The Evolution of Thievery

Posted in The Week That Was on January 18, 2013

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Welcome the last day of Gatecrash previews and the Simic card I have been the most excited about since the super top secret package of preview images arrived, cuffed to the wrist of the bonded courier. Just one long weekend into an interminable week before I can finally play in a Gatecrash Prerelease and put these three past weeks of theory and speculation into some actual practice.

Art by Maciej Kuclara

I wrote during week one about the open slots in my Momir Vig, Simic Visionary Commander deck, and when last we left there were still five slots open for new cards—joining Mystic Genesis, Fathom Mage, and Zameck Guildmage in the deck. Let me share the most likely four cards to be in the deck while slowrolling the fifth card, which is previewed today. Urban Evolution is on the fence but it has two of my favorite phrases in Magic—"draw three cards" and "play an additional land"—and barring something better is getting a berth.

Prime Speaker Zegana is going to get me more card advantage than Momir himself and may actually replace my Commander. Worst-case scenario, you get one card from the prime speaker herself, but let's be honest, you don't play Commander thinking about worst-case scenarios. Momir Vig would go right into the deck if I can somehow bring myself to switch Commanders.

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

Gyre Sage is going to be a sweet mana-ramp creature that can also do some beatdown duty if needed. If you read Mike's preview of the card last week and saw his comparisons to Quirion Dryad then you already know I have a soft spot for this card and will be playing it in formats ranging from forty cards to ninety-nine.

I love Unexpected Results and will give it a whirl for at least a couple of weeks after getting my hands on the new set. Honestly, the card I want in this slot is Ooze Flux, but I am not sure that Fathom Mage, Prime Speaker Zegana, Gyre Sage, and Zameck Guildmage is enough evolve for me to set up a steady supply of ooze tokens. The fantasy is to have two or three evolve creatures in play when you activate Ooze Flux and make a token, which then re-evolves your creatures. You can essentially keep playing that cycle for every you have available. It is certainly on my list of personal achievements to unlock in Limited, but my deck is probably not ideal to attempt this in Commander.

Even with the addition of this week's preview card—a card that is occupying the last slot in my Commander deck and one I have high hopes for in sixty-card decks as well. Remember when I said some of my favorite words on a card are "draw three cards" and "play an additional land?" Neither of those two phrases come close to the joy provided by "gain control of target creature." Check it out...

>> Click to Show

What is there not to love about this card? Let's keep in mind that this is not like Vedalken Shackles or Old Man of the Sea. When you take a creature with Simic Manipulator it stays took. You can then evolve back up and take something else. I have been thinking about all the different ways I want to use this card and how I can see it being played.

The subjects of this creature's experiments are going to most often be one- and two-drop creatures, and if you can suddenly target hexproof creatures I can think of a couple of suitable candidates. Glaring Spotlight and this card are going to play well together in a field full of Invisible Stalkers and Geist of Saint Trafts. And what better than a couple of swings from a Geist of Saint Traft and the resulting Angel to power up your Manipulator to steal again?

When I first saw the card my immediate reaction was to check and see when evolve checked to put the counters on the creature, because making multiple tokens at once would be pretty insane if it only checked upon entering the battlefield. Four 1/1 tokens coming into play will create four triggers, but it also checks on the resolution of the ability, so after you put a +1/+1 counter from the first token the remaining three will fizzle...

Unless you use the Simic Manipulator with the triggers on the stack. Imagine for a moment a red hot mess of a deck that features an active Simic Manipulator, Phantom General, and a Goblin Rally that has just been cast. The four tokens come into play as 2/2s and trigger the evolve ability of the Manipulator four times. You let the first one resolve and the Manipulator becomes a 1/2. The second one also resolves and now it is a 2/3. With the remaining triggers still on the stack you can remove two counters from the Simic Manipulator to steal a creature with power of 2 or less. Then the remaining two triggers would resolve and you would reload the Manipulator with two more counters to use as soon as it untaps next turn.

Phantom General
Goblin Rally

If evolve seems like too much work, this card can still be a powerful tool in your arsenal. Magic has plenty of ways to put +1/+1 counters on creatures and you don't have to go too far to find some that are already being played in Standard. Increasing Savagery is this card's best friend—with a third wheel of Mizzium Skin to make sure you don't get messed up by some spot removal. You don't even need to remove all the counters at once! You can steal a 2-power creature at the end of the turn and then untap and take another one. And then they are yours for the rest of the game.

Increasing Savagery is a card already being played in Standard, but what about some of the other ways to put counters on a creature? (And these are just the ways available in the current Standard format.)

Increasing Savagery
Mizzium Skin

Blessings of Nature is a miraculous way to add counters but not one that has seen much action as of yet. It is also not a card that people have been itching to get into a deck. Ajani, Caller of the Pride, on the other hand, is a card that I know I have been looking at. As far as three-mana Planeswalkers go, Ajani has not lived up to his potential yet.

Blessings of Nature
Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Cathars' Crusade could be the card that the token-generating deck is looking for. Imagine for a moment—and putting horrendous mana aside—a scenario where you got set up behind Cathars' Crusade, Simic Manipulator, and a Korozda Guildmage. You could steal a creature, sacrifice it, and get huge tokens that would also make your Simic Manipulator a criminal mastermind capable of stealing anything on the board.

The scavenge mechanic is a Limited staple that has seen modest play in Constructed. It is not hard to imagine Grisly Salvage, scavenge creatures, and a Simic Manipulator controlling a board with the proper tools to protect your Mutant Wizard. Speaking of Limited all-stars, how about Common Bond?

Grisly Salvage
Common Bond

From the Human playbook there is Deranged Outcast and the much-more-firmly-inside-the-box Gavony Township. If you want to veer much more outside of the box—perhaps even in the next room—Death's Presence is an intriguing card when combined with Simic Manipulator and a sacrifice outlet. While we are getting morbid about sacrifice outlets how about Hunger of the Howlpack?

I have talked quite a bit about protecting your creature. What better way to do that than in a way that will also feed you a steady diet of counters for your Mutant Wizard? I am talking about Ring of Evos Isle.

It is a lot to think about but let it suffice to say that this card is going to the front of the line of cards going into my Commander deck and will be on my watchlist for the new Standard format as we head into Pro Tour Gatecrash in just a few weeks.

In Memoriam

The Pro Tour and game-design communities were shocked earlier this week to learn about the death of Pro Tour Seattle finalist Itaru Ishida at the young age of thirty-three. Ishida was a pioneer of the Japanese Magic community, playing the game during Revised, before there was even Japanese-language support for the game. He was a staple of the Pro Tour and one of the most successful players in the history of the Grand Prix circuit, with two wins and seventeen Top 8s.

More important than his achievements were his contributions to the Magic community and fostering new generations of Japanese players. During Kenji Tsumura's meteoric rise to fame you would regularly see Ishida's handiwork on his decklists. It is a tragic loss for Magic; the Japanese gaming community; and, most importantly, his friends and family. My deepest condolences go out to everyone who had the good fortune to have Ishida in their lives.

I had the good fortune to spend some time with Ishida during my coverage of the Asian GP circuit and did an interview with him you can find here.

For a much more personal reflection on the life and impact please read this piece by his friend and colleague Keita Mori.

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