M14 Grab Bag: A Little Sealed, A Lotta Pyromancer

Jon Agley writes about his thoughts on M14 Limited after participating in the Prerelease and brainstorms with Young Pyromancer in Modern.

It seems as though every time a set is released there is a contingent of Magic players who are convinced that it is the "worst set ever" and that it marks the decline of Magic as we know it and there is another group of players who are so excited for some of the cards in the set (in this case, Scavenging Ooze and Mutavault) that they think this set will improve the game for years to come.

Some of the players who don’t like M14 very much cite features such as the high number of insular mechanics and cards like Bogbrew Witch. That card—and its component parts—doesn’t play well outside of a very limited number of casual decks and the occasional hilarious Limited deck. That isn’t a hallmark of bad design though. That set of cards has great flavor and isn’t entirely irrelevant in Limited.

Similarly, I have read players complaining about the "enchantments matter" rares in a set without of a lot of great enchantments. Again, I’m guessing there will be a niche Draft archetype with Gladecover Scouts and common enchantments (Lightning Talons, Mark of the Vampire, etc.) that will be relevant from time to time. M14 is a core set, and although the key mechanics don’t as clearly foreshadow the fall set as M13’s did (i.e., multiple cards fetching specific land types rather than basic lands), I have confidence that they will mesh well with the upcoming format.

The players who really like M14 seem to focus on the reprinting of Scavenging Ooze and Mutavault. I agree that this is a great selling point for the set—both of those cards likely will retain value over the long term because they’re played in Eternal formats and had a value over $30 each prior to the announcement that they were in M14. This set also has a number of cards that will retain value in the short term as great Standard creatures in the vein of Huntmaster of the Fells, Thundermaw Hellkite, and Baneslayer Angel. It appears as though Archangel of Thune already is on the upswing, and multiple financial gurus have predicted that Kalonian Hydra will hit $40, although others have cited values as low as $6 by the fall. Both of the new planeswalkers in this set are decent (meaning they aren’t Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded).

As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. This set will have an impact on Standard and Scavenging Ooze probably will shake up Modern a bit, but it doesn’t seem very lucrative to open packs right now.

First Impressions of M14 Sealed

I’ll admit, though, that after reading through the complete spoiler, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to like M14 Sealed very much. It seemed as though there wasn’t sufficient mana fixing to make up for the fact that there likely are pools that require a third color in order to harness 23 playable cards. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and actually think that it is a decent though not outstanding format.

Although there are some very fast decks, it seems as though the format as a whole is somewhat slow partially as a result of the strength of blue’s common and uncommon pool. I attended a rather small Prerelease (about 40 people) and went 5-1. The other two 5-1 decks and the 6-0 deck all were U/x decks (two were U/R, mine was U/W/r, and one was U/B). I don’t think this was an accident, although there were some powerful R/G archetypes out there.

At common alone, blue has access both to removal and a suite of countermagic: Cancel, Claustrophobia, Essence Scatter, Negate, Nephalia Seakite (this functions as removal slightly more often than expected because there aren’t any other flash creatures in the set), and Sensory Deprivation. Pools often will have multiples of these cards, and there simply aren’t many ways to deal with enchantments in this set outside of another blue card, Disperse, that was an absolute maindeckable MVP throughout the entire tournament.

Young Pyromancer (Combo)

When I first read about this card, I assumed that it fit into red’s card schema very snugly and that a token only was produced when an instant or sorcery dealt damage to something. After rereading the card a few times, I realized that any spell triggers the ability. Wow. That seems full of potential.

On a side note, it’s too bad this card isn’t a rare or it would significantly increase the value of opening M14 packs—very few non-mythic cards from the Magic 20XX sets retain raw saleable value over $2.00 after they leave Standard without seeing play in Eternal formats (the list is a short one: Leyline of Sanctity and Serra Ascendant). As it stands, multiple financial authors have speculated that the long-term value of this card may reach $3-4, which is significant for an uncommon.

So what can we do with the card? The most obvious attempt to break the interaction involves doing something unfair based on the triggered ability. To this end, we can look to Beck // Call, which for our purposes is strictly better than the banned Glimpse of Nature. Once we resolve the Beck side of Beck // Call, every single instant or sorcery that we cast becomes a cantrip as long as Young Pyromancer stays in play. Because lands exist, a single Beck isn’t a guarantee that we will draw our entire deck, but a second copy of Beck or Young Pyromancer moves us very close to that possibility.

Because we want to combo off as quickly as possible, this means that we need mana to keep resolving spells, putting us squarely in the camp of mana rituals. We have quite a few options and likely want to include almost all of them. The basic rituals include Infernal Plunge, Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, and the surprisingly-good-in-this-deck Battle Hymn. We also have access to Manamorphose, which is fairly important if we’re generating all of this red mana, and Channel the Suns, which also lets us switch around our mana. Channel the Suns requires green mana, though, which we may only have in limited supply, so Past in Flames may be the better card in that spot.

Let’s assume for a baseline test that we want to run four copies of all of those cards (hedging a little on Past in Flames because it costs four mana and doesn’t replicate the function of rituals unless we’ve already played some). This may not end up being the case, but it gives us a good starting point (after all, we still need a within-the-turn win condition).

4 Beck // Call
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Infernal Plunge
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Pyretic Ritual
4 Battle Hymn
4 Manamorphose
3 Past in Flames

If we’re running eighteen lands like the U/R Storm decks that currently populate Modern, then we have eleven additional slots to improve our consistency and establish a win condition. Of all of the blue cantrips available, Serum Visions gives us access to the most cards and Gitaxian Probe is the cheapest, and if we run four copies of each of those, then we have room for three win condition slots. We might also consider Faithless Looting since we are running Past in Flames.

One advantage this deck has over many other combo decks is that there is a variety of different ways that it potentially can close out the game, making fighting the combo (outside of killing Young Pyromancer) very difficult. Assuming we can generate around ten tokens, Goblin Bushwhacker might be a potential game ender, although Burn at the Stake requires only seven creatures, including Young Pyromancer, to be lethal. Another option that requires a more fully completed combo and at least one copy of Battle Hymn is Barrage of Expendables.

Because it requires the least work from us, Burn at the Stake may be the best maindeck solution, although it will be worth including alternate plans in the sideboard to combat cards like Leyline of Sanctity.

This gives us a very basic first shell of the deck.

The sideboard probably should include some number of Goblin Bushwhackers and Pact of Negations, but beyond that I’m not entirely sure where to take it yet. This is the kind of deck that despite the high volume of the same kind of card crammed into it (mana rituals) will require a lot of testing to optimize. It isn’t entirely clear what the advantages of this deck are over U/R Storm except for the rogue factor and the fact that it doesn’t have to kill through targeted spells, suggesting that it needs significant tweaking. Unless someone sits down and puts some serious work into this deck, it will not emerge as a major player, but it seems to have some potential.

Young Pyromancer (Fair)

After watching how effectively a few random spells + Young Pyromancer can take over a game of Limited, I also began considering this card as a basic value card, meaning that it may have a home in decks that play a lot of spells as part of their strategy without needing to alter the deck’s focal point.

In building a fair deck with this card, we need to pay careful attention to the strategies being presented by the existing archetypes to ensure that we aren’t just mindlessly adding Young Pyromancer into the deck. For example, let’s take a look at this U/W/R Control list from Magic Online.

Although the deck runs Snapcaster Mage, it’s really a deck with 34 spells, completely eschewing creatures outside of the random activations of Celestial Colonnade and a Batterskull. Part of me is tempted to add four copies of Young Pyromancer to gain traction against decks that attack with a few large threats. While that may end up working, there are a lot of decks that simply draw blanks against a control shell like this one because they don’t have a lot of meaningful creature targets.

When we add Young Pyromancer, unless we trigger a few activations immediately, we’ve only increased the utility of our opponent’s hand without putting ourselves in a measurably better position. This isn’t to say that Young Pyromancer doesn’t work in such a shell—it is simply to suggest that we should use caution before jamming four copies into a deck that is so cleanly structured to avoid creature removal.

A potentially more reasonable place to add Young Pyromancer would be to the fairly well performing "mono"-red decks that have been bouncing around Magic Online lately. Partly as a function of the deck’s relatively low cost (though some versions run Dark Confidant), these types of strategies never really disappear even in the face of cards like Martyr of Sands.

Although Young Pyromancer isn’t as fast as a card like Vexing Devil, with between 22 and 26 spells in the average R/x Burn deck, it is likely that we’ll be able to generate a minimum of four power over a few turns. It may also be a much cheaper replacement for Dark Confidant in this deck if we don’t have access to the 80+ tickets that it costs to fill out a deck with a playset. I’m more bullish on the inclusion of Young Pyromancer in this style of deck than I am in the creature-light control decks.

On a side note, however, if we can untap with a Young Pyromancer in play in a deck that traditionally runs Augur of Bolas and has access to red mana, it might actually be a better defensive tool than the Augur because it can create multiple chump blocks rather than a single one.

Let’s return to the set’s viability for a moment before closing. I think that it says a lot about the set that so much content has been generated from a single uncommon. Even the process of writing this article has improved my perspective on the set somewhat, and I’m excited to see what changes it brings to Constructed.