Tuesday, 16 June 2015

MtG Origins Flipwalkers Review

A distinctly underpowred set compared to others in recent years. Both spells and creatures that were not exactly powerhouses before have been reprinted but worse. Sorcery speed Smother, four mana Man-O-War, awful Leonin Scimitar and so forth. At least Wizards are a business and need to sell cards so we have some fairly pushed flipping planeswalkers to be adding to the cube.

Liliana, Heretical Healer is a very potent card full of things going on. What she is not is better than Lilana of the Veil. Lets just get that out there from the get go. She very likely is better than the other two Liliana versions however I don't think comparing her to just walkers is the way to look at these cards. Far more of the time she is in play she will be a bad Vampire Nighthawk than she will be a good planeswalker. Getting her to flip will be hard work, you will have to find a way to sac or kill your own dork or force them into a position where they have to block and kill something. The threat of the flip is the best thing about this card, you can flop it out and suddenly they won't be keen on blocking things. Any spot removal they have will be taking out Liliana before your other threats. I am very impressed with the design on these planeswalkers, you get a lot of power, a lot of versatility, both for not much mana yet the cards remain highly fair. You can just flop out Liliana on turn three, she will likely get killed or sit about doing fairly little. She might nibble away or allow other dorks to do so, she might hold off the odd attacker but all in all she will compare poorly to the now somewhat average Vampire Nighthawk. Running out the turn three unaided Liliana will be much alike to throwing down a two mana Snapcaster or Den Protector and forgoing the main perk of the card just so you can spend your mana and get stuff on the board. Liliana will do more work in these situations and is made better overall as a result of the option to but make no mistake, compared to what is going on in cube she does not compare well to most things you can do with three mana if used in this way. Liliana improves significantly with appropriate synergy. Obviously she needs other creatures in the deck so as to even threaten a flip but there are still some which will work especially well with her. Sakura Tribe Elder springs to mind first although plenty of dorks with free or cheap sacrifice abilities will make Liliana substantially better. When you can reliably drop her down, sacrifice another dork and get a 2/2 zombie as well as an active planeswalker you are likely quite ahead. Should you use something like a Tribe Elder to trigger her then you will be able to instantly get it back again for more defence and card advantage. Within black there are good ways of flipping as well although none seem quite up to the convenience of the old snake and other cards outside the colour like Mogg Fanatic. Recurring Nightmare is very powerful but very slow, Carrion Feeder is very useful and cheap but offers little power or value without lots of other synergy for him. Flesh Carver is good but costs 3 to play, 2 to activate and ideally wants yet another dork to sacrifice. You need the right cards to flip her effectively but it is not hard to do. Unfortunately flipping her is not all there is to it. She is not a planeswalker you can automatically gain advantage from just by activating repeatedly. Both players discard for +2 is great..... in the right deck. Any symmetrical effect needs to be designed around so that it is doing something advantageous for you. Therefore to get the very most from this card you not only need a decent creature count complete with sacrifice outlets you also need to have a deck with discard utility or that empties its hand very quickly. Quite a tall order and giving fairly few archetypal options in which you are able to get the best from Lili. I don't actually think you need her to be optimal to be including her in decks, even just a flip into a -3 on some juicy dork is a good chunk of tempo and card advantage. If you are able to happily +2 her then you are going to be hard to beat. A lot of decks really hate the +1 on Liliana of the Veil and so getting double the loyalty and the same initial loyalty is clearly better and therefore going to be even more hated. The decks that fear discard the most usually have spot removal answers and so extra loyalty isn't as defensively useful as you might hope but it is still no bad thing. More than anything the +2 lets you get more out of the -X and get to the ultimate more often. The -X is just a nice way to get card and tempo advantages and will be the most common way to win with Lila. The ultimate is fine but shouldn't be a thing often at all, not only do you have to flip the card then activate the +2 three times without much loyalty loss to even get there, then you have to have more use for it than just getting dorks back which means having removal and targets and so on and so forth. It is fine but it could be blank and the card would be basically just as useful and good.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer is curious. She seems a touch weaker overall that the rest of the cycle at first glance however I suspect this may be a trick of good design and in fact she is likely very comparable to the others. We have to remember that these are creatures first, walkers second. With Nissa, you get value regardless. She comes down, eats a Lightning Bolt, you are still ahead and happy which is not the case with the others. Nissa will always be good for you, she will give you board presence, help you curve, give you card advantage and not that infrequently she will also go on to win the game. Early she is great, much like any sort of speedbump Simulacrum, Civic Wayfinder, Sea Gate Oracle card. Late game where your Wood Elves are less exciting Nissa will come out and effectively self flip (assuming you have forests left to find and order things sensibly) right away. You can even do this through instant removal if you also happen to have an ready unused sac land. Getting to six lands in play with another usable land drop this turn happens fast in green and so you can have Nissa be a serious threat pretty quickly. Three mana for either a forest, a 4/4 and a 1 loyalty Sage Animist or three mana a forest, a card and a 4 loyalty Sage Animist potentially as early as turn 4 but still likely before turn seven. That is a lot of card. Especially remembering that we basically can't go far wrong with this as a humble 3 drop. It has the feel of a really good level up card that you don't need to pay any mana or even have played her to be in the process of levelling! It is hard to think of a nicer pairing of cards, a good value two for one body that helps you have lands that turns into a planeswalker that makes a threat or draws cards. It does what you want cards to do at the right times in the game. If you do make her turn two or three everyone is well aware you are not flipping her for a good while and she represents very little threat in the short term. Should she not need to be used as a body and manages to survive a bit then she turns into a high kill priority. The planeswalker portion of Nissa is rounded, drawing cards and making board position is strong. She is not overpowered as she has low starting loyalty and grows slowly with only a +1 to do it with. That said, drawing cards or making big tokens is pretty perfect, Sarkhan Unbroken is quite the house and this is not wildly far behind despite costing a whole Izzet Charm's worth of mana less. Her ultimate should win the game on the spot but should also be seen very rarely as drawing so many cards and having the odd 4/4 will win games beforehand.

Chandra is the worst of the cycle. I missread her at first and thought you could ping any target which would have made her one of the best! I was very excited about having a good pinger in red and am now rather dispondant about the card. She is still decent and cube worthy but incredibly linear and somewhat of a risk. She is pretty easy to flip IF you get to untap with her. Just having two red spells or one and be able to get a successful attack in does the job. Three mana for a 2/2 do nothing however is pretty lame and vulnerable and is a big part of why this is the weakest new offering. The planeswalker half of the card is OK, it ether burns our opponent down gradually or Shocks creatures. Shock isn't killing all that much and at -2 loyalty cost it is leaving Chandra fairly vulnerable. As for the +1 it is fine but in reality it is probably doing less damage than Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh would do and may even be more vulnerable. If you want to maximise your damage output with Chandra you can just carefully arrange it so that you do exactly two with her on each turn. If you can freely attack then you only need one spell to be able to do 4 total per round of turns. If you can't attack then you need three spells of which one has to be instant which isn't wildly sustainable but never the less is much more damage output than the walker offers. Yes, the emblem does change this but getting there is so slow you would have just killed them with pings, attacks and/or +1 activations way before hand almost all of the time. The best things about this Chandra are that you actually have the choice if you want to flip her, it is easy to do but may not be right for the situation. Almost all the other cards in this cycle are substantially better and more useful once they are a walker, not so with the burny lady. The other best thing is related to this and is that you will be able to use the flip as a way to protect her should you have enough instant red spells. Rather than flip becuase the walker is better you will flip because otherwise she is dead. A bit of utility, a bit of evasive damage and good options and potential value for a mere three mana. Not a bomb but very good filler indeed. Fine in red deck wins, just a little high on the curve and in competition with more direct cards like Rabblemaster, Dualcaster Mage and Vortex. Fine in more midrange affairs too and more in competition with Chandra's Phoenix, Ire Shaman and Prophetic Flamespeaker than the three drops found in red deck wins. Haste, a bit of cheap instant burn and a bit of spare mana go a really long way to improving the card. You can flip on the turn three right after making her (with a Lightning Mauler and a free spell). It is more likely than you can make and flip her right away on turns five or six but when you do she is a pretty big tempo swing regardless.

Kytheon is a bit of an eye opener. We have established these cards are dorks first and planeswalkers as an afterthought. Most of the creatures are ever so slightly below the power level of the best comparable creatures you can find. Nissa versus Civic Wayfinder, Jace versus Looter il-Kor or Enclave Cryptologist etc. Kytheon is just better than the alternatives and fairly substantially at that. The closest to him are Isamru and Soldier of the Panthon, stand alone dorks that are good aggressive tempo plays and have bonus utility and resiliance compared to the classic Savannah Lion. Certainly there are times that either of Isamru or Pantheon will be better than Kytheon however on average Kytheon seems the clear winner. Indestructible has a much broader application than protection from gold and is much more abusive than a mere one toughness. Kytheon is extra good in cube where being a white one mana legend is to your advantage. A single version allowed in play is not an issue and Karakas is likely helping you more than hurting you. You have to pay three to go indestructible which is a large sum, it means the significant portion of the value you get from Kytheon will be from the threat of activation and not the actual activation. Even so, when you have spare mana a 2/1 indestructible does a lot of work. So much so that control decks might even consider playing this guy, a fine play to trade early, hold the ground mid and even win games. Surviving most Wrath effects is pretty huge, white aggressive decks are highly vulnerable to those spells and so Kytheon with allow you to extend your board with some comfort. Additionally should you play him in control, your super late wrath's won't kill your Kytheon! So, one of the best white one drop creatures printed. Would be a lock in for cube if the juice ended there. It does not and so we must look at Gideon, Battle-Forged. He is meatier, less mana intense and offers way more utility than Kytheon. Flipping to him is fairly easy with an aggressive deck or any sort of token generation. A control deck playing just Lingering Souls and Elspeth, Sun's Champion could reasonably expect to flip Kytheon if it was desperate to and given enough time! The indestructible ability greatly helps flipping as you don't need to set up the attacks beyond having the right number of dorks. Gideon has rounded offensive and defensive capabilities that should allow you to dominate any sort of combat. Force things to attack Gideon can save you or other planeswalkers from evasive monsters or just anything should you lack blockers. This can also be used to take thier blockers out of the way for your next attack. The +1 allows you to have a solid attacker, an attacker with pseudo-vigilance that is an insane blocker or just an insane blocker. Lastly, the 0, it is the least versatile but it hits hard and reliably and is a way to close out a game once the board is right to do so. As Gideon is so combat focused I suspect it will be best in agro and midrange decks. Whatever happens and however good he might be in your deck he is never going to be bad value. One mana! For all this! Sure, most of the time you flip him you will have invested more like four mana and possibly even some chump attackers but then you will have also likely gotten through a bunch of damage with your 2/1. A fantastic aggressive white card that is sufficiently good and useful he should be winding up all over the place.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is very comparable to the other good looters you can find. Slightly tougher than a classic Merfolk Looter but unable to do any nibbling. If I wanted a Looter in cube I am going for il-Kor or Cryptologist but Jace is incredibly close to them both in that role such that you are perfectly happy to run it just at that. Looters have always been great cards in magic, the ongoing card quality is huge and they have lots of synergy with various mechanics. Doubly good if you want bodies to equip or use for things like Opposition. Although they are small and vulnerable they are sufficiently cheap that you are not distraught when they eat removal. The small is somewhat minor as well as you are getting value from them each turn they live regardless of their ability to get into combat. Looters work amazingly in some archetypes and are fine in any. For constructed Jace is likely one of the most playable, having ways to usefully dispose of excess copies of cards that will legend rule you is a huge perk. Four copies of this will be possible while four copies of the others might be pushing it. Although the legend rule is minor in cube there are multiple incarnations of several planeswalkers including Jace. Being able to discard another Jace doesn't sound great but might well be a thing. This semi security also applies to Lilana as you can discard further versions of her. Kytheon is "better" than Jace but also less synergic and so I suspect we will see more of Jace than the others getting play. Jace comfortably passes the test of being a body you are happy to play just as the creature, it is cheap enough, as with other Looters, that it is no disaster when he dies on sight, which will probably be most of what happens to this poor guy. Should you get to untap with Jace it is going to be very easy to flip him. With sac lands and card quality cards and other top notch cheap things going on graveyards can fill up quickly. If your graveyard is a big pile of sac lands however I am not sure how much you want to flip your Jace. Once flipped you lose your ongoing card quality. Yes, you get instant value when you flip or an awful lot of loyalty as you see fit. This however isn't necessarily doing anything useful for you so unless you have a couple of things you want to cast in the graveyard or you need to protect him against something like an active Lavamancer or your own wrath you may be better off leaving him as a dork and just getting some looting done. In my experience I would say that a fairly optimal number of loots is three from an early Looter. After that point you have either crafted your hand perfectly such that you don't want to discard anything else or you have already cast everything! This bodes very well for Jace as that is about the most you will ever get from him unless you have a lot of things that remove stuff from your own yard like delve. So how good is Jace, Telepath Unbound? Pretty good compared to other walkers and insane for two mana. Yes, mostly it will be two mana, suspend 2 or 3 with the same number of loots thrown in somewhat under half the time! This is why we can't be comparing these cards to pure planeswalkers or get too excited about the cheap cheap mana costs. Five loyalty is lovely, it keeps you pretty safe against all but serious threats or board positions. The plus one is minor but also useful. The -9 is quite game ending but it is unrealistic with a low value +1 to grow from five should you even get to that stage. It is also quite slow to end the game, it doesn't just do it there for you like Nissa's. I really wouldn't be surprised if I never saw this be relevant. The -3 is what this card is all about, it is the way you get value from the card. What I will be looking to do with this in ideal circumstances is play it early, get a few loots in, flip it and keep it alive long enough to cast two bonus spells with. That should really be enough for so little that you win the game. It is no Snapcaster, you cannot usefully cast countermagic with it nor can you even rely on getting any card advantage from it. You play this as a Looter, not a Snapcaster. It rewards you with Snapcaster like bounties should it complete its task as a Looter. Now that we have that clear back to comparing it to Snapcaster! The main perk is of course that you don't have to invest any mana to get the effect and so you can cast your Wrath for four mana that much more easily and comfortably. The second perk is that you might get several hits from it therefore generating even more card advantage. You need targets for it to be much use. Cheap card quality spells will be some of the best, burn will be great too. Wraths, another big one with removal being a common target but sad that it is all reduced to sorcery speed. Without these sorts of things then Jace isn't actually very exciting once not a Looter. With good targets he is a fearsome card indeed. He will fit in so very many different kinds of deck, the thing he has most in common with Snapcaster!

1 comment:

  1. why cant chandra ping creatures
    goddamit wizards