Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Clash of the Titans

A while back, I was discussing with a friend and fellow Magic player the relative merits of Grave Titan. This conversation led us to the surprising conclusion that, except in specific decks, Grave Titan is the “worst” of the cycle, at least in EDH. I’ll talk a bit about why that is, but I want to take the time to discuss the value of each of the members of the powerful Mythic cycle. Starting with the clear winner for best of the bunch…

Primeval Titan – This shouldn’t really warrant much of a discussion, as it’s pretty well-known to be the most powerful member of the cycle. It is the only one, for example, to inspire multiple debates on whether it should be banned in EDH (no, it should not be, is the correct answer!). Obviously, this thing is at its best (or, worst, depending on your viewpoint) when grabbing ridiculous land-combos like Urborg + Cabal Coffers or Gaea’s Cradle + Kessig Wolf Run. But even just as a boring ol’ mana-fixer, grabbing two “fair” lands per turn repeatedly can really swing a game in one player’s favor. It is without doubt or hesitation that I call Primeval Titan the most powerful Titan.

Sun Titan – I find myself almost as surprised by this ranking as by Grave Titan’s. I initially discounted Sun Titan’s usefulness largely because of the mana cost factor. Sun Titan’s recursion caps at three mana, and most EDH decks seem to have a mana curve starting at four! I figured he’d be good at getting back Eternal Witness, which could in turn get back things the Titan could not… but after a great deal of experience playing with and against Sun Titan… well, he’s a lot better than I gave him credit for. In fact, he’s so damn good that I have found it to be often worth streamlining and lowering your mana curve just to maximize his value! I first began to take him seriously in my Oros/Equipment build that later became a Jor Kadeen/Equipment build. In both decks, I took advantage of Sun Titan by keeping my curve as low as possible and making sure that Sun Titan could target at least 50% of my permanents if not more. This worked out a hell of a lot better than it looked on paper and I began experimenting with Sun Titan in other decks as well.  Since then, I have come to really appreciate what he can do in almost any deck. Sure, I wouldn’t play him in a Kaalia deck, for instance, but he’s really good in a much wider variety of decks than you’d expect.

Frost Titan – This one is pretty close in power to what I expected, but I do find myself slightly more pleased with his performance than anticipated. I think he’s actually much, much closer in power to Sun Titan than I initially estimated, though Sun Titan still beats Frosty by a decent margin. He’s actually more narrowly effective than Sun Titan, which doesn’t seem apparently obvious at first glance. He doesn’t require you to make any particular deckbuilding conceits to maximize his potential the way Sunny does. Yet, it turns out Frosty’s power instead depends more on what your opponents’ are doing – thus taking the ability to really push his power out of your hands. That said, being Blue, he is always playable with Rite of Replication, and that interaction alone is enough to push him over the top. But, without absurdly broken copying effects, he’s usually at his best against decks like Thraximundar or Rafiq that frequently try to rely on one badass attacker to kill you. Being able to neuter an opponents’ biggest (and only) threat turn after turn is not to be taken lightly.

Inferno Titan – I had this one pegged as the worst of the cycle by a long shot, but he’s really surprised me over time. Also making his debut (for me) in that Oros deck, he was originally just meant to be a combo with Basilisk Collar. While putting the Collar on this guy is still one of the best uses for him, he’s actually pretty good even without Deathtouch. I assumed the 3 damage would far too often fail to kill the most significant threat on the table – after all, EDH is the land of huge creatures swingin’ into each other. But usually, just a little application of Haste is all that’s needed to start killing the real scary things. Being able to swing for 6 while scattering 6 more damage around at will is quite good. But even when you can only get three damage out of him, there’s almost always something relevant to kill with it, even if it’s not the biggest threat. Sometimes that’s enough. The rest of the time, there’s Basilisk Collar!

Grave Titan – This is, perhaps, the coolest member of the Titan family. He’s 10 power for 6 mana, not a bad deal even for a Mythic. His art is awesome/disgusting – a giant walking around literally spilling zombified corpses out of his carapase as he goes... nevermind how they got there in the first place (did he eat them?? WTF?). It’s one of the coolest art-to-mechanic relationships I’ve seen in the game. Yet, this guy is the only member of the cycle to consistently underperform, sadly. And as my friend and I discussed our disappointment with Grave Titan, we hit upon the reason WHY he fails to live up to the hype. Allow me to explain.

Simply put, he is usually just a vanilla 6/6 for six mana.

Nevermind the fact that, in theory, he’s “ten power for six mana!!! OMFG!”. Let’s think critically about this. Yes, he’s a 6/6 with two 2/2 bodies along with him. But, in this format, on most battlefields, those two 2/2 Zombie tokens are almost entirely irrelevant. They often can’t block the scariest threats (because those almost always have evasion), they usually can’t get through as attackers (because there’s almost always something that can block them with little risk), so they just sit there neither attacking nor blocking. And for MOST decks, the only way to actually get value out of those little guys is by attacking or blocking with them. So, realistically, Grave Titan is more accurately described as “six power for six mana”.

Now let’s look at the Titan himself a moment. Other than the tokens, what does he do? Deathtouch. On a 6/6 non-Flying body, Deathtouch is probably even MORE useless and irrelevant than those tokens. No one is ever going to block with something bigger than a 6/6 unless they’ve got tricks up their sleeve. So he’s either already going to kill whatever blocks him, or trade with them at best. And no one is ever going to swing INTO a Grave Titan unless they’re relatively sure the Titan has NO chance of blocking. I have never, EVER seen the Deathtouch matter in the slightest. You could put a Lure effect on him, and kill up to 6 enemy creatures - that’d be cool, but I’ve never seen it happen. So, in most cases, Grave Titan is really just a vanilla 6/6 for six mana… in other words, he’s basically this guy:

Would you play this guy? Probably not…

Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and Grave Titan does have its time and place to shine. Ghave decks, for instance, are very well-suited to get value out of Grave Titan and his zombie tokens in a number of ways. Consider Aura Shards: if there are Artifacts and Enchantments you want to destroy (and there are. Always.), Grave Titan gives you three triggers all at once. Not bad. Consider Fecundity: if the Titan scares someone into a Wrath (and he often does), you’ll draw three cards to replace one. Nifty! Consider Doubling Season: Duh. It’s Doubling Season! Now GT is 14 power for 6 mana. Still not a huge deal, but if you have almost any other way to get value out of your tokens, it can make a HUGE impact.

So, it seems that the key to making Grave Titan really shine is to find multiple, reliable ways to make sure those 2/2 Zombie tokens actually matter, and don’t just sit there ineffective and useless. Not every deck is equipped to do this, of course, and if you’re thinking of including GT as a “good stuff” inclusion, it’s probably not gonna work out. Make sure that he actually belongs in your deck – if you’re playing Ghave or any kind of Zombie tribal, he’ll probably be okay. The rest of the time, I guarantee you can find something better.


  1. I'd more or less agree with these assertions, but I would add a caveat that Grave Titan's usefulness increases with the fewer opponents there are, because it is easier to control the board, and thus increase the tokens effectiveness as attackers/blockers.

    One-on-one, GT is respectable.

  2. True dat. I just play less and less 1v1 these days. Kinda getting spoiled on multiplayer.