I came back to the game in 2008 after a long hiatus. Shadowmoor and Eventide were out at the time, and I kind of hitched a ride with the tail end of those sets for my first foray back into Magic. Which meant of course that the first set I actually got to experience from the Prerelease forward was Shards of Alara. Looking back, Shards was perhaps a bit too complex of a set for me to jump back into, but I did so with no reservations and now look back at it with the fondness that only your first real set can carry.
I look at the game and the cards that make up the game much differently now than I did back then, which is why my preview cards for Modern Masters 2017 Edition are so exciting to me. I remember playing with all of them in both Limited and Constructed at various points, and they all made quite an impact.
Assuming you could cast them, of course.
For our previews this time around, we have five cards, all multicolor, all three mana, all uncommon, and all very cool.
Let's start with my favorite of the bunch, the wall of beef himself, Woolly Thoctar!
I just love this card. It's so simple, so sweet, so . . . beefy. I actually built a Standard deck when this card was out that featured Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Woolly Thoctar. Four mana, 8 power. Seems fair.
Look, it's a 5/4 for three mana. Yes, the mana symbols are all different, and no it's not easy to cast on turn three. But it's a 5/4. For three mana. 5 power. Three mana.
In Limited, assuming you were in the Naya colors (meaning red, green, and white), this guy was a big performer. If you lined everything up just right and were able to cast a Woolly Thoctar on turn three, you earned an immediate groan from your opponent. It's just difficult to kill while engaging in combat so readily.
The cool part about Woolly Thoctar is that even if you don't cast it right on turn three, it's still good. Heck, we would easily play this card on turn four and even turn five in some formats.
I've always loved this card for its simplicity. It's just good at what it does, and what it does is crush your opponent. The mana requirement is very real, but if you can support it, this is the type of card that can define a deck.
Our next card gives up a bit in the brute force area for what most would consider a more refined skill set:
Ah yes, the old pancake flipper. People actually called him that. The truth of the matter is that this card is absolutely rock solid. It's a good attacker, a great blocker, and difficult to kill. Lifelink combined with 3 power means that it's virtually impossible to race and is fantastic if you are connecting or leaving it back to block.
While it doesn't blow you away in any one category, it's hard to imagine being disappointed by our friend the Rhox War Monk. It shines particularly in grindy midrange-style matchups, where attacking and blocking are put on display rather than the relative lack of interaction we see in some other types of matchups.
The best thing about Rhox War Monk is that there really isn't a matchup where it's bad. If your opponent is aggressive, they are stopped cold in their tracks by this guy. If they are more controlling, it's still 3 power for just three mana, and with 4 toughness it requires specific removal spells to kill.
Rhox War Monk is the absolute definition of a great midrange card and will go in any deck capable of casting him.
I shudder at the very thought of the next one, Sprouting Thrinax:
It seems like such an unassuming Lizard at first glance. Heck, it looks worse than the other two creatures we've previewed here in many ways. Just a 3/3 for that mana cost? And I just get a bunch of 1/1s if it dies? What's so great about that?
This card was such a pain to get through. In Standard even. At a time when Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Cryptic Command; and a slew of other totally outrageous cards were legal, Sprouting Thrinax remained a staple in the Jund decks of the era.
It's a bit unassuming, but if you are trying to clog up the ground with blockers, this card does a fantastic job of doing just that. It's uncanny how good it is at its job. And look, it doesn't pack the same punch that either of the previous cards we have looked at does. It doesn't need to. It has grind on the mind. Your opponent just can't ever kill this thing, or it goes from being an okay blocker to an annoying hoard of 1/1 Saprolings.
If your opponent has any desire whatsoever to attack you on the ground, a Sprouting Thrinax will put those ideas to rest quite quickly.
The best part about it is that you don't have to care what happens to it at all. Throw it in front of an attacker as a trade, and you come out ahead. Let them use a removal spell on it; you're getting the two-for-one. Even find a way to sacrifice it for value and you'll be ahead there, too. It's all value, all the time with this guy.
This next one is much more straightforward than the three we've already seen:
It costs an additional mana, and it's strange seeing it now because it almost feels underpowered compared to the others, but don't let simplicity fool you: Tower Gargoyle is a very powerful card.
I like to talk about the Vanilla Test as a way to cross-section a creature's mana cost against its power and toughness. For creatures with evergreen abilities (like flying), we use the French Vanilla Test. How much mana does a 4/4 with flying cost usually?
These days, it's around six mana, sometimes (but rarely) five, assuming we are talking about non-rares, of course. So what's the big deal here? You are saving one mana or so off the regular price. It doesn't really sound like an amazing thing, but if you play a Tower Gargoyle on turn four, I assure you, it feels quite amazing.
It's nothing flashy, but it's huge, it blocks well, it attacks really well, and it's hard to ask for much more out of your non-rare card than this.
Also of note, though at this time I don't know how important it will be, is that Tower Gargoyle is an artifact. This was really important in Shards of Alara, as the Esper shard was highly artifact-centric, but we'll see how much of that carries over into Modern Masters 2017 Edition.
Last on the list is a rare from Shards of Alara, but an uncommon here, Sedraxis Specter:
Well, we've visited Naya, Bant, Esper, and Jund. Now it's time to visit the hellscape that is Grixis, and here to greet us is one of the better cards in a long and distinguished line of Specters.
Specters, starting with the original Hypnotic Specter, force your opponent to discard a card when they're dealt combat damage by the Specter. They also tend to fly, making this possibility much more real. Sedraxis Specter has all these abilities tied up in a nice little 3/2 attacker for just three (relatively hard to cast) mana.
Nice. This is a good card, certainly worthy of inclusion in any deck that can cast it. The really cool part about Sedraxis Specter is that it has unearth. This lets you get it back from the graveyard for just a turn, but it gets haste so it can attack again, and it's relatively cheap to activate at just 1B. Normally this would translate into some extra damage down the line, but with Sedraxis Specter, it also represents an additional card's worth of value.
The crazy part is that your opponent will know it's in your graveyard, which means they have to play around you deciding to unearth it and take their last card. It can be quite a game of cat and mouse if your opponent is out of cards, as they'll want to keep any lands they draw in hand in case you decide to unearth the Specter. Often, you'll just do it right away so you can nail a card before they can empty their hand.
That's it. Five Modern Masters 2017 Edition previews, lots of colors, lots of tricky mana costs, but ultimately some very sweet cards.
I still like the Thoctar. That is all.
Until next time!