The music’s on (my "Best of Kansas" playlist with U2’s "Unforgettable Fire" queued up after that), the coffee’s hot, and I’m settled in for one of my favorite times of the year—the set review, which I get to do four times. It’s always a journey of discovery. While I’m doing it, I learn something and figure out some cool interaction that I hadn’t thought about the first time I looked over the set list.
I’m going to be talking both about the new cards (not to mention some of the old ones) as well as how I feel about the set taken as a whole. Remember that this is a review only as the cards impact Commander. You’ll find some of the other great Magic minds on this site doing set reviews for all the other formats.
A major change to mention here are the new M14 legend and planeswalker rules. The details are in the FAQ, but basically legendary permanents and planeswalkers are going to be evaluated for each player instead of the entire battlefield. That means you can have a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and I can have one as well. Both of us can play Animar, Soul of Elements without fear that we’re going to nerf each other. The other major thing is since one of them is staying around you actually get to choose which one it is. Assume your Ruhan of the Fomori is enchanted with Pacifism. You can cast Clone, copying Ruhan, putting the original back into the command zone. The copy won’t be dealing commander damage, but hey, it’s still a scary 7/7.
What’s nice about this regarding planeswalkers is that you can chain them together. If you have a hand of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Jace, Memory Adept with Jace Beleren on the battlefield, (assuming you have the mana), you can activate Beleren and then cast Memory Adept, choosing to bin Beleren. You can then activate Memory Adept and, once the stack is empty, cast Mind Sculptor, binning Memory Adept.
This change will have a major impact on the format, but I don’t see is as a negative impact, just a difference. I think it will cause people to think more about some targeted land destruction as you can no longer use your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to get rid of mine. It’s also going to make indestructible legendary creatures more difficult to deal with. Avacyn, Angel of Hope; Konda, Lord of Eiganjo; Sapling of Colfenor; Tajic, Blade of the Legion; Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre; and situationally all the Myojin get an upgrade. This means that you’re going to probably need more tuck and exile effects to protect yourself from these monsters.
The new legend rule means that copy effects get both better and worse. They’re better because now you can have a copy of Avacyn as well but worse because copy effects don’t have the flexibility of also being removal. On the whole, I think it makes them better. I played a game with Lazav, Dimir Mastermind (which is a copy/clone/Shapeshifter deck) under the new rules a few weeks ago, and I can tell you that having my own copies of Gisela and Ulamog was pretty awesome.
This time, we’re going to use the format of recent set reviews and add the category "Already Getting Played," which will be reprints that we don’t really need to say too much about. There’s also the possibility of other reprints ending up in different categories because while they’re reprints they might be new to newer players or remind older players that they’re still around. For those of you who haven’t been around for previous set reviews, here’s the key:
Probably Won’t Get Played: I simply can’t see these cards, some of which might be houses in other formats, getting played in this one.
Might Get Played: This category is for cards that may have some narrow use—a throw-in in a tribal deck or hope of some highly unlikely interaction. For the most part, they’re still cards that I don’t think we’ll see too much of if at all.
Probably Will Get Played: These are cards that I find likely for a few folks to give a whirl. Some of them won’t last long; some of them might become staples when other cards that go with them are printed. A card might also be in this category if I’m sure it’ll get played but I don’t think it’s as good as the cards in the next category.
Definitely Will Get Played: These are the best cards of the set or the ones that I know lots of people will play. There is a chance that I don’t particularly care for a Definitely card, but I’ll still put it here if I think it will see broad play in the format.
Probably Won’t Get Played
Armored Cancrix; Claustrophobia; Coral Merfolk; Illusionary Armor; Messenger Drake; Nephalia Seakite; Seacoast Drake; Sensory Deprivation; Spell Blast; Time Ebb; Trained Condor; Wall of Frost; Water Servant; Zephyr Charge
Might Get Played
Blessing; Dawnstrike Paladin; Hive Stirrings; Imposing Sovereign; Indestructibility; Master of Diversion; Pay No Heed; Seraph of the Sword; Solemn Offering; Soulmender; Steelform Sliver; Wall of Swords
Academy Raider; Awaken the Ancient; Chandra’s Phoenix; Demolish; Dragon Egg; Dragon Hatchling; Flames of the Firebrand; Fleshpulper Giant; Goblin Shortcutter; Molten Birth; Pitchburn Devils; Wild Guess
Advocate of the Beast; Bramblecrush; Briarpack Alpha; Brindle Boar; Deadly Recluse; Elvish Mystic; Enlarge; Howl of the Night Pack; Hunt the Weak; Lay of the Land; Plummet; Ranger’s Guile; Rootwalla; Verdant Haven; Windstorm; Witchstalker
Artifact and Land
Already Getting Played
Artifact and Land
Probably Will Get Played
Ajani’s Chosen: I suspect that someone will try to either simply put this into their Cat deck or try to use it with recurring enchantments like Rancor. It will be a welcome addition to any white/green Enchantress deck (although most of them that I’ve seen have been mono-green).
Angelic Accord: The life gain theme in the set is strong enough and the idea of gaining life as a method of keeping alive longer is catching on in the format for this to see some play. The obvious pairing is with lifelink creatures.
Banisher Priest: The theoretically-easier-to-understand version Fiend Hunter might see some play because of its ability and it’s a Human Cleric. The new templating of this ability means that there are no crazy interactions with exiling something forever when a player leaves the game.
Bonescythe Sliver: Don’t forget that it gives double strike to all your changelings too!
Celestial Flare: A great weapon against Voltron decks when they attack, it’s a new way to kill Uril, the Miststalker now that you can’t legend rule it away. It’s also potentially useful when someone is counting on a single blocker to eat some damage from a trampling creature in order to keep themself alive.
Fiendslayer Paladin: A card that I expect to see heavily played in Standard, it will probably get played in Commander in tribal Knight decks.
Silence: This is a card that I’m surprised isn’t getting played more than it already is. For the simple cost of one mana, you can keep opponents from doing combat tricks or countering your game ender. It’s no Abeyance, but still.
Air Servant: The ability to tap down other fliers without tapping is going to be attractive enough for folks to give this a whirl. A house in Limited.
Glimpse the Future: There are better draw spells, but in a deck with any kind of reanimation, this may get the nod because it can help fill the graveyard.
Phantom Warrior: I only mention this one because I own the original art.
Altar’s Reap: Your creatures are going to sometimes get killed. Why not draw two cards for one of them?
Gnawing Zombie: I love my sacrifice outlets, and although I prefer them to be free, I suppose draining someone for one is reasonable enough for the 1B.
Barrage of Expendables: Goblin decks already love Siege-Gang Commander, so why not its little brother in Enchantment form? Add Goblin Sharpshooter to the mix for lots of laughs. It’s no Goblin Bombardment, but that’s hardly a crime.
Battle Sliver: The Sliver players might find this one comparatively pricey.
Goblin Diplomats: Cute design—goblin diplomacy being so bad that everyone just attacks them—with some potential upside in leading someone into a bad attack or just clearing the way to kill them on the counterattack.
Mindsparker: A card I’d definitely want for playing in Standard, it can do enough damage over the course of a game to be annoying to that white or blue player as well as shutting down any infinite combos that involve casting spells of those colors.
Striking Sliver: Blocking Slivers usually ends up with the blocker getting killed anyway, so the first strike one is of minimal use.
Groundshaker Sliver: You want your Slivers to have trample, but the cost of this is a little prohibitive. If you’re putting a great deal of ramp into your Sliver deck, you have fewer slots for the actual Slivers.
Into the Wilds: Anything that puts extra lands onto the battlefield is good. When they do it for free, it’s better because it’s effectively ramp and card draw at no additional cost. A little Sensei’s Divining Top action and you’re loaded for bear. Or beast.
Oath of the Ancient Wood: Someone will try to make this work in Enchantress decks.
Sporemound: For one more mana, you get Rampant Baloth with a better landfall trigger, but I can listen to an argument to play both.
Voracious Wurm: Early, it’s a Grizzly Bear. Later, it can be the most insanely large two-mana creature you’ve ever seen. It absolutely deserves a look in your Trostani deck (where it unfortunately doesn’t give itself a bonus).
Woodborn Behemoth: Eight lands doesn’t seem like so much, and then boom! 8/8 trampler.
Artifact and Land
Guardian of the Ages: A nice rattlesnake. Its seven power will make people afraid to turn it on. Gaining trample is the huge part there. No one really cares about vanilla 7/7s.
Staff of the Death Magus, Staff of the Flame Magus; Staff of the Mind Magus, Staff of the Sun Magus, Staff of the Wild Magus: These will all probably get played because of the additional benefit of triggering on lands coming onto the battlefield. They’re not going to get blown up with targeted removal because there are so many other really good artifacts around. The only time you’ll lose them is to a sweeper, and by then you’ve probably gained fifteen-to-twenty life from them.
Mutavault: Perhaps we haven’t seen much of it in the format because it’s so expensive, or perhaps it’s because it’s just not that great (in the format). Time will tell.
Definitely Will Get Played
Archangel of Thune: I’m thoroughly excited about this for a Trostani deck. While not as potentially explosive as Cathars’ Crusade, it also doesn’t require a large number of creatures to be good. While lifelink creatures make sense (and you’ll get a trigger off of each one of them that deals combat damage), you can gain life off of more passive things like Suture Priest or Ajani Goldmane to help make your team bigger. It’s also a way of getting those nasty -1/-1 counters off of your Puppeteer Clique and other persist creatures. Give it some serious thought in your W/B decks, especially Obzedat, Ghost Council.
Devout Invocation: Crazy useful if all of your creatures have vigilance, it’s also a nice path to bringing the pain if you have five-to-seven small to mid-size creatures currently holding down the fort. What upgrades this from Probably to Definitely for me is that it can also be used in an aggressive deck. While we normally like casting sorceries post-combat, the play here is to cast this pre-combat so that you can battle and still have an army on defense. I wouldn’t be sad to play this getting three Angels, but the value point probably starts at four.
Path of Bravery: For three mana? Are you kidding me? Windmill slam this into any white deck that attacks. Sure, there’s a point where your creatures aren’t going to get a bonus, but you’ll gain that life by getting into the red zone. I also like the wording as a nod to this format.
Sentinel Sliver: The new Slivers, which I’ll have more comments on below, will get played—especially the inexpensive ones like this.
Colossal Whale: One of the most awesomely designed cards from a flavor standpoint, I also think it’s going to be savagely good in control-style decks. Clearly you have to play it with Stormtide Leviathan as well.
Dismiss Into Dream: Great googly-moogly! My jaw quite literally dropped when I saw this spoiled. Imagine that you’re already playing Opposition, which is pretty saucy by itself. Now imagine Opposition being a machine gun. A little expensive, but the number of ways it can help you kill your opponents’ creatures are too great to list. It also keeps them from equipping or using Kessig Wolf Run. For even more value, your opponents can kill each other’s creatures as well. Five fists on the Bruce Lee Fury Meter.
Elite Arcanist: I think it’s definitely getting played, and I think it’s not going to end up as good as some folks hope it’ll be. Kind of a not-broken version of Panoptic Mirror, the fact that it’s a 1/1 for 3U makes it fragile enough to keep from being abused. The trick will be imprinting something good enough that it helps you but not so good that it makes other people panic (like Time Stretch).
Galerider Sliver: Perhaps the smallest and most dangerous of them all.
Jace’s Mindseeker: This one is sneaky-good in Lazav, Dimir Mastermind or The Mimeoplasm decks, which are already milling opponents. And it doesn’t exile what you cast, leaving it there for your Diluvian Primordial to snag.
Quicken: I loved this card when it came out, and I love it now. I think it’s criminally underplayed in the format and would like to see its reprint changing that. I hope to report in the future some epic play where I had no answers in my hand, cast Quicken, knocked the top of my deck, and peeled chicken dinner.
Tidebinder Mage: A little narrow, but big green creatures are such a major part of the format that keeping them on lock down seems like a great idea. Not as flexible as Frost Titan, but a great deal cheaper to cast.
Warden of Evos Isle: This Medallion on a stick is another one that is quietly very good. Paying one less for each flying creature is effectively mana ramp. It gets you into everyone in your air force one turn faster, to include…
Windreader Sphinx: This couldn’t be better even if it were covered with bacon. A little small on the front end, you can fearlessly attack with it due to its Sir Mix-a-Lot. It triggers on every attacking flyer, not just your own, making it kind of like a permanent Keep Watch. Opponents are going to think twice about attacking into you if that attack will help you find an answer.
Artificer’s Hex: One of the most talked about in the forums cards, Artificer’s Hex is going to see a great deal of play enchanting Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, and Whispersilk Cloak, not to mention Swords of all kinds. Awesome design.
Dark Prophecy: Yes, it’s possible to get completely blown out with it, but it’s going to pay way more benefits in the long run. Running it alongside the Blood Artist you’re already playing mitigates the life loss right away. It’s no Necropotence, but I think it’s actually less dangerous.
Grim Return: I’m looking forward to the first time I get to say "with Ulamog’s trigger on the stack…" I haven’t seen this card generate much chatter, but I think it’s going to be one of the swingiest cards in this set due to the extremely aggressive casting cost.
Lifebane Zombie: This will see play in more than just Zombie tribal decks. Exiling things is the best defensive move in the format. You just know that someone is holding Craterhoof Behemoth or Kamahl, Fist of Krosa for the right moment. Now, you can pants them instead.
Liliana’s Reaver: Another Zombie that will get played in more than just the tribal decks, you’ll see this blocked in a lot of unfavorable trades for the defender.
Rise of the Dark Realms: YES! I will firmly kiss on the mouth (or not, at their request) Mark Globus and Dave Guskin (the lead designer and developer, respectively) for this card.
Shadowborn Apostle: Someone is going to make this deck. The question will be balancing the number of Apostles with the number of Demons. I’ve noted that it’s a Human Cleric, which means Rotlung Reanimator (another original art I own, by the way) has to be in the deck as well.
Blur Sliver: If you’re going to play a Sliver deck, I’d call this a required one.
Burning Earth: Take that, Seedborn Muse! A nice in-format answer to greedy mana bases that doesn’t cut the rug out from under them like Ruination does. Strong possibility I’ll give it a whirl (perhaps in Ruhan’s "You Did This to Yourself").
Chandra, Pyromaster: It’s a planeswalker, so it’s going to get played. It seems a little schizophrenic in that the first ability is right for aggressive decks, the ultimate is good for combo of some kind, and I don’t know what’s up with the middle one.
Ogre Battledriver: Haste is quite strong in this format and Ogre Battledriver’s low mana cost will make it a dangerous addition to Aurelia, Warleader and Tajic, Blade of the Legion decks, among others. Another one that I think is quietly going to have a strong impact.
Scourge of Valkas: The dismissers will say "how many Dragons could you possibly have?" and my answer is "more than enough to kill you." The question isn’t going to be if it goes into my Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund deck; it’s what am I going to take out for it.
Garruk, Caller of Beasts: It’s really expensive as planeswalkers go, but its abilities are all awesome. I think I’m happiest about the +1 ability putting the cards on the bottom of the library instead of dumping them into the graveyard. It’ll get played in heavily creature-based decks.
Kalonian Hydra: It’s way more attractive than other Hydras because it comes in with a set number of counters instead of X. This way, it’s not a blank off of Lurking Predators and the like. Getting it to attack even once in your Animar, Soul of Elements or Prime Speaker Zegana decks will be just silly.
Megantic Sliver: Megantic indeed. This is one of the cards that makes the Sliver deck really dangerous because they’re probably already getting bonuses from the next card below and friends, and they probably also already fly.
Predatory Sliver: Getting the Sliver rush started early
Primeval Bounty: I blinked hard three times when I first saw this card, 100% sure I was imagining things. Once you have this on the battlefield, everything you do has additional value. It’s insane. If you have this and Lurking Predators at the same time and your opponents can only destroy one of them, it’s going to be a difficult choice.
Savage Summoning: Despite what Kermit the Frog says, it’s pretty easy being green when you have cards like this. I’m not sure what’s up with the +1/+1 counter, but who am I to argue? Remember that you don’t have to wait until another player’s turn to cast this. If you really want to make sure no one counters your Craterhoof Behemoth, your turn is a fine time to cast it. Savage indeed.
Scavenging Ooze: As much as I love my own graveyard, I’m happy seeing the Ooze being available to even more players, and foil copies for my decks will be cheaper!
Vastwood Hydra: Another really nice Hydra, especially if you have Greater Good in play. It doesn’t do anything if someone casts Wrath of God, so you’ll have to make sure that you can control when it dies (or have an indestructible creature).
Haunted Plate Mail: Second only to Colossal Whale on the Dripping With Flavor Meter, Haunted Plate Mail also seems pretty good when your opponents are wrath happy. Not sure what I’m playing it in, but I’m playing it.
Millstone: Putting it here because I think the new art is really cool.
Strionic Resonator: Really—don’t panic. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be very good, but it’s not going to be broken. It’s Rings of Brighthearth for triggered abilities, and it’s going to be awesomely fun most of the time. Sure, there are times when someone is going to use it to make you miserable, but I think that those will be the exception and the epic will be the rule.
Trading Post: Listing it here so I can yell "GOAT POST!!!"
Dismiss Into Dream
I’m quite happy with M14. Although the awesome card density is way lower than it’s been in recent sets, the cards in it that are great for the format are good for the format. They show a measure of thoughtfulness and creativity without further escalating the arms race. I like that the set evokes a style of the first few Magic basic sets. The balance of the color pie and the roles of cards within it are what we first experienced when we fell in love with the game. Here’s hoping that this helps a new generation of players feel the same as we did all those years ago.
The change to the legend and planeswalker rules provides us with some new strategic ground to discover. That the new Slivers affect only yours is pretty much a non-issue. How often was it relevant in the past except in the rare circumstance that two players were playing Sliver decks? The only time I can see it being relevant in the future is the case of two Slivers that get played in non-Sliver decks: Harmonic Sliver and Necrotic Sliver. I suppose it would be a good time to warn you potential new sliver players that Harmonic Sliver’s triggered ability isn’t optional. If you’re the only one with artifacts or enchantments, you’ll have to destroy something of your own.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about my Hall of Fame ballot, what changes M14 is going to bring to my suite of decks, and the continuation of my pursuit of having a deck of each color combination, not to mention my trip to Amsterdam to do coverage of the World Magic Cup and the World Championship. I’ve also promised that if William "Huey" Jensen is elected to the Hall of Fame, I’ll build a deck in his honor with the Commander of his choice. Stay tuned for that and even more surprises.
Embracing the Chaos,
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