The Magic 2015 Prerelease is in a handful of days. Since Core Sets became an actual thing to draft with Magic 2010, we’ve had formats dominated by solely top-level cards (Magic 2010, Magic 2014), card selection (Magic 2011), tempo (Magic 2012), and pure play positioning and incremental value (Magic 2013).
Where does Magic 2015 line up, and how does it stack up to its predecessors’ range of “Slightly better than Avacyn Restored” to “Slightly worse than Innistrad”?
Combat tricks are extremely light in this set. Specifically, there aren’t a lot of Giant Growths, so there aren’t going to be a lot of 2/2-into-4/4 attacks that end well for the 2/2. Titanic Growth and Necrobite are basically the only things that solve that exact scenario at common. There are a reasonable number tricks that break even combats, however, so there are a lot of potential blowouts in the 4/4 versus 4/4 fights.
Similar to Theros, the removal in this set is way less efficient than the bounce spells. Unlike Theros, the Auras here aren’t Bestow creatures, so when that matchup happens the player with the Auras loses. There are also far fewer ways to build a monster.
Creature sizing is 2/2-centric. There’s a number of 2/3’s and 3/2’s, but it looks like 4/4 is almost untouchable by the early side of the format. See the above point on this as well. There’s also a lot of expensive but evasive and small bodies, so expect a decent number of races.
On the above note, the power/toughness gap happens after turn four. Most of the things that cost four are the same 2/3s you can buy for three mana with an evasive bonus. You aren’t really expected to have to face something big on board until turn five.
There are a lot of build-around cards, and that’s a comment relative to sets in general and not just a Core Set. Raw card evaluations aren’t going to hold past the first couple picks of a given draft, and you will have to adapt pick to pick.
|1||1/1 (Selfless Cathar)||1/1 (Soulmender)|
|2||2/2 (Kinsbale Skirmisher)||3/1 (Oreskos Swiftclaw)||2x 1/1 (Raise the Alarm)||1/2 Flying (Sungrace Pegasus)|
|3||1/2 (Heliod’s Pilgrim)||2/3 (Midnight Guard)|
|4||2/2 Flying (Razorfoot Griffin)|
|5||2/3 (Tireless Missionaries)|
|6||3x 1/1 Flying (Triplicate Spirits)|
|Trick||Ephemeral Shields||Sanctified Charge|
|Removal||Oppressive Rays||Pillar of Light||Solemn Offering|
|Other||Divine Favor||Marked by Honor||Meditation Puzzle|
White’s base strategy appears to be go wide. The power and toughness here is very flat, so the small bumps from Selfless Cathar and Kinsbale Skirmisher are actually much bigger than they look at first glance. There also really isn’t a Pacifism effect.
White’s weakness is going to be in staying power. You can push through with a Sanctified Charge, but if your previous attacks were trading or not getting in enough damage you can easily find yourself brick-walled. I like how it pairs with blue and black, which have nice individual finishers with evasion. Green feels like the random white ground guys aren’t helping much, and red has some but not all of the same end-game punch as blue or black. Black even has a common Lava Axe-style effect to trump red on that end!
Razorfoot Griffin is not very well-positioned in the format. As I mentioned, most of the cards at cost parity with it have alternate evasion or outsize it, and there aren’t a lot of Wind Drakes for it to hold off. That said, there aren’t a ton of fliers so it might just be the case of this is the evasive option white gets, and if it happens to holds off an attacker on the turn it enters play then that’s good enough.
I have a feeling the x/1 on Oreskos Swiftclaw is going to matter about as much as the 3/x. Against green it means you can attack into their three-drops, but there are a fair number of x/1 and x/1-punishing effects to take it down (to name a few: Forge Devil, Crippling Blight, Raise the Alarm). Not that the card is bad, it’s just a bit more of liability than in Theros block.
Battle Screech is arguably the best common in Vintage Masters draft. I would not be shocked if Triplicate Spirits is the best one in Magic 2015 draft. I would guess the card ends up costing about four mana in most cases, where the outliers are topdeck battles in which you don’t really care how much the action spell you draw costs.
This format seems to allow for enough trades and not enough racing that Oppressive Rays is somewhere between “bad” and “not very good”.
|2||2/2 (Ajani’s Pridemate)||2/1 ==> 3/2 (Dauntless River Marshal)||0/4 (Wall of Essence)|
|3||3/1 Flying (Geist of the Moors)||2/2 ==> 4/4 (Warden of the Beyond)|
|4||2/2 (Paragon of New Dawns)|
|6||3/3 (Constricting Sliver)|
|7||4/4+ (Boonweaver Giant)||X/X Flying (Seraph of the Masses)|
|Removal||Constricting Sliver||Devouring Light|
|Other||Battle Mastery||Congregate||First Response|
Dauntless River Marshal is very, very good if you have the off-color land for it. So are all the other ones of this cycle. The white, black, and red cards in this cycle are passable as vanillas, so I would take them early as the payoff is big. The blue and green ones are pretty embarrassing if not boosted, so I would let those slide until you have a clearer idea of what is open.
There’s a fair amount of lifegain for Ajani’s Pridemate, and that’s beyond the fact that it looks like a Grizzly Bear is acceptable in this format and one trigger making it a 3/3 is just amazing.
Paragon of New Dawns has one of the worst Paragon abilities, but is probably the best one anyway as white is the swarm color.
I don’t like First Response unless I can reliably trigger it multiple times per turn cycle and probably get immediate impact out of it. That means pairing it with black. It’s still likely only conditionally playable at best.
Seraph of the Masses is probably way better than it looks at first glance. There aren’t a lot of huge flying threats in the format, and this can be one.
Warden of the Beyond is not going to be a 4/4 most of the time. That said, the base body is somewhere between mediocre and average so I expect him to be played enough that the mise happens.
|1||1/1 (Fugitive Wizard)|
|2||1/3 (Research Assistant)||2/1 Flying (Welkin Tern)|
|3||2/3 (Aeronaut Tinkerer)||1/3 + 1/1 (Coral Barrier)||2/2 (Frost Lynx)|
|4||3/2 (Amphin Pathmage)|
|5||3/3 Flying (Nimbus of the Isle)|
|6||5/5 (Glacial Crasher)|
|Trick||Frost Lynx||Hydrosurge||Peel from Reality||Void Snare|
|Removal||Chronostutter||Encrust||Statute of Denial|
Given the low color requirements in this set due to “nerfing” Devotion and the lower card power level, I would not be surprised to see people splashing blue for a few choice cards. Nimbus of the Isles is the common that comes to mind here, and is basically the premier common finisher in the format without an Air Elemental or Serra Angel at uncommon to trump it.
Overall, blue’s common creatures are pretty good. Frost Lynx (Kor Hookmaster) and Welkin Tern are obviously very good. Research Assistant is immediately cringe-inducing as we are so used to paying zero for the ability, but I expect it to also shine as it fills the Lumengrid Warden slot in a format of 2/2s but also can win late games.
The only color I can see not necessarily wanting to pair blue with is green, but that’s only because the low end of that pairing is not the best on defense. Really, all this means is that if you are U/G you take your first three two-drops that can block (not Welkin Tern) very highly.
Peel from Reality has two great targets on-color in Coral Barrier and Frost Lynx. Green has the other actually good common targets. Peel is still a fine card in other color combos, especially as it’s the instant bounce spell of the format, but it gets way better in U/G.
Divination seems quite powerful in a format where the average card power seems low. Since few cards are really better than others, having more of them ends up doing the trick.
I don’t really like any of the blue “removal” spells. They all seem really slow (Chronostutter), conditional and awkward (Encrust), or both (Statute of Denial).
|2||1/1 (Diffusion Sliver)||2/2 Flying Flash (Quickling)|
|3||4/3 Flier (Illusory Angel)||1/3 ==> 2/4 (Jorubai Mud Lurker)||0/7 (Wall of Frost)|
|4||2/2 (Paragon of Gathering Mists)|
|6||3/3 Flier (Kapsho Kitefins)|
|Trick||Into the Void||Quickling||Turn to Frog|
|Other||Ensoul Artifact||Jace’s Ingenuity||Military Intelligence|
Typical Core Set fare for blue. A few real nice ones, and a decent number of oddballs.
Jace’s Ingenuity and Into the Void are obvious game-enders. I would not be shocked if Illusory Angel is also very good, and I would also not be shocked if Kapsho Kitefins looks way better on paper than it actually is as a 3/3 for six.
|1||1/1 Deathtouch (Typhoid Rats)|
|2||1/1 (Black Cat)||2/1 Lifelink (Child of Night)|
|3||2/2 Flying (Carrion Crow)||3/1 (Necromancer’s Assistant)||2/3 (Witch’s Familiar)|
|4||3/2 Intimidate (Accursed Spirit)||2/2+ (Zof Shade)|
|5||3/5 (Rotfeaster Maggot)||4/3 Flying (Shadowcloak Vampire)|
|Removal||Covenant of Blood||Crippling Blight||Festergloom||Flesh to Dust|
|Other||Eternal Thirst||Mind Rot||Sign in Blood||Unmake the Graves|
Black’s weakness in this set is its early creatures. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t the best proactive options.
That said, it has a lot of the other things on lockdown. The early creatures, namely Typhoid Rats and Black Cat, are pretty good at holding the fort while Accursed Spirit attacks a bunch. It has two more evasive threats in Carrion Crows (the only Wind Drake in the format) and Shadowcloak Vampire.
Black has several great removal spells, including Covenant of Blood which seems absurdly good to me. Crippling Blight was also constantly underrated in Magic 2013 draft and seems like it might be just as good or better here. Necrobite isn’t going to be nearly as good as it was in Theros because the monster concentration is lower, but it still does the job it did before.
Black has great card advantage. Mind Rot isn’t quite as good as Divination, but it’s always close in my mind. If that’s not good enough, Sign in Blood and Unmake the Graves exist, though I feel like the big creatures in this format that I want to get back won’t die enough to make the latter really insane.
I also want to point out that black has some of the biggest creatures in the format too. The 3/5 body on Rotfeast Maggot is huge for this format. This is a world heavy on cards smaller than a Hill Giant that don’t fly. Siege Mastodon is king. Zof Shade is going to be similarly large because a single pump pushes it out of most combats.
Black seems to pair very well with white. As I mentioned earlier, white’s low end and lack of finishers compliments black’s removal and finishers. There’s also a lot of lifegain and life-loss action going on between the two colors to support some niche strategies. I don’t like B/G much on paper, as both colors are light on early plays, but that may just mean you have to first-pick Elvish Mystics.
|2||1/1 (Leeching Sliver)|
|3||3/3 Flying (Necrogen Scudder)||0/3 (Wall of Limbs)||2/1 Deathtouch (Xathrid Slyblade)|
|4||2/2 (Gravedigger)||2/2 (Paragon of Open Graves)|
|5||3/3+ (Blood Host)||4/3 ==> 5/4 (Nightfire Giant)|
|Other||Caustic Tar||Endless Obedience||Feast on the Fallen|
The Uncommons in black are very high quality but don’t solve any of the issues the commons had.
Caustic Tar is a harder-to-kill Accursed Spirit that can be found with Heliod’s Pilgrim. Endless Obedience is Rise from the Grave in a format with very few Serra Angels to get back. Leeching Sliver is dying on the first attack. Don’t get trapped by any of these. Xathrid Slyblade is also far less good than it looks, but the ability to wall up against larger green creatures in a format light on instant-speed removal is easy to underestimate.
Gravedigger being uncommon is a big tell for how good it is. It’s a format of 2/2s that trade with it. Take it highly.
Necrogen Scudder is huge. Take it highly.
Paragon of Open Graves probably has the best Paragon ability. Combat against this guy is very difficult. The only downside is the low-end creatures don’t exist to support it.
If you don’t first pick Stab Wound, you did it wrong. An unfortunate number of creatures die to it on the spot in this format, but there are enough 2/3s that you can find a good spot to place it. Keep in mind that it also works very well with black’s lack of non-evasive attackers as often one of the issues with Stab Wound is you can’t attack into the target without losing your Phantom Warrior.
If creature sizing is as important as I think it is, I expect Feast on the Fallen to be quite good. The only color combo I don’t like it in is B/G.
|1||1/1 (Forge Devil)||1/1+ (Foundry Street Denizen)|
|2||3/2 (Borderland Marauder)||2/1 (Generator Servant)||2/1 (Torch Fiend)|
|3||3/2 (Goblin Roughrider)||2/2 Intimidate (Krenko’s Enforcer)||0/5 (Wall of Fire)||1/1 (Rummaging Goblin)|
|4||3/3+ (Scrapyard Mongrel)|
|5||4/3 (Thundering Giant)|
|6||6/3 (Miner’s Bane)|
|Removal||Blastfire Bolt||Clear a Path||Forge Devil||Inferno Fist|
Red is similar to white in respect to the early game, but it trades some “wideness” for bulk and later-game power alongside removal.
The big edge red has on white in the early game is how it lines up against green. Green has lots of early x/3s, and where white has 1/1s and 2/x’s that are brick-walled by them, red has more 3/2s to attack into them as well as higher drops that can match green in size.
Red’s high end is also fairly impressive. Miner’s Bane is huge and hard to block down effectively, Thundering Giant is also huge with a great ability, and Lava Axe is still Lava Axe. As I said, it’s not quite as reliable as black or blue’s finishers, but the aggro color will make do with what it has.
Red also has Crowd’s Favorite, likely the best common trick in the format, and a solid set of removal.
Lighting Strike is the best common in the set if Triplicate Spirits isn’t. It’s an Instant that kills everything that costs less than five. Inferno Fist probably isn’t far behind, and Boltfire Blast is basically a six-mana kill anything.
Just to be clear, “Destroy target defender” kills two commons. Against certain U/R decks you might sideboard the card, but expect more Clear the Paths to go fourteenth pick just like in Return to Ravnica block.
|1||1/1+ (Frenzied Goblin)|
|2||2/1+ (Altac Berserker)|
|3||2/2 (Belligerent Sliver)|
|4||2/3 (Brood Keeper)||3/3 ==> 4/4 (Kird Chieftain)||2/2 (Paragon of Fierce Defiance)|
|Removal||Cone of Flame||Heat Ray||Shrapnel Blast||Stoke the Flames|
|Other||Act on Impulse||Circle of Flame||Might Makes Right|
Red has a lot of power uncommons.
Cone of Flame is about as unbeatable as it has ever been in the small-creatures format that M15 appears to be.
Might Makes Right is a card I’ll have to cast approximately once to determine if it is unbeatable or unplayable. It could easily be either.
|1||1/1 (Elvish Mystic)|
|2||2/2 (Runeclaw Bear)|
|3||3/3 (Invasive Species)|
|4||2/3 (Living Totem)||*/* (Undergrowth Scavenger)|
|5||4/4 (Charging Rhino)|
|6||4/5+ (Carnivorous Moss Beast)|
|7||5/5 (Siege Wurm)|
|Trick||Hunter’s Ambush||Ranger’s Guile||Titanic Growth|
|Removal||Hunt the Weak||Naturalize||Plummet|
Green is the tale of Charging Rhino. Nothing attacks into it. Nothing can single block it. There aren’t combat tricks to solve this. All you have to do is cast the card and not lose if it gets bounced. Siege Wurm isn’t far behind here.
I like Invasive Species a lot. In G/W or G/R you will not curve too far past three mana, so bouncing a land is OK. In U/G there are a large number of enters-the-battlefield triggers. Across the board, you can bounce a Radiant Fountain and not feel bad about being back a land, especially because a 3/3 dominates the early game.
Netcaster Spider beats or at least trades for all of the fliers.
Given how big of a deal Rhino is, I would assume Ranger’s Guile goes up in value. Make a fattie, protect your fattie, kill them with said fattie. +1 sizing differences are also much bigger in a world of 2/2s and 2/3s fighting early.
If there’s a weakness to green, it’s that the four-drops aren’t very good at swinging a board state. I may be underestimating Undergrowth Scavenger, but I want to pair green with red or blue so that I have thing to do the turn before Rhino to start returning the tempo to my side.
As per above, take Elvish Mystic really high. Rhino a turn earlier or three-drop a turn earlier means the world when your goal is to not lose to a tempo play.
Hunt the Weak is really slow, but with all Green’s x/3 or larger guys you will almost assuredly peg down the evasion creature you were aiming it at.
Vineweft is probably way better than it seems at first, but mostly in the kinds of green decks I don’t like by default. If you are the curve-out deck that tops with Rhino instead of the dedicated green deck, pushing a two-drop over their two-drop can be a backbreaking tempo play. Titanic Growth falls into similar decks as a finisher or pseudo-removal for opposing fatties.
|1||1/1 ==> 2/2 (Sunblade Elf)|
|2||1/1 Deathtouch (Venom Sliver)|
|3||2/1 (Reclamation Sage)|
|4||2/2 (Paragon of Eternal Wilds)|
|6||6/5 (Ancient Silverback)|
|7||3x 3/3 (Feral Incarnation)|
|Removal||Back to Nature||Reclamation Sage|
Green gets a lot of quality out of its uncommons.
Uncommon Gather Courage should be another big tell. Take it very highly.
Ancient Silverback is another one. Jeez that card is good.
Both uncommon two-drops in green are awesome because they provide later-game value. If anything, Wall of Mulch is better as there aren’t quite as many big guys you want to trade up for with Venom Sliver.
There are multiple common artifact incentives. There are multiple common Intimidate creatures with two toughness. Bronze Sable will do work.
Will-Forged Golem is huge. 4/4 just doesn’t exist in some colors.
Tyrant’s Machine is too expensive for the average deck, but again there are reasons you might play it for artifact enabling.
Meteorite is a little too expensive… unless I’m using it for a splash.
For the Rares, most of them are balanced but the 4/4 or larger fliers are the real winners. This doesn’t exist at lower rarities.
This is a low-powered Limited format. Card advantage and sizing are the two big keys.
Fliers cap at 3/3. Most creatures actually cap at 3/3.
There aren’t many combat tricks to push over a large blocker. There aren’t many Falters to push through a set of big blockers, but there are ways to beat a single one.
Removal is expensive.
Most rares are balanced. Most Mythics aren’t.
There are a ton of ways to build up little synergies in the format. Those are the keys to really having a good deck.
This format looks like twice the format Magic 2014 was, but not quite the one Magic 2013 was. I’ll give it a tentative B-, which given the overall design level of the set is more than fine for me.