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Gatecrash First Impressions

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Gatecrash First Impressions

Hey everyone and welcome! Today, we’re going to talk about some of the new Gatecrash cards and their applications in Constructed, mainly in Standard. As I’m writing this, half of the set has been revealed already, so there are still many unknown cards, which is why I’m not going to put the respective cards I cover into the context of the whole set, but instead than that, I’m going to try to figure out how some of the most talked-about cards fit into what we already have at hand and if there are perhaps some role players to build decks around.

Just as in Return to Ravnica, each guild has its own keyword, which makes for five new abilities in total. None of the RtR keywords have made a big splash in Constructed – most sets do have some „block“ decks that can be tuned to stand a chance in Standard play and sometimes these are centered around block mechanics (Threshold, Dredge, Infect, Miracle...), but in Return to Ravnica, we haven’t really seen much of that, as most of the keyworded cards fall into the „Limited only“ category. I think that Gatecrash changes this situation a little bit, as we have at least one or two keywords that could potentially have some of their representatives be good enough for Standard play. Evolve seems too slow in general, as does Extort, but Bloodrush and Cipher could possibly be interesting if we see some cards with a high enough power level sporting this keyword (and I think that some of the ones that have already been revealed could reach just that level) and Battalion generally fits into the R/W aggressive creature strategy that wants to attack with a bunch of creatures anyway.

Legion Loyalist
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

The Battalion card that has caused probably the most hype so far is Legion Loyalist – a 1/1 hasty Goblin for R that has „Battalion — Whenever Legion Loyalist and at least two other creatures attack, creatures you control gain first strike and trample until end of turn and can't be blocked by tokens this turn.“ The card has Raging Goblin stats on its own without even counting the abilities, and Raging Goblin used to be borderline playable some time ago in burn-type decks, so a strictly upgraded version should be given some attention, but the power level of creatures has risen quite a bit since Raging Goblin’s times, so we’ll have to carefully judge the abilities to see what we really have here. So what do the abilities actually do? The „can’t be blocked by tokens“ ability is only mildly useful – there are some tokens played in Standard right now, but every deck has also solid non-token creatures, so it’s not like the ability is killing any deck outright. It’s going to give you some additional value here and there, against Thragtusk tokens and Lingering Souls, but it’s not an ability that would justify playing this card on its own. Then we have the „first strike and trample“ clause, something that’s going to come in handy on a more reliable basis than the previous ability. However, I have a strong feeling that there is a problematic antagonism between the Battalion mechanic and the abilities provided by Legion Loyalist: Battalion wants you to assemble three attacking creatures as quickly as possible and the easiest way to do that is to play quick small low-costed dorks or even some token-generators. However, first strike, trample and even the „can’t be blocked by XY“ mechanic suits best bigger dudes. After all, having first strike and trample on a 1-power dork is close to useless. I can’t really imagine a creature base that you would want to play in a „Raging Goblin deck“ that would benefit enough from the abilities. The fact that Legion Loyalist has haste, so your opponent won’t see the Battalion ability coming, is nice, as is giving your Hellrider first strike and trample, but apart from Hellrider, most of the RDW creatures don’t really need this kind of boost. And what’s more, Legion Loyalist being a 1/1, he’s almost bound to die on the first occasion when he attacks, since it really doesn’t take a big effort to take him down. Therefore, my verdict is: probably too marginal to make a bigger splash, although it will see some play here and there.

Another interesting Battalion card is Frontline Medic – a 3/3 for 2W that can sacrifice itself to counter a spell with X in its cost unless the player casting that spell pays 3. The Battalion trigger grants your attacking creatures indestructibility, letting you pile in with whatever you have without any fear of losing your dudes in combat. Frontline Medic is also a human, which is still quite relevant because of Champion of Parish and Cavern of Souls, and might make the R/W humans deck much more viable, now that it also has better mana thanks to Sacred Foundry. I think that the abilities on Frontline Medic are a bit more synergistic than on Legion LoyalistSphinx's Revelation is, after all, one of the most format-defining cards in Standard –, so even though it has to fight for the 3-slot with Silverblade Paladin, I believe that it will see some play in Standard.

I’ve mentioned that Cipher could potentially be interesting for Standard, as long as we see some reasonable spells with this keyword. The mechanic does give you free spells, which is always something dangerous, but the problem right now is that all the Cipher spells cost too much or do too little. Undercity Plague – the one-sided Smallpox – could be really powerful if it cost less than six mana, but at this point of the curve, the power-level demands that we play spells that are close to winning you the game when you cast them. Unfortunately, Undercity Plague doesn’t quite do that much, even though I’m really tempted to say that it’s almost knocking on the door of the „worth playing in Standard“ department.

The reason why I think Cipher could eventually make some splash in Standard is that we have some really nice „carriers“ that are almost asking to deliver some Cipher spell to its destination. Invisible Stalker really is as good as it gets at this job, being both unblockable and very hard to remove, thanks to Hexproof. What I’m looking for at this moment is some reasonably costed Cipher spell that’s good on its own but could team up with Invisible Stalker to create some insane source of card advantage or creature-killing minigun. We’ll see if some combination of that sort will be possible.

Glaring Spotlight
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

When mentioning Hexproof, you can’t really not mention Glaring Spotlight, a new anti-Hexproof tool that I assume was designed as an answer to the annoying fact that guys like Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker (or Slippery Boggle in Modern) are so hard to remove. And while I love the flavor part of this card – you can imagine exactly how this giant lamp works and looks like just by reading the rules text – I’m rather skeptical in terms of its use for Constructed. Silver bullets have traditionally been strong only if they really shut down an entire strategy (Stony Silence, Rule of Law, Choke, Grafdigger's Cage, Null Rod), but Glaring Spotlight only allows you to deal with the hard-to-remove threats, it doesn’t deal with them itself. On the other hand, it also has a second ability – when you smash the spotlight and everything suddenly disappears in darkness, your creatures are able to get around the temporarily blinded defenders. I must admit that I’m a bit confused by how schizophrenic this card feels. Being a half-silver bullet and half proactive aggro card, it has two completely different functions. If there ever is a deck that wants to push damage through AND wants to deal with Hexproof guys post-board (either in Standard, where an Aura deck just won a GP, or in Modern, where Hexproof is currently also an issue in the Aura deck), maybe it also wants this in its sideboard, but it doesn’t seem that likely to me.

I haven’t talked about green much, so let’s have a look at some of the cards that the two green guilds bring to the table. Gruul seems to be centered around creatures and has a couple of interesting above-the-curve dudes, but not much that would offer a new approach to existing problems or a new strategy to center your deck around. Ghor-Clan Rampager, a 4/4 trampler for 2RG with Bloodrush for RG (giving an attacking creature +4/+4 and trample when you discard the Rampager) seems nice and hits the Standard-playable mark, in my opinion, but he’s just a dude, nothing more. Domri Rade, the three-mana red-green planeswalker, is certainly interesting (most 4-or-less-mana planeswalkers are), but to tell the truth, I haven’t been as impressed as other people by this new poster child of Gatecrash. Sure, he’s ok in a 30+ creature deck, but what red-green decks even want to play that many creatures? One thing is for sure, that in order to accommodate Domri Rade, you have to put quite a few restraints on your deck, which not many archetypes will be able to do, thus reducing the number of decks interested in this planeswalker. I think that he’ll see some play in Standard, but not much and will largely remain a fringe card.

The general strategy of Gruul is a bit narrow and Simic’s life philosophy is a bit „durdly“, which can be hardly surprising, as we’re talking about green-blue. However, to durdle is not what you usually want to be doing in constructed Magic, as you can easily get punished for it by proactive strategies that don’t give you much time. Messing around with +1/+1 counters and drawing cards can be fun, but Standard – and Modern even more so – is a merciless environment where you need to do stuff that directly affects the board or your opponent’s chances for victory, otherwise you don’t really stand a chance. However, even some of the durdly Simic cards seem to be close to the „standard playability mark“, so let’s have a look at them.

Prime Speaker Zegana
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

So far, one of my favorite Simic cards has been Prime Speaker Zegana. The 2GGUU 1/1 legendary Merfolk Wizard comes into play with as many +1/+1 counters on it as is the greatest power among creatures you control and also draws you that many cards. What does this mean in Standard? That you can easily have a six-mana 6/6 dude that draws you five cards – the only thing you need to do is to have a Thragtusk in play. Or how about soulbounding a Wolfir Silverheart with an Avacyn Pilgrim on turn 4 and then drawing eight cards and getting a 9/9 on turn five? Does that seem far-fetched? I think that this scenario is a lot more real than one might think. Prime Speaker Zegana might not be the most consistent card in the world, doing close to nothing on an empty board, but if you play him at the right time, he can pull you so far ahead in terms of card advantage that it’s almost absurd.

The last guild that I haven’t mentioned is Orzhov. As I’ve already said earlier, I don’t really like Extort in Constructed, but Orzhov still has some potent cards nevertheless. Obzedat, Ghost Council, is obviously a creature that sits way above the power level that we’re used to see on a five-mana card, but the real question is whether it will find a home and also whether the unfavorable „matchup“ against Thragtusk will not damage it too much in Standard. However, one card that I like even more is Orzhov Charm. I’ve heard people refer to it as a bad removal spell with two very situational secondary abilities, but I think that it’s a lot more than that. First of all, Orzhov Charm lets you deal with any creature and doesn’t care about its creature type or size, as long as you have a high enough life total. This versatility is quite a rare thing – there’s a reason why Path to Exile is one of the most played removal spells of all time. The second most useful ability is probably the „bounce your own guy“ mode. Everybody who has played U/W Delver will tell you that bouncing your own creature with Vapor Snag was by no means uncommon. Orzhov Charm has this „rescue“ mode as a bonus in addition to being a removal spell. The third ability – bringing back a dead 1-cc guy from your graveyard to play – is probably the least useful one, but still, if you’re running some 1-drops, you will want to use this mode from time to time and it’s always nice to have more options, especially on a card that you can’t use in its primary mode when you’re too low on life. In Modern, this card could find home in Soul Sisters, if the deck stretches its manabase a bit, which it might very well want to do, since Orzhov Charm can resurrect both Martyr of Sands and Serra Ascendant – probably the two most important creatures in the deck.

Well, these are some of the cards I wanted to talk about the most. By the time you’ll be reading this, the whole Gatecrash spoiler should be available, so the next time, I’m going to talk about the set more in-depth, bringing you some new decklists and giving some of the new strategies a bit more concrete contours. Until that time, have fun at the prereleases and happy brewing!

As always, thanks for reading,

Adam Koska

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