With Amonkhet coming out soon, I thought I’d pick out something new, cool, and a not a common removal to talk about. I mean, Splendid Agony is a sweet continuation of the -2/-2 for three removal spell line—a vein of design I absolutely adore—but I doubt people are going to undervalue such an obviously excellent removal spell. No, today, I’ve got a bone to pick with- oh, you see where this is going.
Bone Picker promises a whole lot. Without the cost reduction, it’s a Snapping Drake with deathtouch, which is good (Snapping Drake isn’t as good as it used to be, but deathtouch makes everything better). However, with the cost reduction, you’re getting an enormous boon for a single mana. A 3/2 flying (with deathtouch) for one is Constructed playable. Legacy playable, even.
I mean, it’s obvious what we need to compare this to, right?
That’s right, Bone Picker isn’t the first ever 3/2 flying bird for one mana. That honor goes to the delightfully awful Circling Vultures, one of only three cards which you can freely discard at any time (along with Faerie Macabre and Street Wraith).
Okay, let’s get real. There are a small handful of 3/2s for one mana, but there’s a clear front-runner which sets the bar. It’s not Merciless Predator, it’s not Scythe Tiger, and it’s certainly not Torpid Moloch.
The one, the only…
Delver of Secrets is one of the most powerful one-drops ever printed. It has basically no text, other than being a 3/2 flying for one mana, in the right deck, with a very reasonable amount of luck. It has been a defining creature in Legacy since its creation and remains a staple of the format.
Now, I don’t believe that Bone Picker is a stronger card than Delver of Secrets. Delver can be played on turn one. It does all the work of transforming itself, flipping reasonably quickly (or unreasonably, if you’re either very lucky or very unlucky) and without any further effort on your part.
Not quite a Delver
Bone Picker, unlike Delver of Secrets, demands that you be proactive in your game play as well as your deckbuilding. Unlike Delver of Secrets, you don’t get to play it on turn one (I mean, you could with a Wild Cantor, but that’s kind of defeating the point).
You can hope to go kill spell plus Bone Picker on turn two, but you need to prepare for the possibility of your opponent having few or no creatures in the early turns. You’ll want creatures that can sacrifice themselves for value or tend to die like Mogg Fanatic, Alchemist’s Apprentice, Hellspark Elemental, Insolent Neonate, Carrion Feeder, or Vexing Devil. There are also entire aristocrats-style decks that thrive on sacrificing creatures like Doomed Traveler in order to get value, but they often don’t have room for things that are neither sacrifice-fodder nor sacrifice-outlets, which Bone Picker is.
In short, we know from Delver of Secrets that an undercosted 3/2 flier is incredibly powerful. However, the deckbuilding and timing restrictions of Delver of Secrets are far more forgiving than those of Bone Picker. This is a little surprising, given that filling a deck with creatures is generally more forgiving than filling a deck with spells, but it’s much easier to create circumstances where you’ll have a spell on top of your library than ensuring that a creature dies right when you want it to (and without having to effectively discard a card for the privilege).
A vexing puzzle
Is there a place for Bone Picker? Even if it’s not as easy to use as Delver, it both has an additional keyword (thought deathtouch on a two toughness, evasive creature you want to be attacking with admittedly isn’t deathtouch at its best) and a very high potential ceiling.
I envision two different decks wanting to use the new vulture on the block.
The first is a suicidal black-red aggro deck with cards like Vexing Devil, Hellspark Elemental, and even Spark Elemental. I think that these cards are just worse than what red-green Zoo Burn and Naya Burn are already doing, and between Wild Nacatl, Monastery Swiftspear, and Goblin Guide, they’re not hurting for powerful one-drops.
The second deck is, well, a Delver deck. Why not try and have eight Delvers in a deck, even if they trigger under different conditions? The goal of a Delver deck is to disrupt your opponent’s plan with countermagic, creature removal, and land destruction (in Legacy), so why not aim to play a Delver on turn one and than have an explosive second or third turn where you Fatal Push/Lightning Bolt their creature and drop one or two vultures to pick the carcass clean? This relies on your opponent playing fair magic, but with Death’s Shadow being such a popular Modern deck, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve got plenty of targets on the other side of the table to turn on your birds.
I love cards like Bone Picker. It may ultimately turn out to be too restrictive, but it strongly resembles an incredibly powerful card and is certain to create memorable moments (even if they’re only in Limited). Bone Picker promises a lot, and even if it never delivers on those promises in Constructed, it provides us with one more data point in the 15,000+ series of Magic cards, giving us a bit more precision into how we ought to evaluate cards, both on their own merits and within the contexts in which they exist.
That’s all for this week. I hope you all have a marvelous prerelease and/or enjoy Amonkhet being online this coming Monday. And, as always, thanks for reading.
Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He learned Magic in 1994 and is still afraid of Living Wall (don’t click it! It’ll see you!). He’s currently pursuing his MFA in Game Design at NYU and designing for Kingdom Death: Monster. His favorite card of the month is Spell Snare, a counterspell which trades efficiently on mana but only in an extremely limited situation. Also, it’s a counterspell that can’t counter itself, and that’s just nice.