The place: Nashville
It was the final round of day one at Grand Prix–Nashville. The tenth round. Sitting across from me was one Osyp Lebedowicz.
However, when I drew a Slice in Twain to free my Steel Hellkite I started feeling pretty good about my chances. I attacked in with my 5/5 flyer and it ate one of Osyp's smaller creatures. A couple more turns and Osyp would surely be dead.
I was out of evasion creatures at this point, but I did have a Galvanic Blast (with metalcraft). So, I attacked with all of my remaining creatures into Osyp's board of Sunblast Angel and Clone Shell—hoping to trade one of my creatures and my Galvanic Blast for his 4/5 flyer.
But that was not to be. Osyp blocked my largest creature with his Clone Shell and then let the rest of the damage through.
A Shell Game
Let's start our tour through the imprint cards in Scars of Mirrodin by taking a closer look at Clone Shell!
There are, of course, times when Clone Shell is absolutely devastating. When you flip up that Glimmerpoint Stag to remove your Sunblast Angel from the game after your opponent attacked with every one of his creatures, then you are going to feel pretty good.
If I'm spending five mana on a card, I want something that is likely to have a very large impact on the game.
Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to playing a Clone Shell, but I am rarely happy to do so.
The exceptions are when I have a number of awesome creatures, like Skinrender and Myr Battlesphere. Also, in a Furnace Celebration deck where I have a number of sacrifice outlets like Dross Hopper and Ferrovore.
But even in decks where Clone Shell is at its best, there will still be plenty of times where it's just a total dud.
Given that Clone Shell tends to be worse than many of the other five-drops in the format, and that it usually isn't that hard to get your fill of five-drops, I will never spend an early pick on Clone Shell. If I end up picking one up late, and I don't have any other good options, then I will play it—but that's pretty much the extent of my love for Clone Shell.
Like a Vat out of Hell
When I first saw Mimic Vat I didn't know what to make of it.
But wouldn't there be times where your opponent just orchestrates the game in such a way that the best creatures don't hit the graveyard?
Well, it turns out that Mimic Vat is really, really, good.
You only have to invest a single card and a few mana to get a card that can seriously cramp your opponent's style through much of the game, while simultaneously providing you with a win condition.
I have no problem first-picking a Mimic Vat, and will actively include it in any deck.
Prototype Portal has gotten very mixed reviews. I know some players who absolutely swear by it and will first-pick it over all but the best cards in the set. I know other people who won't even play it unless they are struggling for cards.
Or, a bit more mildly, you could imprint something like a Saberclaw Golem and over the course of a few turns develop an army that your opponent simply cannot deal with.
In games that go really, really long, imprinting some sort of large threat and pumping out copies turn after turn will surely lead to some wins. But in games that don't seem slated to go all that long, you actually want to imprint something fairly cheap on your Prototype Portal.
If you play a Prototype Portal and imprint your Saberclaw Golem on it on turn four, and your opponent is ready with a Shatter, you are going to be aching. Not only did you spend four mana to cast the Prototype Portal (that met its end before it could do anything of significance), but your Saberclaw Golem will also be gone for good.
And even if your opponent doesn't have a way to deal with your Prototype Portal when you cast it (or chooses not to deal with it because he or she is expecting to beat you quickly), if you imprint a Saberclaw Golem, you are going to need to spend a total of fourteen mana. This effectively uses up the entirety of your fourth, fifth and sixth turns before you've gotten an advantage in cards—and that's to say nothing about how far behind you are on time after having spent those critical turns just trying to pump out Saberclaw Golems.
If your opponent has anything even remotely resembling an aggressive start and is ready with a Galvanic Blast, then you are probably going to be dead (or at least on life support) before you get the chance to activate your Prototype Portal a third time.
So let's look at some of the cheaper options that you can imprint on Prototype Portal.
A mana Myr won't do much for you on a Portal, nor will (most) pieces of Equipment because it would require you to invest so much time before anything relevant happened (though I could see some silly things happening if you start pumping out copies of Sylvok Lifestaff ... ).
A Perilous Myr is an excellent card to imprint on a Prototype Portal. Sylvok Replica and Rust Tick both go nicely with the copy-generating artifact. And even Wall of Tanglecord can be a pretty great card to duplicate time and time again. I mean, a board full of 0/6 creatures that can gain reach is pretty tough to get past.
Especially when you are able to play spells pretty much as normal.
So while I wouldn't first-pick a Prototype Portal out of anything other than a weak pack, it's a card that I'm happy to play and will definitely adjust a number of my picks to make work.
I'm not usually the biggest fan of Equipment, especially slower pieces of Equipment, but Strata Scythe is pretty hot.
A single hit with a Strata Scythe equipped creature can be pretty painful. If your opponent doesn't have any removal / Tumble Magnets on hand—allowing you to get in multiple hits with Strata Scythe equipped creatures, then you are probably going to walk away with a win.
While I wouldn't want to take Strata Scythe over something as good as Arc Trail, I would consider taking it over a very good but colored card like Arrest or Galvanic Blast in the first pack. And I would definitely take it over something like Plague Stinger that requires you to draft a specific type of deck to utilize it.
In packs two or three, I would take bombs and on-colored removal spells like Galvanic Blast or Grasp of Darkness over Strata Scythe, but that's about it (unless my deck is already kind of slow—then I might need to take mana Myr and Perilous Myr instead, in order to speed my deck up a bit).
There are certainly plenty of opportunities to do nutty things with a card like Semblance Anvil in Constructed. There you can choose the perfect set of sixty cards to abuse the ability to cast deeply discounted spells. You just can't do that in Limited.
The opportunities just aren't there for you to combo off with Semblance Anvil (and even if you do find some sort of convoluted loop that you can win with, it's almost certainly going to be incredibly fragile and require you to draw a LOT of specific pieces).
So pretty much the only way that you can put Semblance Anvil to use in Limited is as a form of acceleration. But, unless your deck is made of pretty much nothing but threats that cost six or more mana to cast (and even then ... ), you will be better off putting that Semblance Anvil in your trade binder rather than in your draft deck.