Today’s spoiler spotlight is about a card that I’ve seen surprisingly little talk about: Duskmantle Seer.
I think Duskmantle Seer is not receiving the attention it deserves because it gets compared, perhaps unfairly, to [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. First of all, it’s no shame to be worse than one of the best creatures of all time. Second, the cards are fundamentally different. [card]Dark Confidant[/card] is a card advantage engine placed on a small creature—Duskmantle Seer, well, just kills them.
Let’s look at the body—4/4 flier for four. We’re long past the time where this alone would have made it the best creature in the format (see [card]Conundrum Sphinx[/card], which has the same body and saw no play), but, as far as bodies go, it’s an acceptable one—particularly for this format. It survives [card]Searing Spear[/card], can’t be targeted by [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] or [card]Ultimate Price[/card], and beats every other four-costed flier (a.k.a. [card]Restoration Angel[/card]), which leads me to believe that it only needs a little incentive to see play.
Does it have that incentive? I believe it does. “But PV, the ability is symmetric, where’s the advantage?!” Sure, technically it is symmetric, but so are [card]Wrath of God[/card], [card]Armageddon[/card], and [card]Balance[/card]. The way to make use of this card is to make sure we can break the symmetry.
How do we do that? Well, having a 4/4 flier in play would be a start! Take, for example, a card like [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card]—it is symmetric, with the only advantage that it damages opponents first, but it’s still a very powerful card because you are playing a deck more likely to abuse the effect than your opponent is. What if [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] was a creature that could also attack? That would make it slightly more fragile, but would get you much better use of the symmetry. What if it was a creature that is hard to kill, hard to block, and hits for 4? Then it would be Duskmantle Seer (sort of, anyway).
Other than naturally breaking the symmetry by being a powerful flier, it also does that by drawing cards on your turn, not theirs. This means you get to play your spell before they do, which is a huge advantage. You also get to see what they have before making a choice, which is not irrelevant. And it helps in finding a use for whatever discard you may have, such as late [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisitions[/card].
Imagine a scenario where you have this and [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card], and they draw a card. If they just play it, they know that they’ll have to discard whatever it is that they draw with Seer (and you know if it’ll be an important enough card to discard). If they hold onto it, though, then they might end up drawing a land off Seer , wasting a turn for no reason.
The important thing to notice here is that you know you have Duskmantle Seer in your deck, so you can build around it, but your opponent does not. There are many decks that do not play [card]Dark Confidant[/card] when they theoretically could, because they’re not interested in this kind of effect. There are many decks against which you side out [card]Dark Confidant[/card], because it’s a liability.
If you can produce a deck against which people would side out [card]Dark Confidant[/card], and manage to play against a deck that would not even want [card]Dark Confidant[/card] to begin with, then that is where Duskmantle Seer reaches its peak.
This makes me think that we should not look at Duskmantle Seer as a Dimir card, but as a red card—just as we all know that [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] is actually blue. In red decks, you definitely want the symmetric damage, and you also welcome the symmetric card, because it does not matter how many cards they draw if they are dead, and ideally you’re drawing the burn to finish them off.
To give us some perspective, let’s take a look at the average converted mana cost of the decks that Top 8’d the last Standard GP:
Bant Hexproof – 1.16 (Ok, perhaps not the best example.)
Brad Nelson’s deck – 1.56
Esper – 1.7
Jund – 1.7/1.88
UWR – 1.3
Mono-Red – 1.35
From this, we can gather that we can do about 1.5 damage on average per turn. However, many of those decks have a high land count to balance their expensive spells—there are a lot of fours and fives—and they are not prepared to take this big a chunk of damage at once.
With [card]Dark Confidant[/card], you expect it to survive for many turns (hopefully), so the average damage is important. But this guy is a 4/4 flier that deals damage to everybody. He’s not going to stick around for many turns or the game is just going to end. If they draw a land, who cares? But if they take 5 damage, that might just lose them the game on the spot.
There are, however, certain downsides to Duskmantle Seer. The first is that, though it is a combo with discard, it is also a nombo in the sense that, if you’re discarding their hand, you really don’t want to give them more cards to work with—you’d rather they remain empty handed. I believe it mitigates this disadvantage enough (by drawing into more discard for you or just killing them), but it’s possible that it ends up not being the case.
The second is that there is a lot of life gain in this format. [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], and even [card]Azorius Charm[/card] are widely played, and it could put you in some trouble if you give those people a mechanism to exchange life for cards—which will give in turn give them more life, and so on.
If they reveal a [card]Thragtusk[/card] it’s not so bad, but if they already have a [card]Thragtusk[/card] and start revealing [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s, or if they reveal lands to fuel a gigantic [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], then you might be in trouble. Luckily, this guy does attack for a considerable amount of damage, so it’s not like they are going to combo off with life gain cards—if this stays around for very long and they don’t manage to race you, you will eventually win, but if they can draw a couple cards, get rid of this and then you remain unable to capitalize on the damage they took, that’s going to be bad.
The third problem is that Gatecrash introduces us to two very aggressive guilds—Boros and Gruul—and neither can reliably play Duskmantle Seer (or maybe they can?!). This is exactly the kind of deck that wants the effect, and against which you don’t want to take damage, so playing Duskmantle Seer against them could be a big disaster. If those decks become popular and are as fast as they seem to be, then Duskmantle Seer will not be a good card in the main deck.
So, in the end, where would I play him? My first instinct is to just throw this into a Rakdos deck and have it act as one of your big finishers. Whether it is better than the finishers we are already playing I don’t know—it’s different, it doesn’t have haste, but it has more reach and is perhaps harder to kill.
I assume it’s going to depend on what removal is played. If it’s Wraths, this guy is probably worse than what is already seeing play, but if it’s all [card searing spear]Spears[/card], [card ultimate price]Prices[/card], and [card]Tragic Slip[/card]s, Seer could be the choice.
If you play red, you maximize all of his abilities and have access to Skullcrack, which strongly mitigates one of his downsides—[card]Thragtusk[/card] is not so good a five-drop if you gain no life and they have a 4-powered flier.
The other option would be some sort of Izzet deck, splashing black—you could play [card delver of secrets]Delvers[/card] and [card snapcaster mage]Snapcasters[/card], then some Duskmantle Seers and maybe another creature or two and hope to burn people out every time. I’m sure you’d be at least somewhat successful.
I’m not guaranteeing that Duskmantle Seer will be played—it might not be—but it is certainly a good card, and I think people are dismissing it way too easily. If it does ever find a home, it could be as format-warping a card as [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] or [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], demanding specific answers and dictating everyone else’s deckbuilding.
See you soon,