Did you get a chance to Battlebond this weekend? Not only did I run a Prerelease this weekend, but I also had the chance to fill in for a player who had to leave half way through the tournament, so I got to play too!
Getting to see so many cards in action gave me some insight into a few cards that I had looked at and either disregarded, or not considered fully. Many of these cards have subtle options that you don't really see until you see the card in action. I thought I would share a few observations of the new (and a couple older) cards.
If there is an Archfiend of Despair, then there mustn't there be several "Fiends of Despair?" What is it about the Archfiend of Despair that earns him the "Arch," title? Perhaps a Fiend of Despair can't fly? Or is it just that a Fiend of Despair only has a single skulled necklace?
Obviously, running this with Swords to Plowshares is just hysterical! Yes, that's right, I just destroyed the creature you had planned to use to block my flying Archfiend, and you don't even gain any life! The Archfiend essentially doubles the damage dealt to opponents. If someone pays a life to search for a land, they'll be paying another life at the end of the turn. If someone is attacked by a different opponent, they'll be suffering double by the end of the turn.
My partner and I had an interesting discussion about the best time to play Archfiend of Despair. If you play it before combat, opponents will be more vested in blocking since creatures that get through will deal double the damage. This is probably a good thing if they have creatures you want to see dead. It also discourages them from using removal on an attacking creature, since they'll want to use it on the Archfiend. If you wait until after combat, you maximize your chances of getting an extra creature through, since they won't know about the double damage effect coming their way. Finally, so many Commander decks have a lifegain component to recover from slow starts. I like that the Archfiend shuts them down.
This was my favorite story of the Prerelease. One team managed to get control of the battlefield and had curved out perfectly. They attacked and put their opponents to one. They had run out of cards, but their opponents were each holding seven. One of the players decided to play Game Plan, with the thought that they would reload their hands while their opponents would gain nothing, since they would be replacing seven cards with seven cards.
Do not play Game Plan when you are winning!
Their opponents each had seven cards because they were drawing blanks and could do nothing. Even with no cards in hand, it was very likely they could have done at least one more damage with just what was on the battlefield. Instead, they went for the "win more" option and handed their opponents 14 new cards that allowed them to stabilize and win the game a few turns later. If you are giving your opponents a full set of seven cards you had better be in a dire situation, desperate for any help your deck can offer.
Also, with cards that have assist, keep in mind where your opponents are sitting. The player immediately to your right is less likely to help you than your opponent to your immediate left, all other things being equal. The player on the right is tapping lands that won't untap until everyone else gets a turn, leaving them a little more vulnerable than they were before. It is hard to bluff or play actual valuable instants if your lands are tapped. The player on your left will be untapping and taking their turn when you are done. The risk of others attacking them is far less, so they are probably more inclined to help. Getting a read on who will help is important, because there will be times when you don't want to reveal the card unless you are pretty sure you can get the assist.
I read the flavor text and figure Krav is just encouraging Regna to turn on the high beams and blind the other drivers. Sounds more a-hole than angel to me!
Let's slot Regna's Sanction into the, "Wow, I never really thought about this for Two-Headed Giant." For Commander, this makes a great political card, encouraging attacks in different directions and leaving players vulnerable for a turn. Many of the games that I saw over the weekend were massive board stalls with six or eight creatures on either side of the battlefield. When you and your ally each get a +1/+1 counter on every creature you control and all but two of your opponents' creatures get tapped, board stalls turn into nightmarish routs.
Partners with Sylvia Brightspear? Brightflame and Brightspear? Names like these are blatant merchandising. You want to bet those Goblin hacks are selling plushy Dragons with crappy lights in their mouths that burn out before the kids even leave the stadium. I'm sure Brightspears are obvious lightsaber rip-offs. And besides, the stage names are so obvious! What a couple of hacks!
During one of our games, one of our opponents played Khorvath "Brightflame" and my partner and I looked at each other for a split second before I decided it was Out of Bounds. Dealing with an endless string of flying Knights and double-striking Dragons just seemed like a horrible idea, so we stopped it before it got started. Commander and Two-Headed Giant can both see horrible board stalls, so a pair like Brightflame and Brightspear can bust up those stalls quickly. I'll be interested to see if the early Commander builds are an even mix of Knight and Dragon, or primarily one or the other.
I like the older art for this card. Steve Belledin does a great job, but I like a good map and the original has some solid parchment maps in the art.
In Commander, The Explorer is pretty benign. Everyone is happy to see it die and it moves the game forward. You likely earned some good will for a turn or two, but not much more than that. For Two-Headed Giant, you gave your opponents four untapped lands early in the game. Our opponent was kind enough to play The Explorer early and we were happy to kill it when we each had three lands on the battlefield and none in hand. Veteran Explorer turned the tide in that game, allowing us to each play two creatures the following turn and set up for a vicious swing.
I love cards that give you flexibility and when I first saw the Searchlight in Ravnica, I loved the idea that I would be able to give someone one mana. I imagined all the times they might need a different color of mana or just one more mana and I thought this was going to be great! I made sure I had four of them and started putting them into any of my decks that required at least three different colors.
Then the reality set in.
You don't use it that way. Ever. Either your opponents don't remember to ask you, or you don't want to do it, or whatever the reason it only ever gets tapped to add mana to your mana pool. The difference is that it isn't indestructible and it doesn't cost only two mana. There are still times when it is good but in most Commander games? Meh.
In Two-Headed Giant? Particularly in Sealed or Draft? This thing is a monster! If you just leave it sitting in the middle of the two of you, you both remember it is there and it gets used to smooth out awkward opening hands or rough curves. The card does great work and looked like an all-star when I saw it on the battlefield.
Magic is celebrating 25 years. Way back when, players would open their packs and moan about getting an Underground Sea in the rare spot. It is just a stupid land! They wanted a cool creature or something amazing that would crush their opponents. We think back to those silly players from 25 years ago and shack our heads at their lack of understanding.
Then last weekend I heard this twice: " Morphic Pool?! Ugh! This card sucks!"
Now these were both younger players, but I'd ask that you take the time and be sure the young players (and just new players generally) at your store understand the value of these lands. These are inexpensive dual lands for multiplayer. They have generic names and will likely be reprinted several times in future casual draft sets and Commander product. Get them. Fill your deck with them. Make sure your new players do the same, or we'll be hearing stories 25 years from now about players who traded them away for bulk rares.