A Sligh Look at Odyssey, Pt. 1

Bennie tries a different take at looking at Odyssey – checking cards by mana cost. What cards might make the cut in what Bennie sez is a powerful set?

I participated in the last IBC qualifying weekend, getting stomped with a 2-2 record, further solidifying my distaste for that format. I hereby rechristen that block”Three-Color Blue,” or”U/x/x,” and spit out a disgusted”Good riddance!!”

“We have Odyssey, which is recognized to be a Constructed-weak set for the most part…”

Sean McKeown

More disturbing than my pitiful performance was the total lack of excitement that should have been generated by the release of Odyssey. While every new set that comes down the pike has its fair share of naysayers (yes, even Urza’s Saga had ’em), I was stunned by the universal disdain for the set.”Weak,” they said.”Odyssey sucks,” they said.

“[Flashback spells] seem out of place in what is otherwise a lower-powered set.”

Zvi Mowshowitz

What spoiler are you looking at, I reply? Can’t be the one I’m looking at, because I see plenty of strong cards and mechanics. Or maybe your capacity for deckbuilding has been crippled by having decks force fed to you throughout the Invasion block? No, Odyssey doesn’t come right out and tell you what deck to build (besides the Traumatize/Haunting Echoes combo).

“I feel that this set is going to take a while to break open…”

Mike Mason

I couldn’t have said it better. Mercadian Masques looked positively feeble in the wake of Urza block, yet it yielded plenty of quality cards over time as people rolled up their sleeves and gave the set a chance. So how do we evaluate the playable, or even broken, cards in the set? This time around, I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of just going straight down the list and evaluate it card by card, I’m going to look at the beginning of the mana curve for each color, since that is usually where tournament-caliber cards reside. I’m going to pick out the cards I think have potential and give my thoughts on them. Yeah, it’s another set review, but hopefully this one will be a little more focused and useful to you and me.

Here we go!

BLACK — I’ll start with black since Odyssey is the graveyard color, and people seem to be saying black is weak in this set (which is, again, quite baffling to me).

ONE MANA (4) — Innocent Blood and Ghastly Demise. Right off the bat we’ve got two removal spells, both pretty good and as cheap as you can get, and for that reason they are both very playable. Zombie Cannibal is an excellent black weenie, and his ability us a fantastic way to complement a graveyard depletion strategy on your opponent (both to deny him Flashback or Threshold power, or to complement a Gravestorm deck). Entomb is an instant-speed tutor that will get better as more sets release (and more quality Flashback spells come out), but it’s already playable in Type 2 and Extended. Whether it’s a flashback card, a Farmhand to further boost your Muscle Bursts, Pyre Zombies or Squee’s, there’s ways to make adding a card to the graveyard at instant speed an advantage.

TWO MANA (3) — Rotting Giant. Whenever you have an undercosted creature with a drawback, you’ve got to look long and hard at it to see if you can work around the drawback. Rotting Giant’s drawback can be worked around with early hand destruction/creature kill, and followed up with a Braids. Crypt Creeper is a solid bear at 2/1, with the nice ability of removing a card from a graveyard from play for nothing more than sacrificing it. This ability is likely to prove very handy in the wake of Odyssey and future sets. The fact that it’s a zombie is an added bonus. Zombie Infestation coupled with any sort of card drawing can turn cards in hand into 2/2 Zombies for no mana activation.

THREE MANA (4) — The pickings are a little slim here; Execute is a solid sideboard card, especially since white weenie is likely going to be a solid deck choice in the new Type 2. The return of Buried Alive raises the possibilities of Reanimator/Living Death-style decks. Gravestorm is a very interesting card; coupled with Black’s solid graveyard control, it could have some possibilities, especially against decks that want to keep their own graveyard primed. Malevolent Awakening seems a bit clunky, but could be useful in tandem with creatures that are going to die anyway, from combat and such.

FOUR MANA (6) — There are some nice cards to consider at four mana. Braids and Mindslicer both have powerful effects that are bound to find homes in the right decks. Nefarious Lich, while hard to cast at four black mana, is bound to fuel a workable combo deck. Zombify and Mortivore are both solid cards that take advantage of the graveyard manipulation available to black. I’ll throw Skeletal Scrying here, too, since you will generally want to at least Scrye for three cards, and I anticipate the card advantage it generates to grow in popularity as people try it out.

SUMMARY — black gets 17 playable spells that are four mana or less, with an average casting cost of 2.7, and many of them only require one black mana. I suspect black to be matched up with all four other colors quite successfully.

RED — In the wake of the powerful burn spells the Invasion block gives us, I was surprised at some of the quality burn that crops up in Odyssey, lending me to think burn strategies might be on the upswing.

ONE MANA (4) — The quality burn starts right here at one mana, with Firebolt and Blazing Salvo. While Firebolt is readily acknowledged as a solid burn spell, Salvo has not been given much credit outside of Limited. I think Salvo has some serious potential in a creature-heavy environment backed with lots of burn; five life is a quarter of the way to losing the game. Engulfing Flames might find its way into sideboards as an answer to the resilient Spectral Lynx. Rites of Initiation has impressed me enough in limited that I could see enterprising deckbuilders surprising people with it.

TWO MANA (4) — First on the list is Flame Burst, the twin brother to Kindle, with the added bonus of having a creature that can count as a Flame Burst in the graveyard. Solid instant burn. Molten Influence and Lava Blister are interesting dilemma cards, giving your opponent the choice between an undercosted effect, or taking a significant amount of damage. Recoup is a red Regrowth and could have some possibilities, maybe even in Extended and Type 1.

THREE MANA (2.5) — This slot is fairly desolate, with the exception of the overhyped Price of Glory, which I’ll only count as a half due to being a sideboard card. Steam Vines is kinda fun as a Kudzu reprint, even if it would have been better in Masques block with tap-out critters. Ember Beast might see some play in heavily aggressive red creature decks.

FOUR MANA (2) — Things are not much better here, with two LD spells the best we can find. Demolish isn’t bad as a splashable Pillage, and Earth Rift is strictly better than Pain/Suffering, which was used in some LD decks, even though the flashback is cumbersome. I’ll mention Pardic Firecat simply because of its nice interaction with Flame Burst, but I’m not going to count it.

SUMMARY — Ted only gets 12.5 playable spells that are four mana or less, and that was stretching it. The average casting cost is 2.2, which isn’t bad… But overall, red got the shaft in Odyssey.

GREEN — Everyone’s favorite underdog color got some nice spells along the curve this time around.

ONE MANA (3) — Nimble Mongoose is a nice creature for a non-Stompy green deck; its untargetability, coupled with its ability to get large later in the game, is a bargain. Diligent Farmhand is chock full of nifty abilities in a one green mana package, allowing you some mana smoothing and acceleration, along with boosting Muscle Bursts. Druid Lyrist is exactly the same as Elvish Lyrist… But that’s a good thing, since it allows creature type diversification if you want to.

TWO MANA (5.5) — Wild Mongrel is an awesome bear that deserves the hype it’s gotten. Muscle Burst has gotten some deserved interest, but Sylvan Might may prove to be better overall. Werebear has been impressive in Limited and might see some play in Block Constructed. I also think Rites of Spring has some serious potential for deck thinning. Ground Seal seems like a solid sideboard card against any graveyard recursion strategy, or as a way to protect your threshold, so it gets half counted.

THREE MANA (7) — Call of the Herd is one of two great green flashback cards that will quickly become a staple for many decks. Spellbane Centaur is cost efficient and has a nice anti-blue ability that could be main deck material in the right metagame. Bearscape is a nice way to recoup losses to mass removal. Holistic Wisdom has potential in Extended and Type 1 to recurse power cards. Still Life has some nice synergy with cards like Sterling Grove and Obliterate. Squirrel Nest could be the next Kjeldoran Outpost. If enough quality squirrel cards appear in following sets, even Squirrel Mob might see play.

FOUR MANA (2) — Things drop off quick for green after three mana. Krosan Beast deserves some attention as a huge creature easily splashable in a deck that can achieve threshold. New Frontiers deserves a special mention since it has combo written all over it, and I anticipate plenty of people will invest their mental energies into figuring out how to break that card. And talk about deck thinning!

SUMMARY — Green edges out black with 17.5 cards, at an average casting cost of 2.5. Many of these cards are just solid additions to green’s arsenal, and it was definitely needed.

Next, I’ll cover White, Blue, the gold cards, and Artifacts, with a wrap up overview of how Odyssey fills out your mana curve.