A question…

I readily admit that I am not a hardcore tournament player – that’s the point of this blog, really – but I like to learn and deepen my understanding of this game where I can – I play Magic as a strategy game that engages the mind in both the deck construction and playing stages. So, can anyone explain to me why Grim Lavamancer is considered such a good card?

MTG Card: Grim Lavamancer

I read LSV’s recent review of the card, but he simply takes its awesomeness for granted. I’ve seen this played in Legacy tournaments, so I know that the pros think it is good, but wouldn’t you rather just play a Cunning Sparkmage? At its core, it’s just a 1/1 for 1 that can tap for a Shock, if you have some cards in the graveyard. Normally, this would seem like a lot of setup for a fragile ability. This dude gets pinged to death like any 1-toughness creature, it has to wait a turn to use its ability, and you have to have two cards in the graveyard. I’ve seen guys waiting around to bring this guy back on line. Now, if there aren’t any other pingers left in Standard after the Fall rotation (both Cunning Sparkmage and Prodigal Pyromancer are scheduled to leave), then sure, play the Grim Lavamancer, but the rhetoric seems to be that Grim Lavamancer is really superior. So is it, really?

The best way I can think to consider this is to make a direct comparison with the Cunning Sparkmage and Prodigal Pyromancer.

MTG Card: Grim Lavamancer MTG Card: Cunning SparkmageMTG Card: Prodigal Pyromancer

Turn 1:

GL: Play GL (Mana Count = 1)

CS: Do something else

PP: Do something else

Turn 2:

GL: Play two other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 2); Attack with the GL (Damage Count = 1)

CS: Do something else

PP: Do something else

Turn 3:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 2) play two other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 2)

CS: Play CS, ping for one (Damage Count = 1; Mana Count = 3)

PP: Play PP (Mana Count = 3)

Turn 4:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 5; Mana Count = 3) play three other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 3)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 2; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 1; Mana Count = 3)

Turn 5:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 7; Mana Count = 4) play four other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 5)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 2; Mana Count = 3)

Turn 6:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 9; Mana Count = 5) play four other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 5)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 4; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 3)

OK, I begin to see the value a little here, although a deck full of one-mana spells probably has some other issues and may not be winning. What if we only cast 1 spell per turn?

Turn 1: GL (Mana count = 1)

Turn 2: GL attacks (Damage count = 1) (Graveyard count = 1)

Turn 3: (Graveyard count = 2) GL ability (Damage count = 3) (Mana count = 2)

Turn 4: (Graveyard count = 1) GL attacks (Damage count = 4)

Turn 5: (Graveyard count = 2) GL ability (Damage count = 6) (Mana count = 3)

Alright, I begin to be convinced. 3 mana for 6 damage certainly is value, although whether the Grim Lavamancer actually gets in for those 2 points of regular combat damage is debatable. 3 Mana for 4 damage is less stellar (I’d rather have 3 Lightning Bolts or even 1 Lightning Bolt and 1 Incinerate). I haven’t run the data on Spikeshot Elder, but that has a lot more potential in my view since it doesn’t tap and there are lots of ways to boost its power (Can you imagine that thing with a Gigantomancer in play? 4 mana for 7 damage! or a Gigantiform on it? 3 mana for 8 damage (and possibly 6 mana for 16)! I feel a deck coming on…)

Conclusion

I’d still like to hear further arguments in favor of Grim Lavamancer, but I’m willing to agree that it probably deserves a place in a mono-Red aggro deck, and maybe some sort of UR build with lots of cheap spells to fill your graveyard. I still wonder if there isn’t better stuff to play in Legacy, though.

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