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Mirrodin Card Preview: Solemn Simulacrum

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

All of the cards that have come from Invitational winner designs seem to fall into one of two groups. They are either misses of limited popularity, like Rootwater Thief and Sylvan Safekeeper, or widely adopted staples, like Avalanche Riders and Meddling Mage.

I think that when Jens Thorén won the Invitational, a lot of players were worried that his submission, Forestfolk, was going to join the former group.

Forestfolk is interesting, and it does a couple of different things reasonably well . . . but the overall package struck most players as a tad underwhelming.

Then R&D took the Blue Mana and Green Mana out of the mana cost.

I think that when we see gold cards, even really strong gold cards, we see the sacrifices that will have to be made in order to play them alongside the power that they invariably provide. Shadowmage Infiltrator is significantly stronger than Ophidian, for example, but was used less overall because Ophidian found an easier fit into more decks over a longer period of time. You don't typically play a blue-green Tradewind Rider deck with black mana sources, and Extended "Draw-Go" decks tended have enough options without adding Swamps. While Jens's design and costing made a lot of sense (Rampant Growth is a green ability and Obsessive Search is a blue card), when we think of blue-green decks, images of either Wonder-ful Wild Mongrels or Oath-bought Spike Weavers tend to fill our minds. Forestfolk is too slow for the former aggressive brand of deck, and not controlling enough for the latter. But as an artifact -- wow! Forestfolk may not have been exciting as a blue-green card, but because of its total lack of colored mana requirements, Solemn Simulacrum can fit into any deck.

It's fairly odd that all the design and development teams had to do was remove the colored mana requirements from Jens's original proposal to turn the unexciting Forestfolk into the pulse-quickening Solemn Similacrum. It doesn't have the ostentatiousness that normally generates excitement about a card. It's not the latest toned-down version of a Power Nine favorite. It won't result in a combo deck that kills before turn five. A 2/2 for four, it's can't provide the beatdown of an undercosted white weenie or a massive new Angel or Dragon. We'll have to settle for it playing a pivotal role in any control deck in the upcoming constructed format.

Similar in function to the infamous anti-beatdown creatures Wall of Blossoms and Yavimaya Elder, Solemn Simulacrum is the last thing an opponent fond of the red zone wants to see. These cards succeed against beatdown where many have failed because their abilities deter trades, while the card advantage they provide helps you make land drops and draw the correct threat solutions. Solemn Simulacrum, while slower than these Extended-proven powerhouses, meets all the same requirements. Putting a land into play while trading with a threat furthers two highly relevant goals and puts you a card ahead. It gets even better, as when it goes to the graveyard, you draw a card. This means a trade with a Withered Wretch or Goblin Piledriver would leave you up a land and a card. Your opponent can't wait it out as he or she might against a creature with echo; as long as you have the time to put forth the initial four mana investment, you will inevitably gain a tremendous advantage.

Wall of Blossoms and Yavimaya Elder did more than just stop creatures. Creature abilities that stack upon coming into play, leaving play, or going to the graveyard are meant to be broken. These creatures are great applicants to be combined with Tradewind Rider and Recurring Nightmare respectively, because all the cards are good on their own and even better together. As it possesses both comes into play and goes to the graveyard abilities, players will be exploring ways to repeat history with Solemn Simulacrum. Anyone who has played a lot of Standard or Block Constructed will likely think of the same card when trying to break a comes into play ability: Astral Slide.

A proven competitor in both formats, the Rift-Slide deck wants everything the Simulacrum has to offer. As a mana-hungry control deck, it can make good use of Jens as a speedbump against beatdown or a threat against control. The most obvious application this card has is as a natural fit in the mana curve. Turn two Lightning Rift into turn three Astral Slide into turn four Solemn Simulacrum means a fifth turn Exalted Angel -- face-up! Remember your control opponents will not want to Rift, Slide, or in any other way remove the solemn one. In the mid to late game in conjunction with Astral Slide, Solemn Simulacrum stops a creature while thinning your deck of a land every turn. Unlike other creatures suited to abuse with Astral Slide such as Teroh's Faithful, a destroyed Jens only means further reward.

This card breaks the rules of artifact design. After Urza's Destiny, Randy Buehler told me that Masticore was a mistake because R&D didn't want players to go to artifacts for creatures. As far as I can recall, Solemn Simulacrum is the first Constructed-quality artifact that allows players to search up lands – at least it's a lot better than Destiny's Braidwood Sextant. At Pro Tour - Venice, Jon Finkel was willing to alter the mana base of his cycling deck radically in order to accommodate mana acceleration. After Mirrodin, control players will no longer have to make that sacrifice. Solemn Simulacrum has the versatility that only an artifact can provide. You can't play Wall of Blossoms in your Psychatog deck, but Jens can find his way into monoblue control, monoblack, Ponza . . . the sky is the limit.

Think of how strong Explosive Vegetation is in Onslaught Block. It has the same converted mana cost as Solemn Simulacrum, but typically forces players into a very specific sort of deck design. For all its power, tapping out for Explosive Vegetation on turn four in even the perfect deck can prove dangerous when playing against aggressive opponents like Goblins, Zombies, Goblin Bidding, or Zombie Bidding. This new artifact creature, potentially offering even more card advantage than the mana acceleration measuring stick, leaves open flexibility of color choice while simultaneously allowing players to defend themselves against weenie creatures. Any control deck can gain from this type of utility creature, and if you find a way to use its abilities in an engine such as Astral Slide, that's just icing on the cake.

A traditional artifact weakness is susceptibility to artifact removal. Once again, Solemn Simulacrum only encourages such an outcome. An expendable artifact is quite the powerful permanent in the new world that Mirrodin will bring. Certain spells have the new affinity for artifacts ability, which make them one mana cheaper for each artifact in play. Additionally, many other cards utilize artifacts in their cost or productivity, and with Jens you get all of this benefit while losing nothing to any new artifact destruction.

The subtle changes made to Jens's submission have made Solemn Simulacrum both more powerful and more playable. This is an Invitational submission that, like Meddling Mage and Avalanche Riders before it, should find a place in many different decks for the next two years of Constructed Magic.

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