Innovations – Rise of the Eldrazi: Examining The Future

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Monday, April 12th – In this week’s edition of Innovations, Patrick Chapin looks at some of the spoiled cards from Rise of the Eldrazi, and investigates their possible impact on upcoming Constructed tournaments.

With the Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease just days away, I have decided to dedicate this week’s article discussion of a number of new cards that I have an opinion on beyond the classic “might be decent, might not.” Don’t get me wrong, obviously sometimes it takes context to clarify whether a card will see play or not, and how much, but even if you aren’t sure if the context is going to be right, it might be nice to share a little insight into thoughts on the card, what context it would take, and an idea or two involving the card’s possible use. There are also lessons to be learned from previous sets that can be applied. For instance, look at Baneslayer Angel. Many people underestimated the card at first, taking a page out of Doom_Blade_Guy’s playbook and imagining that it just always dies. This was followed by an overcompensation in public opinion. Suddenly, Baneslayer was the new It Girl (to borrow a Floresian term). The history books started getting rewritten and it started being okay to call Baneslayer Angel one of the five best creatures of all time.

Really? Think carefully, now. She may be one of the five move awesome creatures that people actually cast, but does she really compare to Tarmogoyf? Dark Confidant?

What about Arcbound Ravager? Goblin Lackey?

Hell, what about Bloodbraid Elf? Knight of the Reliquary? Noble Hierarch? Wild Nacatl?

Let’s not even count Narcomoeba; Golgari Grave-Troll; Iona, Shield of Emeria, and so on.

Do you see? The point is not that Baneslayer Angel isn’t awesome, as she is. The point is that 90% of people make the same mistake again, this time the other way. They aren’t looking at context. Magic cards mean nothing without context. For instance, how good is Steamflogger Boss? Well, right now, we don’t value his non-haste ability that highly. It is not that hard to imagine a world where Steamflogger Boss’s ability is good, great, or even makes him the best creature in Magic. The best creature in Magic? Print enough Rigger/Contraption support, and it is possible to produce the right context.

So how good is Baneslayer Angel? The card is awesome, but rather than such inherently inaccurate description that will vary with time or doesn’t actually say anything (such as “Five Star” or “Staple” or “Playable” and so on), I am just a bigger fan of talking about uses of cards. Is there going to be cards that turn out to not realize much potential (at least not immediately in the ways people speculate on), such as Warren Instigator, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth focusing on the uses of cards out of the gate. It is so easy to just say that a card is probably not good. If your standard for a card being good is that it is good enough to go in Jund, Faeries, Five Color, Teachings, Mono-R, or whatever you think the best day of the day is (or to get you to switch), you are going to think almost every card sucks.

That is not nearly as interesting as finding the uses for every card, in my opinion. Am I planning on using every card? No, but understanding the uses of Lotus Cobra, Abyssal Persecutor, Countryside Crusher, Violent Ultimatum, Sarkhan Vol, and so on are important. It is not enough to just say that the cards are overrated and be done with them. A true master deck builder has every card in Magic in their range, every card has its purpose. That said, I am still going to speak up about cards that I think are particularly overrated (like Kozilek was initially), but my focus is on the uses of the new cards. Thanks as always to MTGSalvation.com and GatheringMagic.com for helping compile these spoilers. Some of these cards are just rumors, so make sure you look at the card yourself to make sure it really is as listed here.

Wall of Omens
Creature — Wall
When ~ enters the battlefield, draw a card.

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Wall of Omens is one of the most highly hyped cards in the set, and it will certainly deliver. Talk about one of the safest bets of all time. Wall of Omens being good in Standard is about as safe a bet as finding out Lightning Bolt is in M10 and saying that it will be good in Standard. It is just that safe of a bet. It doesn’t mean it will warp the format any more than Lightning Bolt does; it will just be a truly awesome card that sees a ton of play and is widely considered one of White’s best cards.

Why is the White Wall of Blossoms so good? Was Wall of Blossoms this good? Wall of Blossoms was truly awesome, and in an era where creatures were not as good, but it was not as good as Wall of Omens will be today for a couple of reasons. First of all, Wall of Blossoms primarily blocked one-mana creatures. Today, Wall of Omens will block Thrinax, Bloodbraid, Kor Firewalker, Stirring Wildwood, Rhox War Monk, Student of Warfare, and more. More expensive creatures getting blocked means that the Wall is producing more value.

This leads into reason number 2, contextually, there are a lot of reasons for why now. Four toughness is the perfect size for a blocker against Jund, and drawing an extra card is the perfect way to combat the extra card of cascade. Wall of Omens is only a two-mana card often stopping three- and four-mana spells. This goes a very long way towards making up for the mana a Bloodbraid mage gets for free when they cascade. In addition it helps in a way that doesn’t drive away other decks like Bant (exalted), U/W (flying), WW (Basilisk Collar).

The next reason it is so good is that rather than randomly getting hosed by cards like Oath of Druids, it randomly helps protect your Baneslayer Angels from Gatekeeper of Malakir and so on. In addition, blocking is not just about your life total anymore. Nowadays, attacking is the default way to keep Planeswalkers in check. Wall of Blossoms blocking a Thrinax is no longer just preventing three points of damage, it is keeping Jace or Gideon or Elspeth a turn longer (especially from pesky Stirring Wildwoods, and most haste creatures like Bloodghast, Goblin Guide, Hellspark Elemental, and Bloodbraid Elf).

Does it help that this is the “Wall Set?” Sure, but that isn’t the main issue. The main point is that this is the right place and the right time for a card that was already tier 1. On top of that, White needs this more than Green ever did. Wall of Blossoms and Wall of Roots have some overlap. What overlaps with Wall of Omens? Wall of Denial? Remember how good Wall of Denial was, even though many missed it at first? Wall of Omens is on a whole other level, and White will appreciate it that much more. Just think about how much more often you will Path your own guy! Part of the reason I only played one Path to Exile in San Diego was the lack of good ways to Path my own guys. There aren’t too many better targets than Wall of Omens!

My rating? Five star playable staple! (This is me laughing, since emoticons apparently get edited out, hehe…)

Speaking of context (and Wall of Omens), let’s look at the evolution of Standard. It is not enough to just say that Wall of Omens would be good if inserted into today’s format. We want to see what the format will actually look like once Wall of Omens has had its impact. This is at the core of the future sight that seems to make prophets out of savy mages. What does Wall of Omens mean for Standard?

These days, there is no shortage of three-power creatures that are run with no fear of Wall of Omens (rightly so, since it doesn’t yet exist). In the future, competitive players will generally have a plan or plans to overcome this problem, because let me tell you, you aren’t beating Wall of Omens by just running more and more Thrinaxes into it.

In the future, people place a premium on fliers (like Kor Skyfisher), ways to give +1/+1 (like Noble Hierarch), deathtouch (like Basilisk Collar), and four-power ground creatures (like Vengevine). What is Vengevine?

Creature — Elemental
When you cast a spell, if it is the second creature spell you cast this turn, you may return Vengevine onto the battlefield from your graveyard.

Just how good is Vengevine? I think it is a candidate for best card in the set, and almost certainly top 5. Those are strong words, so let me explain. I don’t think Vengevine is a Bloodbraid Elf, but I do think it is a tier 1 tournament card that will be very powerful and help shape the format both on inherent power level and contextually.

Its inherent power level is evident when you examine it from the perspective of a 4/3 haste creature. Talruum Minotaur was a decorated tournament card back in the day, and yes, there has certainly been a huge power creep since then, so even a 4/3 haste creature doesn’t knock your socks off for four mana, but you have to admit that it’s not bad. At just a 4/3 haste for four, it has your attention and would be okay, much the same way a Demigod of Revenge is fine as a 5/4 haste creature for 5 mana. The key is that, much like Demigod of Revenge, the real value is that when you “live the dream” it is totally awesome.

How many games have been decided because someone simply triggered Demigod one time? They lived the dream just once? Vengevine may not be as ambitious of a win when you pull off its trigger, but it asks so much less of you. Demigod really can be quite challenging to cast, even in a format of filterlands and Vivid lands, unless you were actually just Red and/or Black. Vengevine lends itself to more color combinations, as well as just plain being cheaper to cast. Also, you have a lot more control over when you can cast two creatures in a turn than when you can play a second Demigod. Vengevine is a good man in his own right, but it is potentially devasting whenever you trigger him.

Imagine you are playing against Jund and they Blightning you. Simply discard Vengevine (or two!) and then proceed to punish them for their foolishness. Ranger of Eos and Bloodbraid Elf are two of the best ways to ensure that you play two creatures and trigger the Vengevines, but sometimes it is as simple as just casting a Noble Hierarch and a Rhox War Monk. Be sure to remind the Jund player how much you appreciate that he is from the past and that, in the future, that kind of stuff doesn’t fly.

The power level on the card is obviously quite high, once we consider just how much value we are getting out of our zero mana and zero card investment… (it is coming out of the graveyard). What about the standard context of the future? In the future, Wall of Omens is just a part of the game. This means that if you want to survive, you need to be able to fight through it. Wall of Omens: meet Vengevine.

Just when the U/W mages were smuggly sitting back in their chairs, content in the “knowledge” that they finally had the upper hand, Jund shows up with Vengevine and just plows right through. Isn’t this horrible? Doesn’t this mean that Jund will just be a bigger problem than it already is? Not hardly. Wall of Omens will greatly help futuristic players at defeating last month’s Jund technology. Vengevine is one of the ways that futuristic Jund players will beat the modern day U/W mages. Raging Ravine, Lavaclaw Reaches, Broodmate Dragon, Malakir Bloodwitch, Putrid Leech and more are all excellent examples of why it is that Jund players are not simply going to roll over and die. They will adapt. Sprouting Thrinax may lose a little standing, and who knows, maybe it will get sideboarded out more often. All this means is that for a U/W player to survive, if they are to be futuristic in their designs, they have to look yet another layer deeper. What beats Vengevine? Wall of Reverence, Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere, Wall of Denial, Bant Charm, Relic of Progenitus, Necrogenesis, Mindbreak Trap, and so forth. When you look this next layer deeper, you start to see more and more what the format will look like next week, not just tomorrow or today.

If Wall of Omens makes Vengevine better, what does it make worse? Great Sable Stag is one obvious card that will suffer. If there are fewer Great Sable Stags, what does this change? It is all about looking at all of the logical continuations of current events and how they will unfold as each change is understood and has its impact on everything else. Part of the beauty of Wall of Omens is that, by its very nature, it has a contingency built in that preserves its strength, whereas many other cards get much weaker much faster when people are prepared. Wall of Omens is a cantrip that defends you early. If your opponent doesn’t attack you early, no problem, it cantrips and the cost is minimal. The primary risk is if you don’t have time to cantrip because the opponent is attacking you very fast but not on the ground, such as with fliers or a combo deck. Thus far, that doesn’t appear to be a huge issue in Standard, but it should be a clue to be on the watch for such things, as this is just one more reason why such a strategy would be slightly better suited to today than yesterday.

One of the many places where Wall of Omens’ impact will be felt is with Mono-R. If you thought Wall of Denial was a nightmare, imagine a cantrip Wall of Denial that costs only two! Sure, Geopede can get through, and Ball Lightning partly can, but this just means that those cards have improved or gotten worse at a slower rate than cards like Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental. Does this spell the end for Mono-R?

A perfect parallel we can draw is Michael Jacob refusal to let Kitchen Finks spell the end of Mono-R back in 2008. Many people assumed that Kitchen Finks was just unbeatable and that their Tattermunge Maniacs were destined to die nearly worthless deaths. What did MJ do? He changed his perspective and imagined what Mono-R decks would like in the future, a future where Kitchen Finks exist and are worked around.

Figure of Destiny, Ashenmoor Gouger, Magus of the Scroll, Blood Knight, Ghitu Encampment, and Demigod of Revenge – every single one of them wins in a fight against Kitchen Finks, where it is being a 4/4+ or Pro: White, or hitting from a distance. The accepted wisdom of the day was that you just had to run Mogg Fanatic. MJ realized that, in the future, you didn’t. The only creature MJ played that couldn’t beat a Kitchen Finks in a fight was Magus of the Moon; however, the Magus was often MJ’s greatest card against Kitchen Finks, as the majority of players with Kitchen Finks couldn’t even cast them as long as Magus of the Moon was on the table.

What does this mean to us today? Mono-R mages would do well to consider if there is a way to build their decks so as to be able to defeat Wall of Omens. One incredible place to start is the somewhat underrated Kargan Dragonlord.

Kargan Dragonlord
Creature – Human Warrior
Level Up- R
Level 0-3 – 2/2
Level 4-7 — Flying, 4/4
Level 8+ – Flying, Trample, R:+1/+1, 8/8

Obviously, Figure of Destiny is the first card that comes to mind, so let’s compare the two. Keep in mind that Figure of Destiny was exceptionally strong, and at times one of the defining cards of multiple formats. To begin with, a 2/2 for RR is not generally as good as R for a 1/1 that you can spend a R to make into a 2/2, but still, it is not that far off. Next we see that the Dragonlord costs RRRR to make into a 4/4, a mana slower than Figure and seemingly awkwardly positioned on the curve, since you aren’t attacking for 4 on turn 3. That is just the downside. There is certainly upside even at this level.

First of all, flying is a very relevant ability, so don’t get that twisted. As good as a 4/4 is against Wall of Omens, a flying 4/4 is even better. Next of all, you can spend the mana in installments. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing like Figure of Destiny. You can play this guy on turn 2, then on turn 3 play a Lightning Bolt and pump him twice, then on turn 4 Searing Blaze and pump him twice more. You could even just spend 1 mana a turn if you wanted, or none at all if it wasn’t convenient. The opportunity cost is so low on him because he is fine on his own, and the mana you are spending on him is often mana you weren’t using efficiently anyway.

It is downright criminal how under-valued the levelers are right now in terms of perception. People are so desensitized by Figure of Destiny, they don’t even know how to evaluate the new crop, some of which may actually prove to be in Figure’s league (despite sorcery speed leveling!). Just as 90% of the population underappreciated the new manland duals and Everflowing Chalice, so too are people underappreciating the levelers. Today, it is common knowledge that all the manland duals are great and Everflowing Chalice is a tournament powerhouse. In the future, it is a given that there are some tournament staple levelers.

Hung up about the sorcery speed pump? Just because some creatures have flash doesn’t mean that all creatures need to have flash to be good. Instants don’t mean sorceries can’t be good. Obviously the fact that these cards are sorcery speed pump means they have pushed harder per mana. In addition, the instant speed ability isn’t actually as interesting as many first guess, since the right play is always pump let it resolve on their end step or in response. Where is the planning? The skill becomes figuring out on board potential complications, since most players will be unable to evaluate a board with 4 levelers that are each potentially modifying their power and toughness in response to each other and repeatedly. That on-board complication is not nearly as interesting as evaluating whether or not it is worth leaving a White open for Lightning Bolt when you have a Dragonlord. Or alternatively, what if you don’t have the Bolt and you are bluffing (since why would you leave the Red open if you didn’t have it). But then again, maybe it is a double bluff… Don’t you see, there is a real game going on here, and interesting battle of the wits. Of course almost every creature would be better if it had flash, but Magic as a game is better when most creatures don’t.

As far as the Dragonlord specifically goes, a 4/4 flier is for sure a savage beater, but it is when he is Level 8 that he really shines. It takes RRRRRR in a single turn to upgrade Figure of Destiny to a mere 8/8 flying, first strike. The Dragonlord costs only RRRR more to take up to his ultimate. Not only is it cheaper to upgrade to this level, it is cheaper in terms of total mana (one less than Figure of Destiny). In addition, you can spend it in installments, so no more getting stuck on five mana. On top of that, 8/8 flying, trample, R:+1/+0 is a LOT stronger than Figure of Destiny’s ultimate.

Just think about this guy’s natural curve. Turn 4 you are attacking with a 4/4 flier. Turn 2 play your two-drop. If your opponent can’t deal with him, he can run away with the game very quickly. Turn 3 he hits for 2 and goes to Level 3. Turn 4 he hits for 4 and goes to level 7. On turn 5, not only is he an 8/8 flier with Trample, you can sink any extra mana into even more damage. That’s right, he can attack for 12 on his own turn 5! There are literally going to be games were you draw Dragonlord and almost all land, just flooded, but an opponent that can’t deal with him will lose singlehandedly to him.

I am putting myself out there right now. Mark my words, Kargan Dragonlord is a candidate for best card in the set, and certainly top 5.

In the future, Kargan Dragonlord is WHY people play Mono-R (and some will even use it in non-Mono-Red decks!)

As a side note, Vampire Hexmage continues to improve…

Student of Warfare
Creature – Human Knight
Level Up- W
Level 0-1 – 1/1
Level 2-6 – First Strike, 3/3
Level 7+ – Double Strike, 4/4

Wow! It is crazy that people are so desensitized that they don’t even grok how ridiculous this sicko really is. He is already attacking as a 3/3 First Striker on turn 2! That is absurd! He pumps faster and easier than Figure of Destiny, and continues the theme of making Ranger of Eos better and better. I will not go on too long about this guy, since he is easier to grasp the awesomeness of than the Dragonlord, though it is for mostly the same reasons. I mean, he only costs a total of 8 mana to have a guy that attacks for 8 and you can do it in installments (in fact, he curves out perfect where on turn 2 you are attacking for 3, then you pump on turn 3, followed by attacking for 8 on turn 4! That is insane. He can actually singlehandedly win the game by the fifth turn all by himself! That is absurd! I mean, not even Wild Nacatl can do that, not Figure of Destiny, not Putrid Leech, and in fact, not many creatures at all in the game’s history do that in a competitive format, and yet, Student of Warfare will.

You want a guy to go with your Stoneforger, this is your man. Your opponent’s Wall of Omens getting you down? Student of Warfare was born to wear a Basilisk Collar. First strike and deathtouch ensure that almost nothing will even be able to fight him at all, let alone with profit. That is not enough? Stoneforger can quickly find Trusty Machette or Sigil of Distinction and when the time is right make the Double Strike ability especially deadly. Is this win more? No, and the reason is because he is good even when he is not ambitious and the ambitious dream has so little opportunity cost that it is well worth the dividends it pays when you pull it off.

Student of Warfare will be the reason to play Mono-W. It is one of the top 5 cards in the set. Unfortunately, White Weenie usually kind of sucks, so I am pumping the breaks a little. That said, he will be the best card by a mile in a number of “so-so” decks (other than maybe the Ranger that finds two of him…). The real breakout potential of this card, in my opinion, is if he gets adopted in non-WW decks, for instance some midrangey White deck with Baneslayers, Rangers, maybe Gideon, Knight of White Orchid, Maybe Wall of Omens, Kor Firewalker, and so on. It is here that I see Student of Warfare reaching his peak potential, at least in the near future.

Awakening Zone
At the beginning of your upkeep put a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token onto the battlefield with “Sacrifice: Add 1 colorless to your mana pool.”

This card is not nearly as potent as the two Figure of Destinies we just described, but it is one that has kind of caught my eye. Some will be quick to conjure up images of Goblin Assault and not give Awakening Zone a fair shot. Their is a huge difference, though. Goblin Assault was a single minded way to produce more and more creatures that had to attack. A single creature could halt it’s entire effectiveness.

Awakening Zone is actually far more versatile. Aside from not having to attack, the creatures you are producing can easily accumulate, allowing you to build up a board, even if you are temporarily behind. In addition, even if you block every single turn with your guy, it is like an Icy Manipulator that doesn’t cost mana. Alternatively, if you just sacrifice the creature every turn, it is a potent mana accelerator that essentially produces a mana every turn. The sick thing is, every turn you don’t use it as a blocker or for a mana, you stockpile more and more, eventually giving you a huge number of tokens to either pump, block with, or best of all, sacrifice to cast a powerful spell, Eldrazi or no. If you just save up your Spawn, it is like a personal manaflare waiting to happen. It is like a Dreadship Reef that costs no mana to pump or activate. That is potentially very exciting. The card is a little slow, but I love that it just keeps building value and could be a good tool in a Summoning Trap deck, as it buys time early, is a quality accelerator for the turn 4 Summoning Trap (with any one cheaper accelerator) and contributes to the backup plan of just casting cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

My read: Underrated.

Joraga Treespeaker
Creature Elf Druid
Level Up- 1G
Level 0 – 1/1
Level 1-4 – T: Add GG, 1/2
Level 5+ – All Elves you control get T: Add GG, 1/4

This guy deserves more than I can give him here, but in interest of getting to more cards, let me just remind you that this guy is online turn 2, meaning you can play him turn 1, then turn 2 Level him, then tap him for two mana, so it will be like a double Llanowar Elf for only 1 mana (and waiting a turn to get paid). That is crazy! I mean, five mana on turn 3 with just one extra card should be your first clue that this guy is nuts, and with cards like this and Elvish Archdruid, Green mages are capable of truly epic amounts of mana fast and consistently. The thing about Elf-Ball decks is that while they may usually be mediocre, there comes a point where if they cross a line, they turn broken very fast. My snap judgment is that Joraga Treespeaker is probably in the top 10 cards of the set (from what I have seen thus far). I actually like this guy better than Lotus Cobra, which is funny since Lotus Cobra is so sexy and this guy is just not. At the end of the day, he isn’t really that flashy of a player, but he is consistent, which is generally a big plus for cards that I count on in my manabase. The other big thing is that Joraga Treespeaker promises much less than Lotus Cobra, making it much easier to deliver. Keep this guy in mind.

I guess while we are on the topic of mana accelerators, let’s look at another one (and no, it is not surprising that there are so many double accelerators, given the theme of the set).

Growth Spasm
Search your library for a basic land and put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library. Put a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token onto the battlefield with “Sacrifice: Add 1 colorless to your mana pool.”

A Rampant Growth that also gives you an extra chump blocker, or ideally an extra mana ramp? It is a little slow, but it is certainly a possibility and most obviously needs to be tried in the slew of Summoning Trap decks that will surely spring up. Speaking of which, is Summoning Trap really a $2.49 card? Will it be next month…?

Tuk-tuk the Explorer
Legendary Creature- Goblin
When Tuk-tuk the Explorer is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, put a legendary 5/5 colorless goblin golem artifact creature token onto the battlefield named Tuk-tuk the Returned.

Talk about a card that people are sleeping on! In his own right, he is a 1/1 Haste that GREATLY punishes someone that would stand in his way. The reason this card is ultra exciting is that the real “cost” to him is that you have to find a way to kill him to make him great. That is the definition of an exploitable card. Think about how many cards in Magic require you to make a sacrifice to get something great. This guy’s purpose is to find a way to die! Just off of the top of my head, what if you play this guy on turn 3, bash, then drop a Fleshbag Marauder on turn 4? You now have a 3/1 and a 5/5 on the battlefield, plus your opponent is down a creature. That is pretty big swing, and it is hard to break up because most people can’t just “kill” Tuk-Tuk to stop it, and even if they Bant Charm him or Purge him, they generally have spent a card and your Fleshbag still kills one of their guys.

Another application is to ignore the haste ability. Just play this guy against Jund and stay home. What are they going to do? Attack into him? They could still Pulse the token afterwards, but at least he was a good speed bump, and they only have so many removal spells to use, especially if while they are busy doing that you continue to advance your board with other powerful permanents. Someone won’t kill your Tuk-Tuk that is holding down the ground? Earthquake!

A kind of crazy idea that will no doubt see some play, if only at FNM’s everywhere is combining Tuk-Tuk with cards like Vampire Aristocrat, Threaten, Mark of Mutiny, Bazaar Trader, and Bloodthrone Vampire.

Bloodthrone Vampire
Creature — Vampire
Sacrifice a creature: Bloodthrone Vampire gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

Yeah, it is a cheaper, smaller Aristrocrat, but it does mean that you can play enough sac outlets to be able to count on one, and that is worth thinking about. This one probably won’t dominate Standard, but it has its niche.

Consume the Meek
Destroy all creatures with converted mana cost 3 or less. They can’t be regenerated.

This seemingly innocent card has received somewhat lukewarm response, presumably because of how much it doesn’t kill and the fact that it has the audacity to cost more than Damnation.

Newsflash: The card isn’t as good as Damnation.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, we can talk about what it is. While I am not sure how much of a maindeck card it is, it has some pretty sweet applications. For instance, it is an ideal sideboard card against Kor Firewalker, Devout Lightcaster, Wall of Omens, White Knight, Wall of Denial and more, that doesn’t even kill your manlands, Bloodbraids, Vengevines, and so on. It does this at Instant speed! That is really exciting, and to make it even more appealing, it hits your opponent’s manlands. Celestial Colonnade? Raging Ravine? The card is a sweet answer, even if your opponent is not swarming. Don’t sleep on this one. Just as we have to appreciate Sorceries for what they are and not overlook them just because they aren’t Instants, we must also be mindful of how much of an advantage it is when we do have Instant speed access to an effect that is generally only available Sorcery speed. This card just seems so undervalued to me right now, even though it is just rare.

Seagate Oracle
Creature- Human Wizard
When ~ enters the battlefield, look at the top 2 cards of your library. Put one into your hand and the other on the bottom of your library.

First of all, anyone that remembers Court Hussar will immediately be drawn to this guy. Sure you look at one less card and he doesn’t have Vigilance, but he also doesn’t require White mana, which is far from insignificant. On top of that, he happens to work better with cards that put him onto the battlefield other than the normal way (which doesn’t mean much, but is non-zero).

At the end of the day, there is a lot of room for a card to be worse than Court Hussar and still rock. This guy will see play in the right places, and probably the biggest thing holding him back is that cards like Wall of Omens will tend to make creatures that this guy would normally excel against, not particularly popular. On the other hand, Seagate Oracle sure knows how to wear a Basilisk Collar

While he is not a superstar on power or context, he is the kind of mediocre chump that I have a fondness for, unlike his lame and surely overrated big brother Spellblade Surrakar.

Spellblade Surrakar
Creature Surrakar
Whenever you cast an Instant or Sorcery put a charge counter on ~.
Whenever ~ deals combat damage to a player, draw a card for every counter on ~.

The latest in a long string of feeble Blue three-drops that draws cards on December 25th each leap year. Will people try to live the dream? No question, they always do, which is why they keep making this kind of card. This one is actually better than average as far as this type of card goes, but still unlikely that it is good enough. Probably at its peak in weird Extended or Legacy situations, probably mostly involving transforming, as well as in that guy’s deck that beats the three best players at his FNM who go on to complain about how lucky he was and how terrible his deck is (despite him Spellblading the tar out of them).

Rating: Probably not what I am looking for, but will catch some people, and might be somebody’s filthy technology someday. They would have to be a particularly dirty mind, I suspect.

Inquisition of Kozilek
Target player reveals their hand. You choose a non-land card with converted mana cost 3 or less. They discard it.

Everyone keeps asking me about this card. Maybe I am guilty of being desensitized, but I am not impressed. It is not as good as Thoughtseize almost anywhere. I don’t think it is as good as Cabal Therapy in high powered formats (plus not taking Force of Will or Ad Nauseam matters). How does it compare to Duress? In Standard, not hitting expensive cards is pretty terrible. That brings us to Extended (though it can and will see a little play other places, where it is merely another one of those cards). In Extended, it is probably not as good as Thoughtseize (though maybe…) and probably better than Duress. The thing is, I am just not that impressed by Thoughtseize effects. Still, it is a reasonable choice and will be the proper tool sometimes, I am just not blown away. I mean, you don’t really want 12 Duresses, most of the time.

Demonic Appetite
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature you control.
Enchanted creature gets +3/+3.
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature.

Because Bloodghast was just not strong enough. (If Suicide Black is a real deck, this is why.)

Venerable Kor
Creature – Kor Cleric

When ~ enters the battlefield, gain 4 life.

Venerable Kor is reasonable; I mean, that is a pretty big life swing, plus he continues to put a lot of pressure on an opponent. This guy is the latest in a long string of White creatures that totally bend over the Red Mage. Kitchen Finks? Not hardly, as Persist is clutch, still this guy is gonna see play with the biggest limiting factor being the relatively ineffective size of his body in this powercreep world. A role player, as they say, but no superstar.

All is Dust
Tribal Sorcery — Eldrazi
Each player sacrifices all colored permanents they control.

This card is already getting a lot of press and probably rightfully so, though it is because of the unique effect, not a power level that is off the charts. Is a seven mana Disk/Akroma’s Vengence playable? Sure, still the appeal is that non-White Mages have access to something they normally don’t. Of course it cannot be overlooked that this card is potentially very powerful with artifacts (and Eldrazi). Who cares these days? Well in the future they call the current set Scars of Mirrodin…

For the time being, this is a reasonable sweeper that conveniently doesn’t kill your Chalice, while still killing Planeswalkers. Will it be overrated? Probably, but it is still decent for when you are in the market. I mean, this has got to be one of the best Mono-U or Mono-G Wraths, right? Black and Red have few enchantment removal spells this good, am I right?

Will “Dusting” people’s board be a pretty standard move? Absolutely. Will it define Standard? Absolutely not.

While Disk is a powerful tool to give people, in this day and age of cantrips, Planeswalkers, powerhouse creature mana sinks, manlands and card draw without investment, Disk is not as potent a tool as it once was.

Guard Duty
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature.
Enchanted creature has defender.

Not much to say here, just pointing out that few will probably consider this card, but it does stop quick beats quite well assuming you are not planning on counterattacking on the ground, even if it is a bit narrow. Sometimes having a one mana answer makes all the difference in the world. Just look at how much love Deathmark gets.

Sphinx of Magosi
Creature – Sphinx
2U: Draw a card and put a +1/+1 counter on ~.

Powercreep much? I am not saying this guy is the Blue Baneslayer, but seriously bells are going off in my head. Seriously, just think about it; this guy is a monstrous 6/6 for 6 in the air, which already has my attention (especially since he is just Blue, not three colors). On top of that, his “drawback” is that you can spend 2U to draw a card and permanently pump him? Obviously I jest about it being a drawback, but the point is that a 6/6 flier for 6 (one color) has my attention. This ability seems potentially potent and will probably be underrated by many who just assume that they will “always have the Doom Blade.”

I like this card a lot more than Sphinx of Jwar-Isle, and it definitely hits a lot harder than Sphinx of Lost Truth (if less reliably securing an advantage). Overall, I predict at least a little play with outside chances of being truly great, particularly in Block.

Mul-Daya Channelers
Creature- Elf Druid Shaman
Play with the top card of your library revealed.
As long as it is a creature ~ gets +3/+3.
As long as it is a land ~ has “T: Add two mana of any color to your mana pool.”

So as long as the top of your library is a creature or land (which is how often? 80% 100%?) you are getting either a 5/5 for 3 (super sick) or a 2/2 for 3 that taps for 2 of any color (somewhat sick). The trick is finding a way to either manipulate the top without trying very hard or to be happy with either form. Mul-Daya Channelers actually feels sort of like a Blazing Salvo among Green cards, but it does have the potential to fill out some stupid Green deck. The problem? Green is not exactly short on this type of thing. That said, he might be a better fit than Leatherback Baloth. He hits harder when he hits, you have uses for the mana, he powers up your Elf Tribal, etc. Secret downside? Letting your opponent know what you are about to do before you do it and playing almost all creatures and lands makes you pretty much the stereotypical little kid with a Mono-G deck that loses to the guy with a $600 deck (while beating up on all the people who beat up on the people who play $600 decks).

See Beyond
Draw 2 cards, then shuffle a card from your hand back into your library.

A reasonable form of card selection that lets you avoid manascrew or flood, helps get value out of blank removal spells, expensive fatties, sweepers, or maindeck hosers like Flashfreeze. The difference between two and three mana is huge, lest anyone claim Divination is just better. Will See Beyond see play? I am certainly going to try it. The real question is just going to be is it too slow to justify its place, when there are so many good options available all of a sudden (Wall of Omens, Explore, Treasure Hunt, Spreading Seas, etc). Worth a shot, but a lot of competition.

Flame Slash
Deal 4 damage to target creature.

This is unfortunately not the second coming of Skred. It is not an Instant and it does not kill the biggest and most important creatures like Baneslayer Angel. What even has a 4 toughness these days? Wall of Omens? You don’t really want to Flame Slash that one, I don’t think. Could this card’s time come? Sure, when you need the cheapest Red answer to 4 toughness creatures. Till then, I am not holding my breath.

Consuming Vapors
Target player sacrifices a creature. Gain it’s toughness in life.

Can this card be good? Sure, it is all contextual as we have been saying (over and over and over, from the looks of things…) Just imagine if Faeries would have had access to this monstrosity. Great Sable Stag? Please. This is a pretty sweet tool for both Jund and Second Best Mages alike. An edict effect with a reasonable life boost has my attention and is not totally terrible for 4 mana. The Rebound ability is sweet here, and not just for the two for one, though that is obviously a nice plus.

If your opponent runs face first into your sweepers (or whatever) then Consuming Vapors is a quality two for one and a nice life boost to survive to your Stage 3. If your opponent is playing around a sweeper, they will usually only commit one or two guys to the board. Just two guys? Could Consuming Vapor be any better at hosing this play? Okay, say they only have one creature. You kill it, gain some life, then what? Is your opponent just not going to play a guy for his turn? Looks like it… That seems like a really nice aggro deck you have there, buddy! Of course, this is all the more reason for the aggro players to adopt more Planeswalkers.

It does kind of suck that it is really slow against a true token deck, but it is going to be especially sweet when you cast this spell on someone, they sacrifice a random token, bash you with their 3 other tokens and one sweet creature, then on your upkeep you cast Consume the Meek in response to your Rebounded Consuming Vapors

One of the first combos that popped into my mind was Consuming Vapors with Abyssal Persecutor (because it is not enough to just kill your own guy, you want to do it with value!). Also works well with Tuk-Tuk. You play Tuk-Tuk, stay home. They stay home. Then you Consume them. If they play another guy, consume him too. If they don’t, consume your Tuk-Tuk. So many cards that seem to make Planeswalkers better and better. Hrmm…

I am out for this week. In closing, let’s see:

– When you are playing at the prerelease, go ahead and live the manaramp dream.

– Be especially aware of the excellent trading opportunities that are present at the moment while so many cards are not valued evenly among everyone.

Levelers are better than most people think and you will look like a prophet for being on this side of the debate.

Meditate on Opportunity Cost.

– We are mindful to never become one of those people that becomes so desensitized to greatness from seeing over and over that we lose the ability to recognize it in the future. For instance, LSV being great PT after PT should not make us grow bored with how incredible his accomplishments are. Jund dominating for month after month should not have us bored with thinking about beating it. Brainstorm decks being so good for so long in Legacy is no excuse to grow bored of winning with them. We are well served to never grow tired of true greatness, and when we observe excellence, take note, no matter how much we see it week in and week out. We must not let ourselves become Mindless Nulls that are so hopelessly desensitized that we only “get it” when we read the top 8 of the latest premier event. Epic on a weekly basis is still Epic.

– If you think Bloodbraid Elf should be banned, read Sirlin’s “Playing to Win.” Also, if you aren’t playing Bloodbraid Elf in tournaments or boycotting tournaments as long as Bloodbraid Elf is legal, you don’t get a vote (since your actions speak louder than words).

– Stop messing around and kick the tar out of those f***ing Jund players (unless you are one, then good for you!) Seriously.

– Pick up a copy of the expanded paperback “Next Level Magic” if you haven’t already. It is worth it, it really is and its not close. If you value my advice on deck choice, on what cards to play in a new format, what cards to pick up during a prerelease, my entertaining stories, or my opinions on how to improve on Magic, then trust when I say that this book is an investment in yourself that will pay off. Do I make money on sales? Yes; this is my job. My job is to help people reach excellence.

– Have fun. Prereleases are a perfect opportunity to recenter and to remember that Magic is at it’s core a game. Do we want to win? You would be unlikely to be reading this column if that wasn’t a priority to you. One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned about winning at Magic is that when I am having fun, I win more. Experiment, joke around, be a little crazy, think outside the box, laugh, get outside your comfort zone, fearlessly explore this new world, be a source of positive energy to those around you, be patient and the bigger person if their is confusion, strengthen community, teach those around you but don’t hold it against them that you are doing this, learn from people without holding this against them, make the most of this moment. We are a part of something beautiful. Cherish it. I am gunslinging the big prerelease in Columbus this weekend, and I know I am going to have SO much fun.

See you guys next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”