Not Quite My Favorite ... But Not That Far Off

Posted in Top Decks on January 28, 2010

By Mike Flores

Today I would like to talk about playing favorites.

I don't know if my favorite set of all time is really Visions, but I always say that it is. Visions was printed at a pivotal time—lucky thirteen years ago—in my development as a player and deck designer. Visions lacked both the linear-driven power we would some years later associate with Arcbound Ravager, Wild Mongrel, or Mistbind Clique, and the raw power that had, at that point, not been so far off (Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus were just three to four years removed, Channel had been legal in Standard two years earlier, and Hymn to Tourach was about fifteen seconds out the door). Heck, they still let you play with four copies of Necropotence* in "Type II."

* Yet barely anyone played it at that point.

What the typical Visions Constructed-playable card represented, at least in my memory, was a good card with a good effect (not "broken" but just very good) ... at a reasonable cost.

Typical Visions cards that fit this mold were Uktabi Orangutan, Impulse, or River Boa. The high end of the power level from Visions would have been a Vampiric Tutor—fast and powerful for sure—but especially at the time, players were debating whether or not the card and 2 life points made Vamp unplayable or not.**

** For reals.

So what is my actual favorite set?

... Probably something along the lines of Ravnica: City of Guilds or its sidekick expansions Guildpact and Dissension. The cards that make me most excited to play are like Lightning Helix or Remand, Spell Snare or Repeal .... Great because they are easy to cast, not too expensive, and a good deal all around.

Knowing the kinds of cards that get me really geeked out on playing Magic: The Gathering, it probably won't surprise you that my favorite card to play in recent years has been Lash Out. I have had great luck playing Lash Out in Constructed main decks in Block and sideboards from Standard to even Extended! Lash Out—despite being surrounded by hated Faeries through set affiliation—has very much that Visions or even Ravnica profile: It is just this great little card with an attractive little cost ... Not too expensive, but seemingly boundless in its value relative to its tawdry price tag.

The reason a red deck—generally thought of as a strategy bound by the cards on the top of its deck—will play a Lash Out is the same as the reason it will play a Magma Jet: These instants, whether via Scry or Clash, give the deck a small measure of card manipulation. That's the reason you play the card over something else ... but Lash Out is a burn card, burning first and foremost (that's the reason you play the card at all).

Lash Out is kind of "always" good ... Generally better than an Incinerate whenever you are playing against any kind of a deck with some sort of Wren's Run Vanquishers or Keldon Marauders, but when you actually win the clash? It is devastating!

Lash Out shows up on your doorstep in a tiny two-mana package, but it strikes with the ferocity of a Ball Lightning. You read that right—a Ball Lightning! What else would you call 6 damage (even if half is to a creature and only half to the bad guy's jaw)? Drawing a pair of Lash Outs in your opener—paired with a little bit of luck—can turn a rampaging duo of Boggart Ram-Gangs in a mirror situation from a dangerous problem to, very literally, route to one of those grins that stretches ear to ear.

I would guess that there are more than a couple of Top Decks readers who—like me—are missing the opportunity to play Lash Out.

... Or at least there were.

Gentlemen and ladies ... I give you Searing Blaze!

Searing Blaze

There are a lot of different things going on with this card, but one thing's for sure: It's probably going to end up on a new "favorites" list.

So how goes it? Searing Blaze is—once we have fulfilled its landfall condition—identical to Lash Out from a damage standpoint. Minus the clash, clearly ... but also minus giving the opponent the opportunity for deck manipulation. Presuming you have your landfall lined up, Searing Blaze becomes a reliable two-mana packet of 6 damage, or, as we say in the red deck trade, a hell of a deal.

Keep in mind that Lash Out accomplished this much damage less than half the time. While that card was never played purely for the opportunity to deal twice as much damage as you might expect for its cost, if it had been reliable ... It would have.

Searing Blaze: The Poster Child

So how does landfall work on an instant?

Readers who have been paying close attention to the WorldwakeVisual Spoiler have probably already uncovered some of the Mysteries of the Deep. That card and this one are brothers in instant landfall. Each does something fairly unspectacular straight up, but if a land entered the battlefield before the instant resolved, they enjoy better-than-normal effects.

The FAQ entry will do a much better job of explaining this than I will:

* Whether you had a land enter the battlefield under your control this turn is checked as the instant resolves, not as you cast it.
* Having more than one land enter the battlefield under your control this turn provides no additional bonus for these instants. They either get their bonus or they don't.
* Landfall abilities on instant spells check for an action that has happened in the past. It doesn't matter if a land that entered the battlefield under your control previously in the turn is still on the battlefield, is still under your control, or is still a land.
* Once the spell resolves, having a land enter the battlefield under your control provides no further benefit.
* The effect of these spells' landfall abilities replaces their normal effects. If you had a land enter the battlefield under your control this turn, only the better effect happens.
* You must choose two targets as you cast Searing Blaze: a player and a creature that player controls. If you can't (because there are no creatures on the battlefield, perhaps) then you can't cast the spell.
* If either target is illegal by the time Searing Blaze resolves, it still deals damage to the other target.

So you have to put a land onto the battlefield before your Mysteries of the Deep or Searing Blaze resolves ....

Why bother making these cards instants?

Sure you can get the equivalent of a Counsel of the Soratami, or a decidedly sub–Lash Out, on the opponent's turn, but ....

If you're still scratching your head about how to make a landfall trigger on the opponent's turn, it's not that hard ... Magic 2010 has Terramorphic Expanse, and most Standard and Extended decks are full of Misty Rainforests, Arid Mesas, and so on. Just wait until your opponent's turn to look for a land, and you will be the happy recipient of one more card, or two—make that four—more damage.

On that note, remember that the land just has to enter the battlefield before Searing Blaze resolves, not just when it goes on the stack. Therefore, if you flip Searing Blaze over with Bloodbraid Elf, you still have time to break a fetch land or respond with Harrow in order to score the bonus.

    Searing Blaze as .... Well .... You Always Get Something!

We don't have to talk about Searing Blaze solely in the context of its landfall better half. Remember, it is also a serviceable—if not glamorous—instant all by its lonesome.

Would Searing Blaze necessarily give us visions of Visions as a two-mana / 2 damage play at the end of the opponent's turn? No ... but getting a land onto the battlefield on the opponent's turn can be tricky; if you haven't got a Scalding Tarn handy, in most cases taking out an opposing Lotus Cobra will help you win more games in the long run than waiting around for your own turn, and the promise of what amounts to only 2 more practical points to the head.

    Searing Blaze as the Red Deck Loyalist

One of the things that puzzled me from the first time I looked at this card was its mana cost: .

Considering that this is a low-mana spell that can get fancy early in a game, likely on the back of a Scalding Tarn or Arid Mesa in Standard, seemed like a difficult, or at least surprising, set of mana symbols.

It seems like Searing Blaze will be played primarily in mono-red decks rather than a splashable option across many different kinds of decks. We may be past the point where a single Standard deck will play , , , and all comfortably, yet when Lightning Bolt was revealed in Magic 2010, my immediate instinct was that control decks were going to get better at defending themselves against beatdown (and in particular, Great Sable Stag). Sure, Lightning Bolt has been almost as good in beatdown and burn, but at least lately, it feels like the default Lightning Bolt is supporting a Drowned Catacomb as much as clearing the path for a Hellspark Elemental.

In a sense the mana cost is very in-line with the structure of Searing Blaze. It's just surprising at first. Lash Out was played in Jund Mana Ramp, for instance, primarily as an enabler; it wasn't quiteRampant Growth, but it was a card that would help keep the mana moving always and spank the opponent in the forehead sometimes. It is with its doubly difficult mana cost that Searing Blaze really differentiates itself from the old favorite or control turncoats like Lightning Bolt. This card—when it is doing what it wants to be doing—hits the head frequently, making no promises to future land drops. This is a burn spell, almost two burn spells, and this is a red card. Teaming up with semi-red cards like Bloodbraid Elf is one thing, but for the most part? Look for Searing Blaze to act like a red spell, in a red deck.

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