Onslaught: Bait & Switch Review (Part 1 of 2)
“How did planeswalkers come to be if they weren’t planned?” wrote Mark Rosewater in a piece announcing the new card type leading up to the release of Lorwyn. “The way that many cool creative things come to be: by happy accident.” Originally, planeswalkers weren’t meant to be included in Lorwyn, but they were a confluence of two independent pressures. As it happens, they came together at the right time and place, and from that meeting the planeswalker was born.
The first pressure was marketing-focused. For some time Magic had struggled with the concept of the planeswalker. Originally designed as virtual demi-gods, the notion of omnipotent beings had never gained a lot of traction with players as there was very little for the player to relate to. They tended to be peripheral beings in the cards, and the better story-lines tended to center around more mortal struggles (such as the Weatherlight Saga). Marketing minds within Wizards rightly saw this as an opportunity missed- it’s hard to build a consistent creative brand when the worlds and characters change every year. As a result, there was some drive within the company to find a way to have a core ‘cast of characters’ recur from set to set, although at the time this wasn’t really thought of at the card level.
Meanwhile, R&D was in the midst of creating Future Sight. The third set of Time Spiral block, Future Sight was meant to represent ‘possible futures’ of the game of Magic, just as Time Spiral celebrated its past and Planar Chaos presented an alternate-reality present. Some of the cards designed for Future Sight were cards Wizards wanted to use as plants for future sets, such as the Boldwyr Intimidator. Others, like the Steamflogger Boss, were designed as ‘red herrings.’ These cards might never see reprinting, but provided tantalising hints of the possible directions the game could take down the road.
Inevitably, one of the ideas that came out of the Future Sight brainstorming sessions was the idea of a new card type, something completely different from what had been offered since the game’s inception. The unique nature of the set meant that virtually anything was possible- if the new card type was a bust, well, it was just something from some ‘possible future’ of Magic that never need be revisited.
As mentioned above, these two forces collided at the right time, and in a flash of inspiration Matt Cavotta made the fateful suggestion that solved both problems- there would be a new card type, and it would be planeswalkers. It didn’t take Wizards long to realise they’d found something worthwhile in the notion, however, and that planeswalkers could occupy more than just a one-off niche release in Future Sight. They were pulled from that file to allow for deeper design, and more time to get them right. As we now know, they were released in Lorwyn, and have been an immense success overall.
Obviously, planeswalkers were still a distant dream in 2002 with Onslaught, but our final look at the set reflects a not dissimilar origin. Sometimes good design is the result of careful planning and refinement. Other times, well, there’s an element of serendipity. Onsalught- and by extension the concept of a tribal set- came about from just such a moment. Onslaught was not originally concepted to be a set in which creature types were the central theme. Creature types were relevant in a supporting fashion, and as Rosewater relates the Mistform creatures were in the original design.
As he tells it, the Mistforms- which can pay mana to become the creature type of your choice until the end of the turn- begged an important question: what good is changing creature types, if creature types don’t matter? The results of that simple musing brought the “creature types matter” theme front and center, giving us Magic’s first fully tribal block.
Myth of Reality
The concept of Bait & Switch is a fairly straightforward one, even as the deck itself promises to be the most intricate of the four. Pack in a ton of creatures that can change their creature type, then mould that around a core of tribal cards that care about creature types. It might sound a bit convoluted, but we can break it down best by dividing all of the creatures into one of two buckets.
The shapeshifters are those cards that play fast and loose with creature types. With one exception- the Imagecrafter– these are all Mistform Illusions. We begin here with the Mistform Stalker. A two-mana 1/1, it has the customary Mistform ability of being able to temporarily change its creature type for . In addition, it can become a 3/3 flyer if you spend a bit more mana on it. This makes it quite adaptive to suit your needs, be it as a different creature type to combo off another effect, or just to have a midsize presence in the air.
Next up is the Mistform Dreamer. The Dreamer is a touch bigger than the Stalker and has flying built in. However, by way of tradeoff its power and toughness are fixed, and it has no secondary activated ability. The deck offers a trio of these, and an additional full playset of the next three-drop creature, the Mistform Wall. A sizable 1/4 body, the Wall also has no special abilities outwith the usual and customary for the Mistforms, but it’s worth noting that by changing the Wall’s creature type to anything other than Wall, it gains the ability to attack. Since this is a deck that appreciates the luxury of a little time to get its combo pieces in place, however, you’ll most often find them more valuable on defense.
Moving to the top of the curve, we find two more creatures here in the form of the Mistform Shrieker and Mutant. The Shrieker is another evasive body in the air, and it has the ability to be played as a morph. This isn’t especially relevant with your Mistforms, but as we’ll see you have a few sneaky options to give morph some bite. As a 3/3, it’s another solid option, while the Mistform Mutant is one point of toughness stronger. The Mutant offers a slight twist on the Mistform ability, being able to change the creature type of target creature whereas most other Mistforms only can change themselves.
Also in this class are a playset of Imagecrafters, one-drop 1/1 Wizards that can tap to do the same thing as the Mutant. Though it costs no mana to use, it’s a one-off effect where the Mutant’s is repeatable. Still, by this point you should have a fair idea of what this element of the deck is trying to do: play fast and loose with creature types. But towards what end?
That’s where the enablers come in. These are a class of creatures that offer bonuses to their ilk. Take, for starters, the Cabal Slaver. A humble 2/1 Cleric, he powers up any Goblins you have on the board, letting them compel a discard from your opponent whenever they deal them combat damage. Of course the deck doesn’t have any Goblins, but if you wait to see if any of your Mistform attackers get through you can then change their creature type to Goblin and get the discarding benefit!
Like Zombies instead? The Boneknitter lets you regenerate a Zombie- just the thing for saving one of your Mistforms from certain death. The Frightshroud Courier can give one of your “Zombies” +2/+2 and fear as well, letting them get in for added damage. The Ghosthelm Courier is cut of similar cloth, but instead it targets Wizards to give them shroud in addition to the power/toughness boost. In addition, there’s an Information Dealer that helps you dig into your library for the right card at the right time.
Finally, a singleton Fallen Cleric gives you a silver bullet against the Ivory Doom player. Though this undead fellow doesn’t offer much in the way of support to your Mistforms, it does give you another morph creature to help keep your use of the ability unpredictable.
Drown Your Prey
The noncreature support suite of Bait & Switch is as free-flowing as the deck itself, offering you a little bit of everything and a lot more tribal tricks. Let’s begin with the removal suite. A Misery Charm ordinarily would be quite narrow, as befits its single-mana casting cost. With an Imagecrafter or Mistform Mutant in play, however, it becomes a frighteningly efficient kill spell for any creature on the board. Simply change that creature into a Cleric, and blam! Electric crystal skull time!
Or let’s look at Feeding Frenzy. This one gives a creature -X/-X until end of turn, based upon how many Zombies you have in play. Naturally, with a few Mistforms in play this spell can grow to be quite lethal indeed. And though it might take a little engineering to optimise, Endemic Plague can be devastating against a tribal opponent. Thanks to your amorphous Illusions, you’ll always have just the creature type you need to sacrifice.
From there we have a few stock options in a Smother and trio of Swats. The latter has cycling, letting to pitch it away if it isn’t serving any purpose for you and drawing a fresh card. Although taken as a whole this isn’t the most consistent of removal packages, it does offer no small amount of versatility. One final card of note here is Peer Pressure, since we often consider Mind Control effects as two-for-one removal. Like Endemic Plague, it can take a little legwork to make work, but the deck gives you the versatility to make the card do some work for you as well.
The last four cards here defy classification, instead being a collection of one-shot effects. Ixidor’s Will gives you recourse to countermagic, albeit countermagic that cares very strongly about your Wizard population. Meanwhile, Mage’s Guile can help thwart removal from your opponent or beneficial spells for their own creatures, and cycles rather easily if your opponent is casting few targeted spells. The aptly-named Trickery Charm has three minor effects to choose from- one granting evasion, one playing around with creature types, and a bit of library manipulation. Crown of Suspicion, meanwhile, is an aura that grants a minor stats ‘boost’ of +2/-1, and can be sacrificed to give all your creatures of that type the same boost. Just the thing for helping your game-ending alpha strike get in for those last few critical points of damage, though overall a very clunky card.
Throw in a pair each of Barren Moor and Lonely Sandbar, and we have Bait & Switch! Decks that pack in no small amount of cleverness are a site favourite, and we’re eager to see how it lives up to its promise. Join us in two days’ time when we report back with our findings after taking it into battle.
The construction of the deck seems very interesting. Peer pressure is a card banned from block constructed, so it should give you an idea of the power it holds against the tribal decks. I expect the deck to do well in the matchups, although it might take a while to get going. None of the decks from Onslaught are fast, so it will probably have time to set its defense and army of mistform creatures. Back when I was new to Magic, I never really found much use for mistform creatures, I always thought to myself- why have to pay more mana to change mistforms instead of just using the real creature? For example, the legions sliver deck contained some mistform dreamers, and they were one of the cards I cut for slivers from the same set. But in a deck like this that abuses the ability to change creatures to any type and things that require a specific type, I can appreciate the architecture and design they took. Although Ivory doom is my favorite onslaught deck due to my love of clerics, this one has one of the most interesting theme deck constructions in all of magic. I expect the deck to have a good rating since the strategy seems solid, fun, and complex. It requires thinking and planning to make the best out of it.
It’s also interesting to note the huge presence of the 3-drop slot. Due to morph being a key player of your tactics, having so many things in the 3-slot is dangerous. Often you will need mana to change your mistforms while also taking advantage of saboteur and tribal abilities your creatures grant, and that can get expensive when playing Morph creatures is actually more expensive than just outright casting them. Due to this, I would say that the deck requires careful piloting and planning to really be successful.
Good points as always. From where we’re sitting, I just want to say how much we’ve been enjoying the comments you’ve been leaving on a number of different decks throughout the site as late. I know especially with older articles it might feel at times like you’re just whispering into a well, but we read ’em all! Thanks!
I’m glad you like them! I love the site in general and have been reading as many articles as I can for the past few months, although I have been a lurker since around early 2011. Today I got 3 more precons from my LGS from scourge set: Pulverize, Storm Surge, and Max Attax, all together for $19, I think it was a fair deal. As I already own Goblin mob, it means I own all of the scourge decks. From lorwyn I assembled 3 out of the 5 decks from singles, as well as a couple of decks from the kamigawa block, and 2 more from eventide. Last year I managed to get all the decks from Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored and the complete ravnica block. As you see, your site has inspired me to get many precons! There are others as well. However, I’ve only been able to pilot a handful of them, mostly only the Ravnica and Innistrad block decks, and most DD I own. Any tips that you might have to find a “precon community” near me?
Fallen Cleric doesn’t have protection from clerics in this deck; thanks to imagecrafter, it has protection from (some of) opponent’s creatures!
I think the deck is more cute than actual threat, but it deserves points for fun and originality =D
Good one, missed that in the writeup!
The deck’s interesting, that’s for sure, and its rares are good and fit into the deck’s theme. Everything’s right on the paper, but what about mana? I think this deck isn’t going to have enough mana to activate the mistform abilities AND play cards to benefit from it. Mana ramp would be great here, but on black/blue it’s pretty impossible to get that effects.
This deck looks so interesting to play! I like how you can change your creatures to get the most out of them. Sure it costs some mana, but I really think of using their abilities as a combat trick. Your opponent will have trouble blocking if they don’t know what you are going to do with your creatures, My only worries are having the deck handle removal… Some of the creatures taht give a boost to your troops are vulnerable to removal. Another thing is that sometimes you won’t have enough mana or open creatures to use the mistform ability. While this is slightly bypassed by the tappable creatures for the ability, I feel like it might be hard early on to get that edge. If the deck can survive a few turns while building its mana base and its troops, I don’t see why it would face any other troubles later on. But we will see how it fares soon 🙂
I have high hopes for this deck!
This deck reminds me of “Beyond the Grave”, due to its intricacy and wide array of solutions. While I love these aspects, especially in precons, I can’t help but feel that “Bait and Switch”, just like its “twin”, suffers from a couple of weaknesses that prevent it from shining: Beyond the Grave was hampered by the high amount of mana needed to assemble the recursive engine, this deck, on the other hand, seems more dependant on a high number of “tricky” creatures- one Mistform won’t do a lot if you have a spell that requires a large number of Zombies(for example), but overcommitting with creatures leave the deck helpless against a boardwipe.
I really want to sleeve this up and see how it plays. It definitely is not a deck you can go on auto-pilot with. With all the singletons I’m interesting in seeing it in action.
Fun fact, Crown of Suspicion can act as removal and even a sweeper if the opponent has too many X/1’s, which helps since this is another slow deck.
Kudos on the breakdown for this deck – this was a blast from the past for me, as Bait & Switch was my first theme deck in Magic, and the Mistform mechanic will always have seat in my since tweaked decks.
I also found it interesting since I had completely forgotten through all of my meddling that this originally began as a Blue/Black mashup. Somewhere along the way (Mind you, I had to do some sleuthing to figure this out), I had combined the soldier tribal element from the “Storm Surge” Theme deck from Scourge with the Mistform element of this deck to create an entirely different beast altogether!
Which leads me to my question/suggestion: have you ever thought of doing a piece or two on creating Frankenstein’s monster decks – such as I apparently did – combining two decks from across the blocks whose mechanics and concepts mesh well together?
Thanks, glad you enjoyed! I have indeed done a little of that, check out https://ertaislament.com/category/features/ertais-trickery/
Not quite as cross-block as it seems you’ve done, but a page from the same playbook! 🙂