I'll just start things off by saying that exploit is my favorite mechanic from Dragons of Tarkir. It's the headliner mechanic for the nasties that work for Dragonlord Silumgar, and it's pretty darn insidious. Exploit is cool on multiple levels: it has a creepy flavor component and it's also interesting as an in-game mechanic.
Exploit forces you to make decisions.
Usually, they aren't too difficult. You are playing the exploit creature for a reason, and you know what you want to do with it when you cast it. The part that I particularly appreciate about the way this mechanic plays out is that the way you use the card varies, but you don't really see it. By the time you cast the exploit card, you know what it's going to do. But that isn't always the same thing every time.
The flexibility of the mechanic doesn't force newer players into suddenly complex decision trees, but instead it pops up naturally within the flow of the game.
Let's get into the nitty-gritty of this mechanic. The first thing that you understand after reading a few of the cards is that it's an optional mechanic. You could play all exploit creatures forever and never sacrifice a creature, if you wanted to. The fact that it's optional leads to some great in-game tension as you build out your board and start crafting how a game is going to go.
Creatures, as you probably know, are the most important things in any game of Limited. Creatures add to your board presence, and your board presence is what wins you games. Losing a creature (to yourself, no less) is a big deal. Even if it's a small creature, it can absolutely matter. This introduces tension on the decision, as giving up immediate board presence for potential long-term benefit is not an easy equation to reconcile.
One simple mode for all of these exploit creatures is just to view them as a sorcery that does whatever the card says. Remember, you can sacrifice the exploit creature to itself, of course. It's when you start sacrificing your other creatures that things can get complicated. Not all victims of exploit are created equal.
Before we dive into the actual exploit cards, let's take a look at the premium exploitees in the format.
These are very similar cards, and play out similarly when it comes to exploit. Quite simple really: you sacrifice them, get value from their trip to the graveyard, and then get value again from your exploit creature.
It feels great, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
And that's before we get to the big brother of these two, Youthful Scholar.
Same principle; but even more value. Sacrificing this guy to a sweet exploit creature has to rank among the best feelings in this format.
Still on the value train, Dutiful Attendant also makes the cut here:
There's nothing quite like playing a Typhoid Rats, forcing your red-green opponent to attack their creature into it and then playing Dutiful Attendant. Reluctant to repeat the process over again, they may not even bother attacking for a few turns. That's when you spring your exploit trap on them!
Play your exploit creature, sacrifice the Dutiful Attendant, get back your rats (or whatever) and enjoy your ride on the value train.
We can't forget our old friend Sultai Emissary. This card was good in the previous format, but somehow improved to even better when exploit hit the scene. Similar to Dutiful Attendant, you can extract value either with exploit going on or without. Either way, Sultai Emissary holds up its end of the bargain for sure.
These have been a few highlight cards that I prefer to sacrifice to my exploit creatures, but any creature is technically eligible to be exploited. Most of the creatures I named above have two main things in common:
- They are cheap.
- They have potent "dies" effects (they all have effects that care when the creature goes to the graveyard from the battlefield.)
But what about when you can't find any of these in the draft? Do you play mediocre, cheap creatures just to use as exploit fodder?
The answer is that you really don't have to. It's much better to be able to curve into a sweet exploit creature, but it's not essential. In order to maximize the chance that you do this, you'll want to pick up cheap creatures to cast in the early part of the game.
But don't set the bar too low. There's no rule saying you can't sacrifice a good creature to exploit, or even that you have to sacrifice anything at all. It's a simple concept really: Why not just draft creatures that stand alone on their own? If you want to exploit one, go for it. But in the times where exploit isn't available, you'll have good creatures around to hold their own.
So…no, I wouldn't recommend playing bad, cheap creatures just for the purpose of exploiting unless I had no other option.
Let's take a look at some of the sweet exploit cards from the set, in rough order of awesomeness.
It's funny; some of the professional players I talk to just call Rakshasa Gravecaller, "Grave Titan." I laughed when I first heard that, just because of how absurd Grave Titan was, and how comparing anything to it would be silly. But after thinking about it for a minute (and after playing against it), the comparison is closer than it initially feels.
Gravecaller is among the premier uncommons in the set, and beats out most of the rares as well.
Next up we have a little one-two punch of four-drop exploit creatures:
Both of these cards serve a similar role in the decks they go in: Add a reasonable body to the battlefield while also generating some card advantage. And both do a fantastic job.
Vulturous Aven is a bit better as it has flying and gets you two cards instead of one. But the life loss can matter and when you need something very specific, Gurmag Drowner lets you see a full four-cards-deep into your library.
There aren't that many cards from Fate Reforged with delve, but Gurmag Drowner enables basically all of them by dumping the remaining unselected cards in the graveyard. While not as good as a 2/3 with flying, a 2/4 on the ground does noble work on the blocks.
Next up we have a creature that fully acts like a spell:
This one is really nice. It may be above the two previous examples, but I can't turn down card draw so here we are. Silumgar Sorcerer is such a versatile card in Limited. It counters what are often the most important types of cards (creatures) and leaves behind an evasive threat. It really is one of the better cards in the set.
I remember being excited when I first saw Silumgar Butcher in the card image gallery. I'll admit that my excitement has waned about this card since getting my hands on it. First things first: it's a good card. It will almost always make the cut in your black decks, and it does solid work once it starts hitting the battlefield. That said: it's never really exciting…?
I don't know. All the pieces were here for a sweet Limited card, but it didn't quite live up. Still: You should draft and play these when you see them; they are solid at the least.
I once had an opponent on Magic Online declare that they had never seen someone as faithful to Sidisi as I was during that match. I like this card. It harkens back to my favorite Magic cards, and I generally find that it does just enough work to warrant inclusion. I almost never play this card on the first turn of the game, though I do see people doing this sometimes.
Annnd we've hit the bottom of the list. Minister of Pain proved an occasionally decent sideboard plan against white token decks, but rarely lived up to its end just by being a bit awkward.
Qarsi Sadist looks like it could be at home in either a control deck or an aggressive deck. This is a problem. The card either needed to beat down and have higher power or it needed to do a better job of blocking. Low scores across the board for Qarsi Sadist.
Exploit is great. It's fun, it's chock full of value, and it's a mechanic you can build an entire deck around. Just make sure you seek out a good balance of exploit creatures, and creatures that perhaps don't mind being exploited themselves.
Until next week!