A Vexing Reaction
April 11, 2012
By 10 am, April 11, 2012 I had received multiple texts and tweets about a new card that was spoiled. “Is this the best one drop now?” “So I hear you’re playing red some more.” and my favourite “Christmas came early.” I hadn’t seen the card and was hopeful but wary. People get really excited during preview weeks and it is only natural to want to see as many playable cards as possible. So naturally I had to see what the fuss was about and I found Vexing Devil.
Sweet flavor text aside, I can see why people got so excited. This card is exciting. A 4/3 for one red that could just be 4 straight to the face? How nuts is that? And here is where things get tricky. The card is very nuts or not nuts at all, depending on the format you are playing.
I have heard this type of design called the punishing mechanic. Frankly, the only thing this mechanic punishes is you for playing with it. I know that seems inflammatory but I promise it will all make sense in just a moment.
What do you want out of Vexing Devil? Well, that is generally situational depending on the board state. If they have ample amounts of blockers, you want this card to just shoot them in the face. If they are looking at an empty board, having a 4/3 body to get in for repeated damage is nothing to cough at. The problem with all this is that you don’t get to pick what effect you get. Instead your opponent does. If you want to dome them for 4 because they can block, you better believe that 9 times out of 10, they are gonna let that devil stay and play. However if they are looking at an empty board with no action for a few turns, why allow you to have a beastly beater when they can just take the 4 now and eliminate future resource allocation issues when trying to deal with the devil. In short, if you want one part of this devil, you will likely get the other part.
But I wanna play with new cards!
That being said, this card is not unplayable in the right format. But what format is that?
My success as a burn player in Legacy is largely why everyone turned to me when this card was spoiled. That being said, I saw this card and thought “Well golly gee, this card is gonna be sweet…in standard.” Well, why not in Legacy? The first reason is relatively simple. Presently Legacy has Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt as the front runners for most popular removal spell. Swords is in the “Best” deck in the format presently, Maverick. However Maverick isn’t the only deck that happily plows dudes as every version of Stoneblade comes equipped some number of Swords and Snapcaster Mages. When you aren’t worried about Swords, you are generally concerned with RUG Delver and their bolts. As it turns out, each of these decks would jump with joy if they saw the Burn player go Mountain. Vexing Devil. Trigger? “You have a dude.” Okay. Go. They just untap and kill it, leaving you with no pressure on board.
Worse yet, this card is a terrible topdeck in Legacy Burn for a few reasons. First, we have the punishing problem as described above. The second reason is that this card does not have haste and cannot guarantee damage. Lingering Souls tokens, of which they usually have 4, can happily block this guy all day because they can see him coming. Goblin Guide or Hellspark Elemental off the top still get to go to the red zone for a turn and Keldon Marauders guarantees 2 points of damage.
There is one place for the devil to go though. Figure of Destiny has always been the weakest card in the Burn list, by far. Having a 4/3 body, even with blockers is nothing to shake a stick at. That being said, I don’t think that Burn will stay mono red after the release of AVR. That is an entirely different post though.
Evaluating this card in the framework of Modern is a bit more difficult due to the fact that the rest of the set is likely to have an impact on some parts of Modern and Modern seems to be a constantly evolving format. With that in mind, I again look to removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. These two spells are played in multiple decks and are unlikely to go anywhere. Though in Modern, where your mana base is frequently greedy and filled with ‘Shock’ lands, one red to make your opponent discard a card and you fetch a land or gain three life isn’t the worst card you could play.
You can Bloodbraid Elf into this but I don’t know if you want to, outside of very specific circumstances so this card probably won’t find a home in Jund. Given that Wild Nacatl was banned for being a 3/3 on turn 2, yet Delver of Secrets remains in the format, I can’t imagine this fellow will get the ban hammer any time soon and might bring back a Zooish list. He is also aggressive enough for Modern that I can imagine that Boros and Burn might show up with a little more frequency at the next Modern PTQ season, if only for budget reasons.
Standard is actually where this card is really exciting. As always, I point to the fact that it dies to removal. But in this format, the removal that actually kills it costs 2 mana to cast. Obviously you can Tragic Slip it but that requires a creature to die meaning you can’t do it until turn 2 at the earliest. This means that one way or another, this guy is likely to get in for 4. That is actually where I feel like everyone playing standard needs to value him as. One Red for 4 damage to your opponent if cast in the first 2 turns. After the first few turns, his value decreases but depending on your deck, perhaps not by much.
In the mid to late game given that the red player will (hopefully) have a Shrine of Burning Rage on the table and it immediately gets you back in the fight. Red Green Aggro will love this card as well, though the green may actually be unnecessary now. Having 3 toughness means that the aggro decks will still have to fear Slagstorm but that wasn’t going to change.
Mental Misstep is a solid answer to this card, especially considering how versatile it could be when paired up with the rest of Standard, so that is certainly a minor detractor from this card, though Delver doesn’t get Misstepped. As far as control is concerned, this card will likely be a problem one way or the other, as the two semiprevelant control decks in the format frequently stabilize between 5-10. After Devil gets printed, you can read that as 1-6, and for an aggressive deck, even 6 damage can be quite doable.
Overall, I can see this card seeing some very light Legacy play (one deck), some moderate Modern play (2-3 decks), and Standard will likely have more than a few decks with this not so little guy. Financially, I won’t trade for Vexing Devil at more than 4-6, probably ever. This card isn’t Goblin Guide but it isn’t Goblin Fireslinger either.
If you have questions or comments, feel free to bring them up here or on Twitter @samdavisboyhero. If you want to hear what else I have to say about the spoilers, you can listen in to Planeswalker Asylum. As always, thanks for reading. I hope I managed to quell some irrational excitement and spark some rational excitement.
Until next time, keep your sleeves clean and your reactions reasonable.