Another Round Of Spoilers

In this week’s article, Frank shares his thoughts about more new cards from Born of the Gods, including Phenax, Courser of Kruphix, and many more!

Welcome back to another week of Born of the Gods spoilers! As we near the new set’s release, cards are pouring in faster and faster, and it looks we have a very interesting bunch of cards on our hands. Since last week I talked about the three Gods available to us at the time, it only makes sense to start this week off with the two we were missing:

Unfortunately it appears that G/W is getting the shaft in the God department, at least in terms of Standard playability. Although Karametra’s ability is powerful, it doesn’t really scream efficiency priced at five mana. How many creatures are you really going to have left by turn 6? How much more mana do you even need after you’ve made your fifth land drop? Even if G/W can reliably make sure Karametra gets to hit the red zone, the color combination isn’t exactly hard pressed for giant creatures. However, from what my Commander friends tell me, Karametra should find a good home in the format where there’s no such thing as too much mana.

As the last God from this set to be spoiled, I had very high hopes for Phenax. Although the other four are certainly cool, none of them are slam dunks for Standard. When I first laid eyes on what Phenax brings to the table, I must admit I was a little disappointed. There’s definitely a connotation when it comes to mill cards that they’re not meant for the main stage and are merely toys for casual players to mess around with. After a little deliberation, however, I think Phenax might just have what it takes to break into the competitive scene.

The strongest aspect of the card is that it actually benefits from its own ability. Most of the Gods we’ve seen so far have the word "other" scripted somewhere in their text box to ensure you need to go that extra mile to get value from them. When it comes to Phenax, as long as you have seven devotion it can start tapping itself to bin seven cards from the opponent’s library. As you can see from Patrick Chapin’s Wednesday article, there isn’t a dearth of toughness-oriented creatures to back Phenax’s mill power either. The only creature I would consider working into Chapin’s list would be Omenspeaker.

Now that we’ve gotten the Gods out of the way, let’s move on to some of the less mythic cards spoiled this week. If you remember from last week, I took a look at the uncommon inspired cycle that was designed for Limited play. I’d like to do something similar this week with this set of five:

Nyxborn Shieldmate Nyxborn Triton Nyxborn Eidolon Nyxborn Rollicker Nyxborn Wolf

This time around we’re looking at a common cycled based on the recurred mechanic bestow. While I wasn’t too thrilled with the playability of the inspired cycle, I think Wizards hit the mark a little bit better with the Nyxborn crew.

First up, we have two easy thumbs up from the blue and black options. While never exceptional, any creature with Goblin Piker’s or Hurloon Minotaur’s power and toughness to mana ratio always has some level of playability in Limited. Even in today’s Theros Limited, Felhide Minotaur often gets the nod in maindecks. It’s once you add in that something extra, like bestow, that these types of cards ascend from the 23rd slot to something you actively want to pick up. Giving a late-game mana sink to a reasonably costed card can easily elevate it to marquee status. Think Leafcrown Dryad.

That brings us to Nyxborn Wolf. This card should see a decent amount of Limited play, but it’s not its base combat stats that are going to get it there. A three-mana 3/1 is nothing special on curve but can get the job done in a pinch. However, giving a creature +3/+1 can turn pretty much anything into a significant threat. Even when Nyxborn Wolf falls off in the late game, the 3/1 body should be able trade with a decent creature while blocking.

Lastly, we have the red and white cards from this cycle: Nyxborn Shieldmate and Nyxborn Rollicker. These are the two that fall a little flat. Even though a one-mana 1/1 or 1/2 isn’t overcosted, they aren’t really worth the card slot. The upside of the Aura half doesn’t do enough to warrant the weak bodies that are going to be left behind. When I look at Nyxborn Shieldmate, I can’t help but think of one card:

Would it have been too crazy to give Shieldmate flash? Nowadays in Magic it seems like half the cards printed are just strict improvements on old cards. I guess this is one case where we would have been breaking the bank.

Back to the Standard side of the coin, we have one of the most promising cards spoiled so far:

Here’s a card that has a lot going for it. Let’s put this creature’s power and toughness to the side for a moment and focus on its abilities. Right off the bat, the first card that comes to mind when we look at this Centaur is Oracle of Mul Daya.

During its time in Standard, Oracle saw a fair amount of play due to its powerful abilities. Being able to play lands from the top of your library basically equates to drawing extra cards. While Courser of Kruphix shares this strength with its predecessor, it does lack the "play an additional land" clause found on Oracle of Mul Daya. Although you’re not going to be able to mana ramp with Courser of Kruphix, you do get some advantages in exchange.

First off, costing three mana is a clear benefit over costing four. While the double green in Courser’s mana cost might seem like a drawback at first, keep in mind that Standard is in a place where being more devoted to your color goes a long way. As icing on the cake, Courser of Kruphix even gains you a life when a land enters the battlefield under your control. Although that might not seem like much, anyone who has played with Horizon Chimera recently can tell you that those +1s add up.

Finally, Courser of Kruphix comes packing a hardy 2/4 body. One of the biggest downfalls of Oracle of Mul Daya was how frail it was. Just look at the list of playable removal Courser of Kruphix dodges:

Lightning Strike
Magma Jet
Anger of the Gods
Pharika’s Cure
Bile Blight
Drown in Sorrow

When it comes to soft removal, the only cards that can take this Centaur down are Mizzium Mortars and Warleader’s Helix. I expect Courser of Kruphix to impact Standard in a big way, and I can’t wait to play with the card myself.

It would be a crime for a card that looks this awesome and has such an epic name to not at least have a shot of making its way into Standard. I really wish that all enchantments counted toward the +1/+1 and not just Auras. Getting extra juice from cards like Spear of Heliod and bestow creatures outside of Aura form would give this card a big boost in power level. Even still, my hopes are high that it might be able to find a home on the fringe of Standard. I’ve put some work into various Ethereal Armor builds that take advantage of the fact that so many creatures in Theros double as enchantments. With Eidolon of Countless Battles in the mix, a strategy of that nature might get the boost it needs.

Another possible approach could involve putting another Born of the Gods card to work:

Although most Aura spells aren’t extremely expensive, many of them start to look a lot more playable with Hero of Iroas on the table. Imagine moving into blue and chaining Chosen by Heliod and Fate Foretold together for one mana each, drawing through your deck while getting heroic triggers from Hero of Iroas.

While this strategy isn’t fully fleshed out just yet, hopefully we will get a few more pieces to make it work as the set continues to be revealed.

Next up we have another interesting tool for green. Drawing cards isn’t a normal trick for the green portion of the color wheel, so whenever green mages get access to the effect it usually involves jumping through a few hoops. This card reminds me of a similarly named card we saw printed not too long ago:

While Hunter’s Insight didn’t warrant any slots in competitive decks, I think Hunter’s Prowess might have improved the effect just enough to squeeze its way in. Although we’re sacrificing the instant-speed edge given by Hunter’s Insight, Hunter’s Prowess comes with a much more direct way to ensure our target creature fights its way through the red zone in the form of trample. One of the biggest problems with Hunter’s Insight was that the creatures you targeted needed to be decently sized to get any real value out of the card. Hunter’s Prowess comes with a +3/+3 attached that enables even a lowly Elvish Mystic to threaten drawing four cards. That kind of pump means that even if the creature gets blocked it’s probably taking the blocker down and drawing a card or two in the process.

As a five-mana sorcery, Hunter’s Prowess comes with a fairly big risk of being blown out by a removal spell in response to casting it. If this card does manage to make its way into the Standard scene, expect it to be seen alongside cards such as Witchstalker to minimize this potential downside.

The next card is one that might not seem particularly worth talking about:

Coming in at a two-mana 2/2 with vigilance and a decent heroic ability, Vanguard of Brimaz is really nothing special or over the top. The main reason that I want to take a look at this seemingly innocuous feline has nothing to do with its playability in any format of Magic.

What the heck is going on with that artwork?!

Between this card and Leonin Snarecaster, I’m fairly certain none of the artists commissioned by Wizards of the Coasts knows how to draw a humanoid cat. What possible reason could any creature have for its arms being positioned like that? It looks like this guy is trying to pelvic thrust his way around Theros with a band of followers cheering him on. Throw in some weird platypus feet and apparently you have the Cat Soldier at the forefront of Brimaz’s army.

Don’t get me wrong—I love Mark Zug’s artwork. He’s responsible for Grinning Demon, which might be the coolest-looking Magic card of all time. Even in this card when it comes to the grassy plain or lightly clouded sky, everything looks great. I guess there’s just something about leonin that makes them look derpy.

Barring a certain Cat Soldier, it looks like Born of the Gods is shaping up quite nicely. There are a few exciting cards for Standard along with a bevy of interesting commons and uncommons for Limited. I’m still holding out for another sweet rare or two, but I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see what else we’re going to get.

Next week I’m going to switch things up a bit and talk about a sweet Modern brew that I’ve been working on for a while. It’s a saucy one, so make sure to tune in!