The Magic Origins Prerelease is mere days away, and I thought we'd dive into one slice of the color pie this week to show you one way to approach a new format.
When it comes to tackling the intricacies of a fresh set of cards, I find that the first order of business is figuring out how many colors we expect to play in the average Limited deck. Recent examples include Khans of Tarkir, which lead us to play three-color decks primarily. And Dragons of Tarkir, which urged us to play two-color decks. For Magic Origins, we'll be playing two-color decks most of the time.
Once we have that established, we need to look into the various color pairs to figure out what makes them tick, and even go through the list of cards to find the important ones. This tends to happen as you play the set, but you can do some of the heavy lifting ahead of time, and we are going to do exactly that in this week's column.
The sweet part about doing this is that it does double-duty for you: Not only do you learn about how to play a color pair and what makes it tick, you also get to learn how to play against the color pair as well. By studying the cards and strategies that make up the meat of the color pair, you'll discover what the core strategy is—and how to stop it—as well as the important instant-speed tricks and removal you may need to play around in a game.
We are going to take a look at the green-white color pair today. If you are choosing one of these colors for the Prerelease, you may find yourself in this pair. And if you aren't, you may find yourself opposing it on the other side of the table. Either way, it should be helpful.
Let's dive in.
Green White Renown
Renown is the marquee mechanic for this color pair, and both colors have cards with renown. Renown rewards you for attacking and subsequently hitting your opponent. This color pair is looking to be the aggressor, and to push through damage with its renown creatures. Let's take a look at some of the renown creatures in the set; they are the reason we want to push the damage through in the first place. After that we'll look at some of the tools we have to accomplish that goal.
Knight of the Pilgrim's Road is a solid starting point for this discussion: It's a common renown creature that's representative of the strategy as a whole. It's just ok at 3/2 for three mana, but if you can connect with it one time, it jumps up to a darn respectable 4/3. The initial 2 toughness is rough, though, as most creatures can block it and trade. Again, we'll be looking to push cards like this through, leveraging combat tricks and removal.
Here we jump to a powerful uncommon payoff card for the renown deck, Consul's Lieutenant. Wow, this card is great! The WW casting cost is rough (remember to pay attention to which land you play on turn 1 if you have this card in your deck!) but the reward is there. It's a 2/1 first strike, so it can get through many of the typical turn-two and even turn-three blockers it will face, assuming you can drop this on turn two yourself. If you do get it through for damage and get that renowned trigger, you'll have a 3/2 first strike to attack with, which is no small order.
And there's even more. If it does get renowned you'll get that powerful combo of it being difficult to block profitably in combat, while also pumping up the rest of your attacking team. This card can be very scary.
Topan Freeblade is more along the same lines as the Knight of the Pilgrim's Road. It's a fine two-mana creature, but it only really shines if it gets renowned. Cards like this are important to this strategy, as they aren't usually high picks, so you can pick them up in the mid- to late-pack of a draft, and you'll see plenty of them in your sealed pool as well.
Ok, back to the "mythic rare uncommons," we have War Oracle. Look, the 3/3 for four mana isn't amazing, but adding lifelink is a big deal if you are talking about virtually any kind of damage race. And it has renown 1, so if you do manage to get that damage in, you'll have a 4/4 lifelink creature which is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. This is the type of card that rewards you double-time for having good combat tricks and ways to protect it.
Pharika's Disciple is a bit of a different twist compared the more aggressive white cards, but it's effective nonetheless. The base stats are just ok: 2/3 with deathtouch for four mana. If you find yourself behind on board to a big ground creature, this Disciple could be your savior. If, however, you are in the mood to attack, it can provide some issues for your opponent.
First off, it trades with basically anything. If they block with their 4/4, it's going to trade. Same with a 6/6 or a 12/12; it doesn't matter thanks to good old deathtouch. But the really cool part is when they have, say, two 2/2 creatures instead of the aforementioned 4/4. Now what are they supposed to do, double block and lose both of their creatures? Since Pharika's Disciple only has two power, a triple block doesn't mean you get to kill all three creatures. Unless of course you have a trick in hand.
Rhox Maulers is the kind of card that starts out respectable and gets downright scary. People don't think of trample as a form of evasion normally, but it kind of is. It's a deterrent to blocking, and it helps get actual damage through to the opponent: very important when the card has renown! This is the type of card that can take over the board if left unchecked.
A scenario you might see would be: Cast Rhox Maulers, next turn attack with it. Our opponent blocks with a 3/3 and a 2/2. We use a combat trick to give it +2/+2 until end of turn, killing both blockers and triggering renown. If the opponent felt forced to double-block before, now they are really far behind because they have to find blocks for a 6/6!
Each color pair gets a gold card and this one is ruthlessly efficient, if not particularly tricky. The key to this card is the whole "renown 2" thing. A 2/3 vigilance for three mana is ok, but the fact that it becomes a whopping 4/5 (with vigilance!) means that this card can absolutely dominate the early- to mid-game. The game you get to play a turn-three Citadel Castellan looking down at a hand full of combat tricks is a fine day indeed.
The Supporting Cards
So the incentives are here. There are plenty of good-to-great renown creatures that reward us for pushing through damage. How exactly are we going to go about it? Let's take a gander at some of the cards that will help us along that path.
First off are two reprints, but they certainly help get the job done.
Mighty Leap has the edge between the two as it trades +2/+2 for flying. Normally this may not be the case, but here it is. Flying almost guarantees that we get that renowned trigger, and once we do we may just be too far ahead on board for our normal-speed opponent to catch up. Titanic Growth is still a fine combat trick, almost ensuring that our creature will win combat versus any single creature…or three.
There are also a pair of one mana combat tricks, one from each color.
With these early-drop renown creatures, cheap, effective combat tricks are the name of the game. And here we have two examples of exactly that. Might of the Masses starts out by being a modest +1/+1 until end of turn (remember, it counts the creature you are targeting at the very least), but can scale with the game to get in for a lot more damage. In the developing stages of a normal Limited game, though, +1/+1 or +2/+2 is plenty to get your renowned creature over the top of a single blocker.
And block they will. If your opponent has a 2/2 and you have 2/2 with renown, they are highly incentivized to trade in combat when offered. If they don't, their creature becomes marginalized anyway by virtue of you getting the renowned trigger.
Enshrouding Mist is interesting in that it directly references renowned creatures. It's a multifaceted combat trick that can get your creature over the top of a single block early in the game (most of the time, anyway), and can also save your creature from combat or certain kinds of removal spells. And if the creature happens to already be renowned, it can even act as a removal spell itself. (You can untap your renowned creature before blocks if your opponent attacks, and then block freely knowing your creature won't take any damage anyway.)
Somewhat similar is Anointer of Champions.
This type of card is deceptively good. It looks like it has such a little effect on the game, but if you can drop this thing on turn one, it's like having a mini-combat trick that you can play every turn for the rest of the game, for no mana! And in a world where we are trying to push through damage to a player early and often, this card could be an all-star. It really only goes in aggressive decks, as it doesn't do anything on defense except chump block once.
If you just want to punch a bunch of damage through and get a couple of renown creatures going, these will help.
Grasp of the Hieromancer is one surefire way to punch through a lot of damage and get that renown going—assuming you are willing to take the risk. You see, it's an Aura, and while it is good at making blocking incredibly difficult in the early game (it gets their best blocker out of the way while making your creature big enough to attack past their second-best blocker) it carries the risk that all creature Auras do: the dreaded reverse two-for-one. We want to be the ones two-for-oneing our opponents, not the other way around. One option is to put this on your weaker, non-renown creature. You'll still get to tap a blocker, perhaps clearing the way for your renown creature to become renowned. Now your opponent has to deal with two good threats, instead of one mega-threat.
A card like Heavy Infantry is a bit slower, but there are no such risks here, as your "get a blocker out of the way" effect comes stapled to nice big 3/4 creature. Heavy Infantry is solid, but not amazing unless you can really capitalize on the tap ability when it enters the battlefield.
Yeva's Forcemage is a nice little one-shot combat trick plus creature combo. You play it pre-combat, and it often makes blocks a major pain for your opponent. This can force through extra damage, encourage chump blocks, or even get a renowned trigger. Not bad, but if you want to really go over the top, check out these next two cards.
Now we're talking business. Ampryn Tactician is a nice way to finish your curve. You can cast your whole hand of creatures onto the battlefield, drop this card, and attack for a ton of damage. The 3/3 body for four mana is a bit disappointing, but hopefully you won't need it for long if you time everything correctly.
I mentioned being careful with Auras just a bit ago. While Grasp of the Hieromancer may or may not be worth the risk, Knightly Valor most definitely is. This card is a house. You can play it on basically any creature that can attack and you create a huge, vigilant attacker right now as well as a 2/2 knight token with vigilance for your troubles. It's like getting a new attacker with haste and vigilance plus the token. That's a bargain for five mana and some risk.
Hopefully this gave you a better feel for how this green-white color pair works, and some of the strategies and cards you can leverage to your advantage. There are, of course, more cards that you'll be playing in this strategy. Cards like Celestial Flare and Suppression Bonds are important to remember.
Oh, and rares. Let's not forget the rares. But the cards you'll see, game-in and game-out, are here. The combat tricks and other ways to push through damage. These are what to keep in mind when you sit down with a green-white deck. Or even against it.
Until next week!