Scourge Pre-Overview

Feature Article from Jay Schneider
Jay Schneider
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Greetings All,

With each Magic expansion I usually write an overview, analyzing the rares in the set. This is designed as a trading guide and as a starting point for considering Constructed deck design. This set will be no exception; Unlike previous expansions I will not be providing the trading guide before the pre-release but in the week following the pre-release.

This article is a Pre-Overview article discussing the cards that have been officially announced, the officially announced mechanics and a description of what I look for based on these mechanics and what I’m looking for when I review the set. This article discusses strategies which can be used to identify cards that will be of long-term value and thus trade successfully at the pre-release. The second article will be my standard Scourge Overview to be published sometime next week.

So don’t expect to see any discussion of any cards not officially presented by Wizards. This includes talking around a card without mentioning its name or similar. Don’t even expect me to have subtle innuendo about my being stifled at mentioning the most powerful card in the set. Expect to see the full overview and card value predictions next week.

Of course, it's hard to tell how accurate any reviewer’s comments/valuations are. The best guide I can provide are my previous results. The most recent of which (Legions) can be found here. See the Brainburst feature archives for other set overviews.

To determine the trade value of a card there are three factors to be considered. The first and most important factor is a cards tournament value. A rare that sees play in many Constructed decks and many Constructed formats will maintain a high trade value, for example – pain lands. The second factor to consider is a cards “coolness” factor. Cards that have unique abilities, especially those which also go in a tournament deck will also have a high value, for example – Upheaval. Lastly, there are the Timmy Cards. Cards that are just super sized will hold a high trade value and they’ll be even higher if they have a unique ability, for example – Reya Dawnbringer.

To start the analysis let’s look at the new mechanics and how the apply to a cards trade value. The first mechanic is 0 mana unmorphing. This mechanic was presented in the card Zombie Cutthroat a creature that Morphs into a 3/4 with the payment of 5 life. The Wizards design team has a great deal of room to work in non-mana based unmorphed costs. A life payment of even 10 life, discard costs, sacrifices all aren’t ruinous if the card does something. It is important to note that the non-mana unmorph cards are playable in decks of any color, not just the color of decks that can “hard cast” the creature.

A lack of creature that do something has been the issue with all the morph creatures so far with the exception of Exalted Angel and Blistering Firecat and accordingly has kept their values low. Morph doesn’t add much to the value of a creature in constructed play, in and of itself it doesn’t make a creature unique, and having Morph doesn’t make a creature large. So just having Morph and a weird unmorph cost doesn’t make a card Constructed caliber or valuable. The underlying card has to be quality and be worth the total cost.

So back to our example the Zombie Cutthroat he’s a 3/4 Black creature for 3 colorless and 5 life. A fine Limited card but is it Constructed quality? Not likely. As a 3/3 with a 3 life payment we have the Serpent Warrior a card that has seen almost no Constructed play. The extra point of toughness is nice against Red but Red is the color you can least afford the 5 life payment. Interestingly the most likely constructed use for the Cutthroat is a Sligh deck; it more than makes the mana curve and Sligh decks readily accept life cost payments.

In summary to evaluate the trade value of 0 mana unmorphing creatures look to the total cost paid (keeping in mind it is colorless mana), assuming you just cast it and immediately unmorphed it. Consider if this cost justifies the creature in any constructed decks (Extended, Block or Type II), if this creature provides a unique game effect, or if the creature is just sufficiently large to appeal to Timmy.

Now let’s look at the next ability Land Cycling. We have been presented with Noble Templar a 5W, 3/6 creature with Plainscycling: 2 as a demonstration of this ability. Now Cycling is a great ability for an expensive creature to have and Land Cycling should be considered an even better ability. Land Cycling on large Creature is superior to traditional Cycling as it will find you what you’re most likely hunting for when Cycling a fatty – that is land. Sure there are times that cards are Cycled in desperation to find a Wrath or similar spell but those are the unusual case as opposed to the norm.

Land Cycling is also an extremely powerful ability for deck designers. Land Cycling allows a deck to be designed with less mana in a splash color and the replacement of excess mana in the Splash color with Land Cycling spells. These spells are intended primarily as a Land Cycling spell and secondarily as the main spell on the card. Compare this to splash cards with minor primary abilities & Cycling. Very few (if any) serious constructed decks include these spells (Slide is a weird exception.) Expect non-green decks that splash a color or several colors to use Land Cycling cards to improve the mana/color base of the deck, using these spells mostly for the Land Cycling ability. This does assumes colorless Land Cycling costs. Land Cycling losses it’s ability to augmenting a the color manabase if the Land Cycling Spell requires colored mana.

In addition to the strong advantages to colorless Land Cycling, Land Cycling must be inexpensive. Land cycling: 4 is almost useless. Land Cycling: 3 isn’t that exciting either as it adds risk of mana screw when keeping a 2 land & Land Cycling spell hand. Land Cycling: 2 is very good and will help alleviate poor mana draws with a high degree of certainty and Land Cycling: 1, if it exists, would be a superb card and would make the card suitable for inclusion in constructed play exclusively on the basis of its land cycling.

So back to the example card Noble Templar. Will he see Constructed play? I hope not but mostly because I expect there will be better Land Cycling spells. In the case of the Noble Templar the Land Cycling alone is almost good enough to make him playable assuming you wanted to splash white. However, White is low on the list of splash colors in Constructed and as a creature the Templar is incredibly unexciting.

The “excitement” level of a creature with any sort of Cycling ability is very important to determining value. A large creature with evasion, even one as overcosted as the Primoc Escapee saw play in some block Reanimation decks, similarly the Scion of Darkness is also valuable because he is a unique creature with Cycling. However the Slipstream Eel being entirely unexciting never saw any play in these decks.

So when analyzing Land Cycling spells for trade value first look at the mana cost of Land Cycling. If it’s 1 or 2 mana the Land Cycling is a strong advantage to the spell. At this point look at the cards primary spell, ignoring the spells casting cost. If the primary spell is at all interesting then it’s likely a very strong spell. The more interesting/powerful the spells effect the more valuable the card will be.

Continuing with Cycling abilities there are the cards with powerful Cycling triggered abilities (triggered abilities are templated with the term “When”). These spells are very powerful as triggered abilities are unique in that they are uncounterable by any card currently in Magic; as a matter of fact many spells in the past have been designed under the assumption that triggered abilities are uncounterable. We have been presented with the card Decree of Justice a spell which has two uses. The first is pay XX2WW, Put X 4/4 white Angel creature tokens with flying into play. The second is the Triggered ability which triggers after paying the Cycling: 2W cost: When you cycle Decree of Justice, you may pay X. If you do, put X 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens into play.

To evaluate cards with massive Cycling effects look at the primary spell and the Cycling Triggered effect independently. If either of these spells alone are powerful, interesting or results in an extremely large creature then the spell will have a high trade value. Note that large numbers of creatures don’t seem to increase the “Timmy” premium on a card and Tokens seem to hold a far lesser appeal to Timmy value.

To learn from prior examples consider previous cards with Triggered Cycling abilities. Solar Blast is an example of a spell with no Constructed value even though there was a deck that it seemed obvious for its inclusion (Slide). However, 3R mana for a Lightning Bolt is just too expensive for a Constructed quality cards. Likewise 1RR for Zap is also too expensive (although much closer.) Contrast this with Krosan Tusker, possibly the most successful Cycling non-land spell in the Onslaught/Legions. Krosan Tusker is a terrible creature being a 6/5 vanilla Beast for 7 mana. However it’s Cycling Triggered ability – draw a card and put a bonus basic land into your hand is an extremely powerful spell in its own right and giving Krosan Tusker it’s strong Constructed play value.

In the case of Decree of Justice, XX2WW to create X Angels just isn’t a spell of interest for Constructed, Uniqueness or Timmy. However, an instant speed uncounterable cantrip for 2WX that puts X 1/1 Solider tokens into play is unique and Constructed worthy. This effect of Decree of Justice is what it’s trade value should be based upon.

So in summary when evaluating the trade value on massive Cycling effect spells look to each effect individually. The cards value is equal to the value of the higher of the two effects – there is almost no additional trade value for the flexibility of two mediocre related effects.

The last mechanic and the most hyped on for Scourge is Storm. Storm reads: Storm (When you play this spell, copy it for each spell played before it this turn.)

As an example card we are provided Hunting Pack. Hunting Pack reads:
5GG Instant Put a 4/4 green Beast Creature Token into play. Storm.

Storm is a really powerful Mechanic and should be evaluated at if they were really two different types of spells. One type includes all the sorcery Storm spells and can be termed self-storm spells. Self-storm spells are intended to be Stormed with other spells the self-storm caster casts. The other type are the instant Storm spells and can be termed opponent-storm spells (which can also be used as self-storm) Opponent-storm spells are intended to be Stormed off of spells your opponent casts.

There is clearly a huge advantage to spells that can operate in either mode. Self-storm spells are also very mana dependant and a low casting cost is crucial for a Storm spell to be used effectively. Otherwise it will be difficult to cast other spells on the same turn as the self-storm spell. However, this need for low casting cost isn’t limited to self-storm spells. Opponent-storm spells also need a casting cost of no more than 5 to be effective. This is because the turns in which the highest number of spells are cast are turns 3-5 (ignoring a combo deck going off or other equally fatal circumstances.) After turn 5 players rarely cast more than 1 or 2 spells in a turn.

Granted you can try and “work” a deck to augment high casting cost Storm spells. These may even be effective uses of a specific Storm card. However, this will be a narrow use for the cards and such a use will occur in a relatively small number deck designs and thus keep the card value down. These decks will also require Storm spells with very powerful effects.

So looking at our example Storm spell of Hunting Pack. It’s an Opponent-storm spell and that’s an immediate plus. However, it’s 7 mana. That means it will likely provide 2 4/4’s and maybe 3 if you’re lucky. Not too powerful for a card that will be dead weight in the hand for most of the game. Also, it’s not a unique effect (how many ways are there to put 2 or 3 4/4 tokens into play from Green?) Lastly, it’s not giant creature so Timmy won’t be attracted to it.

So to evaluate a Storm spell for trade value first consider which type of Storm spell is being considered. Opponent-storm spells are a lot better than self-storm. Then consider the spells casting cost. If it’s 5 or less perk up. These spells can be significantly underpowered/overcosted and still good. You’re likely to be able to get 3 or more forks off of a single casting. I’d use 3 copies as a rule of thumb to consider the power level of a 5cc or less Storm spells. At more than five mana make sure your convinced the spell is very worthwhile with a single forking. If so then consider it to have some value.

Since that is finished let’s examine: The best rare from what we know.
From the officially release cards probably so far it’s Mischievous Quanar. Certainly a chase rare and a staple for every combo deck to come out of Scourge. In short it’s like a discount Mirari.

Also, in the chase rare category will be Goblin Warchief. Forgotten Ancient is also a chase rare based on his interesting/unique ability and his origins.

More details to follow in the full Scourge Overview next week.

Good luck at the Pre-release!

- Jay Schneider

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