by Bruce Gray -Casual Encounters
I have decided that I am going to try and put together a bit of new series here on Three Kings Loot called Crack a pack MTG with Bruce. This way I would enjoy the chance to sit down and really look at the cards I open in a pack and go through the same mental exercises I would use to evaluate cards in a draft. I always find this interesting because the thought process from person to person is so different. I might pick something totally different than the next player…and for perfectly valid reasons…making the drafting process super fun and very interesting. I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts on some of the cards and how I proceed
For our inaugural Crack a pack MTG, I’m going to look at a pack of Theros. My main reason for checking this out is the fact that my casual group is going to be drafting triple Theros later this summer because one of the guys in our group got a box relatively inexpensively…and what is better than drafting with a cheap box?! Nothing…that’s what! So, I went out to my local game store and picked up a pack of Theros to practice because it has been a few months since we all drafted triple Theros. Today I will go through card by card and look at what the potential top five choices are in the pack and what I would pick first.
This is, overall, a pretty mediocre pack. There is no obvious windmill slam or consensus first pick, but there are a number of good choices. Let’s have a look.
The most obvious place to start is the rare which is Colossus of Akros. The sheer size of this guy makes him very appealing, especially if you can Monstruous him and make some ridiculous beast. The fact that the Colossus is also an artifact and colourless is also nice because it doesn’t commit you to a colour yet. Options are good and this guy keeps my options open. The drawback to this card is the huge mana investment. Not every draft deck is designed to get to 8 mana to cast this or 10 to get it to Monstrous. It’s an option, but not an obvious first pick.
The next card to catch my eye is Stoneshock Giant because a 5/4 for 5 mana is pretty solid. The monstrous ability makes this guy very daunting to deal with as well too. He’s not flashy but very much in the running for first pick of this pack and a very good start to playing Red.
Gods Willing grabs my attention because it is an excellent combat trick to give something evasion or protect it from being killed. It can also Scry for 1 making it useful to set up the rest of your deck. Cheap. Versatile. And opens the door to trying to go for the Heroic deck. I’m not usually keen on picking instants and sorceries as first picks because they just don’t impact the board significantly enough, but this pack is pretty mediocre, so it might make sense. This one gets a long hard look.
Nessian Courser is a solid green body as a 3/3 for 3 mana. He’s bland and won’t scare your opposition, but more useful creatures is always better than fewer. I’d hate to take him first but if my heart was set on playing green and I thought there might be a chance something else in Green might wheel in this pack I might go for it.
Pharika’s Cure is next as a form of inexpensive removal. Removal is premium in a draft and instant speed removal is even better not to mention the incidental life gain is pretty useful as well. Not an exciting pick, but a card worthy of good look.
I would look at Akroan Crusader and Sea God’s Revenge, but I think those would have to wait and be more mid-round picks. The Crusader is good, but only in a heroic deck so I might hold off and hope that I see a Crusader or two go by as the draft takes shape. Revenge is a nice bounce spell, but for 6 mana is pretty steep and at sorcery speed is a little slow to have much in the way of impact. However, both can be very powerful and impact the board significantly.
Some other playables that I would be looking to make it around the table would include the Setessan Griffin which is a very solid 3/2 flier, but to maximize its abilities you are virtually forced into playing green along with it. The Priest of Iroas is another versatile creature that can occupy that vital 1 drop spot in your deck. Returned Phalanx is also quite solid, but again, to activate it and really get full value you need to pair it with Blue. Lastly the Leonin Snarecaster is a utility creature and occupies the all important 2-drop slot and even has an ability. These would be solid picks in the mid round as well and cards that I’d be making a note of as the draft progresses
Some things that would not be high on my list would be the Pharika’s Mender…not because it isn’t a good card because I really like it, but to pull this one you need to be in Black and Green early on. If things shake out that I am in Black and Green, I’ll grab the Mender, but otherwise I need to let her go. Defend the Hearth is another one that I like…but really has very little impact on the game. It’s the sort of card that is VERY good when it’s good, but when it isn’t good it’s just about the last card you want to see in your deck. So, I’ll let it go and if I end up in Green I might find it again later. Lastly, the Coastline Chimera is just a versatile Blue flier. It’s good on defence, but lacks much in the way of bite to attack, but if I end up in blue I might like this in the air. All of these are decent picks, but none of them are likely to be early picks from this pack.
When I open this pack there are really only 2 cards that really pull their weight as far as first picks. I want my first pick to hit the board and make an impact and possibly swing the game in my direction. As a result I want a creature first and not a spell in most cases. So, Colossus of Akros and Stoneshock Giant are really the only two viable first pickable cards. They are both very significant monsters that can take over a game and bring the beats when you need them to. Colossus doesn’t commit you to a colour and if you monstrous the thing it is basically game over. The Giant becomes a very solid 8/7 when it is Monstrous and has a much more reasonable casting cost of 5. The double red in the casting cost is a tad difficult to hit, but in a base red deck likely not that difficult.
In the end Stoneshock Giant would likely be my first because of the fact that it isn’t quite as ridiculously expensive to cast at the Colossus. I still get a big beat stick, but I will be far more likely to cast this one because 5 mana is just more attainable than the 8 for Colossus.
So, there we have it. Our first ever Crack a Pack with Bruce. What did you think? What was your first pick from that pack? I’d love to hear what other people thought. The fact that the power level in this pack was so average makes it difficult to make for a consensus first pick but it does open up lots of really good discussion. Send me your thoughts on Twitter because I’d love to hear what you think.
Well, thanks for reading…time for me to go back and brew up some new Casual masterpiece I’m going to break out at our next Casual card night. I wonder how ridiculous I can make it…hmmm?
Take care and until next time Keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Bruce Gray -Casual Encounters
We all watched the Pro-tour with baited breath not all that long ago. For starters, Congratulations must go out to Patrick Chapin. I doubt he’ll ever read this article, but the truth is what he accomplished is tremendous. To defeat the world’s best players and win a Pro-tour is the stuff dreams are made of (although he made it look frighteningly easy!). However, in amidst all the talk of Block Constructed decks, did anyone notice that there were hardly ANY of the mechanics from Theros block on display? A block committed to the Devotion mechanic by virtue of being tied to the Gods of Theros…and it was virtually totally ignored. There were very few creatures carrying the Monstrous ability. Constellation got some love…most in the form of Eidolon of Blossoms. Inspired? Tribute? Bestow? These hardly even got a sniff. In the end it was wars waged as Elspeth tokens crushed Elspeth tokens and Thoughtseize and Brain Maggot crippled the hands of countless players. No…the mechanics of Theros were sadly underplayed and it felt…I don’t know…deflating.
Well, I’m here today to try and restore our faith in the little used mechanics of Theros and present a budget worthy Casual Brew that can grind down an opponent (or multiple opponents as the case may be) and find a way of getting you a win from seemingly out of nowhere. The mechanic I’m thinking about is the Inspired mechanic because it is so tempting…so poised with potential…that to not attempt to build a deck would just be wrong.
Now, we have seen that some of the mechanics in Theros are very powerful. Devotion powered out crazy amounts of elemental tokens with Master of Waves, drained buckets of life with Gray Merchant, and pumped out dizzying amounts of mana with Nykthos. No, Devotion is pretty safe. Monstrous is the same way. With Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos running around still Monstrous is a thing and they may be joined by Fleecemane lion as staples of this mechanic. Bestow and Heroic have shown to be invaluable in Draft giving these decks new reach and greater power than ever before. No, these three mechanics are just fine despite not being played much at the Pro-tour. However, Inspired and Tribute, both Mechanics from Born of the Gods have hardly got off the ground.
It makes perfect sense for why Tribute has been largely ignored. In almost every instance the cards carrying Tribute present an option for your opponent to dictate the terms of the creature. This means that you are no longer in control and if you are looking for a desired effect, well, I can assure you that you won’t get it because your opponent is out to put the screws to you. Snake of the Golden Grove is a perfect example because you either get 4 life…or a 7/7. Let me assure you, 100% of the time you will give your opponent the life gain. However, if you REALLY needed a 7/7 to help you block…well…tough, you are out of luck.
Inspired on the other hand actually holds some promise. This is actually an ability that you could use because the only requirement is that the creature untaps. Simply untap. It seems so simple…but yet getting your card to actually untap is pretty tricky. The most common ways of tapping it is by virtue of attacking with it and then on your next turn untapping it. The problem is that usually if you go into combat, something dies meaning you could very well lose your inspired creature. Other options exist like Spring Leaf Drum, Retraction Helix, Epiphany Storm and Claim of Erebos which all allow the creature to tap without combat, but this is extra work for you and harder to set up. So, how to maximize your chances of Inspired without as much set up cost to your deck?
I have long been a proponent of making combat as absolutely miserable for my opponent as I can manage. This means I pack decks full of combat tricks, death touch, first strike, double strike and haste, basically ensuring that my opponent really has to think twice before blocking ANYTHING. Well, Inspired gives you even MORE incentive to pack your deck as full of nasty tricks as you can find so that no one is keen to actually block. With this theory in mind let me share with you a little deck list that I’ve put together to exploit the Inspired mechanic.
The game plan behind this deck is actually pretty straight forward. You are looking to do everything you can to drain off the life of your opponent without attacking , but the creature base in the deck is actually aggressive enough that you can start on the beat down path and not actually take your foot off. All the while you are looking to exploit the Inspired Mechanic as much as you can wrangle.
For 1 drops we have Tormented Hero which is a solid 2/1 for 1 black. Sure, it comes into play tapped, but play him turn 1 and attack turn 2 and you’re pretty golden. Also, when he is targeted he does exactly what you want the deck to do and that is drain the life of your opponent. At 2 we have a couple of bears, namely Sun Guide and Pain Seer. These are both aggressive enough that they can come down early and swing in, hopefully triggering the Inspired trigger on either of them. Baleful Eidolon and Spiteful Returned are technically 2 drops, but are really there for the Bestow ability to basically make something totally unpalatable for your opponent to block. Spiteful returned is also triggered just by attacking, making him just extra value. The last 2 drop is Cartel Aristocrat because when you are missing a way to sneak through, Sacrifice a creature and get in there. At the 3 drop spot we have the bread and butter. Scholar of Athreos is an awesome mana sink and a solid blocker to plug up the ground. Servant of Tymaret is a wily little 2/1 with regenerate that I WANT to block with and need to regenerate in order to trigger the Inspired ability when it untaps after regenerating. The 4 drops are really there as Bestow creatures apart from King Macar, but at 5 we have Gray Merchant and he is a sure fire way to drain out a bunch of life all at once. The spells are pretty tame in a Gods Willing to protect something or more importantly to allow a creature the ability to sneak in for free. Necrobite presents an awful combat trick for your opponent. He will need to play around a situation where you have 3 mana up or risk trading something for a deathtouch creature…who now regenerates. Whether this is Tormented Hero’s heroic trigger, or regenerating a Pain Seer, there is going to be value generated. The last one is Asphyxiate which is a poor man’s Hero’s Downfall. Same casting cost…but much slower and more conditional. Not my first choice, but acceptable considering the financial cost of a playset of Hero’s Downfall.
Some would say that this looks like an Extort deck from Gatecrash and I can’t disagree…except I prefer this model to relying on the Extort mechanic of Gatecrash because Extort rewards you for durdling around with spells and paying the extra mana to drain the life. In this deck there is no need to durdle around. If you have open mana sink into something…like your Scholar of Athreos, attack with your Servant of Tymaret, or cast a Bestow creature to make blocking totally undesirable. You are being proactive and engaged instead of being rewarded by casting derdling spells and hiding.
This deck is weak to decks packed with fliers or with control elements like counter spells and plenty of targeted removal. Oh, and it still gets run over by the pack rat/desecration demon game plan prevalent in Standard, so don’t take it there. Where does this deck shine? Multiplayer variants of all sorts. Free for all, Two Headed Giant, Grand Melee…if any of these formats match what you like to play then this is a cheap and efficient deck that will do work. Life drain is absolutely brutal in multiplayer matchups and this deck is no different.
So, I have done my part to restore faith in the mechanics of Theros…particularly Inspired. Now it is up to you to go forth and Inspire that same belief in your opponents and drain the life right from their souls…without ever attacking! Enjoy frustrating the heck out your opponents because you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks very much…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791