Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pikemen: The common soldier.

"All rivers eventually run to the sea. My job is to sort out who goes first."
Maeveen O'Donagh,
Memoirs of a Soldier
"I'm a Soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight"
--General George S. Patton.
Just doing their job the best they can.

War is won on the back of soldiers. While history remembers only a chosen few, twiddled down through time, all wars, are won by soldiers. The soldier is a important necessity, even in Magic. While the game is full of amazing and illustrious creatures, one musn't forget the soldiers of M:tG. The 9-5 common men that face up against unspeakable horror, near god like dragons, personifications of the elements, and the worse Hell can muster. They do this simply because that is their job, and for better or worse, doing it, even against impossible odds, is better then the alternative. 

Magic too has Soldiers, even Old School. In a time before soldiers became over the top warriors in themselves, the soldier in Magic was that, a small, insignificant creature that was usually good at utility. Old-School has numerous, largely the forces of Icatia, but one musn't forget the doomed Benalish Hero and of coarse the Pikemen.
Sure knights get the glory, but Pikemen, the medieval all purpose foot soldier, gets the job done.  Traditionally used to take down Calvary. They survived even into the age of gun powder, due to the simplicity of their weapon, and the effectiveness against mounted enemies. 

Pikemen in Magic, just like in life, don't get the glory they probably are due. After all, they aren't nearly as good as the knights of the same mana cost (or stat wise to their squires). They can be pinged w/ a Javeline, shot with an arrow, or magic missled by a bored wizard. However, I feel even with these factors, they just are more underappreciated then they should be.

The Art: Pikemen's art (by Dennis Detwiller, not Denise) is actually pretty damned good. In it, you see three anonymous soldiers sitting along a parapet, in a relaxed position. There is no glory to speak of, none of these characters stand with exaggerated muscles, heroic deeds, or great treasure. No, they stand, as if for a portrait, in a neutral pose, their faces obscured by their flimsy helmets. Even their armor is non-descriptive, matching a simple leather and cloth tunic, each one the same as the previous one. The background is also the same, with a simple sky and cloud set up, showing just how mundane an activity this is. This works particularly well with the vision of Dark cards and it's emphasis on bolding the color black while fading the color white. Making the shadows of the men and the parapet behind them that much more noticeable. In reality what works with this that is lost in the 5th edition art is these men are just that, men, swords for hire, the common man, with no glory to be seen.
The art gets a 4/5. 

Playability: I'll be the first to admit there are better two drops, especially in the states which allows for Fallen Empires. White Knight, in all situations will be better then Pikemen, and numerous others are better. However, you shouldn't write off Pikemen as unplayable just because it's weak 1/1 stats. A small simple word on the card makes Pikemen worth considering: Banding. For those of you who don't know, banding lets your forces fight as a team (I'm not getting to into the mechanics of it, that will be another article all together). It's meant to show white martial ability for tactics in combat, and in my humble opinion, never truly got it's due. However, since shield bearer isn't in Old School proper, this might be the best bander in the format. Those who doubt just how good banding can be should try it, just once, before writing it off as a 'poor' mechanic. The first strike is just icing. While it's original printed creature type was simply 'Pikemen' it got Soldier in the Great Creature Type Update, and as such, can work with Icatian Lieutenant (and other tribal support much later in the game). It's also white allowing it to be run with Angelic Voices, Crusade, and Jihad. I'll give it an optomistic 3/5. One point for banding, one point for potential color/tribal interactions, and one point for first strike. Maybe I just overvalue banding, but I've never been disappointed when it worked. 

Flavor: In reality, outside the art, the flavor, while effective, is boring. Yes, Magic needs mundane things, and yes, even the flavor text wasn't that interesting, but it's atmosphere is top notch. In the fact it's that mundane concept that makes this soldier work so well. While other cards are meant to be heroes, healers, or great beasts, Pikemen are just pikemen, and they will die loyally where they need to be. Flavor 2/5, while I'd like to rate it higher, it's truly a boring, but valuable creature. While it will hold a special place in my heart, both from my early white weenie decks, and because I'm a sucker for banding, it tastes a little plain.

Overall 9/15= 3/5. Sure it's not the best card, but I'd recommend the occasional budget/casual 93/94'r to attempt a spot for a few grunts. I assure you, they will make their work better then you'll realize, and if you don't, they still cost .10.

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