Back in my editing days at Mindripper and Brainburst, I always ran into the same problem when it came to reviews of new sets: do you cover every card or just the”most important” cards? Over time, I found that there are actually two distinct audiences when it comes to spoiler reviews. One, often made up of somewhat more experienced players, is essentially looking for a second opinion to check their own card valuations of the set. They’re most interested in the highly-hyped cards of the set as well as the cards that actually turn out to be the most powerful, but they also like checking opinions on some of the medium power options as well. This group could normally care less about the”bad” cards.
By contrast, there’s also a large audience looking to read about every single card in the set. This group often seems to be looking for not just which cards are powerful and why, but also which cards aren’t, and why. Further, reading about all of the new cards is one way that players start to familiarize themselves with the new set (I certainly do).
The challenge is pleasing both crowds, as simply covering everything seems to annoy the first group, and covering only the headliners is clearly not going to help the second group any.
With that in mind, I’m going to try an experiment. This time around, I’m going to try doing both. This first article will be a look at the headliner cards that catch my eye at this early stage. I’ll be covering a select group of cards and going more in-depth than would be the case in a full-blown review. However, once that’s done, I’m going to also write a follow-up series covering all the other cards in the set. (If you get a chance, please take a moment to drop me an email and let me know what you think.) Also, just because a card didn’t make this first article doesn’t mean I don’t respect it – this is just the list of the cards that caught my eye on that first pass through. There are many, many more tourney-playable cards in this set than I’ve touched on here. For those interested, I’ll be covering the entire set in the series of articles following this one.
So, with all that said, a quick reminder: This is, of course, extremely early. I do my best on these to provide as well-researched an opinion as possible, but also remember that this spoiler has only been out a few days at this point. Further, I consider this one of the most complex sets I’ve seen in the history of the game – that’s right, the entire game. Some environments are relatively easy to predict; this one is not, and I’d question anyone who says otherwise. Finally, all opinions given are in regards to Standard unless I clearly state otherwise.
Enough disclaimers – let’s get to the goods!
4, Tap: Put a fate counter on target permanent.
5, Tap, Sacrifice Oblivion Stone: Destroy each nonland permanent without a fate counter on it, then remove all fate counters from all permanents.
No, seriously – this card makes my jaw drop. In many ways this represents Nevinyrral’s Disk, and in some ways it represents an improved Nevinyrral’s Disk. The initial cost is one less, but comes with a hefty activation of five. In return you get a card that returns the ability to efficiently destroy everything non-land to all colors. What’s that, black? You can’t destroy artifacts or enchantments? Seriously, what happened to that color pie again? Didn’t we just see the following quote in a (somewhat) recent Sideboard article?
“No card in Magic is such a pervasive answer to each color’s most notorious problems. Black can’t handle artifacts? Pop the Disk. Red has trouble removing enchantments? Pop the Disk. Green and white have no creature removal? Pop the Disk. Blue can’t deal with permanents? Pop the Disk. The Disk is the bridge allowing whole colors to cheat their own limitations. No card in Magic has ever been such a boon for each color; no mass removal spell has ever been so ‘splashable’.”
Interestingly, the added investment does slow the new Disk down somewhat, but at the same time it is potentially trickier to play against. Whereas against the Disk, you had to avoid playing too many resources since they’d just get tossed in the bin; against the Stone, you have to worry about opposing threats getting to stay around. This ability to load the Stone into a progressively more one-sided reset makes for a very potent threat in the right circumstances – and this is especially true given the kinds of mana acceleration currently available (and Temple of the False God is even a land!). Now you’ve got tension between putting enough pressure on them to make them pop the Disk (I mean”Stone”) before they blow up just your half of the table, all while also having to worry about overextending in the process. Furthermore, once they get enough mana, they can even drop this and use it right away if needed!
The result is a card that comes at least somewhat close to the Disk in terms of overall strength – and make no mistake that even a somewhat close second to a card of that magnitude represents a tremendous amount of power. The mana investment is significant, but the results are spectacular.
Imprint – When Extraplanar Lens comes into play, you may remove target land you control from the game. (The removed card is imprinted on this artifact.)
Whenever a land with the same name as the imprinted card is tapped for mana, its controller adds one mana to his or her mana pool of any type that land produced.
A potentially one-sided Mana Flare is nothing at all to sneeze at, but the caveat about land types is a sobering one. Wake has shown us how disgusting you can get when you have this much mana, and the Lens comes out faster. The question is whether you can get enough out of a potential deck with only one (or nearly one) color while also maintaining a deck that can still win without the Lens. And, of course, that’s all without taking artifact destruction into account – something that’s likely to matter game 2 and possibly even game 1.
To me the most obvious home for this seems to be a new incarnation of Mono-Black Control, serving as Cabal Coffers to returning favorites Drain Life and Phyrexian Arena (and why not some Oblivion Stones while you’re at it?). Without Duress, however, it becomes much more difficult to clear the way of potential annoyances that break your new toy. (Coercion, has your time come at last?) Getting two-for-one’d on its own isn’t the end of the world, but losing that land drop may very well be.
All that said, this still represents a very high power level – and we’ve all seen the kinds of crazy things you can do with this much mana. Interestingly, if black is indeed the natural home for this card, the strength of that color in the upcoming Standard may also become a significant issue for using this card in such a deck – it can be a lot more difficult to maintain control of the game when your opponent gets to share in the bounty.
Barter in Blood
Each player sacrifices two creatures.
While we’re on the subject of powerful new cards for potential control decks, let’s not forget this new gem. The more controlling your deck, the more pressure is required from aggro decks to keep you in check; this card punishes that approach and brutally. It affects both players – which you’ll of course need to take into account when choosing decks for this card – but it also affects black creatures. In combination with options like Nekrataal, the new breed of black is just getting better and better at punishing creature players. In combination with the reset power of Oblivion Stone, this card offers opposing aggro decks a nightmare of choices on how much to commit and how much pressure they can realistically apply.
Spend only black mana on X. Consume Spirit deals X damage to target creature or player. You gain X life.
We’ve been getting used to lesser stand-ins for some time now, to the point that Zvi even recently claimed the following while reviewing 8th Edition’s loss of Corrupt:
“Without a good way to turn a long waiting game into a giant life swing, black has a hole in its long games that won’t be easy to plug.”
Consider that hole plugged – and with the powerful original, no less. Yet again, another excellent tool for black control and one which may find its way (in lesser numbers) into some mono-black aggro decks as well.
Promise of Power
Chose one – You draw five cards and you lose 5 life; or put a black Demon creature token with flying into play with power and toughness each equal to the number of cards in your hand as the token comes into play.
Entwine 4 (Chose both if you pay the entwine cost.)
Wow. That’s a powerful combination of abilities, and complimentary ones at that. This too looks like a natural for black control but the refueling power of the first option is going to be very attractive to aggro decks as well. If anything, the”problem” for MBC may be too many options when it comes to having lots of mana. One way to get the balance right, at least early on, is to go for flexibility – and this card offers that in spades. For now, I expect you’ll find at least a couple of these in nearly any deck that can cast it. As time goes on and the environment settles down we’ll get a better view of which expensive black spells to include in which numbers, but even then I expect this card to see a lot of play.
Imprint – When Isochron Scepter comes into play, you may remove an instant card with converted mana cost 2 or less in your hand from the game. (The removed card is imprinted on this artifact.)
2, Tap: You may copy the imprinted instant card and play the copy without paying its mana cost.
Okay; first, let’s take a somewhat conservative survey and see what we’re looking at for the upcoming Standard environment:
Raise the Alarm
Chain of Plasma
That’s the list of reasonably relevant maindeckable cards (with some liberties), and doesn’t get to the sideboard options like Naturalize. In my mind there’s no question of whether this is a powerful artifact, the question is whether you can build a deck around it and go for focus, or if you instead toss one or two into a deck that has ten-plus interesting instants. Once you’ve tried that, the real question isn’t whether this is a strong card, the question is whether a deck exists that can take advantage of it. The red cards (well, Shock mostly) interest me most since they can be used against creatures or players and can be used each turn, but cards like the Black list seem like a near-lock in the right matchups (sideboard action?).
That’s not to say that there aren’t other attractive options as well. Turn 3 repeating Boomerangs are potentially game over all on its own, depending on the board situation and/or match-up, and Raising the Alarm every turn isn’t too shabby either. Ultimately this is going to come down to taking lots of test drives with the card in as many different applications as possible and seeing where it works best. At this early stage, my guess is that this card is best when you toss one or two into a deck that already has usable instants, as opposed to trying to dedicate a deck to abusing this card specifically. For now, I think we might be just short enough good targets to go crazy, but that could (and almost surely will) change given that we’ve got five more sets before this card rotates out of Standard. Keep that in mind as the new sets are released and new instants are dumped into the mix.
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have no cards in your hand, draw a card. Otherwise, you lose one life.
In most cases, this is going to be an improved version of Grafted Skullcap. You get a lower casting cost, as well as the crucial ability to hang on to cards if needed. In fact, this card even allows you to keep cards in hand for the opponent’s turns and still draw extras as long as you ditch them in time. That alone is a big improvement on the Skullcap in many decks. Combine that with the ability to hold onto the cards longer when needed and you’ve got a very strong card to help aggro decks keep gas in their tanks. Black and Blue have traditionally had ways to pull this kind of thing off if they wanted, but the Crown adds refueling ability to Red, White, and Green, colors that haven’t traditionally had this ability.
Imprint – When Soul Foundry comes into play, you may remove a creature card in your hand from the game. (The removed card is imprinted on this artifact).
X, Tap: Put a creature token into play that’s a copy of the imprinted card. X is the converted mana cost of that card.
I admit it; I’m as enchanted with Imprint as all the magicthegathering.com articles say I should be. It’s such a fascinating mechanic in that it’s lots of fun to think about, it’s flashy, and so far at least seems to walk the good walk between balance and broken-ness.
In the Foundry’s case, what we have is a relatively painless method of adding inevitability to creature decks. The ability to make bodies every turn for no additional card investment is already interesting, but the difference this time around is that you get to make an army of clones that all have special abilities just like their imprinted parent. Making a 2/1 first-striker every turn for four mana is pretty cool. Making a Nekrataal every turn for four mana is potentially insane.
Unlike the Isochron Scepter, this artifact has a wealth of interesting targets to consider for imprinting. Comes-into-play and sacrifice effects seem best to me at first glance, with cards like Nekrataal, Solemn Simulacrum, Bottle Gnomes, and so many others jumping right off the page begging to be cloned. If there’s one card in this set that makes me want to get out and start playing it’s this card, and I can’t wait to see all the nutty ideas people are going to come up with. Given my own choice, hopefully I can find some way to make Kai’s card good after all – even if it’s only in a”fun” deck.
Search your library for an artifact card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
The key on this one is that we’re back to actual Demonic Tutor-style effects, putting the card directly into hand rather than losing a card by only putting it on top of the library. Given how much tempo matters in modern Magic, this isn’t a negligible casting cost, but the effect is a powerful one if you have reason to be using it. For now, I’ve got them earmarked for Soul Foundry (or something cool to clone if I already have the Foundry in hand). Just make sure you’re not dead by the time you actually get all this stuff in play and working.
Artifact Creature – Gnome (U)
Sacrifice Bottle Gnomes: You gain 3 life.
Not exactly a bomb by any means, the Gnomes are nonetheless a significant addition to Standard. Coincidentally (?) showing up yet again as the Goblin hordes approach dismaying levels of grossness (as they did back in the Tempest days), it seems likely that these little guys will have the best seats in many of Standard’s upcoming sideboards.
Creature – Human Soldier (R)
Equip costs you pay cost 1 less.
As long as Auriok Steelshaper is equipped, Soldiers and Knights you control get +1/+1.
How good this guy actually gets is, of course, going to depend on the success of equipment – since at this point, I’m willing to accept that there are enough reasonable Soldiers and Knights to try and stuff into a deck. The main candidates to me look like:
Artifact – Equipment (C)
Equipped creature gets +2/+0
Traditionally one of the built-in weaknesses for a creature swarm approach is the fact that, by necessity, so many of your creatures must be in the one-to-two casting-cost range. In recent sets Wizards has been upping the power of the weenies available, but they still typically suffer from the problem of being much worse the longer the game goes. Equipment that can slide into this demanding curve helps quite a bit here, and Bonesplitter looks like one of the best to me right now.
At +2/+0 for a mere one mana, even 1/1s become a sizable threat. As a bonus, an Equip cost this low means you’ll often be able to move the equipment around to other creatures after attacking, allowing for enhanced blocking as well. All told, this strikes me as a highly influential card for such a meager investment, and one that fits into a niche that many creature decks have been craving.
Artifact – Equipment (R)
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 for each card in your hand.
Part of what made Empyreal Armor so damn good was its blistering speed. Turn 2 2/2, turn 3 smash you in the face with a 7/7 is pretty tough to race. But, it was also to a certain extent putting all your eggs in one basket by risking the dreaded”two-for-one” if the creature got removed, losing you two cards to the one opposing card – not to mention all the time and mana you’d invested at that point.
The equipment version of the card costs one more in overall investment (though you can split it over two turns if needed) and that does matter… But in return you get a huge threat that remains even when your guy isn’t up to living. As many have pointed out, this can get sick very quickly with Auriok Steelshaper. It’s also important to point out (not that you didn’t notice, but still) that this is colorless, which means any creature deck has recourse if it’s interested. The upcoming format looks complex enough that major predictions are still mostly guesswork, but my guess is that this card is likely to live up to the hype.
So – at this point, anyway – I’m thinking that equipment looks viable. That, in turn, means that I also think Auriok Steelshaper is clearly going to be worth exploring. With enough practice, it should become clear how much value you’re getting from the Steelshapers and how much you’re getting from the equipment itself. Once you’ve got an idea of how much value you’re getting from each you can decide if Steelshaper is the”four-of” card it initially suggests itself to be. If so, you’re probably going to want even more equipment than the first eight you get from the Plate and Bonesplitter, probably aiming for the ten to twelve range unless all the deck does is make guys and equipment.
After that first eight, it gets trickier and is also going to depend on what exact creature mix you end up going with, as some equipment is going to be much stronger on some creatures than others. Currently I’d take a good look at Leonine Scimitar as your next item, but I’m concerned they don’t add as much to your attack. I’m also very interested in Lightning Greaves, but the truth of the matter is that white’s weakness may be getting through opposing creatures more than it’s about racing with haste. In that case you can go the other way and start looking at some of the flashier, more expensive equipment. The problem with these is that once you start having to invest a full two turns worth of mana and development just to improve one guy for that first attack, my gut reaction is that you’re no longer playing the kind of game that a creature deck is looking for.
Again, after that first set of Plate and Bonesplitters, it gets much more difficult to decide what (if anything) else belongs in the base white equipment deck. As I mentioned earlier, this one’s going to come down to practice, experimentation, and seeing just where the metagame ends up going.
Leonin Sun Standard
1W: Creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.
So what if you decide to ditch the heavy commitment to equipment? This little baby packs an awful lot of punch for its investment, and provides an excellent use for your mana as the game progresses. The downside is that it does nothing unless you activate it, it’s only great when you have lots of creatures and/or lots of mana, and it doesn’t do anything special in multiples. My instinct is that white swarm decks are well served by one (or possibly two) of this card, but more than that and you’re probably not getting the most out of your slots.
Note that when it works, this card can be devastating. With three creatures and six mana, mana you’re looking at +9/+9 total enhancement (repeatable each turn). And even if your guys die, putting out just two new creatures means you’re getting a total of +2/+2 for each two mana – which is quite good by enhancement standards.
Again, as with several of the cards in this set, what we’re seeing is ways for dedicated creature decks to achieve more late game power without having to stock their deck so heavily with late game threats. The result is aggro decks which still have enough early pressure to keep other decks honest while also having at least some chance later on rather than flipping over and dying once the midgame has passed.
And so ends this first, preliminary look at the cards from Mirrodin that I found most interesting. From here I’ll be going back and covering the entire set card by card – something I’m greatly looking forward to, as this first article only brushes the surface. In the meantime, good luck to all with events in the coming days!