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Monday, September 27, 2010

Grim Tidings #24 - Scars & 5-Color

I skipped a set review (actually two) over the summer as I took a break from Grim Tidings. Now that I’m thinking about Magic again, I’ll insert my thoughts on the latest big expansion, Scars of Mirrodin, and its impact on Casual 5-Color.

What is 5-Color Again?

For those who have forgotten, 5-color Magic is a format that requires you to build a deck of at least 300 cards, with a minimum of 25 cards from each color. I encourage everyone to go to the actual www.5-color.com link, but basically All cards are legal, except for the Unglued/Unhinged expansions, and there is a special Banned/Restricted list specific to this format. Highlander is optional, but extremely fun.

When I consider a card in this discussion, it’s in terms of a “big-deck” format. There will be a lot of cards out there that are better for Standard or Legacy or whatever 60-card format, but for this review, I’m really just looking at the best cards and their impact for 5-Color (and to a lesser extent EDH).

Also remember, I generally play highlander (meaning everything is restricted to one-of). This is important to realize, as clunky combos and interactions and far more difficult to execute in decks this size.

No Rankings!
Finally, there will be no countdown this time around. I’m only going to discuss cards that will make it into my personal decks, and tell you why I like them. There is no particular order whatsoever, other than rarity.

First Reminder
It seems that in every article I write I drone on-and-on about my primary deck, First Reminder. I treat it as a collection of the best-of-the-best, so to make that list, the card really has to be special, or be strictly better than its predecessor. In Scars, I find two cards that earn my highest honor to join its ranks: Venser, the Sojourner, and Skithiryx the Blight Dragon!

First Reminder is predicated on card advantage, so it is no surprise that I have a high density of 1-8-7 creatures with enter/leave-the-battlefield abilities. Look at the plethora of come-into-play abilities it features:

• Duplicant, Nekrataal, etc. – Kill Creatures
• Gravedigger, etc. – Raise Dead
• Karmic Guide - Resurrection
• Avalanche Riders – Destroy Land
• Acidic Slime/Angel of Despair – Destroy Permanents
• Stonecloaker – Exile Graveyard
• Mulldrifter, Wall of Blossoms – Draw Cards
• Bogardan Hellkite, Anathemancer, etc. – Direct Damage
• Wood Elves – Fetch (Dual) Lands

Venser’s strongest ability is his first one. As a repeatable blink effect, he generates enormous card advantage with all of these creatures. In addition, he can reset Planeswalker counters, and negate ugly -1/-1 Persist counters (Hooray for Glen Elandra Archmage!) He doubles the activated abilities of all of my Haste Creatures (Kiki, Bonded Fetch), as well as granting Vigilance to a creature that needs to attacks. Finally, Venser provides a clever method to dodge your own Wrath Effects, a you can blink out that your best creature just prior to resetting the board with Final Judgment!

If that wasn’t enough, Venser packs a second incredible ability: Alpha Strike. A late game Venser will allow you to muscle through defensive stalemates immediately. I see this as a game ender.

What? There’s more? Yes its true, there is a third ability as well. As incredible as it is, I find it higly unlikely I will ever get his “ultimate” off. But if I do, I will almost feel sorry my opponents. How completely unfair it is. GG!

I’m gushing all over this card, and rightfully so. Venser the Sojourner does it all in 5-Color. He is a marquee card, and by far the best the set has to offer, in my opinion. A+!

Venser the Sojourner IN, Catastrophe OUT
(Reasoning: Catastrophe is essentially an overcosted Wrath #12 for me. I hardly ever use it to destroy lands, so I will exchange Venser's versatility and card advantage over redundancy in a heartbeat.)


Meanwhile, there is Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Awesome! A big bad-ass black dragon with 4 abilities: Flying, Infect, Haste, and Regeneration! My inner Timmy rejoices! "Skitter" is right on the curve as a 4/4 flyer for BB3, but his additional abilities are fantastic!

I think Poison, by itself, is fairly underwhelming. Most of the creatures that possess the poison ability in the past were small, and required many turns to deal 10 poison counters. Not so with an Infectious Skithiryx. He’s huge, so it only takes three turns (one of which can be negated by granting him haste!) Since you only have to deal ten posion counters, think of Skitter as an 8/4, which combined with a few pieces of Equipment, puts your opponent is put on a very short clock.

In addition, he makes a great defender. People generally tended to shy away from blockers with wither that permanently damaged the attackers. This dragon is a 4/4 blocker, so it has a lasting effect on the game-state any time he is played. The fact that he regenerates is even more of a incentive to turn away attacks, as opponents have nothing to gain from slamming into your big bad dracolich defender. A+ as well!

Skithiryx, The Blight Dragon IN, Divinity of Pride OUT
(Reasoning: Divinity has the same spot on the mana curve, but with more difficult color requirements. In addition, two additional abilities puts Skitter over the top. I'm really excited to see how often I can poison my way to victory with this card. I can't wait!)


Thus concludes my in depth review of all of the cards for the Scars of Mirrodin Expansion. Thank you for your interest in reading my article…


Second Reminder
What do you mean there’s 247 more cards? Really? Good thing I have a second 5-Color deck primed and ready to put the other cards through their paces. (Well, at lest the good ones!) Where to begin?

Geth, Lord of the Vault - He certainly has a unique way to generate card advantage. The milling aspect is irrelevant, but at least it keeps feeding his built-in Beacon of Unrest. Needless to say, Geth could become a headache to deal with if left alone. He’s deserving of a immediate Swords to Plowshares.

Sword of Body and Mind - Its already in Second Reminder, as it was pre-released with FtV: Relics. What’s not to like about it? You have to be an idiot not to appreciate an Equipment that provides 4 abilities, even if the milling ability is mostly irrelevant against another 300-card deck. I look forward to the two remaining swords, hopefully to be released next year.

Argent Sphinx - This card is very good. It will replace Sphinx of Jwar Isle as my pesky blue flyer of choice in Second Reminder. It is entirely reminiscent of Rainbow Efreet, another long time favorite “PBF” of mine. Consider it a flying, blinking, vigilant, 4/3 for four mana.

Hoard-Smelter Dragon - Shivan Dragon really isn’t that bad of a card. It has an above average 5/5 body with evasion and a nice aggressive ability. Sadly you need to be much better than that in today’s modern cardpool. Enter Hoard-Smelter: He’s a living Shatter that doubles up as firebreathing. Of course, if there is nothing to shatter, he can’t be pumped, but in that case, you’ll probably be casting other spells anyways. Even with conditions, it’s hard to be disappointed with this dragon.

Steel Hellkite - Like Hoard Smelter above, this is great too. He’s bigger (6/6) and destroys more stuff. I honestly would consider Steel Hellkite over Oros in First Reminder, if I didn’t need that last red slot filled. It’s definitely on my watch list for promotion.

Blackcleave Cliffs, et al. – These lands generally suck, but at least they are good on turns one, two, and three. They will be played in Second Reminder because I need alternative dual lands, but no where else. As soon as another dual land variation comes out, these 5 cards are “Adios, muchachos!”

Skinrender - Decent Nekrataal knock-off, but since it doesn’t always guarantee a kill, its on the second team. The art is super cool though. He looks like a Alien!

Trigon of Infestation - I find myself quite eager to try this card out. Most artifacts that generate creatures only make vanilla 1/1’s. However, these insects have an ability: Infest. Like Skithiryx above, the Insects provide an alternate win condition. This is the best of the Trigons for 5-Color.

Infiltration Lens - I like cards that reward clever play. Infiltration Lens creates great card advantage as long as you can equip it to a big creature to make the opponent fearful. However, it’s useless when equipped to a 1/1, as the opponent will just let it through (which in that case, you are dealing them damage.) Most people will toss this card aside as trash, but I will try to break it. Put it on a Trigon Insect token for better results.

Blight Mamba - Quickly summarized as “An efficient 2 drop, with two abilities. Makes for a great defender.” Not much to say about Infect that hasn’t been said previously. I only wish the Mamba had Islandwalk too.

Moriok Replica - Last, but not least, I recognize 2/2 that sacs for Nights Whisper. This is pretty decent, really. You get a chump creature if your desperate, or two extra cards (net +1 CA) if you are top decking.



Out of Contention
Despite maintaining two 300-card decks, not every card can make it into circulation. There are lots of cool cards out there, but rather than whine why I dont like them, I'll be quick and just list the also-rans: Elspeth Tirel, Molten-tail Masticore, Platinum Emperion, Genesis Wave, Necrotic Ooze, Revoke Existence , Nihil Spellbomb. All of these cards are decent, but for whatever reason, I dont want to waste time talking about them. Give them a shot, and let me know how they do.


Kiki EDH
Believe it or not, I do play other formats than just 5-Color. Along with Legacy, I currently have three EDH decks: Intet the Dreamer, Kiki Jiki Mirror Breaker, and Child of Alara. Scars offers a few cards for these decks, but so as not spoil my next article, I’ll just say Kiki is getting both Koth of the Hammer and Myr Battlesphere. In fact, I would say I’m more excited to play the Battlesphere than any other card in the entire expansion. (Seriously!)

Until next time…

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