In other ways, they can get boring. An Armaggedon or other mass land destruction is Enemy Number One. Quite distant, but still Lieutenant Annoying, is mass creature removal. Many an audible sigh can be heard as carefully laid out armies, its members pumpable or protected from certain colors, all go crashing down on the say-so of a single card.
Something, we've all thought at one time or another, ought to be done about this.
CONFESSIONS OF A BROOM-HANDLER
I love creature sweepers. As I write, I have my box of decks next to me. (It's strapped onto the dog like a saddlebag, and she keeps following me around in the desperate hope that I'll either remove it or feed her.) Of the 20 decks in there right now, at least eleven have one or more bonafide creature sweepers, including Bloodfire Colossus, Parallax Wave, Pernicious Deed, Mutilate, Firestorm, False Prophet, Starstorm, Masticore, Silklash Spider, and more. There are also spot-removal enhancers—e.g., Grave Pact, Radiate, Astral Slide, or Mirari—but the point is, I like the feeling of a creature-sweeper in my hand or on the board. Three reasons:
1) They feel cozy. A sweeper smiles up at you and coos, "Don't worry, big boy. I won't let this game get out of hand." (Strangely enough, it says this to you even if you're a girl.) That's important to a control freak like myself. I don't have a deck that uses Rout yet, but holding one of those has to be the most comfortable feeling in the whole world, as long as you have the mana to play it as an instant.
2) They're Darwinism in action. Sweepers smash over-extenders who haven't learned the virtue of patience. They also punish those foolish enough to come after you. I've always felt Fault Line and Evacuation are important to a group's evolution in finding other people to attack besides me—but feel free to develop your own theories on what constitutes survival of the fittest.
3) They're altruism in action. Counterintuitive perhaps, given #2, but think of it this way: all other things being equal, who is happiest to see an Armageddon? That's right—the player who's been mana-screwed all game, because statistically speaking, that player has the best chance of drawing lands (and therefore recovering). The same goes for Wrath of God—all things being equal, the player who's not drawn a single dork all game will be happiest to see the field clear. The weak inherit the earth, right? For a while, anyway.
With all of these things going for them, sweepers are attractive strategies despite their tendency to prolong group games. Incredibly efficient and effective, they've been the aces of multiplayer cards. Nothing could trump them. The best most decks could do against a sweeper is contain the damage, and rebuild slowly.
ENTER THE DUST BUNNY LORDS
It's fitting that Legions, as the first all-creature expansion in Magic history, brings not one but two champions to protect or avenge them. How many of you were lucky enough to pull out one of these during last weekend's Prerelease tournaments?
From a multiplayer perspective—and is there really any other?—let's look at what makes these cards similar and different.
First off, both of these are quick and dirty solutions to both mass and spot removal. Planar Guide, the latest incarnation of white's growing "slide out" theme, trades himself out of the game for your favorite creature's survival and your opponent's basic Terminate. And Caller of the Claw continues a green tradition of instant-speed creatures—with a basic return of 3-for-1 (you get the Caller and one token to neutralize a Terminate, in return for your lost creature). Both cards are, of course, likely to give more complex returns than that, depending on what the removal card is and what's on the board.
Second, it's clear that the cards, even with their basic similarity, do different jobs. Caller of the Claw is a selfish card, intended to surprise your opponents and replace your own army with generic bodies. Planar Guide shows a bit more finesse, broadcasting to the board your ability to save and retrieve it, in its entirety.
Third, each card builds into existing Onslaught creature themes. The Guide works neatly with Venerable Monk or Monk Realist, while the 2/2 bears from the Caller are nifty late-game replacements for 1/1 Llanowar Elves and Elvish Lyrist.
Finally, note that both cards interact badly with creature token generators in your deck. (Only Parallel Evolution makes any sense, and then only to make extra bears.) The Caller only replaces your creature cards, and tokens removed from game by the Guide are, um, really removed from the game, if you know what I mean. (Seriously, tokens react badly when they change play zones. Don't bother with a Planar Guide—Squirrel Nest combo; it doesn't work.)
Here are a couple of basic decks to get you started in thinking about the possibilities.
There's no "Wish sideboard" listed, though you're welcome to add one of your own. The idea here is to bring back the super-sacrificial Planar Guides, so that you can reuse them.
Don't let these fairly simple decks limit you. Either card will complement many decks that use their own colors—and both are perfectly splashable.
Given their flexibility and low cost, these are sure-fire hits in casual play. (They're also both efficient enough to consider in constructed tournament decks.) Players who love creature-sweepers will have to adjust.
Which begs the question: what adjustments should you make?
BROOM, PAPER, SCISSORS
If your group has enough resources to field a few decks with Guides or Callers, you may want to think of adjusting those decks that depend exclusively on the sweep. Increase your paths to victory beyond the combat phase... but base them in creatures—Scalpelexis; Viseling; and Latulla, Keldon Overseer.
Above all, you'll have to consider a new kind of overextension—tapping out to play a Starstorm or activate a Pernicious Deed has never been more dangerous. Keep cheap spot removal handy, and if you see a Guide or expect a Caller, reevaluate how many creatures on the board you'll tolerate.
For a Guide on the board, accept more hordes, save your removal for dire situations, and try to keep pace, even at the risk of some overextension. If you anticipate a Caller, do the opposite: smash that player's army while it's still only worth two or three Bears, and build decks that can do it repeatedly.
Finally, don't be afraid to stay the course. Recurrable removal like Reckless Assault, Attrition, and Equilibrium still work fine. And there's nothing wrong with pushing a classic like Earthquake, even if it occasionally misfires and brings back a bunch of Bears. That's why you're also packing Pyroclasm, right? Mass removal may be down... but nothing can completely sweep it away.Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.