Onslaught Limited Review: Wizards
Monday, February 17, 2003
This is the fourth installment in my series evaluating the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. You can find the third installment here.
This is a quick apology to those who have been waiting for the remainder of this series. When I embarked upon it, I did so without much experience with the set and, as a result, when told organizing it along tribal lines was the best way to go, I didn't realize that to do so would be a mistake. That said, I do want to fulfill the responsibility I accepted when I started, and this is the continuance of that undertaking. Doing this will give me the time I need to learn Legions, allowing me to follow this series with that one. I apologize for the wait.
I haven't done a lot of drafting with Legions and, as a result, these cards are ranked in order of their straight Onslaught value, but so far as I can tell, the only thing that really changes is the value of Lightning Rift, which lowers a bit due to the decreased quantity of cycling cards in the third pack and, even then, it's not by much.
That said, if you're drafting Wizards, Legions or not, the color you likely want accompanying your blue is red, not only because of the all-powerful Lavamancer's Skill, but also because of that color combination's ability to abuse Sparksmith like no other, thanks to the power of Illusion.
Blue can conceivably be paired with any of the other colors successfully but, not in as consistent a fashion as with red. When you pick your first blue card, do so knowing that you really do want mountains on your deck list.
The only problem I can think of with regards to the Dragon is that it should be in this position, as a splashable morph, in all eight tribes. It's huge, incredibly affordable to cast, morph or activate and generally trounces your opponent in mere moments. A machine.
Arcanis, the Omnipotent
Is he really Omnipotent? Would he cost if he truly was? As is, the six-cost version is more than sufficient, losing out to the Dragon as he doesn't kill directly. Once you have this legend, I recommend drafting Choking Tethers a little higher. Casting them two or three turns in a row turns out to be pretty good.
Future Sight may actually be better than Arcanis, but it doesn't get going quite as quickly, nor does it serve as a very large blocker, but that doesn't mean it isn't ridiculous. First pick first pack, I'd move it down the list a bit, as the triple blue makes it difficult to build a deck around, but if you're already in the color there's no uncommon or common that's worthy of your pick over it.
When you start getting into the seven casting cost range, the mana starts becoming a real drawback, but you sure get your value with this guy. Take Krosan Tusker, a good card, add one-toughness, flying and an imperviousness to Cruel Revival and you've got what we in the trade refer to as a “bomb”. Some take Sparksmith higher.
For a long time, people were listing Rift as being among their top five first pack cards in triple-Onslaught draft, but by the end, I was pretty sure I didn't rate it that highly. Throw in the cycling-deprived nature of Legions and it moves down even further, but for the moment I'm leaving it here. It's very possible though that Smith is now the better card.
Of course, the only reason you can even breathe Smith and Rift in the same sentence is because this little guy is so ridiculous. Two mana is not a lot for a mass kill spell that spreads its shadow over many turns. The game ends on turn 2 a lot of the time when you cast this goblin and with Legions now in vogue, non-red, non-black decks may start becoming more popular. When that happens, Smith moves to number four.
I have 19 Callous Oppressors in my Magic Online account, my most numerous rare, and that is primarily because people don't understand just how good it is. The set's lone Cephalid dominates the board until death, either of it, or your opponent, becoming even more deadly if you have an Imagecrafter to go with it. Really though, who cares which creature you take? Your opponent can never attack unless they're willing to send each of their men down in succession.
This is the whole reason blue-red is considered the strongest archetype in the format. Oh sure, Illusions work nicely with Sparksmith, but that's the bonus: Smith is superb with or without islands, but Skill? Well, for those of you who've been casting it on soldiers and beasts the last few months, I have bad news: it's crap, rarely worthy of main deck play unless your RED deck has no other way to kill Wellwisher or Sparksmith. Try to save it until you have a Mistform Wall or Sage Aven to put it on: if the target survives a few turns, you've already won.
First things first: you do not need a bomb rare for this card to be insane. Yes, naming legend, dragon, angel or what have you is always nice, but merely having a 3/3 fatty that replaces itself at the end of combat with one of your better men is far from weak and merely picking it increases the chances of your opening a bomb that's useful to you. If you have two, I don't care if the off color creature bomb has fifteen colored mana in it. You take it and you play it. Well, maybe not Kamahl…
Weeks back, I rated this card quite a bit lower, but since then, I've come to see the error of my ways. In a format where there are so many creatures in every deck, the Fateshaper allows you to win merely by maintaining parity. Trade, trade, trade, 4/5 flyer, win. Seems like a good battle plan to me.
Read the Runes
Another card I rate higher than some, Read the Runes wins the game outright in the late going, but even earlier than that, it's particularly potent. One crucial thing in playing this card: remember that you can cast it after damage is on the stack and sacrifice creatures that would die anyways, or respond in kind to opposing removal spells.
Blue's best common. I've talked about that elsewhere, but I wanted you to know that was regardless of creature type.
Often a mere trade of morphs, when your opponent decides to let the Entrancer through, you're bound to be in very good shape. Of course, that will never happen when face up, meaning it should never come into play that way. There are few better feelings than taking an opposing dragon, specter or angel with this dorky little 1/1.
I love this card. Since Pro Tour-Chicago, there is no card in the format I've drafted more. Early on, if needed, it cycles you into a more consistent draw. Midgame, it clears the path for that one important attacker like Skirk Commando or Riptide Entrancer. Late game, your opponent's on eight, you tap four blockers and extend the hand. What's to not like?
Okay, in an attempt to end the latest Eisel/Krouner debate, the Wall is definitely better than Mistform Dreamer in blue-red, while not as good as Ascending Aven. If you have one or two Lavamancer's Skill, taking the Wall over the Aven is acceptable, as the enchantments become the focus of your deck, but otherwise, stick with the flyer.
Ixidor, Reality Sculptor
He's a big tough wizard, but a bad Skill target, as morphs no longer die. He's a large man in a small man color, but he costs five the hard way to get on the table. He offers the possibility of brokenness with Krosan Colossus and other large morphs, but at the same time, makes your opponent's Foothill Guide a Trained Armodon. When you're drafting Ixidor, make sure yours is a deck he'll help more than your opponent's. Sorry folks, you have to figure that one out for yourself.
Poor Kai, he wins, he dances, but in the end, he's just a strong two-power creature with occasional dalliances to the graveyard. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of power here for two mana, but unless you have fifteen wizards or a couple of Imagecrafters, it's tough to maneuver yourself into the Voidmage lock. At least I'll say this for him: he's the best countermagic in the format…
…by a narrow margin over Complicate, which offers the added bonus of card advantage when cycled. Better than Kai with Lightning Rift in your deck, Complicate's value differs more between playing and drawing first than any other card in the format. Beware the player not playing a morph on turn three with an island in play: Odds are pretty good they're packing one of these.
Yes, it flies and provides your tribal cards with synergy, but the Dreamer's weakness is apparent in a format where Crown of Suspicion, the friendless Sparksmith or the wizardless Lavamancer's Skill have little else to kill. I'm not saying it's unplayable; it'll always be good enough for your deck. But I'd rather have the blue commons listed above and that's a pretty clear distinction.
There are some who rate this card a lot higher, but try as I have to love it, I'm forced to relegate it to mere ‘playable' status. In a deck full of fat creatures, the Alchemist can be very strong, making your 4/4 into a Serra Angel, but really, when you have Lavamancer's Skill or Sparksmith, the Alchemist is just icing on the cake. I'd rather have cards that take you from losing to winning than those that take me from winning to winning more.
It looks so innocent: a dorky little 1/2 for with no tap ability. Once you've played it a few times though, you come to realize the Biologist's protection from beasts can be ridiculously annoying for the player of larger men, as it creates a logjam on the ground while your birds fly through the air, while against all other comers, it's still a 2/2 for that your opponents fear for possibility. Always a main decker.
Another favorite, Guile either helps your mana or interacts with play in a crucial way, often protecting that Skilled Wall from Pinpoint Avalanche or Swat. If that's all it did, it wouldn't be special. What makes Guile so good is a) the fact there are so many interactions and b) people value it in much the same way they do pond scum. Good stuff.
The poor man's Mistform Wall (in red-blue, the only deck I'd want to play it in), Sage Aven offers synergy with library shuffling creatures like Screaming Seahawk and Avarax, allowing a reshuffle after you've taken the better offerings the top of your library has to offer. This is where maindeck playability starts bordering on questionable.
Meddle would be a much better card if there were no Mage's Guile in the format, but there is and it's underdrafted. The two cards do virtually the same thing, but Guile cycles, meaning it's never useless, which Meddle sometimes is. A potential game swinger, play it if you don't have Guiles, board it if you do.
While Imagecrafter's strength relies in part on how it interacts with your deck, it does serve a solid purpose in disrupting opposing tribal effects like Cruel Revival and Piety Charm. However, that alone is often not enough to warrant main deck play for this poor man's Tidal Visionary. Try to find a couple of ways you can utilize it yourself: this instruction should give you the inspiration needed to draft Sparksmith.
This is a toughie, while not a Wizard card, the Wizard deck can often expect to have Imagecrafters and assorted Illusions, which you need to make Peer Pressure a viable main deck choice. That said, when it works, it's extremely powerful; just try to take its functionality in your deck into account when deciding whether or not to draft it highly.
Chain of Vapor
Remember how a couple months back, no one I talked to could figure out how good a card this was? Well, it's taken me this long to put it here. Another in the not-as-good-as-Mage's-Guile strain, the Chain does a nice job of protecting your own creatures, but is annoying to cast on opposing permanents and hard to utilize as more than a single bounce until the late game, at which point your opponent has more than enough land to fight back.
Three mana: put a 2/2 creature into play. Nameless One seldom gets turned over, but when it does, it can get very large and its morphing nature means it's never awful. Actually, one of the better Ones.
It seldom serves as more than a morph, but when it succeeds in countering a spell, it's usually a good one. Don't bother trying to counter on turn 4, your own deck's momentum is usually too great, but when your opponent finally has the mana to cast their more expensive spells, unleash him: you'll counter something big with wings.
I'm not a fan of the Couriers: their capabilities are limited to helping their own kind, which is fine for Constructed, but getting particular in Limited is usually not the way to go and I haven't even complained about the request for card disadvantage involved with Couriering up a man and attacking into potential defenders. Playable, but you need a good number of wizards to make him better than an off-color morph.
Four mana is just too much in a tempo-based format for automatic maindeck inclusion, a theory that goes a step further with the introduction of Legions. Simply, leaving four mana untapped when racing just isn't acceptable. Not the worst card to maindeck, but I prefer it as a sideboard card against bombs you can't otherwise handle.
When you have enough creatures without enough control, there are worse cards to play, constricting an opposing attacker while helping your Sparksmiths and other tribal cards out. The Mask's value increases with the number of evasion creatures in your deck.
We're still in the viable maindeck section here, with the Stalker's main issue being that it is just so slow. Holding it back with open mana on defense allows your opponent to build their forces while you stagnate, never a good thing. It makes the maindeck at times, but I'm never thrilled about it.
If it's useful in your deck, it won't be in many others, one reason the Lab gets this low a rating. If it returned enchantments on those creatures, now THAT would be something, but as is, it's pretty cool in combat with your cheaper-to-morph wizards after damage is on the stack.
Surprise! This card is playable and not just in the defense against Contested Cliffs either. Annex slows opposing development and speeds yours, offering the potential for mana diversification as well, so if you have a bunch of seven casting cost spells or a third color, it's not a bad choice for your deck.
: cycle. This, in and of itself, makes Backslide playable, but playing it for only that reason waters down your deck, as you'll seldom use the ability (which occasionally comes in very handy). Pick these up when you can; you never know when you're going to open Lightning Rift.
Well, I had this countered twice in Chicago, so it can't be all bad, but I really didn't want it in my deck and my opponent was very obviously not the most accomplished Limited player. The Mutant can work very well with tribal cards while offering better protection than Imagecrafter, but the little guy costs : Mutant costs . You do the math.
Short a couple of cards, but not on wizards? The Will is the poor man's Complicate, and as such, when you have the mana to cast it, they'll play around the uncommon instead. That gives you a little room for brilliance. You haven't lived until Ixidor stops Rorix from hitting play.
We're moving into the nether regions here. The Aven can be solid in the late game, working with cycling cards to gain you potential card advantage, but that benefit is cancelled out by the potential to have your entire combat plan derailed early on by a single opposing cycle. You know your deck is looking questionable when this makes the main.
I've seen some very good players run Information Dealer, but I am not a fan. It's difficult to muster enough wizards to gain real benefit when there are so few quality ones that stick around for very long and the cost of using Illusions to improve the little man's ability is usually better spent elsewhere.
…and that's why Rummaging Wizards is rated so low, because Imagecrafter is the best card in the format to pair it with. Realistically, paying one more mana to trade with a morph isn't the end of the world (though not optimal) but three is a lot for what he does with his spare time. Only when desperate, people.
It's easy to kill, requires help from friend to be useful and even then is card disadvantage of a sort, requiring two cards to suppress one. Not my style.
Because Illusions are really hyperactive wizards, I decided Plague warranted inclusion here. It's a nice sideboard card if you have a lot of wizards against a tribal-heavy deck. Don't bother maindecking it: it requires your using two cards for activation, making card advantage very difficult and it will usually just sit in your hand wondering why.
A solid little trick from the ‘board when your opponent has a number of creature-type dependant spells, but you should find that cards like Meddle and Mage's Guile will take care of the problems Evolution does without the limitations it puts on itself.
If I need five small creatures to survive for activation purposes, it had better be for some ability that affects the field of play. Never worth putting in your deck, but always worth putting in your rare binder.
Yes it's cool with Skirk Commando. Sure, it's fun with Skittish Valesk. Bad news: cool and fun are the realm of the casual player. Tournament players try to win.
A bad Ixidor's Will. When was the last time you picked Will higher than 10th?
A fun way to kill the opponent with a Shepherd of Rot or Sparksmith, but you'd better be desperate to use it that way. Could be broken with Psychic Trance… That was a joke. Don't bother trying.
The best decking mechanism in the format. Unfortunately, you're the victim.
1/3 for 5. I may have to rethink my stance on Supreme Inquisitor.
Trickery Charm & Spy Network
Every time one of you casts these spells turn 1, on Magic Online, the pros cut and paste it to our little IRC channel and celebrate victory. Don't give them the satisfaction.