A preview card from Lorwyn that can really swing games—plus a look at the avatar from Masters Edition.

Threshers and Blades

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The letter I!'d like to start by thanking everyone who sent me their thoughts on my Invitational card suggestions. I certainly got a lot of new nice ideas or tweaks to think about. Today, I'll be doing two different things. First I have a Lorwyn preview card for you, and then I will introduce the new Masters Edition Vanguard avatar for online play.

A Threshing Preview

I'll start with a dire scenario. Imagine you are playing your own mono-green deck against your friend's Angelfire deck. He attacks with Akroma, Angel of Wrath and three Riftwing Cloudskates. You are on 4 life and have six Forests in play, no other permanents, and only one card in hand. What could possibly get you out of this situation? A card like Tangle will only delay the inevitable, and channeling Arashi, the Sky Asunder is not going to cut it either. Green is not exactly blessed with card advantage–generating tempo swingers.

And that is where Lorwyn comes in. The new set includes a card that can come to the rescue in grim situations like these. It can take down Akromas and various Dragons with ease, and it also strikes other flyers along the way. Click here to see what I am talking about.

Pretty cool, right? Cloudthresher has amazing power and toughness, on top of a load of good abilities. Your flyers will not be safe anymore.

I'm going to deconstruct the card and analyze each part separately. First, look at its basic stats: a 7/7 creature for six mana. That's quite huge, especially for Limited play! You don't often see creatures this fat, even green ones. Furthermore, Cloudthresher is an Elemental, and this is an advantage since Lorwyn is a tribal set where Elementals are one of the major races... just something to keep in mind. But there is more; Cloudthresher has a wide range of added abilities, which I'll go over one by one.

Ability 1: Flash

Flash has many important roles. First, being able to play spells at instant speed is very strong against control decks with board sweepers and countermagic. Imagine your opponent has five lands in play and multiple Cancels in his hand. Now, if you would play a six-mana sorcery and next turn another one, your opponent would just Cancel them one at a time. However, if you play a six-mana spell at the end of your opponent's turn and another one on your own turn, he can counter only one due to mana constraints. The end step is where a control player's weak spot is, and timing flash cards well will get you to resolve more spells. Furthermore, playing creatures at instant speed is a sound strategy against Damnation or Wrath of God. You don't have to over-commit; you can simply play the creature after the board sweeper resolves. It's like giving it haste.

There also is the ambush effect. In the scenario I started this article with, your opponent attacked with his Akroma, Angel of Wrath without knowing that you have Cloudthresher in your hand. If Cloudthresher did not have flash so you would have had to play it in your own turn, then Akroma would have never attacked. Therefore, in a sense, flash can offer a Nekrataal-type effect, effectively destroying a creature when it comes into play. And Cloudthresher is perfect for the ambush role, since it has good stats for its cost. It is big enough to take down the biggest monsters, and it is cheap enough to come down in time to be relevant (with some of the green mana acceleration that is often found in mid-range decks, at least). In my opinion flash is Cloudthresher's greatest asset.

Ability 2: Reach and a Hurricane for 2

Reach enables Cloudthresher to block creatures as large as Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Tombstalker, Bogardan Hellkite, Mystic Enforcer, Numot, the Devastator, etcetera. That's a pretty unique ability; it trumps all these with ease. Not many creatures can fight with dragons and live this easily. Of course, Cloudthresher will also happily block medium-sized flyers such as Lightning Angel or Serra Avenger.

Furthermore, the 2 damage it deals to each creature with flying and each player when it comes into play can also be quite useful. Riftwing Cloudskate, Scryb Ranger, Hypnotic Specter, Birds of Paradise, Stonecloaker, and an array of Sacred Mesa or Triskelavus tokens will fall out of the skies. And in an aggressive green deck, dealing 2 damage to your opponent can also get you closer to dealing that twentieth point of damage.

Ability 3: A Cheaper Evoke Cost

Cloudthresher reads Evoke 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana. What does that mean? Evoke is a new Lorwyn mechanic that represents an alternative cost. In short, it allows you to play the spell for its evoke cost rather than paying its mana cost, but if you do that, you have to sacrifice it when it comes into play. Now why would you do that? Each Lorwyn creature with evoke has a come-in-play ability. So evoke lets you pay a cheaper cost to just get the creature's comes-into-play ability. You can read the more detailed and more boring rules notes in the box.

 Official Rules for Evoke  

502.74. Evoke

502.74a Evoke represents two abilities: a static ability that functions in any zone from which the card can be played, and a triggered ability that functions in play. "Evoke [cost]" means "You may play this card by paying [cost] rather than paying its mana cost" and "When this permanent comes into play, if its evoke cost was paid, its controller sacrifices it." Paying a card's evoke cost follows the rules for paying alternative costs in rules 409.1b and 409.1fh.

  • When you play a spell for its evoke cost, you really are playing the spell—you're just paying a different cost. The spell can be countered as normal. Effects that prevent you from playing a spell also prevent you from playing the spell with evoke.
  • Each Lorwyn creature with evoke has a comes-into-play ability. That means paying the normal cost gets you both the ability and the creature, while paying the evoke cost just gets you the ability.
  • Playing a creature by paying its evoke cost will result in two comes-into-play abilities: The sacrifice ability from evoke, and whatever other ability the creature has. The creature's controller chooses in what order to put them on the stack. Both abilities can be responded to as normal.
  • Evoke doesn't change the timing of when you can play the creature that has it. If you could play that creature spell only when you could play a sorcery, the same is true for playing it with evoke.
  • If a creature spell played with evoke changes controllers before it comes into play, it will still be sacrificed when it comes into play. Similarly, if a creature played with evoke changes controllers after it comes into play but before its sacrifice ability resolves, it will still be sacrificed.
  • When you play a spell by paying its evoke cost, its mana cost doesn't change. You just pay the evoke cost instead.
  • Effects that cause you to pay more or less for a spell will cause you to pay that much more or less while playing it for its evoke cost, too. That's because they affect the total cost of the spell, not its mana cost.
  • Whether evoke's sacrifice ability triggers when the creature comes into play depends on whether the spell's controller chose to pay the evoke cost, not whether he or she actually paid it (if it was reduced or otherwise altered by another ability, for example).
  • If you're playing a spell "without paying its mana cost," you can't use its evoke ability. (Then again, you probably wouldn't want to.)

Evoke gives you two main options. Either you can play it as a 2-point Hurricane for 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana, or you can play it as a 7/7 creature with reach that does a 2-point Hurricane when it comes into play for 2 ManaGreen ManaGreen ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana. So paying the normal cost will get you the comes-in-play ability and the creature, while paying the evoke cost will just get you the comes-in-play ability. Both sides can be countered as usual. You can even play both sides at instant speed (note: that is only because Cloudthresher has flash. If it did not have had flash, you would only be able to play it with evoke at sorcery speed).

Another nice thing about evoke is that the creature is in play for a short time, and the "When this permanent comes into play, if its evoke cost was paid, its controller sacrifices it" goes on the stack like any other ability, so you can respond to it. This opens a wide array of options. Cards like Essence Warden or Pandemonium will trigger when you use the evoke cost. And you can quickly sacrifice it to Greater Gargadon or Nantuko Husk before it dies.

And how about Enduring Renewal or Gleancrawler? With these cards, you can evoke Cloudthresher over and over again. Cloudthresher's comes-in-play ability may not be the flashiest ever to go through the effort of setting up this combo (although you can lock down a deck full of small flyers), but fact is that the evoke mechanic is open for abuse in this way, and who knows what kind of comes-in-play abilities other evoke creatures may have?

Lastly, would you like to pair this card with Momentary Blink or Saffi Eriksdotter? The way evoke works is that the creature only dies if it was played via its evoke cost. If it comes into play in any other way, it will stay alive. So if you pay the regular mana cost, it lives. If you Dread Return it into play, it lives. And when you use cards like Momentary Blink or Saffi Eriksdotter to return it to play, it will also live afterwards, since those cards will put it in play as a "new" creature without any memory. This allows for amazing starts. Imagine a turn-two Saffi Eriksdotter leading into evoking Cloudthresher on turn four, then with the sacrifice trigger on the stack Saffi is used to keep Cloudthresher alive after all. Nothing wrong with a 7/7 monster on turn four. Or imagine your opponent attacks you with a team of four Lightning Angels. One Cloudthresher would not cut it here. But how about evoking it out, and then using Momentary Blink in response to the sacrifice trigger? Now Cloudthresher will come in play twice, dealing 2 damage to each creature with flying twice, and you are saved from the Lightning Angel army.

The New Masters Edition Vanguard Avatar

Masters Edition offers a fun chance to play with the old cards again on Magic Online, and drafts have been filling up quite rapidly. All participants in Masters Edition Release Events or Premier Events get the Dakkon Blackblade avatar. For people who are into Vanguard—a format that grants abilities to Magic Online's avatars—this is a nice gift.

Dakkon BlackbladeParticipation avatar: Dakkon Blackblade
Starting hand size = 8
Starting life total = 23
You may play any colored card from your hand as a copy of a basic land card chosen at random that can produce mana of one of the card's colors.

It is worded in a difficult way, but basically what Dakkon offers you is the following. You can pitch a Seething Song from your hand to get a Mountain, and you can pitch a Terminate from your hand to get either a Swamp or a Mountain, chosen at random. So Dakkon likes mono-color decks; if you pitch gold cards to him, you never know what you will get. Pitching artifacts doesn't work; you need colored cards. If you use Dakkon's ability, you cannot play any other land that turn (as you would expect). If you have ever played Mental Magic—where you can play any card from your hand face down to get a land—then the base of this concept should be familiar to you.

Dakkon opens up a fun possibility: a 60-spell deck. No lands are necessary anymore; those are provided by the avatar! You can make a control deck full of creature destruction and card advantage or an aggro deck full of fast weenies and burn—it doesn't matter much which route you take. The important thing is that Dakkon addresses one of the most un-fun parts of the game: mana-screw or mana-flood. Thanks to Dakkon, you will never miss a land drop when you don't want to, and your deck will never stop providing spells.

I wanted to make a Standard Vanguard deck that would work particularly well with Dakkon. I started with a Red Deck Wins variant, using a couple cheap creatures (Keldon Marauders, Mogg Fanatic...) and efficient burn (Rift Bolt, Incinerate...) because red burn decks are always solid. And Dakkon eliminates a major downside of them: often you can get your opponent down to 3 life, but then you draw lands for a couple of turns and can't get through for the final points. Things look better if every card in your deck is a burningly good draw. I made sure not to include cards such as Jaya Ballard or Demonfire, as they lessen the impact of mana flood by turning late game lands into valuable resources, and that is not necessary anymore with Dakkon (you will never get mana-flooded). Furthermore, I wanted to cut off the mana curve at three mana, so that you just play a land on your first three turns and then never play a land again. I also wanted to play situational cards like Cryoclasm maindeck, as they are very good against half of the decks (then you wreck them with it) and dead cards against the other half (then you just turn them into land).

And then at some point it struck me. Wasn't there a card once that was very good in a deck with not many lands? Think, think... Ah! Goblin Charbelcher! Wow! That's the perfect match for the avatar. One-land Belcher decks have been around, but an obvious problem was actually being able to cast your spells. Dakkon circumvents that by providing mana, and in a 60-spell deck Charbelcher simply reads 7 Mana: win the game. I added every good mana accelerant and tutor I could find. At first I had Erratic Explosion and Crystal Vein in this deck, but that was a mistake. Explosion reads "nonland card," not "land card," so you can't stack your entire deck with it as I had hoped. Furthermore, while Crystal Vein provides a mana boost, it clearly contradicts the goal of a huge Goblin Charbelcher activation. These cards have been replaced with Infernal Tutor and Chromatic Star now. I ended up with the following Classic Vanguard deck, which looks quite degenerate and should always kill on turn one or turn two.

Fond Farewells

If you missed Scott Johns's announcement about this column and the new weekly lineup, click here to read it—and join me next week for what will be the final article in the Online Tech series!

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