Pardon the Imposition…

Posted in Top Decks on July 4, 2013

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

IT HAS BEEN SAID that Magic is a battle, largely, between iconic two-drop creatures. The linear centerpieces, Wild Mongrel and Arcbound Ravager, were champions of their respective Block Constructed formats; the most popular two-drops in their respective Standards; and longtime competitors—including against one another—in big formats as far afield as Extended, Modern, and Legacy.

The Invitational Wizards, Meddling Mage and Dark Confidant, have both torn up combo decks and enabled combo decks. They have blocked key cards, drawn extra cards; stood alongside Isochron Scepters and Dark Depths; fiddled with Sensei's Divining Tops and laughed gleefully at blind Counterbalances. Oh, and Snapcaster Mage, of course, has more recently joined their jeesh.


The banned Squire, Stoneforge Mystic, is so good they didn't even have to give her 2 power. She has dominated almost every format they let her play in, so hey—preemptively pink-slipped in Modern.

And Tarmogoyf? Tarmogoyf has been everywhere! Seen everything! A singular two-drop of singular size, staunch friend and fearsome foe to every single color.

Stoneforge Mystic

THE ICONIC TWO-DROPS TELL A STORY. Or, rather, many stories—a story (and more) each. They are the first pages (second pages, really) of the stories we have become so accustomed to. Wild Mongrel is followed by Arrogant Wurm (often during combat) or Wonder gives players an all-new way to be mana screwed. Arcbound Ravager's supporting cast of Skullclamp and Disciple of the Vault were like a parade of banned beaters.

Stoneforge Mystic made for an apt swords(wo)man and looked really good thanks to Sword of Feast and Famine in Standard; Umezawa's Jitte made an ideal partner in Legacy, but it was Batterskull—allowing Stoneforge Mystic, essentially, to drop a Baneslayer Angel mid-combat—that proved Stoneforge Mystic's too-good mettle against the rest of the field.

Umezawa's Jitte
Baneslayer Angel

IT IS KNOWN that the white two is about the most competitive slot in the history of fantastic creatures. Garfield did it right the first time around with White Knight. White Knight—first released in Alpha—has been a persistent performer, almost whenever it has been legal to play. White Knight analogues like Silver Knight in Onslaught Block and Hand of Honor in Kamigawa Block took down a great many tournaments each. But White Knight itself proved good enough to help Craig Wescoe score a PT Top 8 as recently as 2010... when his opponents were setting records with Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor was making its big debut. Although not the centerpiece of any deck, White Knight was always the picture of efficiency. A 2-power creature for only two mana loaded with abilities, both anti-spell (protection from black) and anti-creature (first strike). White Knight was a "hate bear" when Necropotence was big; a removal dodger in a variety of formats; and a perfect point on the curve nearly every time, across the many generations.



White Knight set the bar high for Order of Leitbur, Order of the White Shield, and Soltari Priest. All became champions many times over. The white two doesn't have a high bar just for offensive creatures. Gaddock Teeg is a combo-crusher. Qasali Pridemage a utility monster as well as potential Watchwolf. Most recently, Craig Wescoe lapped his own Pro Tour success with Voice of Resurgence.


Order of the White Shield
Voice of Resurgence

To get played at the white two... it takes a special creature.

The question at hand: What will it take for Imposing Sovereign to make that cut?

>> Click to Show

So... imposing?

In a sense, Imposing Sovereign is the quintessential white two-drop. She is small—only a 2/1—but opposing creatures, no matter how big, must bow to her immense level of dignity. Like so many other two-drops, white or no, Imposing Sovereign does more than her casting cost would imply.

The advantage of an Imposing Sovereign might seem slight at first but the implications can be telling, the possibilities quite pregnant. In a fair game of Magic: The Gathering, mano a mano in a regular old creature fistfight... it will just be tough for the other player to block. You have a two, this two, and your opponent's two will enter the battlefield tapped... you get in for 2. You upgrade to your three, the opponent's two will [now] be untapped but his or her three won't. Can your opponent's two beat your three? Do you care about trading now that you are a step ahead? So long as you keep your Imposing Sovereign, you can stay that step ahead at each point on the curve, if you choose to play on a curve. The implications to a Thragtusk fight are not insignificant. Go ahead and "Spear that 'tusk." The Beast token will enter the battlefield tapped, so you can rumble in with your own 5/3. Unlocking the Restoration Angel achievement will be almost shockingly vanilla. Resto over Thraggy is give-or-take the strongest fair play in today's Standard... but against an Imposing Sovereign it will amount to tapping nine mana over two turns to produce three tapped non-blockers and a bit of life. Not bad; but certainly not "best" any longer.

Restoration Angel

So it probably goes without saying that Imposing Sovereign will make for a significant advantage in creature-race situations.

Creatures noted for their general racing prowess will have all kinds of frowns on their faces, facing off against this Human. Falkenrath Aristocrat, Thundermaw Hellkite, and Dreg Mangler—a usually quite-dangerous trio—will all be a wee bit less imposing against Imposing Sovereign. There may be an angle here for Standard control decks. Ask Reid Duke what he wanted to face least back in his Bant days, and he would have noted that aforementioned 4/1 flier; there is a long tradition of white control decks siding in even seemingly misplaced two-drops. Meddling Mage, as we said before, was an easy call; but control masters like Guillaume Wafo-Tapa might Next Level their control opponents with cards like Knight of Meadowgrain out of the sideboard... Wafo-Tapa could predict that the opponent's Firespouts would be in the 'board after sides, but that the opponent would leave in his or her tough Kitchen Finks as a standard way to win. Knight of Meadowgrain was faster, could be relatively invincible against a (now) creature-kill-poor configuration,... and could beat the bejeezus out of opposing Kitchen Finks. Imposing Sovereign can potentially provide a similarly interesting opportunity to gamble. Creature-poor control decks will often encourage opponents to stow their Murders, Dreadbores, or Tragic Slips post-Game 1. This 2/1 can transform what matters in a matchup from turn two; and when it halves the efficacy of a hasty offense as well? Problems.

Falkenrath Aristocrat
Kitchen Finks

This of course goes double—and more—for that deadly class of suicidal red runners. Ball Lightning, Blistering Firecat, Spark Elemental, Hell's Thunder, and so on. Red haste creatures that hit hard, fast, and expire immediately lose essentially all their text against Imposing Sovereign. Because opposing creatures enter the battlefield tapped, creatures in this class have the wondrous options of (1) sitting in hand to bluff with or (2) completely wasting mana instead of doing anything when up against an Imposing Sovereign. To be fair, it isn't so hard to kill a 2/1 creature—not for decks that play these kinds of creatures—but dealing with the speed bump can still buy crucial time. Green analogues like Groundbreaker (onetime tool of US National Champion, master deck designer, and streaming standout Michael Jacob) have no such fall-back. When seizing the proper opportunity, Imposing Sovereign is like a Fog with feet.

While it might not be top-of-mind for Standard-focused players, there is a case to be made for Imposing Sovereign in a wider world, such as Modern. Combo decks based on attacking with limitless forces all in one turn have at least got to figure a way around this creature, if it is on the battlefield (or even threatens to be). Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker; Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin; and the Birthing Pod sequences various cannot win immediately/outright on their own main phases; not while Imposing Sovereign is working her particular brand of imposition from the other side. Sure, there are ways around that line of troublesome text, from knowledge of the timing rules (duplicating creatures during the opponent's end step will let you start your turn with your forces in play) to a simple removal spell... but when talking about a format with such tools, giving the opponent a half-turn can itself prove lethal. At the very least, this creature makes for a cheap Chord of Calling cheat that can buy Birthing Pod all the time that it needs, if not all the time in the world.

Deceiver Exarch
Chord of Calling

When your opponent initiates his or her first tap of the Splinter Twinned Deceiver Exarch, or first targets Pestermite with a Mirror-Breaking Legendary Goblin, you can Chord up Imposing Sovereign to ruin your opponent's day. "Sure, make all the creatures you like. Perhaps one of them will end up attacking me."

All the sweeter for Pod if it can, say, transform the two-drop directly into a lethal three and hard-cast a Restoration Angel: Tools turning into tools.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Birthing Pod

Modern Control decks can provide an interesting Venn Diagram of these sideboarding strategies. Control decks often sustain a dubious amount of actual control over infinite combo decks. That is, they are in control so long as they can provide a stream of control elements. Oftentimes, they actually have to win (how gauche), lest they momentarily lose control; and with it, the game. Siding in Imposing Sovereign can actually give these decks the chance to start racing in the classic sense from turn two, at the same time building resistance to the opposing infinity. Just getting in for 2 twice can cut an entire turn off for a base-4 attack via Celestial Colonnade or Batterskull.

And then there is the vanilla Imposing Sovereign!

What about "just playing" this creature, not as an answer, not as a bullet, not as a sideboard All-Star, but simply as a good two-drop? Certainly that is possible as well. Imposing Sovereign lacks the obvious hallmarks of a traditionally chosen, take-on-all-comers, white weenie. It is not particularly good in battle; it is only 2/1 and doesn't have first strike. Unlike a Loyal Cathar or White Knight, it is not particularly resilient against or resistant to removal. Remember what we said about the bar being high for the white two-drop? Imposing Sovereign has a glass jaw/backside/point of toughness... but nevertheless commands the 2 power necessary to put on reasonable pressure from the second turn.

I do think that this creature might have a spot in a main, and in fact in a White Weenie-esque offensive deck, if not as the default. Standard has still not solved the riddle of the extort deck, a deck where low curves are rewarded with loose mana that can be funneled into extort. On the plus side, extort makes for some unfair races; on the down side, opposing creatures are about as frightened of Syndic of Tithes and Tithe Drinker in battle as they are of—ahem—Imposing Sovereign. But as we said, the pure size of any body matters less when one player's assets start out tapped, and a relentless supply of mana-into-extort can make for a harmony of early beatdown and grinding, even blowout, life-total differentials.

Syndic of Tithes
Tithe Drinker

Besides the sideboard All-Star potential, the control switcheroos, or the anti-combo bullet positions... I think that might be a starting point.

Will Imposing Sovereign be the next White Knight, the default two in the typical swarm strategy? Probably not; but there is a difference between being "everywhere" and, you know, impressively imposing. The latter can still win a lot of games.


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