First, we get Gatecrash handed to us in what felt like overnight. Then, we finally get our hands on it. This is the part of the season we all revel in. To say it feels like the Christmas/Holiday Season doesn't even hold up; I, for one, have never received 249 gifts all at once.
As exciting as this is, it can be daunting. Where do we even start? How are we supposed to figure out all of the nuances of this complex new format?
The answer is simple: We aren't. Well, not yet anyhow.
- These are the Days...
It takes time and practical experience to put the pieces together. This is just the reality of systems this complex.
It's also the fun part, and it's what I love most about Limited. We get to see the story of this format unfold in front of us. We get to discover hidden gems, unlock crazy draft archetypes, and—ultimately—master the format.
What are the first steps toward this goal? Here are some of the initial items I look at once we have a full set in front of us.
- Get to the Meat
The first thing Limited enthusiasts should always look at are the commons and uncommons in the new set. It can be tempting to focus on the rares and mythic rares. Cards like Gideon, Champion of Justice and Duskmantle Seer draw a lot of attention—and rightfully so—but for our purposes, they aren't as important. Rares and mythic rares will have a heavy influence on the games they are cast in, but they aren't what will dictate the format from a wider perspective.
No, that responsibility falls on our friends, the commons and uncommons.
I have often found myself at the Prerelease reading the rares and mythic rares in my pool, simply because I had spent my study time on commons and uncommons.
- Removal Approval
Now that we have our sights set on the meat of the set, the initial target should be the removal. Removal—spells that kill or otherwise neutralize creatures—is the main dictating factor for the direction of a new set. Removal is important because it determines what we can get away with and which creatures will survive the threats they face the most often.
In Return to Ravnica, for example, the removal suite was largely unimpressive. A trio of six-mana spells combined with little in the way of cheap, instant-speed removal meant that Auras became a powerful strategy.
How does the removal in Gatecrash stack up? Let's dig in and find out. While we won't cover every removal spell, let's start with the common, instant-speed options.
- Halftime Recap
Already a much-improved arsenal of weaponry from which to work, it looks like the days of the creature Aura may be numbered here in Gatecrash. Instant speed is particularly important in Gatecrash. Two of the guilds have core mechanics that fear instant-speed removal: Gruul and Dimir.
Gruul's bloodrush mechanic can only be activated during combat, rendering your sorcery-speed removal ineffective. Instant-speed removal, however, can be a true two-for-one if our opponent gets an itchy trigger finger with bloodrush.
The Dimir have cipher. They will get that first effect from casting the spell, but if we have a nice instant-speed removal spell to take care of the encoded creature before it hits us, we can prevent that critical first cipher activation. This is often the line between being worth a card and not for our opponent.
There are still some interesting pieces of removal left.
- Uncommon Removal
The uncommon removal in Gatecrash looks very solid as well. While not quite Doom Blade-level removal, Killing Glare and Ground Assault are both potent tools to (eventually) kill off whatever you need to.
Homing Lightning is a solid 4-damage burn spell for creatures, with the potential to be a two-for-one or better in the right spot. Any time I can get a reliable one-for-one with upside for four mana, I am apt to take it.
One Thousand Lashes is an excellent removal spell, and one of my favorites from this set. Neutralizing a creature is awesome, and grinding out 1 life at a time from its owner is pure joy. I dream of one day drafting a theme deck based on this card. I want to win a game only through life loss from this and from extort. Perhaps I'm ambitious, but this card stands as an excellent inclusion in any deck that can support it.
- The Big Picture
Even though we didn't examine every piece of removal in the set, I think we are getting a reasonable picture of the landscape. The removal options are much improved from Return to Ravnica. We aren't talking core-set level removal, however. You won't see any Lightning Bolts, Doom Blades, or Pacifisms here.
It felt like we often had to pay six mana for a removal spell before, and now it feels like that number is closer to four. That's a massive difference, and we will feel it in our games.
Let's have a quick look at some of the cards we will be pointing all this removal at. I have noticed a trend of "power uncommons" in recent sets. With cards like these, who needs rares?
Gatecrash has some sweet power uncommons too.
And remember, this is just a peek at the power uncommons, as we didn't even mention the Guildmages in this discussion.
- Kill or be Killed
With so many powerful cards running around Gatecrash, it's nice to know the removal is able to match them. As the format starts to show its true colors, we'll keep a close eye on which spells are seeing the most play and which don't match up well enough. Constant adjustments will need to be made as we get more and more information.
Remember, this is the fun part.
I hope everyone's release events are as awesome as mine will be!