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Apocalypse When?
By David Sutcliffe
Apocalypse, eh.

Controversial, wouldn`t you say?

Half the people like opposing-colour gold cards, half the people think opposing-colour gold cards are a bad idea.
Half the people think that Apocalypse is an overpowered set that rewrites Constructed, half the people think that Apocalypse is yet another draft set that will not make much impact on Type-II.
Half the people think that Apocalypse makes deckbuilding much more interesting as you can play any combination of colours, half the people feel that Apocalypse is railroading them into playing certain decks.
Half the people think that Spiritmonger is a truly amazing creature and possibly the best ever, half the people know better.

I wasn`t going to write this article because officially I`ve retired from the game following my National Championships, but I`ve felt compelled to step up to the plate and take my best shot. Largely this is because when I saw people writing things like this I knew that things had gone way WAY too far already.

"Will Spiritmonger replace Morphling in Type 1/Extended decks? Not the mono-blue ones, but like Oath or other multi-colored decks using Morphling."

"Blastoderm WISHES it was this good."

When people start comparing a creature (ANY creature) with a Forest in the casting cost to the Might Morphling Power Ranger then something is going drastically wrong, and I decided it was time for me to step in and give my parting words for what Apocalypse will mean for Type-II. Now I`m being very specific here, as I know very little about IBC decks, and I`m also far more certain that Apocalypse cards will make a big impact on IBC decks in the coming round of PTQs. This is about Type-II decks, and what is going to be good BEFORE Odyssey rotates in to replace Masques, Nemesis, and Prophecy.

In addition, I`ll state for the record that I`m basing my analysis on the following facts about the pre-Apocalypse type-II field:
The best decks use either Fires Of Yavimaya or Counterspell.
The best cards are Nether Spirit, Saproling Burst, Static Orb, and Thwart.
Thats not the definitive guide to T-II that it might have been, but it at least gives you a general idea of where I`m coming from - there are other decks of note such as the Mono-Red deck and the B/R aggro deck which have proven succesful, but I remain adamant that by and large 'the best decks' are those using the above cards.

So let`s start at the start shall we, with the big man himself.

Spiritmonger
"He`s big, he`s fat, he bounces on the ground..."
- Ye Olde English Football Chant (and also a perfect description of Spiritmonger)

Comparisons to Morphling startle me, as Morphling was notable for 1) Flying, 2) being untargetable, 3) being blue - Spiritmonger does none of those things, except turn blue occasionally (what`s it doing, holding it`s breath?). There are two entirely opposed schools of thought about Spiritmonger, that basically stem right from the very point at which you beign to analyse the card - which do you read first, the Text box, or it`s Power/Toughness?
Players who begin their analysis at the bottom line tend to be impressed by Spiritmonger, as a 6/6 for GB3 it appears to be vastly undercosted right from the off, and anything else it gains in abilities is pure gravy. A fellow CPA member, Istanbul, came to the conclusion that Spiritmonger 'should' cost GBB5, and that analysis was begun by the logic that a 6/6 vanilla creature should reasonably cost 6 mana.
Players who begin their analysis with abilities tend to be less impressed, as none of Spiritmonger`s abilities are particularly important apart from Regenerate, which is admittedly very powerful indeed as Spiritmonger`s biggest worry was probably being gang-blocked. The colour-shifting is not particularly important as Spiritmonger is already Black, it really only helps to sidestep Nightwind Glider and Story Circle, and the counters are not particularly relavent as, at 6/6 the Spiritmonger is about as fat as you`d need him to be anyway and if it weren`t for Glacial Wall being 0/7 I`d consider this ability almost meaningless for constructed Magic.

So what is Spiritmonger - an almost indestructible fatty, or a black Ancient Silverback?

The key there depends on how you see the forces that range against the Spiritmonger, many of it`s fans are fond of saying things like "it`s only vulnerable to Terminate", which makes it sound awfully good I must admit. I`d play any creature that could only be destroyed by a single spell - is that what Spiritmonger is?

No.

The simple fact is that the large majority of the playable T2 decks already have numerous cards that are an answer for a Spiritmonger. Countermagic (there is an awful lot of that about), Nether Spirits, Wrath Of God, Obliterate, Ensnaring Bridge, Temporal Adept, Opposition, Terminate, Scorching Lava, Kor Haven, Lin Sivvi...
That`s pretty much all bases covered, except for Fires, which probably doesn`t like playing against Spiritmonger very much at all - but Sean McKeown has already suggested Fires might go out to play Spiritmonger anyway in order to win the mirrormatch, in which case Terminate might also find it`s way in.

Spiritmonger simply becomes the dominant creature in any brawling match, but as Type-II isn`t particularly about brawling matches right now that fact is devalued. I wouldn`t go out of my way to put black into a deck to use the Monger (or green into a black deck) as it`s simply not worth harming my mana base by doing so. If I had a very good GB deck, then I would surely consider Spiritmonger to be the reasonable choice for a high-end creature, but I`d also want to make sure I didn`t really want Blastoderm or Saproling Burst instead. Personally, though, I don`t think GB is going to be good - a control variant would find itself hard pressed against the blue control decks, and an aggressive variant would probably find itself struggling against Fires.

Finally, my favourite comment about the power of Blastoderm was this one, from Jason Dooley, which I saw quoted on the front page of Meridian a while back:
"...he (Jason's 5 year old son) told me the other day that Blastoderm is "two trees good." I'm not sure what exactly he meant by this, but it seems like a fair assessment to me."
Spiritmonger, by comparison, is only 'one tree good'.

Phyrexian Arena

The new Necro.
STOOOOOOOOOP!
Don`t use the words 'Necropotence' and 'Phyrexian Arena' in the same sentence unless that sentence also includes the words 'is nothing like'. Both cards cost three mana, both cards are black, both cards make you lose life and draw cards. That is where the similarity ends.
(oh, is that the only similarities then? How foolish I was to think they were similar.) - sarcastic reader
The simple fact is that trying to port over a Necropotence deck into an Arena deck is doomed to failure from the first instance because the two effects are completely different. Necro gave a quick rush that encouraged playing a lot of cheap effects - suck up five cards WHAM WHAM WHAM suck up another five cards WHAM WHAM WHAM. Arena does the opposite, giving you one card every turn - forcing you to play a longer game, indeed the longer the game goes on the greater the advantage the Arena gives you. Oh, and the closer you get to death. Necro encouraged fast tempo and so cheaper spells, Arena encourages a longer game, and thus a slower tempo with a more conventionally costed mana curve.
Alongside Death Grasp and Gerrard`s Verdict there has been a rush to build 'the new Necrodeck' from BW control, but until now I remain unimpressed by the results. I must have played against almost every conceivable version of the popular BW decks by now, and the only ones that have come close to matching simple pre-Apocalypse Type-II decks have been those which have rejected the smaller cards and recognised that they still need the old bombs - Spectral Lynx for instance is simply far too small and 'cute' to make an effective card for the deck. The only versions I give any credence to run Nether Spirit, and usually Last Breath. While BW control continues to get so many people trying to make it work I won`t write it off completely, but for now I remain unmoved - if there is a good BW control build I have yet to see it.
The TRUE power of Arena comes from using it to support an aggressive deck. And yet there is no great aggressive deck for the Arena to go into (possibly a version of the BR deck?). In an aggressive deck the lifeloss of the Phyrexian Arena is less important, and the card drawing means that the assault peters out far less rapidly.

I`ll round off by adding another reason why necro and Arena are different. If you consider Necro- which was cast early and was powerful through the early game then the land you saw from Necropotence was usually useful as not only did you need extra land to avoid missing a drop, but you also needed as much mana as possible to cast all the spells you were drawing off Necro. Possibly the true economy of Necropotence was something like Pay 9 life: Draw 7 cards. Arena, however, gives you fewer spells to cast with the land you are seeing, and very rapidly the decks no longer need to see that extra land making land draws effectively useless, thus the true economy of Phyrexian Arena (assuming you use Dark Rituals as well) is more likely to be of the order of Pay 9 life: Draw 5 cards.

Vindicate

Vindicate is efficient. I`m not going to argue with you. It kills things. Anything. For BW1. This sounds like a good thing.
What I will say, though, is that the most sensible comment I`ve heard on Vindicate was made by Nate Heiss, who said "3-mana Sorceries need to be better than 'kill something on a 1 for 1 basis' to be broken".
To be fair, he was saying that Vindicate isn`t broken, which it certainly isn`t but I think nonetheless he does make a reasonable point. Just how much do you NEED a good Creeping Mold? Do you need 4? Are you sure?
Sure Vindicate is almost never going to be bad, but there are a whole lot of circumstances where Vindicate isn`t going to be GOOD ENOUGH. Currently my position is that I would play 2, maybe 3, in an appropriate deck, but would only go to 4 in something that blows up permanents for a living, like an LD deck.

I`d give Vindicate three stars - it`s rarely bad, but I`ve got a feeling you`ll come to find that it`s rarely all that great.

Pernicious Deed

I thought that everybody was agreed that Pernicious Deed was a good card, but then I saw a Pojo article that was pretty nasty to the poor little mite. Oh well, that was the first Pojo article I`d ever read and after that it looks likely to be my last as well.
Ever since Nevinyrral`s Disk left Type-II bad players have been able to beat good players by overextending with virtual impunity. The Deed promises to bring a new era of players being forced to carefully husband their resources lest they find them all swept away before their very eyes. The trouble is that the Nev`s Disk was most widely played in mono-black and mono-blue decks, and Pernicious Deed is another perfectly good card spoilt by adding a green mana requirement. Without a deck capable of enforcing reliable 1-1 card swaps once the Deed has been used (as Draw-Go could do with it`s countermagic) the Deed becomes a less attractive card.
The Pernicious Deed is inarguably a very powerful card, possibly after Obliterate the most powerful effect in Type-II magic right now (and for a bargain cost of BG1) but there is no obvious GB deck for it to go in, leadng you to consider a splash for Green into another deck. The most common variant is to combine the Deed with the powerful BW control archetypes that are being attempted, as I`ve stated I don`t think that archetype is going to prove a valid one and so we must look elsewhere.
The last best hope, as I see it, for the Pernicious Deed in Type-II is that it will get played in a remake of the UBW 'Go-Mar' control decks that move to UBG, swapping their Wraths for Deeds. I WANT to see the Deed getting played, because it should help good players beat bad players (and in IBC and possibly after Odyssey comes in it will do just that) but right now I fear it might not have a deck to be played in.

Gerrard`s Verdict

For once I think comparisons to the predecessor card (in this case Hymn) are actually quite justified. Back in 1996 a two card random discard for BB was pretty brutal, I think that today a two card CHOSEN discard for BW is equally brutal. Imagine this card didn`t have lifegain, and cost BB - would it be good?
Yes. Very good.
The question then boils down to do we have a BW deck for it to go in? We`d ideally need to have B on the first turn to Duress, and then play white on the second turn, so we`d need a significant amount of white in the deck to play that much white mana. Gerrard`s Verdict, more than Vindicate and Phyrexian Arena, is the reason I want to be playing a BW deck of some kind. Whereas I have reservations about Arena and Vindicate I think that all you need to justify playing Gerrard`s Verdict is a deck that can cast the damn thing.
I also like Bog Down. This is where the men in white coats come to take me away, I know. But listen for a brief second, because recently Discard got a bunch of new cards, no longer does discard mean Addle/Stupor - now discard means Duress/Verdict/Bog Down, and that is a very punishing assault for the first few turns, and kicking the Bog Down might even be viable if you are holding extra land. Tings!

Conclusions

On the whole, as you can see, I`m pretty cool on Apocalypse. Not just because of the reasons why the cards I`ve mentioned here aren`t going to rewrite Type-II any time soon, but for more than that. Apocalypse is not only a set that offers very few good cards, but these cards are currently limited by being assigned to opposing-colour strategies that are looking to be understrength compared to the existing Type-II decks that can draw on a far deeper pool of cards. When MBC rotates out I think that Apocalypse cards will become far more important as the October T-II will be largely shaped by the succesful IBC decks.
For now, I predict that you`ll see a lot of people trying to make the Apocalypse decks work in the next few weeks. And there will be so many people playing GB and WB and UR that they will take a lot of tournaments by sheer weight of numbers. Don`t be fooled, though, the best decks will change little - the best decks will remain those that play either Fires Of Yavimaya or Counterspell. The Apocalypse cards that threaten to change the environment are not Spiritmonger or Vindicate, but Pernicious Deed and Gerrard`s Verdict - only time will tell if decks can be found that are powerful enough to carry these threats.

Read More Articles by David Sutcliffe!

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