Competitive Magic is all about card evaluation. How powerful is this effect? How badly do I need to do the things this card allows me to do? Is the price right? These questions come up in both Limited and Constructed formats, and they are my favorite things to think about in Magic. I love Limited because you get to ask and answer these questions about a much wider range of cards—in fact pretty much every card printed in each new set. And there’s a bigger edge to be gained over your opponents for being good at evaluating the power of cards.

If you want to gain a bigger edge in Fate/Khans limited games, I have a suggestion: play more manifest spells.

Manifest is easy to underestimate. All it does is put a 2/2 on board. If I want that effect, I can play Smoke Teller, and that card isn’t very good. If I’m spending two mana for a 2/2, I want some bonus. Traveling Philosopher was playable but Syndic of Tithes was a first pick.

The key to understanding manifest is to compare it with morph. I’ve said before that morph was the defining mechaninc of Khans of Tarkir limited, and that morph cards were simply more powerful than most of the other cards in the set outside powerful bombs and removal. Morph is so powerful because it is a “split card” mechanic: it allows you to use the same card in multiple ways. Most morphs are useful enough when cast face up, but the added utility of casting them as a Gray Ogre for three colorless mana make them much more flexible. You’d rather not pay three mana for a 2/2 or six mana for a 4/5, but Glacial Stalker is very good as a combination of both.

On top of that, you get whatever value the morph creature may provide when it is flipped up, if it is something like Master of Pearls or Grim Haruspex. And perhaps most importantly, you get to conceal information from your opponent. The morph mechanic provides a new avenue for strategic gamesmanship.

Manifest plays around with the cost of morphing a creature. All creatures with the morph mechanic can be played face down for three colorless mana. What if you could play a face-down creature for two mana? Meet Soul Summons. What about four or five mana? Formless Nuturing and Fierce Invocation play that role. In return for this flexibility in mana cost and size, you lose the ability to control (mostly) what card gets manifested. It might be a land or Treasure Cruise, but it also might be Typhoid Rats or Icefeather Aven. Morphs with powerful flip abilities like Master of Pearls and Hooded Hydra can be especially powerful if manifested, as you can flip them more cheaply than normal for a total blowout.

FierceInvocation

Much of the value of a manifest is that your opponent has no idea if it can be flipped or not. Usually manifests will not be able to flip up, making it less worth your opponent’s resources to trade with them. But if you play a lot of manifest effects, it is more likely you’ll hit on some of them, and then the upside is massive. Think about casting Ethereal Ambush in response to an attack from an Alpine Grizzly. If you hit a land and Ugin’s Construct, you can block the grizzly with the land manifest, trading either for the 4/2 or a trick, and then untap and flip up a 4/5 that doesn’t cause you to sacrifice a colored permanent. That is a lot of value.

That’s not even the end of the value with manifest. Remember in Theros block how you needed multiple targeting effects to trigger heroic, but you also needed enough creatures to be targeted? The bestow mechanic helped limited decks have enough room for both effects by offering single cards that were both creatures and auras. Bestow was the defining mechanic of Theros block, and most bestow creatures were high picks in draft. In Khans limited, the manifest cards are usually spells. These put a manifest on board, somtimes with extra counters, while triggering prowess and filling the graveyard for delve. These cards play the same double duty as bestow.

What color takes advantage of both prowess and delve? Blue! And what is the best manifest card outside the rares? Write into Being. This card is basically a morph with a free scry. Even if you don’t hit a creature, your opponent has to treat that manifest as much more likely to be a creature than one played off Soul Summons.

One of my favorite interactions is between Write into Being and Jeskai Elder. The problem with Elder in triple Khans was that you couldn’t make it big enough to attack through a morph while also developing your board. Write into Being (and also Map the Wastes, another underrated card) essentially puts a morph in play to block if your opponent attacks while making the Jeskai Elder big enough to attack through opposing morphs. Getting the first hit in, looting while also putting the Write into Being into the graveyard, fuels you to your delve spells. The effect is quite powerful in the early turns.

I played in a Sealed PPTQ in Littleton, Colorado last weekend and I made the top 8 off a powerful sealed deck featuring five Temur bomb rares. Well technically two of them—Hooded Hydra and Shaman of the Great Hunt—were mythic, but you get the idea. That deck used two copies of Fierce Invocation to help fuel ferocious while also manifesting some of my powerful morphs and other creatures. I never managed to hit Hooded Hydra, but I did get Icefeather Aven that I could then flip up for two mana. Fierce Invocation impressed me, as the 4/4 body was often relevant, and it would trigger prowess for my Mistfire Adept. (I told you this deck was powerful.) That allowed me to attack with a flier while having a secure ground presence to balance the board against large opposing creatures, of which this sealed format has many.

Anyway, I managed to make the top 8 and the deck I drafted put my manifest theories to the test:

Blue Green Manifest

Creatures (12)
Jeskai Elder
Jeskai Sage
Yasova Dragonclaw
Frontier Mastodon
Sagu Mauler
Snowhorn Rider
Kin-Tree Warden
Monastery Flock
Sagu Archer
Ugin’s Construct
Hooting Mandrills

Spells (11)
Write Into Being
Ethereal Ambush
Savage Punch
Hunt the Weak
Treasure Cruise
Secret Plans
Dragonscale Boon
Hero’s Blade
Set Adrift
Lands (17)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Thornwood Falls
Island
Forest

Sideboard (18)
Cancel
Temur Charm
Master the Way
Feed the Clan
Windstorm
Jeskai Runemark
Weave Fate
Embodiment of Spring
Scaldkin
Rakshasa’s Disdain
Swift Kick
Shatter
War Flare
Mardu Roughrider
Ancestral Vengeance
Sultai Runemark

This deck was a lot of fun. I wheeled the Ethereal Ambush in pack one which made me happy and signaled that I was alone in my strategy. As pack two started I hoped to see a Sagu Mauler come my way. My first pick of pack two was quite bad—Dragonstyle Boon—but I next took a Jeskai Elder with a Secret Plans in the pack to wheel (it did) and then got passed the Sagu Mauler third. The rest of the draft went fairly well.

I won the first round of the top 8 over an Abzan deck that fortunately never cast the Duneblast that I had the soul read on him having. At a key point in game one, I resolved Etheral Ambush, hitting Yasova Dragonclaw and Sagu Archer, then untapped and drew Secret Plans. Even though my opponent had a large defensive force, the extra cards I drew dug me to Sagu Mauler and Hero’s Blade. Yasova unfortunately died before she could pick up the blade, but the mauler was happy to oblige and I rode it to victory.

Unfortunately, I lost in the semifinals to a powerful warriors deck that had excellent draws both games. In the first, I never hit a third land, so it wasn’t much of a game. In the second I was able to trade a lot and then cast Treasure Cruise for one mana. But I hit air and my opponent kept drawing gas. It was a good run, but I won’t be playing in the first set of RPTQs. Hopefully I can get there next season.

Anyway, I encourage you to play your manifest spells. Take advantage of all the synergies—prowess, delve, +1/+1 counters, morph creatures, Ugin’s Construct (aka the mini dreadnaught), etc. Make your opponent guess what is under there. Remember that they work with Secret Plans and Trail of Mystery just the same as morphs! Let me know how you do.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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