The Rise of Sunburst

Posted in Feature on June 1, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

With the Fifth Dawn Prerelease behind us there has been a lot of chatter online about the impact of Fifth Dawn on the various Constructed scenes. Topics ranging from the brokenness of Krark-Clan Ironworks to the impact of Eternal Witness on Astral Slide decks will be invite you deeper into the various magic websites and forums. But Constructed is still weeks away and Limited is now—or any day now depending on when this newsletter hits your in-box.

Fifth Dawn is legal for DCI sanctioned limited play the minute it hits the shelves of game stores on Friday, June 4th. Many stores will be holding Friday Night Magic with the new cards in their Sealed Deck or Booster Draft tournaments. Fifth Dawn will cast the limited format in an all new light with new mechanics like Sunburst, Scrying and the recently renamed Cog cards.

Skyreach Manta
Cards like Journey of Discovery, Sylvan Scrying, and Darksteel Ingot will all make the Sunburst cards in Darksteel much more relevant than they have been in previous sets. In the common slot both Skyreach Manta and Suntouched Myr are solid cards that top out at 5/5 for five and 3/3 for three if you can maximize their Sunburst. There are many more creatures including a number of rares that utilize Sunburst but these are the two guys you are most likely to open and see in your drafts.

One of my favorite Sunburst cards that I have already raved about on Magicthegathering.com is the Pentad Prism. The Prism is the Sunburst spell that helps your other Sunburst spells. The Prism allows you to do so many things in Sealed and Draft formats. If you can play it on turn two with two different colors of mana you can accelerate into five man on turn three. It is possible that you can get five different colors of mana on that turn. This makes for 5/5 flying Skyreach Mantas, trampling Fangren Hunters, and if you were lucky enough to open a Bringer of any sort a 5/5 trampler with some broken ability.

At first glance the Prism may seem like a slower Seething Song but it is so much more than that. It not only accelerates your mana but it fixes it. Since you can get two mana for two mana that means you can scrub your mana through it to get the colors you need. I drafted a triple Prism deck at the prerelease and I was able to side in a Rain of Rust without bringing in any red sources. It also interacts with the game's other mechanics. Even once it is depleted it still counts toward you affinity, pumps up your Nim creatures, and even serves as fodder for a Shrapnel Blast.

Baton of Courage
One of the cards that seems to be overlooked by many players in the early going is Baton of Courage. The Baton gives non-green decks something they have been looking for for ages--combat tricks. The blue-black deck now has the ability to combat an Echoing Courage with an instant speed Baton. I have played with this card twice. Once I had a Vedalken Mastermind and I was quite impressed and the other deck featured Energy Chamber. My Baton sat there for several turns getting larger and larger while my opponent looked for a way to stop my Neurok Spy.

Another interesting Sunburst card is the Opaline Bracers. The Bracers remind me of the Embraces from Urza's Saga block. They come out of nowhere and suddenly your Neurok Familiar is a 5/5 flier. The card may be a little slow to cast at four mana and two to equip but once it is in play two mana is perfectly reasonable to supersize your creatures. The problem with Bracers and all the Sunburst cards is that you really want to max out your Sunburst ability for them to be worthwhile.

Skyreach Manta is okay at 3/3 and horrible as a 2/2 for five mana. When it becomes a 4/4 it becomes quite formidable and as a 5/5 it is one of the best threats you can find in the common slot. So how do you make sure that you are getting the most from your Sunburst? There is plenty of mana fixing available including Journey and Sylvan Scrying from Mirrodin, Darksteel Ingot and Reap and Sow from Darksteel, and countless off-color Myr and Talismans—not to mention Glimmervoid and Mirrodin's Core.

Wayfarer's Bauble
Fifth Dawn offers abundant tools with which to fix your mana. I have already mentioned the Prism but the Wayfarer's Bauble is another solid common artifact that helps you with both acceleration and mana-fixing. It also helps you to thin your deck of a land and improve the chances of drawing spells. What is nice about the Bauble is that it is a one casting cost artifact. This means you have plenty of ways to abuse it. You can search for it with Trinket Mage (which also allows you to search out an off-color artifact land), you can return it to you hand once with Leonin Squire, or repeatedly with Auriok Salvagers.

The green mana-fixing theme continues on in this set with Dawn's Reflection and Channel the Suns. Dawn's Reflection is like having a pair of Fertile Grounds. The only problem is that it costs the same as two Fertile Grounds. I have seen people running it in draft but it strikes me as a little slow for that format. In Sealed Deck it seems much more palatable especially if you have a Bringer or one of the big rare Sunburst guys like Suncrusher. Channel the Suns seems to be exclusively reserved for Bringers in Limited and only if you have no other way to get it out for its alternate casting cost. I played a Composite Golem in my prerelease Sealed Deck for just this reason and both the Golem and then my Bringer saw play on turn six with surprising regularity.

The best green mana fixer may be the elf that wasn't. Sylvok Explorer is essentially a Fellwar Stone. The Explorer is another mana-fixer/accelerant and will usually find a useful color of mana on the other side or the table. Remember that if an opponent is playing with Mirrodin's Core or Glimmervoid your Explorer becomes a Birds of Paradise.

Even cards that don't fix your mana like the Conjurer's Bauble and the scrying cards can help you by either drawing you cards or digging past mana that doesn't do what you need. Cards like Chromatic Sphere and the off-color spellbombs from Mirrodin should also be drafted with higher priority—especially if you are going to be playing white. Leonin Squire allows you to reuse the cards while Auriok Salvagers lets you abuse them.

If you are going to be playing in a Limited event in the coming weeks don't be afraid of the Sunburst. If you are drafting you can plan for it and if you are better prepared than the players around you the good cards will find their way to you. Two color decks are not going to prioritize Skyreach Manta and Opaline Bracers and you can pick then up later than you would expect. If you are playing Sealed, remember that it is a slower format than draft and you can take a little more time to set up your powerful Sunburst cards.

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