We’ve talked a lot about how Wind Drake isn’t nearly as good as it used to be. However, we’ve never seen a card quite like Vexing Gull. What does this thieving magpie portend for Theros Limited and can it tern things around for its kin?

Flash Predecessors

We’ve seen plenty of Flash creatures in Magic, but they to fall into three camps. Flash creatures either function as one-for-one removal spells (Hired Blade), as two-for-one removal spells (Sentinels of Glen Elendra is better at surviving combat than Ashcoat Bear), and as flexible curve-fillers (Cloaked Siren lets you hold up interaction and have a threat if you don’t need to use it). What roles a Flash creature is able to play depends on the size and mana efficiency of creatures within the format. As a general rule of thumb, creatures in Limited have at least two power (especially if they’re attacking), so three toughness is usually the minimum toughness a Flash creature needs to survive combat. Thus Vexing Gull is probably not going to be nabbing many fish and living to tell the tale.

At first glance, adding Flash to Vexing Gull seems unlikely to improve its lot in life. Sure, it has added utility, but it’s still just an under-statted creature. Its lot improves if there are three mana spells (like Fateful End or Whirlwind Denial) that you’ll want to hold up, since the Gull gives you an alternate use for your mana. However, Vexing Gull is more than its forebears, since it slots into a Limited archetype we’ve never seen before.

In Response…

Blue-Red is one of the tricksiest color combinations. They’re the colors with the lowest density of common creatures, so their archetypes tend to revolve around noncreature spells. Theros Beyond Death introduces a new way for UR to play, one which Vexing Gull enables and does so without being a noncreature spell. In THB, you’re rewarded for playing spells on your opponent’s turn. At time of writing, there are only two known commons that reward this unnamed mechanic: Arena Trickster, which turns from an unexciting Hill Giant into a Rampaging Baloth (and can continue to grow), and Naiad of Hidden Coves, which allows you to play two Vexing Gulls on turn four. At uncommon, Stinging Lionfish provides a free Twiddle if you jump through its hoop, whereas the rare Wavebreak Hippocamp provides the familiar excellent payoff of extra cards.

It’s worth noting that this mechanic is restricted to once per opponent’s turn, meaning it gets better in multiplayer Magic and your opponents know the maximum amount of value you can accrue. While this is a serious restriction on the mechanic (it’d be much more powerful if you got a benefit every time you played a spell), this restriction allows cards to be more aggressively costed. Also, imagine trying to attack an opponent with six mana up, a bunch of cards in hand, and three payoffs in play—it’d like be paralyzing, and your opponent could just keep making land drops while building up an even better defense you can’t see.

So, Vexing Gull‘s Flash is pure upside, and this mechanic provides even more utility. But there’s a tradeoff. To benefit from this mechanic, you probably need to save Vexing Gull until you’ve gotten a payoff in play. The problem is that a 2/2 (even a 2/2 with flying) can be outclassed fairly quickly, so delaying Vexing Gull trades its early game relevance (pecking in for damage) for mid-game value (when you might be behind in the race or not be able to attack with Vexing Gull).

The big questions are what payoffs exist and where they fall on the curve. Naiad of Hidden Coves is certainly an exciting one, but Arena Trickster is unimpressive (and makes you wait until turn five to deploy a Wind Drake). If there’s a solid two drop, like a 1/3 that Scries when you flash in your Gull, then getting extra value off of Vexing Gull is easy. If the best you can grab at lower rarities is Stinging Lionfish, you’re going to need to carefully concoct a situation where a single Twiddle and a Vexing Drake can turn the tide.

By week’s end, we’ll have seen every card in Theros Beyond Death and will know every interaction Vexing Gull can have. By next week, we’ll get to play with the cards and see for ourselves how this conjecture turns out. WIll Vexing Gull be yet another Wind Drake, a card whose glory days are over a decade past, or will it rise to the challenge of the new decade? Only time will tell.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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