Magic 2014 Set Review: Part 1

Get ideas for what to play in M14 Standard this weekend at SCG Open Series: Richmond by reading the first part of Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin’s review of the newest set!

This is six years in a row of core sets. Do you really think this one will be able to have an impact?

Well, the fifth one did, so what reason do we have to believe this one won’t? Besides, there are people talking about a giant stats fatty being a 50 dollar card. At the very least, there is something crazy going on…

M14 is here (along with M14 rules), and you know what that means. Time to brew! Core sets are always a very interesting puzzle since their first three months come during the largest period of Standard’s lifecycle (with a full eight sets). Then they are one of five sets legal during the smallest period of Standard (when the fall standalone comes out). This inevitably leads to most people greatly underestimating core set cards, as they are locked into the perspective of a seven/eight-set format rather than a five-set format, which makes a huge difference.

Remember how much nearly everyone underestimated Thundermaw Hellkite?

I have always found reviewing sets to be more beneficial when we look to understand how to use each card rather than trying to dismiss a bunch of cards out the gate. Today I want to start by taking a look at some existing strategies and figuring out how M14 cards can be incorporated into them. Then I’ll be back Friday to finish the rest of the existing decks and break down the cards in M14 that I can see leading to new archetypes being created.

Let’s start by looking at blue decks because, c’mon, let’s be serious…

U/W/R Flash

U/W/R Flash is basically the go-to blue deck at the moment, and with good reason. At the end of the day, Sphinx’s Revelation is a really tough card to get away from, and you basically have to match U/W up with a removal color at the moment. This leaves us with U/W/R and Esper (both of which see play). Pillar of Flame is just a little stronger than Far // Away, so it gets the edge.

Here’s my list:

The extremely scientific method I used to arrive at this list was to take Flash Master Matt Costa most recent Flash deck and add Mutavaults. Matt Costa is to Flash what Reid Duke is to Jund, so I consider whatever he has done most recently to be the starting point.

As for new additions, Mutavault is a great fit (though it’s no Celestial Colonnade), as decks like this have always loved manlands of all varieties. Mutavault even happens to be a pretty good one, and while it does put a little pressure on our mana base, at least we weren’t counting on Boros Reckoner (a card that is going to get cut a little more often now that Mutavault is an option).

Decks like this don’t always take over the game completely and often have to nickel and dime a few Augur points here, a few Snapcaster points there, maybe a burn spell or two. Mutavault helps let us sneak in some random damage, not to mention giving us a way to convert our inevitable flood into usable resources.

So just Mutavault?

Well, no. To start with, Tidebinder Mage is actually a pretty exciting option out of the sideboard. It is a very efficient answer to problematic creatures like Thragtusk and Kalonian Hydra, particularly since it’s hard for decks like that to want much removal against you. Just look how bad Pillar of Flame is against the maindeck! Tidebinder Mage is so efficient (as are many of the M14 color hosers) that it is going to show up in a lot of maindecks, not to mention seeing play in Modern and Legacy (where it has all the right creature types…).

That’s still not a lot, but there are a few cards that are fairly close and could appear in related lists. For instance, Encroaching Wastes is a totally reasonable option that is going to make lots of appearances in blue decks (as well as green decks). Why not use it here? Mutavault is just too good to get away from for a deck like this. If we had room for more colorless lands, I’d be on board.

Mutavault, Encroaching Wastes, and Moorland Haunt sure give us a lot of great options, to say nothing of Cavern of Souls. I actually suspect this surplus of great colorless lands might be enough to help spark a revival of two-color decks that can use six to eight of them. The new Standard format is going to have even more importance placed on maximizing one’s utilization of their mana base. Somebody get Zvi Mowshowitz on the phone!

Another new sideboard possibility is Ratchet Bomb, though it is going to be a far more influential card in non-U/W/x decks since Detention Sphere does a lot of the same things. Still, it is a quality card and is particularly valuable if token themes are prevalent.

Opportunity is a pretty respectable new card drawer but is outclassed by Sphinx’s Revelation. It does have the advantage of not being named Sphinx’s Revelation in the event of a Slaughter Games, but in general I kind of imagine Opportunity to be mostly for non-U/W/x decks. You only get one extra card at most, and you don’t gain the three life Sphinx’s Rev would have given you in that spot, which is often worth a card itself. That is the best-case scenario for Opportunity, and whenever you Rev for more or less, you are generally getting more value.

Finally, Quicken is a pretty hot cantrip that helps make Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas better. Flash is set up to already play nearly entirely at instant speed anyway, though, so we’re not really getting much value out of it. The card is going to look a bit better in a deck full of sweepers like Esper.

Speaking of Esper…

Esper Control

While you can also build U/W/R as a real control deck, killing with Aetherling and so on, the other Aetherling deck on the block is Esper, which is basically Sphinx’s Revelation + Far // Away.

There really isn’t a ton for Esper Control in M14, but we do have a few options. To begin with, this is another spot where what action lands get used is a problem that I think will have a different answer from one week to another. Nephalia Drownyard and Encroaching Wastes are for a slightly slower world, whereas you may decide that it’s better to just scrap them all for Mutavaults.

Quicken might be too cute, but it sure doesn’t have a big opportunity cost. A one-cost cycling card can’t be that bad when it’s bad, while it can be game winning when it’s good. The ability to make one of your sweepers an instant against Craterhoof Behemoth makes all the difference in the world. Additionally, while we are not short on sorceries and instants for our two-drops, many control decks (particularly Bant) can struggle to meet their quotas. Quicken lets you slightly increase your spell count without radically changing the makeup of your deck.

Again, we see a spot where Ratchet Bomb will rotate in and out of use. It will generally be omitted from decks like this since it doesn’t interact with the two-drops and Detention Sphere is often better at the same job. That said, there are definitely going to be times where Ratchet Bomb is the right tool, particularly if you want Renounce the Guilds (and consequently don’t want Detention Sphere). Oblivion Ring does some of the same things but doesn’t help against tokens nearly as much as the Bomb.

Doom Blade is a fine removal spell, but from the looks of this format, there may be a too few many black creatures for it to be the removal spell of choice in control (at least maindeck). Warped Physique is kind of just a better Doom Blade in a lot of decks and doesn’t have the added utility that Azorius Charm and Far // Away do (which can both effectively “cycle” against opponents where removal is dead).


Grixis actually gets some pretty hot additions in M14, but it isn’t exactly a mainstream archetype, so we’re covering it Friday…

As for the rest of the format, well, there sure are a lot of creature decks. Let’s start by looking at one last blue deck (or possibly blue deck).

Bant Hexproof

The printing of Gladecover Scout and Witchstalker calls into question if Bant is really the best color combination for Hexproof (and is a major strike against those arguing for U/W/R Hexproof). Is it even right to completely abandon the targetable creatures like Fencing Ace?

Gladecover Scout and Witchstalker are basically just efficient bodies with the word “hexproof” on them, giving us enough targets to go full hexproof if we want. Is that what we really want though? If everyone moves towards all creatures, that is kind of a waste. The thing is that I think M14 is actually going to increase the overall amount of removal getting played, not decrease it. This makes me think Hexproof might be well positioned. Of course, if it ever gets too popular, there are a lot of great cards against it, particularly in the Edict family. I wonder if we are ever going to get to a spot where Hexproof wants Sigarda, Host of Herons in the sideboard.

This is another deck that should consider Mutavault, as you sometimes run out of threats against people that can actually interact with you. Mutavault is also kind of fun with Rancor. Unfortunately, the mana looks just a little too tight, but if we were just two colors, I would give it much better chances of making the cut.

Elvish Mystic is another new option if we really just want to maximize our chances of going turn 2 three-drop. It might be that Gladecover Scout just doesn’t offer enough. This is, at least partially, a question of how much Pillar of Flame / Tragic Slip we expect. I expect a fair bit and am leaning Scout, at least to start with.

There are an above average number of “enchantment matters” cards in M14 that could result in some new sister archetypes to Hexproof, but they are different enough to save for Friday.

Hexproof is only partially an aggro deck, having some combo-like properties. The more popular “aggro-combo” deck in the format is still Junk Reanimator, though it has fallen off tremendously from where it was three months ago.

Junk Reanimator

Junk Reanimator really doesn’t gain much. I guess you do gain Scavenging Ooze, which is great in this deck, but overall the addition of Scavenging Ooze is probably net negative because it is just absolutely crushing against you. It’s not just that it is another highly maindeckable graveyard hate card (that is among the best ever printed); it is also a massive body that can put a lot of pressure on Junk Reanimator decks to play more removal than they would otherwise want to.

Another tool that Junk Reanimator gains is Lifebane Zombie. Lifebane Zombie is absolutely incredible—one of the best cards in the set—and probably worth altering the mana base to support. If you ever actually hit a card you are already way ahead, and most people have at least some targets.

When you rip Restoration Angel or Thragtusk, the card is just bonkers. Even when you don’t hit anything, though, it is a three-power threat that is very difficult for most people to block. That it is a Zombie has me wondering if we are going to see some Reanimator/Zombie hybrids, perhaps with Gravecrawler and Lotleth Troll. We might want Diregraf Ghoul or Dreg Mangler, and who knows, maybe even Geralf’s Messenger if we are feeling frisky!

Speaking of…


The Zombie tribe got a surprisingly big boost in M14 on the backs of a couple key cards:

Lifebane Zombie is just amazing and should appear in lots of decks just on its own merits. That it is a Zombie is just gravy. Gnawing Zombie is a cute little engine with Gravecrawler, combines well with Geralf’s Messenger, and might actually be the Goblin Bombardment Sam Black and Gerry Thompson are looking for. It’s slow and not the most efficient, but it does have upside. This Mono-Black list doesn’t take that big advantage of it, but if you had cards like Xathrid Necromancer and Blood Artist, you could really get busy.

Liliana’s Reaver is a lot more speculative but kind of does some sweet things. It’s not the type of card that has been good recently and there are a lot of really good four-drops, so people will likely not think too highly of it, but it does exert a pretty big influence over the board. If you put it in a deck with a lot of removal, you are going to have some good times. It also works exceptionally well with trample, so it’d be nice to find a way to pair it with things like Ghor-Clan Rampager. Not only do you get both triggers when blocked, you even get extra damage since all but one damage will trample over.

I did not include Dark Prophecy, but it is definitely a possibility. The thing is that you are working pretty hard to draw a bunch of cards, and I think to really take advantage of all that Jazz, you end up moving away from Zombie beatdown and towards some weird sacrifice outlet combo deck with a more Aristocrats feel to it.

Mono-Black is probably not the right way to approach Zombies, as there is just not enough reward for it. M14 does feature a number of Swamps matter cards, but they aren’t exactly what Zombies is looking for (instead being geared for Mono-Mediocre Control).

Each color offers something different to the Zombie tribe, and all four are at least worth a consideration.

Red is really straight forward, offering burn and some high-end options like Hellrider, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Thundermaw Hellkite. Chandra, Pyromaster is certainly a reasonable option, but there is an embarrassment of riches at the four spot and Zombie decks are among the worst in Magic at blocking to protect planeswalkers.

Green is the color that keeps you closest to Mono-Black in spirit, with Lotleth Troll and Dreg Mangler and possibly Varolz for nice upgrades in creature quality. You also get Abrupt Decay if you want it.

Blue actually takes you in a more White Weenie direction amusingly. Diregraf Captain is the big payoff now that we can actually fill a deck entirely with top shelf Zombies. That one card is quite good, and we do get a few nice options, like Psychic Strike, maybe Far // Away, or Warped Physique.

Finally, white takes us in some sort of an Aristocrats/tokens direction. There are so many playable sacrifice outlets, so many good creatures to sacrifice, and so many payoffs for sacrificing them that it’s going to take more than a week or two to get to the root of how best to use them all. Without question, though, the starting point, the core of all of this is Xathrid Necromancer.

W/B Aristocrats

Xathrid Necromancer is strong enough to see some play in random decks mostly for the rate, but he’s going to really shine in decks with sacrifice themes. He is also going to lead to a blurring of the lines between Zombies and Humans (and Aristocrats and tokens for that matter).

I believe you can make some kind of a B/W Zombie deck, but I am not sure yet what that looks like. One of the interesting tensions is between Doomed Traveler and Geralf’s Messenger. How exactly is this mana base going to look?

Of course, if we just table the Zombie theme for a moment, it’s easy to see that Aristocrats-style sacrifice decks gain lots of great options in M14. My first take at W/B ended up looking quite a bit like Brad Nelson:

Xathrid Necromancer is just a complete beast. He rewards you so heavily for sacrificing creatures that it makes me want to go even further in that direction. I want a bunch of sacrifice outlets (maybe eight to twelve), a bunch of guys that reward you for sacrificing creatures (maybe eight to twelve, including the Necromancer, Blood Artist, and Skirsdag High Priest), a bunch of cards that want to be sacrificed (maybe eight to twelve, like Doomed Traveler and Gravecrawler). I kind of imagine you can assemble some combination of cards that are basically multipliers and let you set up boards where you can just reliably kill opponents on the fifth turn by sacrificing lots of stuff on turns 4-5. What’s really sexy to me is the thought of getting multiple Xathrid Necromancers in play at the same time!

This starts to push us in a bit of a Junk Aristocrats direction if you ask me.

Junk Aristocrats

While all Aristocrats strategies, which is to say sacrifice-theme decks, gain tools in M14, perhaps none profit as much as W/B/G.

As you can see, this deck certainly bears a resemblance to Junk Aristocrats decks of old but is going in a much more extreme direction. Kyle Blakenship’s Immortal Servitudes in Grand Prix Miami looked really hot, and I have been wanting to work more with them ever since. The most common number to name is two, and you are often going to get back quite a few.

Dark Prophecy kind of feels like it might just be a bad Immortal Servitude in here but is worth keeping in mind. Blood Bairn is another sacrifice outlet if we are desperate (but I don’t think we are that desperate).

The red version gains a lot of the same cards, but they are more effective in green I think because green has more good creatures to sacrifice (namely Voice of Resurgence, which is just incredible). Red does gain Barrage of Expendables and Young Pyromancer if you’re into that. I know Barrage of Expendables gets a pretty bad rep, but I am not actually sure it’s bad. Young Pyromancer is just a real good rate, and if you play enough token-making spells, you might actually want him.

Of course, Aristocrats isn’t the only direction you can go with Humans. Banisher Priest, Imposing Sovereign, Brave the Elements, and Mutavault are all natural fits into a straightforward Human beatdown deck.

W/G Humans

I don’t think Naya Humans changes as much since Imposing Sovereign doesn’t play that nicely with Burning-Tree Emissary. Instead, I want to focus on W/G Humans, an archetype that has fallen out of the spotlight in recent months.

Imposing Sovereign is a great tempo play that I like better than Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the new world, and Banisher Priest is a better Fiend Hunter for our purposes.

Brave the Elements is not as good as it would be if people relied on red sweepers, but it’s pretty amazing for alpha strikes and as a counterspell to protect our key threats.

Mutavault isn’t insane in here, but I do like it better than Gavony Township.

Fiendslayer Paladin is a great sideboard option, particularly because I see a resurgence of red aggro decks. It’s possible it belongs in the maindeck, but I’d want to see what direction the format goes first.

Finally, Door of Destinies is probably too cute, but with this many Humans it’s at least worth considering. A lot of people can’t get rid of it, and one or two might offer a powerful alternative dimension.

Ok, I’m out for today. Join me here on Friday for Part 2 where I’ll cover Grixis, other decks, and Grixis!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”