Magic 2015 Week One Previews

Posted in Limited Information on June 25, 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.

I am an unabashed fan of Core Set Draft.

When Magic 2010 Core Set came out, I had low expectations. I thought the new direction they took with that set—focusing on core fantasy flavor, and leaving the door wide open for new Magic players to "get it"—made perfect sense. The big twist at the time was that there was going to be brand-new cards printed in the core set.

As a player, this meant two main things:

  1. Constructed players had to pay more attention to the powerful cards printed in the latest core set. These would be legal in Standard and older formats, as well.
  2. Limited players got a whole new set to draft every year. People rarely drafted the core sets before Magic 2010. They were exclusively reprints and not really streamlined for a great draft experience.

But I was skeptical that a more stripped down, "non-expert" set would provide enough complexity and depth for a dedicated draft nut like myself. I figured I'd draft it a few times, get bored with it, and relegate it to the same dusty game-store shelf that the rest of the core sets were still sitting on.

After getting my hands dirty, I realized my assumption was off. I wasn't getting bored, I was having a lot of fun, and the format felt plenty deep enough to keep my attention for the long term.

Art by Clint Cearley

My best guess as to how this could be was some overly complex theory I had come up with, but the truth was simple: Magic is the best game ever. I kind of already knew this, but the advent of the new core set philosophy hammered it home like never before.

Attacking, blocking, drawing cards, killing creatures (and hopefully opponents) was enough to keep my brain working and stimulated. It was still Magic.

As time moved forward, things only got better. Magic 2013 is on my Top 3 favorite draft formats ever. Magic 2014 was also fantastic, as it reminded us how to slow down and enjoy some card draw and stalemates.

My hopes are high for Magic 2015. And why wouldn't they be? The bar has been set so high for Core Set Draft I can't be blamed for having high expectations.

Breaking things down to a more basic Magic formula also helps cleanse the Limited palate. The spring set usually involves three different booster packs and a full, expert-level block format. The fall set is big, and new, and is usually a lot to take in at once. The summer core set does a great job of just letting us play Magic while we await the new goodies just a few months later.

New Kids In The Block

So I am legitimately excited to draft Magic 2015.

Cool.

Now let's talk preview cards.

Remember these from Magic 2013?

Well, they are back in Magic 2015!

Sort of.

Today, we are going to look at a similar cycle of uncommon creatures, but the colors have been switched. Instead of, say, Arctic Aven being a blue creature that rewarded you for playing white, we have a white creature that similarly rewards you for playing blue.

Let's dive in.

Possibly named after me (no), Dauntless River Marshal kicks things off with a bang. First, we must dust off ye olde Vanilla Test and see how this Human Soldier stacks up.

A 2/1 for .

Sure, that passes. Perhaps not exciting, but it passes. Now we read the rest and see that there is a lot more going on here than first appears. On each card in this cycle, there are two abilities. One is static and the other is activated.

The static ability is the same on all of them, so I'll just go over that part here. If you control a specific type of land, the creature gets +1/+1. Pretty simple, but what a massive difference it makes to the card.

Re-dusts off ye olde Vanilla Test

A 3/2 for . What?? Now we are talking business. That's all it takes to go from ho-hum to hot stuff. We have seen 3-power creatures for two mana quite often in recent blocks, and they are almost universally good. This one is no exception.

Assuming we are in blue, Dauntless River Marshal is already pretty strong. Now let's take a look at that activated ability:

: Tap target creature.

I don't know about you, but I find that exciting. If you are a properly aggressive white-blue deck, just activating this once or twice will likely win you most any damage race. Sure, it's not the cheapest tap ability we have ever seen, but who cares? It comes on a 3/2 for two mana!

If white-blue proves to be a good color combination in Magic 2015, this card may be part of the reason for it.

Let's move on to Jorubai Murk Lurker as we continue the discussion of this cycle:

Harbor Bandit leaned toward the aggressive end of the spectrum. Switching the colors apparently switched its desire to beatdown a bit, too.

Jorubai Murk Lurker looks to be an excellent card in a blue-black control deck. While a 1/3 for doesn't pass the Vanilla Test at all, a 2/4 that can give any creature lifelink until end of turn for only kind of makes that not matter too much.

As you'll see as we move further into this cycle, the mere two-mana activation cost is the cheapest of the bunch. It will be trivial to give two creatures lifelink on the same turn, for example. This is the kind of play that makes a damage race nearly impossible to win for your opponent. If you have this plus virtually any respectable creature on the battlefield at the same time, your opponent simply won't be able to effectively enter combat against you.

Another common scenario I see for the Murk Lurker is clogging up the ground in a big way while a flier bashes in the skies (with lifelink no less).

This card is just plain scary. From the artwork to the stats to the activated ability, this Giant came to game. With a respectable 4/3 body to start with, it only gets better with the addition of a Mountain, ratcheting this guy all the way up to 5/4 for five...in black.

That's a solid beater right there.

But wait, there's more. The activated ability on this card is kind of insane. to "Shock" something. (By the way, we use that term because of the actual card Shock.) I realize that paying five mana for just 2 damage may not look very efficient at first glance, but don't be fooled: If you get to activate this one or two times during the course of a game, the game will end quickly and in your favor.

The ability to just throw around damage (it hits creatures or players) is a powerful ability and I'm not surprised at all to see it cost five mana. Imagine paying five to outright kill a relevant creature on the board. Without using a card from your hand. Yeah.

If you are black-red or anywhere near it, Nightfire Giant is your, well, Giant.

Once you see "Kird" in the name and "Creature – Ape" on the type line, you should pay attention. Kird Ape is one of the most popular and efficient creatures around, and this is sort of like Kird Ape's big brother.

No, you won't be getting hyper-efficient starts to your Limited games with Kird Chieftain, but I have a feeling your endgame will be considerably stronger.

Kird Chieftain is a Hill Giant (more slang: Hill Giants are 3/3 creatures for four mana. Specifically, ), but he doesn't stop there. With the addition of a Forest (much like his younger sibling), he grows to 4/4.

How big of a difference is 3/3 for four mana versus 4/4 for four mana?

Much like the Chieftain itself, it's big: 4/4s are more resilient to many forms of removal, attack through more blockers, and of course deal more damage when they get through.

Speaking of getting through for damage, the activated ability on Kird Chieftain is adept at doing just that.

How?

Threat of activation my friend. Threat of activation.

Quickly: Threat of activation is when you attack with a creature that has an activated ability that makes it bigger. Your opponent sees this, and wisely decides not to block, as his or her creature would lose combat. This is where things get cool: you don't have to use the ability at all! Now you can hit your opponent with your (smaller) creature, and still develop your board. It's almost like the creature is unblockable.

And wow does the Chieftain threaten some activated abilities. If you read closely, you'll see that it can target any creature with the whole "+2/+2 and trample until end of turn" thing. That means you can attack with all of your creatures, and just watch your opponent squirm as he or she tries to figure out how best to block.

My guess is that your opponent won't have many good blocks. This is where threat of activation becomes your best friend. I also like that the Chieftain is cast on four mana, and then activated on five.

Prized Elephant was the white-green version of this cycle from Magic 2013. That card was big, and powerful, and maybe a little underwhelming. Sunblade Elf goes hard in the other direction. This Elf Warrior is lean and mean, and ready to go to battle with a bunch of friends.

First things first, a 2/2 for one mana is solid on the Vanilla Test. It's about as good as it gets for a one-drop. That said, I want to caution against getting too excited about it. There have been quite a few 2-powered one-drops in Magic history, and not too many have been Limited powerhouses. They are usually playable, and in the right build they can be quite strong, but they don't command premium picks like you might expect.

Sunblade Elf isn't finished with us yet, though. For , you can give your entire team of creatures +1/+1 until end of turn. This is a big, game-swinging ability, but it's a narrow one. You need multiple creatures on the battlefield to make this good, and you need a whole slew of tokens or similar to make it great.

If we compare the ability to Kird Chieftain's ability, for example, we can see that the setup cost is much higher on Sunblade Elf's ability. The Chieftain can just target itself in a pinch, creating a massive 6/6 trampler that is attacking as early as turn five. Sunblade Elf? It can only make itself a 3/3, and that's on turn five (at the earliest).

Sunblade Elf | Art by Lucas Graciano

The deal is this: a 2/2 for one mana is a fine playable, but to really unlock the power of Sunblade Elf, you need tokens or creatures that are small and cheap.

It's yet to be seen what options we have in green-white, but I'll be keeping an eye on them.

Before We Go

These cards are powerful, but in a diverse way. Some want to be more controlling, some aid in beating down, others demand going wide instead of going tall. The key will be to pay attention to what each one is asking of us, and if that particular color pair supports the strategy it wants.

Another thing: Unless you are in the two colors that the card demands, these creatures get considerably worse. Some of them may make the cut occasionally on their own, but for the most part you will want to focus your deck on the specific two colors and try to ride them to the finish.

Next week, I have another full cycle of previews from Magic 2015!

@Marshall_LR

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