The prerelease weekend for Gatecrash might be over, but excitement over the new set – mine as well as the player base as a whole’s – shows no signs of dying down anytime soon. The release tournaments are next weekend, and many of you who played in prereleases Saturday and today are probably sufficiently impressed to attend a release tournament. With that in mind, it’s best to be prepared for everything Gatecrash might throw at you. Continuing from last time, when I concluded with the monowhite portion of the set, here is Gatecrash blue, broken down card by card.
Ætherize – Let’s make no bones about it. This is four-mana one-sided mass removal at instant speed, which makes it utterly insane in Limited. If you are playing blue, your opponents would be wise not to overextend in combat purely because of the threat of this card. If you’re on the defensive and losing the life race and you cast this, you can turn the game around right then and there. And in Dragon’s Maze Limited, when Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze cards are going to be in the same environment, this is going to utterly destroy Selesnya (remember that tokens simply cease to exist when they leave the battlefield).
Agoraphobia – Soft-removal that can get passed around and/or saved from destruction when the creature it’s on leaves the battlefield is always worth a look. If you’re doing a blue control build, this is worth using because it means you can constantly make your opponent’s biggest threat a non-threat, and in Simic decks it has the odd application of making sure an evolve creature always, always triggers its +1/+1-counter-getting ability.
Clinging Anemones – This might be the most annoying ground-based defender since, well, Basilica Guards. It might cost four mana and not be able to prevent flying beaters from hitting you, but man is it going to be huge when you need it to be. At 4 toughness just to start, it’s hard to kill in combat by most of the creatures you’ll be dealing with in this set, and since it’s only got 1 power to begin with, that evolve ability is going to go off again and again, growing and growing and growing that toughness until you’ve got an un-beatdown-able wall that also kills attackers.
Cloudfin Raptor – Holy crap, the grognards who complain about power creep and blue getting small creatures that are too good might be kinda right. In a green-blue Simic deck this will almost always be able to attack on turn two as a 1/2, and it’s likely it’ll be a 3/4 flyer by turn four. That is an extremely good one-mana investment for something that starts out so small and unassuming. I’m reminded of Boros Elite as much as anything else; to be honest, a deck composed of the white parts of Boros and blue parts of Simic could be surprisingly good for “weenie” aggro that’s secretly midrange at a discount.
Diluvian Primordial – The success of this card depends on one of two things: Your opponents trying to end you and not quite managing it; or you using a lot of mill. Guess which one is relatively easy for you in this set? The genius of this design is it’s not just for EDH, it’s a good backup or accelerated win condition in Limited monoblue or blue-black m ill decks. The seven-mana price tag might be a bit much, but if your deck runs slow to begin with, don’t overlook it.
Enter the Infinite – While we’re on the subject of EDH, let’s be reasonable – that’s about the only format you can pull off a twelve-mana spell with four blue mana symbols in its cost in. I thought long and hard about blue-green ramp getting some use out of this in order to drop all of its possible finishers the next turn, but there is a lot of color-fixing that needs to happen in order for that archetype to possibly exist. But hey, it’s Ravnica, anything can happen with Guildgates at common and shocklands at rare.
Frilled Oculus – Knight of the Skyward Eye, now featuring more reasonable cost and pump ratios! The fact that this costs two mana and can quite easily attack as a 3/5 can’t be overlooked, and is good defensively for its cost even before you can activate that pump ability. Slower Simic builds are going to find plenty of use for this guy. I seriously doubt the conspiracy theories that allege the fact that an apparent Oculus offshoot is present on Ravnica is proof of Phyrexian influence on the Simic Combine, but you never know…
Gridlock – Wow, when is this not useful? That cost might not scale well to its effect at high numbers, but this is going to prevent as many alpha strikes as it enables, and mess with pesky artifacts besides. If you’re playing blue in Gatecrash Limited you should probably run this just in case. In case what? In case anything happens.
Hands of Binding – This is removal with cipher. Granted, it may be exceedingly temporary removal, but the fact remains that if you’re playing Dimir right, you’ve got a ton of evasive creatures and you are going to be able to get a lot of tapping out of one casting of this. Two mana is a freakin’ steal for the number of times you’ll take a creature out of commission if you can get this encoded on something hard to block.
Incursion Specialist – Looks like Gatecrash blue is, for all of its stellar defensive creatures, actually kind of fast. On Innistrad, you cast two spells a turn because you’re terrified of Werewolves. On Ravnica, you do it because suddenly your unassuming 1/3 has 3 power and is unblockable. This is, like Frilled Oculus, a two-mana 1/3 with a pump ability that only goes off once a turn. Also like Frilled Oculus, this is immensely playable in any aggro-ish or aggro-control blue Limited build.
Keymaster Rogue – Sheesh, with the unblockability already. Anyhow, this is probably just as much a Simic-appeal card as it is for Dimir; it’s good for getting twice the evolve-trigger-setting-off out of a fat creature. It is also, not to put too fine a point on it, a 3-power unblockable guy for four mana. So encode those spells with cipher on Keymaster Rogue and go to town.
Last Thoughts – This isn’t nearly the bargain Hands of Binding is, or indeed that a few other cards with cipher are. The fact is it doesn’t really become “worth it” for four mana until the creature it’s encoded on gets off three or more unblocked hits. If it’s on a relatively durable creature and getting copied every turn, then more power to you, but I can’t honestly see much use for this even in slow Limited decks.
Leyline Phantom – This is an awesome evolve enabler disguised as a crappy but obligatory common blue nonflying beater. If you can get a +1/+1 counter on every other one of your creatures with this in addition to getting a 5-damage hit off with it, then honestly, paying five mana for this every turn in order to replay it is kind of worth it. You’ve got to have a pretty big mana base and a pretty slow Simic deck in order to use this effectively, but when it’s strong, it’s really strong and when it’s bad, it’s abysmal.
Metropolis Sprite – For all the powering-up that blue aggro is getting lately, it still has yet to get a simple Mistral Charger of its own. This is cheap and evasive, and it can get bigger than 2/1 if you can pump its toughness, so it does have some Limited playability, but it’s still a drain on your resources if you need it to repeatedly hit for 2 damage. On another note, this further extends the +X/-X-type of pump into blue – has R&D finally hit on the perfect blue combat ability?
Mindeye Drake – There’s that damn creepy slit-pupiled eye like the one on Frilled Oculus again. I could swear I’ve seen something like that before, but I just can’t place it… Anyhow, this is the flying defensive creature that slow mill decks want and need in this set. If you can afford it, you probably need it.