Throughout Magic’s history, there has been no shortage of powerful creatures printed with the 1G casting cost. Tarmogoyf is one of the best creatures ever printed, and we’ve seen cards like Sylvan Advocate do some serious work in recent iterations of Standard. So how does this card stack up?
A 2/3 for 2 provides reasonable stats, but it’s certainly not exciting. Like Sylvan Advocate, you’re going to need more. Again, like the Advocate, Thorn Lieutenant also gets much better once you have access to 6 mana. Unlike Sylvan Advocate, I’m not a fan of this card.
With 6 mana available, the Lieutenant threatens to attack for 6. This is not a small amount of damage and it hits harder than a Sylvan Advocate could. But it goes further than that once you get beyond the surface.
Sylvan Advocate doesn’t require any additional mana investment. Sure, just the threat of attacking with a Lieutenant puts the opponent in a position where they can’t really block with 6/6 or smaller creatures, but what happens when they then choose not to block? You’re only dealing 2, or you’re forced to invest all of your mana. This is even more pronounced when factoring in multiple copies of either of your green 2-drops. Attacking with a pair of Advocates and 6 lands means that you’re hitting for 8 without investing any additional mana. It also doesn’t leave your opponent with potentially great blocks as a pair of 3/3 creatures means that you’d be trading a single Lieutenant and spending 6 mana for 0 damage and a 3/3. Not a great exchange.
You’re also losing vigilance. A 4/5 creature on defense is huge and a real problem for most creatures in Standard to attack into. A 2/3 is fine in the early turns, but you’re really just trading for Scrapheap Scrounger a large percentage of the time. Leaving up 6 mana to play defense happens from time to time, but it’s rarely a winning game plan and not where you will often want to be.
So we’ve established that Thorn Lieutenant isn’t as powerful as Sylvan Advocate, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very good card. There’s also another ability here at play that the Advocate doesn’t have. If your Lieutenant is targeted by a spell or ability of the opponent, you get a 1/1 for free. That’s card advantage!
Or is it?
Yes, a free 1/1 is an advantage, but trying to claim that this is a potential 2-for-1 against a removal spell is a stretch to me. While you’re technically getting extra material, a 1/1 token is pretty far short of a card. I know that I never felt like I resolved Divination when I cast an Aviation Pioneer, and I don’t feel that here. If I’m trading 2 mana and a card for my opponent’s 1-mana Fatal Push and end up with a 1/1, I feel okay about it, but this isn’t some massive advantage.
Thorn Lieutenant is a good card. I don’t write this column to try to convince you otherwise. It’s a fine curve filler and it does provide a useful late game mana sink. But for me, it’s not currently worth a slot in my 60 card decks. When things get powered down a bit after the rotation, I may be forced to reevaluate my stance on the Lieutenant. As for now, I’m not a believer.