have partially defined the format for some time now, and they both cost more than 6 mana. With a decent draw, you usually won’t be dead before turn six, and it’s not a huge challenge to piece together 6 mana sources between lands and mana dorks.
Silumgar scores a 7/10 – It’s likely to be at the top of your curve, but it’s very castable and has easy colored mana requirements.
Category Two: How Good is it When it Goes Unanswered?
In other words, what will the creature do for you when everything goes according to plan? Anyone who’s ever lost to a Mind Control or a Sower of Temptation will know that this is Silumgar’s strongest category; he knocks it out of the park!
His impact is enormous and immediate. He takes away your opponent’s most threatening card, which ought to take you out of danger, and will probably represent an on-board swing on the magnitude of 12 power and 12 toughness! (Say, minus a 5/5 creature on the opponent’s side and plus a 5/5 and a 3 /5 on yours).
Silumgar represents (at least) an on-board 3-for-1. He takes away your opponent’s best permanent (1). He puts a powerful permanent onto the battlefield under your control (2). And he’s a 3 /5 flying, deathtouch! That’s one heck of a Sower of Temptation.
I said “at least” a 3-for-1 because there’s also the ability to take an opposing planeswalker, which will sometimes have an ability that can generate additional card advantage right away. Imagine, for example, taking control of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and using the +1 ability to immediately put a card in your hand.
Silumgar scores a 10/10
Category Three: How Easy is it to Answer?
Here we’re really looking for something like uncounterable, hexproof, or protection. Silumgar doesn’t have those things, but he at least has a high enough toughness to not die to burn spells. He also survives Ultimate Price, Sultai Charm, and a couple of other commonly-played removal spells.
He also has the wonderful quality of being in the color black. This means that you can use Thoughtseize to clear the way.
Silumgar scores a 6/10
Category Four: Can You Get Any Value When It Is Answered?
If he’s countered or killed with the trigger on the stack, the answer is no. However, if he stays in play for even half a turn, he does wonders stabilizing the board. Your opponent’s best creature will have summoning sickness, which will hopefully buy you a turn to cast another bomb or otherwise find a way to turn the tables in your favor.
The more appealing effect is the ability to steal a planeswalker. You can use the planeswalker right away, which offers immediate, guaranteed value and reduces the loyalty of your opponent’s guy. If things work out perfectly you can use a minus ability that leaves the planeswalker at a perfect 0, which will mean a huge swing in the game even if your opponent can untap and kill Silumgar immediately. Imagine getting to ultimate a planeswalker! This was always a major strength of Zealous Conscripts and I believe Silumgar will shine in this way as well.
Silumgar scores a 7/10
So that’s a total of 30 points out of a possible 40. I also think he has his strengths in the right category, with an enormous possible upside and the ability to turn a game in your favor almost regardless of the board state.
As a fun exercise, choose your favorite bomb creature, assign it a value on these four categories, and see how it matches up against my Dragonlord! Post your ratings in the comments.