Last night the Khans of Tarkir full gallery was released into the wild, and, since I’m playing Magic right now, I wanted to talk a bit about the cards.
Once upon a time, we did horrible set reviews, where for some reason a writer would pull every single card out of a list, put them in a pile, and then comment meaninglessly on all of them, all of them. Even cards like Crowd Favourites. When I started doing set reviews, I first trimmed out cards that I didn’t like, or couldn’t even make jokes about, and this seemed to be part of a general trend towards discarding meaningless cards. Chances are if I don’t say anything about a card, it’s because I don’t have anything to say. All meat, no gristle!
These opinions are coming with basically no order or pattern. I’ve thrown them into a single post and I’m going to comment on each card as I go. No need to read anything into what it means when a particular card comes up early!
I obtained the images of these cards from the official Wizards Spoiler, but I do host the files locally just so I don’t feel like a leech.
Finally, this is kinda long and we have a big pile of spoilery cards! If you’re planning on keeping yourself pure and chaste of all new card information until after the prerelease, turn away now!
When you keep decklists around for long enough you start to think in terms of building and growing established decks, replacing good slots with new slots and dealing with bannings and rotations. One deck I’ve been playing endlessly is a green-black Death Cloud deck that relies on clouding away your opponent’s board, top-decking a threat you can play for three mana or less, then smash your opponent in the face. The biggest problem that deck had was its 3-mana threats were often a little scrawny, when Werebear left the format. This guy can come down after the cloud and, across a clear board, serve for four at a time.
There aren’t many 4-power two-drops around, and I think what I like about the Deathdealer so much is that he’s capable of terrorising a board all on his own after an asymmetrically bad situation. On turn two, he beats quite fine for two, but on say, turn six, post-Wrath, he will happily wade in for six without overcommitting you in cards.
The easiest comparison I can make here is to Echo Tracer, a card that I have played, but seldom been excited about playing. The Tracer is a 6-mana bounce spell, and while I have played those, the Tracer was tolerable at best.
The Icefeather Aven excites me when I think of it as a GU flier with Kicker 4. While it can’t bounce itself – a trick the Echo Tracer could do in limited, to some unexciting effect – the Aven provides a good, evasive body for tempo early, can be split across two turns in the mid game if you’ve already an evasive threat, and a straight-up bounce spell in the late. I like this little guy.
Win morph fights, draw cards. If your constructed deck plans on running 2-3 different morph cards as 4-ofs, this won’t do much to justify its slot (you might as well just pay 2U and draw two cards), but if a full morph strategy emerges, possibly involving Time Spiral cards…
… it’ll probably also involve Vesuvian Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental, now I think about it, and might as well just be that deck and, you know, really good.
Still, the Plans does have draw a card on it, and it is uncommon and it does make your morphs inherently better than your opponents’ in combat. In limited I expect this is a better card than my snobby constructed ways see.
I am pretty much eternally interested in cantrip-driven decks, and I’ve been trying to make Blistercoil Weird work as part of a cantrip-driven sorta-gro deck, alongside Young Pyromancer. The monk appeals to me not because of her haste, but because of the things that can trigger her; she’ll trigger off Veinfire Borderpost, for example, a card whose type I’ve been using in Gro decks as a cheap multicolour spell. This isn’t to say she’s perfect, or even what I would have hoped for – gosh, I wish there’d been, say, a 1/1 white flier with Prowess – but she’s definitely worth running alongside the weird in my modern decks.
Watcher of the Roost
I usually hate morphs because playing them fair or cheap sucks. I’ve played plenty of 2/1s for 3 that fly in my time, and if all this guy has going for him is being Half A Kitchen Finks coupled with the possibility of bluffing someone out, a little, I’m not too upset by that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t imagine I’ll ever have amazing plays with this dude, but he resists colour screw and he gains you life – which can buy you time to fight longer.
Scout The Borders
At first I thought this was just a repeat from Shards of Alara, but no, five cards in the graveyard for none in the hand is a pretty sweet deal. The worst thing you’ll have with this is you will occasionally just put meh cards into your hand – but as a guy who mains Karador in Commander, I want cards like this.
Oh wait this is just flat-out worse than Grisly Salvage. Boo!
I’ve been whispering this flavour text sinc I saw it. I love the flavour of this card, the dark and unpleasant murmur of the character of the Abzan as a people, and of their strangely monstrous, harmful ways that are controlled and tempered by the rules of their society. Then I also look at it and see a seven-mana wrath effect in the colours I most like to play. I have no complaints – I hope this will be relatively cheap, though.
The mark of a good charm is when you want each ability at very different times. I’m used to accepting a Charm with two good effects and one niche one (like Naya) if the other two effects are significant enough. Here, I may not be happy with the first ability, but the other two look good for restocking on the defensive or pushing an offensive. Great little card, I expect I’ll want four and run them in a lot of decks.
Bless the wall that does something. Sure, one life every turn, unblocked, after everything else, is hardly exciting compared to things like drawing you a card or dealing damage equal to the number of defenders you control, but this card has a very aggressive body for its cost and its effect does the job in the late game. It’s not my favourite 2-mana wall, but it’s certainly put itself on the list.
These were great back in Zendikar and they’re great now. Try to snag a set of them for multiplayer and casual room things – they’re handy and you’ll seldom be unhappy to pop one or two cheap creatures.
Once upon a time, cards like this had to trigger in upkeeps, or something like that. Okay, set aside that it’s a wonderfully aggressive little bastard, as 2-power 1-drops tend to be but I like the longevity it has as well.
Note, the ability to return to the battlefield is an activated ability. If you’re attacking with, say, a Nantuko Husk, and it’s through unblocked, you can then spend two mana to pump the Nantuko over and over again.
Basically, if you’re running this dude, remember that you can sacrifice him any time you want and resummon him on the same turn, and chances are you can find something that abuses that. Graveyard triggers are good, and we love them, right? I think I’d start with Demonic Taskmaster, or Deranged Outcast, myself.
Retribution of the Ancients
I already play with cards that favour counters, both growing and giving them, and this card looks like it’ll fit perfectly into other lists I have. I’ll have to see it play, but trading three counters off something that might die anyway for a Last Gasp seems great to me.
The main thing I see myself using this card for are re-setting Evolve creatures, creatures whose +1/+1 counter triggers are better than their actual bodies warrant, like the Renegade Krasis.
Herald of Anafenza
Okay, okay, okay. I’m reluctant to talk this creature up too much. I played with Mobilization. I know what it’s like to spend a bit too much mana for a single dorky dude. Yet, isn’t he exciting?
My biggest problem with him, I think, is that I actually really dislike that he’s a one-drop. If he’d been, say, a two-drop 1/3, for example, I’d probably have really liked him, and unreasonably so.
Remember that Outlast is a sorcery, so he isn’t Mobilization. He is, however, capable of getting up and punching your opponent in the head with say, three buddies, but at that point you’ve spent nine mana.
The other outlast cards are good, with one counter. This one, on the other hand, doesn’t curve tidily into his counter. Turn one, him, turn two, another card, turn three, a +1/+1 counter and a token. It’s a good defensive posture – and hell, in multiplayer I can see him steadily threatening to take over a board while everyone takes their time to own the board, and he doesn’t commit much to the board either.
I have Prey Upon in a bunch of commander decks, and, when you’re not playing a deck built around incredibly tight mana curves, this is pretty much just straight up better. Most of the time, it will just be Prey Upon. A very large part of the time, however, it will also be a Prey Upon and +2/+2 – and when it does that, don’t forget to do it before your attack, to gain benefits from the card when you try to connect with faces.
I just really, really love this guy’s drawback. Remember it, scratch it down. Punishment for blocking, we need to see this in more places, to create more interesting choices.
Oh, this is far too complicated to be a- what do you mean they’re common!? What the hell?
Six mana for five power isn’t typically exceptional, but hey, Goblins.
The synergy between this beast and the Outlast creatures is pretty obvious, but don’t stop there. Green gives you access to Graft creatures, including the towering Cytoplast Root-Kin, a 4/4 for 4 that can make all your outlast creatures better, and automatically trigger them.You’re going to have a hard time punching through a toughness of seven, too, and if you can put a +1/+1 counter on the elephant, you have a nearly unbreakable wall in combat, with a variety of vigilance.
I’m hoping his presence in a preconstructed deck will make him cheap, because he looks like an amazing enabler of Outlast and other +1/+1 focused cards.
Eh, wasn’t too excited about this card.
But that flavour text!
Just stop playing Mind Rot, okay? It’s not very good, and now you can use this and gain a benefit from it.
While I first considered the Aspirant’s second line a homage to orc cards of the olden days, I realise now that what makes it really excellent is that she completely ignores most of my favourite walls. Blossom, Omens, and even the mighty Thallid Shell-Dweller, she will just blow past them – and hell, she makes the Shell-Dweller feel like a real chump, because she runs past the Shell-Dweller and its thallid tokens.
High Sentinels of Arashin
It’s a three-power flier that you can swell indefinitely, and at instant speed.
What more do you want for four mana? This creature is magnificent for those who have midrange control decks and want a solid closer. Don’t neglect that they don’t have to buff your creatures, either.
Oh, and hey, if you want to run it alongside evolvers or grafters or even just daffy cards like Thrive, you can have a three-or-four turn flying clock for only four mana after some defensive placement.
Okay, all the ascendancies are good in their own way, but I love this one because it merges two different cards I already like. Putting a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control hasn’t been around in those words for a while – I normally have to make do with one, two, or three counters at a time (though, again, Cytoplast Root-kin!), but the ascendancy just flat-out sets things in motion.
The other part of it, the spirit tokens, is the upgrade to Golgari Germination I always wanted. I already play with recursion if I can – and this card looks like it might even be able to energise a Death Cloud deck, leaving a post-cloud cleanup with say, four or five power in the air, while still being castable post-combat.
Four is more than I want to pay for this effect but you should definitely look at this, especially with Bramblewood Paragon. You could play a curve of (for example) the Paragon, then two warriors, then untap and drop the spoils and you now have three warriors who can earn you an extra card – and two of them have trample. This is a mark in favour of the card, honestly, because this enabler doesn’t care if it arrives before or after the warriors it powers.
A card has to be pretty exciting to be good only if it comes out before the cards it enables, something like the old classic Fires of Yavimaya.
One of my favourite memories of trading cards was when I tried to pick up Kavu Lairs for Fox’s decks. “Hey, you have Kavu Lairs!” I said as I flicked through a binder.
“Yes, yes, I do.” said Josh, a local trader. Then he leant back and whispered behind his hand, stunned, to Mick, “I have kavu lairs?!“
I doubt this card will be like Fires. There’s no Saproling Burst, there’s no Blastoderm to power up. But damn does this look exciting as hell. The idea of turn one Birds, turn two Ascendancy, turn three any good four drop, draw a card, and swing, is incredibly exciting and I really want to see that happen.
I kinda like how Outlast feels like UnHaste; the creature takes an extra turn to arrive and attack. A 3/4 trampler for 4 isn’t exciting, though a 3/4 trampler for 3-and-then-1 is a different beast. Oh, and hang on, it’s also warrior, again, which combines pretty well with Bramblewood Paragon, as above.
Also, I do liket his Outlast creature as a its cost is very low; you can play him and outlast him repeatedly without it being a big strain on your manabase (unlike the soldier-maker). If your opponent hasn’t got anything to outmuscle a 3/4 trample, he just dives on in – but if they do? Welp, you can sit back and pile up counters without eating your manabase.
Fantastic flavour. Not particularly abusable, or flickerable, but I probably will wind up running them to work alongside pretty much any +1/+1 global effect.
See Beyond was pretty good. This is almost certainly not much worse.
Force Spike was a fine spell if you were using it as part of a wall of permission. The best Force Spike was always going to be Daze, a card I liked using and hated being hit by. The problem I had with putting Force Spike in my aggro-control or midrange decks was that there were too many situations where it would do nothing. When I had the board stable, I could attack or block, but then I had to protect my threat – and Force Spike was worthless.
Meet my new favourite spell, oh gosh.
Ainok Bond-Kin + Abzan Falconer
HAVE I MENTIONED CYTOPLAST ROOT-KIN YET.
Brave The Sands
Either one of these effects wouldn’t be worth a card. Together, they’re fantastic. They make all those Outlast cards better; attack, then Outlast. This card will find a home in a lot of Commander piles.
Remember what I said about liking cantrips?
This card isn’t going to beat Young Pyromancer, but it might compliment it. Would it be worth slowing Young Pyromancer down to have redundancy, and haste? I’m not sure. I’ll test it and see what I think.
HALLELUJAH GLORIA. Do you know how much I’ve wanted Guided Strike in my white-base Gro decks these past few weeks? It’s a simple little cantrip, but now I have it back again, and it can replace the underwhelming Scouts Warning.
I’m not a good insight into hard tournament information. I’m fairly sure this card won’t do the goodness for control decks outside of limited. What I will say about this card is that this is close to, but not quite Impulse for my tastes. Just setting up your next draw is usually inadequate for my tastes, but with flashback cards available, I’m willing to reconsider whether giving up a card for that kind of deep digging is worth it.If you put one flashback card in your bin, you are sort of not a card behind any more.
I wonder if I’ll see this in Storm decks.
I used to joke that most set reviews get weaker and duller towards the end of the list, because the authors had used up all their stamina in the earlier parts of the article. If I was being more deliberately sassy about this, I’d have done this write-up and then rearranged all the pieces at randomly, but I’m not feeling particularly sassy today.