With just a little over a week since its retail release, the collective ode to Khans of Tarkir has already begun. While it remains to be seen the lasting effect their sets will have on the game writ large going forward, the fascination and appreciation of the color schemes Khans offers to the Magic community is already well underway.
We speak, of course of Tarkir’s clan colors. Whether you call these tricolor pairings by their clan names, simply as enemy wedge colors, or as my personal favorite, “Bizarre Alara” (because why not geek Magic up even further), the immediate result of Khans is a substantial addition of cards to five long-languishing color sets. Tarkir marks the first real in-depth attempt at giving some love to enemy wedge colors, although it is actually the fourth time that the idea has been used.
Prior to Tarkir, the last series of cards we saw were ones (namely Commanders) that made up the first Commander precon decks, with legends like The Mimeoplasm and Zedruu the Greathearted. These cards were created to flesh out Commander choices for the decks beyond the cycle of Planar Chaos dragons.
The Planar Chaos Five, consequently, were the second iteration of enemy wedge use. From Intet to Teneb, these dragons excited players for reasons besides being interesting dragons. They illustrated that not only could enemy wedge colors work well as cards, but that there was an interest in those color schemes. This actually came as a bit of a surprise at the time, as their first attempts were not as overly beloved.
That’s likely because their first real attempt came during the Invasion cycle, specifically with the Planeshift and Apocalypse sets.
Invasion was a well-received set, but its latter two sets experimented heavily both with a color-matters theme and having those themes be of the non-traditional mold. Still, although Planeshift in posterity has largely been considered one of the game’s poorer sets, Apocalypse is chiefly remembered as one far better. In many ways Apocalypse was actually the best of the Invasion block, renown for a host of amazing cards (Vindicate, Spiritmonger, Pernicious Deed, etc.). However, lost amongst the set’s better known rares are two cycles of the game’s first real enemy wedge cards. The first batch contained a single hard-color card for each wedge, the most well-known of these being Lightning Angel. The second batch was a soft-color cycle of creatures with wedge-imbued kickers. These were the Volvers.
To this day we’re not 100% sure what a Volver is beyond some kind of mutant mage, but the in-game cards came and went with only mild fanfare at the time. With sporadic exception, most of the Volvers were deemed too slow and costly to see tournament play. But with the rise of Commander, a couple of them can and should see renewed life. Thus, in honor of the Khans release, we’re going to look at the most likely candidate of the five.
Today we have: Necravolver
Focus: Creature Utility / Life Gain
Highlights: Make no mistake, no Volver will singlehandedly win you the game, but of the five of them (Anavolver, Cetavolver, Degavolver, Necravolver, and Rakavolver), this one is certainly capable of giving some worthwhile assistance.
In order to best understand why Necracolver and Co. could be of service and why they largely have been ignored outside of Commander, you have to break them into their component parts. It has to be determined if they useful with no kicker, with each kicker individually, and / or with both kickers. So let’s look at Necravolver:
- No Kicker: Unsurprisingly, none of the Volvers are worthwhile as vanilla creatures, and a 2/2 for three mana isn’t any better than a morpher who can’t flip over. This is one of the reasons players eschewed them at the time – these aren’t fast creatures.
- With First Kicker: For five mana, you end up with a 4/4 trample. Admittedly, there are a host of creatures out there that can offer similar options, but this is surprisingly close to being on par with a monogreen creature. It’s nothing to write home about, but in a pinch it’s still a viable option.
- With Second Kicker: For four mana, you get a 3/3 with a lifegain trigger. At first glance, that sounds underpowered, but there’s only a couple creatures around this mana cost that will give you a creature with lifegain larger than a 2/2. This kicker proves more useful than it first appears and can be utilized early on in a Commander game if necessary.
- With Both Kickers: Using both kickers is the goal of any Volver, and in today’s era of card power, you’ll ideally want to cast both kickers if you can for maximum effect. In that sense, then, treat Necravolver as the complete package – a 5/5 trample with lifegain for six mana. That’s actually quite potent, as the two abilities pair well together – just ask fans of Armadillo Cloak or Loxodon Warhammer. It also makes Necravolver rather special: only three creatures in the entire game innately come with both lifelink and trample. If you expand that to include lifegain triggers, that number jumps all the way to five – six if you include Necravolver.
Commander affords you the time to be able to cast Necravolver in all its glory, and if you take advantage of that fact, you won’t be disappointed. That said, if you find yourself a little pressed, you are still able to get two worthwhile lesser effects if you only kick it once. This gives the card versatility and value in a format that rewards flexibility.
Oh, and its use of +1/+1 counters also happens to mix perfectly with the the Abzan tribe of Tarkir. Fancy that. It would appear that what’s old is new again.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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