Talen: You know, I’m a cheating bugger. I signed up for this daily gig when I had no idea what I was going to do, and spent the next month fretting over it. The idea of “doing a daily” has been filling me with trepidation — even more so when I see the people lined up before me. Osyp. Ben Goodman. Zac Hill. Eli Kaplan. The Ferrett himself! Christ (Or is he next week, Craig?)!
What was I gonna do? I may talk a good storm, what with my voice being so enchanting (well, I think so, at least), but actually keeping pace with the names that’ve gone before me is going to be a real ask. And without any kind of material to work with, I was going to be scrabbling for what I could find.
Then Wizards went and dropped Dissension in my lap.
Ah, set reviews! The article you write when you’re not writing an article! The structure is already laid out before you, and all you need to do is find a hundred and seventy-five ways of saying “Could be good in limited.” Better still, most set reviews are nauseatingly long (and, when you’re not Rizzo, most dailies are by definition short), which means that splitting it into five pieces is a saucy little way to rip through the set without getting everyone thoroughly fed up on the matter.
As with Guildpact, though, this set review is going to be defined as the works of a man who does not view himself as a tournament pundit. I’ve made a deck or two. I’ve made a good deck or two. But I’m the kind of guy who gets put in Food For Thought. Flores is your PTQ man — I’m your FNM man. I like design theory and I like concepts — but let’s face it, you’re not coming to read something with my mug next to it for The Next Big Thing.
Along with me on this ride, since having a daily subject handed to me on a silver platter wasn’t good enough, is my lovely wife, Fox. Together we’re going to rip on through the set in as brisk a fashion as possible — starting today with the Blue and Azorius cards. Fox will talk about art, flavor, and the perspective of a True Timmy, and I’ll try and give you my thoughts as a casual deckbuilder and player.
Talen: What a way to start off a set review! Fat Grandma wants to give you more cards in hand for having more cards in hand. I so don’t care. I saw people trying to shoehorn her into UW aggro builds (when we thought she cost UW), which struck me as counterproductive — a two-mana 1/1 who wants your permanents to be bounced and cost you more mana, to draw cards? You’re aggro, you don’t care. If you want something that has to invest at minimum four mana to draw one card while returning something to your hand… why not use Ninja of the Deep Hours?
Fox: Ooh, I love the art on this one. I mean, sure, it’s nothing particularly special… it’s just really good. And that’s all I ever want in card art
Talen: After the art – and this guy I can see eating a grizzly bear, as opposed to the normal sissery we get out of two2-power fliers – the first thing I noticed is that he’s a 2/2 flier for two, in the common slot. Plus, he’s got a reasonably relevant ability – not exactly super funtastic, but he can’t be shut down by Pillory of the Sleepless or Glare of Subdual. More pertinently, however, he increases the number of good White creatures available to peasant players from nearly-none to nearly-none-plus-one. This guy is good stuff – don’t forget about him. Sometimes all you need is a flying bear on turn 2.
Fox: (S)He’s entirely too clever-looking to be eating people without being creepy, by the way…
Talen: Though it does bear mention that I’m surprised that the combination of Flying and Protection From Something That Needs Explaining is on a common, when White Knight is an uncommon. Is First Strike that much more complex? No, apparently not… it seems perhaps that being gold can often earn you a price break in the rarity stakes too – saucy stuff. It might be that first strike is considered better than flying – in which case, the Dev team were smokin’ something when they set that rule.
Talen: The Vedalken Bear! Please, puritans! Avert your eyes! A woman, exposing her navel! Clearly it is the death of Magic!
Fox: I oughta smack you around…
I wouldn’t mind it if all the male wizards went topless. Contrary, perhaps, to popular belief, I am quite in favor of other womens’ navels. I just want to know why all the female wizards get around in boob-tubes while the guys dress like it’s minus ten degrees out – ferchrissake, there’s a guy behind her in this very picture who looks like he’s camping in a polar bear. Feh to them and their overdressed men.
Talen: Jokes – and in this situation, art – aside, she’s a decent creature in every way. Both abilities are good, if not amazing, and she’s at the right cost. Fish-style decks might even be able to rejoice, using this to, for example, counter a Pernicious Deed. Her only problem is that a lot of activated abilities are only good when they’re unbound – where they can be used a lot in a turn. These abilities are usually at their best when they’re cheap… which can often mean you’re fighting an uphill struggle to contain their cards with yours.
She’s a bear, people! Don’t get precious about her – swinging for two has proven good enough for Dan Paskins for generations innumerable. The matchup where you most want her abilities — like Heartbeat — are the matchups where her dying is not hugely likely except to a Twister — which is a sorcery.
Fox: Meh, my only complaint would be that her abilities don’t feel particularly good together. They’re less “paired” than some of the others, and that doesn’t seem as cool thematically. But still, I’m sure they’re fine mechanically – if I was Blue, I would be damn grateful to break even on mana cost, let alone get two relevant abilities I can use over and over.
Fox: (Of course, I’m not, I’m G/R, so I demand more and sulk when they tell me it upsets Limited.)
Talen: Ninja of the Deep Hours is trying to hide a stiffy in his Blue ninja pajamas. 2/1, guaranteed to get through, gains you four life as a comes-into-play effect? That’s a big swing to have happen once or twice in a game. He’s a decent beater, and best of all, he feels completely in color for both effects. I’ve been accused of being overly fond of my Fish-style creatures – and this guy really does deliver in that regard.
Also, set reviewers, stop pretending this is a mono-White card so you can pad out your word count with “Well, without the Blue, it’s pretty bad.” I mean, c’mon, who’s ever going to do that? Do you really see them reading a strategy site, then?
Fox: Hmmm… interesting variation on the enhanced spells, and I rather think I like it (even if it feels like it shoulda been in Red, grumble grumble blah blah blah). And this, by the way, is excellent flavor text!
Talen: Four mana fog effect. Still not caring.
Fox: … Damn, that’s an uncommon? This seems… a little bit stingy, surely?
Talen: It’s the flexibility. I mean, you could use it to prevent a 4/4 from killing your four 1/1s, and to keep the other 4/4 from killing your chump-blocking 1/1… but why bother with that when you have so many better options available you for four mana? I hear killing everything on the board is some good…
Fox: And the art, by the way, is entirely too “Warhammer” … let’s stay away from pin-heads tacked onto giant armored shells, please guys?
Fox: … Wow. This is the first signet that I’ve had zero visual appreciation for. It’s just… really bland and boring. I think it’s the colors – Blue and White (especially) are used so sparsely that it’s hard to see it as a good symbol for the guild. They could at least have put it in a silvery white setting, instead of orangey-gold. Shame, because U/W looks really nice on the cardface and such.
Talen: No more using Fellwar stone, yay!
Talen: The first real sit-up-and-say-wow moment. As Mike Flores made clear, we’re never getting Impulse back, so stop whining about how this is a “bad” Impulse. For those of you who want to play generally broken formats (Classic players, I’m looking at you), keep using Impulse. However, I’m going to be very happy to sleeve this guy up in a deck with Wrath of God and Final Judgment. Who cares if he dies? He did his job – he helped you dig a bit deeper and made your opponent extend onto the board.
Talen: Also, Fat Vedalken riding Fat Horse. His froggy parents must be so proud.
Talen: Hey, lookit the pretty art, Fox!
Talen: Innit all shiny?
Talen: Innit preeeety?
Talen: Isn’t she kinda hot?
Talen: Isn’t… you’re still going to set the card on fire, aren’t you?
Fox: No, no… guys that steal my sh** are okay, so long as they don’t do it on a permanent basis. I mean, there’s no hell way this thing is going to last more than a couple of turns before it gets eaten by one of my other fat bastards, just out of necessity. Then there shall be justice.
Fox: But yes, It’s goddamned pretty. The armor especially – She looks like a harlequin bug with boobs. That’s hotter than it sounds, damnit.
Talen: It’s worth noticing, that for all that she steals stuff (and this is a big pet peeve of mine, even more so than Fox’s dislike), she does so in a reasonably slow and timely fashion (she’s five mana and a +1/+1 counter to steal one creature, which isn’t totally unfair), and she’s hideously fragile. Also, she is sensibly dressed. Again with manipulation = female, though.
Fox: Yeah. That’s why I hate most “fan block” sets, for the record – every old cartoon or crappy fantasy show has a token female character with no real abilities, and every Joe dumbass fanboy, after making Optimus Prime and Grimlock and so forth, decides that RC should be a creature thief for some god-unknown reason.
Fox: (Though it does make it damn funny that all the “real men” of Magic players have such a hard-on for Blue, since it’s a color associated with traditionally feminine qualities like deceptiveness and manipulation. Hah!)
Talen: It’s… it’s sad that I can’t think of a damn thing to say. It looks pretty though.
Fox: Oh, I remember this one – I’m such a fan! Counterspells? Bounce? Draw? Discard? You got nuttin’. Better hope you top-deck something with a higher mana-cost than my guys have power – and I sincerely doubt that. Delicious!
Talen: Plus, White and Green can remove it quite readily, with Stomphowler Indrik and Kami of Ancient Law. Saucy!
Fox: … There’s gonna be a pattern with cute girls on the Eidolon cards, eh? (I mean, aside from the eighties hair…)
Fox: God damnit, Blue, you had better pay eight mana to get control of one of my creatures permanently. That’s all I can say.
Talen: It’s very strange, but I find that flavor text one of the more oddly virtuous things that could be said about the Blue-White guild.
Fox: Wow, the art on this one is rather good, despite featuring another big ol’ fat guy. Is he made out of stone?
Talen: No, he’s just old and sitting in his Popemobile.
Fox: No, I’m going to need to see this one more closely. He looks pretty shiny to me.
Talen: His creature type says, right there, “human.”
Fox: Though, it occurs to me that “Popemobile” is a perfect nickname for this card.
Talen: I think “sonofabitch” is what I’m going to wind up calling him. Though the idea of Overrules for three costing only WU is saucy.
Fox: Good lord. In case people missed it before:
Talen: Uh… umm… well, it’s a flying giant that lets you make your other guys fly. It can let a guy punch through for damage for a relatively cheap price. It’s… remarkably ugly… and it’s common. So it might find a place in a U/G Graft deck for PDC that might want to zot its ninjas to play, give them a bit of cytoplastic surgery, and then wing over the heads of the various ground-holders in that format for hot ninja action.
Fox: Whether it’s kiddie techno-babble or something only your russian great-grandmother could pronounce, they will manage to suck somehow.
Fox: Damn you all! Damn you White-Blue whores and your GOD DAMNED sexy guild leader! DAMN YOU I say!
Talen: Yeah, that’s some nice art. And she has a pleasantly powerful appearance, which is a nice change from conventional female characters in Magic.
Fox: Good lord I want one of these. Mr. Staples has outdone himself; this artwork is gorgeous.
Talen: I like it. I like it a lot. I already played Puppeteer in an attempt to get Ninjas through. This guy’s playable in pauper, for extra sauciness.
Talen: This one, on the other hand, is just fruity bad art. I’m not about to start cashing in the counters on my creatures for cards unless I have… no, I can’t even think of that. I mean, Triskelion turned power on the table into damage to the face. I’m calling this one as a junk rare.
Fox: I’m calling it arse-ugly. Get back to your mechanics – I’m supposed to be ragging on the art! XP
Fox: Ew, creepy! XP This is rather nifty.
Talen: Now, this I like. It’s a card advantage engine, and I’m surprised how long it’s taken the effect to show up on a card. Tallowisp goes and gets it, and it’s decent on any reasonably durable flier. Shame that the First-Wing can’t wear it, since he’s the first UW creature I could think of. Better, though, is that it gives Tallowisp a non-awful target for four mana… which means Disrupting Shoal has another way to counter Wrath of God.
Talen: Now, that’s nice flavor text. Very in-flavor for the Tri-Force of Ganon- I mean the Azorius of Augustin.
Fox: Yeah… but once again, uninspiring art.
Talen: Fat knight of indeterminate gender on horse that cannot possibly support it.
Fox: Actually, yeah – that thing has freaky skinny legs
Talen: This is a metaphor for the creature – whose fat mana cost teeters precariously on a pair of stilt-like power/toughness values that barely begin to justify it. Exalted Angel had two more abilities than this guy — morph, and +1/+1 — and was totally brizoken. Guess it’s hard to get a mid ground with that kind of dude, huh?
Fox: … What the devil is going on here?
Talen: It looks vaguely like a Ravnica rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Fox: Good thing one of them is a pretty girl, so we could tell which one was the “good guy.” Otherwise I’d be totally lost.
Fox: Oh – it’s not hideous. Actually, it’s quite nice. Not exactly a stunning “must have it” art piece, but certainly a nice-looking card.
Talen: The Tallowisp player that is me is really happy at this card. While the card itself can be faux removal (five mana for this effect with a potential discount down to three, with effects that can make the creature a hassle anyway already roaming around), I like it better as an aggressive way of removing blockers. Even holding two of them lets you tap down defenses with relative ease.
Also, it pitches to the White and Blue shoals, which is another plus; the Blue one will, when employed this way, counter Pillories, Mortifies, Putrefies, Jagged Poppets, Early Harvests, Heartbeat of Spring, and Kodama’s Reaches, which seems a reasonable swathe of spells to have a chance counter against. All this and, with a ‘Wisp, it doesn’t cost you a card. Fabbo.
Fox: S’true – an even I, constantly whining about Green having too much trouble getting through removal, have to accept it as a healthy sort of card. Having my stuff tapped down may be maddening, but this is the kind of way I’d like to see it employed – beatable and not too cheap, but still a solid playable choice.
Talen: Plus, being used to clear out blockers, rather than icing you out of the attack step on your turn. Sure, with this, you can’t stop them hitting you, but this doesn’t stop you from hitting back at all. In this regard, while it’s an “inferior” card to Glare of Subdual or Opposition, it’s a more interactive card. Basically, quit complaining.
Talen: I’m pretty keen on this guy. Ben Bleiweiss has convinced me that it’s not about as good as Vitu-Ghazi, since the flying tokens and the 1-mana discount doesn’t change the fact that the Pride takes up a card slot, and Vitu-Ghazi, a land. The upkeep doesn’t bother me so much – but Genju of the Fields is playable for its ability to force an opponent into a wrath.
Plus, the Pride has some synergy with the block’s Wrath effect, Hour of Reckoning. Unfortunately, it makes a mediocre blocker on its own. Perhaps I’m hoping for too much, but if it had cost one or two more natively, and brought a broad-bottomed body to the party, It’d be a lot more of a control card than it is. As it is, the Pride is a solid but non-amazing Pale Skies kinda creature.
Fox: Hrrrm… I dunno, I kinda feel like three giant flying lions should kick more arse than a 1/1, even if they are in watercolor. I think it coulda looked better as either just one lion, or a whole group. Three seems like it’s neither here nor there. On the same note as the Spires, the angle is boring – it takes away from the presence of the creature. Meh.
Otherwise, I love that they used the word “pride” for a White creature there. It’s delicious.
Talen: Why are the best answers to out-of-control Blue Blue?
Fox: Once again, awesome work on the beasties, Mr. Walker. That is a griffin with majesty. Just look at all his majesty.
Talen: I’ve heard a lot of negativity on this guy from some quarters, with him being relegated to combo status alongside Kiki Jiki, which I think is rather unfair. First, he loves Chord of Calling (come to think of it, so does Kiki-Jiki) as a surprise way of mugging something mid-combat. Second, his sheer size will put games away reasonably fast — he hits as hard as a Hierarch, and with more frequency. And third, well, if only there were some good Blue and White creatures that had the ability to block decently and didn’t mind gumming up the ground while you used them to draw cards for no mana. I guess, without such cards, we’ll be totally screwed.
Good versus aggro as a big beater, good versus control as an uncounterable way of gassing up. Just good all over.
Talen: I expect I’ll see this being forecast in Owling Mine, or see myself using it in 2HG games. Either way, symmetrical draw’s not really that big a deal against control decks these days – they can only ever hold seven, and we’ve seen that you can choke an opponent on a full grip reasonably easily.
Talen: You know, it’s times like this that remind me to hit Kelly Digges with a brick. He already used the ET Reincarnated joke, which is so perfect for this ugly wretch that I’m at a loss for what to say to make myself look funny. Sans stolen jokes, I guess I’ll just have to go with a simpler option of saying that the card isn’t the kind of thing I’m looking for. I don’t mind the combination of a utility effect, giant rear end and counterspell. But the amount of mana you have to leave up coupled with the fact that it only deals with creature spells means that it’s primarily going to be good versus aggro – and there’s no aggro deck right now that doesn’t pack ways to kill this guy. Though I suppose you can ram a Isamaru into it, then Helix it if you’re desperate.
Fox: What about a Jar Jar Binks joke?
…Okay, I got nothin’
Talen: Everyone else has said it better, except for one thing.
This card’s flavor text kicks serious ass.
Fox: Wow. And sexy art – this guy has yet to disappoint, even if I must hate this card for putting a filthy Blue counterspell on the nice wolfy.
Talen: Nice flavor text, good reanimation target, probably really insane if you play him fairly. The thing is, we already have a creature that will just plain win you the game if you can cast a few spells unmolested – and it’s called Witch Maw Nephilim and it’s about half the cost.
Fox: Bleh. Water elementals are so easy to make look cool – this guy just looks like a runaway Marvel superhero.
Fox: … I’m still trying to work out how many arms (s)he has.
Talen: Solid. It’s an expensive kind of vigilance, but he’s a Gray Ogre as well, who can share his love in the good way. Really, he’s just a good grafter along the curve, which is exactly what I’d want. Going Initiate into Spider into Graftmage into Root-Kin gives us a total power on the board of 13, and you can let any of them block fliers or untap at a whim. Solid stuff.
Talen: People complained that this was an inferior version of Words of Wisdom, as if Odyssey block had never featured any Blue card that was probably too good. I seem to notice a fair few games these days that result in everyone picking up a land on turn two. Playing this in that window would in fact be quite fine, since your opponent would be explicitly in no place to stop you from doing it, and have to discard. It’s the Standstill lesson all over again. That would require you to go without the benefit of the Karoo yourself.
Fox: It’s almost a shame to see this guy crammed into the card art space, given how spectacular he looks on the official wallpaper. Still, the art is fantastic – check out the bigger version if at all possible.
Talen: I could tell you all how this is just as good as, if not situationally better than Morphling. I really could. But since Morphling is, in fact, totally Blue, and part of an era of Magic where being broken was du jour, I really don’t care. Yes, Morphling is better. Have your better Morphling. You can wear a little Morphling hat and ride around on your Morphling tricycle with your Morphling biscuits in your Morphling lunchbox.
I don’t. Freaking. Care.
Windreaver is a good, solid win condition. It’s not going to replace Meloku in the immediate, but it’s sure as hell going to fill his boots just fine when he leaves.
Fox: … Aren’t those soldiers wearing the same uniform as he is? Why would they stop him from passing?
Talen: You know, it’s kinda sad that this is the card that has me most excited in the set. Why? Because it’s an Aura with Enchant Creature. The spirit of the late Ben Goodman (god bless his soul) is strong in this one – an UW Ninjawisp build is underway as we speak, even if I won’t be able to play with it for months, when Dissension finally hits online play. But the best thing about it is that you only need to run one of these to make a Ninja of the Deep Hours, or a Mistblade Shinobi (who is even more frail) totally unblockable for a paltry sum.
Top-drawer stuff, and probably the second-best forecast card in the set.
If you play pauper, get used to seeing this card. I might even run Dizzy Spells to go and fetch this, it’s that good in a format defined by ninjas.
Fox: Oh wait, I see – it’s supposed to be an illusion! Ah, Luca Zontini, you are a tricky one!
Talen: So what do we have at the end of all this? Well, the highlights of the Blue and Azorius cards are, to me the Guildmage, for its utility and beatdown, the Azorius Herald, for his ninja-enabling ways, and Writ of Passage, for its delicious ability to sneak those same ninjas past blockers.
Plenty of good stuff, though — and all through the common and uncommon slots, which makes it all the more delicious. Tomorrow, we tackle that gawthiest of gawthy colors — Black. And maybe something else, if Black is a bit of a wimpy selection.
Talen and Fox