A First Look At Magic Origins

Gerry takes an in-depth look at Magic Origins, building around key cards like Starfield of Nyx, Languish, and each of the four flip-Planeswalkers spoiled so far.

Spoiler season is simultaneously one of the best and worst parts of the year. On the one hand, we have brand-new cards to play with, each containing their own sort of puzzle that we collectively try to figure out. On the other hand, there’s a lot of players out there who don’t want to be wrong, so they take the safe route of assuming every card is bad.

Now, skepticism is a fine position to take, but some of those players feel the need to share their naysaying with everyone else, which creates a negative atmosphere around spoiler season. Overall, that makes me sad. I think the key that most players are missing is context.

Imagine you have Ancestral Recall in your opening hand. Snap keep, right? It should be an easy win. Well, what if you don’t have any sources of blue mana? What if you’re playing G/R and don’t have any sources of blue mana in your deck at all? Does that mean that Ancestral Recall is a “bad” card? Of course not – you just don’t have the tools to make it good, but that’s not Ancestral Recall’s fault.

Again, context is key. Magic cards, in a vacuum, aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s what’s going on around them that decides whether they end up seeing play or not.

When evaluating new cards, you need to do three things:

1) Instead of thinking about how the new cards affect things the way they are now, try to think of scenarios where they might shine.

2) Think about what might have to be going on in order to make the cards good, and make that happen.

3) Realize that your cards will die and that shouldn’t necessarily be a strike against them. The upside comes when your opponent doesn’t have an answer or has the wrong answer. If every time your opponent cast a Siege Rhino you could just tap two mana, discard a card, and kill it, then Siege Rhino probably wouldn’t be very good. The fact of the matter is that sometimes your stuff does live, and then you get to actually do what the text on the card says it does.

Let’s take Liliana, Heretical Healer for example. When it’s on the battlefield, your opponent can’t really kill any of your other creatures lest they risk the wrath of Liliana, Defiant Necromancer. In that sense, Liliana, Heretical Healer is effectively a Flagbearer (or a Spellskite for those newer players) – your opponent basically has to kill Liliana, Heretical Healer before they can start killing your other creatures.

Of course, Liliana, Heretical Healer isn’t going to be great all the time. If she’s your only creature, she’s not much of a threat. Against something like Mono-Red, a 1BB 2/3 lifelinker isn’t the worst deal, but there are certainly better cards out there. However, there’s always the chance you have a second Liliana, Heretical Healer and can take advantage of the legend rule in your favor.

In order to make her truly shine, we probably want some way to destroy our own creatures. Using a Hero’s Downfall on your own Satyr Wayfinder probably isn’t a great way to transform Liliana, Heretical Healer, but a sacrifice outlet, especially one that creates a little value, is probably what we want. Collected Company could give us extra shots at finding more Lilianas too.

If the goal is to transform Liliana, Heretical Healer into Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, what are we trying to do once we get there? If we’re a low-to-the-ground aggressive deck, the +2 ability probably isn’t going to hinder us much, although it would be nice if we had some graveyard interaction. Whip of Erebos actually works well with some of the Origins planeswalkers, and Liliana, Heretical Healer happens to be one of them. Not only can you use Whip of Erebos to put a second copy of Liliana, Heretical Healer onto the battlefield, but you can also use Liliana, Defiant Necromancer as a discard outlet if your big seven-drop, like Dragonlord Atarka or Hornet Queen, has been stuck in your hand.

Let’s look at some potential decklists!

This is probably my best Liliana, Heretical Healer deck. It uses a small sacrifice engine with Bloodsoaked Champion and tokens for sacrifice fodder, all within a nice little beatdown shell. Unfortunately, Liliana, Heretical Healer doesn’t work with tokens, but Hordeling Outburst has enough synergy with the rest of the deck that it’s worth playing anyway. While they don’t synergize with each other, they both synergize with the rest of the deck.

Any exploit creature also works quite well with Liliana, Heretical Healer, but the best of the bunch – Sidisi, Undead Vizier – is a little too expensive for this deck. Merciless Executioner and Collateral Damage both work just fine and maintain the aggression. Once you have a Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, you can go to work on their hand and eventually bring back a fallen Butcher of the Horde or Goblin Rabblemaster.

There are two big things to note about these planeswalkers. The first is that you should never underestimate the ability to attack on a different axis. If your opponent is going to Anger of the Gods away all your creatures, that still won’t deal with your planeswalker, which means you get another turn of free reign. The second is that each time you activate a planeswalker, it’s very similar to drawing a card, as you’re generally able to convert it into some sort of tangible (cards) or intangible (tempo) resource. I’m guessing the turns you transform these planeswalkers are going to be pretty big swings in the game because you get that free activation right away.

I’m guessing the first time you untap with Liliana, Heretical Healer, sacrifice something (for value or not), transform Liliana, Heretical Healer into Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, get a token, and get to use one of her abilities is going to be a pretty big “aha!” moment. You still get to use your mana that turn to cast something else!

Planeswalkers don’t necessarily have to do Jace, the Mind Sculptor-level things, they just have to do things that are worth it for the mana you’ve already invested. In the case of the planeswalkers from Magic Origins, you’re spending three or less mana for a reasonable creature with a lot of upside. Are the backsides of these planeswalkers weaker than their M15 counterparts? Almost certainly, but they also cost way less mana.

Here’s another bare-bones take based on Collected Company:

This deck is trying to do the same thing every game, which is get your opponent dead. Collected Company and Liliana, Heretical Healer give you some potential card advantage, while several cards in the deck give you ways to spend your mana efficiently. Even if you run out of gas, it often won’t feel like that. I’m not sure how good it is, but, as is the case with most of these decks I’m sure, there are probably some cards that haven’t been spoiled that might slot in nicely.

For some reason, this card isn’t getting a lot of love, but this seems like one of the easier planeswalkers to ignite. Basically all you need to do is untap! Cards like Goblin Heelcutter, Subterranean Scout, and even something like Break Through The Line help Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh.

It’s important to note that Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh’s transforming is tied to her tap ability. This means that you can’t simply ping your opponent, play something that makes her unblockable, and voila! That might be the reason why she’s not being hyped, but that’s not a good enough reason for me.

If you play Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh and your opponent plays a Courser of Kruphix, you get to attack with Chandra, kill the Courser of Kruphix before blockers with Stoke the Flames, untap Chandra, resolve damage, and then activate her. That doesn’t seem like a tall order to me. If their Courser of Kruphix is a smaller creature, you might be able to use Lightning Strike and still have mana available for the rest of your turn. You could also cast Hordeling Outburst and convoke the Stoke the Flames, dealing an extra damage with Chandra in the process.

At the end of it all, you still have a Chandra, Roaring Flame to activate, which is a five-loyalty threat they have to deal with.

Even if you can’t get Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh through the ground, she’s a great way to get a little value out of each of your spells. Given enough time, she will finish games even if you’re not able to transform her. One thing I love about these planeswalkers is that none of them are really bad topdecks either. It looks like they’ve each been specifically designed to be good at each stage in the game.

So, what do we do with Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh? I guess we put her in a Mono-Red Aggro deck.

I think a Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh deck doesn’t necessarily want to slot into an Atarka Red deck. That deck is low to the ground, aiming to get in as much damage as possible, but Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh probably wants to take things a little slower. Slower doesn’t necessarily mean bad though, because the cards in this red deck are significantly more powerful topdecks than something like Foundry Street Denizen, and most of these cards are capable of doing significant damage on their own.

Monastery Swiftspear might not be the right gal for the job, but it’s possible you could have a heavier burn component with Searing Blood. In this build, perhaps more Lightning Berserkers are better? Dash appears to be getting much better when there are more sorcery-speed sweepers in the format, but we’ll get to that later.

Savannah Lions? Pff, we have Dragon Hunter and Mardu Woe-Reaper and neither of those cards sees high-level play. What makes this so good?

Well, I envision a world where we have some creatures that are great in combat, which help transform Kytheon, Hero of Akros and also assist with his backside, Gideon, Battle-Forged. I’m mostly interested in using Gideon, Battle-Forged’s +2 ability, which should allow you to kill their creature in combat.

Note that if Brimaz, King of Oreskos attacks alongside Kytheon, Hero of Akros, the token put onto the battlefield by Brimaz, King of Oreskos is not considered to have “attacked” this turn – It was merely put onto the battlefield attacking. Still, it shouldn’t be difficult to transform Kytheon, Hero of Akros in this deck.

When going through Gatherer, I found several excellent cards that appear as “fun-ofs” in this decklist, since I couldn’t decide on exactly what direction to go. Plus, there’s the added bonus of the cards being similar, but better when you draw different versions. For example, you’d usually rather draw a single Spear of Heliod and a single Ajani Steadfast instead of two copies of either.

The one card I really like in this deck is Archetype of Courage. It helps Kytheon, Hero of Akros get through combat unscathed without having to pay three mana, plus it lets you gang block your opponent’s creature that was forced to attack Gideon, Battle-Forged. Just don’t get blown out by a removal spell!

There is some anti-synergy going on here with Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit with a minor token theme and the Prowess creatures not having very much Prowess support, but I think you can (and probably should) take the deck in either direction instead of being the mish-mash I’ve got here. Obelisk of Urd is yet another option that is probably worth exploring.

“How does this deck beat Elspeth, Sun’s Champion?” is a reasonable question, and I don’t have a good answer for you. The global pumping effects should help you beat through their tokens, but if they wipe your board you’re back to square one. Plus, if you pump your creatures too much, you walk right into getting blown out by Elspeth’s -3 ability. It’s a tough nut to crack.

Typically, fliers have been the answer, but Secure the Wastes (with or without Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx) plus Dictate of Heliod is a good response. Overall, I feel like Wingmate Roc is the strongest option though. Banishing Light could be better than Valorous Stance and Glare of Heresy is a possible sideboard option, but those are hardly slam-dunk answers either.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros isn’t a Warrior, but he does slot in nicely here. Warriors have been on the edge of viability for a while, and perhaps Magic Origins will help in that regard.

If I were to stack rank the four planeswalkers that have been officially spoiled so far, it would go Liliana > Chandra > Nissa > Gideon, but Nissa, Vastwood Seer is the card that has the best front side. Nissa, Sage Animist is also quite good, but I think Nissa, Vastwood Seer will probably see the most play because even without the ability to transform she’s a perfectly serviceable Magic card. She might be the type of card you don’t exactly have to build around because transforming her isn’t entirely necessary.

Green decks definitely want a card that is able to bridge the gap between early-game interaction and being able to cast your mid- to late-game spells, and Borderland Ranger was always great at that. For over a year, Courser of Kruphix has been doing that job admirably, but we would probably play more than four Courser of Kruphixes if we were allowed to.

That said, I don’t have any “fair” Nissa, Vastwood Seer decks, just two decks that are looking to transform her on the regular.

This deck is a mashup of Ali Aintrazi Season Two Invitational-winning deck and the Naya deck that Gabriel Nassif worked on for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. Instead of using creatures or Frontier Siege to ramp into powerful spells like Dragonlord Atarka, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, this deck uses Explosive Vegetation. With Nissa, Vastwood Seer, it’s important to have ways to continually make land drops and occasionally put extra lands onto the battlefield.

It’s worth noting that if you have Nissa, Vastwood Seer in play and play your seventh land, your opponent can respond to the trigger with a removal spell. However, if you control a fetchland, you can sacrifice it in response and trigger Nissa, Vastwood Seer again. Basically, for each fetchland in play, your opponent is going to need an extra removal spell if they want to kill Nissa before you get to use her planeswalker side and get some value.

You can also use Explosive Vegetation to transform Nissa, Vastwood Seer earlier than expected. If your opponent does respect Explosive Vegetation, they might have to kill Nissa, Vastwood Seer preemptively. Trust me, a Borderland Ranger that your opponent wants to kill is probably going to be phenomenal.

Whip of Erebos is quite good with both Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Liliana, Heretical Healer. You can Whip in a second copy of Liliana, Heretical Healer, sacrifice the original due to the legend rule, transform the Whipped Liliana into a planeswalker, and still end up with a Liliana in the graveyard for later. If you’ve been sitting on a Dragonlord Atarka all game, now might be a good time to +2 Liliana, Defiant Necromancer.

Similarly, if you have Whip of Erebos and six lands, you can Whip back Nissa, Vastwood Seer, find a Forest, play it, and transform into Nissa, Sage Animist. Perhaps playing with both planeswalkers is trying to do too much, but being able to use Whip of Erebos to effectively put a planeswalker onto the battlefield is too cool. In order to fit them in, I’ve all but cut the Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor package that is common in similar decks, but it’s possible that utilizing the planeswalkers is a better plan.

While the planeswalkers are the most exciting cards spoiled so far (for me at least), there are plenty of other sweet cards!

Abzan was probably the best deck, then Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor got printed. At first they fought against the Abzan menace, but now they’ve switched sides. With Languish coming, it gives Abzan yet another tool, but it requires an overhaul because it’s not a card you simply slot into your deck and call it a day.

I recommend going hard on Siege Rhino (duh) and either Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler. Having an X/5 or two around when you cast a Languish is exactly what this card wants you to be doing. Something like U/B Control might want this card as a cheap sweeper, but in order to unlock its true potential you’re going to want to use it like a Plague Wind.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to fill your deck X/5s, it just means you’d prefer that if Languish would clear the board, you have at least one monster still alive at the end. You could also use cards like Dromoka’s Command or Abzan Charm to help in that regard by boosting something like a Courser of Kruphix past four toughness.

Abzan Control tends to struggle somewhat with cheap, efficient creatures, and Languish takes all the wind out of their sails. It’s basically the perfect card.

Maybe this deck is skewing a bit toward the “make fetch happen” stage, but it just goes to show what’s possible. Rakshasa Deathdealer, monstrous Fleecemane Lion, Thunderbreak Regent, and Dragonlord Ojutai all get hit by Languish. Even packs of Deathmist Raptors don’t appreciate being swept up all the time. The downside is that I think this deck is incredibly threat-light, but maybe it wants something like Sorin, Solemn Visitor to help with that.

It might not be all bad. Languish might be a card you can use to revive a dead archetype.

You can’t Languish and keep a Squelching Leeches in play until turn five, but there’s nothing stopping you from Languishing after a turn-four Master of the Feast.

As the format progresses, each deck seems to be getting more and more polarized. You see decks like G/W Collected Company with few removal spells because they have to be focused on doing their thing the best they can lest they risk getting beaten on card quality in the late game. Then again, the removal those decks have to play are mainly to get around Siege Rhino, so those things happen to kill Master of the Feast as well. However, something like G/R Dragons is going to have a difficult time killing it with their hand full of Roasts.

There’s still plenty of room for innovation in this archetype. I could see either of the following cards getting sleeved up in a similar deck:

Doomwake Giant Liliana, Heretical Healer Erebos, God of the Dead Dark Petition Shambling Ghoul

The first four cards kind of require a build around, but Shambling Ghoul and Reave Soul could easily slot into a version of the deck that’s lower to the ground. Shambling Ghoul isn’t overtly powerful, but it’s pretty nice for black to have an early drop that’s reasonable against aggressive decks even if it does enter the battlefield tapped. Perhaps it will be black’s Arashin Cleric.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think this card will see much, if any, Standard play. Turbo Fog might be a thing, but the Fogs we have available aren’t very good which is sort of a dealbreaker. If anything, I could see this as a sideboard card in some Modern decks like Burn and Affinity against attrition-based matchups, but I’m not actually sure if that’s any good. The combo applications are real, but only time will tell.

Is this card good? Is it great? Will it make Leylines a real deck in Legacy?

If you compare Starfield of Nyx to a planeswalker, it doesn’t seem that bad. Instead of getting a use right away, you have to wait a turn, but you get to put a full-fledged piece of cardboard onto the battlefield, many of which have enters-the-battlefield effects. The second ability is just gravy, eventually turning your Eidolon of Blossoms into 4/4s and even becoming a 5/5 itself.

I can’t imagine this strategy being truly viable, but the card is obviously powerful. Did Constellation really need another mid-game engine though? I think the fact that Eidolon of Blossoms is no Siege Rhino is basically what kept the deck from being great, but I could be wrong.

I guess this gives me more incentive to win an Invitational and finally make that Thopter token!