Stalking the Sands

Posted in Perilous Research on January 8, 2015

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to the second week of Fate Reforged previews here on Today's preview card teaches us about aggression. Generally, each player takes on one of two roles in a given game of Magic. One player wants to win the game by outpacing the opponent. The other player seeks to control the opponent's aggression and win a long game with superior card quality or numbers. Today, we'll be discussing the implications and strategy of a powerful new card for aggressive strategies.

Art by Zoltan Boros

Historically, one of the greatest skill testers when playing the aggressive end of a matchup is one's ability to play around board-sweeping effects like End Hostilities or Anger of the Gods. Newer players often find themselves losing four or five creatures to these spells, while players with more experience usually only lose one or two cards once the dust settles. In actuality, the number of cards we spend prior to the board-sweeping effect is irrelevant if it puts our opponent in range to get burned out or killed by a haste creature, so there's definitely some malleability to the correctness of holding creatures back to defend card parity.

My first lessons on this subject came very early. When I first started playing Magic, my older brother and his friends were all packing some number of Wrath of Gods or Earthquakes. They'd let me play a bunch of creatures and kill them all with one card and easily cruise their way to victory. I started to recognize patterns that helped me play around their board sweepers. For example, if they weren't countering creatures despite having multiple blue mana open and a lot of cards in their hands, then they probably planned on wiping the board.

About a year into playing Magic, when Visions was printed, I remember opening my first pack of the set and seeing Viashino Sandstalker. I was thrilled. Suddenly, I could play around board-sweeping effects while applying pressure in a way that wasn't available before. Sure, my opponent could use a removal spell at instant speed to deal with it, but most of my opponents only played big, sorcery-speed removal at the time. The 4 damage for three mana was a tremendous amount of reach for the day, and I didn't even have to spend a card on it in most cases. I also got to play with Fireblast and my favorite card of all, Lightning Bolt. I was hooked. For the next few years I played red decks religiously. It was a good time to be a red mage. I even got to play with Cursed Scroll, Jackal Pup, and Mogg Fanatic when Tempest came out; some of the best cards in that day and age.

Now, new players will have the same epiphanistic opportunity I did. Let me introduce one of the best tools of aggression we've seen in a very long time. Meet Mardu Scout!

This is everything and more! It's an on-curve 3-power creature for two mana. It's effective reach when we need it to be. It plays around sorcery-speed removal and board-sweeping effects. It's basically just the best thing ever. This is essentially a split card, so let's take a look at each half of this beauty.

First, we get a 3/1 for RR. This wouldn't necessarily be incredible on its own, but it would likely see a bit of Constructed play simply because it's a 3-power creature for two mana. Playing this on turn two demands a removal spell from the opponent. If the opponent plays a creature, we can just burn it, attack, and still have the same amount of mounting pressure on the table. Generally speaking, 3-power creatures for two mana are exactly what an aggressive deck wants.

Then we get the Viashino Sandstalker half of the card. We can drop this little guy into play and attack right away. This is useful in a lot of different situations. The most obvious boon is that it lets us play around board sweepers, but it's also a nice mana sink as the game goes late. We might be better off repeatedly dropping a 3/1 haste that bounces back to our hand than actually trying to make it a full turn cycle with our attacker in play. The card punishes unprotected Planeswalkers, lets us play around board sweepers, and gets at life totals when drawn off the top in the late game.

Mardu Scout's natural weakness to Courser of Kruphix could pose a problem, but the decks we're playing Mardu Scout in are likely to be very strong against Courser of Kruphix decks. Monastery Swiftspear matches up very well against Courser of Kruphix and red decks aren't likely to allow mana acceleration to take over a game thanks to their efficient/inexpensive burn spells.

Mardu Scout is sure to be a great tool for aggressive red strategies for the foreseeable future. The canon of the current Standard encourages players to build big, multicolor strategies that take time to set up. Let's punish them with red cards!

Knowledge is power!

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