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At the Starting Gate - A Gatecrash Preview Roundup

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Richard Bland
Richard Bland

About Richard Bland

Richard is an English pro player. He started playing Magic on a foreign exchange trip to Germany in the dark days of Darksteel, and was running sick homebrew Shared Fate decks at FNM while everyone else was playing affinity mirrors. While he has learned better since then, he still retains a soft spot for combo decks of all hues.

  • Platinum Pro Player
  • 98 Lifetime Pro Points
  • 2nd Worlds 2011
  • 2nd GP San Diego 2011
  • 3rd GP Barcelona 2011
  • 3rd GP Madrid 2010
  • 2nd Great Britain Nationals 2010

At the Starting Gate - A Gatecrash Preview Roundup

Hello everyone,

Gatecrash is just around the corner, and the preview season is in full swing. With it being a large set, with 5 new guilds, 5 new keywords and an entirely new limited format, Gatecrash promises to have a huge impact across the board. Here are a few of the new cards I am most excited to get my hands on in the upcoming months.

Frontline Medic
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

Frontline Medic is a nice example of the Battalion mechanic for Boros. The Battalion mechanic is fairly easy to grok for players, as we’ve seen examples of the mechanic before, most notably with the powerful land Windbrisk Heights. When the incentive to attack with 3 creatures is high enough, making it work is not only possible, but very worthwhile. Whether it will be a deck in the new format depends on the power of the Battalion mechanic and also on the quality of token-producers. We don’t have Bitterblossom, Nest Invader or Spectral Procession anymore, so the cheap token producers deserve extra scrutiny. The Battalion ability is part bonus and part enabler, while the body is respectable, not quite Blade Splicer levels, but not insignificant, and once you achieve Battalion, barring removal spells you’ll keep Battalion from that point onwards in the game. A big downside to Battalion as a gameplay mechanic is the possibility of having to lose creatures by making poor attacks to enable the ability. In a dedicated white aggro deck that might make use of tokens, battalion and anthem effects, Medic is going to be a complimentary card for a fairly empty slot – Silverblade Paladin is less useful in a token deck, and other options are limited to Fiend Hunter currently.

All this is completely ignoring the second ability, which might not come up at all in certain matchups, but as written it is a very potent hate card against X spells. Having one sit in play leaves an opponent with an X-spell in a horrible position, either they have to cast the spell with x at 3 less than the usual ‘all available mana’ to have it resolve at all while still leaving the problem in play for the next X spell, or you get to counter it and gain a bunch of tempo, as the amount paid for X is likely going to be significantly more than the 3 you paid for the medic, and the effect on the game much bigger. With Sphinx's Revelation and Bonfire of the Damned being the biggest X-spells of the past few months there are certainly powerful cards that an aggressive deck such as the one that the medic would find a home in would seek to limit. The rest of the deck is as yet undefined, but if it exists, and past formats have shown that it often does, the medic will be a part of it.

Undercity Informer is an interesting option for any deck. In a single package it provides not only a decent if uninspiring 2/3 body, but a sacrifice outlet and potential win condition. With its ability you are looking at hitting just over 2 cards per activation, so you’ll likely need some additional milling to really have a shot at decking an opponent with the thing, but as a non-useless mill card that can get an extra 10-12 cards off the top of their deck in a last ditch play, it’s definitely worth a look, and the more incidental milling there is, the better this gets, as it really needs another 10 cards milled off the top before you want to sweep the board.

Skullcrack is a card red decks have sorely needed for a good while now. Flaring Pain was always somewhat useful as a sideboard card, and Flames of the Blood Hand has had a spot in red decks from Standard Gruul to Extended Burn. Preventing life gain is a huge deal, and it just so happens that lifegain in Standard right now is also a huge deal. Skullcrack takes a massive dent out of the haymaker that is Thragtusk, swinging the life totals 8 points in your favor and can stop that key Sphinx's Revelation for 3 that gives UW just enough time to cast the next one. This card is going to see play, and most likely maindeck, as long as Revelation and Thragtusk stick around.

Crocanura is an unassuming little card, but I think it will prove to be one of the better commons for green in this set. It showcases the Simic’s Evolve mechanic, one that wants you to play evolve creatures and then steadily bigger and bigger creatures to follow. Crocanura ticks a load of boxes that a successful Evolve card needs. Firstly it’s relatively cheap to cast and not completely insignificant on the board on its own. It only takes 1 counter for it to become a good deal for the cost. Giant Spider for 3 mana is good in every limited format I can think of. Its low starting power will give it many opportunities to trigger the Evolve ability, so I can see this card reaching 4/6 with relative ease in the course of normal play. The high toughness of the card is also a great boon for all the other cheap Evolve cards you might have. Evolve really rewards unbalanced stats, and the spider has them. Finally I think with the Dimir Cipher mechanic and Batallion mechanic from Boros, we’re going to find that having good solid blocking creatures is going to be a high priority for any deck that isn’t all in on Batallion themselves.

Alms Beast is a fun-looking card with a very clever and unique downside. It is still an amazing deal for 4 mana for a 6/6 body, but its utility as a beatdown creature is severely reduced by the lifelink-granting ability. I think the drawback isn’t too bad – a 6/6 body is larger than pretty much any commonly played creature at comparable prices, so it looks likely to get a 2 for 1 trade out of the deal, but the lack of evasion and any real synergy with other cards means this guy is likely to only really shine in Limited.

Aurelia's Fury
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

Aurelia's Fury is a supremely versatile card. It can act as a Falter, a Lava Axe, an Abeyance, or a Rolling Thunder. While this is clearly absurd in Limited and sure to be the source of a hundred bad beat stories about how you lost with a lethal attack on board and a removal spell in hand, I wonder if it can prove good enough to push into Standard play. As a removal spell it has to compete with Devil's Play, Bonfire of the Damned and other cheaper removal spells. The Abeyance-like effect can sometimes be fun, but it doesn’t compliment the tap-out nature of the spell so well as much as it adds a small incentive to direct at least 1 damage to your opponent for value. As a kill spell it is, let’s face it here, woefully underpowered, but the Rolling Thunder ability to wipe 2-3 creatures at instant speed is tempting, but I can’t help but feel bonfire just does the same work in the same types of deck – big red decks that can generate decent amounts of mana and want a removal that is not a parallel sweeper card, and can help kill the opponent too. If WR really presents some compelling ramp or control cards I’ll be ready to give this a try, until then, I’ll just be hoping I open one at a GP.

Simic Charm is another versatile card, but it’s a world away from Aurelia's Fury. This cheap and cheerful 2-mana card ranks close to Selesnya Charm for me as most useful charm. All three modes of this card seem useful to me, and having both Giant Growth and Unsummon as options for the price of the two added together is very reasonable. Both effects have seen play plenty of times before, and can often be what a deck needs. There’s often a throwaway niche mode, but hexproof to your entire team is actually really useful. Cards like Dispel and Turn Aside always hover around playability in Limited because in some games you’re just not going to have the opportunity to counter a removal spell. Simic Charm doesn’t suffer from this drawback, and in any matchup with creatures (a big ask, I know) this is going to be useful and for 2-mana, a great tempo tool. The real decider will be which decks will be able to support the UG cost best. As the ‘creature’ color, UG in constructed tends to follow the creature-based disruptive deck archetype, which suits this card fine, but without a full look at the set we can’t tell if the card has a home. In older formats even it might create waves, Infect in Modern can make use of all three modes, happens to be in the Simic colors and you might see it replace Vines of Vastwood, which somewhat resembles a more narrow, if a little cheaper, version of Simic Charm. Pick up a playset and good luck trying to play around this thing profitably in Limited.

The charm cycle keeps showing interesting cards, and while I don’t think any of them are quite as good as Simic Charm, Dimir Charm with its Disfigure ability has a good amount of utility, but the other two modes are much more narrow and don’t really compliment the other modes so well as Simic Charm, which is all about helping creatures get through unmolested. What sort of deck is Dimir Charm good against? One with small creature, lots of sorceries that you’re hoping to grind-out a long game or find a specific card against? This means it would be more likely to act as a multi-purpose sideboard card, but unlike how Rakdos Charm has found its way into decklists as a 3-way specific hoser, Dimir Charm isn’t good enough at any 1 mode to really justify paying more for it, and the things it hates on are more general and covered by superior single-purpose cards. Orzhov Charm is another interesting one – the Vendetta mode seems to be the most obviously powerful, and having options on the card for when Vendetta is too costly to cast alleviates the drawback of cards like Vendetta, never being truly dead. The other modes are a little narrow, and encourage playing creature-based decks, and in the Unearth-like mode, cards of specifically 1CC, you’re left wondering if this flexibility is worth not simply playing a ‘real’ removal spell like Victim of Night or Ultimate Price. This card’s value greatly changes depending on what card it is supporting, and so I’ll reserve judgment for now, but I’d have to see a Deathrite Shaman/Martyr of Sands level 1-drop in Gatecrash to really start considering this card.

Soul Ransom initially had me very excited, but then I read it again and saw that it didn’t say ‘sacrifices enchanted creature’, which made me think again about calling this the second coming of Threads of Disloyalty. As it is, you gain a slightly cheaper cost, in exchange for giving the opponent a costly way to deal with the card. Now if punisher cards have taught us anything, it’s that giving the opponent a choice is never a good thing for you, and taking the 2-card hit to get their guy back when they want to isn’t that steep a cost if they have time to find a pair of useless cards to throw, negating the card-advantage of the ability, or the creature is so important to the game that discarding right now could win them the game, then they’ll do it without hesitation, and if it isn’t, then they won’t unfortunately for you. So no, this really isn’t Control Magic, and Mind Control was only barely playable in Constructed. In Limited you’re still going to pick this up, but having to play the game as if you might lose control of the guy at any moment encourages you to attack with the stolen creature, as does the temporary nature of the enchantment. As UB encourages evasive creatures with its Cipher mechanic, this might suit the Ransom enough to be a solid pick, but it’s by no means a windmill slam, and could often be a mid-pack pick. Cards like this get me excited trying to predict the limited landscape. Return to Ravnica turned out wildly different in practice to expectations, with 5 creature-based mechanics in Gatecrash, are we in for more of the same, or will milling, burn or bleeding-out grinding B/W be the best place to be at the pre-release?

Thanks for reading,

Richard

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