Magic Memories: Sun Titan

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I've been playing Magic for almost 24 years. In that time, I've seen some of my friends quit the game and I've seen a few of them come back. Some people quit the game and return to the game multiple times. In all that time, I've never formally quit the game myself, nor have I gotten rid of my cards. But there have been periods of relative inactivity. In some of these, I'd actually kind of say that the CPA itself was my lifeline to the game, as even if I wasn't taking time to keep up with things in any other capacity, I was still dropping by these message boards and reading your posts. So yeah, thanks everybody! 😁

  1. The first significant lull in my Magic-playing was in late 2001. My family had moved out into the boondocks relatively recently. I was in my sophomore year in high school and was attending a different school from the ones the friends in my main Magic playgroup were attending. I'd opened two or three packs of the latest set, Odyssey, but didn't really know the set or care about it. At my old house, I'd been able to walk to my local game store. At the new house, I was kind of far away from everything. I kept a few decks together, but didn't have anyone to play with. I think that when Torment came out, I didn't even know about it. So I was out of the loop. At some point in 2002, my high school was subject to a bomb threat and all of the students were evacuated. I found a cluster of students playing Magic outside and chatted with them, which got me back into the game. We had a playgroup going for the rest of high school. It was while browsing the web for ideas to bring to our after school game club that I found the CPA, some time in 2003.
  2. That first lull was the most detached from the game I've ever been, and I've never come as close to quitting as I did way back then. But the whole interval in question was a matter of months. I had a more extended lull from 2005 through 2007, when most of my friends in my casual playgroups either quit the game or moved away. Toward the end of that, the CPA was pretty much the only place I went for anything Magic-related. In 2008, I changed jobs and started to focus more on Magic.
  3. Even though I can certainly find some activity here at the CPA, that second lull was somewhat more pronounced for my real, face-to-face gameplay and probably represented the most time, overall, that I wasn't really involved with the game. I delved back into Magic in 2007, but after a few more years, I hit a weird snag. The full context would take a while to go through, so I'll summarize. Starting in 2008, I was part of a three-person informal "team" that focused on the Legacy format and spent time together testing decks for Legacy tournaments, although I think we only actually attended two actual tournaments together. As part of this focused playtesting, all of my Magic cards were consolidated with the collection of my longtime friend, former CPA member Al0ysiusHWWW. We did our playtesting at his house and it was a better place to store the cards. When our "team" fell apart in 2010 (for logistical and time commitment reasons that is; we're all still friends), I no longer had my cards with me anymore. In a sense, this was a more extreme departure from the game than the first two: I physically didn't have my cards with me anymore. Also, during this time I went back to school at my local community college and took some classes in preparation for trying to get into a university. And I went on a couple of major trips, including that time I went to Europe. I maintained some presence here at the CPA and continued to follow the Legacy format on my own, but other than that, I wasn't playing Magic at all. This lull was broken when Al0ysiusHWWW and I moved into an apartment together in December of 2010.
  4. With Al0ysiusHWWW as a playtest partner, I remained somewhat active in the Legacy format throughout 2011. After that, I started to immerse myself in my schoolwork and mostly lost track of everything going on in Magic. I wasn't even here at the CPA very much. This final lull was broken after I graduated with my university degree.
So while I "never quit" in 24 years, there were times when I was considerably more absent from the game than I was at other times. It sometimes happens that I really gain appreciation for a card that I "missed out on" because it was printed during one of those absences. Thinking back to cards for which I was very much late to the party, a particular favorite of mine is Sun Titan. Even though it has been a prominent and iconic card since its original release, my "lulls" in gameplay let me almost completely miss the existence of this thing for the first couple years of its existence. Sun Titan was originally released as part of a cycle of five cards in the 2011 core set. That set came out right in the middle of my third lull. I pretty much completely missed what was going on with Magic 2011 at the time. When I did return, I was only focused on Legacy decks, and none of the decks I was testing used Sun Titan. Sun Titan was reprinted again in the 2012 core set, but Magic 2012 came out in the middle of my fourth lull, so I didn't even know that it had been reprinted, nor was I giving the card any thought. Determined to draw my attention to this card, Wizards of the Coast printed Sun Titan again for the third time in a row, this time in Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters. And that was just when I was getting back into the swing of things. The third time, it turned out, was a charm. I was impressed with Sun Titan even in its mediocre Duel Deck, and have been even more satisfied with its performance in my own decks.

Sometimes I think that WotC overdoes things with reprinting a particular card multiple times in relatively short succession. But in the case of Sun Titan, I'm grateful that they persisted.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I hate trying to talk about specific core sets from after Tenth Edition in these threads because WotC made the naming conventions get all weird. The year that is in the name of a core set is the year after the core set came out, so I'll want to say something about playing Magic in 2014 and "the 2014 core set" but the name of that set is technically Magic 2015. I know that the reason WotC uses this system is that the core set is a summer release and they don't want people buying gifts for Magic players to see the current core set and think, "Oh, I won't get that one: it's last year's set." But it's really annoying!

I was actively playing Legacy with my friends in 2009, which was when Magic 2010 was released. That core set introduced Baneslayer Angel, which came to be thought of as the embodiment of power creep in creatures. Powerful new creatures were already well-known, but that's just it: cards like Tarmogoyf and Painter's Servant were infamous, but they were novel in how they worked and what kind of role they took on. They didn't feel like upgrades to existing cards. Serra Angel was an icon, and despite competition from situationally better options like Exalted Angel, the original beefy midrange angel still held its edge and wasn't just outclassed by something new. Exalted Angel's life-gain ability was often better than vigilance, but in some matchups it was weaker. Also, sometimes trying to play Exalted Angel facedown was untenable or poor tempo, in which case Serra Angel being a five-drop instead of a six-drop gave it an edge in comparison to Exalted Angel. And then along came Baneslayer Angel. For the exact same mana cost as Serra Angel, you got a 5/5 with five abilities. The two protection abilities weren't always relevant, but they were just the icing on the cake. Just having a 5/5 flying lifelink angel for the same cost as Serra Angel would have been strong. Throwing in first strike made Serra Angel just look weak in comparison. Stacking protection against demons and dragons onto that pile added insult to injury.

Baneslayer Angel shaped how a lot of players at the time viewed power creep, and kind of set up expectations that didn't reflect what would ultimately happen. As any tournament player could tell you, Baneslayer Angel is kind of no longer really good enough. Oh, it's had some appearances. It's currently legal in Standard and would crop up in some lists if tournaments were being held these days. It's still a decent card. But it's no longer a powerhouse and it just can't slot into decks the same way as it would have been able to when it was new. And that's not because new creatures follow the same pattern of power creep. Instead, what we've seen happen with creatures is that cards like Baneslayer are less potent than cards like the "Titan" cycle that came out a year later. The five titans from Magic 2011 (which came out in 2010) pushed the power of beefy creatures in a different way.

These titans were probably intended to be a recurring feature for core sets, but WotC seemed, at least for a while, to balk at just how potent the titans were and to waffle on how they'd fill the niche they provided. WotC reprinted the titans cycle in Magic 2012, but not in Magic 2013 or Magic 2014. Magic 2015 had the "Soul" creatures, which were unfavorably compared to the titans. The "Cavalier" creatures in Core Set 2020 seem to have been another take on this concept. What all of the creatures in all of these cycles have in common, a feature also shared by some of the strongest creatures printed in the same timeframe, is that they pose a significant board presence while also producing value that opponents can't take away simply by killing the creature.

As an example, let's look at what's generally considered the weakest of the five titans. Frost Titan. Compare that to Baneslayer Angel, one of the powerhouse creatures from the previous year.
1613759156851.png1613759198685.png

Obviously neither of these cards is strictly superior to the other. They have different costs and do different things. But I think that I and lot of other casual players were, around that time, more impressed with Baneslayer Angel. And players who used these sorts of cards in tournament settings tended more to recognize the power that the titans presented instead. To use the example I remember Patrick Sullivan citing, Baneslayer Angel represents a certain level of investment and payoff. If the creature sticks around, its abilities on the battlefield make it very strong. Sometimes it just eats a removal spell and you traded a card for a card. Other times, you fare even worse on the transaction: if you cast a Baneslayer Angel and your opponent Doom Blades it and also casts Divination, you both spent the same amount of mana but you blew it all on a big creature that never did anything and your opponent has now gained card advantage. In contrast, Frost Titan doesn't work like that. Even if your opponent kills it right away, it still taps something down and prevents that permanent from untapping for a turn. And that's just the floor. If Frost Titan attacks, you're getting that same ability again. With the creatures like these titans, souls, and cavaliers, you get the combination of a strong threat on the board and you get value in other ways. Even the weaker members of these cycles hold up pretty well, and could push out a lot of older stuff in casual play.

Amusingly, in the case of the M11 titans, the blue member of the cycle is the weakest one. But I just want to emphasize that all of them are powerful cards in some sense, and they constituted a pretty harsh break from the paradigm that many of us held when it came to creature power creep. Because you can deal with a Baneslayer Angel in the same way that you'd deal with a Serra Angel or an Exalted Angel. Doesn't work that way for a Soul of Theros or a Cavalier of Dawn. I didn't grasp the significance of this development when the titans first came out. Like I said in the first post here, my Magic-playing was in a bit of a lull in 2010. I delved back into Magic in 2011, but was focused almost exclusively on Legacy (and on Legacy combo decks in particular). In hindsight, the Titan cycle from M11 was an important development in Magic's history.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I'll get into why Sun Titan is my favorite out of this five-card cycle. But let's go over the cycle itself...

Frost Titan
1614031946479.png
When WotC does a cycle of cards across multiple colors, it's not usually the case that the blue card is the worst one. That's certainly the case here. Even so, Frost Titan really only seemed weak in the context of being a member of this cycle, and in the context of being a mythic rare at a time when the mythic rarity was still new and somewhat special. As a creature for casual play, as a "kitchen table" Magic card, Frost Titan is no slouch. I'd say that if it had been in any set throughout the 90's, it would have been seen as an absolute powerhouse.

Like all of the other members of this cycle, Frost Titan is a 6/6 creature for 4 generic mana and two mana of its color. And like all of the others, it gets a triggered ability that happens when it enters the battlefield or attacks, as well as one more ability. Frost Titan's abilities are appropriate for a blue card, but they can be low-impact compared to what the other titans do. I'd say that the real deficiency here is in the ability that taxes spells and abilities opponents use to target it. There's a bit of divergence here from the formula that the other four titans use. They all work this way...

[Something] Titan
4MM
Creature — Giant
[Combat ability]
Whenever ~ etb or attacks, [do a thing].
6/6

See the problem? Four out of five titans have an ability that matters in combat in some way. Specifically, we see trample, deathtouch, vigilance and "firebreathing." Frost Titan doesn't get a combat-relevant ability. It gets "Whenever ~ becomes the target of a spell or ability and opponent controls, counter that spell or ability unless its controller pays 2." While that ability isn't completely worthless, it's highly situational. Sometimes it just doesn't do anything. The triggered ability on Frost Titan is probably fine. If it only worked on creatures, it would be a bit weak, but being able to tap down any permanent and keeping it from untapping for a turn is nifty. That trigger is at least arguably middle-of-the-road for these titans. But the cornercase mana tax on opponents targeting Frost Titan is so crappy compared to a real combat ability that I'm comfortable classifying this as the worst of the five titans.

I'm guessing that giving Frost Titan flying or some other form of evasion was deemed too overpowered. On the one hand, it's kind of too bad. On the other hand, there have been cycles in which the blue card was easily the most potent (Ancestral Recall, anyone?), so it's probably fine that Frost Titan is the weakest titan. After all, it's not even bad. Like I said, this would have been a powerhouse in the 90's.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Now that we've got the weakest titan out of the way, let's get the strongest one out of the way. And I'm not ashamed to admit that it isn't Sun Titan. While Sun Titan is one of the strongest and is the most fun and flexible, certainly earning its place as my favorite of this cycle, there's one titan that is just on another level.

Primeval Titan
1614093192167.png

Trample is decent and is in-flavor for green. Fetching one land would be potent. Fetching two lands? That's insane. And because the triggered abilities on these titans trigger both on entering the battlefield and on attacking, you're quite likely to get at least four lands even if your opponents have blockers that can kill Primeval Titan. Being able to fetch any four lands from your library directly onto the battlefield is well worth six mana. Of course, if your opponents can't actually kill Primeval Titan, then you can keep getting even more lands. They'll pile up pretty quickly, although at some point you probably just win the game.

Primeval Titan quickly became a tournament staple and its usage easily surpassed that of the other four titans combined. It's been a powerful tool in pretty much every format where it's been legal. I should probably note that it is banned in EDH and has been since 2012, although it was quite popular in EDH up to that point. I vaguely remember that being one of the more controversial bans. But the card has continued to see play in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. I've also faced my fair share of Primeval Titan or "Prime Time" in Canadian Highlander, where it was pretty popular in my local metagame a few years ago. I wouldn't be inclined to do a "Magic Memories" thread for Primeval Titan and I don't have a ton of experience playing with the card, but I've played against it a lot.

Which lands do you fetch with Primeval Titan? Generally the same one I've talked about in the Memories thread for Life from the Loam. There are many lands that are strong in decks that interact with lands, but there tends to be considerable overlap. The classic one-two punch is Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage. Primeval Titan grabs both, then you get Marit Lage token and kill your opponent. Another one that was popular in the "CradleHoof" archetype in Canadian Highlander was Gaea's Cradle + Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It doesn't take very many green creatures for those two lands to produce great quantities of mana. Another popular Legacy approach is to just grab multiple copies of Cloudpost. More recently, Primeval Titan has gained a niche as a potent enabler for Field of the Dead. Of course, there are always utility options, such as Bojuka Bog, Glacial Chasm, Blast Zone, etc. And then there's Strip Mine + Wasteland if you have an opening to break your opponent's tempo. In Modern, another popular trick has been to use Amulet of Vigor alongside lands like Gruul Turf and cards with landfall triggers. You get to make mana and then bounce your own lands repeatedly, getting multiple landfall triggers. Is it a land? Is it good? Then Primeval Titan can fetch it.

Despite everything I've just said, I don't think that Primeval Titan is quite as cool and versatile as Sun Titan. Sure, I enjoy my shenanigans with lands and Primeval Titan is an excellent enabler for that. And sure, Primeval Titan has proven itself for its raw power at winning games. But I prefer Sun Titan. And we'll get to why that is...
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Inferno Titan
1614119037226.png

I have a soft spot for Inferno Titan because I've wound up playing it in precons and Limited formats and stuff. I do think that ultimately, Inferno Titan is the second-weakest card in the cycle of titans, but that's not much of a mark against it. For my own decks, I've kind of fallen for Balefire Dragon, and I'd be inclined to use stuff like Combustible Gearhulk over Inferno Titan, but on the occasions when circumstances did see me using this card, it held up pretty well. Perhaps I'm being too harsh toward Inferno Titan.

It's worth pointing out that in addition to seeing some play in Legacy and Modern, Inferno Titan found a niche in Vintage Oath decks. I'd forgotten about Titan Oath and getting into the details of that archetype probably goes beyond the scope of this thread, but it's an interesting case. I should go back and address this at some point. I'll try to.

Notably, Inferno Titan is the only member of the titans cycle that has an activated ability. Part of the evaluation of this card depends on how much one can leverage that "firebreathing" ability. For most decks, I do think that the trample on Primeval Titan is probably more useful than the activated ability on Inferno Titan. But hey, if you've got enough mana to spare and this thing goes unblocked, all that extra power could easily be lethal. The ceiling on Inferno Titan's combat ability is higher than what the other four titans get, but the floor is probably not much better than Frost Titan.

As usual, it's the triggered ability that's the star of the show. The flexibility and consistent damage make Inferno Titan one of the best red fatties out there. Being able to split the damage is handy and when I've played Inferno Titan, I've sometimes been surprised at how often splits come up, especially 2 damage on a target and 1 damage on another target.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I've said that I think that Inferno Titan is the second-weakest of the five M11 titans. I have some misgivings about that. I want to return to the topic of Sun Titan soon, but it's worth exploring this a bit further because the unusual trigger system of the titans has some gameplay implications, and it's interesting to see how that plays out with different abilities. What I mean is that all of five of these creatures have an ability that triggers when the creature enters the battlefield or attacks. That's a bit strange and has been the main reason that these cards are so powerful. Inferno Titan could serve as a kind of case study for this because the effect attached to its trigger is the simplest of the bunch: direct damage.

I mentioned holding off on talking about Titan Oath. Now I've changed my mind. So, for some background, there's a Vintage player named Brian Kelly who is somewhat notorious for his Oath of Druids decks. He has done well in tournaments by innovating on the construction and gameplay of Oath decks. A few years ago, he came up with an Oath build that ran two copies of Inferno Titan. Inferno Titan was a strong pick because it could start nuking planewalkers right away, could burn away utility creatures, and could potentially be hardcast if the board stalled. Oath players have generally shifted to other payloads as the format has evolved, but we might not have seen the last of Inferno Titan in Vintage. I think this sort of use showcases the flexibility of Inferno Titan and the sheer power of its triggered ability. Titan Oath would sometimes cheat in two copies of Inferno Titan or cheat one in and then hardcast the second one. That kind of repeatable damage can clear away pesky blockers, get rid of dangerous planeswalkers, and kill a player in short order. Also, this is markedly different from the use of Inferno Titan in other formats. A case could be made that the demonstrable versatility of Inferno Titan actually makes it one of the strongest of the bunch. This brings me to my second favorite titan...

Grave Titan
1614183658274.png

I have to admit that I'm kind of wildly speculating on these guys when it comes to tournament usage. I mean, I can look up some stats, but the sampling on Magic tournaments has never been consistent, and trying to gauge usage over the course of a decade across multiple formats might be impossible. I do think it's reasonable to assert that Frost Titan has seen the least use overall and that Primeval Titan has seen the most. The other three titans are all just great cards and only the most abstract comparisons can really be made here. I suspect that Sun Titan has been in the most decks across the most formats (it shows up as a kind of utility card in all sorts of oddball decks) and that Inferno Titan has been a centerpiece of more decks by volume (it seems to be the most popular of the three in Modern). Both of those two are versatile and have made strong showings in a variety of decks over the years. It doesn't seem like Grave Titan has that going for it. To some extent, the other titans (except Frost Titan) are multi-format jack-of-all-trades superstars, cropping up in decks to beat and in rogue archetypes across multiple formats and establishing a kind of scattershot presence in tournaments. I mean, Primeval Titan has done this on a larger scale than the others, but the overall concept is there. Not so for Grave Titan. No, Grave Titan isn't a jake-of-all-trades. Grave Titan does one thing well. Er, two things. Grave Titan does two things...
  1. Make zombies.
  2. Kill stuff.
Grave Titan has been a longtime staple of Legacy Reanimator decks. Opponents side in their graveyard hate against Reanimator, and with acceleration (Dark Ritual, Lake of the Dead, Grim Monolith), it's not difficult to quickly hardcast a Grave Titan, which can then clog the board up with zombies. While more expensive creatures like Griselbrand and Iona, Shield of Emeria are the default targets for spells like Animate Dead, Grave Titan works well there too. Killing Grave Titan in combat can necessitate poor trades, and once it's killed, the zombie tokens it made can still present a lethal threat.

There isn't a particular reason that Grave Titan couldn't function outside of a Reanimator deck. The card is powerful. But a black-heavy deck that uses big creatures might as well use the tools that make it a Reanimator deck, since they're so good. So most of the times I've seen Grave Titan, it's been in Legacy Reanimator decks. And almost all of the other times I've seen Grave Titan have probably been in EDH. I associate Grave Titan with Reanimator, but I think that's a quirk of the Legacy card pool. Casual players could make zombies in all sorts of decks. Grave Titan yields two zombies each time it enters the battlefield or attacks, and that can pile up into a zombie army pretty quickly. Alternatively, sacrifice those zombies to something and do shenanigans. Deadapult is always fun.

Deathtouch makes dealing with Grave Titan in combat a worse prospect than dealing with any of the other titans. Primeval Titan might trample over some blockers, but it does die if blocked by something bigger than it. Inferno Titan has some cornercase tricks if you have enough mana. But deathtouch is even better. Leaving creatures behind even after Grave Titan trades in combat lends some stickiness to the card. You can block it and kill it, but you lose your blocker and Grave Titan already made zombies at least twice.

If you've seen my Memories thread for Sengir Autocrat, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I like Grave Titan. It's kind of like a Sengir Autocrat that's actually good.
 

Ferret

Moderator
Staff member
You had me at Sengir Autocrat. Back in the day, that was one of my of my favorite critters. I even got a turn three win with one of those...
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
You had me at Sengir Autocrat. Back in the day, that was one of my of my favorite critters. I even got a turn three win with one of those...
Yep. Sengir Autocrat is an old favorite of mine. I did one of these threads for it back in 2018: http://www.casualplayers.org/forums/threads/magic-memories-sengir-autocrat.17300/

Sengir Autocrat cheaper than Grave Titan and is still better at stuff like enabling Hecatomb, which was one thing that I used it for. But there is a bit of similarity, which is part of what has drawn me to Grave Titan. If your opponent can't kill it before it manages to attack just one time, it does an impression of Sengir Autocrat. If it stays alive for longer, then it becomes even better. Getting an instance of the triggered ability when the titan hits the battlefield and then a second instance the moment it attacks has been the formula that made these titans so successful. The results have spoken for themselves, and I think that perhaps even WotC were a bit taken aback by what they created. For most of the mid-to-late-2010's, I recall a perception by players that WotC was always seeking to recapitulate the power and success of the titans with some other cycle of creatures without making them overpowered. None of the would-be successors have been as popular.

Grave Titan mimicking Sengir Autocrat if it ever attacks might just epitomize the sweet spot that these titans hit. A creature like this that gets countered doesn't really do anything and one that gets killed right away only provides a simple EtB trigger. If the creature sticks around for a long time, then it probably just kills your opponent or something. But a lot of the time, realistically, you get an opportunity to attack with a big creature, but your opponent might block and kill it. That's a kind of sweet spot for these titans. It means that your opponent had to expend some kind of resource dealing with a 6/6 attacker that also has some kind of combat-relevant ability. In the case of Primeval Titan, that means fetching four lands from your library to the battlefield. In the case of Grave Titan, it means making four 2/2 zombie tokens. In the case of Inferno Titan, it means two instances of 3 damage divided up however you want. The runt of this litter, Frost Titan, doesn't actually have an ability that really matters in most combat situations and also kind of has the most situational triggered ability here. But my favorite is Sun Titan.

Zombie tokens are fun. The potential to just beat an opponent to death here is very real, and the proven power of Legacy Reanimator decks speaks for itself. Also, the tokens serve as sacrifice fodder, and like I said in that Sengir Autocrat thread, sacrificing stuff just might be my favorite "mechanic" in the game. Direct damage is simple, effective, and has a visceral appeal. I like direct damage effects and have been using them for a long time. And of course, I am enthusiastic about land-based engine decks. Despite all that, out of these M11 titans, Sun Titan is my favorite. A big part of that is how combotastic Sun Titan has proven itself to be. I'm impressed with how many different ways the card can set up and participate in combos. I mean, lands are cool, but what's even more cool is the recursion of any permanents with CMC 3 or less.
 
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