Predators of the Format

Posted in Limited Information on August 6, 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.

When I think of a predator, it conjures two very different images. The first is of some kind of sleek dinosaur rustling around in the bushes looking to side-swipe someone. The second is more of a brute-force predator like a shark.

Either way, predators are pretty scary. This week, we are going to take a look at both types of predator, but with an eye for Magic 2015. Some of the cards we will look at are tilted more toward the velociraptor end of the scale, while others will be more tyrannosaurus-like.

Let's just get the big guy out of the way right now: Garruk, Apex Predator:

Yup, that's tyrannosaurus-like all right. Garruk is a freight train of a Magic card, even more so when you put him in the 40-card arena. I haven't been lucky enough to open a Garruk yet, but rest assured he will not slip through my grasp once I do. Even though his first ability is largely irrelevant for Limited, his second and third abilities are outright bonkers for it.

The only sad thing about Garruk is that your opponent is usually dead by the time you get to ultimate levels of loyalty. (Ultimate is what we call it when you use a Planeswalker's last—often ridiculously powerful—ability).

This next one is a little subtler than Garruk.

Forge Devil has a permanent sinister grin to compliment his steeple-fingers in this Limited environment. And well he should; he is capable of killing many powerful 1-toughness creatures. Off the top of my head: Necromancer's Assistant, Welkin Tern, Torch Fiend, Altac Bloodseeker, Typhoid Rats, and Oreskos Swiftclaw all die to Forge Devil. Leaving behind the 1/1 body is also great upside in a world with convoke and even more 1-toughness creatures floating around.

Definitely more in the velociraptor camp, but a predator nonetheless.

This next card is the consensus best card in the format.

This card is nearly unbeatable. In order for a card to get to the highest possible levels, it has to dig you out from being behind. Like, from way behind.

Soul of Theros is a little finicky in that it usually asks that we untap with it first, but after that, the game simply ends. I've been on the wrong side of a Soul of Theros in two different drafts now, and both ended with me scratching my head trying to figure out if there was anything I could have done.

My conclusion was that there wasn't.

Since you only get one rare per pack, it's not too relevant to compare rares against each other, as it will essentially never be a choice you are forced to make. Still, it's a fun exercise and can be an interesting aid in card evaluation.

As far as predators go in Magic 2015, Soul of Theros is the apex-iest.

More unabashed beatdowns for this next one.

Good old Juggernaut was great back in the day, and still is even in the modern Limited structure. Juggernaut is all about efficiency. At a mere four colorless mana, you are getting an oversized creature to be sure.

Vanilla Test: Passed.

But one really cool thing about Juggernaut that is often overlooked is how well it works with combat tricks. Sometimes your opponent has a 6/6 creature, or some eager pair of creatures able to block (or double block) the attacking Juggernaut. If you have a combat trick in this situation with a normal creature, your attack will look suspicious and may even prompt your opponent to wait for a better spot to block.

But with Juggernaut, you must attack. The opponent blocks because he or she knows you have to attack and wants to just eat the Juggernaut. That's when a combat trick can be Simply Devastating (©Zac Hill, 2014).

Juggernaut also punishes clunky draws from the opponent like few other cards can. If you are in an aggressive deck, Juggernaut will be one of your scariest predators.

Next up is a super-sneaky predator.

Just kidding.

Stop playing Ornithopter.

Back on track with a solid finisher for control or aggro.

What an interesting card. Essentially, you always want it to be the last spell you draw after curving out. In a control deck, it provides a difficult-to-answer win condition. It just sits there taking chunks of the opponent's life total while allowing the defensive creatures that often make up the rest of the deck to do their thing.

In an aggressive deck, it's a curve-topper that easily sidesteps any band of blockers put forth by the opponent. Caustic Tar is perhaps a bit clunky in either deck by virtue of the fact that it costs six mana. If you need a finisher that is problematic to deal with for most decks, Tar is it.

As far as predators go, Caustic Tar hunts for players and is relentless at getting what it hunts for.

Another card that primarily hunts life totals:

I realize that this card isn't what you think of when you think of a predator. But it is so well positioned in Magic 2015 that it deserves a slot here. The combination of 2 toughness and 3 power (while attacking, of course) allows the marauder to dodge a slew of annoying effects and creatures.

There are plenty of options at the two-mana slot in red, but Borderland Marauder may well be the best one.

This next card enjoys a good hunt on the weekend.

If you assumed I was going to go for Hunt the Weak, you were close. The only thing better than having to fight another creature is making that a one-sided fight. I view it as more of a punch to the back of the head than a provoked confrontation. And your opponent will feel like he or she got whacked in the head too if you are able to stick a Burning Anger.

It's a little tricky to make it work, as you need a relevant target, five mana, and a clear path to cast it. These can be difficult to assemble, but once you do you get a machine gun capable of killing creatures or players. Burning Anger seems best when paired with large green creatures, but I have put it on a 3-powered creature before and felt pretty darn good about it.

Another sleeper is next.

I mentioned the whole rumbling-bushes-with-a-dinosaur-in-them thing a bit earlier. Casting Sanctified Charge is what happens when the dinosaur in those bushes finally decides that it's time to pounce.

You know a card is really great when you telegraph that you have it and your opponent can't play around it anyway. It's particularly strong with Triplicate Spirits, but most any curve out will do quite nicely. The first strike for white creatures clause is a big one, and you should maximize how many white creatures you play after you pick up your second Sanctified Charge.

In the Predator's Wake

We have only covered but a few of the great predators in Magic 2015. The set is still shaking out in many ways. There were controversial picks in the draft at the Pro Tour, as well as some cards I didn't expect to see on the stream. Naturally, heated debates followed as the pros chimed in on what they thought.

The opinions varied greatly, which is not only interesting, but also an indicator that the format simply isn't settled yet.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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