Crowd's Favor

Posted in Limited Information on July 23, 2014

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.

If you've had the chance to catch some of the Pro Tour or Grand Prix coverage on some weekend you may have heard the commentators (even me) using the word "sequencing." For the Wizards streams, we try to keep the overall production open to less-experienced players interested in Magic while also catering to the more enfranchised players. It's a fine line to walk, and some terms are right on that line. Sequencing falls in this category. It's not complicated to explain, but it's quite complicated to do well.

Sequencing is simply setting up your future turns such that you can use your mana or cards to the best of their ability. This often comes to us in a simple way: using our mana fully on one turn can allow us to use more of it on subsequent turns.

For example, you may have an exciting two-drop, an unexciting two-drop, and a decent three-drop in your hand as you hit your third land drop. (Think Hero of Iroas, Traveling Philosopher, and Lagonna-Band Elder.) While it may be tempting to get that Hero out there right away, it's often better to just play the Lagonna-Band Elder first. This way you can play your fourth land and then play both the Philosopher and the Hero on the next turn.

If you fall for the trap of higher power level and just play out the Hero of Iroas, your next turn will simply be spent playing one creature (the Elder, most likely) and then the following turn you finally get the Philosopher onto the battlefield. One of these shows good sequencing, and the other shows poor sequencing.

Which brings us to our main topic for this week: convoke! Yes, it's Convoke Week, and I'm fortunate enough to write the column for which convoke matters the most. We may see some Chord of Calling decks in Constructed Magic here and there, but convoke is for us Limited players, make no mistake.

Convoke and sequencing are good friends. They enjoy each other's company immensely and, in Limited, they make quite a pair.

The first important point to understand about convoke and Limited is that Limited is a creature-based format. It always has been, and it likely always will be. Limited is all about creatures. The best cards are the best creatures, and the other best cards are the cards that kill the best creatures. Or augment them. Or kill a bunch of them at once.

In Limited, there will always be creatures around, and when it comes to convoke, that means there will always be willing participants to help you cast your convoke spell. (The new wording on the reminder text for convoke is just too good, by the way.)

But here's the best part: convoke lets you sequence your plays beautifully. Normally, you are faced with tough decisions like whether you should play your creature or leave your removal-spell mana up. With convoke you can get away with doing both! Just make sure you have enough creatures to help cast your convoke spell and you are all set. This is particularly important for convoke spells that are instant speed, as you can cast things on your opponent's turn even when you are tapped out on lands.

Looking at the World through the Convoke Lens

There are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to convoke. The more creatures you have in your deck, the more likely you are to be able to power out convoke cards far sooner than they would normally show up. You can even take this to an extreme and play cards like Selfless Cathar just as a means to getting the convoke going one turn sooner. If you are running a normal fifteen-creature draft deck, you will be able to use convoke reasonably well. If you up the creature count to eighteen or higher, you'll get that much further ahead on your convoking.

Cards like Raise the Alarm and Coral Barrier are big helpers in the convoke game, as they effectively add two mana for just one card. This can be huge, as it effectively shaves a full turn off of the convoke card.

Once you get to Triplicate Spirits level of convoking, things can get out of hand. You can have so much mana floating around that you won't have enough convoke spells to use it all. Maybe then it's time to start attacking.

Perhaps the most intricate thing about convoke are the instant-speed combat tricks and removal available. They have the capacity to wreak havoc with your opponent's decision-making processes.

In the early weeks of the format, you'll see many examples of people running their removal or creatures into these combat tricks. They feel like the coast is clear since the opponent is tapped out on lands. Then, out of nowhere, they get wrecked. As the format matures, you'll see less of this. Don't be one of these people.

One situation you need to pay attention to is when your opponent declines to attack with a perfectly good attacker for seemingly no good reason. In the world of M15, this is a big red flag. This usually signals that there is some convokery afoot.

The removal spells can be even more devastating than the combat tricks.

These are two of the premium removal spells in the format, even when you disregard convoke entirely. With the addition of convoke, they jump up into the elite removal category. Again, being able to curve out with creatures on the board while simultaneously managing your opponent's board is powerful.

Aggressive decks gain the most here, as they stand to benefit from the extreme tempo advantage more than most decks. The ability to keep the offensive threats flowing while getting blockers out of the way can be backbreaking. Another notable item: There will be times in this format where you will want to cast your creatures on your first main phase. It's pretty standard to play your creatures after the attack step so that you can bluff combat tricks or removal during combat. Also, it conceals information about what attacking prospects your opponent has on their next turn.

But with convoke, sometimes it's better to cast the creatures in the first main phase, so you can immediately use them to cast a removal spell. Or just to have them up so you can cast a combat trick. Either way, make sure you don't just default to your normal practices, as there will be times when it's better to cast them earlier in the turn.

Traps

Some convoke cards aren't great, even with the potentially reduced mana cost. Cards like Meditation Puzzle and Unmake the Graves don't really have enough impact on the game to be considered exciting.

Just because it has convoke doesn't mean it's good. But the addition of convoke to a normal-looking spell does mean that it's generally miles ahead of the non-convoke version. Sure, you'll pay a bit more for the full-priced version of the spell, but with any creatures floating around, you can greatly reduce this.

Some of the convoke cards are kind of confusing, and I'm not sure if they will prove valuable additions to my decks or if they are too fringe to be great.

Overwhelm looked kind of like a new, bad version of our old friend Overrun. The weird thing about Overwhelm is that you will often need to tap creatures to cast it in a timely fashion. But then those creatures can't attack that turn. What gives? I guess you just need more creatures than that. All tokens and small, cheap creatures would do the trick.

Which reminds me: I wonder if there is an actual convoke deck in this format? Normally, I wouldn't consider convoke a linear archetype framework, but instead a bonus attached to regular spells. But the pieces do seem to be in place to get nearly abusive with convoke.

The main question that remains is simply, "Is it worth it to run subpar creatures just in the hopes of getting out expensive stuff early in the game?" There are some formats where a quick start can shut the door on a game quickly. Other formats don't care much about one big threat and would openly encourage you to dump a bunch of resources into said threat.

I'm going to try out a possible convoke deck and find out for myself. I'm thinking green-white, probably, with lots of cheap creatures, big convoke cards, and maybe even an Overwhelm to finish things off.

Cards like Will-Forged Golem and Siege Wurm are plenty big if cast early enough.

Maybe even cap things off with a super-cheap Seraph of the Masses just for good measure.

Wrap-Up

Convoke is a super-cool mechanic that changes the game on many levels. You have to decide when and how to cast your spells in a different way than you had to before. You have more flexibly with casting those spells, and more decisions to make about what is best to attack with and what is best to leave back to cast more spells.

Now if I could just find someone to pass me some Triplicate Spirits...

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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