When you want to get a feel for the pulse of a format, it makes sense to look at the game's most powerful card type, the planeswalker. Looking around the hall, there are a couple Liliana of the Veils, a handful of Sorin, Lord of Innistrads, no Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded that I've seen, but for the most part players are calling on the aid of two planeswalkers: Garruk Relentless and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.
Ever since she was spoiled in the previews of Avacyn Restored, players have been excited to see what they could do with the Moon Sage from Kamigawa.
Tamiyo has found a home in the White-Blue-Red Control deck championed by Patrick Chapin. Long a fan of explicitly powerful effects (Cruel Ultimatum, anyone?) Chapin was unsurprisingly effusive about the new blue planeswalker on the block.
I pressed him for details.
"She's a persistent removal spell. While she's in play, she forces your opponent to over-commit into mass removal. But she's even more than that, because she can deal with non-creatures like Kessig Wolf Run that might otherwise give you trouble."
"She's a victory condition all on her own. Once you've used her ultimate, you can just Pillar of Flame your opponent ten times."
"The second ability, yeah, it's not happening that often, but it does come up."
I asked him about playing a five-mana planeswalker in a format that seems as fast as this one seems.
"The format is fast, but our deck has a lot of removal. It's not hard to be in a position to resolve her and take control of the game."
On the other side of the spectrum, Garruk Relentless is lending its talents to the many varieties of green-based aggressive decks. Interestingly, he is doing a lot of his best work coming out of the sideboard.
Sam Black, eponymous and unofficial captain of SCG Black, was quite direct about Garruk's role in the sideboard of their audibled Geists deck. "He kills Fiend Hunter." After a laugh he went on. "There are a lot of decks that rely on small creatures, and he can pick them apart. That black zombies deck, you can drop him on turn three, eat their Blood Artist and still have him safe from transformation to take out another creature."
Luis Scott-Vargas talked about Garruk filling an opposite role for their White-Green Humans deck. A nearby Owen Turtenwald preempted him by deadpanning, "He makes wolves." LSV shrugged and nodded, explaining. "A lot of decks slow down after sideboarding, so in those matchups you really want him. He gives you a great way to get ahead. We actually bring him in in almost every matchup, but he takes the place of different cards."
So which planeswalker will take the weekend? The control mage from Kamigawa, or the poisoned Primal Hunter? Stay tuned to find out.