It seems appropriate that following my 150th regular article will be a review of the nostalgia set from a Five Color perspective. I established myself early as one of the few Five writers running around, and I’ve been around for a few years. This is my fourteenth Five-Color set review, and I’ve done every set from Onslaught until now.
In case you’ve never read my set reviews before (or you forgot), here’s how I operate. There are going to be scads of set reviews across the Magic landscape for the next several weeks. In my own review, I skip a lot of cards in order to focus more time upon the cards that I think might matter or that people are talking about.
As a result, you will not be subjected to a hundred different variations of “good in Limited, poor in Constructed” statements that seem to plague other reviews.
This is my obligatory “This…is Five-Color” paragraph. If you already know this stuff, skip it:
Five-Color is a casual format where players have to construct decks with a minimum of 250 cards and 20 cards of each color using all Vintage legal sets. We have generous mulligan rules, our own banned and restricted list, and even allow ante should you want to play for it. To find out more, you can link to www.5-color.com. This format is a blast and I love to play it. Many players believe that it is one of the best casual formats ever designed.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the set review. I usually begin my set reviews with an overview of the mechanics before heading into the actual cards, but this time there are more cards I want to discuss, so I am just going to mention mechanics in the card discussion itself.
Please note that, due the casual nature of Five-Color, virtually any card can be played. If I leave off your favorite new card, please don’t be offended. I am merely discussing cards with competitive Five Color impact, or cards that I personally like.
As a caveat, this article was largely written before the official spoiler was released and relies on information from unofficial spoilers. As such, it is possible that one or more pieces of information might be inaccurate. I apologize if this is the case.
A quick aside, I love Drew Tucker. I’m amazingly glad he’s back, even just for a few cards. I love artists like Drew Tucker and Harold McNeil. Their art evokes emotions on cards, not just something with teeth. I’d love to see Tucker back full time from here on out.
Let’s begin with White and work our way around the color wheel:
The rebel mechanic was good enough to support in some winning Five-Color decks years ago. Is it still strong enough to support such grandeur? I guess we’ll see in a couple of months, but I expect some players will try and revisit the old mechanic.
Magus of the Disk – Is a Nevinyrral’s Disk on a stick a better card or worse? Adding a color makes it harder to play and easier to remove, but it adds an important element of diversity. Now your Disk can block or attack as needed. It’s actually a win condition as well as being a Disk. Whether it is better or worse that Disk only time will tell, but certainly will be good enough to be an adjunct to the normal Disk strategy. The MotD is such a great card that it can be used even in decks that might not normally use a Disk just as an added body. That added playability makes this a highly desired card for Five-Color.
Mangara of Corondor – Speaking of putting something on a stick, will making a 1/1 mono-White creature from a Vindicate leave it playable? Vindicate still gets tons of play in Five-Color decks, and I can’t but think that the Mangara of Corondor will get some play at least. However, in the end, I think a sorcery Vindicate that immediately removes a threat is better than a measly 1/1 Seal of Vindicate. Especially in a format where you can afford the extra color in Vindicate’s cost.
Pentarch Paladin – He is White intensive, but he also blasts permanents of a given color, which can be great against almost any deck. A lot of decks are focused on Green and/or Blue, and having a creature that can tap and blow up one of those colors is a great boon. Note that it can take out a permanent, so enchantments also fear the Pentarch Paladin. However, due to the five-color nature of these decks, its ability will never be that great, and it does require a heavy commitment to White or an amazing manabase.
Restore Balance – Sure, it’s a Balance and all, but we actually have Balance, and there’s no need to play a six-turn delayed Balance that’s just one mana cheaper.
Serra Avenger – Although Serra Avenger is solid, there are just better creature available to Five-Color decks from the various eras of Magic. I’d rather have Serendib Efreet, for example. It’s not a bad supplement to a flying beater strategy, but it’s not that great. It won’t embarrass you to play it or anything, I just think there are better options.
Green gives us a few cards to look at. Not as many as it might in other sets, but there are still a few goodies in here, especially Search for Tomorrow.
Hypergenesis – It takes a while before we finally come across a solid enough Green spell to discuss, and it still is a weak Eureka and nothing special. Eureka doesn’t get played much outside of the casual circle, so don’t expect to see either Eureka or Hypergenesis get its name called in a Five-Color tourney. However, as this is a casual format and is overwhelming played at venues other than tournaments, you can expect to see the occasional Hypergenesis get played. It’s fun and amusing, and we all like that. It can also backfire based on what your opponent is playing, so beware.
Magus of the Candelabra – I like Candelabra of Tawnos. I think we all do. It’s a great card with a lot of usage, especially in broken formats with High Tide and whatnot. In normal Magic, outside of Super Combo Land, a Candelabra can be used to untap lands with uses like Maze of Ith. It can also be used to untap colors of mana in order to make it possible to play a spell with two or more of the same mana in its cost. Playing Craw Giant can now be done with just two Forests and the right amount of colorless. You can untap man lands, that’d be interesting. It just seems that this card, outside of Super Combo Land, is relatively boring. Combine with Heartbeat of Spring or Gaea’s Cradle and it becomes an Uber Mana Producer of Doom. Outside of that, it’s a cute little card.
Search for Tomorrow – I don’t think many suspend cards will get the honor of getting mentioned by me, because frankly, a lot of them aren’t that good in a Constructed format. Search for Tomorrow breaks the trend with a solid ability. You can drop it on the first turn when you aren’t doing anything anyway, then on the third turn, the land comes into play untapped and ready to be used. That’s great! The land can be used on the same turn you can use the land from a Sakura-Tribe Elder or other two mana land retriever. And you don’t need to spend mana on the second turn, just the first. This is the best mana retriever since Champions gave us Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach in the same set. This card is subtle, but it is also very good.
Thallid Shell Dweller – Of the new “walls,” this is probably the most playable. I like cheap Green walls that mug up the ground like Wall of Roots, Wall of Blossoms, and Vine Trellis. Each gives you mana or a card in addition to being excellent creatures to form a defense. A card like this will stop Kird Apes, Savannah Lions, and Watchwolves from hitting you while you set up. This wall will also give you a free creature every third turn, which puts it up there with some of the best Green walls ever made.
Thelonite Hermit – Deranged Hermit still gets some play, but not much. Now you have a morph Hermit that will be playable, for three mana of any color, who brings four 2/2 friends when flipped up. It’s solid, but you spend two turns to set it up, and that’s simply too slow for my tastes.
Tromp the Domains – If Overrun is not enough, try Tromp the Domains. Honestly, I don’t think Tromp will do anything useful at all, certainly not anything that Overrun didn’t already do. It is more playable, but it is also more expensive. I just don’t see many good players playing a six-mana pump spell for long.
Red is the bridesmaid color of Magic. It’s not getting married off anytime soon. Guys see the bridesmaid and think, “Why isn’t this lovely creature married yet?” Then they find out that this bridesmaid is seriously screwed up in a major way, and they realize that the bridesmaid was never as good as promised. Red cards are often the same way, although there’s less guilt over taking one out for a spin.
Aetherflame Wall – If you fear shadow creatures, Wall of Diffusion usually took care of them. Now you can use the Aetherflame Wall, which should kill most shadow guys with a pump or two. It’s also a cheap wall, and you know how I feel about them. Personally though, I’d wait to see if shadow increases in play where you live, to the point where you need to run countermeasures. After all, you can always Burning Wish into Shadowstorm against the occasional problem if you need to.
Ancient Grudge – I’ve always liked Ray of Revelation, and this card is essentially Ray in Red for artifacts. The cheap initial cost combined with an even cheaper flashback cost makes me a happy Abe. Artifacts aren’t as much of a problem right now; the fury of them has died down since Mirrodin block. However, if artifacts are a problem in your metagame, or if they rise back up, remember this little gem. This fits some decks better than Shattering Pulse.
Bogardan Hellkite – Hello, “comes-into-play” effect! This is my new favorite reanimation, Sneak Attack, Ziridian of the Claw target. I love the board cleaning effect of the B. Hellkite combined with the beatability of a 5/5 flyer. Yay!
Firemaw Kavu – Are you a Flametongue Kavu? No. Are you better? No. Are you at least as good? No. Are you just a little bit worse and still playable? No. Are you barely playable in Limited? Yes. Hmph. Yes. [Hmm… – Craig.]
Goblin Skycutter – This is better than most two-powered, two-mana Red drops. It has the potential to take out a flying creature after all. If it kills a Mistral Charger, Gaea’s Skyfolk, or Azorius First-Wing, then that’s pretty good. It will also serve for two and plays well with goblins.
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage of Destruction – I love Jaya. She’s my new Swiss Army Knife. I was upset that she was not printed in Coldsnap, but I’m happy now. Jaya can do it all, from popping a Future Sight or a Blue creature, to turning all extra lands into Incinerates, to sweeping the board and starting anew. Jaya does three things, all well, and she’s a great outlet for madness, flashback, incarnations, and more. In a modern deck, she has a lot of uses, and I don’t know if any card printed in the past year is as useful as Jaya. I got her in my prerelease deck and had to play her. She’s amazing!
Magus of the Scroll – Do you have problems filling the Red slots in your deck? Do you need the long lasting power of a Cursed Scroll in numbers greater than four? Have I got the solution for you! The Magus of the Scroll is straight off the assembly line for your deck. Want to play five, six, seven, even eight Cursed Scrolls in your deck without being disqualified from play? Look no further than the Magus of the Scroll to fill your Cursed Scroll needs. Magus of the Scroll is open day and night, ready to take your call, so don’t delay. Order Magus of the Scroll today!
Norin the Wary – I just wanted to take a second to discuss Norin. Not because he’s good or anything, but because he is one of the most interestingly bad cards I’ve ever seen in my life. He can’t attack, can’t block, but he can dodge removal with the best of them and trigger coming into play or leaving play abilities with ease.
Pardic Dragon – I know dragons are the sexy cool creature for Red, but this one’s suspend is plain annoying. Too many times at the prerelease or in draft I saw someone play the suspend on their dragon on turn 2, only to still be turning the suspend clock down eight or ten turns later when they had plenty of mana to just cast the damn thing.
Reiterate – This may be the best Fork ever (not counting perma-Forks like Mirari or Uyo). Normally you don’t hold onto Fork much, because it either rules or it sits in your hand doing nothing. You either get one great use out of it, or you hold on to it in your hand hoping that some use will come out of it. Now you can Fork with impunity, copying small and large spells alike, confident in the fact that Reiterate will be there in your hand when you want to fork the really good stuff.
Wheel of Fate – A lot of Five-Color decks are all about the “draw sevens,” or cards that draw seven cards, and this set adds two to that tally. Is a two-mana Wheel that you have to wait four turns to use worth it? Absolutely. No-Holds-Barred Aggro decks will love playing this and then emptying their hand over the next few turns until the Wheel resolves and they get more cards of beatingness. Controlling the Board decks won’t like it as much, although Crazy Combo Man could play around it well. Many Resource Denial decks will be sad to see this, but a few would be really happy. (Want to know what those terms mean and how I apply them? Check out my Casual Metagame articles to find out!)
Although Black has one of the highlight cards of the set in Demonic Collusion, the color is pretty sparse for good Five Color ideas. Let’s take a look at the handful of cards to chart.
Cyclopean Giant – I’m not including this because it is a good card, I just want to make a quick comment. Let’s talk about the name for a second. Do you want to know what cyclopean means? It means giant or vast. This name is, essentially, Gigantic Giant. That’s a silly name. Maybe next they’ll print an Azure Bluestone, Draconic Dragon or maybe an Undead Zombie.
Demonic Collusion – I’m sorry, did they print a buyback Demonic Tutor? Looks to me like they did. This is amazing. Although the cost of five mana is a bit prohibitive for this to be abused as more than a simple tutor regularly, it could be an amazing tool in the right deck. A combo deck would love a tutor that you cast once, get a Pandemonium, buyback by discarding two things that don’t matter anymore, then get a Saproling Burst by playing it again (or whatever combo you are playing – doesn’t have to be PandeBurst). Other tutors that had the power to get multiple cards have been largely banned, like Survival of the Fittest, Intuition, Gifts Ungiven, or Insidious Dreams (although bad cards like Planar Portal are just restricted). I don’t know that we will act on this, but we will be watching.
Living End – Now, I like Living Death a lot. It is one of my favorite cards of all time. However, a three turn suspend Living Death just seems like a bad idea to me. Living Death is capable of being a Wrath of God and an Armageddon at the same time. I call this the WALD theory:
Some cards are like Wrath of God; they swing the game state from you losing to neutral.
Some cards are like Armageddon; they swing the game state from you slightly winning to you greatly winning.
Some cards are like Living Death; they swing the game from you losing to you greatly winning.
(WALD gets its name from Wrath, Armageddon and Living Death)
This Living Death, however, is not going to be a real Living Death in power because opponents get a chance to develop their game state around it. Yech!
Magus of the Mirror – I like Mirror Universe, and I have one in one of my 250 decks. It’s an okay card for many situations, but tutorably good once in a while. Putting it on a 4/2 beater is a solid play, and you can get more use out of it without having to look at a dead card in your hand when you have a higher life total or you are trying to stop a combo or regain control of the board. In those situations, Mirror Universe isn’t all that. Even an expensive 4/2 still has some use. This is the only Magus where putting the artifact on a creature appears to be an improvement over the original. Is it enough of an improvement to matter? I’m unsure about that.
Blue is the clear winner of the Five-Color lottery, with Magus of the Jar and Ancestral Vision along with Mystical Teachings as an instant tutor. Blue wins, yay! Welcome old school, how are you doing today?
Ancestral Vision – It’s still really good and still likely broken. Ancestral Vision is abusable, despite the wait. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? I could say it’s overrated and underpowered; that probably hasn’t been said. It’s a lie, but it probably hasn’t been said.
Cancel – Say hello to the new basic set Counterspell.
Deep Sea Kraken – Here’s a suspend spell with a cheap cost on a major creature that actually gets out quicker the more your opponent does. Drop this on the second turn against an aggro deck and watch as the counters fly off it. It’s still not as good as a simple defensive creature, but it’s better than crap like Pardic Dragon.
Magus of the Jar – Here’s a quick note. It says here that Memory Jar was emergency banned because of its interaction with Megrim. It also says here that Megrim is still in Standard. Hmm. Of course, this isn’t Standard, it’s Five-Color. Megrim and Jar always worked here, and still they don’t get played that much together. I like the 3/3 body that comes with, as if you actually wanted to block with your Jar or something. It’s not abusable with Goblin Welder, but it is the second “draw seven” card in the set. That’s important in this format. I expect to see it regularly, but not in every deck.
Mystical Teachings – A flashback tutor, even one this limited, could prove very useful. It’s pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it for every deck. It can only get instants, but it tutors at instant speed, so at the end of some turn you can get a counterspell, removal, Ancestral Recall (or Vision), etc. There’s some value in that, but it will never be Broken Tutor of Doom. Just being “Tutor Twice for Decent Cards” is enough to get played in some decks.
Trickbind – Interdict made again. Yay! It’s not going to get much play, but I’m a happy Abe.
Truth or Tale – Do you enjoy math? I know a lot of people who enjoy the simplicity of math. Logic describes all and that sort of thing. If you do, here’s a simple equation for you: Impulse > Truth or Tale. How about another? Worldly Counsel > Truth or Tale. Here’s a one more: Telling Time > Truth or Tale.
Walk the Aeons – A buyback Time Warp? My Johnny Juices are already flowing at this guy. Unfortunately for Five-Color, there’s not a real use for buyback – sacrifice three islands. That’s pretty much the death knell of this card right there. We can still use Time Warp and Temporal Manipulation, which are both cheaper than Walk the Aeons in terms of mana (not price).
Due to the small amount of artifacts, gold cards and lands, I decided to squash them together in one category.
Academy Ruins – I’ve always loved Volrath’s Stronghold and I have to believe that Academy Ruins will be even better in many decks. From minor artifacts like Pyrite or Aether Spellbomb to major goodies like Disk and Jar, this is a great card with a lot of power.
Gemstone Caverns – We like lands that produce all five colors more than a lot of decks, so in Five Color, Gemstone Caverns may find a nice niche. You have a 50% chance of getting a land that taps for any color with no disadvantage and mana acceleration. You also have a 50% percent chance of getting a land that taps just for colorless. Some decks will like the gamble. You’ll draw it a lot when it’s not in your opening hand, though. This is all about the player and what risks they are willing to make.
Kaervek the Merciless – Kaervek the Shutdown Machine has arrived, and with it is a card that can make any player loathe the playing of spells. Sure, it’s a seven-mana commitment to Kaervek, but after that, you get both a 5/4 beater and a card that will lock the opponent off from casting spells very quickly. This is one of my favorite cards from the new set, and I hope to experiment with him a lot. (Did anyone else think Kaervek was a chick?)
Lotus Bloom – Getting mana of any color is a great boon in Five-Color, and dropping a Bloom on the first turn is a fine way to get mana you need later in the game. However, Lotus Bloom’s usefulness decreases in direct proportion to the turn you play it on. Eventually, Lotus Bloom will have little use later in the game. Still, that extra bump in the early game is worth playing it, and I expect to see Lotus Blooms aplenty.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy – Sure, you already have to have what you tutor for in play, but tutoring for an artifact and putting it directly into play is a powerful enough ability that you have to examine it. Having that ability on a 4/4 for four mana is even better. Having that ability trigger just by playing the artifact and not through any additional mana costs is even better than that. Please note that Mishra essentially makes all artifacts uncounterable. Play an Ivory Tower and trigger Mishra. Even if the Ivory Tower is countered, one will come into play. The same is true of any artifact that you have another copy of in your library. If all he does is get you more artifact mana, he’s still a good guy, and he can be a lot more broken than that.
Terramorphic Expanse – I love a fetch land that does not come into play tapped and gets a land immediately with no pain. This card is instant gratification. I expect to see this card more than any other card in the set because it is a cheap common and good enough to make tons of decklists. It is not the most powerful card in the set, but I believe it may be the most ubiquitous.
There we go at the end of another set review. I’m very exited about the new set, and I hope you are as well. Start making plans for changes to your decks, no matter what format you play. Next week I expect to resume the Casual Metagame articles.