Onslaught Limited Review: Birds
Tuesday, December 3, 2002
This is the third installment of my series reviewing the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. The second installment can be found here.
More than any other tribe, birds really are almost a subsection of another tribe, a faction of soldiers that's taken to the skies. Simply, while the other tribes have multiple functions, the birds seem to be single minded in their desire to beatdown through the air, using evasion to try to outrace opponents and larger creatures that can be chump blocked while administering those last few points of damage. Most of the birds that excel at doing this - Gustcloak Harrier, Ascending Aven etc. - split their allegiances between the two tribes. That's not to say that birds don't come with advantages over soldiers. They fly by default, they're often accompanied by illusions, and you're often the only one at the table drafting them. Well, at least the blue ones. They also come with their share of bombs, and as some of those bombs are blue, it seems far more likely you'll get passed them than those of other colors. Birds are good. If only they were a more dedicated lot.
Aven Brigadier - Is this a better card than Glarecaster? No. Gustcloak Savior? No, but in the bird deck, Brigadier is god. With so many birds doubling as soldiers, the Brigadier benefits the dual-tribesmen twice, making any bird-soldier a 1st pick caliber card. Gustcloak Harrier: , flying, 4/4. Ascending Aven: , flying, 5/4. You get the idea. In the end, it doesn't matter which of these three big flyers you open, you're going to be happy, but hey, might as well make your other flyers big too.
Glarecaster - The 'Caster, of course, is just as insane and just as easy a first pick as the Brigadier. The funny thing about this card is that people seem to realize it's really, really good, and yet they don't know what it does. In case you haven't read the rather lengthy rules text all the way to the end, Glarecaster can deflect any damage dealt to YOU by any source, and that means your opponent is pretty much frozen as long as you have the mana to activate it and they don't have a Cruel Revival.
Gustcloak Savior - While the two cards listed above it are more powerful, the Skirmisher is fantastic in that its casting cost is extraordinary for what it does, its special abilities make it a powerhouse and the single white mana in its casting cost makes it splashable. Because there are birds who already posses the Gustcloak ability, it lags in third place here, but don't let that fool you; this is a game winner.
Mistform Shrieker - It's funny, if you look at the Shrieker and Aven Soulgazer, at first glance they seem similar, but the Shrieker really is just so much better. The Illusion ability makes it immune to Cruel Revival, the morph ability gives it the utility the cleric lacks and the fact its blue means you'll get it ridiculously late at times. I have no problem with any of that.
Aven Soulgazer - This is quite a drop off here, and I was considering putting the Gazer behind Gustcloak Harrier because of the emphasis I put on aggression. The Soulgazer is expensive and mana intensive, and while that doesn't leave it short of good, there are definitely times I'll take a smaller, less powerful card just to improve my curve a bit. That said, this is still quality above and beyond. Don't let my disparaging remarks make you forget where it's ranked on this list.
Gustcloak Harrier - This card I love. Evasion is good, as are second and third lives, and that's essentially what you get with this tight little package. If the Harrier was four mana, it might still rank ahead of Dive Bomber. That it's three means it get a very high placing on this list.
Ascending Aven - Another goodie. No, it can't block non-flyers, but if you want it to, you're losing anyways, and desperation does allow you to play it morphed and block that way. The Aven's morph ability gives it a versatility that would otherwise leave the Aven a little too single-minded for my tastes, but with that added versatility, this is definitely blue's best common.
Blatant Thievery - When I first saw this card, it would have ranked a lot higher than this, especially in light of the so-many-bombs! craze that was sweeping the nation. The thing is, while extremely powerful, Thievery is also very slow, very mana intensive, overglorified creature kill spell when Nantuko Husk is in play and really, really bad in the opening hand. I'll definitely play it if I get it, but I'll get it less often than most as it doesn't suit my style.
Screeching Buzzard - The Buzzard is actually a little out of place here, being the only black bird, so this ranking is really just a power gauge. The Buzzard is a strong card despite is frail frame to mana ratio in that it never makes for a bad trade and allows you to take liberties with its survival without fearing opposing tricks too much. A very solid card.
Aven Fateshaper - Most would place this higher up, but again, the seven mana thing really bugs me. 4/5 flyers are good and tough to stop, and the ability is a nice little bonus, though frankly, more often than not, once you have a 4/5 in play, you don't need to draw more cards. If you don't have the affinity for speed I do, I'd move this up your list a bit.
Gustcloak Skirmisher - In the past, I've complained loud and often about the 2/2 flyer for four mana, but 2/3 is a different matter in a format where the Grey Ogre is king. I like the Skirmisher quite a bit, for its sizable posterior on defense and its safe usage on offense, plus the way its one extra point of toughness makes it dominate the air.
Aurification - Power card or nothing of the sort? First off, this definitely is not the No Mercy people make it out to be but, like that card of old, it's incredibly strong when played with your life total at 15 or more. The thing is, it's awfully tough to kill someone when they have 10 walls, so it lands about right here on the list.
Mistform Dreamer - Two-power, three mana flyers are always good, and when you throw in an extra special ability of relevance, well, that can't hurt, but the Dreamer ranks below some of the four casting cost fliers because of how vulnerable it is. Cards like Crown of Suspicion that often have no other targets become quite useful. Cards like Sparksmith that were already beyond good become intolerable. Enough complaining though, it's a two-power flyer for three mana. That's a solid card, and when you consider the similarities between the Dreamer and Gustcloak Harrier, it should be apparent how squeezed this list really is.
Dive Bomber - Another solid one, the Bomber is a little low on my list primarily because of its defensive nature. I don't want my evasion creatures hanging back to block, I want them beating down, and the Bomber just doesn't do that as effectively as most of the creatures higher up on this list. It's always playable and should never be left in your sideboard, but I'd recommend you not draft it too high.
Essence Fracture - Undo was a beating. Withdraw was simply insane. Essence Fracture… well… Essence Fracture… hrm. It really does look like a pile of crap, and as a five mana sorcery you really don't want it to be any good, but the simple fact is this is as good as bounce gets in this format, as the tempo advantage it can bestow is tremendous, while the cycling aspect means it should always make the grade.
Crude Rampart - This thing is big. It's only this low on the list because everything else attacks through the air, but if you already have a lot of flying, you may want to move it up a ways. The Rampart stops any ground-walker short of rares, Towering Baloth and the fear creatures and at the same time leaves the option of beating down, with the morph ability acting as a one creature giant growth of sorts. Great card that does everything the other cards on this list don't.
Sunfire Balm - A great little trick Reminiscent of one of my favorite cards of all time, Heal, Sunfire Balm takes the effect a step further by allowing itself to be used for greater prevention needs at the cost of a card if so desired. Granted, the Balm may not always have a profound effect on the game, but in the least you can cycle it for two mana, preventing a point in the process. Cycling gets you to your best cards.
Astral Slide - The reason Slide is listed here is because blue is the best color to play if you want cycling cards, with Backslide, Mage's Guile and, of course, Choking Tethers providing easy to cycle cards for activation. Mike Turian rates the Slide as a first pick, and I've really been trying to agree, but my experiences with the card have been mediocre. Of course, if you get it early, you'll get enough cycling cards to make your creatures invincible. That can't be bad.
Sage Aven - One of the few wizard-bird crossovers, Sage Aven is one of those cards that really determines how good your deck is. If you're running it, you may be in trouble, though in blue-red, its three toughness hide provides a nice target for Lavamancer's Skill. Aside from that though, 1/3 for four isn't enough punch for the price, even with flying. It's a solid sideboard card in the blue mirror, where it stops other flyers well. Those blue mirrors happen all the time.
Fleeting Aven - The only reason this card rates this low is because it's playable in so few decks, but if you're running enough islands to support it and a few cyclers to protect it after damage is on the stack, it actually becomes pretty good.
Screaming Seahawk - How many Seahawks should a Seahawk slinger start? Well, one is definitely too few, and four is too many as you'll likely draw more than one, but the debate 'rages' on between two and three, and the answer comes down to personal style: if you want to go for the gusto, play three, consistency, play two. Of course, this isn't a great card regardless, so the answer, in actuality, is zero.
Crown of Awe - A better card than Seahawk, it isn't much of a main deck option, and that's why the bird gets the nod. I really like having one or two of these in the board. I recommend you do the same.
Seaside Haven - I've run this card with ten combined birds and illusions and it still just wasn't good. If you want to use it in response to a kill spell, you need to have three lands open. Very disappointing. This isn't to say it's not playable, but it's important to draw your colored mana in this format, so temping the mana screw gods with a card of marginal power like this one may be questionable.
Aura Extraction - Deals two damage with Lightning Rift. Without the cycler, the Rift is useless. How good must this thing be?
Airborne Aid - You need two birds in play to get your mana's worth, and even then you want to be playing creatures, not tapping out for a sorcery. I tried this in my first draft in the format. Haven't bothered since.