Looking back at Fate Reforged, we saw a big impact by the rare and mythic rare cards in the set. Going slightly deeper, we saw an even bigger impact by the uncommons. They were uncommonly good, as it were. I went over some of the highlight uncommons recently in this column, but those were just the tip of the iceberg.
Cloudform and Lightform were both first-pickable, Abzan Beastmaster was a personal favorite of mine as well. Battle Brawler was excellent in the right deck (and passable in the wrong one), Ugin's Construct was powerful if costly, and Valorous Stance was both great removal and great creature protection. Vaultbreaker smashed faces provided there wasn't a Sibsig Muckdraggers in the way. Even the cycle of clunky uncommon Dragons saw some play.
This week, I have a full cycle of five preview cards from Dragons of Tarkir to share with you. They are all uncommons, and they all have the word "megamorph" on them.
Megamorph is just like morph, but when you turn the creature face up by paying the megamorph cost, it gets a +1/+1 counter on it. It's funny, reading it at first; it feels like this perhaps isn't as "mega" as it sounds. But then I remember that everyone always forgets how good even a single +1/+1 counter actually is in Limited.
That one +1/+1 counter represents what the creature would cost if it cost at least one mana more than it did. And in a game of Limited, being the first one on board with a bigger creature than your opponent means you get to be the one to attack first.
Or have a better blocker.
It's a huge deal. Imagine if you had a 2/2 for two mana, but your opponent had a 2/2 for two mana, that came with a +1/+1 counter. It doesn't sound like a lot does it? If you were to play that game out from beginning to end, you'd find it completely changes how things go.
This is why you don't see 3/3s for two mana very often. Make sure you don't fall for the trap of underestimating the value of that +1/+1 counter. And as you'll see, some creatures benefit more from the counter than others.
Let's dive into these sweet megamorphs.
First up, we have Aven Sunstriker:
As you can see immediately, we have a new axis on which to gauge these morphs. With normal morphs, it was simple. We either played it as a morph, intending on turning it face up at some point in the future, or we just cast it the old fashioned way. Now we have another dimension to consider.
If we just cast it normally, it never gets the +1/+1 counter. If we cast it face down as a morph, we are gaining a lot by flipping it face up later. So our base preference for these will be to cast them face down, and then flip them up when possible.
Aven Sunstriker has one of the most potent keywords in Magic on it: double strike.
Double strike on the 1/1 body of the Sunstriker isn't too scary on its own. The Sunstriker effectively acts as a 2/1 creature in most scenarios. And a 2/1 flying creature for 1WW isn't even terrible. It's not great, but it's not terrible. The good stuff comes when you start combining it with spells and effects that alter its power.
Even the most basic pump spells help hammer home big chunks of damage. And the baseline of playing this on turn three as a morph, then turning it face up on turn five is pretty good as well. A 2/2 flying double strike creature is a solid threat that must be dealt with. Dealing 4 damage a turn is nothing to sneeze at, and with the addition of any pump spells or other ways to augment the power on the card, it becomes an instant game winner.
I suspect that this will be played face down most of the time.
Art by John Severin Brassell
Next I want to look at Marang River Skeleton:
Clearly a throwback to fan-favorite Drudge Skeletons all the way from Alpha, Marang River Skeleton shares a lot in common with that classic card. In fact, if you take the whole "megamorph" thing away, this is a reprint of Drudge Skeletons. And Drudge Skeletons were pretty good back in the day!
How do they hold up in their new form today?
Turns out, not too bad at all. With the warning that you'll want to be a defensive deck looking to block, Marang River Skeleton does just that quite well. The key is the regeneration cost. At just one black mana, you can usually leave a Swamp untapped to thwart any ground attacks from big, dumb beasts.
The megamorph cost on Marang River Skeleton is pretty reasonable as well, at just four mana. When I mentioned before that some creatures really benefit from the +1/+1 counter, and that some don't, this is one of the ones that doesn't. It clearly benefits in some way, but since its job is to block much bigger threats anyway, the counter is more like icing on the cake than the cake itself.
I like this card. It's difficult to kill and should shore up the ground game nicely. The addition of megamorph only makes it better.
Art by Jack Wang
This next card is one that benefits greatly from the +1/+1 counter. It's called Gudul Lurker:
Here is a fascinating one.
First things first: I wouldn't play a 1/1 unblockable creature for one mana. People often think that this kind of card is good and should be played, but they are usually experiencing some combination of Best-Case-Scenario Mentality and card misevaluation.
The BCSM part is that they always view this card in their hand when they start the game. They figure they can get in for 4, 5, or even more damage with this little guy. The truth, though, is that sometimes you draw it on turn twelve, when you really needed some action. Or you find yourself behind in the game and only have a 1/1 to block with. Yuck.
So if this were just a 1/1 unblockable for one mana, I wouldn't play it unless it had some special synergy with my deck. But it's not just a 1/1 unblockable for one mana. It's got megamorph. And for cheap, too.
While it may be tempting to just run this card out there on turn one, you are likely better off waiting to megamorph Gudul Lurker. You'll make up the missed damage quickly, and although it's more mana, you'll have a solid creature: a 2/2 unblockable that can block if needed.
Art by Christopher Burdett
From our smallest megamorph, to our largest. Meet Stormcrag Elemental:
Now, before you balk at the high mana cost of both hard casting and turning this card face up, remember that you can cast it face down for three mana whenever you want. It's so easy to overlook the fact that megamorph behaves the same way morph does: it allows you to get out of sticky land draws by developing your board with creatures. The megamorph cost is the same amount of mana as just hard casting it, so you'll often just opt for that.
A 6/6 trampler is massive. The closest comparison for this is Woolly Loxodon. At first it just seemed like the biggest, dumbest, most expensive morph, but we learned that it was bigger than the other morphs and that made it valuable. After you flipped up your Woolly Loxodon and started beating down, what happened?
That's right, your opponent started chump blocking at some point to facilitate a race or whatever plan he or she came up with.
Stormcrag Elemental fully encourages chump blocks. Trample on a creature this big is a huge deterrent and speeds up the clock considerably.
The cost to cast and megamorph Stormcrag Elemental is high, which keeps it from being super exciting. But the power is there, and a morph that wins most combats and can act as a finisher is a fine playable to be sure.
Art by Ralph Horsley
Last, and perhaps best, is Salt Road Ambushers:
The stats on Salt Road Ambushers aren't super exciting. You get a 3/3 for four mana if you hard cast it.
This is pretty underwhelming in modern-era Limited. If you turn it face up with megamorph, you upgrade to a respectable 4/4 body, although you've also invested double the mana to do so. Fine, but unexciting.
The excitement kicks in when you read the static ability on the card. Whenever you turn anything (else) face up, it gets massive. Like, huge, scary, big, massive. Just look at the cards in this article and think about how much that ability changes even one creature being turned face up.
A 4/4 unblockable creature? That is a super-fast clock.
A 4/4 flying double strike? Holy smokes.
You can do the math on the rest. Even if you only turn up one card while you have the Salt Road Ambushers on the battlefield, you are going to put yourself in a great position. The rough part is that your opponent will know it's coming. Since the Ambushers are just sitting there announcing their intentions to the world, your opponent may try to play around the extra counters.
I have to wonder if it even matters, though. What is your opponent going to do? Not block your creature? No problem. Just turn it face up and whack your opponent for a million damage. The fact is that almost everything you turn face up is going to trump whatever is on the other side of the table.
The real question is if it's worth it to play the relatively mediocre body that is Salt Road Ambushers for that benefit. My guess is that it probably will be. It's not like the Ambushers are bad on their own. They just aren't good on their own. I'm sure it will come down to how many other ways you have to turn creatures face up. If you have a bunch, this card will shine.
Art by Joseph Meehan
So that does it for week one of previews of Dragons of Tarkir. The new set is a big set, and it's going to make up the bulk of the draft packs for the new format. These are but a touch of what is to come.
Next week, I'll have even more previews for you!
Talk to you then!