This Week: A Very Special Blossom

Posted in Serious Fun on September 6, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Who remembers this fine little ditty from Stronghold?

Wall of Blossoms

Known fairly well by seasoned players, the Wall of Blossoms enjoys that rare reputation as a strong card in virtually every format where it's played. Constructed Pro Tour Qualifiers, seven-player free-for-alls, multi-block drafts – no matter how or where you play it, Wall of Blossoms works. For an 0/4 wall, that's not bad at all.

The key, of course, is the extra card. Combined with a cheap cost and a decent defense, Wall of Blossoms could find a role in any deck playing green. It has been particularly popular in Aluren-style decks as a way to draw lots of cards.

Just a few months ago, Wizards updated Wall of Blossoms with a Saviors uncommon: Haru-Onna. As a 2/1 for four mana, it seemed to tell the Magic world: "Wizards will give you a new Wall of Blossoms – a reusable one, with two power! But it will cost you 2 more to play, and you'll lose the defense." It seemed like an okay trade, though Haru-Onna is unlikely to get as widespread use as its predecessor.

Now comes the real successor, a mere one expansion later:

I know what you're thinking. Really, it's the only question any decent Magic player can have after seeing a card like this:

The Part Tournament Enthusiasts Want to Read

I feel terrible inside whenever a tournament jockey who usually invests no time in my articles reads one of my card previews and doesn't get the killer strategy he or she needs to dominate at the next Pro Tour Qualifier.

Okay, that's a lie. I really kind of enjoy making tournament jockeys suffer by taking "good" cards like Exalted Angel and focusing on multiplayer uses; or waxing rhapsodic on really cool "bad" cards like Fumiko the Lowblood; or making you read about entablatures while you're trying to test your nearly polished Ravnica block decks three weeks before the set even releases. What can I say? I'm a petty, petty man.

But on the other hand, am I not also a contracted writer for Wizards? Do I not have an obligation to excite as wide an audience as possible, especially for card previews like this? Sure I do. I love them guys and gals at Wizards, and it's not too much to ask (though they're way too polite to ask) for me to throw the tournament dawgs a bone from time to time.

So, my serious duelists, here is some initial analysis to hold you over until someone else contradicts me: Carven Caryatid is a darn good card. In Limited formats, you should draft it high and play it often in all but the most aggressive decks (and even those will probably want this), because it pretty much stops and kills most of what runs on the ground by turn three or four. In constructed formats, it will probably get less play than the Wall of Blossoms itself did – the extra is not insignificant, and a 2/5 wall is not necessarily a ton better than an 0/4 wall.

Given green's continuing rise in power level, there are more opportunities than ever for a card like this. You may want to give it some time as you test decks in constructed formats where four-power creatures attack regularly by turn three, and/or formats where Aluren is still legal.

I'll leave further analysis to folks who attend tournaments more frequently (but, let there be no doubt, less daringly) than I.

What's a caryatid?

Ah, ye of faint memory. Spin your wee heads back to Urza's block, when "sleeper" enchantments like Opal Caryatid ruled the day. We asked this question back then, I'm sure; and if someone was paying attention, they gave an answer something like this:

Heck if I know.

Then someone else looked it up in a dictionary, where they found lots of useful information about carvacrol (C10H14O!) and caryopsis (which sent them on a brief digression to refresh their sense of what "indehiscent" means) before learning that a caryatid is a "draped female figure supporting an entablature."

And an "entablature", as we all know, is "a classic architectural feature that rests on top of a column."

So what have we learned? Well, that's obvious. The caryatid is the thing below the entablature, and the entablature is the thing on top of the caryatid. Quiz tomorrow!

What You Get For That Extra

An extra in Magic – at least between the second and third turns – will apparently buy you the following:

  • two power;
  • one toughness;
  • prettier statues; and
  • a few more blossoms.

While tournament players work out whether that bargain is worth it, let me give some advice to those of you who indulge in multiplayer formats: Carven Caryatid will be better for you, at least two-thirds of the time, than Wall of Blossoms.

There are three reasons why. First, the two power will do a great deal to scare away potential attackers. Take an extreme example: if you have a Ball Lightning, why would you run into a 2/5 treehouse and trample over for one, when you could smack someone for six? To kill the statue? It already replaced itself on the draw. In less extreme examples, the math is even better. All sorts of things, from Withered Wretches to Viashino Sandstalkers, just plain stay home against the Caryatid.

Second, there are more and more quality four-power creatures out there that tend to show up on or right after turn three – and the Caryatid survives them. Yes, due to simple math there are more quality five-power creatures as well. But they don't trip off the tongue as quickly as do Ravenous Baloth, Myr Enforcer, or Flametongue Kavu.

Third, with Sakura-Tribe Elders now an almost auto-include in any green deck, you already have your two-casting-cost "Wall of Blossoms" accounted for. It's the snake. (Yay snakes!) The Snake can block, get you a land card, and thin your deck. On your third turn, if you don't have a four-drop (or fourth land) ready, you know the Caryatid can still come down, making the most efficient use of your mana while you increase the chances of getting that four-drop or fourth land.

I'll set up a deck fragment with lots of flexibility in it for other ideas and win conditions; it really doesn't matter what you finish the deck with. How do you not get any reasonable play you want by turn four?
Casual deck fragment

4 Wayfarer's Bauble
4 Sensei's Divining Top
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Carven Caryatid
4 Kodama's Reach

Yes, the benefits I've listed above take an additional turn to show up, when compared to the Wall of Blossoms. But while many players do underestimate those early multiplayer game turns, there are very few evils befalling you on turns one and two that a self-replacing 2/5 pillar on turn three can't help out with.

The "Type" Of Thing You Might Not Notice Immediately

And after all of that, Carven Caryatid is a spirit – no small thing in the wake of Kamigawa block. When you consider the possibilities (and I'm not going to get into Seedborn Muse here, because that's a well-worn path), even a mundane deck can get a nice boost:
Casual deck fragment

4 Loam Dweller
4 Thief of Hope
4 Carven Caryatid
4 Elder Pine of Jukai
4 Kami of the Tended Garden

There's a lot more deck-building space than this in the "spiritcraft" mechanic – do a quick search for the phrase "spirit or arcane" in Gatherer (or any fragment of the phrase "whenever you play a spirit or arcane spell…") and take a look at the cards there. Each has the potential for some interesting combinations.

Speaking of spirits, I also like the odd trick that something like Mannichi, the Fevered Dream can set up – you block with the wall, activate Mannichi (wall is 5/2) before damage goes on the stack, and then reactivate Mannichi (wall is 2/5) after damage goes on the stack. Can't do that with Wall of Blossoms, my friend! No sirree.

Okay, You Really Won't Notice This Immediately

Of all the alternative, non-sanctioned formats out there, some of the most time-intensive are those based on artwork. I don't mean artist – those names are searchable in most databases – I mean artwork.

Try a format where every card must have an aircraft in the artwork – but to make it challenging (and push people away from mono-blue), ban flying. (No flying creatures allowed, and ignore abilities that bestow flying.)

What's the bomb in this format? That's right – Carven Caryatid! There's a dirigible in the distant background. Perhaps it's transporting carvacrol to a wholesaler.

I have no idea how many other cards represent aircraft without mentioning flying – but here's a start, if you want to give this format a whirl. If it gets too tough, allow the creatures with flying – but be ready for a heck of an anti-flying metagame featuring Predator, Flagship.
Casual deck fragment

Alexi, Zephyr Mage
Carven Caryatid

You'll notice none of the three deck fragment ideas require heaps of rares. Since the Caryatid is itself an uncommon, that means you can do an awful lot with it, without spending lots of money.

Good card. Works in tons of formats. Fairly easy to acquire. Yep folks, I like this one! And you should too. Make this a staple in your green decks!

The Format Beats On

Turning to our blossoming alternate format, we have a showdown:

POLL #1: What should the format's "big thing" be?
[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in your hand. (Must share type.) 583 22.0%
choice converted mana 526 19.9%
[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to the spell of your choice. The spell you choose must have the same converted mana cost, and must not be a spell another player has chosen so far this game. (Must also share type.) 503 19.0%
[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in a special sideboard (Must share type.) (We'd define that sideboard further, later.) 481 18.2%
[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls with a card of the same type which is in play or in any graveyard. Remove the replaced spell from the game. 308 11.6%
[cost]: Reveal target opponent's library. Change another target opponent's spell to a card which shares a type in the first opponent's library. Remove both cards from the game at end of turn. 248 9.4%
Total 2649 100.0%

None of the options made it to 25 percent, so we'll run it off.

Personally, I was rooting for the other-opponent's-library option – but it's clearly not a fan favorite! So we'll drop that one and the "in play/graveyard" option, both of which received less than their "fair share" of 16 or so percent (one-sixth of 100 percent).

The other four are in a pretty tight cluster – let's see if those who voted for the less popular options skew any particular way…

POLL #1: What Should the Format's "Big Thing" Be? (Runoff)[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in your hand. [cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in a special sideboard (We'd define that sideboard further, later.)[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to the spell of your choice. The spell you choose must have the exact same mana cost, and must not be a spell another player has chosen so far this game.[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to the spell of your choice. The spell you choose must have the same converted mana cost, and must not be a spell another player has chosen so far this game.

I do not expect to have another runoff for this.

Just to keep folks updated, here's the format to date:

Working Name: "How Many Magic Players Does It Take to Make a New Format?"

The format is a multiplayer, free-for-all (chaos) format. It involves tournament-legal cards and sets, and the broad theme is about changing your opponents' spells.

Players may change spells – but not abilities. Whatever replaces the spell will have to be the same type – but won't have to be the same supertype or subtype.

The original spell's controller continues to control whatever the new spell is.

As you can see from the last line, we have a result from the second poll last week as well. That poll mistakenly had a blank option, so posting results isn't really worth it. More than half of the over 2,000 respondents still chose the option I would have – the spell's controller maintains control. So we're going with that.

Catch you next week with another Ravnica preview, and more progress on the new format!

Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.

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