Tribute really is a tricky mechanic to evaluate.
You just don't know which version you'll get on
any casting. Is this a 5/3 with haste for four?
Or a 3/1 with haste and a free spell for four?
The trouble with tribute is that your opponent
gets to choose... and while he may make a wrong
choice, he'll always choose what he believes to
be the option he is mroe equipped to deal with.
Nessian Wilds Ravager made this evident back at
the prerelease-- all day I'd see people pay the
tribute so as not to lose a creature, then
bounce the 12/12 back to its owner's hand and
swing for lethal. But the Oracle is special,
because of all the tribute cards it deals most
with hidden information. Your opponent knows how
threatening a 5/3 with haste is to his current
board position... but does he know what's in
your hand? Do you have a Sea God's Revenge in
hand? Maybe your only instant in hand is timing-sensetive,
like Titan's Strength or Gods Willing, and you'd
rather not have to cast it just yet? Maybe
you're bluffing? More to the point, are you sure
you'll have the spell you want to Oracle out in
your hand when you're ready to cast the Oracle?
Are you going to find the Oracle "stuck" in your
hand because you haven't drawn a good spell yet?
Do you have enough instants and sorceries in
your deck to keep that from becoming an issue?
Or will you cast it as soon as you hit four
mana, confident that your opponent won't give
you a free spell and you'll get to swing for
five? If your opponent doesn't give you the free
spell, can you cast the spell you were going to
cheat out, or were you relying on the Oracle to
get it for free? And when you figure out the
answers to all of those questions, is Oracle of
Bones a good card?
It's definitely a card that invites mistakes to
be made-- on both sides of the table. It can
trick you in adding expensive instants and
sorceries to your deck that you can't reliably
cast, or it can lure you into "wasting" a small
burn spell that you'd have been better off
saving. On the other side of the table, it can
make an opponent seize up and brace himself for
whatever you might have in your hand, make him
wonder if you're bluffing when you weren't, or
resign himself to taking five from an extra
attacker he didn't leave a blocker up for.
There's too much variance here for the
tournament crowd to rely on it-- they're all
about minimizing the randomness and stacking the
odds as heavily in their favor as they can. But
it's definitely a card that can create some fun
moments, and I expect a lot of people to get a
lot of enjoyment out of it... especially in
multiplayer (since you could make one player
choose not knowing if the burn spell you may or
may not have will be aimed at HIM), and in any
format where Cruel Ultimatum is legal (whether
it's actually in your deck or not).
That last line. Seriously. If you read that last
line and didn't have visions of multiple extra
turns, destroying the entire universe, and other
events associated with eight- and nine-mana
sorceries, you might not be a Magic player. Of
course, most people will have those same visions
and will pay tribute when you cast the Oracle.
Well, technically I guess they won't always -
they might be on five life and have no creatures
to block with. That doesn't happen quite as
infrequently as it sounds, but it's enough to
make that last line rather cosmetic. But when it
does . . .
Today's card of the day is Oracle of Bones
which is a four mana Red 3/1 with Haste and
Tribute 2 with an opponent's choice of two +1/+1
counters or casting an instant or sorcery from
hand without paying the mana cost. This is
a very effective four mana option for Red as
barring an empty hand or hand revealing effects
an opponent will almost always choose to make it
a 5/3 with Haste instead of risking an unknown
free spell. It is a bit of psychological
warfare and because of Haste almost guaranteed
to deal damage or at worst a one for one trade.
Overall a solid addition to Red and will be a
popular threat in current formats.
In Limited this is a solid enough rare to be a
first pick in Booster, even if the double Red
forces at least a two color or mono-Red build.
While often a 5/3 with Haste that should always
get the value for four mana, it is poor topdeck
as a 3/1 in a pinch barring something unplayable
in hand. In Sealed it isn't enough to make
Red a clear choice, but alongside even a
moderately effective pool it makes for a strong
midgame play. Some kind of major instant
or sorcery in the deck to give opponents a
reason to Tribute is almost required and it is a
situation where opponent knowledge of your deck
can actually benefit you. Without that, or
if the known one is in the graveyard already, an
opponent is more likely to gamble on the 3/1
which is best avoided by making it as difficult
a decision as possible. Even adding an out
of color spell like Dawn to Dusk just to keep
them guessing is a valid design choice, though
including a color fixing card as another
possible way to cast the spell is recommended.
Oracle of Bones can be a tricky creature for
opponents and its controller. As the controller
of Oracle of Bones, you have to keep a straight
poker face. Maybe you don’t have any instants or
sorceries in your hand but you have to sell it.
I have yet to play with Oracle of Bones, but I
have a feeling that most opponents are going to
pay the tribute. I really like the idea of
playing both sides of a split card for almost
free. Getting a 3/1 for 4 mana kind of stinks if
you don’t have any spells. Most players don’t
like to give opponents options, but I think it
livens the game up!