A Surge of Support

Posted in Limited Information on January 6, 2016

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 we blew your mind with five unreal uncommons from Oath of the Gatewatch. This week we'll be scaling things back a bit. After all, we have to leave you with some surprises from the new set. That said, I have two previews to show you: one with an ability we saw last week and another with a new ability.

On the subject of new keyword abilities, I figure we should have a little chat.

But not before we get to the new cards, since I know that's what you came here for.

First up is the new ability, which comes on Jwar Isle Avenger:

First things first—and yes, you know where I'm going with this—the Vanilla Test! Our old friend here tells us that Jwar Isle Avenger scores slightly lower than we would hope on the Vanilla Test, but close enough to be playable. Once a gold standard in Limited, a 3/3 flyer for five mana falls a little short these days.

Which of course takes us to the text box, where we find an interesting new mechanic called surge.

Surge has a few things going on, but we'll start with the thing most applicable to you as a Limited player, which is what it actually does. Surge is an alternative casting cost, which means that as long as the specified requirement is met, you can cast it for its surge cost. In this case, it's a fairly absurd three mana for a 3/3 flyer (which, as you know, crushes the Vanilla Test).

How exactly do we meet the requirement? All you have to do is cast another spell this turn. The key here is that your only obligation is to cast a spell; it doesn't matter what happens to the spell after you cast it. Maybe it resolved, maybe it got countered—it doesn't matter as long as you cast a spell this turn.

This raises some interesting questions about this card. The dream of casting it on turn three seems relatively dead for Limited, assuming there aren't many free spells in the set. Casting it on turn four in conjunction with a one-drop could be great, assuming that there are one-drops worth casting and that you don't mind casting them on turn four. Hmmm.

My assumption going in is that the average good-case scenario with Jwar Isle Avenger is to cast it on turn five along with a two-drop. Now, this might not sound as exciting as a 3/3 with flying on turn three (and it's not), but if this is one of the two things I'm doing on turn five, I'm pretty darn happy about it. Plus, we can always default back to just hard casting it like normal if that plan doesn't come together.

The ultimate strength of this card will be dictated by how often we get to cast it for its surge cost, and how we feel about a 3/3 flyer for five in the format.

Oh, right. "Teammate." You noticed that, did you?

The deal with teammates for us Limited players is pretty straightforward. The teammate in this case is your other head in Two-Headed Giant! If you find yourself at a Prerelease or local tournament playing Two-Headed Giant, surge cards are certainly going to be on your radar—and Jwar Isle Avenger will be no exception.

Now the other card:

You'll often hear me extolling the virtues of a good creature curve in Limited. It's my contention that a solid curve out of two-, three-, and four-mana creatures is a great way to win a lot of games of Limited.

Apparently Relief Captain agrees.

My goodness, this card is a super-nasty curve-topper at just four mana, but with a profound effect on the state of the board when it enters the battlefield. There is a dream to be lived where you are on the play, and you cast a one-, two-, and three-drop before slamming this Kor Knight Ally on the battlefield and obliterating your opponent.

It's hard to overstate the kind of tempo you gain in a beatdown deck with a card like this. It basically makes all of your creatures one mana ahead of your opponent's. Your two-drops now trump their two-drops, and so on. It enables attacks you wouldn't have had previously, and it turns a good start into a major issue for your opponent.

As a reminder, with support, you can't put the counters on the creature itself, so Relief Captain will stay a 3/2 upon entering the battlefield. Also, you can't pile the counters up on one creature, so you'll want as close to three other creatures as possible when you play it, though you aren't required to have three other creatures to support 3—you can have just one or two (or even zero, as sad as that sounds).

You'll often want to play another four-drop ahead of Relief Captain just to maximize how many support counters you get to throw around. We'll also note that Relief Captain is an Ally, so if that's a theme you're into in Oath of the Gatewatch, well, you just found another reason to play this card. As if you needed more, right?

On New Mechanics

I'd like to have a quick word about new mechanics and how to approach them for some of my readers who are newer to the game.

They can seem daunting at first, all the new things going on and the little rules you have to learn about them. The truth, though, is that once you break each new mechanic down to the barest parts, you find that they can be somewhat modular.

What I mean is that each piece of a new mechanic is probably something you've seen before, but implemented in a new and interesting way. Or maybe combined with another thing you've seen before.

Support, for example, is putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures. This is likely something you've seen before, but support just has a bit of a twist on it. With surge, you've also likely seen something that has an alternative casting cost. Most of these types of cards have some type of condition to be met in order to cast the card for its alternate cost. Once you figure out what that is and how it works, you'll understand surge.

If you feel a little overwhelmed by the newness of it all, just remember that you can often apply what you already know to help conceptualize the new stuff. It's not as scary as it looks at first.

Wrap Up

The raw power level of the cards we've seen in this column over the last two weeks is startling. And none of them were rare or mythic rare! From the looks of it, Oath of the Gatewatch is going to have a major impact on the format.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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