Evolution and Creation?

Posted in Limited Information on June 3, 2008

By Dane Young

It appears that Steve Sadin didn't make it back to New York after Pro Tour–Hollywood. Steve was in the hospital last week with a staph infection that nearly cost him a foot (or at least a toe, maybe). Unfortunately for his adoring fans, he still isn't feeling good (update: Steve is back in the hospital, so send him some get well cards) and asked me to write this week's Limited Information for him.

I'll start by answering the question everyone is asking his or her computer right now: "Who are you?"

I'm Dane Young, a friend and part-time teammate of Steve's. I'm originally from Hawaii, but in 2006 I transferred to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I am now a senior majoring in print journalism.

I've been playing Magic since I was 10 years old, battling my friends at school during recess and lunch. Now I'm 24 and I've played in four pro tours, the first of which was team Limited at Seattle 2004. My friends from Hawaii and I got our skulls crushed, losing to Phoenix Foundation along the way. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and the fire was lit.

The point of that introduction, anyway, is to provide a backdrop for what I think about Limited play. I have always been "better" at Constructed, as I like building decks to attack formats and finding intricate plans. Finding those sleeper cards that give you an edge in a format is one of the greatest feelings for a player with a Constructed focus.

While I definitely don't have the greatest Limited mind in the game, I do enjoy drafting because it allows me to get creative. As school has become priority number one in my life, Magic has become more of a pressure valve for stress, and signing up for a Magic Online draft lets me take a break from constantly writing papers, regardless of winning or losing. This week's Limited Information will examine some of the more fun and creative possibilities in Shadowmoor Limited that might or might not become winning strategies. I like to live the proverbial dream, and I'll bet at least a few of you feel the same way.

Makeshift Mannequin

For an example, my last online draft (Lorwyn / Lorwyn / Morningtide) started with Mulldrifter, followed immediately by Makeshift Mannequin over Lash Out. While clearly Lash Out is the "correct" pick, Mannequin opened lots of doors for fun decks abusing evoke (like my first-picked Mulldrifter). Unfortunately my first round opponent had a very aggressive green-white deck and he managed to draw Mirror Entity all three games.

More 'Moor

Applying this creative thought to Shadowmoor Limited is easy. The hybrid theme of the set is so flexible that you can easily be either a solid three colors or monocolored with few-to-many hybrid cards from your allied colors. I was talking to Brian David-Marshall earlier about this idea when he uttered this little gem: "What's green and blue and white all over?" That about describes what I want to say.

Think about it this way: If you are mono-white, you can still play hybrid cards from blue and green like Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and Barrenton Cragtreads. While these cards are white, their other colors allow you to scavenge "off-color" Scarecrows and get the bonuses from them. A third-turn Wingrattle Scarecrow in your "mono-white" deck followed by a Barrenton Cragtreads will upgrade your Grey Ogre into a full-fledged Wind Drake—a quality creature in its own right. This thinking also applies to the Auras such as Shield of the Oversoul and Steel of the Godhead.

Flourishing Defenses
Another thing that interests my creative side is splashing off-color or enemy-color cards in unexpected ways, especially when you can get those cards very late in a draft. Flourishing Defenses is a prime example of an undervalued card that is an absolute star in the right deck. Typically you'll see this unwanted enchantment floating around with two or three cards left in the pack and end up in someone's sideboard. If you're drafting a deck with a lot of -1/-1 counters, wither effects, and Fate Transfers, you want to scoop this baby up. Blowfly Infestation is another powerful card that only really fits into the -1/-1 counters archetype.

Imagine that you have drafted a mono-black counters deck that has a bunch of hybrid black-red and black-blue cards in it. Splashing Flourishing Defenses into this deck should be no problem, as it costs just a single to play. Let's say your green-white opponent has a Raven's Run Dragoon that is running past your black creatures every turn and taking sizeable bites out of your life total. On turn five, you play Flourishing Defenses and take another hit from the Dragoon as the villain adds a Crabapple Cohort to his army. On your turn you play your sixth land and a Grief Tyrant. You get four 1/1 Elf Warrior tokens and a 4/4 which, if killed, will get you four more tokens

From this position, your opponent has to stop attacking unless he has a trick, as his Dragoon will get blocked by any number of your tokens and our Tyrant can block his Cohort (putting the counters on his other green creature to get rid of the +1/+1 bonus and netting four more Elves). At the very least the tokens can buy a lot of time in order to set up your late game plans or find real removal. Fate Transfer in this spot is amazing as you not only kill one of his creatures, but also get another handful of tokens in the process to go with your fresh 8/8.

It's a Conspire-acy!

Another interesting strategy that was popular in Champions of Kamigawa and Ravnica: City of Guilds is the decking deck. In Champions, Dampen Thought brought a new wrinkle to otherwise straightforward limited games. Former Limited Information author Quentin Martin popularized the archetype and wrote about it here. The Dimir guild in Ravnica also had a passion for decking the opposition with cards like Vedalken Entrancer and Szadek, Lord of Secrets. Even their headquarters, Duskmantle, House of Shadow, got in on the decking act. In Shadowmoor, it may just be possible to continue the theme.

Memory Sluice

Memory Sluice and Drowner Initiate not only spill the opponent's deck into the graveyard; they also work in tandem to make it happen faster. An early Initiate can jump-start the process, while Memory Sluice will ape Fireball for a dedicated Millstone deck, turning over huge portions of the opponent's deck. I'm getting giddy just thinking about Sluicing someone while I have two Drowner Initiates to conspire it with. Twelve cards please!

In the same vein as Memory Sluice, green decks and red decks (or green-red decks) have their own powerful conspire spell. Giantbaiting can pack a lot of punch in a deck that has some little creatures hanging around to help with conspire. In green, Farhaven Elf and Devoted Druid do their dirty work early on, accelerating their controller's big spells (like the aforementioned Crabapple Cohort), but tend to sit around being lazy once their jobs are done. Giantbaiting makes use of these guys later in the game by virtually turning them into 4/4s. Red can do the same with early drops that have gotten outclassed like Rustrazor Butcher and Intimidator Initiate, who, incidentally, can also help to sneak those Giants past the opponent's defenses. Even if you don't get to get to connect for the full 8 damage, killing a blocking creature or two probably won't hurt your cause.

Both Memory Sluice and Giantbaiting are underwhelming when not conspired, so having creatures to Fork with are very important.

Insert Cereal Name Here

The last creative strategy I'd like to cover is the "combo" deck. Morselhoarder plus Sinking Feeling and either Power of Fire or Presence of Gond is an infinite combo for damage or 1/1 Elf Warrior Tokens. Furystoke Giant and Elemental Mastery also go infinite if you are lucky enough to them.

Sinking Feeling
Power of Fire

If you're missing it, Morselhoarder allows you to remove a -1/-1 counter from it to add a mana of any color to your mana pool (handily, it comes into play with two such counters on it). Sinking Feeling makes a creature not untap as normal, but for the price of and adding a -1/-1 counter to the enchanted creature, untapping becomes an option. Attach Power of Fire to Morselhoarder to deal 1 damage to the opponent, remove a counter from Morselhoarder to play Sinking Feeling on it (unless you have another source of blue mana), and use the second counter to untap it, placing another counter on it to do so. Repeat until the opponent is dead, since you'll have an endless stream of -1/-1 counters. With Presence of Gond, the same thing applies, but you'll have to wait to attack with your armada of elves. Flourishing Defenses also works in this combo as you can just keep cycling counters on and off of your Morselhoarder to make infinite elves.

This combination might be the most fun to try to execute as victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat in even the most dire of situations. Out of nowhere your opponent could just end up burned to death or swarmed by an angry mob of Elves. Be sure to take pictures of defeated opponent's faces for future hilarity.

Aura You Kidding Me?

Runes of the Deus
To conclude, let's go back to those powerful hybrid Auras—Fists of the Demigod, Steel of the Godhead, Shield of the Oversoul, Helm of the Ghastlord, and Runes of the Deus (let's come up with a good name for this cycle, everyone)—that Steve wrote about a few weeks ago. How high are people taking them in your area? Did Steve hit the nail on the head with his evaluations? In my experience, he was right about Runes of the Deus being the best of the bunch. A single hit from a Mudbrawler Raiders wearing one of them is enough to dig the opponent a huge hole that is often impossible to climb out of. It's not likely that you can block a 5/5 double-striking trampler that early in the game, and especially not on the fifth turn, as you've likely played your own four-drop.

The question becomes, "how do we deal with these things?" Several players I've talked to say they draft enchantment removal higher when they know their opponents will be taking the hybrid Auras early. Elvish Hexhunter is useful, but Gleeful Sabotage is especially backbreaking if the opponent has another enchantment or artifact in play. Most decks play Scarecrows in this format, so getting a two-for-one with Gleeful Sabotage is shouldn't be too difficult.

Bouncing the enchanted creature with Consign to Dream or Æthertow is another very effective answer to the problem, usually even better than simply destroying the enchantment. A more intriguing and creative answer to these Auras, however, can be found in the Wisps cycle.

Niveous Wisps
Aphotic Wisps
Viridescent Wisps

Say your opponent has just enchanted his Mudbrawler Raiders with Runes of the Deus, as in our previous situation. Your aggressive green-white deck is has decided you aren't worthy of an Æthertow or Gleeful Sabotage, so you're going to have to find another way to deal with that stupid, oversized Goblin Warrior with your pair of Safehold Sentrys. You have a Plains open and a Niveous Wisps in your hand, which you could use to tap the Raiders before it got to attack, but that wouldn't really solve the problem at hand

Instead, let the Raiders attack and play Niveous Wisps on it before blockers to turn it white—turning off the Runes' color-reliant abilities—and block with your two Safehold Sentrys. The end result is you losing a Safehold Sentry and your opponent losing Mudbrawler Raiders and Runes of the Deus. Your Wisps even replaced itself. That's a pretty good trade, I'd say. Looking for these types of interactions might give you the little edge you need to win your next Limited match.

Buried Treasure?

The Shadowmoor Limited format is still new and full of surprises. I'd like to read about any creative, fun or otherwise cool interactions you've discovered in the format that weren't covered here. Let's chat in the forums!

Good luck to everyone this summer, and remember to live the dream.

Dane Young

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