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Attention to Detail #48
So another new set is upon us. It seems like Time Spiral just came out last week. I guess that's what happens when you muck about with temporal matters. Planar Chaos is exciting and new – but old. Just like Time Spiral but entirely different. Obviously the designers wanted to give it a feel of being a new twist on something we've all seen before. It's a clever way of opening up design space without pushing the limits of the game so much that you're running out of options. One of the ways that Planar Chaos does this is by bringing us new versions of old legendary creatures. Everyone likes legendary creatures, and a chance to bring back old favorites was too good to pass up, I'm sure. Today I want to take a look at each of the returning legends and talk about how they used to be, how they changed and how they are now.
Crovax, Ascendant Hero
Crovax was one of the premiere cards of Nemesis (in his role as the Ascendent Evincar). He ended up being an effective way to deal with some of the skies and rebel decks of the day but eventually cards like Lin-Sivvi just dominated the Masques Block format (until she got banned) and the Evincar mostly faded out of memory. But he's always been a big strong card. He makes your team bigger and theirs smaller. He's a big guy who flies and hits real hard. Heck, his halberd was the expansion symbol for Nemesis. That's got to count for something.
So what happened to Crovax? He's become very much a mirror of himself. Now he's white, and his ability to make your guys stronger feels just as at home here as it did in black. Instead of a Bad Moon, he's a Crusade. He's lost his flying and gained the ability to return to your hand for 2 life. This is a little pricey but it does mean that there is very little that can actually kill him. But the question remains – is he an effective choice for constructed? Obviously an unkillable monster that makes your creatures larger is a bomb in limited. But how about Standard?
It comes down to looking at how the black creature decks of Nemesis played versus how the white creature decks of today play. Black decks have a lot of creatures which are larger than their casting cost with a sizable drawback. Phyrexian Negator is the most famous of these. That or Juzam Djinn. In any case, you can see what kind of creatures a black deck likes to run. The Ascendant Evincar was nice here because it made things that were already unreasonably large even larger. With a black creature deck you don't usually need a swarm of creatures to win. One or two very large ones will suffice. This is why Ascendant Evincar fell out of favor. He was never being played for his creature pumping ability, but rather because the -1/-1 effect was the bane of goblin and rebel players everywhere. As soon as people began to run other options like Massacre, he faded away.
White weenie operates on a different wavelength than black creature decks do. White weenie relies on lots of smaller creatures (often with evasion) that get pumped up to become medium-sized threats. Crusade and Glorious Anthem are both examples of this. Both are similar to Crovax's new form except that they aren't creatures themselves. When you're facing a white weenie deck, getting rid of the enchantment still leaves you with a lot of threats, but they're easier to deal with. This is where Crovax shines. Although he's not going to be dropping early like Crusade, he's not going to get killed once he does drop – and he can help you beat down your opponent, too.
He also shores up one of the problems that a lot of white weenie decks have – removal. White removal isn't particularly hard to come by, but including it in your deck means that you're playing fewer creatures. For a white weenie deck to win it has to have a swarm that keeps coming. Questions rather than answers, as it were. Crovax is both. He's a very big question mark for your opponent that they need to answer, but he's also incredibly hard to answer. He makes an excellent lightning rod for your opponent to try to do deal with. This can be used to buy you the time to win.
If there's a flaw with Crovax it's that he's not expendable. Getting up to six mana in white weenie and tapping out for one thing on your turn needs to start winning you the game very quickly. Usually a white deck doesn't worry much about counterspells because you're less likely to run out of threats than they are countermagic. But if your strategy is based on getting Crovax into play, then you run the risk of him getting countered.
In the end I think that Crovax, Ascendant Hero's effectiveness will once again come down to how useful his second ability is. If the field contains creatures which can be killed by a global -1/-1 effect, then you have a winner. If that's not going to matter much, he's just a liability and you'd be better off with a cheaper and more expendable win condition.
Braids, Conjurer Adept
I was one of the biggest Braids fans you're likely to have met during Odyssey block. Like Smokestack and The Abyss, she did something that I loved to do – slowly deplete my opponent of useful resources white giving me a way to get ahead. Once again, we've got a mirror opposite here. Blue Braids doesn't deplete your opponent of resources, it gives them more. While Crovax's new form could be adapted to a similar strategy, Braids requires an entirely new way of thinking to use.
There are two ways that you can take advantage of Braids, Conjurer Adept. Firstly you could make sure that your opponent doesn't have any cards in hand, so that they're not actually doing anything with her. Secondly you can just have enough bounce that your opponent never gets to keep any of their free threats. The second strategy has a couple flaws. Firstly, you will probably run out of bounce quickly. And since your opponent will always be able to bring their big guy back in, that's a problem. Secondly, there are a fair number of huge threats that bounce won't answer. Like Bogardan Hellkite. Bouncing that seems like a very bad idea.
So instead we want to take advantage of an opponent without any cards in hand. Blue in Planar Chaos has actually gained a fair amount of discard, but it's probably a good idea to add black as well. Stupor came back in Time Spiral, and there are other strong options as well. The next thing we need to do is find a way to take advantage of Braids ourself. This is pretty much elementary. Find some very large blue/black/artifact creature and put them in the deck so that you'll get them for free. Which one is most effective is left as an exercise to the builder.
This deck is, in essence, the deck that never worked right. Long ago in the mid-90's people often tried to make black/blue discard/bounce decks work. The theory was that if you had threats and could remove their threats both from the table and their hand, that you would be able to win. It wasn't until Odyssey and a little guy named Psychatog that this strategy really worked, and that was far more counterspell oriented. In the mid-90's this deck was called The Bruise. I don't know if The Bruise stands a chance in the current environment, but there are signs that it might. Braids adds a whole new element to the deck and The Rack was reprinted as well. The Rack is fun with Braids because it gives your opponent a choice – deplete their hand and suffer Rack damage or play free threats. All this while keeping up with whatever monsters Braids is giving you.
As an additional thought, consider Braids and Paradox Haze. If you have more upkeeps, you get more threats. Then you just have to draw them. Fortunately, you're playing blue...
Mirri the Cursed
Back in Stronghold we got a vampire named Crovax the Cursed. Now Crovax is the hero and Mirri is the vampire. She's not to dissimilar from her previous form except for the color switch. Back in Exodus she was a little cat with a lot of abilities. Unfortunately, none of these abilities really helped her stay alive. They also didn't make much sense together. First Strike and Vigilance are great together. But Forestwalk? That ability makes First Strike less useful. She was cheap and did a lot, but not enough. Now she's big and cheap and her abilities make sense together. Flying, First Strike, Haste and that vampire ability. All on a 3/2 for 4 mana. This is the kind of creature that black usually expects to get with some horrible drawback. But not Mirri. She's lean and mean, as they say. Black creature based decks are often based around the existence of one very strong creature in the format. Mirri could be this creature, except that she's legendary. She's a strong threat, but not one you'll want to base your deck around. She requires a team of other strong black creatures to help her out. Unfortunately, I don't think this team exists. Other strong black creatures of the day include things like Plague Sliver. It's huge and cheap, but it also doesn't want to come out in multiples.
Mirri requires more depth to black before she'll be a contender in any strong mono-black decks. Until then you may see her showing up in any partially black creature-based deck that can handle her mana cost. But that's not a wide field. Mirri's day has not come yet. But she'll be in Standard for the next year and a half. I hope the cat will finally get to play.
Akroma, Angel of Fury
She was the headliner for Time Spiral and now she's doing the same for Planar Chaos. Maybe Future Sight will give us the Bionic Akroma and we can just called it Akroma Block Constructed. Red Akroma is not as good as white Akroma. I'll start right there. White Akroma was and is a force because most of the removal in the game can't touch her. Red Akroma has protection from white and blue. And white that means she won't be getting bounced or Faith's Fetters'd, it doesn't help against a Dark Banishing or red burn effect. On the plus side, she can't be countered. This is one of the big problems with white Akroma, after all. However, this ability becomes redundant because red Akroma is also a Morph creature. And since the Morph Cost means she'll be coming out a couple turns sooner, you probably want to be Morphing her.
I don't really like Red Akroma. In white she was a huge important threat. In red she's just another dragon – except she can't be fetched with Dragonstorm. She might be headlining Planar Chaos, but she's not going to be headlining standard. Instead she's just another huge bomb that you can pull in limited. Though she's very effective in that role.
Jedit Ojanen of Efvara
Jedit, for those who don't remember, was a legend from Legends. He was seven mana – white and blue – for a vanilla 5/5 creature. Very, very lame. But then he became the main character of some Magic novels and now he's back as a strong force. He's still 5/5, but now he's stolen Mirri's lost Forestwalk and gained the ability to make cats. He's also got a much more reasonable casting cost. He reminds me very much of Onslaught's green pit fighter legend – Silvos, Rogue Elemental. Silvos had the advantage of being a regenerator. But Jedit can make you an army.
He's going to need some help though. Unless your opponent is playing with Forests, he's just a 5/5 that's going to run into a double-block. And while you'll get a cat out of it, that's not much. No, what Jedit needs is more size, more evasion and better abilities. One of the best you can give him is Vigilance. Since then he'll be able to make cats on offense and defense. Or if you just want size and a bigger army, how about Verdant Embrace from Time Spiral. Jedit suddenly becomes and 8/8 monster that makes saprolings and cats. As with many large creatures, Jedit will benefit strongly from nearly any enhancement you can add to him. He's a great base creature for doing fun stuff with.
So that's my look at the timeshifted legends of Planar Chaos. Some look like winners and some look like losers, but over all they are question marks. Whether they'll find a place in Standard remains to be seen.
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