Savage Beatings

Posted in Top Decks on September 5, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

I've got a pretty savage preview card to show you today—one that shows just how hard some of the three-color cards in Khans of Tarkir are being pushed.

I really liked Shards of Alara, the first three-color set (it's the set where I recorded my first draft video, even), and I'm looking forward to playing with all sorts of powerful cards from each clan in Khans. It looks like the mana fixing is up to snuff, between fetch lands, tri-lands, Temples, and pain lands, although the mix of tap lands (good for control) and damaging lands (good for aggro) makes things more complicated than they would be otherwise.

The card I'm previewing today falls more on the aggro side of the spectrum, although it's enough of a mana sink that control decks can definitely make good use of it as well. In fact, cards like this are especially interesting because of how many different places they might show up, which leads to many of the questions Khans of Tarkir brings to light. Are three-color decks really capable of being aggressive? Are we going to see a ton of midrange decks that can attack early but also look to control the board? Am I finally going to show you the card you came here to see?

Well I can answer that last one, at least:

We have a lot going on here, starting with a name and art that heavily implies a beatdown. Yes, this appears to be a Yeti with blades strapped to its knuckles, and it's even got "savage" in its name. It's also a three-mana 4/4, which is interesting in its own right, and looks really good when you consider the three powerful abilities it comes with.

The first ability won't likely get activated early, but is very relevant on attacks, when it forces the opponent to skip blocking for fear of his or her creatures getting eaten. This essentially attacks as a 6/6, and (early enough) that is not something just about anything can fight. It can also eat Planeswalkers with ease, and devouring a Planeswalker is usually going to be worth the extra mana investment. Later in the game, when mana isn't as tight, this essentially just becomes a 6/6, which is a very valuable ability as well.

The second ability is also one that will come up more later in the game, but it adds an important layer of protection. It's pricey, but (given enough mana) the opponent will either be unable to kill this creature or be forced to spend multiple removal spells doing so. Between the first ability making it good against creatures and the second good against spells, we have quite the card here. It also turns out that the third ability synergizes quite nicely with the second, meaning you don't have to skip attacking in the face of sorcery-speed removal.

The third ability is really the icing (or ice, from the picture) on the ferocious cake, as a 4/4 haste for four is a threatening card to face at any stage of the game. Planeswalkers and life totals just aren't safe with this guy around. And I can definitely see Xenagos making a token and not attacking, which gives Knuckleblade decks a little implied value even if they don't draw the Knuckleblade itself. When playing against Temur decks, you always have to be aware that they can smash you for 6 out of nowhere, given enough mana, and that's relevant at basically all points.

Savage Knuckleblade | Art by Chris Rahn

The combination of these three abilities makes this a fantastic card. It's good in the early game because of the stats-to-cost ratio and how hard it is to block (even if you don't really want to be activating the +2/+2 ability early). It's good in the midgame because it will often have haste and the ability to either hit for 6 or keep up the blue ability for its own protection, making it still very efficient. Finally, it becomes awesome in the late game, as tons of mana makes this a 6/6 haste that is unkillable via spells. Savage Knuckleblade gives you a ton of options, and they are all good ones.

Where this fits in is an interesting question as well. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier, as the mana fixing for three-color decks implies some amount of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, and that is at odds with what traditional aggro decks want to do. Additionally, this rewards you for having a bunch of mana, so it's possible that it's more a midrange card (it still attacks a little more than most super-long-game control decks are looking for).

Temur Planeswalkers

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*(Note that I don't know what Temur Charm does, but I'm assuming it's going to be great.)

This deck could really use another decent removal spell, so if Temur Charm doesn't end up providing that, hopefully another new card does. This is Jund Planeswalkers, updated to include Sarkhan and Savage Knuckleblade, along with Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Knuckleblade plays nicely with all the aggressive Planeswalkers like Sarkhan, Xenagos, and Nissa, while defending quite well if that's what's needed.

The deck does play a lot of mana-fixing creatures, but I think that those and Courser of Kruphix are going to be crucial in the post-Khans world. Fetch lands, Temples, and tri-lands are good, but adding Sylvan Caryatid and Courser is not only going to make your mana more consistent, it's just going to make your deck much better. Courser of Kruphix might just be the best card in the format, and not playing it while fetch lands are legal seems pretty tough to justify. Between Courser and Knuckleblade, you've got some good threes here, and the fours and fives put a lot of the pressure on the opponent as well.

Savage Knuckleblade is an absurd card, and how successful it is really will depend on what mana bases decks can get away with. If this is easily castable turn three, it will show up a ton. If you have to do a little work, it will still be great but will definitely be less prevalent. Either way, I expect Knuckleblade to deliver a lot of beatings in a hasty fashion.


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