Betrayers of Five-Color

Set reviews often come across as boring because writers include way too many cards in their review: “Come one, come all, to the Giant Set-a-Thon where Mega Magic Reviews are held! You’ll hold onto your seats as I count through every single card, no matter how obviously useless or powerful! Rar!” Instead of listing every card, and then saying how much it sucks in Five-Color compared to previous cards, I’ll just skip the bad ones altogether to bring you only the noteworthy Betrayer cards of Five-Color.

Welcome to another article in the ever growing “Sets and Five-Color” reviews that I’ve written. Reviews a-plenty have been hitting websites like snowflakes on prerelease weekend in Michigan — otherwise known as a Yellow Alert, which means only go outside if it’s necessary. A Yellow Alert on prerelease day brings about an interesting philosophical discussion: Is Magic Necessary? Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

My ride to the prerelease stayed the night with me, since I was the closest to the prerelease location. He left in the morning, and I chose not to go with him for fear of the snow. His car broke down on the way back, and I am really glad that I chose not to go to ye olde evente.

And yet I digress.

Let’s see — I believe that I was talking about set reviews. Ah, yes, it’s that time when we have a million different set reviews trying to find the cutest variation on saying, “Good in Limited, but poor in Constructed." That must be one of the great overused lines in the past fifteen years. (She looks good in a limited pool, but put her in with a wider selection of choices, and she’s just not that sterling.) (The funny part about that joke is that you can use it with either gender.) (Although it’s not nearly as funny that way.) (That’s because we’ve all been there.) (Enough with the parentheticals, already.)

My point is that set reviews often come across as boring. This is largely because of one major reason: Writers include way too many cards in their review. Well, here at Abe’s Asteroid Techno Palace, we have no such qualms. I have no need to write “Every card reviewed” on my article’s title in order to assuage my inner Giant Truck Rally Announcer. “Come one, come all, to the Giant Set-a-Thon where Mega Magic Reviews are held! You’ll hold onto your seats as I count through every single card, no matter how obviously useless or powerful! Rar!”

Instead of listing every card, and then saying how much it sucks in Five-Color compared to previous cards, I’ll just skip it altogether. Obviously, a casually-inclined set means that every card will be played sooner or later. I understand that. However, when it comes to acquiring new cards for your decks and finding out where the new power cards are, we do not need to consider the 100th iteration of Giant Growth.

It’s easier to evaluate cards for Five-Color than for something like, say, block or Type Two. We have a ton of cards already, so the latest two-mana Shock will hardly make the cut. When you have access to the best burn, creatures, and countermagic of all time, recent fare usually falls flat.

This paragraph is the obligatory “Five-Color” paragraph, where I briefly explain the format’s rules. Skip it if you’re already familiar with the format. Five-Color is a largely casual format that requires decks of 250 or more cards. At least eighteen cards of each color must be played. We allow all Type One legal sets — but due to the quirky nature of the format, we have to maintain our own banned and restricted list (which you can find over at www.5-color-com). We have generous mulligan rules, we embrace ante, and we allow Chaos Orb.

Typically, I begin these articles by discussing major mechanics and their potential Five-Color impact before heading into the card reviews. In Champions, all of the abilities and new rules were reviewed… and each essentially said that it was not that useful in Five-Color. The same is true for Betrayers as well. Although there may be individual cards with a mechanic that are good enough to make the cut, very few mechanics translate well.

That leaves us with the cards themselves. We will analyze them by color:

White has the underwhelming Shining Shoal – a highly-touted card that will fail in Five-Color. Another Wrath of God clone (Final Judgment), an expensive Winter Orb (Hokori, Dust Drinker), a few aggressive creatures, and some sorcery-speed removal. This is hardly a powerful color. The days of Wing Shards and Exalted Angels may be over for a while. There is hardly anything in white worth mentioning for Five-Color. Enjoy the few entries below.

Empty-Shrine Kannushi
I know that this pales in comparison to Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Savannah Lions, Mother of Runes, and other aggressive white one-drops. Still, I love that this creature is a 1/1 for one mana with protection for several colors. This is a very solid creature, and I like it for its simplicity and its Invasion Block feel.

Final Judgment
No mess, no fuss, just simple removal. No indestructible, no regeneration, no soulshift, no Kokusho, the Evening Star; just a simple removal of permanents of the type “creature” from the game. You can still dodge it with cards like Rainbow Efreet and Anurid Brushhopper. I like this card a lot in metagames where the creatures have become Wrath of God-resistant.

Hokori, Dust Drinker
Wizards published a Winter Orb on a stick? Too bad that Hokori doesn’t fly, because that would be really nifty. As it is, Hokori requires two white mana to play, but if you want the extra Orb effect, Hokori can really fit. There are already competitive Five-Color decks running a full complement of Winter Orbs, so Hokori could easily see play, although it will never be as good as the WOrb.

Kentaro, the Smiling Cat
Kentaro’s ability to play samurai for colorless mana would be useful if you played with lots of samurai… but you probably don’t. Kentaro is more useful simply as a decent 2/1 with Bushido for two mana. He can also stop the ante in rare-light aggro decks.

Shining Shoal
While I firmly believe that Shining Shoal is a solid card that may be powerful in casual and multiplayer settings, its usefulness in Five-Color is minor. You’ll rarely want to discard a white card – either because you can’t or because that white card is too valuable. That makes this essentially a mono-colored Captain’s Maneuver.

I would rather play a 1/3 Temple Acolyte than the Tallowisp. Not only do you have to play with "enchant creature" cards, but you also need to be running spirits and arcane spells. If you are, even minor Rancors and whatnot are good targets for the Tallowisp’s ability.

Terashi’s Grasp
Of the spells that take out both artifacts and enchantments, Orim’s Thunder, Dismantling Blow, and Hull Breach are the top three cards, in that order. Terashi’s Grasp may be number four. The ability to gain life essentially for free is solid, getting another arcane spell may be important, and the sorcery issue is bad, but not terminable.

Green has only four cards mentioned in this set – the lowest number ever for a color. It does have something new in Sakiko, Mother of Summer. Green simply lacks punch in this set — but it had some winners in Champions, so there’s no Kamigawa shutout here or anything.

Enshrined Memories
Although I think that this is a very strong card in casual and multiplayer, it just doesn’t seem to have the same power in Five-Color. If you are playing your Five-Color deck in groups of people with casual decks, feel free to play and abuse this. Otherwise, I’d give it a pass, because there is so much cheaper card drawing available.

Genju of the Cedars
The problem with the Genju is that you simply do not control enough of the basic land type to make them a good choice. If, however, you play a full set of duals and a heavy set of basics skewed towards one color (typically green), then the Genju might not be a bad choice at all. I am using the Genju of the Cedars as an example, because you are most likely going to be playing more Forests than any other basic land — although every deck is different. Playing with fifty islands? Maybe you could try Genju of the Falls.

Iwamori of the Open Fist
I think that Iwamori may be one of my favorite cards from the new set. As a 5/5 trampler for just four mana, his only disadvantage is that your opponent can play a legendary creature for free if one is in hand when Iwamori comes into play. In Five-Color, your opponent will rarely just have a legendary creature sitting in his hand and waiting to be used. As such, this disadvantage is rarely useful for your opponent, making Iwamori a great creature for a cheap cost.

Sakiko, Mother of Summer
For simply doing something new, Sakiko has my attention. The ability to grab a bunch of green mana in an aggressive deck can be used to spout out creatures, fuel X spells, and play big artifacts. There are a lot of good uses for this mana, and I am sure an enterprising player will find some use. My favorite may be, make some extra green mana (say five) then play Contract from Below and you have extra mana for your new cards. I just wish Sakiko cost five mana instead of six.

Although red does not have any major game breaking cards, it has a very deep pool of solid entries. Red is often the unwanted child of Five-Color, with players trying to minimize their red as much as possible. For a red based deck to succeed, it needs tools. That’s what red offers in Betrayers – tools.

Akki Blizzard-Herder
The Abyssal Gatekeeper of lands. Land destruction oriented themes might benefit from another creature that takes out land. It’s no Orcish Settlers — but with 250 cards, there is certainly room for more cards than just a quad of Settlers. I’m sure that this goblin will see play somewhere in an LD deck, but that strategy is less likely to work in Five-Color. On the other hand, when it does work, it works spectacularly.

Blazing Shoal
I think Wizards printed this solely for the purpose of exclaiming “We brought back Turn One kills!” In a dedicated red deck, I doubt that I’d play this card. Finding a home for it in a regular 250 deck would be even harder.

Crack the Earth
This is a very simple card for its ability. In the early game, you can really abuse this in tempo or mana-denial strategies. Later on, it’s still not too bad as a mana winnower. Obviously, the cheap cost comes at a price, but it’s interesting and simple enough that you have to wonder how long it will be before they put it into a basic set.

Flames of the Blood Hand
I really like this card for its ability to stop life gain. Now, life gain strategies aren’t the biggest deal in 250, but play this after your opponent puts Exalted Angel damage on the stack… and he loses four from the spell and doesn’t gain the four life from the Angel. This card is four damage at instant-speed with a splashable cost, unpreventable damage and an occasionally useful extra ability. That’s a solid card.

Fumiko the Lowblood
Fumiko has an interesting combination of abilities for a relatively cheap cost. You almost want to experiment just to find out how good or bad this card actually is. The high bushido can make Fumiko really knock around a creature when it blocks one of your opponent’s attackers. Forcing your opponent to attack or prematurely use cards like Mother of Runes, Gorilla Shaman, and more is a pretty nice deal.

Heartless Hidetsugu
This is a very interesting creature that has the misfortune of competing in the cluttered 3RR mana spot. It’s not like many decks want that mana cost in their deck anyway, so great creatures like Arc-Slogger go by the wayside. Nevertheless, Hidetsugu is a solid card and any red-oriented 250 card deck would do well to consider and possibly run him.

Patron of the Akki
If you have a decent number of goblins running around, Patron of the Akki might be a perfect follow-up. With the sacrifice of a two-mana goblin, you can easily have a fourth-turn Patron. This is the perfect mid-game punch that an aggro deck can use. Even if you never have goblins out, it’s still a 5/5 for six and a double Orcish Oriflamme.

Black comes with several powerful effects… including a pair of ninja. Toshiro Umezawa fills this set’s obligatory “overhyped” award. My favorite black card (and my favorite card in the set) is the Ogre Marauder, a solid 3/1 body for three mana that requires your opponent to sacrifice a creature before blocking. An aggressive ability with an aggressive power makes for interesting times.

Goryo’s Vengeance
In a reanimator deck that revolves around returning legendary permanents like Bladewing the Risen into play, Goryo might be able to help out. In Five-Color decks, however, this might not happen much except in dedicated recursion decks replete with Buried Alive, Entomb, and Bazaar of Baghdad.

Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Ink-Eyes is a powerful Ninja with a very useful reanimation ability. He’s a solid Ninjitsu creature, because not only can you hit someone for five with an unblocked creature, but you also get one of their dead creatures for you free. That Ink-Eyes regenerates is just gravy on the cake.

Ogre Marauder
The Marauder’s special ability is quite strong. A 3/1 for three mana is par for the course in black; well, actually, it’s fairly aggressive even by Black’s standards, but there are plenty of other options, like Organ Grinder.

However, add the “sacrifice a creature if you want to block” part to the card, and you have one annoying swinger. The only problem with the card is its double-black cost. Other than that, I would expect this card to make the occasional appearance.

Throat Slitter
This is another great Ninjitsu card, namely because it is creature kill with the potential to kill even more creatures. That’s a solid investment for 2B. Throat Slitter won’t be winning any awards for "coolest card" or anything, but it’s a solid card with some potential.

Toshiro Umezawa
We banned Yawgmoth’s Will because it was so broken… but this is no Will. You can’t even replay Contract from Below, since it’s a sorcery. Really, Toshiro is a watered-down Yawgmoth’s Will, and shouldn’t be compared to such a legendary (but not Legendary) card.

Instead, Toshiro is more like a Bosium Strip. Occasionally, you’ll go wild with the instant abuse – but otherwise, he’s just a 2/2 creature with Bushido. He may still be worth playing, he’s just not sterling or anything.

Blue is blah. The best blue card may be, um, Ninja of the Deep Hours. That’s right, the card sent to shops several weeks ago (of which I have been playing a copy for two weeks now), may be the best card in its color. Sad, I know. Chisei is a better creature, but I suspect that there’s too much work involved in getting it to work.

Callow Jushi
One of the better flip cards in this set, the Callow Jushi suffers from the same problem that many good cards from this block suffer from. The synergy between Arcane and Spirits is lost in a 250-card deck. If the last set produces some major good cards, this might become more apt. As it is, Arcane spells like Kodama’s Reach and Cranial Extraction remain the few good cards from the spirit/arcane pairing to make an impact.

Chisei, Heart of Oceans
4/4 flyers for 2UU are always a good thing. Creatures that beat fast are highly desired. Most creatures have a significant disadvantage, but Chisei can easily be an advantage. Cards like Unstable Mutation have negative counters that you can remove for Chisei to chomp on. There are lands with counters, creatures with counters, artifacts with counters, and even the occasional enchantment with counters and a "removed from game" card with counters from Ertai’s Meddling. All of these cards may not get played too much, but it might be worth trying around a few counter cards to see if Chisei is worth the cost.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Although Kira’s ability only stops the first spell or ability that targets each creature – and that’s easy to work around – it also promotes card advantage on your part.

Ninja of the Deep Hours
Not only do I think that Ninja of the Deep Hours is a cool name, but the card is solid as well. Getting a 2/2 and a card for just two mana is a decent deal. It’s not the best or anything, but is gives you a permanent Ophidian-like creature on the board that can serve for some damage.

Reduce to Dreams
Although this might be very powerful in the right situation, I wanted to mention it here. I’ve already heard people discuss it as a potential Wish sideboard target. Of course, we can play Tranquility and Shatterstorm, so I am unsure as to this card’s usefulness merely as a Wish target.

Ronin Warclub is interesting. Orb of Dreams may make a cut in a tempo deck somewhere. Mirror Gallery, on the other hand, is another “looks cool but isn’t” card.

Genju of the Realm
I know that someone is expecting me to mention this because this is Five-Color and Genju of the Realm is a card with all five colors in it. But that doesn’t make it a good card. This card is poor, at best, in anything other than a cute “See what I can do” deck. Next card.

Mirror Gallery
Cute, but relatively worthless. This is not even as good as Genju of the Realm, which can at least win a game, eventually.

Orb of Dreams
You can look at this as a Root Maze that affects everything or as a cheaper Kismet that hits you. Either way, the colorless Orb may very well be just good enough to make the cut in a tempo-oriented deck. Every basic set needs an Orb, so maybe this is for Nth edition.

Ronin Warclub
This will either be amazing or annoying. As a piece of equipment that attaches itself to your creature for free, it looks really good. If it keeps hopping to substandard creatures, however, it becomes much less.

That Which Was Taken
Although the cost to get it into play and use it once is high, the continuing cost is relatively low, considering the effect. Granting indestructibility to various permanents can only solidify your board position. Ultimately, this probably leans more on the casual side of 250 — but if you like it, play with it.

As a whole, I am a bit disappointed that this set doesn’t have the sheer power of Champions. This time, three months ago, I was decrying the power of Gifts Ungiven, Night Dealings, Cranial Extraction, Kodama’s Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Yosei, Kokusho, and much more. This time, the best cards are Ninja of the Deep Hours, Patron of the Akki, and Ogre Marauder. That’s not exactly the same power scale.

Frankly, I expect the middle set to have tools, but not be the most powerful set. Stronghold, Nemesis, Planeshift, Torment, Legions, and Darksteel have all followed this rule. I just wanted a few more tools and I remain unsatisfied.