ne of the most important parts of Limited Magic
is navigating your way around the combat phase. There are a lot of nuances that can come up during a combat, most of which either take place during attack and blocking or in anticipation of attacking and blocking. Persist and wither shake up normal attacking and blocking calculations considerably, but it shouldn't be too hard to take these changes into account as long as you frame them properly.
I'm not going to get too deep into general attacking and blocking theory in this article, though you should expect to hear more from me on the topic as I think it is one of the most interesting and important parts of Magic. For those of you who are interested in learning more about blocking and trading, I would strongly recommend that you check out this excellent article by Ted Knutson.
There is a bit of a Rock-Paper-Scissors dynamic that takes place between creatures that don't have persist or wither, creatures with wither, and creatures with persist.
If you have a Grizzly Bears, and your opponent has a Grizzly Bears, you will generally both feel completely fine about a trade. However, if you have a Grizzly Bears and your opponent has a Sickle Ripper, you will get a little bit of an advantage if they trade. If you have a Grizzly Bears and your opponent has a Safehold Elite and they trade, your opponent will get a sizable advantage out of the deal as they still have a card to show for the exchange. If you have a Sickle Ripper and your opponent has a Safehold Elite, you will generally be very happy with that exchange, as the Safehold Elite's persist trigger won't go off because it died with -1/-1 counters on it.
Persistence Pays Off
Persist is actually fairly easy to take into account when evaluating potential plays. If a creature with persist dies, its controller gets something very tangible back. While we haven't dealt with persist before Shadowmoor, we have dealt with plenty of creatures that have game-altering "leaves play" effects.
Cards like Mogg War Marshal, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Scuttling Death, etc. all had the potential to have very significant game altering leave play effects. These creatures had game-altering affects not so much in the sense of being overly powerful, but in the sense that they would force players to adjust their normal play and valuations of creatures considerably in order to properly take into account their "leaves play" effects.
Playing against soulshift back in Kamigawa block was actually considerably more difficult than playing against persist. Sure, it's normally awesome to trade your 2/2 with a 4/2, but if that 4/2 is a Scuttling Death
that is going to Raise Dead
a significant Spirit creature on its way out, that trade suddenly might become a lot less appealing, especially if that Spirit has soulshift too! When calculating how to deal with soulshift, you wanted to time your trades in such a way that your opponent would get their creatures back either at a time when their mana was particularly tight, or once the returned creature would have a minimal impact on the board.
That is not to say that persist is boring in any way, or easy to play with or around. In fact, minimizing the effectiveness of persist is one of the more important skills necessary for success in Shadowmoor Limited.
If you have a persist creature without any -1-1 counters on it, you are probably going to be looking to trade it for another non-wither creature as quickly as possible, as you won't be giving up much board position to do so.
By the same token, but from the other side, one of the keys to dealing with persist is figuring out when to be patient. Now, I know this might sound a bit obvious, but the answer to when you can be patient is "whenever you can afford to be."
For example, if you have a number of 2/1s (without wither) in your deck, and a 2/2 in play, you should be very hesitant to trade your 2/2 with a Safehold Elite.
Wither? I Hardly Even Know Her!
While persist presents a lot questions that we have pretty reasonable points of reference to consider, wither presents some new, completely unexplored questions. By their very nature, wither creatures allow for more semi-bluffs than I can even begin to imagine.
Normally, if a player attacks with a 2/1 into your 3/3 it would make sense to block so long as you don't believe that there is some sort of devastating trick, such as a Hunting Triad
to reinforce their attacker, waiting in the wings. However, if there is a Sickle Ripper
attacking you and you have only a Sootwalkers
on defense, you are probably going to want to think twice before blocking. If your opponent is making this attack then you have to consider why he or she is doing it.
In this situation, just as in any similar situation, they are making their attack either because they want you to block, or because they don't expect you to block. Normally you would either decide to call their bluff or not (or if you have mana open and a trick of your own you might be able to call and still get them even if they think they have you).
However, when someone is attacking into a larger creature with a wither creature, they have the benefit that even if they get blocked and they don't have a trick to win the combat outright, they are still getting a pretty good deal out of the exchange.
I've outlined a couple of very basic examples of how you might want to adjust your thought process when dealing with wither or persist creatures. I'm not trying to suggest that it there is some universally correct calculation that tells you when and with what you want to block in these situations, only that there are situations that favor a player slightly more than they normally would. This suggests that it would be worthwhile to at least try to think of a better use for your creatures even if you discover that you can't find a better deal.
There are of course obvious exceptions to this. For example, if you have a 4/2 and a 5/2 in your hand, you are probably going to be itching to turn your opponent's Safehold Elite into a 1/1 even if you have to give up a creature in the process.
And, even though you are going to want to think twice before blocking a Sickle Ripper with your 3/3, there is one card that will make that block an excellent play pretty much every time...
Fate Transfer? I Hardly Even Know Her!
Every time a new set comes around, there are a handful cards that are completely misunderstood and either over- or undervalued as a result of that. One of the cards that jumps out at me as being cripplingly misunderstood is Fate Transfer.
I'm fairly certain that Fate Transfer is one of the hidden gems of the format. When it is good it tends to be great. However, this doesn't mean that Fate Transfer is always good. In fact, it is pretty frequently almost unplayable as a maindeck card. You see, in order to utilize Fate Transfer at all, you need to feel confident that there are going to be, on average, at least six cards between your deck and your opponent's decks that work well with Fate Transfer, including at least two cards that work very well with Fate Transfer.
If your opponent has creatures with persist, then your Fate Transfers will be slightly better than normal, but opponent's creatures with persist don't actually make Fate Transfer any easier to use properly.
To give you a sense of how many -1/-1 counter cards players typically run in a draft deck, I took a peek at the Top 8 decks from GP–Brussels.
(Please note that I am talking about each of the below cards in terms of how useful they are for your Fate Transfer if they are in your opponent's deck, so if I say that a card is good I mean that it is the type of card that is good for you if your opponent has it and you have Fate Transfer.)
Antoine Ruel's blue-red splash black deck has a Cultbrand Cinder, a Puncture Bolt, and two Incremental Blights. Evaluating how good these cards are if they are in your opponent's deck and you have Fate Transfer, the Puncture Bolt is OK, the Cultbrand Cinder is good, and the two Incremental Blights are very good.
2 Very good
Holger Lange's green-white deck has two Safehold Elites, which raises the value of Fate Transfer slightly, Thornwatch Scarecrow, which probably isn't relevant unless you have some very good Giant Growth effects, two Wildslayer Elves, which could be either OK or very good for you depending on how many 4-toughness creatures and/or Giant Growth effects your deck has, and Wicker Warcrawler, which can sometimes be good, but has very conditional usefulness.
4 OK or very good depending on how much toughness and/or Giant Growth effects your deck has.
Rojier Kleji's black-red deck has a Rattleblaze Scarecrow and a Wingrattle Scarecrow to make things slightly better, a Scar, which is OK, 2 Cultbrand Cinders, and a Torture all of which are good and a Grim Poppet which is very good.
1 Very good
Gabriel Nassif's green-red deck has a Puncture Bolt which is OK, 2 Kulrath Knights and a Boggart Ram-Gang, which are OK or very good depending on your deck,and Gnarled Effigy, which is always good.
3 OK or very good depending on how much toughness and/or Giant Growth effects your deck has.
Alexandre Peset's white-blue deck has a Gravelgill Axeshark and a Safehold Elite, which make things slightly better, but no cards that generate -1-1 counters on their own.
Kamiel Cornelissen's winning blue-black deck has a Gravelgill Axeshark to make things slightly better, a Scar and a Grief Tyrant which are OK, a Torture and a Cultbrand Cinder which are good and a Leech Bonder and a Lockjaw Snapper which are very good.
2 Very good
Gaetan Lefebvre's blue-black deck has a Murderous Redcap to make things better, 2 Scarscale Ritual, and a Sickle Ripper, which are good, and a Midnight Banshee and a Leech Bonder, which are very good.
2 Very good
Raphael Levy's white-blue deck has no cards that aid Fate Transfer.
What Does It Take for Me to Play Fate Transfer?
Without having any cards to aid Fate Transfer
on my own I would want to have Fate Transfer
against Gaeten Lefebvre's deck, Kamiel Cornellissen's deck, and Rojier Kleji's deck all the time, and Gabriel Nassif's deck and Holger Lange's if I had a lot of Giant Growth
s or 4+ toughness creatures.
In light of the anecdotal evidence that I found by looking at the Top 8 of GP–Brussels, I would feel comfortable playing Fate Transfer in my main deck if I had as little as 1 Giant Growth effect (for the big green wither creatures), three cards that are OK with Fate Transfer, such as creatures with persist, and one card that is very good with Fate Transfer, such as Chainbreaker.
Interestingly enough, having Giant Growth effects raises the value of Fate Transfer considerably, as they make your Fate Transfers way better against high-power green creatures with wither.
Hopefully you'll excuse me for spending so much time talking about Fate Transfer, but I think it is one of the most interesting and difficult to evaluate cards in the format. Sure, sometimes it will fit into your deck like a glove, but a lot of times I think that it would be a good inclusion in decks that it might not look that impressive in.
I've told you how I feel about Fate Transfer, but I want to know: which Shadowmoor cards do you think are misunderstood and either undervalued, overvalued or both as a result?