Sounding the 'Horn

Posted in Limited Information on January 16, 2013

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.

Since the last Limited Information, more of Gatecrash and its guilds have been revealed. If you are anything like me, this is an exciting time. My mind is constantly abuzz with new cards, interactions, mechanics, strategies, artwork, and evaluations. I can't wait for the Prerelease, and to finally start drafting the new set.

So how do Nuts amp; Bolts Spikes spend their time during the agonizing wait until the crisp new booster packs are in our hands? We refresh the Card Image Gallery constantly and we begin our evaluations on what has already been revealed, of course.

This week's preview card looks pretty straightforward on its surface, but there is a lot going on that isn't immediately obvious.

Let's take a look at our third Limited Information preview card from Gatecrash, Slaughterhorn:


Cryptic Command | Art by Wayne England

It's easy to look at Slaughterhorn and see a reasonable, if unexciting creature. A 3/2 for three mana has certainly been playable in recent formats, but the two toughness is a concern, as it will often trade for lesser creatures. I still expect it to make the cut in many green decks just on the merit of its power and toughness.

If we look at the bloodrush ability, however, Slaughterhorn transforms from a reasonable inclusion in a green beat down deck to a flexible tool at later stages of the game. Drawing a 3/2 vanilla creature late in the game can be less than exciting. But making it a cheap, efficient pump spell that can allow your team to attack through a tough defensive presence is impressive.

Versatility is an important consideration when evaluating a new card. The more "modes" a card has, the more likely it is to positively affect the outcome of a game. Even cards that have relatively weak individual modes can be powerful tools in the right hands.

We can look at the recent cycle of Charms from Return to Ravnica (and some new ones from Gatecrash as well) as an example of how useful versatility can be.

If we take any single ability from these Charms, they are generally not worth a card slot in our deck. There are exceptions to this, but most of the abilities wouldn't be worth a card on their own. The value of the Charms comes from the fact that they are flexible, and that it's rare that they don't have a use in a game.

I have found that top players often prefer cards that offer the most flexibility. This is because it gives them the most options to find value during the course of a game. An obviously powerful card is almost always worth playing, but cards can make up much of that utility by being versatile.

Versatility comes in many forms. Some are obvious, like the Charms we looked at earlier. Some are less so. Slaughterhorn is an interesting combination of a creature and a spell.

    Explosive Impact

Rubbleback Rhino | Art by Johann Bodin

So how does Slaughterhorn stack up in the versatility department?

Quite well actually. Let's examine both modes of the 'horn and see how it does.

  1. 3/2 Beast for . As we discussed before, this is solid. It's a fine three-drop for an aggressive green deck, and if left unchecked it can get in a lot of damage. The downside is the two toughness. If our opponent doesn't feel like taking a bunch of Beast beats, he or she can often trade a lesser creature for our Slaughterhorn. That is, unless we have a combat trick...
  2. , target attacking creature gets +3/+2 until end of turn. This is a playable spell in creature-heavy beatdown decks. In this form, it's not one of the best combat tricks ever printed, but it would make the cut often enough.

A mistake we shouldn't make is comparing the bloodrush ability on Slaughterhorn to Giant Growth.

Giant Growth | Art by Noah Bradley

Giant Growth—and it's kin—serves multiple uses in a game of Limited Magic by pumping a creature to:

  1. Get in more damage when attacking.
  2. Win combat while attacking.
  3. Win combat while blocking.
  4. Protect it from a burn spell or other damage effect.

There are other uses, but these four cover the most common for a pump spell in Limited. Activating the bloodrush ability on Slaughterhorn fulfills half of these roles. You can only activate it during combat, and only after your attackers are declared. This is a significant limiting factor for a pump spell, but still leaves us with two solid options.

A key point to note here is that Slaughterhorn—and bloodrush in general—encourages us to be aggressive.

    Slaughter Games

Slaughter Games | Art by Steve Prescott

I see many uses for Slaughterhorn in Gatecrash Limited.

On turn three, if we have no other reasonable play, simply playing Slaughterhorn as a 3/2 is going to be the correct move most of the time. Developing your board with high-powered creatures usually takes precedent over anything else in the early stages of a game.

Since Slaughterhorn isn't the only bloodrush-enabled creature in Gatecrash, having creatures on the ground to pump with your other bloodrushers will be important.

Bloodrush as a mechanic even has me thinking about the possibility of a twenty-three-creature deck. Either casting creatures or pump spells every turn of the game while relentlessly attacking our opponent's life total down to 0?

Sign me up.

    Blades and Bolts

Speaking of bloodrush, remember that while it may be tempting to use it at the first opportunity (especially when it only costs one green mana), it's often better to wait until a more advantageous moment. Used correctly, Slaughterhorn can be a Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, or even TWO Doom Blades if our opponent makes risky blocking decisions.

Waiting until our opponent is tapped out to use bloodrush is ideal. This won't always happen, but being patient with the activation can pay dividends if our opponent is forced to block and doesn't have a way to interact with our creatures.

Using bloodrush just to get in extra damage when our opponent has plenty of open mana is borderline reckless. If the creature is killed in response to our bloodrush activation, we have been two-for-oned, and that, friends, does not equal value. It will be far better to exercise some patience, waiting for the right time to strike.

    Rush of Blood

Rush of Blood | Art by Cynthia Sheppard

The goal with bloodrush is pretty simple: Beat our opponent, or kill one (or more) of his or her creatures, while not opening ourselves up to a devastating removal spell. Slaughterhorn is especially good at enabling this as it only costs one green mana to use its bloodrush ability. This makes it easy to find a spot in our curve to activate it.

We also can't forget that it's a reasonable play to just play Slaughterhorn out as a creature and beat down with it. The decision to do this will be guided by the state of the board, how many creatures we have, if a 3/2 can attack profitably, and if a pump spell could break the game open for us.

One other potentially important note is that bloodrush cannot be countered by conventional counter spells. Since you are simply activating an ability of the card, you aren't actually casting a spell, and therefore it cannot be countered. It does, however, still use the stack, so our opponent will have the opportunity to respond.

    Call of the Beatdown

Horncaller’s Chant | Art by Eric Velhagen

While I don't predict Slaughterhorn being a high pick in Gatecrash draft, I don't see him riding the pines too often either. A solid, flexible spell that hits on two very different axes—both at a competitive price—will rarely be cut from the main deck.

I'm starting to get the hint that the Gruul player should be attacking, and attacking often. With bloodrush around, and a bunch of big beefy creatures to cast, it just makes sense.

And hey, who am I to argue?

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