A Durdle’s Guide to Gatecrash – White
I do love new sets. They make Standard a brewer’s paradise for at least a couple of weeks, they bring an excitement to the community that can be lacking after the previous set loses its lustre, they bring prereleases and Game Days and Pro Tours with them, and they mean I get to write set reviews. I love writing set reviews!
For those of you who missed the Return to Ravnica series, these reviews are from the perspective of a guy who brews fun decks for FNM. I don’t know what will be good on the Grand Prix circuit, nor do I pretend to know. Sure I might hit on something that ends up being genuinely good, but even a blind squirrel token finds a tier one strategy once in a while. More than anything I hope you read these reviews over the next few days, have a few laughs, get a few ideas and come away loving this set more than you did when you clicked the first link. With that said, let’s dive in!
I am a huge fan of this card, and I think it has constructed applications across formats. People are already talking about this in Standard as a way for Esper control to slow down the hyper aggro red, Boros and Naya lists while providing a way to chip away at the opponent’s life total and pad your own. A non-symmetrical semi-Kismet seems good enough anyway in a format where haste creatures are king. Surprisingly I think aggro strategies might ALSO be able to play this, giving them some tech against the mirror and providing a way to win through ground stalls. I’m not sure yet if the reach is good enough to warrant replacing a creature with it, but if it is played not as a two-drop but a four- or five-drop to prevent midrange or control decks from stabilising, it has potential.
In Modern this card shuts down Twin (until they find Echoing Truth) and slows down Affinity. It might be what UW Control needs to push it up a notch, and could also see some play in BW Tokens. With the lower curve in Modern it’s possible that the extort is more relevant, but I’m less sure it will be a player with such a diverse card pool.
Know what else is a 3/3 for 1 sometimes? Wild Nacatl, and it’s banned in Modern. Now I’m not going to pretend that attacking with three creatures is anywhere NEAR as easy as getting a Plains and a Mountain into play, but the power level is still high. One of my local players is heading to Pro Tour Gatecrash, and Boros Elite is featuring heavily in our testing. For one thing it’s a Human, it loves being paired with a turn 3 Lightning Mauler after a turn 2 Champion of the Parish, and it’s insane in multiples.
A lot of people have likened Batallion to Metalcraft and while I can see their point to some extent, there is one key difference: metalcraft didn’t always help you attack. I think some sort of Human aggro build will be a key player early in the format, and this will be an elite piece of the puzzle.
Court Street Denizen
A lot of people discovered on prerelease weekend that this card is very powerful in limited. When you’re on the offensive, every creature you cast taps down a blocker and lets you get in for more damage, and last I heard that was a good thing. I’m no limited all-star, so I will stick to the constructed durdle side and say that I think this card is making a case for a slot in standard. Most of the good token producers in the format make white tokens, enabling you to tap multiple blockers for a turn. If you are giving your team haste somehow (and we have Fervor on legs now, don’t forget), that sort of swing in the board state can end the game. Could be worth a try for sure.
I absolutely do not understand the dislike for the flavour aspect of this guy being able to counter X spells. Considering it was meant to counter Bonfire (I doubt Sphinx’s Revelation was the intent, considering the sets were developed almost in parallel) I think it makes total sense. Anyway, that’s not really relevant. The ability is a sweet one and can keep the rest of your team alive when they top deck that Bonfire to blow you out. That it also shrinks their Revelation by 3 and reduces the effectiveness of an Aurelia’s Fury falls squarely into the “bonus” category.
That Batallion ability though…dang. Obviously any instant-speed removal can stop you from getting to the declare attackers step with two other dudes on board, but once you turn the team sideways there is just no way for your opponent to block effectively. You don’t have to worry about giant blockers, pump spells, deathtouch, or pretty much anything. A 3/3 for three is pretty good on its own (though likely not playable by modern-day standards), and he’s a Human to boot. If Boros Aggro is going to be a thing, Frontline Medic will probably be the first aid to that strategy.
Gideon, Champion of Justice
Spoiler season is always a time for wildly diverse opinions in the Magic community, but rarely have they been as split as they were on Gideon 2: Justice Booglaoo. The card has been hailed as awesome and denigrated as terrible, when in reality it’s probably slightly better than average. As was the case with Jace in Return to Ravnica, people are focusing on the fact that he is not as good as his (in)famous predecessor. That is not in question. There is however a TON of room for a card to be worse than Gideon Jura and still be good. Planeswalkers are hard to evaluate without playing them, so I gave this guy a spin in some midrange and control decks.
He’s good. Not great, not unbeatable. Just good. Like his first version he plays VERY well with other planeswalkers, often taking the heat off a Tamiyo or Jace as people get afraid of a giant Gideon or the exile ability. He’s also good buddies with Sorin and Lingering Souls, which can hold off attackers long enough to get Gideon to 15 or more loyalty. If Sorin can make a couple of emblems before you blow up the world with Gideon (obviously floating some mana to cast a threat in response), you are winning that game. No question. His +1 ability will normally add three or four counters each time, and because opponents still don’t rate him they will ignore him until it’s too late.
Gideon Jura was infuriating to play against as an aggro player as you had to overextend to beat his +2, which then led to a sweeper ruining your day more often than not. This incarnation does require a good defensive position to have the same effect, but he WILL make your opponent commit more to the board in order to counteract his +1 ability, and that will in turn make your Supreme Verdicts and Mutilates and Terminuses (Termini?) even better.
Even people who are dismissing the card as a niche player at best have acknowledged that he is very good if you +1 him and then sweep the board. There are a TON of sweepers in Standard right now. Like Gideon Jura he can then be activated the next turn to apply the beatdown, thought without the weakness of dying to Doom Blade. Again, I’m not saying he’s amazing but I will champion his cause as a good, solid 4-drop. Just watch out for those Selesnya Charms.
How do you get “this creature is unblockable” into white? Why, with protection from creatures of course! I liken this card to Angelic Destiny: it will see play, and you will lose to this card. The bonus is not as big but the ability it grants is arguably better (prevents chump blocks and random abilities like Zealous Conscripts), and there are some really great targets for this right now. Geist of Saint Traft loves wearing Mantles, it says so on his OK Cupid profile. I kind of want to put it on a Rhox Faithmender too, though I’m not sure why. Maybe because the idea of a Rhino Monk in a Holy Mantle tickles my Vorthos bone. Anyway, be prepared for this card to dis-Mantle you when you least expect it.
Yes, I am serious. One of white’s identities in Standard right now is providing serious defence, with things like Lingering Souls and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad to provide chump blockers and joining with blue to play decks containing defensive specialist Augur of Bolas. Having access to a one-mana removal spell that can take out anything from a giant Izzet Staticaster (thanks to a Goldnight Commander-fuelled reanimation) to a Thundermaw Hellkite makes Smite a legitimate consideration for at least the sideboard of these decks. Obviously it won’t help much against an Invisible Stalker (ever) or Geist of Saint Traft wearing Ethereal Armor and Spectral Flight (unless you’re shining a Spotlight on him), but it remains to be seen if that deck will still be a player post-rotation.
The fact that you can play Smite before any damage is dealt is also important when it comes to things like trample, and allows you to break up Soulbond pairings for the extreme mid-combat blowout. Again, all for a single mana. I’ve been playing a Junk Tokens list for a while in Standard and this is one of the few cards in Gatecrash that I am considering as an addition. The deck does a lot of blocking against mono-red and other aggro lists, and being able to get rid of a Hellrider AND keep my chump blocker is very appealing to me. In the right deck Smite can be more flexible than Ultimate Price and costs a mana less. Good enough for me!
Syndic of Tithes
When I was looking at this set for limited, it quickly became obvious to me that extort was going to be best in a deck full of cheap spells and guys with extort, enabling you to make the most of all your mana every turn. If the mechanic is better than I think it is in constructed, that plays very well into a white weenie strategy with a bunch of cheap humans and cards like Syndic of Tithes. You’re rarely super excited about casting a 2/2 for 2 in constructed without an amazing ability, but getting that ability on the card makes it a little more interesting. Once again it is a Human, which remains relevant in the meta as it stands. At some point I am going to try this in an aggro list with things like Champion of the Parish, Doomed Traveler, Mayor of Avabruck, Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Gather the Townsfolk. If we make extort an additional tool for the deck and not the focus of it, Syndic could be good enough.
Thoughts on White
For some reason I find myself really liking what white brings to the table in this set. We have a planeswalker who could be very good, some good aggro creatures, a couple of good control cards and even a cheap removal spell. I really want Gideon to be good and once his price comes down a bit I will probably be looking to try them in something. For now it’s Blind Obedience that has me feeling best about white.