Welcome back dear readers, I hope you enjoyed the Expeditions article and found it helpful. This week we are going to look in a different direction instead of looking at a meta we are going to look at a specific card, examine why the card doesn’t see play and what could possibly be changed about it so that it would be competitive playable. I do want to preface this by saying that I do not expect every card to be competitive playable. Draft is absolutely a format that has different design needs than constructed play, and the new Expeditions format will bring even more to the table in terms of what is and is not a playable card. With that said I would like to introduce this week’s card Bam, Sneakeepeekee.
Bam is a 4 cost Yeti creature with a double primal requirement and a 3/5 stat line from Dark Frontier. His abilities are pretty unique as well “When Bam attacks, play a 1/1 Yeti Spy” and “Shift 3: Transform a card of your choice in the enemy Market into a 1/1 Yeti Spy.” Looking at this card it is safe to say that it is solidly a constructed card. Dark Frontier does not have a strong yeti theme and aside from Thudrock’s Masterwork there are not yeti synergies in the set itself. Thus the creature type is really only important in constructed when you can pair it with Wump, Party Starter or the Iceberg Warchief. Additionally, markets are not very common in draft so the shift ability will rarely come into play. You could argue that a 3/5 body for 4 is an okay pick up in draft but as Bam is rare you will not have that many chances to see him anyway. So we are going to go forward looking at Bam from a constructed standpoint.
Personally, I love this card. I first came across it during a Forge when the set first dropped. I love the yeti tribe and the art on this guy is adorable, his abilities also look like they would be so much fun and have lots of potential value. It turns out a lot of other people share my opinions on our cute little drill sergeant (his voice line is him calling out “Left, Right” like a marching cadence). If so many people like this card why hasn’t it made a splash in constructed play? I have put this guy into a lot of decks, and talked to other brewers who have also put him in a lot of different decks, aggro builds, yeti tribal builds, control builds, and after a lot of
testing losing I think I have a good fix on the problem.
Bam suffers from some pretty bad internal design tension. By this, I mean that the things the card seems to be designed to do do not work well within the design of the card itself. If you look at his stat line Bam appears to be a defensive creature. He has a big back end with not a lot of power up front and comes down fast enough to gum up the works for an aggro deck. When you look at his first ability, though, he seems to want to be attacking. He only brings his friends in when he attacks. Luckily it doesn’t matter if you swing for face or a site just as long as Bam gets to swing his stick he is happy. Finally, if we look at his third ability, he wants to be a disruptive card that helps against markets. In fact, there are only 4 other non-merchant cards that even directly reference markets and of those 4 only three that really mess with your opponent’s plans. This puts Bam in a pretty selective company when you look at his disruptive potential. But, because the second ability is tied to shift it prevents Bam from being offensive or defensive if you use it.
The abilities are not completely without synergy, for example the big back end makes Bam more able to swing into opposing creatures since he is likely to survive even if his smaller front half means he bounces more often than not, and shift does allow for at least one free attack if your opponent hasn’t found an answer for him in the three turns they get before he attacks. The problem is that Bam feels like a card with three slightly underpowered modes. A 3/5 for 4 is not all that amazing and making a 1/1, while cool, also isn’t that impactful on a board. You could argue that the 1/1 helps in a race situation since Bam generates a chump blocker each swing but in practice, it ends up being quite underwhelming and the pressure Bam provides is also pretty underwhelming. The same problem comes up when you look at his shift ability. Shifting for 3 means that Bam won’t attack until turn 6 and when he does it will be for 3 damage. This is a turn when players are dropping things like Dark Sky Harbinger, Korovyat Palace, Rizahn, Greatbow Master, or Svetya’s Sanctum. When you compare removing a card from your opponents market and then dealing 3 damage it just doesn’t really hold up.
Finally, we need to look at is how Bam fits into the yeti tribal synergies. Yetis, in general, suffer from a problem of 3, specifically the three drop slot is overflowing. There about 8 decent Yeti cards and if you consider Bam’s shift cost, 6 of those cards cost 3 so the tribe doesn’t really have a good curve, and most of the yetis that fall outside of the three drop slot are just fillers. With Snowcrust Yeti, Champion of Fury, and Chunk Chunk being the exceptions. Even if you manage to get a board full of yeti they often just aren’t big enough to be a big threat or don’t come down fast enough consistently push damage as an aggro deck. Bam kind of epitomizes this problem since synergistically you want Wump to be in play when he swings in order to get full value out of the Spy, unfortunately dropping Bam on three means delaying Wump until 4 so all of your other yeti synergies are delayed, or you can drop Wump, then Bam, but Bam triggers on attack not damage so he has to wait a full turn before swinging, meaning that again, you are stuck in this awkward waiting stage where you give your opponent lots of time to answer the board or just kill you.
So in general Bam is a sweet card that is just a little bit too awkward for competitive play. How can we fix that? Well, if the problem is that Bam has bad internal tension let’s clarify what he does. Note that Bam has already been touched up in a balance change, originally his shift cost was 4 and it was reduced to 3. This didn’t really do anything to affect his playability unfortunately. I do think that this change was the right direction. Since one of the problems with Bam is that he doesn’t really fit in a yeti curve one change would be to take his shift cost down to 2. This would have two major effects. First, it would give yeti another decent option for a 2 drop that also fits the 4 drop slot so Bam could be a flexible curve filler. Second, it would make him more effective as a market hate card. One thing I didn’t bring up is the awkwardness of Bam shifting in on three being that on the draw your opponent will get a chance to market before you get a chance to stop them, and Bam is a proactive card, not a reactive one. When you consider that most matchups you only grab one or two cards out of a market anyway missing the chance to stop that first market card can nearly invalidate the effect. This would also make Bam a slightly better attacker as you could shift him on turn two and he would be able to attack on turn 5 instead of turn 6 this means that on the play you could get in an attack before a harsh rule effect.
Another possible change would be to make shifting Bam more attractive by possibly adding an Aegis effect to his shift so that it would be more likely you could get that one swing in. Right now shifting Bam on 3 gives an opponent lots of time to find an answer to the potential swing. Granting Bam an aegis effect on the shift would help keep it from being quite such a set back to cast him as opposed to something that advances your board state and makes him a more attractive unit against control matchups. Basically fixing his shift ability in general gives him the flexibility it seems like the designers wanted him to have.
Alternatively, you could look at the combat side of things. Currently, a 3/5 is a decent defensive unit but it fails a little bit on the assault side of things, 3 power on turn 4 is just not all that threatening in a world with 3 power flyers on turn three. An easy fix is to just make Bam a little bit bigger, if you make him a 4/6 for instance Rizahn no longer blocks him profitably, nor does either instance of Icaria it would also allow him to block a Hojan with one empower trigger without trading, and in general help him with a lot of combat situations.
Another option would be to change his “on attack” ability could become a static beginning of turn ability as long as Bam is not shifted. This would mean that Bam could remain a defensive unit while still generating value but by making it only work while he is not shifted it means that you would still have to choose between having a defensive unit or attacking your opponents market. Admittedly this would change the value of the unit a lot and is not the change I endorse from a power perspective as I think it would make him too good in any kind of control shell. Increasing Bam’s general usability instead of a more targeted change that fits him into an existing shell would imbalance the meta too much (but would probably be pretty fun).
What do you think, what kind of change do you think Bam needs in order to finally break into the meta? Is competitive yeti’s something you are interested in seeing? What other cards would you like to see me do a break down of? Let me know in the comments below.