Replace or Double? – Considering Close Resemblances

There are many cards in Magic: The Gathering that are equivalents of cards that were printed in earlier sets or editions. These are typically called “functional reprints”, but I think that term falls short on account of the small (but significant) differences between the variations. There is also a long list of cards that are frequently updated/parodied/powered down to assure that as cards leave Standard there remains balance in your local Multiverse.

With the announcement today that Giant Spider beat out Giant Growth for the sole “Giant” spot in M12, I started thinking about how decks would change without GG and two other prominent, long-lasting spells in the Alpha “pay 1 for 3 _________” series: Dark Ritual and Lightning Bolt. As far as my decks are concerned, I think I could find a suitable substitute in Standard for Giant Growth, but what about Lightning Bolt? Surely we’re not going back to the days of Shock?

Take a look at the four cards below and let’s talk this out. Perhaps with some examples we can define our terms a little more exactly, and, if you’re willing to do some lateral thinking here, I’m sure that you can find some easy ways to improve your decks!

Soul Warden

Essence Warden

Now, let’s concentrate on Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant first. Same exact card, right? Both are 1/1 creatures for one white mana, both are human clerics, both gain you one life every time a creature comes into play. Basically the same two cards, right? Wrong. There is one key difference between the two and it is the word “may”.

Soul Warden vs. Soul’s Attendant

“May” is something that is going to trip a lot of casual players up and it is something your play group should strive to call each other on if you really desire to improve as players. “May” means that this gaining of life is voluntary. It is something choose or choose not to do in response to a creature entering play. This means that if you forget to add the life when the creature pops and remember at the end of your turn, your opponent can point to that seemingly meaningless little word on Soul’s Attendant and say “sorry Charlie, I assumed you had a reason for choosing not to gain life”. Whereas, with Soul Warden the choice isn’t even there, it happens automatically.

So, Soul’s Attendant and Soul Warden are NEARLY equivalent, but to the forgetful player, or the person with a Transcendence
in play that tiny, insignificant word could make a different. In the pure life-gain deck do you do a 2SA/2SW mix or go all out with four of each? The great thing about Magic is that there are circumstance in which every permutation would be the right thing to do, but the player who knows all their options will be able to build the better deck.

Soul Warden vs. Essence Warden

DamnationLike many other cards from the Planar Chaos expansion, Essence Warden is a word-for-word reprint of and earlier card, but transposed into a different color. Probably the coolest instance of such a reprinting was the black Wrath of God, Damnation.

I love the slight flavor-variation involved in porting a spell from one color to another. Wrath of God destroyed all creatures on account of righteous indignation – a characteristically white idea – while Damnation did the same thing, but to bring darkness rather than expunge it.

The slight difference between “soul” and “essence” indicates the similar, but not identical philosophies of green and white mages. “Soul” is a dogmatic, assertive statement about the metaphysical, whereas “Essence” is a more abstract, organic variation of the term. The righteous white mage rejoices in the addition of new persons to the world, while the mystic green mage sees their coming as the organic growth of the whole of nature.

Of course, this clever twisting of Soul Warden’s flavor isn’t what makes Essence Warden great – it’s the ability for her to do for your Saproling deck, what SW did for your Soldier deck. Also, she’s an Elf Shaman, rather than a Human Cleric, which should also provide some additional synergy in tribal decks.

Suture Priest vs. EVERYONE

With the introduction of Suture Priest in New Phyrexia the decision about which life-gaining woman-of-the-cloth to include in your latest Weenie deck becomes MUCH more complicated – as things tend to do when Phyrexians show up.

Suture Priest, though still a cleric, is no longer a human and has an additional cost of one generic mana. She also will only gain you life for creatures entering the battlefield under YOUR control. However, she has the additional ability to damage your opponent every time a creature pops on his side of the board. (NOTE: Here’s that pesky word “May” again. Know that your opponent certainly won’t be reminding you to chose whether or not he loses life.)

The Phyrexian’s nearly “compleat” domination of Mirrodin has had some interesting results, not the least of which is the twisting of Soul Warden’s classic ability.

For an extra mana, Suture Priest gives you some variety, but is a less reliable source of life and a totally unpredictable source of damage. Is she the right addition to your deck? Perhaps a worthy sideboard card? That’s what we’ll leave you to decide.

Meanwhile, I’ll be dreading the loss of Giant Growth and plotting what to do if (God forbid) Lightning Bolt leaves Standard…

Lightning Bolt


Galvanic Blast


This could go on for quite some time. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Counterspell(s)…


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  1. Pretty sure Aaron Forsythe or someone said that Lightning Bolt isn’t in M12.

  2. Yeah, it was Rosewater and he implied that it wasn’t going to be in M12. Still not confirmed yet though, could just be hype… not likely though

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