Empty Vessels No Longer

Posted in Card Preview on March 23, 2016

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

In my last article, I wrote about my favorite Draft format, Innistrad. As you are probably aware, we're heading back to Innistrad to see what these shadows are all about—and, of course, to visit our old creepy friends while we are there.

This time around, we have a cycle of five cards to preview, and they are going to be interesting to navigate as we make our way through the bogs and swamps of card evaluation. The five cards we have here are kind of strange for Innistrad, as we normally think of Zombies and Werewolves and such for this plane. But the cards we have are all enchantments this time around.

Your first thought may be that Shadows over Innistrad has some kind of enchantment subtheme going on, but that is not the case. There are synergies to be had with our cycle today, though, synergies that we'll discuss as we get to know them.

Let's dive in to the vessels now.

First up we have Vessel of Ephemera:

Right away you'll notice a lot of things about this card, and you'll see that a lot of them carry over to the full cycle as well. Each one will have a different power level, as all Magic cards do, but these operate on a few different axes than normal cards.

First we look at the converted mana cost. In this case, we have to view this as the mana we spend to get this thing into play, as it has no effect just by casting it. This is a big cost, and is essential to how we grade these cards on power level.

Next we look at the mana cost to sacrifice the Vessel, as this also affects the overall power level significantly.

Finally we look at what it is that we get for all of this work. This is the payoff, and this is going to dictate if we are willing to pay the up-front costs or not.

There is a little card evaluation trap you can fall into here, and I want to warn against it. It's easy to look at Vessel of Ephemera and add up the casting cost plus activation cost and surmise that we are paying a whopping five mana for two 1/1 white Spirit creature tokens with flying. And while this is true in some ways, it's not the way you should approach evaluation this type of card.

This type of card comes in what we call an installment plan. It's deceptively powerful to pay two mana up front, then be able to spend three mana later to crack this Vessel, at instant speed no less. What we have to do is balance the fact that it doesn't directly affect the board the turn you play it with these other facts:

  1. It doesn't cost as much as it looks like it does, thanks to the installment plan.
  2. It gets some utility back from being possible to activate at instant speed.

So how good is this Vessel?

It's pretty darn good—1/1 flying creatures are always underrated, and while the price isn't amazing here, I think it's well worth it. Add to that the fact that just the potential for two Spirits can seriously mess with combat and you have a nice little card here.

Let's move on to the next vessel, Vessel of Paramnesia.

You can see that these get interesting right away. This one has the same up-front cost, but a much cheaper activation cost. But it doesn't affect the board in any meaningful way even after you activate it.

You do get to draw a card, however. And drawing cards is proven to be sweet.

My guess is that you'll be targeting yourself more often than not with this Vessel, as there is a mechanic called delirium in the set that rewards you for having different types of cards in your graveyard. Since the Vessel is an enchantment itself and goes to the graveyard as part of the activated ability, you only need to hit three other card types to activate delirium.

Vessel of Paramnesia may not seem to be super powerful on the surface, but it is a good delirium enabler, and I think it will see more play than it seems like it would.

Next is Vessel of Malignity

Another Vessel, another set of mana costs. This one exiles cards from your opponent's hand. Even though it looks pretty straightforward, a few things come to mind.

One is that the cards are exiled. This is generally preferable to discard, as the cards are just gone for good. Here in this set, though, it seems vastly preferable. Not only are you avoiding the awkwardness of enabling delirium for your opponent, you are also not allowing them to use the madness ability on their cards. So exiling is good.

The other thing that comes to mind is that there will be times when you want to save this Vessel in your hand for a time when you can cast and activate it in the same turn. Showing your opponent that you have the ability to take two cards from their hand lets them play around it in a very real way and should be avoided if possible.

Vessel of Volatility is next.

You've already seen Vessel of Volatility previewed last week on Gathering Magic, but in the context of Pauper. Let's talk about it in Limited.

Vessel of Volatility lets you gain a temporary boost in mana, for the cost of a card. While this can be useful, the problem lies in the fact that the cost of a card is far too high a price to pay for an effect like this. I could try to construct scenarios in which this card is playable in the format, but my guess is that they won't come up often enough to be relevant and that you'd be better off just ignoring this card entirely.

Maybe a Constructed player can find a home for it. Like, for example, Pauper.

Last on the list is Vessel of Nascency.

And here we have the cheapest, and perhaps most interesting, of the bunch. The gap in Limited between one mana and two mana for a card like this is massive. The reason is simple: you almost never have anything relevant to do on the first turn of the game, but you almost always have something relevant to do on the second turn.

As far as immediate impact goes, Vessel of Nascency isn't high on the list, but it still has a lot to offer down the line. First, the list of things you can get from the top four cards of your library means that you will hit effectively 100% of the time in Limited. And that makes it better than "draw a card," which is saying something.

The other really important thing to note is that whatever you don't grab goes to the graveyard, not the bottom of your library. Again, we are looking at an insane delirium enabler here, as it puts an enchantment plus three other cards in your graveyard while getting you what you need in hand.

I gotta say, for a card that looks so innocuous, this one has my attention. I am prone to "durdle" around a lot (this just means do a whole lot of nothing) in slower formats, and this seems like a perfect durdle card.

Wrapping Up

So there they are, the Vessels of Innistrad. I have to say, while they aren't the flashiest, these are cards I will have my eye on, as they look like synergy cards to me. And if our revisit to Innistrad is anything like our last visit here, synergy cards will play a very important role in how this format plays out.

Time will tell!

@Marshall_LR

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