Humans have a natural affinity for patterns, be it real or perceived. With the right amount of time and practice, we have a knack for being able to piece together patterns with incomplete components and accurately extrapolate what is next or missing with routine consistency. It’s a handy trait for understanding and navigating the world just as much now as it was for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In fact, people are so adept at innate pattern recognition that we don’t even realize our brains are processing them most of the time.
Of course, the opposite is also true. Because we are so tuned into the myriad patterns in the world around us, both natural and artificial, part of us is always working to spot and decode them. Sometimes this even happens when circumstances line up such that we think there is a pattern in something when there isn’t. It’s much easier to assume in those cases that there actually is something that we aren’t seeing the full picture of than it is to accept that, sometimes, what we’re perceiving really just is random chance manifesting itself.
Both possibilities appear in Magic, though the former is much, much more frequent. Magic design has routinely peppered sets over the years with various cards and effects that are deliberately created to express specific patterns. The most common of these are by creating card cycles, a collection of cards that share mechanical and / or thematic traits with one another. Cycles can contain any number of cards, and though they’re not guaranteed to do so, many are made with the intent of reflecting every color, color pair, or shard/wedge, depending on the needs and focus of the set. While most of these cycles are placed within a single set, the more creative ones are spaced across the entire block.
Where things can get interesting, though, are when people perceive ‘unfinished’ cycles that can span years. And since we perceive them as incomplete patterns that should be finished, that demand is conveyed back to Wizards of the Coast – whether or not they themselves ever intended for there to be such a cycle.
We’ve mentioned this behavior at least once before, and denoted that the three most common examples of this over the years have been the Mirrodin swords cycle, the Urza block legendary land cycle, and the desire to finish the Morphling ‘cycle’ after the making of Torchling.
Beyond pattern recognition, though, the other major aspect about card cycles is their ability to help create (or reinforce) associations. Take for instance the numerous tribal cycles of the Onslaught block. Thanks to each of them focusing on numerous horizontal and vertical card cycles that were broken down along color and creature type lines, they served to reinforce certain notions. While the set hardly introduced the association of Green with Elves or Blue with Merfolk, the numerous charms, crowns, couriers, and avatars the set boasted helped reconfirm those ideas within the player base. This is helpful for building identity for those sets, true, but it also creates interest later on when the game purposely subverts that by bringing in additional colors to the mix.
One of the most iconic such creature-color associations is dragons. It is no coincidence that the overwhelming number of dragons in the game are at least partially, if not wholly, Red. Many of the most iconic dragons of the game’s early years had at least some Red in them. There were two early-era multi-color dragon cycles in Legends’ elder dragons and a five color series of dragons in Mirage, but the default for dragons has been rightfully Red for a very, very long time.
Case in point: the game only has around 60 nonred dragons, and only half of those existed before the dragon-centric Khans block. So whenever a nonred dragon comes along, it usually stands out.
For me, although I was around during the time of the Mirage dragon cycle and the handful of Portal dragons thereafter, none of these besides Catacomb Dragon really resonated with me. It wasn’t until Invasion, with a new set of multicolor dragons, where I really took a liking to the different flavor dragons have to offer. Each of them weren’t just powerful based on color-specific triggers – they allowed you to play different styles of decks with dragons in ways beyond merely having a giant firebreathing ball of flying doom.
In honor of that, this week’s pick hearkens back to this dragon cycle by looking at one that often tends to be one of the more underrated of the pack.
Today we have: Treva, the Renewer
Name: Treva, the Renewer
Edition: Invasion / Phyrexia v the Coalition
Focus: Life Gain
Highlights: Each of the multicolor Invasion dragons had a similar effect, whereby when you dealt combat damage to an opponent, you paid three mana to take advantage of its respective effect. In the right settings, each of these abilities were incredibly beneficial, though it didn’t take long for one of them (Crosis, the Purger) to become the fan favorite of the bunch. Yet each of them had the capability of generating sizable table advantage in the right situations, including Treva.
For the classic dragon cost of six mana, casting Treva provided you with a 6/6 Flyer with a triggered ability based on combat damage. This cost-to-power ratio at the time made it one of the most potent series of dragons to date, and even though it’s almost become the standard for dragon creatures as of 2018, back then this was seen as a sizable step up in potency. This alone made this group stand out among players, and rightfully so: even now these dragons are large enough to be imposing both on offense and defense.
Treva’s version of this cycle’s trigger revolves around gaining life. It states that when you deal combat damage to an opponent, if you pay three mana, you then choose a color and gain 1 life for each permanent of that color on the battlefield. This is helpful on two fronts. First, like all of this cycle, you get to choose the color upon resolution, letting you select the most opportune or plentiful color present. Second, and equally important, is that this effect considers all permanents, not just creatures. In Commander games where enchantments and planeswalkers are frequently seen, this opens up room for even additional life to be gained.
Moreover, this effect is repeatable: you can activate it each time you deal combat damage to an opponent at a not-insignificant six damage per combat. Therefore, even just a handful of the same colored cards on the battlefield can create a decent shift in life totals after a few uses. This is doubly so if someone is sitting on a sizable army of some kind.
As you’d expect, however, Treva does come with a couple small drawbacks. The first, like all tri-colored cards, is that it being three colors does substantially limit the number of Commander decks they can go into. Second, while all of the Invasion dragons create a color swing of one kind or another, Treva’s is based around gaining life, making its efficacy much more swingy than some of its counterparts. That is, you could have some EDH games where Treva’s effect is incredibly effective at gaining you copious life and it quickly becomes a target, or you could have games where the effect is so paltry it may not even be worth the mana. Subjectively speaking, it seems worth the risk, but some players may not be up for that sort of variance in their creature abilities.
Finally, as Treva is a legendary creature, there is the Commander factor to consider if you’d want to slot it as the leader. This is admittedly a mixed option. There are only 13 Bant-colored Commanders currently to choose from (and even then only 11 are affordably attainable), so the options are rather limited. To that end, Treva makes for a solid choice based on its casting cost and size. If that’s the main focus, then it can be a decent selection. On the other hand, to make maximum use of its effect without relying on what other colors players are using, Treva would require including a fair amount of color-altering cards that you may not ultimately feel are worth it solely to gain some life each round.
No matter the case, Treva certainly can make an impact on a game in the right circumstances, if for nothing else than as a reminder that not all dragons need to be Red to be intimidating.
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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