“I’m getting… better.”
—Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle in The Fly
What I hope to accomplish in this column is to take what I've learned over my many years of playing the game and try to break it down, explaining some elementary (and not so elementary) concepts that will allow you to improve your game as well.
The first few weeks of my column will include previews of some cards from Legions, the upcoming new expansion. This week's "sneak peek" card is Nantuko Vigilante.
The first time I saw this card I could hear Seth Brundle speaking the line quoted at the top of the article. Even the creature type seemed to tie into Goldblum’s insect/scientist/mutant (as long as you are willing to make the metaphorical leap from Druid to Scientist). The idea of "getting better" also seemed to apply to morph in general and morph triggers—the new twist on morph that Legions brings the game—in particular.
Obviously, the most attractive aspect of the Nantuko Vigilante is his built in "Naturalize" when you turn him face up. In addition to his nifty ability, he also sports a three power when turned over which will kill most ground creatures in combat, allowing you to take out an enchantment/artifact and a solid three toughness creature for the low, low price of (plus the investment of three colorless mana, but that’s a subject for another column). But enough about this card specifically.
Choosing from cards with similar abilities.
You have a limited (pardon the pun) pool of cards when playing sealed deck, and you will use the cards available to you. Your deck building decisions will be dictated by the cards that you receive. But what do you do when you want to construct your own deck using all your available cards?
When building a Magic deck, whether for fun or a tournament, a big dilemma you will face is which cards to include, especially when several of them do similar things. Which one is correct?
Let's say you are making a green deck of some sort, and want to include some way to deal with enchantments and artifacts (a good idea!). What cards to use? Well, we have quite a few players lined up against the schoolyard fence waiting to be picked. There’s the studly Naturalize, confident and ready. There’s the new kid, Nantuko Vigilante—he looks pretty good but does he have any game? Don’t forget the Elvish brothers—the Elvish Lyrist and the Elvosh Scrapper—not quite as versatile as the first two but pretty good in the right game situation. Scavenger Folk and Druid Lyrist are on par with the previous pair—The Druid Lyrist and the Elvish Scrapper are the youngest of the four and will probably be available for more games than the older two. The Uktabi Orangutan is the kind of player that has an immediate impact on the game. Hey who’s that over there sulking at the end of the fence? Is that Root Greevil? No one ever picks poor ol’ Root Greevil—he’s way too slow. Creeping Mold looks promising, and Tranquility can handle several problems at once. You might even own other cards with similar functionality, but this is enough material for our purposes.
When making a deck, there will often be several similar cards vying for your attention.
Strictly from a versatility standpoint you are probably going to want to use Naturalize, the Vigilante, or Creeping Mold, as none of the other cards give you the ability to destroy an enchantment or an artifact—only one or the other. So once you have it narrowed down to those three cards how do you make your decision from there? It is going to depend on what kind of deck you are playing and what types of decks you expect to be playing against.
Creeping Mold, quite frankly, is slow and expensive to play. The only advantage it has over Naturalize is that is can destroy land as well. Well, unless you expect your opponents to have really nasty lands, like Treetop Village or Contested Cliffs, you probably won't need that option. Of course, if your deck is going to be focused on destroying lands, feel free to use Creeping Mold.
Naturalize is very inexpensive and is an instant, which allows you to play the spell when your opponent taps out to do something else. On the minus side, the Naturalize must sit in your hand until there is something for it to do. An opponent playing with Duress or other hand destruction will bide his time until it he knows it is safe to play his game-breaking enchantment or artifact.
The Nantuko Vigilante can be played face down—hopefully when your opponent is tapped out and can’t counter it—and sit in wait to whack your opponent’s Cursed Scroll, Opposition, Coat of Arms, or Circle of Protection: Green. While it is waiting it can also do some damage, bluff as a more menacing morph creature, or even trade with another creature if necessary. As in the scenario above with Duress, if your opponent suspects you are playing with the Vigilante, he can kill your creature before playing something that would fall victim to Vigilante justice.
The Vigilante really shines in scenarios where your creatures are reusable resources. Decks with Keeper of the Nine Gales can use a Vigilante over and over again to destroy multiple permanents, just like his predecessor the Uktabi Orangutan teamed up with Tradewind Rider. Genesis, Volrath's Stronghold, and Oversold Cemetery are all cards that would allow you to reuse the Vigilante many times within a game.
What if versatility is not the issue? Sometimes speed is what you need. Maybe you expect to be playing against super-fast "combo" decks that can win the game immediately if they get certain enchantments in play. Against decks like that, you want Elvish Lyrist or Druid Lyrist on the board ASAP. The threat of the Lyrist will force the combo player to deal with the Lyrist before winning the game—often giving your aggressive creature horde the window of opportunity it needs to win. I have seen Scavenger Folk used similarly to combat artifact decks that Tinker out Phyrexian Processors and Null Brooches within the first few turns.
There could be other reasons why you would choose one card over another. Perhaps you are building a "tribal" deck based around Elves. In that case, the Elf cards—Elvish Lyrist and Elvish Scrapper—will better serve your needs than Naturalize or Nantuko Vigilante. The more Elves in an Elf deck the better.
So how do you decide which card to pick? There are three key factors which will determine which option you will ultimately choose.
Playtesting, playtesting, playtesting!
Know your options and test them out. Is speed your biggest concern or is it versatility? Are you playing with Cunning Wish or Living Wish? Are you using Genesis to bring back your creatures or are you using Astral Slide? What do you expect to be playing against?
This lesson doesn't just apply to green enchantment and artifact destruction cards. You should use a similar evaluation function when deciding between any group of similar cards, such as red direct damage cards, flying creatures, or card-drawing spells. Ultimately it's your deck, but it never hurts to use a little common sense.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be doing additional Legions previews including a provocative look at another new mechanic being introduced in the set. In the meanwhile I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, questions, and the inevitable criticism.Brian may be reached at email@example.com.