Crashing Waves With Kiora

2012 Florida State Champion Mark Nestico shares his process for evaluating planeswalkers and tells you why he’s very excited about Kiora, the Crashing Wave.

A person receives a Nintendo 3DS XL, Pokemon Y, and the box set of all nine seasons of Dragonball Z for Christmas along with other miscellaneous gifts.

How old is this person?

I’ll give you a moment.

. . .

. . .

. . .

If you said “twelve,” you’re incorrect.

That person is 27. Merry Christmas to me!

The holidays were very good to me, and a lot of hard work and preparation went into making them memorable. My wife found out that she’s going on a vacation that she gets to plan from beginning to end, as I’ll be taking her anywhere she wants to go for a week doing all the activities that she wants to do, which means anything from hiking and mountain climbing to visiting metropolitan museums and art galleries. Hopefully she chooses somewhere with good food.

I was giddy with the anticipation of her receiving this gift when I opened up my Facebook after getting home from work. My feed was ablaze with two words that immediately caught my eye:

“new planeswalker”

Oh? New planeswalker, you say?

Christmas was truly coming early.

Immediately I ventured to the mothership so that I could gaze upon the face of Kiora Atua, a walker people have been expecting since she showed her scaly face inDuels of the Planeswalkers back in 2012.

I was not disappointed.

My track record with gauging planeswalkers has been one of my strongest assets when it comes to identifying the power that one possesses and whether or not it is a worthwhile investment early on. This has allowed me to beat the initial rush on some that premier to huge prices while letting me pick up the ones that I know will eventually become expensive staples. To this day there have only been a few that I went deep on, but I’m pretty sure they make me seem like I know what I’m doing.

When Worldwake came out, the day after it was legal I battled in a two thousand dollar tournament with a deck that featured Jace, the Mind Sculptor. At the time people were happy to sell them off at around $20-30 cash, and most vendors were moving them at around $35. In this tournament I decided to play two of them that I had picked up pretty cheap, figuring that a card that let you Brainstorm every turn was probably going to be pretty good, but I assumed he’d be fairly weak in a format rife with Bloodbraid Elf and Blightning. Something about this card however really made me think that it was worth getting as many of them as I could.

My collection was meager, but in between rounds I picked up as many of them as I could. As the day progressed I kept winning and winning, basically barreling through every round with overwhelming card advantage. JTMS was not only the real deal, but he was singlehandedly carrying the pile that I was battling with. Brainstorms and fetch lands were something usually only Legacy players had access to, but this junky Esper deck was letting me do it to great effect, beating people handily.

By the end of the day, people stopped trading me their Jaces because crowds were watching me wreck people with this guy. Luckily I’d already amassed three playsets, so I wasn’t worried. I figured I’d stock them away and let them mature and eventually my investment would be worth it.

That turned out to be an okay choice.

Liliana of the Veil? When I read her, I fell so far in love that I couldn’t stop myself from picking up copy after copy. She was a little steep at the time, commanding around $25 apiece, but that didn’t stop me from scooping up her foils and regular copies like it was my job. She was steady at her buy price for around a month before doubling. This felt very good because all of a sudden she was the hottest card in Standard, commanding an excellent trade premium, and I was neck deep with her in my binder. As someone who was rebuilding his collection from it being taken from him, her foils singlehandedly put me back into good shape, allowing me to pick up all the cards I needed to play during that time.

You could say she’s always been good to me.

Lastly and more recently, I made a reconnection with Jace. The Architect of Thought was an absolute steal prior to Theros coming out. I preached to everyone who would listen because this card was going for $4-7 dollar all over the Internet. It made no sense to me at all considering it was the defining card of Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze and would almost certainly be a powerhouse going forward in Standard. I maxed out on sets of Jace, Architect of Thought, and when the bubble began to swell on him, I cashed out for a lovely profit. People acted surprised when he reached as high as $25, with his foils at $45-50.

Jace + Me = <3

Why the trip down memory lane?


Kiora, the Crashing Wave gives me very similar feelings to the three previous planeswalkers I mentioned.

Think I’m crazy? Allow me to explain.

When reviewing a new planeswalker, you have to take the following things under consideration:

1. Will this card see Standard play?
2. Does it protect itself?
3. What type of deck is it good in?
4. How does it impact an empty board and is that impact substantial?
5. Can the opponent ignore it?
6. How heavy is the casual appeal of a card like this?
7. Does the preorder outweigh how much you think the card will go up?

Will This Card See Standard Play?

The first question is one of the most important, and a “yes” will mean that we’re on the right track.

Kiora will without a doubt see Standard play. Whether or not she will see it immediately while competing with Jace, Architect of Thought at the four-drop spot remains to be seen, but in the same way Jace wasn’t prevalent until after rotation Kiora might have to wait a little while before she matures.

Does that make her a bad buy? Certainly not.

There are decks that could already greatly benefit from her abilities far more than they could from Jace, and their playability might hinge on how fluent she is in them.

Two examples are a Turbo Fog variant and a Bant Control list.

In Turbo Fog, she allows you to save your Fog effects by locking down any pesky permanent that your opponent is threatening with. This means that on a relatively tame board you can stock up on the protection cards and ensure that she is able to ultimate, which seems nearly unbeatable.

A Bant Control deck would also love her +1 ability while using her -1 to draw more cards, play more lands, and cast bigger Sphinx’s Revelations. Explore was a powerful card, and even with her mana cost being twice that of an Explore, the effect is still amazing. Being a kill condition on her own doesn’t hurt either.

Does It Protect Itself?

Famously known as “The Jace Test,” this phrase came from the statement that if a planeswalker couldn’t protect itself (like how Jace, the Mind Sculptor is able to Unsummon a creature) that it loses a lot of value since it can be attacked or killed with more ease, making the investment worse.

When a planeswalker can protect itself, the value it holds can go up substantially, and Kiora does this while adding to her loyalty. This is extremely important.

+1: Until your next turn, prevent all damage that would be dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls.

This kind of power is exceptional in the kinds of decks Kiora will go in. First and foremost, she solves a seriously big problem that control decks are having nowadays:

Cards like Supreme Verdict are very powerful, but one of the annoying cards when employing that strategy is a cheaply activated man land that chips away at your life. Kiora can change that dynamic by targeting Mutavault with her +1. Now all of a sudden the opponent can’t follow up that sweeper you cast by activating their Mutavault and attacking you or a planeswalker you control.

What Type Of Deck Is It Good In?

Kiora, the Crashing Wave strikes me as one of the best midrange or control planeswalkers that we’ve had in some time.

Her +1 that we discussed earlier does a great job of shutting off your opponent’s best threat, rendering it useless until your next turn. This is going to be a huge deal going forward because with the monstrosity mechanic out there it functionally shuts it down. A Polukranos that can’t attack or kill multiple creatures with its monstrosity ability is simply a Deadbridge Goliath. A Boros Reckoner that can’t trade with multiple creatures or screw up combat math is a poorly costed Trained Armodon. Kiora makes all of these things possible, and if you’re a midrange deck, it lets your creatures do exactly what they’re supposed to do—attack and kill your opponent.

For control players, not only does she keep you safe and give you time to cast your bigger and more unbeatable spells, but Kiora also allows you to accelerate into them with her -1. This comes with the added benefit of drawing you a card each time you activate it, which gives a snowball effect that is going to be difficult for your opponent to overcome. And don’t forget when your crafty red opponent plays their Burning Earth to target it with your Kiora and see what happens. You can freely cast your spells at that point without worrying about the damage until your next turn.

Do I think this card is playable in an aggressive deck? While it would be awkward, we’ve already seen a pretty strong U/G Master of Waves deck, and she’s the kind of planeswalker it could try running. Unfortunately she doesn’t further your plan or give an influx of cards like Jace, Architect of Thought does, so I’d be hard pressed to add her.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Does This Card Impact An Empty Board & Is The Effect Substantial?

When you look at a card like Vraska the Unseen, it’s easy to see that if there is nothing going on she’s very mediocre. Yes, she can tick up to an ultimate that could kill your opponent, but if they have an answer, she’s pretty bad, right?

Another aspect of “The Jace Test” is what a planeswalker does when no one is doing much of anything. When you play a planeswalker, you want to make sure it does something important even if it dies to a spell. Jace Beleren acted like a Howling Mine or at least replaced himself. Garruk, Primal Hunter could make a 3/3 Beast token. Kiora, the Crashing Wave lets you generate a more impressive board state while drawing cards.

It’s common with a planeswalker like Jace, Architect of Thought to weave his abilities to get the most out of the card. Commonly you’ll see players -2 the Jace, follow it up with a +1, and if it makes it to the third turn go with another -2. So far you’ve cast two miniature Fact or Fictions and stunted an attack, and you still have a planeswalker to +1 if it’s alive the following turn.

Kiora is going to afford you the opportunity to weave her +1 and -1 abilities if the game calls for it. Drawing multiple cards and playing an extra land every turn is very powerful, and on an empty board two Explores is going to be amazing. But if you’re controlling the game pace with counterspells or removal, getting the most out of her is going to bury your opponent in your bigger spells, tons of cards, and lands to do anything and everything your deck is capable of.

Can The Opponent Ignore It?

1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
2. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
3. Never ignore a Jace Beleren.

When he was printed, Jace Beleren was laughed at. His +1 was thought to be garbage since your opponent gets to draw first and answer him, putting you basically back to square one. The -1 was thought to be an overpriced cantrip most of the time, and the ultimate was scoffed at as a “never ever going to happen against me.”

It went on to be one of if not the best planeswalkers of the set. It created very odd games where the opponent couldn’t kill it after a +1 and then Bitterblossom tokens protected it the entire game, letting you draw more gas than any opponent could handle.

The moral of the story? Sometimes just saying “it’s bad, so I can ignore it!” will lose you tons of games.

Kiora does a really awesome Glenn Close impression from Fatal Attraction. She cannot and will not be ignored.

Fine, Dan. You want to play that game? You want to just act like she’s not in play? Great. Fine. Sure.

While you’re going about your business, you start to notice small things. Your creatures are ineffective. Their hand is full, and they have more lands than you. Uh oh. Maybe you should have gone to the opera with her an—OH CRAP THERE ARE KRAKENS EVERYWHERE.

Is it still a good idea to ignore her now?

Cue bathtub scene.

How Heavy Is The Casual Appeal Of A Card Like This?

When gauging whether or not to invest in a card, you have to look at the casual market with a microscope. Card that you think are garbage are actually amazing in tabletop games of Magic, and despite what competitive players might think, they have to realize something important:

They are the vast minority.

Most people play Magic for fun, and a card like Kiora does a lot of the things that casual players are looking to do.

They love playing their big spells. Her Explore lets you do that.

They love rendering their friends’ huge threats useless. Her +1 lets you do that.

They love putting humongous monsters into play. Her ultimate lets you do that until the game ends.

What does this mean to you?

It means that people will be buying this card and it’s entirely likely her price won’t go down that far. $20 is a solid price to pick her up at. It’s not the $50+ Vraska was asking and not the hysterical $20 Jace, the Mind Sculptor was going for, but it’s a good price for a card that has vast implications in the casual and competitive scenes.

I could see it dropping to as low as $10 within the first few months, but with something like this it isn’t wise to take chances when kitchen Magicians all over might be scrambling to get it.

That leads us to the last point:

Does The Preorder Cost Outweigh How Much You Think The Card Will Go Up?

This is always a tricky one because lately all planeswalkers have been dropping from their original preorder prices. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can be picked up for $20 (on sale for $17.99 now), which is a pretty big dent from where she was, but look at Jace, Architect of Thought. After preordering at $20-25, he dropped substantially.

A lot of people thought they bought in on the wrong card.

Eventually he rocketed back up and is now sitting comfortably where his preorder had him at.

During Standard PTQ season if you’re serious about winning a PTQ, card availability is extremely important. For every PTQ I made Top 8 of, I was able to play whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because I had everything. I don’t like needing cards, so this one is a no-brainer for me.

I will be preordering Kiora at $20.

Yes, she will drop, but without a doubt I feel like I will recoup every penny I spend on her.

Much like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, after rotation she will become far more expensive and much more dominant. Think Elspeth will be $20 forever? In one year you’re probably looking at a $40-50 card. Mark my words.

Does that mean you should go out and buy them now? Yes and no.

Yes if you’re like me and like having access to everything, and no if you think it’s too soft an investment. I personally think it’s great at this price point and wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Man, almost 3,000 words on a single card.

You’d think I’m excited about it . . .

Everyone I talk to, from my casual friends to professional Magic players, think this card is the real deal, and I’m happy to lead the charge on Kiora. The people that seem to think she’s bad are the same people that think everything that is printed is bad until some pro breaks it and then it’s the best card ever.

Why don’t we stop waiting for people to break it and start breaking it ourselves?

Catch ya on the flip-

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