I can’t say that I was expecting a Bant Aura’s mirror in the finals of GP Atlantic City, but I can say that this wasn’t a terribly surprising occurrence. While I am a big fan of Sphinx's Revelation, I believe that right now is a very good time to be attacking.
I played Mono-Red at the L.A. Invitational, and while my results were not spectacular the deck felt very powerful. Ari Lax’s top 4 list is very close to the list I piloted and it’s absolutely a strong contender. It has the benefit of having a massive quantity of haste creatures which makes it an aggressive deck that is rather resilient to Pillar of Flame (kind of like Bant Auras…).
While the haste creatures are quite powerful, one thing that the deck is lacking in is powerful burn spells. Once you reach a certain threshold of haste creatures you really want something to start diversifying. I battled Nick Spagnolo’s Esper control deck in L.A. and bringing in Archwing Dragon while he brought in more spot removal for game two was outright embarrassing.
I definitely missed having Slaughter Games for Revelations and Thragtusks in L.A. by going Mono-Red over RB, but a lot of the RB cards and the RB manabase (Guildgates?) didn’t really excite me. Diregraf Ghoul has been hated out of the metagame plenty and Falkenrath Aristocrat makes the four spot a mite too heavy with Hellrider being an obvious auto-include. Which leads me to what I’m excited about from Gatecrash…
So, I’m definitely not the first person to express interest in Skullcrack, and I absolutely won’t be the last, but I think my appreciation for it differs from that previously expressed by others. I see it as a sideboard (though possibly maindeck) card to combat lifegain strategies in R/x decks that allows the Red player to eschew playing the lousy color that is Black.
To be entirely honest, the most exciting cards from Gatecrash from my perspective are Sacred Foundry and Stomping Ground. At this point in time we haven’t seen enough of the set to see where the best creature base lies, but I have a feeling that Boros and Gruul will both serve as stronger options than Rakdos.
Mainly I see both color pairs as being better shells for Ash Zealot decks. Rakdos decks currently face the problem of having to play one drops that cost black mana or slowing themselves down dramatically by playing more expensive cards and/or Guildgates. Boros, alternatively, gets a number of humans it can cast on turn one off of its Cavern of Souls that curve well into Ash Zealot, which I don’t think is even arguable as being red’s strongest two drop. Boros Charm also offers a healthy amount of reach while serving as an answer to Supreme Verdict.
There really hasn’t been much spoiled for Gruul in the way of playables, but Stomping Ground turning Flinthoof Boar into a playable card is absolutely worth noting. Having a two mana 3/3 / three mana 3/3 haste to play with your Ash Zealots is absolutely a big game. That said, Gruul Charm isn’t even close to Boros Charm. Alternatively, Ghor-Clan Rampager is a pretty awesome trick. I’m not ready to count Gruul out just yet, but it just doesn’t offer anything on the level of Boros Charm yet.
Seeing as I’m writing for QuietSpeculation, it seems appropriate to say a word or two about the impact that Gatecrash will have on Ash Zealot monetarily. I say with a great deal of confidence that the card WILL be seeing dramatically more play in the near future.
That said, it’s only a regular rare and it already fetches $4-5. I don’t think it’s realistic to be able to sell the card for more than $5 while it’s in Standard so I wouldn’t bother investing in them, though picking up a set to play with right now is a move I can get behind. Ultimately the factor that will stop the card from taking off is that it will only ever be in one or two decks at the same time. There’s just no reason to play an Ash Zealot deck that isn’t the best Ash Zealot deck.
Things to Look out For
As I watch spoilers roll in and I try to determine which guild to rumble with, there are a few things that I’m looking for to tip me in one direction or the other. Boros Charm already has me with respect to reach, but that’s not the only important thing for an aggro deck.
More than anything, the one and two drops that each guild presents will have the greatest impact. There aren’t any new one drops that excite me yet, as Boros Elite is certifiable garbage. Currently I’m giving Boros the nod for having Champion of the Parish but it’s worth noting that both colors of access to Stonewright, which is a very solid inclusion as a two-of in aggressive red decks.
A high enough threshold of good two drops makes having good one drops less important though, so any other good two-drop to accompany Flinthoof Boor would be awesome for Gruul.
I have some ideas for what I would play if nothing else of value showed up in Gatecrash, but I’m trying to be more optimistic than that. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a set with Glaring Spotlight in it. At any rate, I know that whatever I play immediately following Gatecrash’s release it will start with four Ash Zealots and four Hellriders.
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