Ungolden Uncommons

Posted in Limited Information on December 31, 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.

Welcome to the first Fate Reforged preview week here at Limited Information! Preview weeks are the best, aren't they?

Khans of Tarkir taught us a lot about multicolored sets. Access to ample mana fixing at both the common and uncommon slots blurred the lines between power and consistency, making it difficult to see where you even were in some cases.

Morphs changed everything as well. Colorless creatures that let you develop your board by casting creatures while digging around for all of your colors are powerful indeed. And then the morphs were kind enough to provide a great place to put all that late-game mana, and even finished the game for you in many cases.

For me, in Khans, the bar set by the morphs was high. There were some darned decent creatures running around, and yet I barely ever played them.

All of these would be playable, even good, in a normal set. In Khans of Tarkir, some saw more play than others (Riverwheel Aerialists, mainly) but even then, it was hard to justify putting them in your deck simply because morphs exist.

Compare any of these to a basic morph like Glacial Stalker, for example. (Poor Glacial Stalker has become my go-to boring morph.)

I would much rather play Glacial Stalker than Scion of Glaciers. The flexibility of morph is easy to overlook, but you won't forget it the next time you miss your land drop a time or two in the early stages of the game and a morph lets you actually cast some spells.

Remember, with a card like Scion of Glaciers, you need two blue mana, where with a morph, you only need three mana of any color. They just aren't really comparable.

With a card like Riverwheel Aerialists, it's a little different. I would still prefer a Glacial Stalker in most circumstances, but the Aerialists do serve a more specific role most of the time: they have flying, so they can finish the game in the air or block a key flier from the other side.

Still, even if they are better (way better) once on the battlefield, there are always those games where you don't make it to six mana. I know it's not fun to think of the times when things go wrong, but you owe it to yourself to give yourself the best chance of winning every game. And that means being realistic about possible mana issues and giving yourself ways to work around them.

Another reason I rarely played non-morph creatures similar to the examples above, is that they didn't seem to fit particularly well in any given clan. Summit Prowler enabled ferocious, so you'd see it more in the Temur decks. But that isn't exactly mind-numbing synergy, and some of the others didn't even offer that much.

Our preview cards this week are also non-gold cards (all uncommon) like the ones we have been talking about.

Sort of.

They are actually fully affiliated with the clans, even though they only cost one color of mana. What I mean by "fully affiliated" is not just that they have the clan watermarks, but also they greatly benefit from playing in their respective clans (or a color of those clans, at least).

Let's look at the first one, Wandering Champion, and you'll get the idea right away:

Wandering Champion | Art by Willian Murai

Attention, class!

(You know where this is going.)

Vanilla Test! Let's examine this champion and see how the Human Monk stacks up to ye olde Vanilla Test.

1W for a 3/1.

Yowza. That's great! We have seen a few of these in relatively recent memory, and they have been quite good. Getting 3 power for 2 converted mana cost is about as much as you're going to without a serious drawback.

The 1 toughness ranges from prohibitively scary (think Magic 2015) to not that big of a deal at all (as in Khans of Tarkir). I'm unsure if that will change much with the new set, but my guess would be that it won't.

Okay, Vanilla Test Result: Passed. Quite impressively, even.

What about that text box?

The first thing you'll notice is that big eye looking at you from behind the lettering. That's the Jeskai eye. This is the Jeskai version of this cycle, and it cares if you control a blue or red permanent. Permanent meaning any creature, enchantment, Planeswalker…whatever.

Each of these cards shares a similar structure: It's a creature that ranges from pretty good to pretty darn good, but if you control a permanent of one of two specific other colors, you get a bonus. The bonus also ranges, as you'll find out.

Back to the champ.

Basically you get to "rummage" (named after Rummaging Goblin) if you control a blue or red permanent and the Champion deals combat damage to a player.

Rummaging is almost the same as looting, but a little worse. The subtle distinction of requiring the discard first comes up fairly often, but you can usually plan ahead for an expected rummage and get some good value out of it.

This card is aggressive on its own, with a nice upside for being in Jeskai or Mardu.

Now that we get the idea, we'll streamline the examination process for the rest of them.

This next one is kind of weird. It's called Marang River Prowler:

Marang River Prowler | Art by Yefim Kligerman

A quick Vanilla Test reveals a disappointing 2/1 for three mana. This prowler is going to have to bring the goods if it's going to get its fair slice of the pie.

Vanilla Test Result: Fail.

The upside is that it's big enough to trade with morphs at 2 power, so you can always lean back on that.

Or can you…

Inside the text box we see some good news, some bad news, and the Sultai watermark:

First the good news: It can't be blocked! Getting in for 2 damage a turn forever is quite good.

The bad news: It won't be trading with morphs, or anything else for that matter. It just can't block. Ouch. Not being able to be blocked is cool, but never being able to block? Brutal.

As we know from the Quadrant Theory, the stage that we focus on most when evaluating a card is the "Behind" stage. When you are behind on board, you need spells that affect the board, and now. In Limited, that means playing creatures so they can block, primarily.

Well this one can't. So we'll have to live with that. Or die as a result.

For the rest of the text box: wow. We can cast it from our graveyard? Like, if we put it there on purpose, or if it dies or whatever, we get to just re-cast it as if it were in our hand. (Assuming we control a black or green permanent.)

Now I see why it can't block! We would just trade it off forever.

So what role will this card play? Either one where you mill it away on purpose and get value because it's a "free" card…or not a lot at all. The not being able to block clause may just be a deal breaker for this one.

Next! Battle Brawler:

Battle Brawler | Art by Karl Kopinski

As you'll see, this one is (A) Aptly named and (B) Quite straightforward. No shenanigans here.

Vanilla Test Result: Passed.

A 2/2 for two mana is kind of the gold standard for the Vanilla Test. You know you are in a solid territory, and probably getting some upside given that this is an uncommon. (Think Heir of the Wilds or Seeker of the Way.)

Onto the text box:

First, you'll notice that this is the Mardu version of this particular cycle. Which may make you want to beat down. And beat down you shall.

Holy smokes! This thing becomes a 3/2 with first strike just for controlling a red or white permanent. A 3/2 with first strike for two mana is…well above the curve, shall we say? It's incredible, actually. It even does well on almost every square of the Quadrant Theory. Good blocker, easy to cast early, great attacker. Perhaps not amazing in a stalemate, but we'll take it from our two-drop.

The good news, if you are on the wrong side of one of these, is that your opponent will often want to cast a morph on turn three, making it difficult to have this fully powered that early. Still, it will happen, and it won't be pretty.

Who's hungry? This guy is!

Hungering Yeti | Art by Tyler Jacobson

So far, these have all cost either less than or equal to a morph. This one costs more. To the Vanilla Test!

Vanilla Test Result: Pass.

Like all average students, this Yeti skates by, unexciting but not terrible. A 4/4 for five mana is adequate. Acceptable. Satisfactory.

Text:

Now things get interesting. Flash, you say? As long as I control a green or blue permanent. This is really cool.

Normally, five mana is reserved for turning morphs face up. Five mana is when the fireworks really start kicking in with morphs. But now you can kind of mess with combat and damage-race math (the number of turns it's going to take to kill or be killed). Flashing in a Hungering Yeti for blocks seems great, as it will often just eat some hapless attacker and may even attack back for a bunch of damage on the "crack back" (more slang, this time a term for the attack that happens after a big attack from the other side).

Additionally, this Yeti enables ferocious.

The card seems pretty good to me; the real question is if it can usurp the throne that the morphs currently sit on.

Last one, Abzan Kin-Guard:

Abzan Kin-Guard | Art by Craig J Spearing

Obviously, Abzan Kin-Guard hangs with the Abzan families. But how does it stack up?

Vanilla Test Result: Pass(ish).

Close enough. A "Hill Giant" (all 3/3s for four mana are Hill Giants—accept this) is close enough to passing the Vanilla Test that it gets a passing grade. It's close, though. You would be hard-pressed to see anyone truly happy about running a 3/3 for four mana in modern Limited play.

Still, it does make the cut.

What about that sweet, sweet upside?

This one is simple: it gets lifelink. Nice. Abzan Guide has proven an excellent card, and Abzan Kin-Guard looks to carry that tradition. It's very difficult for aggressive creature decks with a lot of small attackers to race a card like this.

A 3/3 for 3G with lifelink would be automatically playable in most green decks. It would be great. This isn't quite that, but it's probably close enough.

Risks

I just said that Abzan Kin-Guard would be great as a straight up 3/3 with lifelink. But that's not what it is. It sometimes has lifelink. Even more important: A card like Battle Brawler. It sometimes has first strike.

That "sometimes" can be the difference between a game win and a games loss, though. The main thing to be aware of is that your creatures' ability-granting friend-permanent could die, at instant speed, during combat. This can be rather embarrassing when you, say, just attacked into a 3/3 with your Battle Brawler.

This isn't enough reason to not play them; it's just something you need to consider when playing these new cards.

Takeaways


Wandering Champion | Art by Willian Murai

I think these cards are sweet. Wandering Champion doesn't need any help but gets it anyway. Battle Brawler starts off fine and gets great quickly. Hungering Yeti may have a place in some decks, but my guess is that it goes back and forth bit. Abzan Kin-Guard is probably solid enough as is, and the lifelink can be a huge deal in this format. Marang River Prowler is the topping on this particular dessert. It looks nice but perhaps doesn't have much substance.

Time will tell, and we'll all be there to find out!

Until next week.

@Marshall_LR

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