Category: CML

[M14] Garruk, Caller of Beasts


Beast Mode

Green, being the coolest color in M:tG, was long overdue for a planeswalker with this kind of flavor. Lorwyn’s Garruk Wildspeaker is one of the most elegant and manly designs in all of MagicInnistrad’s Garruk Relentless (in spite of his fittingly relentless 0-loyalty abilities) was all too easy to interact with, and you could see Magic 2012’s Garruk, Primal Hunter, musclebound and color-intensive, literally bursting against the constraints of his art frame and casting cost, trying to pack enough into a planeswalker to out-value Sphinx’s Revelation and opposing Thragtusk decks for the low, low cost of five mana.

In Magic 2014, Garruk has kicked it up a notch:

garruk, caller of beasts

The two previous planeswalkers that cost six —  Chandra Ablaze and Sorin Markov — were limited bombs that had basically no impact in Constructed (unless you count Sorin lopping thirty life off an EDH / Commander player’s life total to be Constructed, and I don’t). Wizards of the Coast has been trying to get away from these kinds of designs lately — think of how Liliana of the Veil is the nuts in Legacy and Modern, but sparsely played in Standard and very beatable in ISD-block limited, or how Liliana of the Dark Realms or Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded are stone-unplayable — so maybe Garruk will be, like those cards, a more tasteful design. Where will he fit in?


Probably not in Standard, where the mana is good enough to cast the much more powerful Primal Hunter. Let’s break down the abilities:

+1: pretty similar to the −3 mode on Primal Hunter, drawing a ton of cards in the greenest of ways.
-3: pretty similar to the +1 mode on Primal Hunter, protecting your Garruk with a guy.
-7: pretty similar to Primal Hunter’s ultimate, winning the game outside of a few corner cases.

You could also compare Garruk, Caller of Beasts to cards like Garruk Wildspeaker and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, which both had to use their ‘minus’ in order to affect the board. The differences, I hope, are clear enough: Wildspeaker (“O.G.”) and Tezz AoB cost four and only need a single turn to go ultimate, which is so, so powerful. It’s not likely that you’ll lose after untapping with the Caller of Beasts, but this is true for almost every planeswalker, a number of planeswalkers better protect themselves, and almost all other planeswalkers cost less than six mana.




So if Garruk, Caller of Beasts is totally unplayable in Standard and kind of a bomb in Limited, that makes him boring for those two formats, but puts him in an interesting spot for Cube. The “mythic that costs exactly four colorless and two green” slot has been good to Cubists, producing the interesting Primeval Titan and the underappreciated Rampaging Baloths. Green doesn’t have a lot of other options at six (at least without another color; Dragon’s Maze gave us the excellent Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, for example) — and, with many Cubists on this site and elsewhere opting these days for a light touch when it comes to ‘walkers, new Garruk’s power level might be right what a Cube with a flat power curve is looking for.

Sadly, I don’t think this is the case. Six mana is still a lot, even for a slower format. The corner cases of being able to drop in a Woodfall Primus or Terastodon are not worth the trouble, and Progenitus isn’t in most Cubes. Beyond that use, Garruk will either be a stone-cold blank that you’re ashamed to play, or something that completely takes over the game — with an emphasis on the former case. I’ve tried to cut most of those kinds of cards from my Cube — Blue Sun’s ZenithTinkerProgenitus himself, themes like Mill and Tribal, and the entire idea of ‘combo’ come to mind — and I’m wary of even trying Garruk. But, who knows — I’ve been wrong before!

M14 Previews:
Archangel of Thune
Shadowborn Demon
– Elvish Mystic
Young Pyromancer

[M14] Archangel of Thune


Wrestling With The Angels

Since the rise of the Titans in Magic 2011, Wizards has been carefully managing the power level of freshly-printed core set cards. Mythics in particular have been very tame, being more of the ‘giant monster that costs seven mana and fifty cents’ than the ‘wtf, it searches for ANY two lands? I’m gonna fetch me some Valakuts’ variety.

Somewhere in between the two is today’s preview, Archangel of Thune.


It has the exact same mana cost as original core-set haymaker Baneslayer Angel, and, like Baneslayer, is vulnerable to removal due to a lack of an enter-the-battlefield effect. The two cards also share the word ‘life’ in their rules text, a creature type, and a mythic rarity.


The similarities end there. Baneslayer was a Standard powerhouse not just because it was extremely efficient — when I first looked at that card, after ten years away from the game, I thought it was someone’s cruel joke about power creep — but because it ‘went in everything.’ Mid-range decks loved it as a threat, and control decks as a finisher.

Archangel of Thune takes a little more work to support. Since it pumps your guys, you should have some guys to pump — think of it like Gavony Township in that way. Since it triggers on life-gain, you should have some nice recurring ways to gain life. The two I have in mind are

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Extort guys

A rough draft of a deck might look like:

Blind Obedience
Syndic of Tithes
Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Elvish Mystic
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Silverblade Paladin
Selesnya Charm
Archangel of Thune
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Restoration Angel
23 Lands (including Gavony Township)


Archangel of Thune has some obvious synergy with Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant. The easiest comparison is with Ajani’s Pridemate, which is locked in as a 4-of in Soul Sisters decks and is one of their best clocks against combo. Archangel of Thune turns out to be a dead end, though, since that deck doesn’t play enough lands to cast a five-drop.

I think the Archangel is most exciting in B/W Tokens, which plays Auriok Champion and could benefit from a less clunky anthem effect. Some builds play Ajani Goldmane, which functions similarly, and that deck’s high land count lets it play five-drops like Cloudgoat Ranger or Elspeth Tirel already.

Melira Pod, which gains life infinite times and tutors for creatures effectively, might also be interested. Some ado has been made about the infinite combo with Spike Feeder, and it might be a natural fit for that deck.


My Cube has a reasonable density of life-gain effects — 22 cards out of 405 — so Archangel of Thune certainly makes the short list of Magic 2014 cards I want to test. Gavony Township and Ajani Goldmane are two of the Cube’s stronger cards, so though Archangel of Thune appears to be clearly worse than Reveillark and around the same power level as Cloudgoat Ranger, it’s at least worth a try.

I could write any number of words about how it could or couldn’t fit in, but there’s only so far ‘theorycrafting’ can take you. On the forums we’re all about experimental Cube design. Will Archangel be worth a slot in your Cube? There’s only one way to find out.

M14 Previews:
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
– Archangel of Thune
– Shadowborn Demon
– Elvish Mystic
– Young Pyromancer
Dark Prophecy

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An Off-Color Joke: Fixing, DGR, Cube, and You


famous scene in the hilarious TV show I’m Alan Partridge involves the titular jackass-of-all-trades pitching terrible ideas for new ‘programs’ to the guy who’s about to fire him:

ALAN: Shoestring, Taggart, Spender, Bergerac, Morse. What does that say to you … about, regional detective series?

HAYERS: ‘There’s too many of them?’

ALAN: That’s one way of looking at it … another way of looking at it is: ‘People like them, let’s make some more of them.’

I imagine a similar genesis for new Magic sets:

FORSYTHE: InvasionApocalypseGuildpactDissensionReborn. What does that say to you … about, multi-colored Magic blocks?

MARO: ‘People like them, let’s make some more of them.’

These sets have had a huge impact on Magic history for a number of reasons — R&D is more comfortable pushing power level on gold cards, and I remember the buzz when Apocalypse was released; it’s still one of the greatest sets of all time. The draft formats have also aged well; IPA (Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse) was the first block designed specifically with drafting in mind, RGD (Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension) is inexhaustibly, everlastingly, and overwhelmingly the best draft format of all time, and SCR (Shards of Alara, Conflux, Alara Reborn) was also a blast.

And so we come to RTR block (or ‘DGR’). Triple-RTR was a decent enough format, though I had plenty of time to grow sick of it, and triple-GTC was so terrible I didn’t need time to grow sick of it. These formats will never be played again; good riddance to them; bring on the full block.

I went to two Dragon’s Maze pre-releases. In the first, I won three matches due to color-screw and lost one. Having played precious few games of actual Magic, I felt queasy about the format. The second pre-release went better; my opponents and I both hit our colors with improbable regularity, and I had the privilege of not only winning all four matches, but winning them how I wanted to win them.

This got my hopes up for the full-block draft format, but I’m fairly confident that it’s just terrible.

The primary reason is simple: there’s not enough fixing. In his excellent preview of DGR draft, Ari Lax wrote:

You can expect around sixteen Guildgates per draft, or two per player

— not very many for a three-color format, and anyone who’s drafted before knows how inconsistent evenly split three-color mana-bases are.

The secondary reason is that what fixing there is has too steep a power curve. Gates are terrific, but beyond them you get the frustrating Cluestones. Cluestones are weak cards, as are the Keyrunes at uncommon.

The tertiary reason is a corollary of the first two, viz. you have to prioritize fixing to the point where you’re passing the bombs that you’d splash for with the fixing.

Let me try to relate these assertions to what I see as common Cube design fallacy. In his article on Cube design, Andy Cooperfauss made the following image: 


The calculations aren’t precise — Cooperfauss writes, “[I] don’t count green fixers [because RGD and SCR] only have one green fixer between them,” when in RGD alone there’s Farseek and Utopia Sprawl — but they’re accurate enough to draw conclusions from. RGD was a ‘durdler’ format, and its fixing — bouncelands and signets — was very powerful. SCR was a ‘beater’ format, and its fixing — Panoramas and Obelisks on one end; Shard-lands and Borderposts on the other — was either quite bad or quite good.

DGR is like SCR in both that it’s a fast format and that the quality of its fixing is polarized, but like RGD in that the density of its fixing is lighter. As a result of this, lots of the fixing doesn’t even get played; as a result of this, everyone gets color-screwed a ton. In other words, my first impression was correct; my second impression was incorrect, but Wizards’ whole marketing scheme nowadays seems to be geared towards making a positive second impression on players, and at least DGR succeeds at that.

I played seven games against a good friend at the last FNM, and only in one of them did we hit our colors; the game was fun and interactive and full of tough decisions. Given that it would have been easy for Wizards to bring about more of these games — simply add one to two Guildgates per drafter, cutting some chaff (like the numerous unplayables in Gatecrash) — why instead is the block this way? I have a handful of conclusions:

-People don’t think they like environments with ‘too much fixing.’ Zac Hill, who ostensibly left Wizards to stop lying in public all the time, nevertheless penned a whopper a few weeks ago:

The thing is, a lot of gold environment trend toward “good-stuff” decks that just aren’t very fun to play.

What, you mean like RGD? What could be more false than that sentence?

-And yet, as false as it is that these formats are not fun, it’s quite true that the perception of them is this way. In other words, people don’t know what they like, and would rather hate what they think they like and like what they think they hate. Contemporary Magic design is based heavily on truckling to this cognitive bias; think of it as a microcosm of how the culture of the game encourages the very same cognitive biases that playing the game should expunge. Zac’s statement is false, but he’s not deliberately lying — he’s somehow convinced himself that he’s telling the truth.

-All of these criticisms apply to the Modo Cube (especially the last one: somehow the Wizards employees have risen to the top of the Magic world to become its only true professionals, and yet they are unaware of what an abortion it is). In its first few iterations, there wasn’t enough fixing because of the ‘good-stuff fallacy’ — never mind that it’d be impossible to make a Cube deck with as good of mana as there is in Standard, that the ‘4c midrange’ decks in Standard are bad anyway, and that trying to draft these decks in Limited is really fun — and splashing was ambitious and stupid as it was in triple-Gatecrash. In the most recent iteration, they added a ton of fixing, but all of it was so low in power-level (Mirage fetches? Bouncelands?) that it wasn’t heavily played; this is comparable to how the DGM Cluestones don’t matter much. Therefore, though over a hundred cards were switched out, it is unsurprising that the decks from August 2012’s Players’ Championship look more or less exactly like the decks from March’s MOCS Championship.

-Another parallel between the Modo Cube and DGR is the steep power curve of the spells; when Tibalt faces off against Jace, it’s as absurd as Catacomb Slug staring down a Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

-The failure of DGR as a draft format is thus mainly a function of Wizards’ self-imposed constraints making it impossible to create a good multi-colored format under NWO. The Modo Cube is the same way: you can give people what they want and have a great Cube, but you cannot give people what they think they want and have a great Cube. Consequently, you get color-screwed and bombed out in both, and the good games are few and far between.

DGR is not the successor to RGD, but the stepchild of SCR. In order to rediscover the complexity and consistency and skill-testing nature of old draft formats, it’s necessary to recognize these flaws of Modern design and eliminate them in your own Cube.

-I therefore suggest adding much, much more fixing to your Cube, and making that fixing both high and flat in power level. Eight lands per drafter is a good number, and in a Cube of size 360 to 450 this is possible with just ONS/ZEN fetches, ABU duals, RGD shocks, M10 buddy-lands, SOM fast-lands, SHM and EVE filters, WWK man-lands, AP and IA pain-lands, FUT ‘future’ lands, and ALA shard-lands. In a larger Cube, you’ll need to start doubling up on fetches, then duals, then shocks — in a 720 it is much better to triple up on fetches than it is to start including trash like Jwar Isle Refuge.

-My recommendations will solve the problems of ‘aggro is terrible,’ ‘there’s not enough archetypes,’ and ‘I get color-screwed too often’ — which are the very same problems that one finds in SOMGTC/AVR, and DGR, respectively, or the failed Limited formats since the inception of NWO. Ironically, color-screw was the main flaw with IPA, the first multi-colored draft format ever — ‘… And thus the whirligig of bad design brings in his revenges.

Inline image 1

‘People like fixing lands, there’s too many of them?’

Next week, I’ll go into more detail about the business arm of Wizards, how it directs R&D more than vice versa, how multi-layer thinking explains the universe, and how these all explain the failures of the Modo Cube.

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