Morningtide: Going Rogue Review (Part 1 of 2)
In many ways, the story of Morningtide is the story of…
…you mean you’ve heard this story before? Well, it’s true that you have. And just as true that you haven’t. Not this way, anyway. We should explain…
To be fair, we have indeed used that lead-in a time or two before. The story of Worldwake, we once wrote, is the story of Ken [Nagle]. The story of Visions, again we noted, is the story of Mirage. And in many ways, it’s the story of Legends and Invasion as well.
So what gives, you might reasonably ask. Which story is this?
No, don’t tell me, I already know. Lorwyn.
See? Not so hard.
Yes, but also Mirrodin. And Onslaught.
The story of Morningtide is also the story of…
Yes, I got that, Mirrodin. Onslaught. But…how?
And that’s the story right there.
In truth, the X is really about Y narrative is just a bit of historical sleight-of-hand that helps paint a broader picture for the tale that is to come, helping put it in its proper context and perspective. Magic history is no different than most another other kind of history, though in some ways it is perhaps a little murkier given the tightly-controlled window on the world we have for it. The creation of Magic happens every day inside the Wizards of the Coast headquarters in Renton, Washington. It goes on in the phone conversations of members on weekends, or on sketch-pads while brainstorming, ski trips, or over a pint at the pub. Who knows, but certainly it is an act of continuous creation.
From an outsider’s perspective, however, things look quite a bit different. No common history this, we instead get to see the final, polished results several times a year as new sets and releases hit the shelves. Sure we’ve also got insights from Mark Rosewater, Aaron Forsythe and others in their features and columns on the mothership and elsewhere, but that’s a bit like trying to examine the inside of the earth by watching volcanoes. Sure there’s useful information there, but you know that there’s just so much more going on under the surface.
In addition, the release of Magic in sequential sets tends to box our way of thinking. If set X has mechanic Y, then mechanic Y is the story of set X, right? Well, yes… and no. Take cycling, for instance. This popular mechanic was designed for Tempest, but in the end Tempest just had too much mechanical space fighting for its attention and it got pushed to Urza’s Saga. Is cycling, then, the story of Urza’s Saga? Or of Tempest? Perhaps both?
A better example yet may be echo. Another mechanic that was originally in the design file for Tempest but was pushed to Urza’s Saga, where does it belong? To say Tempest or Urza’s Saga is some of the story, but this one goes even further back to a custom set, Astral Ways, designed by Mike Elliot before he was employed by Wizards. Then known as planeshift, the mechanic of spreading your payment out over two turns had a surprisingly involved story all its own.
So what you’re saying then, is that the story of one thing is really the story of many things, and we have a tendency to see them as discrete and set-based but they’re really not?
More or less, yes.
Okay. So Morningtide takes its origins in Lorwyn, Mirrodin, and Onslaught all at once?
Got it. So let’s hear it.
Sorry, we’re out of time.
Out of time?
Well, out of space. This thing’s pushing 2500 words. It’ll have to wait until the next deck.
…you’re a bastard.
I know. But if I’m a sneaky and devious one, then I’m right at home with today’s offering, Going Rogue.
Thanks! Now, let’s take a look at that deck.
From Mischievous to Malicious
When you think of Magic deck archetypes, its often that the most common ones come to mind, like Red burn, Blue/White control, Green stompy. Today’s deck draws upon one that is much lower on the list, though it’s one we’ve seen before. The crux of this sort of deck is simple: use evasive creatures to damage your opponent, because when you damage your opponent good things happen. Consider Blood and Fire, a deck from Magic 2012. For that set, the returning mechanic was bloodthirst, which let your creatures come into play with a number of +1/+1 counters if you had already managed to damage your opponent that turn. Unsurprisingly, creatures like Tormented Soul and Goblin Tunneler found a spot on the roster, helping you get in for damage regardless of your opponent’s defenses.
For another example, consider Betrayers of Kamigawa’s Ninjutsu. Although the namesake mechanic didn’t rely on your creatures actually inflicting damage, the core concept was the same- attack and be rewarded. In this case, the reward came in the form of being able to swap an unblocked attacker for a Ninja from your hand, which carried with it one of a range of ‘saboteur’ abilities (saboteur being slang for creatures that have effects that trigger when combat damage is dealt to an opponent).
Today’s deck is something of a hybrid of the two. Rogues in Morningtide have a special ability called prowl, which lets you play cards at a deep discount from your hand (similar to ninjutsu) when you have dealt combat damage to an opponent with a Goblin or Rogue in the same turn (rather like bloodthirst). Before we’ve even looked at a card, that gives us some idea of what to expect here: set-up cards in the form of evasive or difficult-to-handle creatures, and payoff cards that have some bonus for pulling off the set-up condition.
The deck’s one-drops do an admirable job of acting as set-ups for the grim harvest that follows, though set-up cards aren’t limited to just these earliest plays. The Nightshade Stinger is a 1/1 flier with a minor drawback of not being able to block. You also get a pair of Prickly Boggarts, who carry their conditional evasion n the form of fear. Against an opponent with Swamps in their deck these can be amongst the worst possible draws, but against any other opponent they are superb prowl enablers. Finally, there’s a Mothdust Changeling. Thanks to being a Changeling they are prowl triggers just as any Rogue or Goblin would be, and this one gains flying if you tap another creature.
This represents a solid investment in the early-game, and can yield some very aggressive results. A second-turn strike with an opening one-drop can let you prowl in a Stinkdrinker Bandit, and if your opponent has been negligent in erecting their defenses that means you’re coming in for a very respectable seven points of damage on turn 3. Not a bad start!
You can throw another three points of damage onto that pile if your third-turn play happens to be the Frogtosser Banneret, but of course we’re really starting to stretch the “best case scenario” mentality here. Still, the aim of a deck with synergy is to ensure that enough of these optimal lines of play emerge as possible. The Banneret can certainly help in that regard, since in addition to being a hasty attacker it also makes your Goblin and Rogue spells cheaper to play. The deck gives you three copies, a testament to its importance. Also here is a pair of Oona’s Blackguards. In addition to being prowl enablers due to their early availability and evasion, these provide a considerable boost to the deck. With two relevant static abilities, these are like “lords” in the sense that they make every other creature that much stronger. You’ll always be happy to see one of these, and they are cumulative. If you happen to have both in play, you’ll get double the effect.
As useful as these are, the core of the deck by volume is found in the three-drops, and it’s here we find our first instance of a creature-based prowl in the rare Auntie’s Snitch. The Snitch is reminiscent of Black self-recursive cards like Ashen Ghoul and Veilborn Ghoul, and like those cards it has a very brittle toughness that all but assures it’ll find itself in the graveyard before long. It’s hostile purpose is reinforced by the prohibition against blocking, which essentially makes this card a bit like a blindly-fired cannonball. You don’t know what it’s going to hit, only that it’s going to hit something– and under the right conditions it can do this over and over and over again each turn.
The remaining cards are a bit more straightforward. Pestermite comes into play with a Twiddle effect attached to it, and its flying combined with flash can make it a surprise prowl enabler when summoned at the end of your opponent’s turn. The tap/untap ability has a number of useful applications as well, from providing you with a pair of surprise blockers to squeezing an extra mana out of your manabase. You also get a pair of Ghostly Changelings, which are your customary Shade-type effect in Black. The Changeling is less efficient than some of the others of the type, needing two mana per +1/+1 bonus, but if you run out of places to put your mana it’s as good a use as any.
Then there’s the Paperfin Rascal, another 2/2 which has the opportunity to become a 3/3 if you win a clash. This mechanic, a carryover from Lorwyn, introduces an element of randomness to the board as you can never be quite certain what you’re going to get when you and your opponent flip over the top cards of your libraries and compare converted mana costs, but the last creature at this drop slot- the Dewdrop Spy– can certainly give you some idea. Another evasive, instant-speed creature with an enters-the-battlefield effect, the Spy lets you peer at the top card of your opponent’s library when summoned. If you find something massive lurking there, you might want to wait a turn on your Rascal.
FInally, we come to the top of the mana curve, which for Going Rogue’s creature suite means four mana. First up is the aforementioned Stinkdrinker Bandit, which gives a free (if temporary) Unholy Strength to each unblocked Rogue when you attack. Although it doesn’t have a substantial body itself (being a mere 2/1), its prowl cost cuts its pricetag in half. Also with a prowl discount is the Latchkey Faerie, which is slightly larger at 3/1 and has flying. The Faerie’s prowl bonus goes beyond just a slight discount- if you can pull it off, you also get to draw a free card. That’s no small incentive to do what the deck wants to be doing anyway.
The final creature card is the Marsh Flitter, a humble 1/1 flier that brings along a couple of friends in the form of 1/1 Goblin Rogue tokens. The Flitter’s not a game-changer on her own, but she can convert your Goblins into a power and toughness boost once each turn (multiple sacrifices in a turn are redundant and provide no additional bonus, unlike a Vampire Aristocrat). It’s not inexpensive, but if the game has dragged to a halt it’s a worthwhile outlet for spare ground forces.
Exhilarating and Agonizing
The noncreature support suite for Going Rogue is large and varied, giving you a little bit of everything. This makes for fun diversity, but fairly poor consistency. There’s a dose of creature augmentation in a Protective Bubble and Cloak and Dagger, both of which offer their bearer shroud. The Bubble also makes them unblockable, which combined with the untargetability essentially means you’ll get free prowl opportunities each turn for the rest of the game.
You also get a touch of countermagic with a pair of Familiar’s Ruses, which have the same mana cost as the classic Counterspell with with an added cost- the return of a creature to hand. This gives you a second use of your Pestermites or Dewdrop Spies, or even more free tokens with the Marsh Flitter if yuou happen to have any of these on the board at the time of casting.
Your removal package is equally varied, so you’ll have to make do with what fortune delivers you. Peppersmoke can help kill a small creature or finish off a wounded larger one, and replaces itself in your hand if you happen to have a Faerie in play at the time. Nameless Inversion is a tribal instant that gives a creature +3/-3. In most cases, your creatures will be too fragile for this to count as a combat trick in your favour, though it is possible (a Paperfin Rascal which won its clash summoned with an Oona’s Blackguard in play, for instance). Instead, see this for what it is- a kill spell.
Whirlpool Whelm is an Unsummon with a twist- if you win the clash, you can bounce that card to the top of your opponent’s library rather than their hand. Finally, Violet Pall is a Doom Blade which brings along an extra 1/1 token creature. It’s pricey and conditional, but beggars can’t be choosers when looking to reinforce the tribal themes of the deck (better removal cards such as Eyeblight’s Ending and Pack’s Disdain have a decidedly Elven feel).
There’s also a bit of card draw here with Thieves’ Fortune and Hoarder’s Greed, both of which are cards we’ve often seen in other forms. Hoarder’s Greed is comparable to a Sign in Blood, which lets you do it again if you win a clash. With this repeat compulsory, you may want to be careful when you play the card. Thieves’ Fortune, on the other hand, is a retooled Impulse which costs one more mana to cast normally, and one less if you take advantage of prowl. This is a very common design strategy with Magic, and a very useful effect for the deck.
Lastly, there are the true odds-n-ends of the deck. Ego Erasure blunts the power of a creature and removes its creature type, which in this tribal-saturated block can be quite relevant. Morsel Theft is a syphon effect that not only becomes a steal at its prowl cost, but also replaces itself in your hand. Finally, Notorious Throng throws a kink in the concept of prowl by boasting a prowl cost that’s actually higher than the regular casting cost. Of course, this being your deck’s second rare you can be sure of a splashy effect, and it doesn’t disappoint- you get to take another turn! Played either way, the Throng gives you a number of 1/1 tokens equal to the amount of damage you’ve inflicted upon your opponent the turn its cast, so it does help keep your deck humming along with evasive threats.
On that note, we’re taking Going Rogue from the lab to the battleground to see how well it holds up in the field. See you in two days, when we return with the results!