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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grim Tidings #23: The Curious Case of Eight-and-a-Half Tails

With the rebirth of Second Reminder (See GT #21), I am brought back to a long-standing debate of a very specific card selection. It was reinforced again during my last Cube draft, when I selected none other than my old buddy, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails.

To give you a brief history, "8.5" has been on my internal “watch list” for quite some time. 8.5 appeared in the original Grim Reminder 750, and then in both incarnations of Second Reminder as well. It has been a favorite pet-card of mine since Kamigawa block, due to both its flavorful name, and clever game-warping abilities.

Last night was no exception. I drafted a WG weenie deck, packed with a plethora of great cards, including Academy Rector, Mirari’s Wake, and Debtor’s Knell. Eight-and-a-Half was a third or fourth pick for me, perhaps based on his relative obscurity in the common Magic vernacular. What transpired next drove me to write this article.

We played two group games with our decks. (8.5 fortunately is the lightest card in my deck, as he floated to the top in both games.) Of course I cast him, followed with a slew of other mid-range creatures to set myself into a solid defense. As the game evolved, it seemed apparent I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. 8.5 provided both offensive and defensive flexibility, allowing me to “bleach” all of my opponents’ permanents and muscle through with a single pro-white attacker. I became an immediate threat as people quickly realized that there was little they could do, and I was attacked en-masse. Although I lost game 1, I was amazed with the dominance 8.5 exhibited. Game 2 was much of the same, and resulted in a decisive victory. Eight-and-a-Half was again, the obvious MVP.

So why hasn’t this little fox been promoted to First Reminder yet? The simplest answer is color: Its too white. Its abilities require an extensive dedication to W fully support it. Hence, Mother of Runes has always been mycreature of choice for this role in First Reminder. She's cheaper and essentially fulfills the same role: a quirky protection trick that causes headaches for my opopnets. Since they are both great cards, let’s breakdown the Pros and Cons between the two to see their benefits.***

Eight-and-a-Half Pros & Cons:
1.) Con: Its double WW two-drop. Normally this isn’t a problem to color-fix late game, but on your second turn in a 5-Color deck, it is a little harder to consistently guarantee you will have two of the same color.

2.) Pro: Eight-and-Half-Tails is a 2/2, rather than 1 wimpy 1/1 like Mother. Well, its something…

3.) Con: It requires up to three mana (1 + 1W) to activate. Mother only needs to Tap. In addition, the more you want to use it, the more W you need. In a 5-Color deck, where colors are more-or-less distributed evenly, you mana sources may not be able to support this as much as you would like them to.

4.) Pro: Eight and-a Half can do its business the turn it comes into play, while Mommy still has summoning sickness.

5.) Pro: Eight-and-a-Half can protect multiple targets at the same time. There is amazing defense flexibility that exists when you can white-wash Firespout while its on the stack and give all of your creatures pro-white to survive, rather than just one.

6.) Pro: Mother can only protect creatures, while Eight can protect anything. Bleach your opponent’s Strip Mine, Maze of Ith, Naturalize, as well as Terror.

7.) Con: It can require a holding back a lot of mana so you can react with it. This really alters the pace the deck will play at, as using it in a reactionary state will limit the amount of other spells you will cast on your turn. (Note, made better by Terefi, Orrery, and Leyline of Anticipation).

8.) Pro: Its both defensive and offensive. While you can try to nullify your opponent’s removal, you can switch it into high gear when you are in a winning position. Your opponent will have to helplessly watch as your army slips right on through the defenders for the alpha strike.

8.5) Con: Eight-and-a-Half Tails is pretty obscure. Hardly anyone plays with it (compared to Mother of Runes) so its an unlikely card to name with Grim Reminder.

Reading through all of this, its not hard to support the inclusion of Eight-and-a-Half over Mother of Runes. However, I cant discount the impact I think Con #3 has. I need to look at the specific scenario it would be used though in MY deck, rather than out-of-context.

First Reminder Composition
Admittedly, First Reminder is more white than any other color. There are 34 mono-white spells, and 20 additional multi-color cards that include white. As a result, my manabase has significantly more basic Plains and white sources than the other four colors. 52/110 of my lands can produce W, as well as 5 artifacts and 6 creatures. Is that enough? For the regular every-day application of the deck, yes, I’m certain it is. However, I do not know if there is an exact “formula” to follow for Eight-and-a-Half-Tails though.

That said, I can look at the ratios of the mana distribution and come up with a plausible scenario. By my count, of the 132 mana sources in the deck, a total of 63 of them produce white. That’s 47%. Lets assume an average game state with ten lands in play. By this ratio, I could reasonably assume at least 4 (or more) of them could produce white.

In this example, I could offensively spend 3 colorless mana to bleach three of my opponent’s permanents, and easily have W1 available for three more activations of the 8.5’s pro-white effect. That sounds great! Or I could defensively just set aside (1 + W1) for use during my opponents turn without severely hampering my ability to cast other white spells on my turn.

Seriously, how many times would anyone really want to activate Eight-and-a-Half in a single turn? Once? Thrice? Any more than that seems very unlikely.

So I don’t think I need much more convincing. I’ll promote 8.5 to First Reminder and see how it does in practice. By this rationale, it seems as if I will be pleasantly satisfied.

*** Before anyone gets cute and replies with some snarky comment like “Why don’t you just play both cards?” I’ll remind you that even though my 5-Color deck is 300 cards, each and every card serves a specific purpose. I don’t need to be diluting First Reminder’s effectiveness with redundant effects that can be tutored for if absolutely needed. From experience, there can be only one slot for this protection-trick !


The_Magi said...

I think this is a very solid move, and a step in leveling up your deck.

GrimJack said...

Thanks, I hope so too!