Avacyn Roster-ed

Posted in The Week That Was on May 4, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

This is one of the longest weeks of the year. I just want the Pro Tour Avacyn Restored to get here already and I don't want to have to wait seven more days to go on the air. There is a brand new draft format to explore, the Innistrad Block Constructed format gets a 244-card infusion, and—of course—the best and the brightest players will be gathered in Barcelona, Spain, to put all those cards through their paces. It will be a full seven days from the time this article goes live until we can see what those players will do with those cards, and until then, we are left to our own devices...

Pro Tour Avacyn RestoredMay 11 – 13, 2012

...or to the devices of Facebook. The Fantasy Pro Tour is back for a second go-round and you can make your educated guesses about which cards from the Innistrad block will have the most success in the Constructed rounds at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. There are going to be ten rounds of Innistrad Block Constructed to play before the cut to the Top 8, and if you can figure out which cards are going to appear most frequently in the top decks—those with at least 18 points in the first ten rounds—you could appear on the leaderboard of the Top 100 players in the contest. You can also see how you do against your group of Magic-playing friends.

Let's cruise through the different categories and look at some of the new cards vying for spots on your fantasy roster—of course, cards from Innistrad and Dark Ascension are perfectly viable.

The first—and most valuable category—is Planeswalker. You get 5 points for each copy of the card you pick in this spot that appears in a top finishing deck. There are only two new contenders looking to elbow aside the likes of Liliana of the Veil and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, but it is not hard to see either of them making a splash in Spain.

Tamiyo, The Moon Sage certainly seems powerful, but it's hard to imagine decks maxing out on four copies of the Kamigawa expatriate with a converted mana cost of five. Even Gideon Jura—the heretofore most competitively successful of the five-mana Planeswalkers—rarely, if ever, saw a full set in one deck.

I suspect that Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded is much more likely to be played in a set of four than his more expensive blue counterpart—assuming he has a deck to go in. I played against the card in a recent draft and was quite surprised by what the card is capable of. I did not have the most aggressive start—or deck for that matter—and I was worked over by the little red Planeswalker as my Hall of Fame opponent looted through his deck and eventually had the ultimate ability online and ready for Insurrection. Red has certainly proven itself successful in pre-Avacyn Restored block events with various Hellrider and Huntmaster decks posting solid results. Is there a blue-red burn deck that wants to Brimstone Volley and Snapcaster it back? If so, that deck would certainly be happy to use the first ability on Tibalt.

All the Planeswalkers in the block are in the mix, though, and I wouldn't count Liliana of the Veil down. She often sees play to the tune of four when a deck wants her and you can't argue with the casting cost. Assuming there is a control deck out there in what has been an aggro-dominated format to this point, I am likely to pick Liliana for my roster.

There is not a shortage of large creatures to compete for a roster spot but no slam dunk like Primeval Titan during the draft for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. Sigarda, Host of Herons and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight are both penciled in as possible starters for me. The first one is easy to cast and hard—nay, nearly impossible—to deal with while the latter seems like a fine target for Unburial Rites or Defy Death to accelerate its controller's clock and set back the opponent's. While we are returning creatures to the battlefield from the graveyard, let's not overlook the two headliners of this new set—Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Griselbrand.

You know a legendary creature is pretty badass when it does not need a comma and a lot of hyperbole after its name. A Griselbrand reanimator deck seems tough to deal with, especially if you can restock your hand—and graveyard—immediately upon getting the legend into play. I don't know that you can give a convention center full of Magic players the opportunity to pay life to draw cards and not have them at least playtest it extensively. Cheap virtual counterspells like Faith's Shield let you play your reanimation with a mana open and if your opponent tries to do something to your legend you can just pay 7 life and try to find an answer in the top seven cards of your deck. This plays well with Liliana of the Veil. I'm just saying...

Another very real contender for large creature is exactly the card you never want to see after you get Griselbrand into play—and also the reason you want that Faith's ShieldZealous Conscripts. There are already plenty of good red decks in the format that come out of the gates very fast—Hellrider has been doing hard work online since Dark Ascension became legal for play—and Conscripts is an amazing finisher that gives you a Snidd-ton of hasty damage. Put the aforementioned Hellrider into the equation and you get the 3 damage from the Conscripts, the damage from the creature you borrow for the turn, and the 3 extra damage from the Hellrider's ability. If you don't win you weren't going to be able to beat your opponent anyway. (I might have talked myself into Conscripts as I was typing!)

Medium-sized creature makes for a tough hill for any Avacyn Restored candidates to climb. Hellrider and Huntmaster of the Falls are the incumbents with high voter approval ratings. One card that jumps out as a potential dark horse is Riders of Gavony, which can lock up the battlefield for a Human deck against anything looking to swarm you on the ground. Mist Raven is a card I would love to see find a home—ideally paired, re-paired, and paired again with a Deadeye Navigator—but I suspect that I will have to look to the forty-card decks to see that happen.

Archwing Dragon is interesting but seems unlikely. Somberwald Sage is capable of getting some powerful fatties onto the board as fast as Unburial Rites, but if I had to pick a green creature to get the medium creature nod it would be Michael J. Flores's Constructed-staple Borderland Ranger. I mean... if I wasn't already voting for Hellrider.

Small creature is a toss-up between Delver of Secrets, Champion of the Parish, and Snapcaster Mage—the same top candidates from Pro Tour Dark Ascension. I am not sure what cards could possibly unseat those incumbents in the new set. Crypt Creeper has seen play before and gives a black deck something that can defend against both graveyard decks and aggro strategies. The other option is Vexing Devil in a burn deck. That is not to say that Avacyn Restored will not impact this category, but with all the Human synergies that exist in the new set I am leaning toward Champion of the Parish.

There are always some blue instants worth a look, and Avacyn Restored is no exception. Peel from Reality is a card capable of swinging the tempo around in a game but is still among the dustiest of the dark horses I have mentioned so far. Outwit seems much more interesting to me since it can deal with game-ending burn spells and even board-clearing curses. Keep in mind that a Curse targets a player when you cast it, so if Curse of Death's Hold is shaping up to be a real card at this event then Outwit could a flavorful addition to White-Blue Humans sideboards. And don't count out Human Frailty if Humans are going to be such a big deal either.

Pillar of Flame is a real option for sorceries, given how aggressive the format has been to this point. We have talked quite a bit about White-Blue Humans, and if it shows up in any kind of numbers you could see Mass Appeal racking up some tally marks for anyone who picks it for their roster. Is there a blue-white control deck in the format? If so, Terminus seems like a fine choice. Much more likely is a black-based control deck with the Liliana of the Veil I mentioned a couple of previous times in this article. Barter in Blood is a card that has a tournament pedigree and I fully expect it to see plenty of play in Spain. A player could open on Liliana and Barter in Blood and have the first three creatures played by an opponent covered.

Enchantment is a tough category that was thrown into turmoil when Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue were banned in Block Constructed. Does Descent into Madness have a deck or is that just crazy talk? Homicidal Seclusion? You're killing me here. There has been some rumbling about Favorable Winds but I am going to expect that Curse of Death's Hold is going to perform better than any of the new enchantments offered in this set.

I am not super excited about any of the artifact offerings in the set. Either of the Scrolls or maybe Vessel of Endless Rest seem the most likely candidates, but I know that most of my graveyard-based decks curse and wail about Grafdigger's Cage and I am certain it will be a sideboard staple next weekend across all decks not looking to play cards from their bin.

The final card slot comes down to a heated mana-fixing battle between Evolving Wilds from the last set and the much ballyhooed Cavern of Souls, as both cards will see play across a wide range of archetypes. I am going to say Cavern wins the runoff.

Like I said, it is a loooong week as we wait for the event itself to get here and see which cards rise to the top and which ones get dusty at the dealer's tables. Don't forget to tune in all weekend long to the live coverage as we see which decks dominate the format and which players—the tiebreaker in the Fantasy Pro Tour standings—are playing them.

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