Onslaught Limited Review: Beasts
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
This is the sixth installment of my series evaluating the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. You can find the fifth installment here.
Some creatures fly, some swim and some trample all over your face. It’s the latter that beasts excel at, always have and always will. They aren’t called beasts for their mousy disposition: when you draft a beast, you know what you’re getting: a big fat guy who will eventually overrun your opponent if they don’t hurry up and kill you.
On a creature-by-creature basis, this is the strongest of the tribes when judging on pure power. More than any other, the beasts are capable of dominating in the late game while not proving useless in the early game, thanks to morph, an ability that benefits this tribe the most.
It isn’t surprising then that the beasts are spread out more over the color wheel than any other type, with only white being deprived. As I set out to write this article, I realized that my original decision to put the blue beasts (Graxiplon, Slipstream Eel) in this installment was a fairly moronic one and I removed them as a result. I recommend checking out the color rankings I’ve been doing in Wise Words of late if you want to know where they rate. For these rankings, we assume your beast deck starts with green and finishes with either black or red.
A ridiculous card in any deck, tribal or otherwise, Starstorm is likely best here because of its ability to leave your beasts alive while small creatures bite the big one, though it doesn’t have to be used in that specific way to be ridiculous. I’m not entirely sure what R&D was thinking on this one, but I imagine, as always, Randy would exclaim “it’s a rare”! On behalf of anyone who has ever lost to this card, that logic sucks.
Is it possible this card got better? Red-green is being called the best archetype in the format by many now that Legions has given green a boost and decks are now even more creature reliant. At the Legions Prerelease, I got the Cliffs out with Krosan Tusker and Seedborn Muse. That, by the way, is a lot of fun.
Slice and Dice
Increased creature counts mean increased value on mass creature kill. Slice and Dice provides both that and versatility in that its cycling ability can still be devastating even if it isn’t killing the big boys. A word of advice: if you’re playing first, have Slice in hand and your opponent plays a Festering Goblin turn one, unless you have something incredible to do, don’t play a morph on turn three: cycle at the end of his or her turn after he or she plays a morph and get two for zero card advantage… the game should be over then and there.
So big, so fast, so good. The Baloth, without its special ability, would be an absolutely great Barkhide Mauler for one less, requiring two morphs in exchange for its existence in the early goings. Throw in that ability, though, and you have silliness, a card that makes losing the race a virtual impossibility as your bigger guys step on their smaller ones. Great at everything it does.
In any deck but black-green, save other green decks that splash it, Death Match is mediocre, but play it with Aphetto Dredging, Symbiotic creatures and creatures with a toughness of four or greater and you have an auto win. I’m very pleased with the Match first pick first pack, understanding I have to go green and not look back to optimize it.
4/5 for five is a good deal on its own, and you throw in a remarkably easy casting cost color requirement and you have an upgrade to very good, but Tephraderm is special in that there’s virtually nothing that can block to kill it while surviving on its own. As a matter of fact, with a toughness of five, there are very few creatures that can trade straight up, so Tephraderm will usually take two or even three creatures with it. Very strong.
People may be surprised that Hystrodon is this low, but the fact is that after turn 5, it’s good, but not special. Hystrodon is the best creature in the format to de-morph on turn four, especially if an opposing morph blocks it, but there just aren’t any ways to clear its path consistently and unless you have a trick, a possibility your opponent will usually risk, blocking with two morphs only costs your opponent one of them. Still great though.
Getting into a bit of a muddled area here. Some people like Snarling Undorak better than Brackus and I’m sure the same can be said about Pangolin (though color differences and pack pattern leave that debate far from complete), but I’m a big fan for one simple reason: if I attack you on turn five with five untapped lands, my opponent is likely to play as if the worst thing I could possibly have is Spitting Gourna. Their assumption will be incorrect, as proven by a pair of morphs heading to the graveyard.
It really is ridiculously large for its casting cost, but the Pangolin’s drawback becomes far more prominent in the 20-creature-deck Legions environment. Funny thing: I’ve actually sacrificed my own creatures to it when casting a couple of times: in each case, the sacrificed critters were Wretched Anurid and Wirewood Herald.
I can appreciate this side of the Brackus debate, because Undorak really is so strong. I mean, Hill Giant is a bit of a dream in this format, but this guy offers so much more. You can attack with it morphed on turn four before playing a fourth land, your six untapped lands can make it something of a juggernaut and, in the late game, it can be simply dominant, especially if it has numerous targets. A great card that is not overpowered, instead being just about right for green’s best common creature.
Chain of Plasma
Two casting cost spells are a valued rarity in this block and the same can be said for creature kill. The Chain is best when you draw first, killing the opposing morph before you untap on turn three, reversing the game’s tempo without costing you the half card advantage you start the game with. Try to keep a few lands if you have one in your deck.
At one point, the Gourna-Mauler debate loomed large, but I think it’s been pretty much settled, though the two cards are definitely close. That the Gourna blocks flyers is just so important. While cycling is nice, turn three capability is just as good, possibly better and that one point of power isn’t worth all that. That it’s this low shows how strong green’s creature core is.
Likewise. The Mauler is easier to cast than the Gourna and its cycling plays well into combinations with black cards like Aphetto Dredging and Patriarch’s Bidding, showing that the ranking isn’t a reflection on power so much as versatility. The Mauler is better than the Gourna at most of the things it does, but by little enough that the ability to block fliers sends the creature with the mucus problems over the top.
The Beast loses out to the common twosome because of its tougher casting cost in a format with a lot of high casting costs, but early on, if you’re black-green, I think this beast jumps up those two slots.
This used to be higher on my list, but there are wizards everywhere now! That said, if your opponent doesn’t draw or keep a wizard, this card is extremely potent for its price and that leaves it up here, at least until I have it stolen a few times in the next couple of weeks.
Scott Johns said on his website this week that I was undervaluing the Thragg, but I’m pretty certain that Scott’s actually overvaluing it based on good experience. The Thragg’s ability is a nice one, but it’s almost never a surprise as its morph cost is astronomical, meaning its almost always going to be a 3/3 for five (morphing it ain’t), and when the surprise is gone, your opponents know to block. Sorry Scott, pretty sure I’m right on this one.Erratic Explosion
This is up a bit from where I had it pre-Legions. Burn is just too valuable to ignore now. Not this high in every deck, the Explosion is usually best in beasts, where your quick creatures are flipped over Towering Baloths and the like, giving you a shot at killing creatures and opponents who don’t deserve to be killed for three. Once you have it, devalue one casting cost cards a bit. It’ll be good as long as it can reasonably be counted on to kill a morph.
Okay, add my name to the growing list of pros who are putting the Charm ahead of Krosan Tusker now. A few people have said they were putting the Charm over the big man before Legions, which seemed a little idiotic to me, but now, with tricks at a premium, it seems a viable choice. Regardless of the sets though, when you have a one mana card with more functions than ‘trade with an opposing card’, it’s got to be good.
See, the thing about the Tusker is that either it’s a bad three-mana Inspiration or a bad seven casting cost creature. That you get to choose which one it is makes it a good card, but that still doesn’t make it efficient. Of course, when you’re light on mana, that land that makes the Inspiration a bad thing can be good, but really, who doesn’t have anything else to do at three mana in this format?
It’s interesting comparing the Baloth to Krosan Colossus as they’re all pretty much doing the same thing, only at different intervals. The Tower wins in the comparison because of the Lorian’s vulnerability and Colossus’s impossibility. A good solid monster for your deck, it’s especially nice when going unblocked. It is essentially a Searing Flesh for your opponent.
Like any morph that survives a turn 4 morph collision, the Craghorn has to be considered a good card for its ability to gain its controller card advantage. Of course, what really makes this guy tick is your opponent’s fear of Skirk Commando going unblocked, so the two help one another escalate as the draft moves onwards.
The similarities between Craghorn and Mudspawn are actually somewhat remarkable. For essentially the same morph cost, they flip to survive turn four combat damage and/or give you card advantage, with the Craghorn’s obvious mortality trading with the Mudspawn’s rebellious drawback. Where the Craghorn wins out is the hard cast, with that one mana meaning the world, complimenting green’s five casting cost masses.
Despite losing out to the Baloth, the Lorian’s still a very solid card, either trading with your opponent’s earlier selections or proving to be an easy to cast/morph fatty in the mid game. Not much else to say, just a good, solid man.
This guy definitely lost a step with the introduction of Legions. I really hope Scourge (the final set in the block) includes creatures the fetch creatures can search out in lieu of their own, because the elimination of potential card advantage makes them very boring.
Crown of Suspicion
Moving up a tad with Legion’s introduction is Crown of Suspicion for two reasons: a) creature kill increases in value (where have we heard this before?) and b) your opponent is less likely to have an elimination spell for the unchecked Screeching Buzzard or Severed Legion you can enchant to increase your evasion beats.
He’s slow and hard on the mana, but Shakey here is so big and bad that it’s okay. The key to understanding the power of a card like this one isn’t in knowing how it works so much as understanding that it’s a card that will make your deck if you have it while not meriting an early pick. If the kiddies at your table want all the big creatures. Let them have them. Just play turn two Glory Seeker or Elvish Warrior and it’ll be all over but the crying.
This guy’s value skyrockets if you have a Wirewood Savage or two, and likewise it’ll go up if you have a couple of cards like Nantuko Husk that will protect you from Anurid death, but even without, this is still a 3/3 for , and last I heard, that’s a pretty good deal.
The Valesk is actually better than this, but in decks with green, it’s going to lose some value. Simply, you’d rather have a like-costed creature that stays face up when morphed. In a blue-red deck though, where your opponent won’t be expecting anything underneath to much bigger than its morph form, the Valesk can prove a nice surprise and a solid finisher.
If not for its morph, the Slateback wouldn’t be too good, but that added versatility makes for a very solid card. No, it can’t block once flipped, but you can usually flip it for some card advantage and once face up, it hits your opponent pretty hard. Not special, but definitely solid.
Anton Jonsson once made the observation that bad black decks beat good ones in this format, and here’s why: the good ones have cards like Cruel Revival, which are great in any match but the mirror. The bad black decks are forced to run inefficient creatures and that means the Murkdiver makes the main. I’ll usually run one, good deck or bad.
Thunder of Hooves
I may actually have Thunder too low now, as mass kill really is just so valuable. Harder to set up than your garden varieties, once that’s done, Thunder can net you as many as four or five cards just because your boys are bigger than theirs are, beast mage. I know it seems kind of weak, but next time you have seven or more beasts, give it a try.
Wall of Mulch
It so doesn’t suit the color, but Wall of Mulch can be used to buy the time you need to get to your fat and, if nothing else, it’s just a good card for the mana cost. Especially efficient in blue-green, where your illusions can become walls as death beckons, as long as you aren’t super-aggro, you should have room in the deck. Don’t be afraid to board it out for an off-color morph if your opponent shows you a lot of evasion though.
Well, I undervalued it in Onslaught, so I’m sure I’m doing the same now, especially since it kills annoying utility creatures, but I still feel like for it to do its job, you have to already be winning. I’ll give it a few more tries in the weeks ahead.
So if the Tower is so far up, why is Colossus way down here? Simply, that extra two mana doesn’t buy you much, but will take, on average, five or six turns to muster. That’s a poor deal. The Colossus might look pretty in your trade binder, but in Limited, nineteen times out of twenty it’s just going to be a 2/2 for .
I prefer consistency to quirkiness and the Bidding doesn’t provide much of the former, forcing you to rely of the right draws for it to really work its magic. Once you’ve gotten to the midgame, chances are your opponent will get enough to nullify the advantages Bidding can give you, keeping in mind you’re the one using up a spell. Still, there’s potential here.
The Basher’s primary value comes in being a zombie-beast, but the three power can be a real boon, especially against that annoying turn two Elvish Warrior or Wretched Anurid you need to deal with. The Basher is also a nice pick up if you manage to get your hands on a Boneknitter.
Naturalize obviously loses some value with the lack of artifacts/enchantments in Legions, but it’s the addition of Nantuko Vigilante, a playable creature regardless of its destructive abilities that really devalues Naturalize. Near the end of triple Onalsught’s reign, I was getting comfortable with having Naturalize main deck. Not any more.
It’s almost never right to play this guy on turn two. I mean, it costs you your turn as much as it does theirs in that it’s three mana to activate, so you can’t develop any more than they can, meaning the only time it’ll be that good is if your opponent draws nonbasics as their only mana sources. Even then, if they play first, they’re getting the morph down before you can activate.
While it moves up with Wirewood Savages in your deck, the Fogbeast is primarily summoned for one purpose: trade with a morph and do it as quickly as possible. If it turns out to be a Craghorn or Daru Lancer? So being, you’ve used up their turn. It does get better with cards like Cover of Darkness and Taunting Elf that allow it to go unblocked.
Okay, I haven’t actually put this theory to test yet, but I’m figuring with so much emphasis being put on non-creature spells these days, Run Wild should actually make for a viable trick. I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong on this one though.
You hear sports stars having “he makes the whole team better” said about them all the time, but this is a little ridiculous. I mean, the Harvest lets your opponent get their bombs too, so you only want to play Harvest when you know yours are going to be the better. In other words, if you have Rorix, Bane or Visara, this is a way of having two in your deck. Other than that, I wouldn’t recommend running it.
If Krosan Tusker is a bad seven mana creature, what’s this guy? No morph, no cycling. Yes, it had trample, but that only get really disgusting with a couple more beasts in play. If it’s turn seven and you have two other beasts in play, do you really need this pile?
When I pay five mana for a beast, I don’t want it getting Shocked or Maraudered. I don’t think I’ve bothered to play it since the last time I wrote about it, but only because it sucks a lot.
Cards that don’t interact with any resource other than life total are seldom good and that means that if you do want to play them, they’d better be self sufficient. Obviously, if you have ten beasts, Aether Charge gains some value, but I’d still only run it if I were hurting for playables.
If you’re certain you’re going to get into creature lock, sideboard this in and cast it after combat. Certain is a very strong word.
This is not a Fact or Fiction!
So, you get to play this card when you know your opponent is playing twenty creatures. If someone makes an unusual metagame choice and goes creatureless, I’d highly recommend sideboarding it in.
…go your hopes of winning. I hope you know I’m not joking.