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CasualNation #56 – Wall-a-Palooza

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Hello, Nation! Can I tell you a secret? May I share a rarely admitted fact about myself? Okay, here it is: I love playing multiplayer Magic so much that I don’t want to die. I put so much energy into surviving that many just feel that it’s not worth killing me, and they go after easier prey. I want to keep playing the game!

Winning the game outright is hard. There’s always someone killing your creatures, countering your spells, or stopping your combo. It’s a gauntlet of enemy fire to snake your attack through. The best offense in multiplayer is a good defense.

This may be where my love of Walls began. I’ve shared before how cards like Maze of Ith, Royal Assassin, Sorceress Queen, and Horn of Deafening changed the way I played the game. Creatures with Defender are perfect for multiplayer. They are always prepared to face one wave of attackers after another before you finally untap. You are never caught being attacked by people after you thought you were safe and swung at someone. There is no creature with Defender ever printed—ever—that often sees cards like Terminate and Unmake come at it. Even the strongest Walls usually send people to fight others, rather than pulling precious pinpoint removal. (For this article “Defender” roughly equals “Walls” and vice versa.)

In duels, only the best Walls are your pals. In multiplayer, a ton of Walls rise to the level of awesome. Your early drops are better than your opponents’ early drops, and your midgame drops are better than theirs, too. It’s only when creatures such as Akroma and friends start appearing that creatures with Defender tend to fall by the wayside, but by then, you should be fully established.

Today, I want to go over every good creature with Defender out there. In Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, I run everything from Wall of Swords to Perimeter Captain to Reinforced Bulwark. What are the amazing Walls? What are the great Walls? What are the good Walls? What are the situational Walls?

For today’s article, I have looked at every single creature ever printed with Defender. Let’s see which I like.

Red

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Red has the second worst Walls of any color—no surprise there. However, Red does offer some great Walls. Red’s Walls tend to be really strong in the 2- to 3-mana range, but, outside of that, you have to look elsewhere for your good stuff.

I don’t like the pumpable Walls, such as Wall of Fire and AEtherflame Wall. It’s too much mana to worry about. I do like blocking Shadow creatures, and Wall of Diffusion is still a great Wall because of that. You never know when someone will attack you with a Looter il-Kor or something.

It may not have any traditionally Red abilities, but AEther Membrane is my favorite Red Wall of all time. Flash, plus Reach, plus bounce? That’s a fun Wall. You can ambush attackers by flashing it out, blocking, and then the creature goes back in the hand. This happens a lot, and it’s always worth a snicker.

The best Red Walls are distinguished by having really high defenses but no other abilities. Wall of Earth is actually in my top five Red Walls because it has the largest natural defense of any 2-drop Wall (tied with an artifact Wall) without a drawback. A 0/6 2-drop is going to block a lot of stuff. Wall of Granite’s 0/7 and Wall of Stone’s 0/8 are also very strong for 3-drops. This is where the power of the color shines. Even Wall of Heat, at 2/6 for 3 mana, is really good.

Red doesn’t have many Walls that are specific to decks. Pitchstone Wall is good in any deck that regularly discards cards. Or that doesn’t want to. I don’t like all of the fragile Walls: Wall of Razors, Wall of Torches, Cinder Wall, and so forth. If your defender dies to a Dry Spell, or looks like a Fog Elemental, we’ve got a problem. The only other utility Wall is Battle Rampart, with its ability to tap to give a creature Haste. Haste is very powerful in multiplayer, but I usually don’t want to tap my defending creature to give something the ability. It’s a nice option, but not one I’d want to rely on.

Black

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The worst color for Walls . . . ugh. That doesn’t mean you can’t find good ones, but just . . . ugh. Regeneration is the theme for Black Walls, and it does make sense for your primary blocker to Regenerate. However, the whole point of a Wall is to have a creature with a high-enough defense that you can block attackers without having to worry about mana. If a 5/5 is attacking you, there is no difference between blocking with Drudge Skeletons or Wall of Bone. But there is a very big difference between Black’s Wall of Bone and Red’s Wall of Stone. I’m not a big fan of the regenerating Walls.

What does that leave? Not much. There’s really only one good Wall in Black, so let’s discuss the Wall of Souls. A 2-drop with a 0/4 body, and it sends damage back. It’s a great Wall. It’s the Mogg Maniac of Black. People will fear attacking into you while you have this thing out. This is a great Wall. It’s your only choice, so play it a lot.

Black does have a few utility Walls. I adore Cemetery Gate in any form of Pestilence-based deck. The Protection from Black keeps it alive and blocking while it keeps the Pestilence around—a great combination! In a Snow deck, Drift of the Dead is all right. I’d consider Wall of Distortion in decks that need to force discards, but I feel that a 4-drop Wall has to be bigger than 1/3.

Blue

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You might think that a traditionally defensive color like Blue might have the best Walls. It doesn’t. Oh, sure, it has some great defenders here and there, and it’s unquestionably better than Red and Black, but it’s not as good as you might think. Blue is only one of two colors that rocks defenders with Flying. It also has the best utility defenders out there, which are discussed later in this section. Blue’s Walls tend to be about abilities rather than big numbers. In Red, you had a lot of vanilla Walls with great numbers. With the exception of Glacial Wall, that’s not the case here.

Fog Bank and Guard Gomazoa are great at preventing damage and staying around for a while. As pure blockers, they both have important things to offer. Wall of Vapor is not nearly as good, but it’s there if you really feel the urge.

Gomazoa is one of several odd Walls that has a really unusual ability that suggest to people that they shouldn’t attack you. Other similar guys include Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch and Wall of Tears because of their bounce abilities, and Psychic Membrane because it draws you a card.

Glacial Wall is great as a 0/7 Wall of Granite/Wall of Ice variant. Wall of Frost has similar numbers and a useful ability, so it’s a good choice to consider as well. There’s nothing wrong with Wall of Air. I know it’s not the hippest card in the world, but I have a Beta copy in Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, and it works fine.

For utility defenders, you have to start with Bonded Fetch. Having a looter that also has Defender is odd, I have to admit, especially since it’s a 0/2 creature for 3 mana. It feels a bit off. What Blue does have is what may be the best utility defender ever: Drift of Phantasms. Any deck that needs a tutor like this also needs blockers, so it can serve both roles. Its ability to tutor for any 3-drop from your deck, block flyers, and play with Spirits makes it a true powerhouse. While discussing Transmute, don’t forget Grozoth. Wall of Kelp can tap to make more Walls, and that’s always fun! Floodgate has this weird ability to sweep the board in an odd way after it leaves the battlefield. Take a gander at it, and see if it’s your thing. Wall of Deceit is weird. It will work in a Morph deck, and you can play combat tricks with it, but it’s not a Wall you want to normally include. Tidewater Minion is a bit odd, too. It’s a 4/4 Wall, it taps a permanent, and you can remove Defender for 4 mana. It works—no question. Recall Stinging Barrier’s ability to deal 1 to something. Mistform Wall plays with creature type and is suited for decks that want that. Mnemonic Wall is recursion attached to a Wall. With all of these different utility defending dudes, I think it’s obvious that Blue’s real strength lies here.

White

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The second best Wall color. This was close with Green, and I had to go back and forth between the two, but ultimately, I feel that Green’s suite was just better. White also has flying Walls, good utility Walls, and Walls that rock at doing what Walls do: blocking.

White has a lot of what I call Wall of Swords–type Walls. Wall of Swords is a great Wall with Flying, a good defense, and a large enough attack to deter many from even looking your way. I play a Portal Wall of Swords in my deck because I love the art. However, it’s just a French-vanilla Wall. A lot of very good White Walls fit in this category, like Angelic Wall, Soulbound Guardians, Crude Rampart, Guardians of Akrasa, and Shimmering Barrier. All of these are very playable French-vanilla Walls. The ones with big power are especially nasty.

How often are you attacked by Wind Drakes? Not that often? Then Sunweb is awesome, right? (Right!) Don’t forget a few guys that can block more than one creature, like Wall of Glare and Foriysian Interceptor. Even if you never win a Clash, Sentry Oak is still fine as a 3/5 Wall.

Just as Blue has Walls with abilities that deter attacks, White does, too! Wall of Essence is a classic that says, “Attack into me so I can gain life, please!” There are others that gain you life, like Perimeter Captain, Wall of Hope, and Pride Guardian. These are not the only ones that like to do something when they block—look at the nasty Wall of Nets. Wall of Resistance increases sizably as blocks. Cathedral Membrane will seriously hurt whatever took it out.

Remember the utility Walls like Shimmering Barrier with its Cycling, or ones that prevent damage, like Benevolent Ancestor, Alabaster Wall, and everybody’s favorite, Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo. Wall of Reverence gains you a ton of life each turn. Sunscape Familiar is my favorite Familiar because, while it reduces the cost to play things, it’s also the best at playing defense while you do. Wall of Omens is also among the best utility Walls of all time. Drawing a card and having a blocker on turn two is amazing.

Green

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Green is the daddy of Walls, the best color for them, and home of some of the best Walls ever printed. Green gives you Walls with abilities, large defenses, and great utility. Interested? Let’s look at the best color for Walls.

For just numbers, you have a lot of good choices. I love Carnivorous Plant. It’s an Erhnam Djinn on defense, and it can keep back a lot of guys. Wall of Ice has great defensive numbers, too. Even ignoring the Protection from Zombies, Grave Bramble is pretty sexy as a 3/4 for a 3-mana investment.

Where Green is amazing is in its 2-drops. Green has an amazing set of 2-drop Walls, from utility Walls to guys just with great numbers. Let’s look at the mana Walls first. Vine Trellis and Overgrown Battlement are virtually identical, except that the Battlement also is better with more and more defenders out there. Both are great 2-drops to make mana, but the best early-game 2-drop Wall that makes mana is Wall of Roots. Because of the weird way it makes mana, you never have to worry about choosing between having a defense and making mana. It’s always an accelerant when you need one . . . until it dies. Of course, it can die later, but for when you need early Walls, it’s perfect. Any discussion about mana Walls should include Tinder Wall, even if it’s not a 2-drop, because a lot of decks play it. Even today, it has a lot of value in that you can sacrifice it to jump your mana by 2.

Mana Walls aren’t the only amazing 2-drops. There is the awesomeness that is Wall of Blossoms. Thallid Shell-Dweller is another great 2-drop, and it spits out a 1/1 for you every three turns for free. Don’t disrespect that—it has turned games. The occasional chump-blocker here and there can alter the game. Wall of Mulch is the third awesome 2-drop Wall. Not only can you sacrifice it, like Ravenous Baloth, but you can also sacrifice others of its tribe, which includes the double-dipping Wall of Blossoms and a lot of other goods.

Don’t forget Carven Caryatid when talking about the rocking qualities of cards like Wall of Blossoms and Wall of Omens. Adding +2/+1 for 1 more mana is a solid addition to an already great card. There are a couple of other cards we need to make sure we discuss. While there are solid Walls with Reach out there, such as Whip Vine, Traproot Kami is a star in a mono-Green deck. Having a 0/8 or 0/9 with Reach and Defender that just sits there and blocks virtually anything is very beneficial to your survival. The recently printed Tree of Redemption has the highest defense of any creature with Defender, and that is worth the price of admission at just 4 mana. This is going into a lot of my decks just for that. Compare this to the 3-drop Wall of Ice. For 1 more colorless mana, your critter grew by +0/+6 ! Then, add its weird switch-with-life ability. You could switch your life when it’s high to keep the Tree alive, or when your life is low, you can rejuvenate yourself. It’s really interesting as a card and as a defender.

Multicolored

There are only a handful of multicolored Walls that I think are good enough to discuss. This conversation starts with the best one: Wall of Denial. It might as well be named Wall of Shutdown, because you can’t kill it with pinpoint removal, and it’s tough to crack the high defense and Flying exterior. If you are playing both colors, and you want Walls, and this is not jumping in your deck, something weird is going on.

Another White/Blue–combo Wall is Plumeveil. With a 4/4 flying body for 3 mana, it compares very favorably to Wall of Swords and Sunweb. Add Flash, and you’ve got a combat trick and a strong Wall for later. Don’t fail to consider its power, as well.

Yet another solid choice for this color combination is the Plainscycling and Islandcycling Sanctum Plowbeast. The land-fetching is great, but the creature is just a 3/6 for 6 mana, and it doesn’t have Flying or anything else. I like flexibility in my cards, so I play it. I can understand if you don’t.

In the vein of Carven Caryatid, Wall of Omens, and Wall of Blossoms are the pretty solid Jungle Barrier and the awkward Dormant Sliver. Just 1 more toughness than Carven Caryatid with the cost of an additional mana makes the Barrier compare poorly, but it has its uses.

Artifact

Ever since the first set had Living Wall, we’ve had very powerful artifact Walls. Let’s take a look.

For pure defense, Wall of Tanglecord’s 0/6 for 2 mana matches Wall of Earth’s fast-blocking styles. Steel Wall remains among my favorite commons, Walls, and cards of all time. You can play it in any deck, and only White has a better 1-drop guaranteed (Perimeter Captain; mono-Green would have Traproot Kami in some situations). Shifting Wall can grow really big, really fast. Combo-boy-special Shield Sphere is a tempo-free early drop that can stop attacks for a while.

Wall of Shields has a powerful position going, because most people don’t know how to play around Banding anymore. I think Manor Gargoyle and Gargoyle Sentinel are sexy, cheap, and Indestructible defenders, except for the occasional flyer swooping in for some damage; then, it’s back to being rock. A Gargoyle’s work is never done. A lot of people like Walls that can attack like that, and we have Mobile Fort and Walking Wall. A 0/6 for 4 mana is just okay, but even when blocking, you can make them 3/5’s to kill attackers.

Snow Fortress is crazy. You pump its defense, pump its offense, and shoot down flyers. I’m not sure how that flavor works. If you fly over, we can throw snowballs! While hosing flyers might appear to be cold-themed, don’t ignore One-Eyed Scarecrow. Shrink ’em and shoot ’em. Another interesting card is Reinforced Bulwark, which I actually like. Damage-prevention Walls that aren’t in White? Craziness! Playing with cards in graveyards is good, so I occasionally use Junktroller. Or, should I say, the newest OmniMech to roll off the lines from Clan Jade Falcon. That’s an Ultra AC/10 that’s aimed at your face! Crenellated Wall makes anything bigger in the butt, including itself. That’s a handy ability to keep something alive through fire and fiend.




We talked today about a ton of Walls and creatures with Defender. Whether you want Walls with good numbers (Wall of Stone, Wall of Swords), Walls with great abilities that tell people not to attack you (Wall of Tears, Wall of Souls), or just Walls that work for your deck (Mnemonic Wall, Wall of Mulch), there are a ton of great choices to keep people back. You’ll always find a Wall out there that fits your deck. Maybe it’s Drift of Phantasms, or maybe it’s Wall of Blossoms. There will be something there for you. Yay, Walls!

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

TAGS articles, casual, walls, kitchen table, abe sargent

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