I am thrilled. Why? Because Wizards of the Coast cares for us. Yes, they do not simply hang us out to dry, as though Legacy players are mere scavengers rummaging through the meager portions of goodies among dozens of Standard playable cards in a newly revealed set. Oh, sometimes we are simply emaciated. A set is fully spoiled and we find that none of the cards see even marginal play in Legacy. Set after set, we hang our mouths wide open in anticipation for the next Stoneforge Mystic, Snapcaster Mage, or even Swan Song and most times our hope is bitterly betrayed. We slump our shoulders and walk away from the computer wondering why we even looked in the first place. Although possibly not true, we non-blue mages experience this more often than not.
And yet, here we are. The dawn of Born of the Gods brings forth a shining star from the ashes of desolation. It takes up its sword, ready to join the ranks, to fight the good fight, and to bring balance to what was once a desert storm of blue decks. We welcome you to our ranks, oh mighty Spirit. Make way brethren, Spirit of the Labyrinth arises!
Can you tell I’m excited? Just writing it gave me goose bumps. I know I am exaggerating, but hey, why not hope right? Even though most of you have already brewed decks with this card in mind, I want to give my two cents to how this enchantment will change the course of Legacy as we know it. It is free to hope.
What Does the Card Do?
I had only one chance. My two cards, Green Sun’s Zenith and Mother of Runes, stared at me vying for attention. I knew my opponent had a Jace. The question was, did he have a Swords to Plowshares? If he did, my tutoring of Gaddock Teeg would be meaningless, acting simply as a lightning rod. But, if I passed the turn with Mother of Runes, the Jace would inevitably come slamming down from the heavens like there was no tomorrow. I was pressed against the wall. Do I stop the Jace I know my opponent has, or play around the Swords to Plowshares I don’t. My decision was to gamble on the hate bear. I paid my three mana and fetched my only Gaddock Teeg in the deck. Several turns later my opponent scooped, revealing a hand with two Jaces and a Terminus. My one bullet took it home. It successfully avoided the only four outs (Swords to Plowshares) that could have made my game miserable.
So what does this have to do with Spirit of the Labyrinth? Everything. As one Gaddock Teeg has the power to mutilate an opponent’s plan, so does this Spirit. Once the Spirit hits the battlefield, any player who slings Brainstorms, Ponders, Preordains, Griselbrands, or Jace, the Mind Sculptors has to change his or her entire game plan to beat the 3/1 Spirit.
Notice that I said “game plan,” instead of “game.” There is a difference. I don’t propose that this card will single handedly beat an entire strategy. Nor would it be the key piece in a person’s deck. Just as Gaddock Teeg is beatable, so is this card.
Too often, I think my fellow Westerners evaluate a card based on their worldview. Something is either good or bad, not too much in the middle. I certainly don’t fault that as I too share that trait and it is helpful in certain situations. However, when analyzing cards, it can cause shortsightedness. Some may discard the card since, “It is only one toughness, look at the amount of cards that beat it!” Another may claim, “It doesn’t generate card advantage, nor does it have an ability that is detrimental to all decks.” Both statements are true, but neither is the whole truth. The card doesn’t win you a game but it forces opponents to adjust to your game plan. Just as many small roadblocks create a bad racing track, so this card creates enough of a disruption to puncture blue opponents.
So what does this card do exactly? It creates fear. The simple existence of this card makes blue opponents stop and think about casting a willy-nilly Brainstorm or slamming a Griselbrand. Suddenly, decision trees become more complicated since major card disadvantage is at stake. The Swords to Plowshares that control players threw out nonchalantly to get rid of Dark Confidant come under scrutiny. They must evaluate if the Spirit may end up being a bigger threat. How about in the case of Stoneforge Mystic? Should that be exiled instead of the Spirit?
If blue players ignore Spirit of the Labyrinth, they are forced to become reliant on the top of their decks just like their opponents. Their hand full of lands become exactly that; full of lands. If they are stuck with cards that are significantly weaker in the late game, such as Dazes and Spell Pierces, they simply sit dead in their hand.
The decision tree just grew a branch.
What Does This Card Not Do?
One of the main problems in forming my Maverick deck was Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Don’t get me wrong, she shined sometimes. But she also raised the sales tax on my own spells. Just as Caleb Durward’s recent article explained: Thalia alone forced a deck to be creature heavy in order to minimize your own tempo loss. But this is certainly not true with Spirit of the Labrynth. This card allows creation of spell heavy decks. Now you can pack four Thoughtseizes and not worry about whether you use it first to avoid paying two later. You can cast your Green Sun’s Zenith without the extra cost. Oblivion Ring still is a catch all at three mana. Life from the Loam can be cast again and again without paying that extra tax. And this is not even mentioning Punishing Fire, Swords to Plowshares, Abrupt Decay, and Lightning Bolt and so on and so forth.
And yet, Spirit of the Labyrinth still pressures combo decks like none other. Not only does it do one more point of damage compared to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it also slows decks down significantly. It renders up to eight spells of Sneak and Show irrelevant. OmniTell relies on drawing the entire deck. Now, they will have to pack spells just to deal with this creature. Remember that the OmniTell relies on deck manipulation to find the answer in the first place, making Spirit of the Labyrinth that much more threatening than Ethersworn Canonist.
Now imagine a world where suddenly decks with white have a weapon that shock the entire blue population. The most powerful blue spells carry a small to tremendous risk. One mistake and blue players are significantly behind, sometimes locking themselves out of good draws for several turns. However, the same card that strikes fear in every blue player’s heart doesn’t touch non-blue decks. Barring the occasional Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library, non-blue players are perfectly content at seeing a simple 3/1 for two mana on the opponent’s battlefield. Sure, it is still a mana efficient creature, but it certainly is not one that you are forced to morph your entire plan around. It is just another creature to combat.
Curiously, card advantage engines that do not rely on drawing cards, such as Jund Depths, look rather promising. Not only can it beat blue decks, but Spirit of the Labyrinth doesn’t affect them at all. Perhaps we will see a boost in that direction.
Creeek! Do you hear what I hear? The metagame is shifting. The field is evening out.
I don’t know which deck will most effectively utilize this card. In fact, I really don’t care. As long as the card exists, there will be some decks that will jam this and terrorize blue. That is really all I care about. As long as Brainstorm carries risk, Jace is nerfed, and combo pushed up against the corner, I am content. Thus, I don’t think every deck needs to load this weapon. As long as people fear this card, it opens up some breathing room for all other decks.
An article, however, is slightly boring without a decklist. And I would like to put my two cents in for what can mesh with this new menace the most. You will be surprised, I don’t think it’s Death and Taxes. Honestly, that deck does fine with Thalia. It might utilize the Spirit in the sideboard, but I can’t see it completely replacing Thalia. The fact that Thalia is a legendary creature and can be bounced with Karakas and that it can be flashed in for its first strike damage plays well with Death and Taxes’ strategy. I honestly think it is Deadguy Ale with Aether Vial that will have a hoot of a time.
4 Mother of Runes
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Spirit of the Labyrinth
3 Serra Avenger
4 Dark Confidant
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Aether Vial
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
[Mana Sources] (21)
4 Marsh Flats
3 Arid Mesa
[/Mana Sources] (0)
(not listed)[/Sideboard] (0)
Why? Because it maximizes its strength and adds the needed early turn punch. Since I like three points here they are…
1) Dark Confidant still gives card advantage to you and you only. It is quite shocking to realize that the best black two drop still provides you with the extra card even with Spirit of the Labyrinth on the field. Confidant and Spirit of Labyrinth side by side is a tough one sided card advantage engine to beat. Both cards are a must kill for blue players and having more two drops in that category helps the deck a lot.
2) Liliana of the Veil becomes even more powerful. What happens when you have Liliana of the Veil fighting against Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Usually, people give the nod to Jace as it always draws cards and helps dig for answers. Not anymore. Once Spirit of the Labyrinth hits the board, the discard effect of Liliana becomes final. Nothing can fill the hand or dig for answers. With the two together, Jace becomes a good looking paper weight.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben simply disrupted the opponent from actually casting spells. It was a mere 2/1 first strike for two mana once the spell hit the battlefield. Spirit of the Labyrinth is an effect that continues beyond the stack, as long as it stays alive.
3) Finally, the 3/1 body provides the desperately needed early pressure. Deadguy Ale used to struggle with the fact that it didn’t pressure opponents in the early game to support its massive disruption package. They turned to creatures like Tidehollow Sculler to help them with this problem. Yet the creatures were slow and clunky. The opponents usually stabilized by the time the deck had enough pressure assembled in the form of Spirit tokens or equipped squires. Now, it can punch through with three damage on turn three while ripping their hands to shreds and stopping blue’s advances. It can also gain tempo by using Aether Vial and drop Spirit of the Labyrinth at instant timing.
These reasons really give me hope for the deck. Too long has the black and white color combo been ignored, but now, I believe it is getting the shot in the arm it so desperately craved.
So what now? It is brewing time! When Wizards of the Coast gives us rare treats like this, we cannot let it go to waste. What combination of colors can fully maximize its effect, body and cost? What would be a good card to pair with this? What strategies would it prey upon? I don’t know; you tell me!