Born of the Gods Has Cometh
It’s one of the most exciting times for Magic players; a new set is arriving. I don’t know about the rest of you, but regardless of what the spoiler looks like or the chatter people have about power levels, every new set makes me want to play this game more. I’ve rarely missed a prerelease, and rarely missed a midnight launch, its easily been the most enjoyable tournament for me since I started playing the game. You get to see old friends, both casual and competitive, everyone is in a great mood, shouts of joy and gasps of surprise are everywhere, and the anticipation for this great game is at an all time high.
I think one of the best ones I ever went to was the Zendikar prerelease. I remember it vividly because as I was on my way over to the other side of town at 11pm, I got a text from a friend telling me that there were going to be hidden treasures in some of the booster packs. It turns out they were putting old powerful cards like Gaea’s Cradle, Power Nine, and Duals in random packs for a few lucky players. Granted, it was only for the very first print run, and it was on a very limited basis, but it made for a crazy atmosphere. Everyone was already excited for that set because of the printing of off-color fetches and this just put the feeling through the roof. The prerelease got so full that by the time local pro Sam Black showed up, they almost didn’t have enough space. I think we hit around 120 people that night, and it felt more like States than a midnight launch.
Theros was easily one of the better ones I’ve been to as well. The set looked awesome, (I mean who didn’t want to play with a god), and it really appeared to contain few duds. People quickly found out how swingy the games could be and how absurd the power levels would get. In the midnight launch, I played a Mono Black deck with two Gray Merchants, a Whip, an Abhorrent Overlord, and a Hythonia the Cruel. In one of the games against a good friend, I got pretty much all of that stuff going, with him cluttering the board with a bunch of 3/3s. I had an eighth mana in my hand waiting for him to pass the turn so I could ultimate Hythonia, but then I watched as he drew an Elspeth off the top, played it, minus’d it, and wiped my board leaving all of his creatures in play. It was at that point where I got my first taste for how crazy Theros Sealed was. I’d go on to never really understand the format, having trouble with PTQs and drafts, but man was it a good time regardless. Anyone following my twitter can look back at the picture I took of my Sunday pool when I went Red, it’s a treat for sure.
Alright, enough nostalgia. You all came here today because you want the nitty gritty on the new cards. I haven’t done as much playtesting as I’d like (certainly not as much as I did for Theros), but I have been putting in some games. I’ve probably done about twenty games with decks from the new set, and so far its given me some interesting observations for cards I didn’t think were that playable. I’m going to start out by giving an overview of the Red cards, followed by talking about a few outside of that which have caught my eye.
Born of the Gods: Red
People around here got pretty excited when they saw this card, but I think it’s overhyped. Yes, it looks sweet on paper for Mono Red, dealing with tough cards like Polukranos, Jace, Elspeth, Reaper of the Wilds, etc. But there are a few problems. First, the mana requirement is tough. It’s not just that the three red mana make it mostly limited to Mono Red, it’s the fact that it’s four mana. At four mana, I’d hope the game is mostly over or that your casting something like a Fanatic of Mogis or a burn spell to put you in closer reach. If you’re casting this, it means you have to have a target for it, it means that target has to be a huge cause for you not winning the game in the next few turns, and you need to cast it on your turn to get the scry benefit which means your not playing creatures that turn. That’s a lot of “ifs” which is never something Mono Red usually likes. You want consistency in Red and cards that can be aggressive across most matchups, and this card is very narrow.
Just look at the two top decks right now, Mono Blue and Mono Black. I’d argue those are the worst archetypes to play this card against, as it really does nothing against either. Mono Black doesn’t have a four or five toughness creature that you care about, so at best you’re killing a random guy that could be hit by one of your cheaper burn spells. Against Blue, you’re fighting a tempo war, and this is a pricey card that still doesn’t kill either of their two biggest threats (Master and Thassa).
Where it might come in handy is in the sideboard if you have room. This is definitely a solid choice against GR Monsters, GW Aggro, and UW Control. All three of those decks have absolutely nasty cards against you that this would deal with. Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, Advent of the Wurm, Unflinching Courage on a grizzly bear, Trostani, Jace, and Elspeth are the big ones. Those are usually the cards keeping me from winning a game, so Conflagration is not a card that won’t see play, but it’s probably not a four-of and probably not in your 60.
As an aside, I could see this splashed in a R/x deck that also supports running Boros Reckoner as you can probably deal with the casting cost at that point.
When I first saw this card I got initially disappointed because some friends had misinformed me on what it really did. A 1/1 for two mana and a conditional ability is not usually my cup of tea. Today however when I was testing on Cockatrice, I played against a Red mage who was using this card along with Young Pyromancer, Boros Reckoner, and a giant burn suite. The power level of Satyr became immediately apparent. While he suffers from the same problem as Young Pyromancer (they can kill him pretty easily), he’s an immediate threat that can cause your opponent to lose the game fast if you don’t deal with him.
Ultimately in a Red deck, especially a burn-centric one, you want to burn them in the face as much as possible. Typically the thing preventing you from doing this is when your opponent amasses an army that races faster than your burn can go. Satyr solves this problem as long as he’s on the battlefield, and it didn’t quite register with me until I saw him in action. Within a few turns, my entire board was wiped (I was trying out a white weenie deck), my life total was down to nothing, and I was being pummeled by the army mentioned above. One last Lightning Strike put the nail in the coffin.
Borzhov (Dega) Burn was a deck that was right on the cusp just prior to this release. I saw it top 16 a bunch of tournaments on my PTQ run as well as having success on MTGO. This card could be something that might put it over the top, or at the very least he’s interesting enough that you should test him and see if he has a place in the Red deck you play at your next tournament. Big Boros players might also want to think about this too.
Archetype of Aggression
I’m unsure on the playability of any of the Archetype cards (and don’t care for the name), but it’s possible there might be a home out there somewhere. For now, I don’t think it’s any good. It’s an interesting card to use as a miser (one-of) to trump situations where the battlefield has bogged down, but otherwise this one in particular is something unneeded at an already cluttered mana cost.
This probably won’t see much play, but firebreathing effects have always been a nice thing to have somewhere in your Red deck. Stonewright was one of my favorite Red cards, and a hugely underappreciated one at that. Dragon’s Mantle has been really sweet in casual builds, and Tom Ross played it to some success in his Boss Sligh deck. While I think Dragon’s Mantle is still better than this card, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as a miser in someone’s list at an SCG.
While putting this on a vanilla attacker is probably not going to get you anywhere, this could be a steal of a card if you play it carefully. For starters, there’s a lot of fliers available to Red at the moment like Chandra’s Phoenix, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, and Stormbreath Dragon. You put this on any of them in a Red Aggro shell, and you’re probably moving in for the kill blow if your opponent doesn’t have removal or is tapped out. Even on an Ash Zealot or Boros Reckoner this thing is scary, as who’s going to be able to get in the way of a potential 5/6/7/8 power first-striker. Red Aggro often gets stalled out if your opponent puts a fatty on the table, and this could be a solid answer. Granted, Madcap Skills rivals it for playability, but there might even be a deck that wants both.
The best application for Satyr that I can see is against Control. He’s really overcosted and slow against pretty much everything, and probably destined for limited formats, but against Control he might have a chance. The ability to just keep cranking out hasty dudes against a deck that usually has an open board aside from some planeswalkers is pretty good. Hammer required that you sacrificed your lands, this just requires that you untap and take your next turn. While it is a creature which means it can get killed easier than Hammer, it lets you make the creature before attacking so you can avoid stuff like Azorius Charm or Celestial Flare. Anytime you can save cards in your hand against a deck that is trying to exhaust your resources is something to take note of.
I really like the looks of this guy for Commander, I could see him letting your entire army swing through or killing off your opponents board if he’s able to stay afloat for a turn. For constructed however, he’s too expensive and his four toughness is a big dealbreaker.
If there’s some kind of bigger build for Red, this “might” see consideration. He fails a lot of the tests, by being extremely vulnerable to removal and costing a ton, but he has trample. The trample here is huge, because if they pay tribute (which most tribute cards will demand), you have an 8/8 trample in a Red deck. That seems insane to me, and if you’re at that point in the game, your opponent might be in serious trouble. That said, the only shell I could see this guy in is a bigger Red deck, and he’s a little win-more by the time he comes down or not the effect you want. For instance, in the Big Boros deck I was playing, Elspeth was often a savior at six mana, whereas this most likely wouldn’t keep you from dying when it enters the battlefield.
In limited however, like the card above it, SIGN ME UP.
Bolt of Keranos
I like getting more burn spells, and I like having scry attached to them, but this has too much competition to see regular play. Flames of the Firebrand is going to be better in most situations, and even that doesn’t see much play. There’s just too many efficient burn spells right now between Shock, Magma Jet, Lightning Strike, and Mizzium Mortars. It might be ok in some shell, but I doubt it. Keep your eye on it for post-rotation.
Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass
Cobblebrute wasn’t terrible in limited, he wasn’t great either. This one is just a Cobblebrute that’s tougher to cast. He’s also a Cyclops so he dies to Eye Gouge. Yeah. . .
Our first Minotaur of the new set. Sorry boys and girls, this one’s way to vanilla to be playable.
This card had me really excited when I saw it in the spoiler, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet. It seems like it could be a sweet finisher, although it’s pretty much just a one or two of if you do run it. I’m sure most of you haven’t given this card even a slight pause of consideration, but the ability to wipe the board in Red or play this during your opponent’s end step and completely hose their combat math is interesting.
Is this a sign from Wizards that artifacts might be becoming more plentiful in the near future? Probably not, but it’s an ok miserly sideboard card to deal with stuff like Trading Post or Whip of Erebos. Anytime you can attach this effect to a creature, it’s probably going to have a shot at making the 75 of a Red Aggro deck.
Rise to the Challenge
Aside from limited formats and a possible Heroic inclusion, this card is unplayable.
I’ve been testing this card in various sideboards to have against Mono Blue and W/x Aggro, but so far haven’t been hugely impressed. It’s just not the answer you want as it’s fairly narrow and it’s a sorcery. It does give Electrickery some competition because of the scry, and it could be OK in the board, but I’m not sold on it yet from what I’ve seen.
Stormcaller of Keranos
This guy seems awesome in limited, I love that you can just go on a scrying spree if you have a lot of mana available and are out of gas. Otherwise, I can’t ever see him making the cut in constructed unless it’s in some kind of weird counter-burn deck.
Once you get to that mana cost, you need this effect to happen right away, not conditionally and not the following turn. It’s fine for a limited deck, but otherwise he’s way too underpowered and overcosted.
Fall of the Hammer
I really wish this did the damage to a creature or player like Soul’s Fire, but alas it doesn’t. It’s a nice little limited fight mechanic, except it’s in a color where we usually could just be playing a burn spell in its place. If you can find a way for this to be five or more damage for its mana cost, then maybe you’re onto something, but otherwise I don’t see why you wouldn’t play a card over it that actually has the ability to hit the opponent’s face or not require you to have a creature in play upon resolution.
Another solid limited card, but really slow otherwise.
Overcosted 1/1 Flier. No thanks.
Pinnacle of Rage
It’s a sorcery and it’s six mana. Definitely a very solid removal spell in limited formats, but not good enough for constructed.
Whims of the Fates
Wizards, please stop making my head hurt. Norin the Weary Commander decks just got another toy.
Oracle of Bones
If there is a Minotaur deck, or even maybe in Red Aggro, this guy has a very outside shot. He has haste regardless of whether tribute is paid or not, and being able to “Burning-Tree” into another card is interesting. That said, he’s super conditional and can sometimes just be terrible. I’m guessing he’s going to be bulk-rare or casual fare, but put him on the bucket list of things to try.
This guy seems really cool, I love the effect. Again, probably only going in a casual Minotaurs deck, but cloning any creature on the battlefield and giving it haste is powerful. Two mana for a Desecration Demon? Thank you sir, I’ll have another.
This is probably the favorite Red card for most of you fire mages out there; I’m not wild about it but there’s space for it to be played. If devotion-based creature decks flood the format to the same level they’ve been or to a greater extent, than this might have some maindeck playability. Otherwise, it’s a very good anti-aggro sideboard card for Red Aggro decks and potentially a one or two-of in midrange builds (although you’ll probably just want Anger of the Gods instead). I did test it a little bit, and against another Aggro deck it went on a killing spree, but otherwise. . . meh
This is the guy I’m pegging the most attention on in the new set. While he does live in a world with Desecration Demon and plentiful spot removal, he’s a powerful four drop in a slot that’s largely up for debate at the moment. Sure, Fanatic and Purphoros are probably more powerful cards, but there are shells where I think the Phoenix could be good. I’ve been trying him out in a list like this which has so far won a lot of games-
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Flame-Wreathed Phoenix
1 Sire of Insanity
4 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rakdos’s Return
4 Blood Crypt
4 Temple of Malice
2 Temple of Triumph
1 Rakdos Guildgate
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Hero’s Downfall
3 Searing Blood
3 Anger of the Gods
2 Rakdos’s Return
Outside of fringe limited play, another card that will probably sit in a commons box.
Tribute is going to get paid virtually 100% of the time on this guy which leaves you with a 5/5 for five. Not impressed outside of limited format applicability.
Other cards outside of Mono Red that have impressed me are the following:
Fanatic of Xenagos
Xenagos, God of Revels
Mogis, God of Slaughter
Courser of Kruphix
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Drown in Sorrow
Unravel the AEther
Herald of Torment
Spirit of Labyrinth
There’s plenty not on this list that I’m interested in, I just haven’t seen them in testing yet. The above I’ve all run across or played myself, and I’d say all of them will see some action based on what I encountered in my games. Xenagos, God of Revels is easily the best card of the set in my opinion, his effect is insanely powerful in a G/R shell and it’s very threatening because of the fact that it happens the first turn you play him if you have a creature out. The surprise factor there is huge, and in a G/R deck if often means a mighty large monster is attacking as a result.
Brimaz is also the real deal and worth every penny that he’s selling for right now. Every game I’ve played with or against him he’s either been killed immediately or taken over the game. While he’s not as awesome as Hero of Bladehold, he definitely does a good impression in this Standard format. White has a plentiful amount of efficient creatures and they just gained a whole bunch of new ones. Brimaz is basically the icing on the cake, and him being contested with other good cards at three mana shouldn’t prevent him from seeing heavy action.
The biggest surprise card for me of the bunch is Courser of Kruphix. I immediately liked him for his appeal in Commander decks, but it turns out a four toughness creature for three mana that can gain you life and potentially let you play free cards is not terrible in constructed either. It’s tough to kill him or even want to kill him since he’s not posing a big threat from an attacking standpoint, and as a result he often sits on the battlefield for a while putting in work.
Fanatic of Xenagos is hugely efficient and at the right mana cost to see play, I’d definitely put him in your testing suite if you’re thinking about going aggressive with a G/R shell. He already has trample, so you can use that hot Ghor-Clan action elsewhere and really give your opponent hard times.
I’m not sold on Mogis yet, but his effect is a threatening one so I’m not ruling him out as “good”. I was messing around with him in some Jund lists, and let me say there are some scary cards you can put together for Jund at the moment that might actually push that deck into playability. He’s also a nice curve topper in a B/R Aggro shell, perhaps something similar to what won GP Santiago last year. Keep him on your radar.
Good luck to any of you attending the prereleases, keep tapping those mountains
– Red Deck Winning