Spoiler season is well under way, and so far Snapcaster Mage is the one card that pundits have universally chosen to be a major player in both Legacy and Vintage. The reasoning makes sense, as those formats have the power level, and depth of card versatility, to abuse Tiago Chan’s invitational card.
Whenever I see a new card, I try and make a case for it being unplayable to myself, and if the card wins the argument then I know I’ve found a winner. Sometimes this leads me to underestimate what will become a format staple, like [card]Mental Misstep[/card], and other times it allows me to get a jump on the format, like with [card]Vengevine[/card]. Snapcaster Mage has very few faults, the most egregious of which is that it reminds me of [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], which never made a splash in Legacy. This is a format where you simply do not have time to durdle, and if [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] whiffs you will probably lose. Snapcaster, if properly built around, will never whiff.
Another card that comes to mind is [card]Eternal Witness[/card]. I’ve been a fan of the green shaman in Legacy for a while, but I have to admit it has only seen niche play. Still, costing one less, having flash, and being pitchable to [card]Force of Will[/card] more than makes up for the inability to get back dead creatures and spent fetches.
Recently, Patrick Chapin compared Snapcaster Mage to [card]Silvergill Adept[/card], claiming that Snapcaster has all of the value of Silvergill but none of the drawback. While interesting, I found his argument misleading, as it’s impossible to properly assess a merfolk without its tribe. Silvergill can be a 2/1 for one and a blue that draws a card, but often it’s a 4/3 island walker that draws a card and taps or untaps a permanent when it comes into play. Much of the time it has flash as well, as Folk definitely plays a full set of [card]Aether Vial[/card]s. I admit that Snapcaster looks snap-tastic, but I’ll have to see some convincing evidence before I believe that it’s better than [card]Silvergill Adept[/card], which has almost single-handedly made Folk worth playing through a variety of metagame shifts.
Snapcaster Mage is harder to build around than first glance indicates. Most decks that appreciate a 2/1 body require a certain number of creatures to be effective. An [card]Aether Vial[/card] or [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] deck will be able to drop and take advantage of a two mana dork the easiest, as well as pay the extra mana for a flashback. However, since they can only fit in so many spells, the Snapcaster will use a lot of potential. Sure, the blue Innistrad rare can still reliably flash something back, but it won’t have many options.
The best support card for Snapcaster is probably [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. Any deck playing Bob already appreciates the 2/1 body attached, and he fits best in decks that draw piles of sweet spells. Let’s see a sample list, eh?[deck]4 Dark Confidant
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Hymn to Tourach
4 Mental Misstep
2 Ghastly Demise
1 Go for the Throat
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Polluted Delta
3 Misty Rainforest
4 Force of Will
2 Pernicious Deed
1 Nature’s Claim
2 Diabolic Edict
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Spell Pierce[/deck]
Now, it’s possible that this deck is trying to do too much. That said, it incorporates the Snapcaster Mage well, and has a very low average converted mana cost for [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. Since the mage gets a second use out of a card, drawing one of a variety of key cards is better than drawing multiples of one or two, leading to a decklist full of three ofs. This contrasts with the typical string of four-ofs that constitutes most Team America lists. [card]Darkblast[/card] in particular is sweet at filling up the yard with spells for Snapcaster and the miser [card]Tombstalker[/card], and the card itself is great in a metagame full of [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]s.
Speaking of [card]Tombstalker[/card], if casting it correctly with [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in mind was tough, Snapcaster should be a complete headache. Fortunately, the deck is designed to fill the graveyard, so having creatures that take advantage of that in multiple ways (utility, beef) is sound, and if I didn‘t have four [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s there then I might be tempted to make room for a second [card]Tombstalker[/card].
A few of the less conventional card choices developed over a conversation with Team America expert David Gleicher. He has been thinking about cutting a [card]Wasteland[/card] to the board ever since his top eight at Legacy champs, dropping to a scant nineteen lands, since it doesn’t provide valuable colored mana and is borderline dead in some matchups. This agrees with the typical Legacy player mentality of cutting a “crappy” land for a “sweet” spell, but [card]Wasteland[/card] is mostly a spell in this deck anyway. In contrast, Gerry Thompson is also good with the BUG colors, and his most recent list has twenty two lands. However, he also runs the mana-hungry [card]Pernicious Deed[/card] in his maindeck and eschews the mana-fixing [card]Ponder[/card] for the game-breaking [card]Ancestral Vision[/card].
What’s more important than the land count is the colored mana producers and requirements. The above list has less black requirements than usual and features seventeen colored sources, in comparison to Gleicher’s sixteen and Gerry’s eighteen. It lacks Gleicher’s [card]Wasteland[/card] protection in the form of [card]Stifle[/card], however, and I could see a [card]Stifle[/card] build being more powerful against the current field. If Stifling a turn one fetch acts as a [card]Time Walk[/card], flashing it back with Snapcaster on turn three could be similarly brutal.
Another unorthodox choice is the sideboarding of [card]Force of Will[/card]. The blue instant is still a Legacy staple, and the glue that keeps broken decks from making it a turn one or two format. However, it has been getting worse, as the card is ill positioned against Hymn, [card]Aether Vial[/card], and most [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] decks while [card]Mental Misstep[/card] has been taking over the role of protecting [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] from [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card]. That said, I’m still not completely sure the card should be cut from this archetype, ever, and I would love to hear people’s opinions in the forums.
A Snap Decision
There is a strong discussion going on over at the source over whether or not Mental Misstep should, or will get banned. You can look it up here.
Pre Snapcaster Mage, I don’t think [card]Mental Misstep[/card] is worth banning. The format is slowing down, and all major archetypes are viable, even if some sub archetypes are taking a hit. To me, that’s a sign that Magic in general is healthy. While it’s good for most core staples to retain value, all decks cannot remain viable forever. I have to play a lot of this game to make a living, and the only time it feels like work is when I have to grind ten rounds in a stagnant metagame. The fact that [card]Mental Misstep[/card] shook things up shows that the folks at Wizards are doing a good job at keeping us deck builders on our toes. Currently, I’m not running the card, but I’d still give myself good odds to cash any given Legacy event.
That’s what I thought about Survival, too, before it got banned. At the time, I thought that deck builders weren’t working hard enough, and I was going to prove it to the world with a Painter list I’d worked on with Lewis Laskin, but never got the chance to play it in that field. Now I’m in the same boat with an updated GB Veteran Explorer deck, and here Snapcaster Mage comes to turn [card]Mental Misstep[/card] from good to completely bonkers.
Imagine being on the draw when your opponent [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s your two drop, [card]Mental Misstep[/card]s your one drop, then Snapcaster Mages back Misstep on turn two to hit your other one drop. I think we all agree [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] would be too good at two mana, but when combined with [card]Mental Misstep[/card] Snapcaster Mage can be better. In general, Wizards does a bang up job of watching the power level of free spells, but I do wonder what they assumed the metagame would look like with both of these cards legal.
Could I be mistaken? Sure, I have been before. Do I think [card]Mental Misstep[/card] should be banned anyway? Yes, but considered for unbanning constantly depending on the playability and future legality of Snapcaster Mage. Who knows, maybe the blue valuevore won’t become a fifty dollar card, and we can all have a pleasant few months or two until we find another something else to whine about.
Mimimi if you like complaining! Mimimimimimimimimimimimimimi…
Will the last invitational card see play in Modern? You bet. Many of the premier Legacy staples are legal here as well and [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Ponder[/card], and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] will be flashed back alongside more Modern-centric cards like [card]Remand[/card], [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and Boom/Bust.
The following is my way of attacking the current metagame:
UW Haterade[deck]4 Leonin Arbiter
4 Aven Mindcensor
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Gideon Jura
2 Day of Judgment
4 Path to Exile
1 Serum Visions
4 Rune Snag
2 Spell Pierce
4 Ghost Quarter
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Celestial Colonnade
1 Blinkmoth Nexus
3 Rule of Law
1 Sower of Temptation
2 Spreading Seas
2 Timely Reinforcements
At first glance, the deck looks like it has a lot of problems. Why would I want a pile of squishy white creatures against zoo? Who wants to cast [card]Path to Exile[/card] in a field full of ramp decks? What does [card]Spellskite[/card] even do in this format?
And I thought you’d never ask! The [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s and [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card]s are great against the ramp decks, but seemingly lackluster against the rest of the field. To reconcile this, the deck runs quad [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], which facilitate a huge value gain by upgrading into a better [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] and an actual [card]Strip Mine[/card] with a white hater on the board. Meanwhile, an Arbiter can wear a sword and beat down like any other dork, and the Aven even has evasion.[card]Spellskite[/card] gains a lot of value from the Grand Prix results. Now [card]Blazing Shoal[/card] and [card]Splinter Twin[/card] are premier avenues of victory, and against the rest of the field [card]Spellskite[/card] can protect the softer creatures from [card]Punishing Fire[/card]s and other removal. I can’t wait to cast a [card]Sower of Temptation[/card] with a [card]Spellskite[/card] on board.
Each element of the metagame is addressed in its own way. The plan against ramp is to land a few hate creatures and hinder their mana development, ideally while hitting them with a sword. Against [card]Blazing Shoal[/card] poison and [card]Splinter Twin[/card], you want to either land a [card]Spellskite[/card] or resolve an instant speed removal spell through a wall of counters. [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card] and Storm decks are cold to a [card]Rule of Law[/card], so sticking one post board is of utmost importance. Finally, there is a pile of sweet removal spells for the aggro decks. Snapcaster Mage isn’t dead against any archetype, but rather adds redundancy to the relevant removal and cantrips. I can’t wait to watch a grown man cry after Snapcasting back a [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] against his burn-heavy Zoo deck.
I’m sure the numbers aren’t perfect. How could they be in this fresh, complicated format? Despite that, the list has enough technology to be worth sharing, and perhaps some variant of it could be a format mainstay. A few of the card quantities are non-intuitive for a reason. [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] is a miser because the format is so fast, and the times you can afford your lands to come into play tapped are few. The deck doesn’t run [card]Mystic Gate[/card] because it doesn’t play a cantrip or [card]Oust[/card] on turn one and I wanted at least a few basics in case the opponent resolves a [card]Blood Moon[/card]. [card]Serum Visions[/card] gets the nod over [card]Ponder[/card] due to the lack of shuffle effects, and I could see cutting an [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] or the [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] for a second copy. A side benefit of not running any shuffle effects is that there isn’t anything to reset the scry, so bottoming a land is functionally similar to thinning it from the deck.
There are a few notable absentees from the list. [card]Bribery[/card] out of the board has become the standard for blue decks that want to steal an [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card], but they, like fetches, conflict with the maindeck [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card]s, of which I hope to draw multiples of against the ramp decks. Besides, sometimes the opponent just [card]Brooding Saurian[/card]s his flying spaghetti monster back and thanks you for doing his work for him.
It’s strange to see a tempo deck that doesn’t start with four [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s, and I do want to flash that one back with a Snapcaster Mage, but the format is too fast for a four mana counterspell. Perhaps I’m wrong. Tapping down an Emrakul in the opponent’s extra turn and then killing it with a [card]Gideon Jura[/card] does have a saucy taste to it.
I had a miser [card]Sun Titan[/card] in there for a while. Taking two burn spells to kill, establishing a [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] lock, and rebuying the appropriate hate bears was big game. However, when Snapcaster Mage was spoiled I replaced [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] with [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], and I wasn’t excited about bringing any of the other targets back against Zoo. Plus, the format has no control deck at the moment, and reaching the late game means you’re probably already winning. That said, rebuying Snapcaster Mage makes me want to pitch a tent on [card]Sun Titan[/card] island and never go home, so hopefully I’ll have time to come to terms with that fantasy over the next Standard season.
That’s all for this week. Feel free to contact me in the forums or at [email protected] In order to address the hecklers and feed the trolls, I’ll mention that I do have a gmail account, but it isn’t hooked up to anything relevant so I don’t check it often.
Also, feeling left out of the recent gossip, I finally broke down and made a twitter account. You can follow me there at CalebDMTG. I know what you’re thinking, as I thought of it too. Will the twitter servers be able to handle the hoards of magic groupies that rush to sign up? Probably not, but with this sort of important decision I could listen to the wise words of Spider Man’s uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility,” or follow the footsteps of Back to the Future’s Dr. Emmett Brown,
Marty McFly: “What about all that talk about screwing up future events, the space-time continuum?”
Dr. Brown: “Well, I figured, what the hell.”
Naturally, I chose the latter.