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Penicillin and Post-its—A First Look for Spikey Sixties

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The letter I! was all set to write the 999th edition of "Delver of Secrets is quite a good card in the Standard format," highlighting some of the newest innovations in flipping up Insectile Aberration on the second turn, but then I realized this weekend is the Avacyn Restored Prerelease (which you should totally go to), reducing our PTQ count to "precious few."

Avacyn Restored Prerelease Promo Card

...and then, by the time it is Blue Envelope time again one week later, we will have a Standard inclusive of Avacyn Restored.

...so why not talk about Avacyn Restored?

This week, I am going to do a compressed bird's eye of more or less all of Avacyn Restored; well, "all" in the sense of all the cards I want to talk about (and none of the ones I don't want to talk about). I think a fair number of these will make it to serious Constructed... but maybe not all. Yes, I might miss one.

I didn't do any formal numbers per color. These are just the cards I wanted to talk about.

White

Cursebreak

Interesting tension on this card. Some players (like myself, even) have favored Divine Offering over Revoke Existence in Delver of Secrets main decks, even though Revoke Existence is not only more flexible across the board, but actually has text against big problem cards like Curse of Death's Hold; the bonus is just that tempting. Now we have Cursebreak as a (deck) design wrinkle (concurrent with a potential rise in Intangible Virtue relative to Sword of War and Peace). I don't actually think Cursebreak is going to be the new main deck option consistently, but it does provide an interesting option for metagaming as well as a good new tool.

Restoration Angel

Probably the best card in white! (Contender for best card in the set.)

If you start thinking about this as flash + flying + "draw a card when Restoration Angel enters the battlefield" you will start to see the potential here. Restoration Angel is perfectly sized to punish the leading offensive threats in the format (Delver of Secrets, Hellrider, Huntmaster of the Fells) and the rest of the text on the card makes it easy to mug opponents in combat. Its "Momentary Blink" ability will be gravy on top of friendly creatures with "enters the battlefield" text like Acidic Slime or Snapcaster Mage, for potential double cards advantages.

Righteous Blow

The price is right on this card! Pow! Take that, Delver of Secrets! The very existence of Righteous Blow might make Llanowar Elves think twice before stealing a turn-two point against white-blue. Obviously not the card that everyone is writing home about, but a possible option to steal initiative for certain colors and decks without more widely celebrated options.

Terminus

Per last week's preview article, this is going to be an obvious staple in the format; it gets even better than Day of Judgment based on the polarity of undying troublemakers (e.g. Strangleroot Geist and Geralf's Messenger).

Commander's Authority

My favorite art in the set; that is all :)

Commander's Authority | Art by Johannes Voss

Blue

Devastation Tide

The charm (I use the term "charm" loosely here) of Upheaval was largely in its ability to make the opponent pick up all his or her lands (which Devastation Tide thankfully does not do). But this is the Upheaval we have, and its miracle cost allows it to at least enter the conversation. Like... what if you don't play with any nonland permanents of your own?

That would make this card pretty lopsided, no?

The deck design tension on Devastation Tide is whether it is useful as a unique effect; decks focusing on miracles already can play Terminus, for example. I see it as a redundant miracle, albeit one that can make opponents pick up Lingering Souls, Honor of the Pure, or a big Planeswalker.

Favorable Winds

There are so many things against this card. Unlike Intangible Virtue, it doesn't give vigilance; even with the interaction with Lingering Souls and Midnight Haunting, that whole "no vigilance" thing is going to be in the back of most players' minds. It doesn't buff Timely Reinforcements or Gather the Townsfolk (or the Golem on Blade Splicer)...

Then again...

4/3 Delver of Secrets.

Yeah. Me too!

Fettergeist

This card (and the next one, Lone Revenant) would be played in a kind of deck we don't know about yet. Right now, most of the decks we recognize have lots of creatures in play... Fettergeist is obviously not going to get along in that camp. However, as a loner?

Fettergeist | Art by Izzy

Not a huge number of creatures I would rather tap for in blue on turn three; quite the Serendib Efreet, if you grok. No downside whatsoever in ideal circumstances, but quite the stop sign and an on-board two-for-one against red decks.

As a sideboard card? You can probably save a lot of damage by just tapping for one on turn three while you shore up.

Lone Revenant

As a kind of companion to Fettergeist (although perhaps not in the same decks), I can see Lone Revenant growing up to be the most hated creature in the format for some players. It protects itself and it's an Ophidian! How about with red or black removal? Four! Draw! Four again! Lone Revenant would itself fuel the red or black removal!

Again, it might be hard to imagine the world where Lone Revenant is a key mover and shaker because the shell doesn't exist yet. Point is, this is the kind of card that might just provide a new archetype.

Then again, it has some sturdy competition at six with Consecrated Sphinx (more toughness and no limitations). I think hexproof is very valuable when comparing the two, though.

Outwit

The blue Righteous Blow if you take my meaning. Less awesome than awesomely costed. Might see some value especially if we see a shift from permission to discard. Certainly not A+ across the planes, but we do sometimes see nonwhite decks with Leyline of Sanctity in play...

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Probably best card in blue! Per my preview article, I am really excited about her ultimate; on the way, she will be a perfectly fine Icy Manipulator.

Temporal Mastery

How can you do a rundown like this one without a mention to the falling skies themselves?

I don't know, either, what the impact of a sometimes-turn-two Time Walk is going to be on Standard, but we do have experience from Explore in recent years. I do know the impact of a seven-mana one though... which is hardly a cause for any falling skies. I think it will be best alongside other miracles.


Black

I found black to have a relatively small number of interesting Spike cards to think about playing from Avacyn Restored, but black makes up for that by having the single most exciting card (where "most exciting" isn't necessarily "better than Thunderous Wrath").

Appetite for Brains

I don't actually love this card. To me, it misses most of the incentives to play Inquisition of Kozilek (its aesthetic opposite number). Why is one great and the other potentially not so very good?

Magic has gotten to a point where we worship at the altar of high-value cheap stuff. An opening hand from a Delver deck is going to present all manner of targets for Inquisition, from the Delver itself to Vapor Snag to Mana Leak and so on. With Appetite for Brains, the likelihood to miss on turn one is greatly amplified... just because players only have one Batterskull, one Jace, Memory Adept (whereas they have lots of Gut Shots and Dissipates). So you might save it's utility but miss the opportunity to spend mana; this rarely comes up early with even Despise, which is not a universal tool.

Appetite for Brains, if it is going to be good, will be a highly strategic card. The players who succeed with it will cast it at the right times so they hit something—and something big, hopefully—such that when they do hit, they might just be poking a hole in another player's balloon, sending that player crying home to mommy.

Demonic Taskmaster

This is what Skittering Horror looks like in 2012!

Skittering Horror was plenty unstoppable the last time black got its hands on one, BTW.

Biggest potential boon in Standard? No Lightning Bolt!

I like that this card gives black an initiative-stealer, although I am not a huge fan of its toughness for combat purposes (compare against Restoration Angel contextually). Still, a fine tool for some decks.

Griselbrand

Probable best card in black and possible best and most exciting card overall!

Hard to argue with a card that says "draw seven cards" anywhere on it; the fact that it has lifelink to fuel those seven is amazing; the fact that you can draw fourteen if you want, even more so.

Yes, yes, yes—I agree Griselbrand will rarely be played legitimately. Oh well... thanks Faithless Looting!

Human Frailty

Kind of like a specialized Deathmark. I actually think that it will be a minority player in Standard due to the relatively low threshold on a second mana for Go for the Throat or Doom Blade relative to quite a bit of incremental versatility. That said, there are some decks (e.g. Grixis Control) that are very weak to the Humans linear, plus, this one kills Insectile Aberration dead! In these cases, the mana saved might be very important.

Red

Red has lots of cards you might want to play in Avacyn Restored, plus the probable best card overall. It is a good time to be a red mage.

Bonfire of the Damned

Normal Miracle
1 Mana: NA NA
2 Mana: NA Better than Simoon
3 Mana: Simoon-ish (for one more mana) Better than Pyroclasm (for one more mana)
4 Mana: NA Quite a bit better than Fireball for 3
5 Mana: Playable Ouch
6 Mana: NA Really ouch

Bonfire of the Damned is playable if not spectacular at quite a few points on the curve and a stone annihilator when you hit miracle. Super solid miracle.

Falkenrath Exterminator

This is a "Whirling Dervish" in a color that can actually force it through the Red Zone. Once you have a couple of counters on it, the 2 ManaRed Mana ability can make life difficult—and short—for opposing creatures. I am not 100% sold only because in 2012, if Whirling Dervish were good enough, it would rely at least in part on its protection from black, as Slith Firewalker got there (and into decks) on basis of its intersection of haste and the availability of Chrome Mox.

So when is Falkenrath Exterminator playable? You need to be in a matchup that has sufficient time to grow it and dominate the board with it (i.e., you can't be dead on turn four). Getting this big enough to really matter-matter is going to be a condition, too, so an opposing deck that has enough fast removal will blank the poor thing... but just file this one away. It isn't obvious that it will be good, but I think there are times where it will be quite so.

Malignus

Not that a Cephalid Life deck is that common even in formats where the ability to gain near-infinite life is legal, but... how awesome is it that red now has a tool to come right back in two swings? I like how Malignus can undo the games that red traditionally always loses to white sideboard cards.

And when it's small? You don't need it to be big.

Reforge the Soul

It is extraordinarily easy to make this card look spectacular. Any time this goes off when the opponent has more cards than you, you have just generated card advantage. Blue-black deck holding seven? Card advantage! Topdeck when you have no cards? It's a miracle!

I can think of few things I would rather have with a deck full of cheap burn spells. And if you have to play it at legitimate cost? You do, I guess.

Another thing to remember about cards like this: They not only punish control for holding cards, they really hammer disruption. Patrick Chapin and Gabriel Nassif tore through Worlds in NYC with their Wheel of Fortune variant, running around hand destruction to re-assemble hands chock full of critical mass.

Thunderous Wrath

Possibly the best card in Avacyn Restored! One mana for five damage? Instant speed? When you look at just the miracle side, it is easy to see how amazing this card can be. At six mana you still have an instant-speed Fireball for five, which, while not "easy to pull off" by any means (especially in a beatdown deck) also isn't difficult to pull off. This card should be outstanding.

Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

Two-mana Planeswalker! Discard outlet for your non-miraculous miracles! I'd try a Planeswalker this cheap if his [+1] did next to nothing, and Tibalt's has the words "draw a card" instead. Surely some clever Johnny (or cutthroat burn player) can figure out a way to make Tibalt sing! I am very excited to see where the first two-mana Planeswalker takes us. My guess is a world where we are discarding Life from the Loam and friends in some non-Standard format, and a palace of punishment for control in many a format.

Seriously...

"I'm coming."

Nothing like watching a card like this tick up across the table and have absolutely no idea how your hand full of permission is supposed to get you out from under it.

Tyrant of Discord

Obviously this isn't a fair card, or a card you will likely play fairly. So the question is whether, as a cheater, you would rather have it or Inferno Titan cast as the big red troublemaker. There is a lot of swing here (which is what makes it a card worth talking about), but ultimately Tyrant of Discord is anchored by the "7/7" in the corner. It is, in that sense, "efficient" while "doing something"... even when that something is just taking out the eighth of nine lands, opposite.

I don't see this as a staple by any means, but I love the fact that it can kill Avacyn sometimes and sweep five of the opponent's permanents another time. Very red. Very powerful in its way, and really and truly chaotic. I guess this really does thrive on discord, because the games it is good— when it is good—the opponent should be absolutely miserable.

Vexing Devil

Basically the opposite of previous card Tyrant of Discord in every way... cheap instead of expensive, absolutely and utterly not-lucky. You get what they give you, you get what you get, and you don't complain. Come on! Your investment was Red Mana. With Thalia in play? Still Red Mana. Remember how certain PT Champions have been willing to play Spark Elemental and Shard Volley? Vexing Devil should work out just fine in decks like that, and be played not at all in most other situations.

Green

The best of the green cards make me want to play green. I am only highlighting three, but every one of them is electric. Well, maybe not Borderland Ranger (to you). But to me? It is more exciting than a Garruk variant.

Borderland Ranger

Again, no one (but me) will be excited by this.

That said, Borderland Ranger will be medium-played in many kinds of decks for the duration of Avacyn Restored in Standard, although probably not as a four-of. This will be largely ignored, despite its persistent presence in performing lists.

Wolfir Avenger

Per BDM's preview article, this card is bananas. It has most of the incentive of a Simian Grunts, and once it is in play good luck getting rid of it. It's not quite Sigarda... but it not only costs three... but will also live through a Day of Judgment.

While it doesn't actually have soulbond, it is hard to think of a card in this list that plays better with others. In this case Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, or Avacyn's Pilgrim.

Wolfir Silverheart

I just like the fact that you can launch it in for 8 damage the turn it is going to attack. Also, sending your Birds of Paradise in for a Baloth-like level of damage is... Did I mention "electric?" For its own part, this card feels very Spectral Force to me. You deal with it. Or else.


Other

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

If we are setting the bar for spice/sauce/set-naming with the quality of audaciously priced Angels, my preference is for Gisela over namesake Avacyn herself by a country mile. Gisela costs one fewer in a spot where a single mana can feel like 4–7, and I feel like she actually dies more while in play. Sure, no one is going to Doom Blade Avacyn... but she costs eight! Gisela is almost equally difficult to burn down while being essentially equally vulnerable to Oblivion Ring and what is really common creature control these days: the allegedly non-lethal Vapor Snag.

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight | Art by Jason Chan

And Gisela?

She hits for 10.

10!

(Not 8.)

Griselbrand is an eight that gets a Spike's inner Johnny infiltrating while Avacyn is not (at least not for most Spikes). Most would rather reanimate sixes or sevens. But Gisela? She makes me think about the reasonableness of actually tapping three lands more than the proscribed "I win now" number, natural-style, like some misguided JamieTimmy.

Sigarda, Host of Herons

I am not usually one for flavor (Raphael Levy, a native French speaker, once asked me what "swath" in the flavor text of Kaervek the Merciless meant culturally/contextually and was horrified to learn I had never read the flavor text) but Sigarda makes even me wonder about the Easter Egg quotient on these cards. In Robert Jordan's storied storybook universe the mark of the heron goes only to consensus blade masters... and can you really think of a better bird to carry your Sword of X and Y over the top of the battlefield and to victory? No one is shooting Sigarda down in response, no sir.

Sigarda, Host of Herons | Art by Chris Rahn

Personally, I find Sigarda to be the most Constructed-compelling of Avacyn Restored's Angels, mixing durability, impact, and cost better than even Gisela. And as for intra-set synergy? I can see no clearer chase to the Cavern of Souls than the Green Mana in her top-right corner. She might as well cost Green ManaWhite ManaWhite ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana because more than one blue-o-phile has expressed getting her in play—definitely and definitively—via Zac Hill's most recent preview card.

Speaking of which...

Cavern of Souls

Yes, yes... Cavern of Souls is certainly on the short list for best card in the set. We all know your Primeval Titan will resolve now. Huzzah.

Over the last few days I have put some additional thought into this one, and these are some of my incremental thoughts, that perhaps the utility of Cavern of Souls will be one of Penicillin and Post-its, some unintended—if still very "good"—consequences:


  • For a card intended to hamstring Snapcaster Mage, I think Snapcaster Mage itself is probably very happy to be working with this land. Please cast me! I'm a Human!
  • A Human you say? I guess that means in an effort to offset Mana Leak I have now just increased the consistency of turn-one Delver of Secrets while making it invulnerable to Mental Misstep.
  • But wait! There's more! The tokens version of UW Delver, which previously was a bit noncommittal on Gather the Townsfolk... well, we're buds with Humans. What does that have to do with a sorcery? How about now I can play first-turn Champion of the Parish in my Delver deck (BTW, Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage are Humans), essentially doubling the incidence of the old Turn-One Delver/Turn-Two Delver + Delver draws by mixing in one or two Champions (and consequential Champion buffs)... without having to run a second plains. Woah. I don't know how the conflicting incentives of the black-splash version are going to intersect (flashback on Lingering Souls), but this is something I have my eye on for straight white-blue.
  • Speakng of blue decks, white-blue has easier—and uncounterable—access to the Green Mana on Sigarda, the Red Mana on Gisela, and the umpteenth White Mana on whichever. As we know, mana fixing is essentially a green ability, and if there's anything Sylvan Library and Gaea's Blessing have ever taught us, it's that if there is something green you might like, blue will be happy to borrow it!
  • Yeah, this card's pretty good. Spectacular, actually, and in ways far afield of merely making midrange creatures Mana Leak-proof. Might just bump off ye olde Thunderous Wrath. Done.

Desolate Lighthouse

Card drawing on the other player's turn, potentially enabling off-turn miracles without using a card? Ho hum, obviously solid if you have room for another colorless-producing land. My initial imaginary shell has twenty-eight lands in RWU, which might be "mono"-miracle problematic to begin with.

Seraph Sanctuary

Obviously tests your willingness to commit to colorless-producing lands, but in an Angels-central (presumably core-white) deck, whose duals all key off Plains (and possibly Caverns), this is probably a low-cost way to get half-a-mana in value every turn or so without spending cards (or mana), which adds up in formats with extended second stages. Obviously not going to be a big determiner of games in metas that are defined by either over-the-top combo or over-the-top control, but with two players staring at each other over an increasingly clogged battlefield?

That said, it makes a girl kinda sorta wax dreamily about Emancipation Angel (or, not feel too bad about the games where Emancipation Angel has nothing good-good to do on an early turn).

Closing

Hopefully this gives you something to chew on as you approach the beloved Prerelease weekend. My short list for the best cards in Avacyn Restored (go get 'em):

  • Cavern of Souls
  • Thunderous Wrath
  • Griselbrand
  • Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
  • Restoration Angel

Kick butt and collect chase mythic rares this weekend (or just perfectly good uncommons)!



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