As a content producer, I find myself both loving and hating spoiler season. I love that we get to see new cards and brew new decks. I for one am already knee-deep in the muck of Standard brewing with M15 in the mix. I think the set is awesome and I can’t wait to play with some of the new or returning cards that M15 has to offer. I believe this could easily be the best Core Set we’ve ever seen. Or at least the best since Eighth Edition. You know how that goes.
I sincerely hope it shakes up Standard and I believe it could potentially do just that. Please do that.
On the other hand, I hate a lot of the articles that come out during this period. There is a ton of overlap between writers talking about the same topics, and I feel like a ton of articles are just very formulaic opinion pieces on some of the new cards. Occasionally, a writer will knock it out the park, such as with Reid Duke’s article on Thoughtseize when Theros came out, but not every piece can be gold. Hell, not every piece can even be polished bronze or even rusty iron for that matter.
I tend to aim for trying to write about underappreciated cards or cards that have flown under the radar, but even that can be tough to do. If I legitimately don’t think a card is good, I’m not going to lie and tell you that it is. That’s just not how I do things. As it stands, I’m left scraping around for underappreciated cards that could be Standard knockouts, and there often aren’t many of those.
Another option is to simply share some of the brews I’ve been working on, and I will probably do that some in the weeks to come, but for this week I decided to just stick to pure nuts-and-bolts analysis. I’m going to look at some of the set’s marque cards and explain what conditions I think need to exist for the card to be a hit, what existing conditions might make the card a miss, and what currently-existing cards benefit from this card being added to the Standard pool.
That might be easier said than done, and to be honest, that wasn’t even easily said. It was a real mouthful. My high school English teacher just turned over in his grave, and he isn’t even dead yet.
So, I should stop stalling and get down to business? Sounds good.
Ajani went full 180. A few years ago his entire life was consumed with the idea of destroying the baddest baddie in the multiverse, Nasty B, or Nicol Bolas as he is commonly known. Ajani Vengeant killed other planeswalkers. He did not mess around.
Nowadays, Ajani is all about the other planeswalkers. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes was all-in on helping Elspeth and now he’s gotten promoted to regional director as Ajani Steadfast. It’s not just Elspeth anymore, Ajani is spreading his barrels of joy all around the Multiverse.
Ajani is an absolute monster against aggressive strategies, especially red decks. Consider Ajani and Brimaz, for instance. You +1 Ajani every turn on Brimaz until you can ultimate Ajani and the game ends. I don’t see how any red aggro deck can ever hope to beat that in a million years. That counts for Burn as well.
Ajani also seems solid in a token strategy. Ajani + Elspeth do play well together, since Ajani pushes Elspeth closer to ultimate and the -2 also plays extremely well with the three soldiers Elspeth makes.
Ajani requires synergy to work. Much like Ajani, Caller of the Pride, he does actual nothing by himself. If your creatures always die or your opponent is well positioned to just not care about Ajani’s abilities, then he isn’t that fearsome. I don’t think Ajani is that impressive against Supreme Verdict decks outside of the -2 ability, and even then you have to overextend to make it work. Ajani also seems weak against a deck like Monsters when they are just going to overload Mizzum Mortars against you or not care that your Brimaz still can’t attack past a Polukranos.
Jace, the Living Guildpact
I can’t wait for M16. I’ve heard we might get “Liliana, Quit yer Dissension” in that set. Rumor even has it that “Nicol Bolas, Got a Body Like a City of Guilds” is a thing that could happen as well. Design is working on shortening the title on the latter. Regardless, I think we can all agree that Bolas has been hitting the gym. Look at that body.
The only thing worse than new Jace’s name is his abilities… right? Isn’t that right, everyone on the Internet? I’ve heard nothing but disrespect for Jace, the Living Guildpact, and I for one don’t think that is warranted. He doesn’t draw a card? That sucks. I guess he’s unplayable then. If he doesn’t draw a card then I for one want nothing to do with him. I only play planeswalkers that draw cards, which is why I’ve stopped playing Elspeth, Xenagos, Vraska, Liliana of the Veil, etc. They don’t draw cards, so I won’t considering playing them. Personal rule.
He can’t protect himself, you say? Well, that also sucks. I only play planeswalkers that protect themselves. I really loved Jace, the Mind Sculptor because he had a minus ability that could bounce a creature back to hand in order to protect him. Doing stuff like playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor, bouncing your opponent’s expensive creature, and then watching them spend an entire turn recasting it so you could untap with your planeswalkers in play and all of your mana available was backbreaking.
Sadly, this new Jace cannot protect himself. It would be fantastic if he had an ability, say, “-3: Return another nonland permanent to its owner’s hand” but that’s just wishful thinking. As it stands, he is just unable to do anything at all. Poor Jace.
Sarcasm aside, I think Jace is actually solid. I don’t think he’s Mind Sculptor reborn but I also don’t think he’s the second coming of Tibalt either. I bet he falls somewhere in between: a reasonable role-playing planeswalker that makes an appearance in a few archetypes that can maximize his abilities.
For one, he could very well be better than Architect of Thought in Mono-Blue Devotion. Mono-Blue Devotion is a deck that has a bunch of nines and twos. It has Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea that are just stone-cold killers, but it also has stuff like Cloudfin Raptor and Judge’s Familiar and Tidebinder Mage that can sometimes just be laughably bad.
Jace’s +1 helps dig you to the good stuff, much like Thassa’s scry. Jace’s -3 is pretty damn good in a deck that cares about tempo. Mono-Blue beats other decks by outclassing them in play, and a Planeswalker that provides two blue symbols and pushes Desecration Demon back to its owner’s hand the turn it comes down is just gravy.
The ultimate is also game-ending. If you play Jace and you’re ahead, it doesn’t take long before the game is actually just over.
I also think Jace could be good in a W/U Tempo shell. Lyev Skyknight into Jace, for example, is a nice little tempo boost that certainly puts you ahead on the board against most decks. I’m not sure that kind of a deck can capitalize on that kind of tempo, but if it can, then that’s awesome. Perhaps playing Ajani and using Ajani’s -2 to pump your creatures and use Jace’s -3 again for a second go at Time Walking your opponent?
Jace doesn’t seem great as a control tool to catch you back up from a losing board. While he may buy you a turn, he doesn’t actually do anything to advance your board and you’ll just be stuck in the same predicament the following turn. Jace, Architect of Thought was great for stabilizing against quick aggression, but Jace, the Living Guildpact doesn’t do a whole lot there. I don’t think Jace will end up being that good in control decks. He seems better suited for tempo or midrange shells.
I personally was a bigger fan of Nissa, Link to the Past or Nissa, Time’s Ocarina, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played a Zelda game so I might just be off base here. Can anyone tell me how many Rupees Silver Arrows cost in Nissa, Worldwaker? I don’t want to waste my Rupees on potions if I’m going to need the arrows later.
Nissa seems great in Green Devotion. She is a singular threat against a control deck by herself and the ability to untap lands means you can basically put a “free” Nissa into play if you have enough Forests to facilitate it. For that reason, Nissa seems great with cards like Nylea, God of the Hunt, Polukranos, World Eater, and Eidolon of Blossoms that you can just immediately jam into play after you play Nissa. Assuming you have four Forests might be greedy, though, and thus it may end up that just playing something like Courser of Kruphix or Reverent Hunter is a more realistic plan.
The real issue with Nissa in Green Devotion is that most Green Devotion lists only play twenty-two lands and are locked into playing four copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, so sometimes she can only untap two to three lands. That’s still pretty good, but could be awkward sometimes. Nissa also acts like Koth in that you can turn a land that was already in play into a 4/4 and attack someone with it the turn you play her. She can kill planeswalkers and present surprise damage that way.
Nissa occupies the same kind of space that Garruk Wildspeaker did. She can generate board presence by turning a land into a threat. If you get to untap with her in play, you can do insane things the following turn by virtue of having access to a boatload of mana. Lots of mana on a mana boat.
I should also note that commonly played-removal spells like Detention Sphere, Banishing Light, Abrupt Decay, and even the new Jace’s -3 ability cannot target lands. These 4/4 lands are a lot harder to remove than they might first appear.
The big downside to Nissa is that she pigeonholes you into having a lot of Forests to get full value out of her. It’s possible that Nissa could fit into a two- or even three-color deck, but most likely she’s going to just end up in a nearly mono-green deck. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also not exactly a great thing either. Garruk Wildspeaker was awesome because you could use him to fix your mana. Nissa can sometimes do the same thing with shocklands, but it isn’t reliable at all.
Garruk, Apex Predator
I think it’s awesome that Garruk gives your opponent an Emblem like it’s a Curse. That’s just cool design. Really, just everything about Garruk is awesome. I’m not sure he’ll be very good, but at least he’s pretty sweet.
Garruk seems like a great top-end finisher for a super-grindy midrange battle. You both play a bunch of threats and removal and you finish them off with a Garruk, Apex Predator that they can’t really handle. Garruk also seems like an awesome top-end finisher against a control deck. Kill their Elspeth and then start churning out some 3/3’s.
I also like the idea of Garruk with cards like Obzedat’s Aid. Cheat him into play and voila.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think Garruk is going to be very good at least until Mutavault is gone. The fact that your seven-mana planeswalker kills a creature and then just dies to Mutavault is disgusting. The +1 to destroy a planeswalker is extremely powerful, but also extremely narrow. What if your opponent doesn’t have planeswalkers? Many Standard decks don’t.
The +1 to make a 3/3 Beast with Deathtouch is pretty good, but a 3/3 Deathtouch isn’t all that much different than a regular 3/3 from Garruk, Primal Hunter, or a 1/1 Deathtouch from Garruk Relentless. Sure, it’s better than both, but not by a huge margin.
I have a feeling that, for at least the next three months, Garruk, Apex Predator is going to end up just being Garruk, Bench Warmer. Seven mana is a lot.
This card is very good. It’s a Planar Cleansing that you can jam into play ahead of time. You can just sit on it in play, effectively daring your opponent to commit more to the board, generating huge advantages every time they don’t because presumably you’re playing a deck that wants to slow down the game if this is in it.
From a control deck, it deals with all the cards that normally plague control decks. It handles Obzedat, Ghost Council and Thassa, God of the Sea. By virtue of exiling, it gets around Boros Charm and Golgari Charm, two cards that a lot of decks are using lately to blow you out when you go for the big Supreme Verdict or Planar Cleansing turn.
This card is great.
The card is abysmally slow in some matchups. If your opponent is putting Madcap Skills on their creature, then paying four mana to do nothing isn’t going to get the job done. Tapping out for this card also leaves you vulnerable to Banishing Light and Detention Sphere in a way that Planar Cleansing never did. You also can’t deal with Mutavault or Nissa, Worldwaker’s animated lands with this card, so if you’re at a suitably low life total you can still just die even if you get to blow up the rest of the world.
The new Titan cycle is a little less… what’s the word?… oh, right, titanic. It’s also a lot less likely to sink Standard. It’s clear that these creatures are nowhere near the power level of the original Titans, but at the same time, that’s probably a good thing.
I think Soul of Theros and Soul of Shandalar have the most potential to be dominant. Red Devotion is already a thing, and Xenagos the Reveler can also produce huge amounts of mana. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Soul of Shandalar abusing that to get lots of repeated uses out of his ability, clearing your opponent’s board and hitting them for a bunch. He feels very much like Inferno Titan.
Soul of Theros is my pick for the next-best mostly because white is a color that desperately needs that kind of effect the most. White has a ton of powerful cheap creatures like Precinct Captain and Brimaz, King of Oreskos, but it lacks effective ways to push them through in combat. Soul of Theros can get through himself no problem, but he also pushes your other creatures through big blockers and lets you win in tough racing situations.
Soul of New Phyrexia also seems pretty solid. I think Soul of New Phyrexia is basically the green one, because green is the color that most wants that ability. Flooding the board with creatures and then having protection from Mizzium Mortars and Supreme Verdict is pretty sweet.
The other ones all strike me as a bit too slow or ineffective to be worth it. The actual green one could be devastating with Nykthos, I suppose. I think the blue one is just worse than Aetherling in most situations. The black one could be alright if the format slows down significantly, especially if a Satyr Wayfinder strategy becomes really good.
These cards are very slow. All it takes is for your opponent to cast the card Hero’s Downfall and you’ve just wasted a whole turn and done nothing. The original Titans were so powerful because you still got the ability off of them even if your opponent just slammed a removal spell immediately afterward. Yeah, you can use these from the graveyard, once – but you still got blown out and it’s still dead
Really, that’s the main drawback, though, as they will completely dominate the field of play if they do stick around. I doubt they will impact Standard immediately, but who knows what will happen when we lose an entire block this fall?
Chord of Calling
I didn’t think they would reprint this card. They’ve been moving away from tutors lately, as cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Green Sun’s Zenith ended up being extraordinarily powerful. CVM said he thought it would be reprinted, but I was skeptical. I guess CVM struck the right chord, though, and managed to call it.
I’m excited. The only thing that excites me more than casting Sin Collector is casting a six-mana Sin Collector. Vaaaaalue.
Chord is a powerhouse. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do with it yet, but let’s just say that there are a lot of things you can do with it. It also helps that there are a plethora of strong value creatures in Standard right now that are also cheap enough to fuel Chord of Calling. For example, Voice of Resurgence, Courser of Kruphix, Lifebane Zombie, Sin Collector, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Scavenging Ooze all provide value just by being in play, and they are all fantastic with Chord of Calling. Burning-Tree Emissary even nets you an additional mana for Chord of Calling the turn you play it.
The ability to find the perfect creature in your deck to handle any given scenario is undeniably a powerful effect. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chord of Calling ends up being a huge staple in Standard, just like it is in Modern.
Chord is at its weakest against hyper-aggressive decks that can kill you before you are able to start Chording, and also against a plethora of removal. When your opponent kills off all of your cheap creatures, then you’re stuck casting a Chord of Calling for one on turn four to put another Elvish Mystic into play that they can then just Searing Blood again.
Chord is also weak against cheap countermagic like Remand and Dispel, but those are less likely to be relevant in Standard. While Dispel is legal, most Chord decks are going to have very few targets for the card.
Return to the Ranks
This card seems awesome. There are a lot of powerful two-drops, like Voice of Resurgence, Cartel Aristocrat, Fleecemane Lion, Scavenging Ooze, and bunches of others. I love that you can just trade away your creatures or overextend into a Supreme Verdict and not even care when you have access to a card like this. If they don’t have the Supreme Verdict, then you will win anyway. If they do, you can immediately rebuild your board back up.
It’s also possible that there is some sort of combo with Satyr Wayfinder, a bunch of good two-drops, and this card along with Immortal Servitude. Who knows?
The only real drawback to this card is that you have to fill your deck with a bunch of one-drops and two-drops. If your opponent just goes over the top of your strategy, it doesn’t matter how many you can return.
Well, that’s all the hot knowledge I’m willing to drop this week. And by willing, I mean that’s all the hot knowledge I have, period. And by hot, I mean lukewarm. Tepid even. Room-temperature knowledge is the level I’m on, and I’m not ashamed of it.
M15 is shaping up to be a pretty spicy Core Set, and I couldn’t be happier, because it is imperative that the spice continue to flow. I really believe that this is just going to be the best Core Set ever. There isn’t Lifebane Zombie to make me rue the day I decided to play green or white creatures, and all of the cards seem powerful but yet not overbearing. With build-around-me cards like Chord of Calling and Return to the Ranks, it’s a brewer’s paradise.
If you love deckbuilding, then this is your chance to step away from everyone else and distinguish yourself. And if you hate deckbuilding? Well, I guess you can just Return to the Ranks, then.