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Vintage 101: Eternal Shadows over Innistrad


Eternal Shadows over Innistrad

In order for a new card to break into the Eternal formats of Legacy and Vintage it must meet a few criteria. The card needs to be very mana efficient. Many cards have been printed over the last twenty years and the forces of natural selection have made the most efficient cards rise to the top to become staples. Cards like Flusterstorm, Nature's Claim, and Gitaxian Probe

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Sometimes spells seem to cost more on the surface than they actually cost in practice. Cards like Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Dark Petition were not immediately seen as playable cards in Vintage or Legacy. I remember debates around Dig and Cruise that delving for full value might not happen that often. Well, between fetch lands and cantrips, playing a Treasure Cruise for one Blue mana was trivially easy. Dark Petition, costing five mana, seems to be quite bad. It's only when you play with it that you see how easy it is for Dark Petition to function as Demonic Tutor

Cards that cost more than two mana need to have effects that are very powerful or novel to be considered good enough. Every new Standard season brings with it an Elspeth, Sun's Champion or Thundermaw Hellkite that is very powerful in its environment, but lacks the efficiency to make a dent in the eternal formats. Even in Modern, where games last on average a few turns longer, a card that costs four mana or more has to lock up a game or isn't worth playing. Power and mana efficiency are two of the defining factors for determining eternal playability. Six mana for Elspeth isn't going to cut it in Vintage, but that same six mana for Time Spiral or Yawgmoth's Bargain is perfectly acceptable. 

Thing in the Ice in Vintage

This week I'm going to go over a few of the freshly-spoiled Shadows over Innistrad cards and discuss their potential Vintage implications. There haven't been that many cards from Shadows over Innistrad spoiled so far, but there is one card that has had the Vintage community talking. That card is Thing in the Ice, and it meets several of the criteria for being Vintage playable. 

Thing in the Ice is most definitely cheap enough for Vintage at two mana. It's Blue, which means it can be cast in a wide variety of decks in Vintage, the "Bluest" of all formats. It has an effect that is very powerful. It "grows" in a similar way to cards like Quirion Dryad and Managorger Hydra, both of which have seen varying amounts of Vintage play in their lifetimes. Additionally, Thing in the Ice has a sweeper effect built into it. Is Thing in the Ice good enough for Vintage? Only time will tell, but I think we can get a clearer picture by looking at each aspect of the card in depth. 

Growing Creatures

Vintage has seen a long line of "growing" creatures over the years. Just as the phrase suggests, these "grow creatures" scale upwards as the game progresses, using their controller's resources to become increasingly deadly threats. 

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Once upon a time decks played creatures like Psychatog and Quirion Dryad to great effect. Psychatog doesn't grow permanently, but as a game would go on the potential damage from Psychatog grew to be quite large. Quirion Dryad is the first creature I'm aware of that was very cheap to play and grew bigger permanently. The Dryad gets a +1/+1 counter each time its controller cast a Black, White, Blue, or Red spell. Combining Quirion Dryad with a deck full of dirt cheap Blue card-drawing spells turned it into a monster threat. 

Since the days of Gro-A-Tog, Vintage players have switched to newer growing creatures, Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor. These newer growing creatures have an added benefit in that they add power to the battlefield differently than Quirion Dryad. Instead of adding one point to the damage clock through their own power, Mentor and Pyromancer add that power to the battlefield in the form of creature tokens. Creating creature tokens has a distinct advantage over gaining power and toughness. When a Quirion Dryad is chump-blocked, all of that growth is negated for one turn. If the Dryad is hit with a removal spell, all that work done to make it larger disappears. With Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer it is easy to gain a token or two in response to a removal spell. Most of the time if a Mentor or Pyromancer is killed, it leaves value behind on the battlefield in the form of token creatures. The tokens from a Monastery Mentor even have prowess; a Monk token is still a formidable threat and it's not uncommon for a few Monk tokens to finish off an opponent. 

In the contemporary Vintage metagame token-generating creatures are the ones that see play. Managorger Hydra has seen some fringe play, but it is far less common than Monastery Mentor. When discussing Thing in the Ice we have to consider that although it grows larger, it does not leave behind value should it be destroyed. If Thing in the Ice only grew larger, I don't think it would be playable. Luckily for Horror fans everywhere, The Thing has another bonus. 

Thing in the Ice does something that no other growing creature has done so far. When it transforms into Awoken Horror, this creature bounces every non-Horror creature in play! This trigger clears the board of every single token creature being played in Vintage. Awoken Horror will also bounce such format all-stars as Griselbrand and Blightsteel Colossus. The list of creatures in Vintage that this thing will take care of is quite large indeed. 

Transforming Thing in the Ice into Awoken Horror takes four spells and the resulting body can attack for seven damage. Compared to the total power that four spells would give you if you had instead cast Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer, Thing in the Ice is close to the same. Four spells would make six power with both token generators (two plus four 1/1 tokens). I think that Mentor and Pyromancer have more damage potential because they can continue to produce tokens, but the seven power that Thing in the Ice transforms into is still quite a bit. 

It's worth noting that Thing in the Ice can also combo with Vampire Hexmage, meaning it could be an extra threat in a deck that uses Dark Depths. I think casting spells will be the normal method for flipping this thing, but I'm sure someone out there has a sweet-looking deck designed to take full advantage of it. 

With the bounce ability and the combo potential I can see a world where Thing in the Ice sees play. However, I also see some limiting factors. Casting four spells to unlock the Awoken Horror isn't a lot by eternal standards, but against a Mishra's Workshop deck it could be quite difficult. Drawing this creature when your facing an attack from a Lodestone Golem might end up badly for you. 

The weakness Thing in the Ice has to removal is also a major issue. With a Monastery Mentor you're generally going to get a great value for your investment, even if it dies relatively quickly. Who's to say someone doesn't just Abrupt Decay your 0/4 wall when it gets down to one or two counters? Any time you're forced to waste a card in a game of Magic it brings you further behind, and in Vintage it hurts even more. 

Thing in the Ice also doesn't play well with token-generators. Usually a creature like this would love to be played along Monastery Mentor as both cards would gain value from casting spells. On the positive side, the mass-bounce ability means that a deck centered around Thing in the Ice has a built-in anti-strategy to combat Mentor / Pyromancer decks. 

Conclusion

My stance on Thing in the Ice is that it has potential in Vintage, but I'm not entirely convinced that it will work. It reminds me of cards like Myth Realized and Managorger Hydra, two cards that are playable but aren't played because there are better options. I think that Thing in the Ice is more likely to succeed than either Myth Realized or Managorger Hydra because it has the bounce trigger, which is unique enough to merit exploration. 

Nahiri, the Harbinger

Here we have a brand-new Boros planeswalker, Nahiri, the Harbinger. She certainly has some powerful abilities, but will she see play in Vintage?

At four mana Nahiri is kind of expensive. For four mana you can get Narset Transcendent or even better, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Both of those planeswalkers are better in the format, and neither sees a ton of play at the moment. Nahiri isn't Blue, so at least she doesn't die to Pyroblast, That's actually a lot more relevant than it seems. Jace's  liability in regards to Pyroblast is a big strike against him.

Loyalty Abilities

Nahiri's first ability is half as good as Dack Fayden's, but it does add two loyalty. With an ultimate that takes eight loyalty and a starting loyalty of four, Nahiri races to her big finisher rather quickly. Realistically, you can't count on planeswalker's ultimate abilities that much, and with a rather weak +2, Nahiri isn't that exciting to me. 

Nahiri's -2 ability is also very weak for Vintage. Sure, you could take out an enchantment or a tapped creature or artifact every other turn with her if you wanted to, but that isn't very good in the format. If the artifact or creature she was exiling didn't have to be tapped I'd be higher on this card. As it stands, she can take out a tapped Griselbrand, Blightsteel Colossus, or even an Emrakul, but you're likely to be dead before she gets that chance. With Jace, the Mind Sculptor you can just play it the turn after a Tinker or Oath of Druids activation and ruin your opponent's day. Nahiri isn't going to do that. Exiling artifacts would also be very powerful in Vintage if they didn't have to be tapped. You're not going to be able to wait to be swarmed by Arcbound Ravagers and live to tell about it. 

Her ultimate ability is actually very easy to get to and could easily win you a game. Searching your deck for a creature and getting a free and immediate attack is amazing. The ultimate is somewhere between a Tinker and a Sneak Attack. Imagine searching up Griselbrand, Blightsteel, or Emrakul — each of those could be game over for your opponent. Unfortunately, all us Magic realists know in our hearts an ultimate does not happen often. Building decks around planeswalker ultimates just doesn't work because there are so many ways for your opponent to stop it.  

Conclusion

Nahiri, the Harbinger is not going to work in Vintage. Maybe someone could do something crazy with her in Modern or Legacy, but I don't see it happening in Vintage. It's too bad too, because she is a really sweet card. 

 

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Get Vindicated

The last card I want to talk about is Vindicate. Actually it's Anguished Unmaking, but it does bear a resemblance to Vindicate.

The ability to take out a wide variety of permanents is what makes a card like Vindicate or Anguished Unmaking playable in the right environment. The tradeoff in both of these cards is their mana cost. Three mana is a lot to pay for removal in Vintage, and Vindicate does not see any play in the format. 

Anguished Unmaking can't take out lands, which is a major downgrade. You can Unmake your non-land permanents as an instant though, which is a bonus. The three life that you lose when casting this card is mostly trivial in Vintage, but there are times where it will be a hindrance. 

There's one other fringe-playable card that is similar to both Anguished Unmaking and Vindicate, Maelstrom Pulse. Pulse is a sorcery and can't hit lands, but I think it's better in Vintage than both of these cards because it has the "echoing" effect. Maelstrom Pulse sweeps the battlefield of all permanents with the same name as the one you target it with it, so it can take out a token army or clear the board of Grafdigger's Cages. This sweeping effect makes Maelstrom Pulse better in most cases, and even so it isn't played often. 

White and Black is not the most popular color combination in Vintage. I can't see Anguished Unmaking slotting into any existing deck, and I don't anticipate it being played in any Eternal format. With Abrupt Decay or Maelstrom Pulse available to Vintage players, I doubt that Anguished Unmaking will ever be played.  

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Bring on the Spoils of War! 

I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of the spoilers from Shadows over Innistrad. There are more planeswalkers to be discovered, and many other potential goodies to find. New sets are designed to make interesting Standard and Limited environments. The R&D team does a great job at making fun and balanced Standard formats, but that often means there aren't a ton of cards that make the cut in Eternal formats. Still, I'm always optimistic. 

See you next week! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO


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