A few years ago, Pro Tour Venice Champion Osyp Lebedowicz made another run at a Constructed Pro Tour Top 8 riding the backs of some big, legendary threats. This time it wasn't Akroma, Angel of Wrath that led his squad, but an eight-pack of big blue fliers: Keiga, the Tide Star and Meloku the Clouded Mirror.
Regardless of what was coming at him from across the table—whether it was a Hand of Cruelty or a Kird Ape, a fellow Steam Vents or a Sakura-Tribe Elder—Osyp was perfectly happy to tap out for Meloku "the clouded mirror of victory" because, hey... what was the opponent going to do that could really compare?
But now, a few years later in the spring of 2012, another five-mana Soratami is revealing herself to the Spike legions of Dominaria... Tamiyo, the Moon Sage!
The first thing that struck me was Tamiyo's picture.
Like I said, she is (like fellow fiver Meloku) a Soratami.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage | Art by Eric Deschamps
Before even setting up to discuss her Constructed in-game potential, I hassled DailyMTG.com editor Trick Jarrett to get some idea of her backstory... I mean, I loved Kamigawa block, but we haven't seen this kind of sense on cards in some blocks!
From the Avacyn Restored Player's Guide:
The moonfolk, or soratami, of the plane of Kamigawa are a secretive and inquisitive race. Their knowledge of the metaphysical forces on their own plane is unparalleled. When the field scholar Tamiyo became a Planeswalker, gaining the keys to the Multiverse was greater than any dream she ever had. Each plane seemed to her to be an unexplored trove of knowledge to be brought back to the great scroll-towers of Oboro.
For Tamiyo, every plane holds a mystery that sets it apart from all others, and on Innistrad that mystery is the silver moon. Tamiyo has been observing Innistrad for many cycles, using her powers as a Planeswalker to gain insight into the force it exerts on the world. She has watched with rapt attention the moon's effect on the lycanthropic curse, and she has written extensive notes on the ebb and flow of vampire frenzies in relation to the moon's influence. Her curiosity eventually led her to the door of the famed Nephalian astronomancer Jenrik. Tamiyo spent months in his moonstone tower poring over countless charts, adding her own observations to his collection about the odd power the moon holds over the denizens and populace of this plane.
With Avacyn's return, Tamiyo has been excitedly writing theories about the angel's effects on the land, its creatures, and the moon. The nature of the Helvault, the creation of the wolfir, the appearance of the gryffs, and the origins of the newly empowered holy wards are all filling her scrolls with more questions than answers.
So anyway, I see Tamiyo as a collection of things we all like.
She is reminiscent of not just
- The Plus One Ability
Tamiyo's +1 ability is immediately reminiscent of another favorite Planeswalker: Ajani Vengeant.
The difference here is that rather than just denying a permanent its untap, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage taps it first.
How does this first ability fit in?
It's like Jace, the Mind Sculptor's "Unsummon" or Ajani Vengeant's "Lightning Helix" or Liliana of the Veil's "Cruel Edict." This is an ability Tamiyo can use to defend herself from attack as well as a little monkey wrench she can throw at one of a control deck's lands to keep it off curve or just get you 1 loyalty closer to her ultimate.
So I said "immediately" reminiscent a moment ago. I think our minds jump to Ajani via a Planeswalker–Planeswalker connection. But if you factor in a practical cost, such as tapping five, she might also remind the long-toothed among us of this:
So we need one more in down payment, but in a sense, Tamiyo is paying us back a mana turn after turn when we use her to tap.
Icy Manipulator might not seem familiar to many of you, but it scored Top 8s from the first Pro Tour, and the last time it was legal, Adrian Sullivan made good use of it in his Annex/Wildfire deck. As an annoying tool to force the opponent to commit a second creature to the battlefield... right into a Day of Judgment... I think she does some damage.
- The Minus Two Ability
Tamiyo's –2 ability is at once understandable and odd.
Do I use this?
Should I use this ability the first turn I tap for Tamiyo?
How good is the draw? How good does it have to be? Is there or has there ever been anything comparable?
It turns out that yes, once upon a time, before we got reprints on Think Twice, many a successful Magic player would be willing—even happy—to tap out for one of these:
I told you Tamiyo was reminiscent of more than Meloku on cost!
So one way we can look at or think about Tamiyo, the Moon Sage might be in the context of drawing four cards immediately...
From 4 loyalty to 2 (no biggie there); but what about having four (or more) tapped creatures down and set up?
First off, if you want to go this route, I do think that this is the kind of thing you have to set up for yourself. My first instinct was to target the other guy, setting up by tapping down or keeping tapped the opponent's creatures. I hadn't really thought about Tamiyo's defensive ability very specifically as an Icy yet and imagined a kind of Sleep-like hostile-creatures Fog machine. But that's not really how she works, tapping down only one permanent at a time. The reality is that no one wants to tap five to draw only one card, and while Tamiyo can defend herself all right with that +1 ability, it's not like you are tapping down an army—at least not all at once.
Put another way, if you want to draw a bunch of cards (and you imagine a piggyback strategy against the other guy's army), getting there by "getting attacked by a hundred creatures" might not be the most consistent route.
You've basically got two choices for her –2. And if you can't necessarily rely on (or consistently live through) a legion of little guys on the other side of the battlefield, that leaves only one other option. Therefore, I think the successful Tamiyo deck wants us to build a different kind of blue.
Over the past couple of months, in various formats from Standard to Legacy, blue players have had a tremendous incentive to play cheap instants and sorceries. The cheaper the instant or sorcery, the better it works with Snapcaster Mage. And what about (arguably) the best creature in Standard, Delver of Secrets? More of the same... and playing against it, even more of the same (to the point that one player might jump out of his seat at the table to celebrate when Gut Shot is revealed... even though Gut Shot isn't a card blue can legitimately really cast), knowing the opponent's Delver was in all likelihood dead.
And while there are some instants and sorceries that should work well with Tamiyo, the focus of these kinds of cards is specific. We are talking about spells such as Gather the Townsfolk, Midnight Haunting,...
...and the Tom Martell favorite, Lingering Souls.
Surely you can see how a blue deck might want to hide behind Lingering Souls.
Lingering Souls on turn three...
Bam! Tap out for Tamiyo!
You can hide behind the appropriate number of Lingering Souls tokens or you can attack with all four, making Tamiyo an immediate Tidings. The important thing is to be aware of having a Tamiyo deck that has guys in play (and ideally tapped guys).
How about getting a little fancier? Maybe trim the tree a bit (and tap the trees... you'll have to)?
Tokens are obvious.
And maybe tokens make for an obvious shell of a deck (Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, a little setup for Timely Reinforcements... Bam! Tamiyo—in the present Batterskull or Jace, Memory Adept five-spot), but what about a different angle of creatures?
What if we start on green and accelerate into cards like Hero of Bladehold? Hero of Bladehold is an awesome card, especially if you are actually in the Red Zone with a tapped Hero (and its buddies) on turn four!
How might that Magical Christmas land Tamiyo work?
If we are attacking with Hero of Bladehold
I might be pretty happy to leave Tamiyo, the Moon Sage on just 2 loyalty if I can draw six cards immediately.
And the cool thing?
I don't have to.
I can play Tamiyo, leave back some Souls to block, use Tamiyo to defend myself against the opponent's biggest creature (or get a proposed blocker out of my Hero's way pre-combat)... really set her up for a long and healthy career. After all, I now have two threatening semi-soft locks (TM Patrick Chapin) casting their long shadows across our turn-four battlefield, and if the opponent doesn't deal with my Hero of Bladehold but quick, Tamiyo is going to have plenty of fuel for a future card-draw activation, anyway.
- The Ultimate Ability
As for Tamiyo's ultimate...
It's an ultimate.
Rather, it's the kind of ultimate like Venser, the Sojourner has, that gives you such a huge opportunity for card advantage, that, if you get there, you have a huge leg up. You can set up some pretty amazing situations and a new possibility in Standard and Block that will set some readers raging.
What if I keep casting Gitaxian Probe for free? Draw a card, draw a card, draw a card... have I found something I like yet? Is there something I am looking for? I haven't spent any mana yet, but I have conveniently set my life total up to make Timely Reinforcements look great.
How about fast removal spells? It is probably pretty hard to kill me if I can play the same Tribute to Hunger three times per turn. Or Tragic Slip? How many –13/–13 soldier-slayers do you need on just before you start to feel safe from creature attack?
How about playing like one Gut Shot? You can manage life total with Gitaxian Probe (free draw) and Gut Shot (free damage) and recoup every so often with Timely Reinforcements. At a certain stage, it could be pretty filthy.
You want to know the scary thing?
What do you think about "just" this hand?
No, you're not invincible. But killing you ain't easy.
Okay, okay! How about this one?
Okay, okay already!
What if I don't have any cards in hand, but I have this here Tamiyo, and by some MIRACLE I draw this:
No, Tamiyo's ultimate doesn't win all by itself.
But if you have a Gitaxian Probe draw engine—and especially if you can lace together a Ponder engine (allowing you to miracle up Mastery on the cheap), I don't see how you don't just dominate the game, given sufficient life and mana. What stops you from Probe-engine-ing and Ponder-engine-ing into four straight miracle turns? Can't you set up multiple ultimate Planeswalkers in the meantime? How far behind is your opponent going to be if you casually blow up all his or her permanents or Boomerang every land to his or hand—maybe jab and cross with Karn or repeatedly smash library with Jace—while taking your four extra turns?
No, you can't "take infinite turns" with this and Temporal Mastery (thank goodness for that "exiled" line), but you can certainly get massively ahead. Taking extra turns is always good; taking turns with Planeswalkers in play is even better.
Okay, enough cool synergies... how and where do we stick her?
I think that Tamiyo—in the right spot—is probably just snap-better for many decks than Jace, Memory Adept (also a five-mana blue Planeswalker). You know how the regular UW Delver deck sides a Jace? Sometimes starts a Batterskull? Tokens Delver deck especially can slide one Tamiyo into the main and she will probably get along just dandy with the other 59.
A fair number of players have exerted effort around making Venser, the Sojourner decks (and have been sometimes successful). As I said before, Tamiyo feels kind of "Venser" to me, but I think she does a better job of defending herself early, and Tamiyo's –2 seems way more relevant than Venser's–1 more often (and especially when you are in trouble).
Earlier, I evoked the old-school spirit of Icy Manipulator. The card was much less awkward than you might be imagining now; it helped control decks set up two-for-one removal and was even played in "beatdown" decks. After all, when you were the fast offense, the hated control might not have been able to Swords to Plowshare your death knell Autumn Willow, but you still had to push aside the odd Erhnam Djinn if you wanted to get through!
In that sense, I think a "generic" Tamiyo-as-Icy could see play in a variety of decks; again, she pays you back every turn until she really turns it up. You might just ignore the sometimes-Tidings entirely in favor of accelerating to ultimate.
Speaking of which, why not a deck of all Tamiyo, defense, and draw (into Tamiyo and ultimately a "miraculous" advantaged position)? I can see Steady Progress and Tezzeret's Gambit doing double duty here, getting you places, setting up your land drops, and leveling Tamiyo all at once!
Most of these ideas are Standard-centric, but I think Tamiyo probably has a Planeswalker control role lined straight up for Block, too. How about this curve?
Evolving Wilds; get an Island.
Turn 2: Rip a miraculous Temporal Mastery. And on-curve! Pump the fist. Excitedly flip over your Temporal Mastery. Realize you haven't played your second land yet. Sheepishly try to un-reveal your Temporal Mastery. Play your second land, a Plains.
Intangible Virtue Gather the Townsfolk.
Turn 3: Play untapped Isolated Chapel;
Lingering Souls Midnight Haunting.
Turn 4: Land up; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.
Island numero dos; Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.
We've already said how we like Tamiyo + Lingering Souls. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is also an efficient token-creature factory. Even without the banned stuff, there are more than enough tools to set up time and loyalty aplenty.
Yep, Block or Standard, maybe further out... I think they will get along just famously.
It has been a few hours since I turned in my column and upon further reflection, ultimate Tamiyo is even more powerful and ridiculous than I originally thought. Here are some parting things you can do with her emblem:
Mulch - Draw five. Draw five again if you want (etc.)
Tracker's Instincts - Draw five (as above). You can also play this one from the graveyard, so it has a more friendly initial catalyst.
... And for those of you who want your cards to actually do something: Thought Scour.
Thought Scour, already a very playable cantrip can become a deadly four-of when combined with an ultimate Tamiyo. Being both useful early and an instant late makes for quite the combination. Like Dream Twist, Thought Scour is essentially an Ancestral Recall... Or, you can wait for the opponent to pass the turn, Millstone him for ~16 cards, and draw eight. Why play a legitimate way to win? That is pretty cool, too.