Bounce is the New Black

Posted in Limited Information on July 16, 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.

The Magic 2015 Prerelease has come and gone. I'd like to be able to report sweeping predictions and newfound information, but the reality is that the Prerelease isn't really about that kind of thing. For starters, the sample is simply too small. I did two Prerelease events at my local game store. That's eight total matches. It's simply not enough to make many bold claims. The nature of the seeded color packs at the Prerelease skews the information further.

No, the Prerelease is here to showcase the new set and get people excited about it. It always works on me, and the people in my local shop seemed stoked about M15 as well.

The lesson here is to remain in observer mode until we have a few more reps under our collective belts.

Speaking of observations, I have a few to make about my Prerelease experience, as well as a follow-up to last week's article.

First:

This little guy was everywhere! Even after I made Ornithopter the poster child for my "Value of a Card" article, it still haunts me. Clackity, flappity, mechanical wing sounds were everywhere in the shop. People love playing this card. Part of it is just that it's a cool card (I do think it's a cool card, which doesn't make it a good card, of course).

Another part is that people generally are unaware of the whole "opportunity cost" thing and will just run the cards in their deck that they feel like running. Ornithopter is an easy sell as it's free and colorless. It's a safe choice in their mind. (We know better.)

I did hear some interesting arguments for Ornithopter in M15. I'm not sure I buy them completely, but they weren't without merit.

Argument One: Ornithopter is basically a Mox because of convoke. While Ornithopter does help with convoke, in my experience, convoke doesn't need that much help. I find that just running a normal creature curve will fuel my convoke cards just fine. They aren't wrong, but I do question if it's worth an entire card.

Argument Two: Shrapnel Blast makes it worth it. My podcast partner Brian Wong and I like to say, "Don't play two bad cards to make one good one." This is doing exactly that. I'm not saying that my imagination can't produce a deck that wants an Ornithopter just to get Shrapnel Blasted. I am saying that it's probably not a reality in most situations.

Argument Three: I have an Ensoul Artifact; take to the skies! See Argument Two. Again, I am capable of imagining a deck that actually wants this (maybe three Ensoul Artifacts? four?), but your Prerelease sealed pool probably wasn't it. I did have a player play turn-one Ornithopter and then put the mighty doom scissors on it the next turn. I almost felt like it wasn't a true two-for-one when I blew it up with a Torch Fiend.

Argument Four: I have a Scrapyard Mongrel or an Aeronaut Tinkerer. Finding less-costly cards to include in your deck like Darksteel Citadel, Will-Forged Golem, or even Bronze Sable will serve you better.

You need to have a good reason to run Ornithopter in your deck. None of these arguments hold up alone.

It does get interesting if you start combining them. I would still hope to find something more useful on its own than Ornithopter, but of course there is some threshold where it becomes correct to run everyone's favorite Artifact Creature – Thopter. I'm not sure where that is, and I'm also not sure I want to go there.

Removal Update

I picked green for my first Prerelease and blue for my second.

My decks were black-blue and black-red, respectively. It takes quite a bit to pull one away from the allure of a seeded pack, complete with bomby, on-color promotional card. For me, it was the removal available in black.

Flesh to Dust, Stab Wound, Covenant of Blood, Necrobite, Nightfire Giant, and even a Festergloom in the board proved a worthy removal suite. (I wasn't lucky enough to get an Ulcerate or Crippling Blight.) We go where the removal is, and in this case it was in black.

As I mentioned last week, we have to adjust to new trends in removal, and I'd like to highlight something that I have noticed over the last few blocks.

Namely, bounce spells are quite good right now. In a world full of Doom Blades and Lightning Strikes, Unsummon is a pretty tough sell. It doesn't permanently deal with the creature and, unless you are ahead on board, it's hard to capitalize on your tempo advantage.

But as the removal has morphed into the Flesh to Dust and Blastfire Bolt situation, suddenly cheap bounce spells look a lot better. The fact is that there are many times when you simply need a way to interact with your opponent's creatures early in the game. And since we aren't getting much in the way of removal that does that, we have to resort to other measures.

Take a look at these cards from Theros block:

All of these were first-pickable cards in their sets. I'll admit that they may not be the most exciting first picks, but I have seen many people do it. I have done it myself many times. You simply need a way to interact.

Oh, and while I don't put Hubris quite as highly as these cards, it's on the list, too.

You may be thinking that this was just a Theros-specific thing. After all, the big battle cruisers we built in Theros were easily knocked apart by a well-timed bounce spell, weren't they?

Remember this card from Return to Ravnica?

Dramatic Rescue started out in the middle of my packs and slowly but surely rose near the top. I played a lot of them, and would have played more if my opponents would've given me the chance. There wasn't much in the way of bounce spells in that block, but the ones that did exist were very sought after.

I'll admit that putting Far // Away on this list is a little bit of a stretch. After all, the second half of the card was a big pull, only ousted by the whole fuse thing. But still, plenty of Fars were cast on their own, successfully messing up many a game plan. Simic Charm was really flexible, but often the most powerful option was just to return a creature to its owner's hand. It was amazing how often you simply bounced an opposing creature, considering that it is a horribly costed Unsummon at GU.

Magic 2015 Bounce

In Magic 2015, we have two very good bounce spells and two less-good versions.

Let's get the junky ones out of the way first. Chronostutter is expensive. It's basically a glorified Griptide for two more mana. Heck, in some cases, Griptide for the same mana would be even better than this card! Void Snare is okay, but being a sorcery is a huge knock against it, as we'll find out shortly.

Peel from Reality is the premium bounce spell in M15. It's cheap, instant-speed, and can even save your own creature from an Encrust or similar, while netting you other advantages. You can use it to save your own creature from instant-speed removal while sending a nice tempo hit your opponent's direction. It does have a targeting restriction (you need two valid targets to cast Peel from Reality), so it's not all upside, but it is mostly upside.

Into the Void is a different kind of bounce spell. It's powerful in an aggressive deck because of how much mana it sets the opponent back. It can be downright absurd. But it can also hit your creatures that have been locked down by enchantment-based removal or similar. Being a sorcery takes away all kinds of options for a card like this, but the power level is there anyway, given how powerful it can be.

Inflation

So how best to wield this newly enshrined tool? The key is to engineer a situation where you either get so far ahead after resolving it that you can't lose, or one where you get a card's worth of value from your bounce spell. Simply sending a creature back to its owner's hand just to have it recast a turn later isn't going to get the job done.

Bounce spells are trickier than removal spells. You are going to have to work a bit to get full value from them. That usually means being extra patient about when to fire them off. You'll find that bounce spells punish certain strategies quite nicely. Like tokens, for example.

Example: Your opponent plays Ornithopter on turn one, and then on turn two enchants it with Ensoul Artifact. This would be a good time to resolve a bounce spell. You are netting a one-for-one (you are trading your bounce spell for the Ensoul Artifact) but, in reality, you are leaving your opponent with a lowly Ornithopter after the dust settles. This is almost akin to a two-for-one.

You can also use bounce spells during combat. If an opponent goes for a greedy double-block, you can bounce one of the creatures, leaving the other to be eaten.

Bouncing in response to combat tricks is another nice way to get that card of value back from your bounce spell.

Brave New World Warriors

There are many ways to use bounce spells, and by the looks of things we are going to have to start prioritizing them higher than we traditionally have. It's a brave new world, and we are going to be the first ones to adjust to it.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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