Onslaught Limited Review: Soldiers
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
This is the second installment in my series reviewing the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. You can find the first installment here.
Time and again I've been hearing these ludicrous stories at how white was only drafted by two players at such and such a table, and then, three rounds later, how those two players met in the final. Lacking that, the pure kill of black, the sheer size of green and that one bomb common that red has, white seems to have gotten the bum rap in this set, which is pretty good for those of you reading, because you're soon going to understand white is just as good as any of those colors. Better if it keeps going under drafted.
In the wake of R&D's template tinkering, soldiers epitomize the new white. They evade, they're aggressive, and they're strong. From common to rare, the soldiers attack and are deceptively aggressive, to the point where they've become the creature base of the red-white deck that has taken the early lead in the race for most popular deck among pros.
While best as a creature base with kill spell support, soldiers pair well with birds thanks to the many creatures that split their tribal allegiances. When drafting them, always remember your deck is supposed to be an aggressive one, because given time, beasts will overrun you. This tribe is all about the establishment of tempo and its maintenance. Once you've lost control, you're in trouble.
It's awful. Has no place in your deck. Pass it to me. Please?
In my 'clerics' article, I mentioned that the 3/3 flyer doesn't rule in Onslaught the way it has in the past, and while I stand by that statement, it doesn't reflect on the power of this 3/4. The Savior's special ability is ridiculous, allowing you to attack with reckless abandon, and it only serves as a bonus to a very good casting cast to body ratio, with the single white mana in the casting cost making this guy worth splashing. Get it when you can.
While more powerful than the Savior, the Brigadier ranks slightly lower because of the casting cost, but in the end, it just doesn't matter. This is a bomb, pure and simple, and assuming you've drafted your deck correctly around it, it's going to dominate the table from the moment it hits play 'til the moment your opponent starts sideboarding, or better yet, fills out the match slip. Once the Brigadier is in your pile, Gustcloak Harrier and Ascending Aven are first picks, after all, they qualify for both bonuses. This card is a deck. Don't take that statement lightly.
If you've drafted at any point in the last half decade, you know how good tappers are, and when the tapper in question is a 2/2 for two mana whose tap ability can be hidden until the optimal moment, you have a great card that can sedate any creature from Rorix to …well, I was going to say Visara, but there are limitations. Still, you can't ask much more from a two-mana package.
No bounce, no gating, nothing to punish you for enchanting your opponent's creatures. For two mana, you sedate your opponent's most important aggressor/defender, and with people generally leaving their enchantment kill in the board in Limited, Pacifism is one of the better ways to alter the outcome of any game's race.
Surprised to see a creature enchantment rated this high? Well, once it's down, there's no common bounce to punish you for it, the only banish effect costs five and none of the burn effects are going to get rid of the pantsed up creature of doom. In other words, this card is all Voltron, and on those rare occasions where it isn't going to help, you can cycle it for something more useful, though most decks will be hard pressed to find such a card. Don't be upset by this as your first pick.
2/1 creatures for two mana come and go, but this one is a keeper. Yes, it needs a little help from its friends to be used at full effect, but Catapult Squad provides the early game two-power creature for two and then later can control the table, doing just enough damage to kill attacking or blocking morphs, unless you have four soldiers in play, in which case you can kill just about anything.
2/2 flyers for three mana have always been strong in Limited play, so when you throw in an additional ability, you've got to give the card some respect. The Harrier's color-intensive casting cost is a little annoying, but the power of the card makes it worthwhile. If you're playing white, I don't care what tribe you belong to, you want a bunch of these.
A great card in the weakest of colors, the Aven will obviously be addressed more in my birds article, but for the time being, know that its one of the strongest creatures you can have in the bird-soldier deck.
This guy's a house. Being as big as he is, he fights well against opposing flipped over 2/2s, and when he attacks, your opponent generally has to allocate two blockers to threaten its life, at which point you can take a take back. Can you tell I like the cards that let me attack and then attack again?
It's possible this thing should be a little higher, these cards are all really close. The Lancer is expensive at six mana for the body it provides, but its morph ability usually turns into card advantage if your opponent blocks at all, and that's obviously a good thing. Keep this in mind: your morphs will be more effective if they're varied, as your opponent's chances of guessing wrong will be heightened. Try to get a Gravel Slinger or Daru Healer in your deck once you have one of these guys.
I love this card, and again, it could go a lot higher than this. This is white's Dirge of Dread and white's Mage's Guile and an alternative to Sunfire Balm all wrapped up into one tight little package, and the fact it cycles for next to nothing makes it even better. If the draft is working out in a way that says you'll definitely have enough creatures, I'd recommend moving this way up the list.
I hate this card for two reasons: every time I've had it in hand, my opponent has had one creature type in play, and every time my opponent has cast it, it's been really, really good. In this tribal environment, you'd think Harsh Mercy would see limited application, but morph creatures don't have creature types and that makes them all die a lot. If you happen to get a late shot at grabbing this as an off color sideboard card, I recommend it: it's worth bringing in if you're tribal and your opponent isn't.
Just because it's down the page by a bit, doesn't mean it isn't pretty good. The Skirmisher is rated this low because of its size to cost ratio, but it's still effective, with its posterior being just big enough to dominate morphs in a good way. Remember to keep an eye on your mana curve: these are the things that make for great draft decks.
Once it hits the table, Crowd Favorites will dominate it, but getting it there is the tricky part. Seven mana is a lot, even if it is easy on the colors, so you have to weigh your deck's ability to get to that point in the game intact. Yes, this is a splashable card by virtue of the casting cost, but your alternatives have to be pretty weak if you're going to go that route: you won't be able to activate the ability more than once a turn, and while that's still strong, it doesn't cut it for a third color and an eleven mana investment.
One of the set's best tricks, Inspirit is almost always going to kill a creature, unless you're using it to screw up opposing math and end the game by doing those last two points of damage. As a bonus, the creature that untaps gets to use its tap ability an extra time if you want. A great utility card.
At 3/3 for five mana, the Master reads as unimpressive until his little friends stand beside him, but when they do, the party's over. The ability is broken, so you'll want to start drafting soldiers higher the moment this is in your pile. If you're in the first pack though, I'd draft this a little lower. Committing yourself to half a color for the remainder of the draft can be a little too constricting.
Two vagaries here: first, it really doesn't matter which tribe you're in as long as you have a lot of them, and second, the card's value is obviously going to fluctuate with the number of creatures in the potentially named type you have. If you are completely non-tribal and don't have more than five of any one creature type, the sideboard is the right place for it. Remember, the +1/+1 bonus applies to ALL creatures of the chosen type. That includes those controlled by your opponents.
Surprised to see this up here? The card itself isn't anything special, but it's what it does to your opening draw that makes it worth picking over the better cards to follow. There aren't a lot of quality two-drops in the environment, so when you get a chance to have one, you need to draft it at a premium. No, that doesn't mean you take it over the ridiculously powerful stuff, but you do take it over anything close, because mana curve wins games, and the Seeker makes it happen.
I've stated in my writing oft-times just how much I like this card, and this is the best deck for it, with soldiers forcing trades through their aggressive tendencies and often wanting to get rid of the one crucial blocker in order to break through for the win. A great utility card.
Ranked this low because of its lack of offensive 'pop', the Bomber is nonetheless an important card for its ability to trade with Severed Legion. You don't want to hold it back for card advantage purposes because of cards like Swat or Infest against those same decks, so trading with the problematic attacker is probably a good idea. Against non-red or non-black decks, you can be more patient because the moment will often come, but he's serving a function either way so don't worry about your opponents when you pick it.
While the additional bonus of a creature not having to tap to attack won't often matter as much as some of the other Couriers' abilities, the +2/+2 is good enough to make a big difference in the game. Once you have your mana, the Courier makes a super creature, one that can attack and block effectively. Sounds pretty good to me. Obviously its rating here fluctuates with the number of soldiers in your deck.
A very good trick, while the opportunity for card advantage here won't present itself every game, it doesn't need to for this to be good in an environment that's low on good damage prevention. When the cycling aspect does work out, it's a great bonus and often the difference. A very solid card, the fact that the Balm is never useless is what makes it so good
Surprise! I know, you all thought this would be a lot higher on the list, but nope, it belongs right about here. Mobilization is slow, really slow, especially when you consider its making 1/1 dorks in an environment full of broken late game effects. Yes, Mobilization could eventually win you a game or two, but once you've had it a few times, I'm guessing you'll understand that the non-tapping aspect of the card is actually more helpful than the creature generation. Hate to say it, but that isn't that big a deal.
Giant Growth is a very good card, and while Piety Charm isn't quite as fully functional, it works well enough and factors in a game in any number of ways. One of the few main deck caliber cards that can deal with Pacifism, Sandskin and the like, you won't use the Charm's third function often, but frankly, its usefulness will manifest itself often enough that it won't matter.
Maybe it should be ahead of the Charm, but the instant's casting cost and the land's slower nature put the former ahead in the comparison for me. The Encampment is pretty good and its ability is definitely worth exploiting if your mana isn't awful. It won't help others too much if it's a good card in your deck.
On its own, the Crusher is fine. Not special, but definitely a main deck card. In combination though with Crown of Awe, Sandskin, Sigil of the New Dawn and other cards that can sustain it, the Crush can hold off an opposing army indefinitely. Very solid, if nothing else, the Crusher wins the race by acting as Fog for a turn.
When I first saw this card, it looked awful to me. After all, you were paying four mana for a creature that was barely passable in 7th Edition draft as a two-mana 1/1. Thing is though, morph has a funny way of making otherwise unplayable cards playable, and this one falls into that category, not only because its ability is useful as a surprise, but also because the format's dividing line for creature survival seems to be drawn between the toughness of two and three. Not a high pick, you'll get the Slinger late. Once you have it, it's a playable.
Chain of Vapor
After the first draft in Philly, with a very strong bird-soldier deck in tow, I went to a number of pros and asked for their opinions on this card, and to a man, the answer I got was 'I don't know'. Everyone I asked thought it would be playable but was uncertain, and no one had played it, partially because its power is marginal and partially because it's blue. Bounce is a rare commodity in this environment, especially cheap bounce, so I'd recommend that this should find a place in your deck. However, because I decided not to run it that day, I'm in the same boat as the rest of them; I'm just not sure.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty here and we're still talking playables. That's what I call depth. You generally don't want more than one Crusader in your deck, but one as a way of busting through the blockade is a worthwhile investment. Don't pick this too high: the elf players won't want it because they shouldn't be in white, so you'll get this thing in the nether picks.
I don't love main decking this because the soldier deck is supposed to think offense, not defense, but you can do worse. A great sideboard card against otherwise impossible-to-handle creatures like Glarecaster, the fact it removes from the game is good for the purposes of playing against Alphetto Dredging and Sigil of the New Dawn, so don't ignore it.
On its own, Daru Cavalier isn't playable, giving too little return for the mana investment. Get a second though and suddenly you have a good card, add a third you'll have a potentially great one. Don't pick them high, part of the allure is that you can have a great effect for little draft investment, but if you get multiples, you should probably be playing them.
Crown of Awe
A very solid sideboard card, the Crown's downside is the fact that so many black and red creatures have morph, and until they do so, they're considered colorless. Even still, you definitely bring this in: it's a game saver against cards like Slice and Dice, and if they can't stop your man, they can think about why when they're picking cards in the next draft.
Chain of Silence
More often than not in this format, you'll want damage prevention to protect your creatures from either damage dealt in combat or damage dealt by Sparkcaster, and Chain of Silence doesn't help against either as it'll save your opponent's creature too while only holding off the inevitable for one turn against the goblin. That said, it's a good 'solution' to large morph creatures or first striking ones and a nice counter to Solar Blast, Shock and Erratic Explosion, so it may make sense as a sideboard option against red.
There is only one totally unplayable card in this entire installment. That's pretty amazing stuff, and why I think soldiers are so underrated. Don't make the same mistake everyone else is.