Looking at a Random Card: Grixis Slavedriver

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Pegasus Token from Unglued: Moderately beautiful. Seldom useful, especially in limited environments. I don’t think you really need customized tokens to play Magic anyways. Next.

Grixis Slavedriver: Other colors than Blue and Black just do not seem to randomly come up for me. Actually, that’s now the 4th black card out of 6 (not counting the token)! Also, the 5th creature. Randomness is random…

I like this design! Unearth is a WAY better implementation of a graveyard-based mechanic than dredge. This is a very nice high-end card with unearth, giving you acceptable value (although barely) for 6 mana even without coming back from your graveyard, and putting you clearly ahead in cards once it does. An expensive unearth card has a subtle weakness, though, which many players don’t realize: Unearth actually is only really strong if you’re on the offense, since unearthing a creature will most of the time just mean direct damage to your opponent (but giving him options to avoid it, if he prefers). When you’re on the defense, you’ll neither have much use for this direct damage, nor are likely to spend your mana on it. Yes, a big creature like Etehrium Abomination can really put the pressure on an already backpedaling opponent, but playing too many rather clumsy creatures might prevent you from being on the offense at all!

Having to find that balance between an aggressive approach and utilizing bigger unearth creature means that these cards reward good deckbuilders, but punish poor ones, which is a good thing. Grixis Slavedriver, however, doesn’t exactly fit that category, since due to its token-producing it is also useful (albeit a litle slow) for halting an opponent’s defense, and even unearthing it can play a part here. Due to mana curve considerations, one could even argue that the Slavedriver belongs more in controllish builds! That is remarkable, since the Slavedriver is probably the only unearth card where this is true. In my book, that is a plus, because it helps to diversify the tactical applications of that mechanic, once more slightly rewarding drafters who have a clear understanding of the needs of their decks.

Considering its power level, I believe the Slavedriver is just in the right spot, possibly undervalued by some players – a solid early pick providing a lot of value for any not too fast deck. Just like the Magpie, it offers an incremental advantage instead of a clear, immediate danger forcing the opponent to get rid of it right away or die. While big, impressive threats like Shivan Dragon have their place in limited environments, it is these less spectacular cards which do the main work of creating interesting deckbuilding and gameplay. One more thing to note: This creature works well with any graveyard-themed environment, or even as the only card using such a mechanic – it’s generically useful and thus a flexible tool for cube-builders.

About constructed: Grixis Slavedriver is just not powerful enough to be a contender, but that is okay, since due to the very nature of constructed, there is very little overlap between acceptable 6-drops there and not entirely overpowered 6-drops in limited. Still, a card has to shine in constructed as well to get an A, so that highest honor is out of reach.

As usually, I don’t have much to say about this card’s flavor either way, but I want to stress that the Slavedriver has an eminently useful creature type (and so do the tokens it produces), allowing for great cross-synergy with the zombie tribal theme. (Being a giant, however, is unlikely to get this card anywhere.)

One minor point of criticism in the end: Costing 5B instead of 4BB makes it just a little too splashable for my taste. A double-color mana cost would not have prevented it from being used in multicolor decks, but at least required these decks to run black as a main color. Being able to splash this creature into – for example – a U/W deck certainly doesn’t break anything, but this effect feels just too deeply black to me to get splashed that easily, unlike basic utility like creature removal.

Overall, I give it a solid B.

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6 Comments on “Looking at a Random Card: Grixis Slavedriver”

  1. arcanion Says:

    On the last paragraph:
    I think that would be an interesting read from the designers/developers about mana costs.

    I think there should be more color heavy mana costs in general. That would make the strength and weaknesses of the colors more important.
    On the other hand, lower color requironments make for mor options in draft and maybe a better more diverse limited environment.

    That said, I think especially the red removal spells should often cost RR or 1RR to make them not THAT splashable, but at least from time to time to have another limited feeling.

    For the Slavemaster, I am ok with the 5B cost. Black should take him very high anyway and if its not your main color he still isn’t that absurdly powerful to not have the option to splash him (re: more options in limited and he doesn’t break any “rules”)

    • I disagree here: Splashable removal is really important. The feeling of an environment where removal is too hard to come by for some drafters would be different, yes – but in a horrible way!

  2. arcanion Says:

    That’s why I said “from time to time” for a change in limited. Red often has the best common removal and is lacking otherwise. But if many take the good red cards as first picks or early in pack 2 or 3 for splashes its a bit awkward for the color overall. M12 did some things right in making Chandras Outrage 2RR alongside the splashable Incinerate and Shock and printing some very good common creatures. That way red wasn’t all about removal or a support color.

    Maybe I’m exaggerating here a bit and it really isn’T a “problem” after all, but it often seems like its a red thing, that everyone is gonna poaching in reds removal area.

    I agree though, that splashable removal is important for limited.

    • The issue here is more that, before M12, Red would usually consist of a few high quality, splashable removal spells and a lot of drag balancing its overall quality (once again due to a too strict interpretation of the color pie). M12 did a lot to improve this, though, by finally giving a few reasonable creatures to Red, making it a good choice for a main color for the first time since… probably EVER in base sets.

      I agree, though, that not every removal spell needs to or should be splashable, as long as there is enough removal around for every drafter to grab and include in their decks,

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