Setting Up the Paragons

Posted in Limited Information on July 2, 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.

Last week's previews garnered many responses on Twitter and via email. People seem excited by the power level of the cycle of cards we looked at. As well they should be. If you manage to put yourself in the right color pair, those five uncommons pack a big punch.

This week, we are looking at five more uncommons from Magic 2015. This cycle—called Paragons—are also quite powerful, but in a different way from the cards we saw last week. How about we take a gander at them all at once, and then discuss afterward?

Looking at the Paragons, you can see they all share four main traits.

First, they are all 2/2 for four mana. Unfortunately, this does not pass the Vanilla Test, and is indeed quite far away from doing so. A 2/3 for four mana doesn't even pass, and a 3/3 for four is merely acceptable. Using the Vanilla Test, we have determined that each of these Paragons have some making up to do if we are going to be excited to run them in our 40-card Limited decks.

Second, they are all Human. Or, at least, the remnants of a Human in the case of Paragon of Open Graves. It's unclear at this point how important creature type and subtype are in this set, but early indicators say they aren't terribly important. We'll keep an eye on that as we learn more about Magic 2015.

Third, they are all have a static "anthem" effect. (Continuing from last week: anthem effects are called that because of Glorious Anthem. They were also once called "Crusade" effects, from, well, Crusade). Two things to note about this particular pump effect:

  1. It only affects other creatures, not the Paragon itself. So they are starting 2/2 and staying that way unless you use another effect to augment them.
  2. It only affects creatures of one color. In this case, it's the color of the Paragon itself.

Since most Limited decks—especially those in core set–Limited—are two colors at their base, this means the Paragon will be affecting somewhere around half of your creatures on average. If you pick one up early, you can use it as a tiebreaker for tough picks between two similarly powered creatures of different colors.

Since drafting a monocolored deck is difficult to do in most Limited formats, it's best to aim for a primary color and a secondary color once you pick up a Paragon. Some formats are happy if you are approximately fifty-fifty on spells in each color, but you may be rewarded in Magic 2015 by sticking to a primary color and effectively splashing the second color.

Fourth, they all have activated abilities that grant another creature you control of the same color something until end of turn. We'll explore those in depth in a little bit, when we look at each Paragon individually.

The Paragon cycle sits at uncommon, and it's conceivable that you could have two of them in one deck. If you find yourself in that position, it may be correct to aggressively skew your deck toward one color.

Paragon of Gathering Mists | Art by Michael C. Hayes

Considerables

It's easy to overlook one important element to how these (and other) anthem effects play out. Giving +1/+1 to some of your creatures doesn't sound super impressive when you hear it, but when you see it in action you'll see it actually is amazing.

One way to think of it: it's like you are netting one extra mana per creature getting pumped. Generally speaking, it costs a bit more than one mana to get a creature +1/+1. (For an example, compare something like Grizzly Bears and Nessian Courser). If you cast a Paragon and it pumps up three creatures, it's something like getting an additional three mana of value.

Another factor to consider is that the pump ability happens at what I like to call "haste speed." Haste speed simply means the bonus happens right now and can be used in combat immediately. Bestow and other Auras also happen at haste speed, as an example.

This is important because it means you can cast your Paragon and potentially enable a tableful of creatures to attack immediately. The creatures may have not been able to attack at all, pushing the advantage even further.

By now, you know a few things about me and about Magic. I'm always trying to get to the very core of a card. The question is, "What am I getting and what risks and costs am I taking on to get it?" We have discussed the cost already, but what are the risks?

It's pretty straightforward if we just rewind a paragraph or two back to the example about being able to attack with creatures the turn you cast the Paragon. Since the creatures are now bigger than their similarly costed counterparts on the other side of the battlefield, they are freed to attack. But what happens if the Paragon dies after attackers are declared, but before blockers?

Gulp. Now they are back to their normal size, and our opponent may be able to take big advantage of this. The defending player in Magic often has the advantage in combat, and this is exacerbated by the fact that you already have spent four mana this turn on your Paragon, leaving you with not enough mana to interact with your opponent. Now he or she gets to assign blockers, destroy your team, and giggle while doing it.

Be careful. The scenario I just described is one that you want to be aware of while playing, but not one that you want to discourage you from playing such powerful spells. In the risk-versus-reward equation, the Paragons come out on the plus side. They are not without setup cost, but they do deliver the goods when properly built around.

We haven't even mentioned the activated ability that each one has, so let's go card-by-card and take a look at them.

Before we get into the specifics on Paragon of the New Dawns, let's get a few things out of the way that is common to all of these special abilities:

  • They cost mana. No free tricks here. With one exception, they all cost just one mana. This is a reasonable price to pay, but we shouldn't expect too much.
  • You'll have to tap the Paragon to get the effect, which means you'll have to wait a turn until your Paragon is feeling better from that harsh summoning process.
  • Each Paragon can only target creatures that are the same color as it is. These Paragons are a picky group.
  • Each Paragon can only target creatures you control. If you have any ideas about doing some shenanigans on your opponent's creatures, those thoughts should end here.
  • The Paragons cannot target themselves. This is really only relevant in one case, which we'll cover in a minute. Still, it's worth noting the targeting restrictions are quite specific for this cycle.

Okay, back to the Paragon of New Dawns. Since you will rarely want to risk your Paragon in combat, it will often just sit back, pumping the team, and lending special abilities to friendly creatures. In this case, vigilance is what it grants. Not bad, but perhaps not particularly exciting either.

Vigilance allows you to win some damage races you may not have otherwise as your biggest creature gets to both attack and block. The main knock against it is that if your creature couldn't attack without vigilance, it's unlikely to be able to with vigilance.

Since it's not usually a game-swinging effect, you'll probably use it when you have an extra white mana to spare.

Now we're talking. Paragon of Gathering Mists does not suffer the same issue that we talked about above. Giving another blue creature flying until end of turn allows all types of damage to get through that normally wouldn't have. Remember that since it can only target blue creatures you control, the only eligible targets for it are getting the benefit of the static +1/+1 as well.

Blue is traditionally the color with the most flying creatures anyway, but with the Paragon out, any of them can be. So far, this is the strongest of the activated abilities, let's see if anything can dethrone it.

I'm not sure what happened here. We had this nice, clean cycle where every Paragon had an activated ability that (A) costs one mana and (B) wasn't really effective at targeting itself anyway.

Enter Paragon of Open Graves. The activated ability is all the way up to , and it would matter quite a lot if it could target itself with this ability. Since it costs triple the mana of the other four, we would expect a much better ability. And it does have a better ability than the others, depending on the board state.

Granting deathtouch to your other black creatures means they all become insane blockers and it makes combat an absolute nightmare for your opponent.

You get to attack, let him or her block, and then figure out which black creature to target with the ability. Even though it costs a lot of mana, it can lead to some very equitable trades in your favor. Again, just a quick reminder: you cannot target the Paragon itself with the ability. I don't want any of my readers to block a big creature and then activate the ability, only to find out it doesn't work and your Paragon is now eaten.

I like this as a balanced sweet spot for an ability like this. If you can continue to curve out, you probably just do so. But if you can cast a red creature for one less mana the next turn, you can give it haste with the Paragon. Threatening to give any of your future red threats haste is a great way to throw off combat math.

The fact that it's a one-time-only effect that messes with your curve-out scenarios is a knock against it for sure. Still, there is upside here to be found.

I put Paragon of Eternal Wilds ability slightly above Paragon of New Dawns's ability. Trample is a form of evasion, but it's one of the lowest forms of it. Not that it's a bad ability, and the bigger the creature the better it gets. Flying is better, deathtouch can actually get you cards, and haste is a one-time effect that can be very good or not matter at all, depending on the situation.

Trample falls somewhere in the middle. Again, the fact that the creature is going to be automatically pumped by the Paragon itself helps out a lot. Also, being able to choose after blockers are declared will be nice.

Paragon of Eternal Wilds | Art by Winona Nelson

It's a Setup

I mentioned setup cost earlier, and I want to put some perspective around it before I sign off for the day.

The Paragon cycle has a high setup cost. Since we are getting a virtually unplayable 2/2 for four mana at the base, we need to have a bunch of upside to make up for the power and toughness deficit.

The static pump effect only counts creatures of the Paragon's color and doesn't affect the Paragon itself. This means we need critical mass of creatures that share the color with the Paragon. While it sounds easy, it's often just one or two other creatures you'll have on the battlefield at once.

The activated ability can't be used the first turn the creature enters the battlefield, and can't target the Paragon itself. It also has one last major targeting restriction: it can only target creatures of the Paragon's color, and only creatures you control.

That's a lot of setup right there.

Is it worth it? Do the Paragons pay you back enough of that cost to justify seeing play?

Absolutely. The power level and utility are both there. You just need to remember to keep your Paragons in mind during the draft portion and to try to skew your deck in the color direction of said Paragons. If you can play a near-monocolored deck with an on-color Paragon or two, you'll be in great shape.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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