This is the first card that I saw from Dragon’s Maze that I really wanted to play with, and pros were divided on its quality. During Gatecrash spoiler season, I talked on Twitter about [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card]. Kai Budde was skeptical at the time that this was a Standard playable card, and I discuss this now in order to get in a petty “I told you so” to the best player ever. The reality is I’ve been wrong, you’ve been wrong, everybody has hits and misses in spoiler season. I like to pick a card people disagree on and make my case.
Regarding Turn // Burn, I was surprised to see pros saying the card is nothing special. Evan Erwin remarked that the card was Tier 1 Constructed playable on Twitter (okay, that’s one strike against it, but let’s keep going). Owen Turtenwald responded as follows:
Owen makes a fundamental mistake we all can learn from in evaluating this card and many like it. “[card]Murder[/card] for 5 isn’t great, [card]Shock[/card] for 2 isn’t great, therefore the option to Murder for 5 or Shock for 2 isn’t that great,” is deeply flawed logic. For one thing, an option is worth something. You don’t need to know Black-Scholes to realize that “A or B” gives you more flexibility and thus more utility than “just A” or “just B.”
Paul Rietzl is very fond (more than I am) of talking about a card’s “floor” and its “ceiling.” This is sometimes really helpful. When we think about “Murder for 5 // Shock for 2” and why it’s so much better than either half, think of the floor and ceiling of the various cards.
The floor of Murder for 5 is really low, since it costs more mana than you often have, more than you want to spend to kill a smaller creature, and even the effect isn’t that special in many matchups. The ceiling is pretty high, however, since sometimes Olivia (be careful with her though, see below where I discuss +1/+1 counters) or [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] or the Beast-du-jour must die. Shock for 2 has a higher floor since you can always go to the dome and never have to invest more than 2 mana, but the ceiling is also lower. The aforementioned Olivias and Angels will laugh you off if all you have is Shock.
The floor and ceiling of the split version of Murder for 5 // Shock for 2 are both improved. Cards with modes or splits experience a higher floor (you get to select the higher among them every time you draw it) and also a higher ceiling (same reason). All of this discussion about Murder for 5 // Shock for 2 might have already left this fact burning in your mind:
The Card is Actually Far Better than Murder for 5 // Shock for 2
Owen summarized the card but left out several modes. [card]Humble[/card] for 3. Humble This, Shock That for 5. Murder for 5—but Oh Yeah Your Creature Loses Its Abilities. These are really important modes. If you’ve played the Charms—any Charms—you know that even a seemingly narrow mode can be hugely useful as “thrown-in” optionality, raising your floor and your potential ceiling for when the card can be useful.
Humble for 3
Humble for 3 seems often overlooked when you first read this card, but think about that as, “Destroy target attacking creature (regardless of its abilities like flying, though indestructible will remain sometimes, see below) it triggers nothing when it dies, as long as you have basically anything to block with.” You will be attacked by Thragtusk, attacked by Angel of Whatever, attacked by an 8/8 Wolf—you name it. If you’ve got even a lowly 1/1 creature to block, you could try to kill one of these monsters for only 2U. Sounds like a valuable mode to me.
The Falkenrath Aristocrat problem.
700.4a Although the text “[This permanent] is indestructible” is an ability, actually being indestructible is neither an ability nor a characteristic. It’s just something that’s true about a permanent.
If I understand the rule correctly, Turn isn’t that helpful vs. [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] or [card]Frontline Medic[/card] (since you’ll likely have to wait until it attacks to “get them,” the trigger will already be on the stack). When a creature has indestructible, that fact alone is not an ability.
If an ability says, “[Cardname] is indestructible,” that is an ability that can be removed, like on the new card Tajic, Blade of the Legion. This seems confusing so I encourage you to crack open an FAQ about indestructible and figure out why the difference in treatment, or just take my word for it.
Not knowing how shrinking works with +1/+1 counters is another trap to avoid. The size of the base will shrink, but the counters will remain and apply their bonus, so beware. A great answer to [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] this is not, though sometimes you’ll be able to sneak in Burn on turn 2.
Humble This, Shock That for 5
Along similar lines to “Turn it and block it,” if you have that blocker, you can Turn and block and if you’ve got 2 extra mana lying around you can Shock something else, the opponent, or one of her small creatures. Picking off an [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] alongside a [card]Thragtusk[/card], or a [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] alongside the [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card] you’re turning could be a huge bonus in a tight game.
Murder for 5 but Oh Yeah Your Creature Loses Its Abilities
In an alternate universe where every creature didn’t have an awesome ability, removing abilities from creatures would be a nice bonus. In the world we live in, it’s a critical upside we need to discuss. Leaves-the-battlefield triggers like the Thragtusks or the Angel of Serenitys we’ve already mentioned. Already spoiled in Dragon’s Maze is an indestructible creature, and who knows what’s to come in future sets. Angel of Serenity and Thragtusk were both problems for a UWR deck, or any control deck really. Now, if you have access to red and blue mana, you have access to a great but still flexible answer.
The Total Value of All These Options
Now that we’ve parsed all the various modes of this card, we can roll them back up and be confident in adding this card to our deck.
Another way “Murder for 5” is underrepresenting what this card really does is that, well, Murder is hard to cast in a blue-red deck. Only the Grixis deck or some wilder mana base will actually be choosing between Murder and Turn // Burn. The more likely competitors with Turn // Burn are stuff like [card]Searing Spear[/card], [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], [card]Electrickery[/card], etc. And if you need to kill fatties too, not just weenies, not much stacks up well against Turn // Burn.
For blue-red mages in Standard for the next couple years, I expect plenty of Turning and/or Burning to be keeping them out of trouble.