Almost Famous: Maralen of the Mornsong
Hello and welcome to the first edition of Almost Famous. This is a new article series where I delve into some of Modern's highest potential cards that just haven't quite got there yet, but whose day in the sun may be closer than expected.
To start things off, let's take a look at a certain black elf tutor from Morningtide, Maralen of the Mornsong.
Tutor effects are extremely powerful, however they're barely played in Modern because cards printed with them in the format's eligibility window have been powered down to the point of being slow, clunky, and usually unplayable.
Maralen fits this bill to a tee. Her tutor effect doesn't just benefit your opponent, but it benefits your opponent first, and comes attached to an extremely fragile and inefficiently-costed body.
Still, there are ways to work around these drawbacks and manipulate her effect to weigh in our favour. For example, by flashing her in during a tapped-out opponent's end step with cards like Chord of Calling, Collected Company, or Aether Vial. In a high-power format like Modern, even just one successful tutor trigger could be enough to end the game if used correctly.
Here's a quick look at a few things Maralen can do, how they could show potential for Modern implementation, and some of their drawbacks.
With the right deck construction, it's possible to have Maralen lock down the game, with Mindlock Orb and Shadow of Doubt being the two most obvious cards to include for this effect. If you're ahead on board and/or life, this one-two punch can be a fairly devastating play. Both players lose three per turn while you take care of business elsewhere, and eventually tutor something else after the Shadows have done their job to finish it.
However, this strategy is wrought with downsides. First off, it only works if either you flash Maralen in with something like Aether Vial, or already have a Shadow of Doubt in hand when you cast her, otherwise your opponent will just grab an answer. Second, you need to be ahead both on board and in life total. And third, it flops fast if you can't protect Maralen from cards already in your opponent's hand. Plus, even if you manage all of that well enough to counterbalance the downsides, it's not even necessarily an outright win since you can only play four Shadows and might struggle to deal the remaining damage necessary all in one shot.
There are ways to make this work somewhat well. In an already disruptive deck like Faeries for example, where it can even be executed via a Vedalken AEthermage tutor without total irrelevance to the rest of the deck. Spellstutter Sprites help offer some much needed protection here, and Mistbind Clique is an all-but-guaranteed closer. But even with that, it's questionable that the shell isn't just better without the Maralen nonsense, so why bother?
Discard Target Hand
Maralen can also be used (again, only successfully if flashed in) as a brutal discard spell, since her draw prevention turns cards like Wistful Thinking or Collective Defiance into old-school Nicol Bolas hand-ravaging.
This is a cute tactic that can be built into various decks without too high a cost. The issue here is dealing with your remaining Maralen on board before you opponent can start rebuilding their hand as they choose. Which brings us to another option...
Cannibalize the Effect
Untapping after flashing Maralen in offers some very attractive plays that run the upside of not leaving her behind for your opponent to benefit from, such as grabbing a Distended Mindbender, or an Eldritch Evolution to upgrade her into a more vicious effect such as Sigarda, Host of Herons.
The downside here is building the deck around it in such a way as to not interfere with other tactics. Collected Company doesn't work overly well here unless you run multiple Maralens, and running multiple copies increases your risk to draw her as an effectively dead card in hand, unless combined with things like Vendilion Clique.
Still, not a bad option to have. But much like the Faeries issue, Coco value/combo decks are already fairly well equipped and effective in the format. As game-breaking as a Sigarda or Distended Mindbender could be, I suspect we need an even higher-impact target to curve Maralen into before we can expect her to offer these strategies an actual improvement.
Maralen of the Spinter Twin
Using the above Coco approach, we can also hypothetically put together a fairly reliable Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo deck. With Bounding Krasis, Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, and Maralen all inside Collected Company's mana cost bounds, we run the potential of a one-card combo when Maralen grabs Eldritch Evolution and moves up the food chain into Kiki-Jiki.
However after an opponent falls for that once, it's unlikely to work again. That means any shell built around this needs a viable plan B, which I expect would demand too much commitment to the combo in the main deck for this to be a realistic swap-out.
A for cuteness, but probably a D or worse for anything else.
The nice thing about Maralen in Elves is that she offers a way to tutor up the powerful-but-underplayed Cloudstone Curio, which easily generates infinite mana alongside Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel. Curio is seldom played because Elves is stronger when creature-centric over combo-centric, and multiples in the deck dilutes its combat potency. However, when upped to a virtual nine copies thanks to a playset of both Coco and Chord, we might be onto something more reasonable.
Unfortunately I'm not an Elves player, so it's hard to mentally assess the true potential of this idea. It does seem like it might be doable though, as it only requires squeezing two cards (one Maralen, one Curio) into an existing deck, and opens up a fairly reliable instant-kill condition. (Heck, you can also even go back to the Evolution idea and steal some lands with Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, but maybe that's too cute.)
Either way, there's some testing called for here.
Any other ideas?
With a tutor effect, the door is wide open to nonsense, and I'm sure you have some ideas of your own of how to best turn Maralen into a Modern-playable card. Leave your suggestions in the comments!