Good Thursday to you kind folks, and welcome to the column that is dedicated to bringing you weekly information on the world of the casual. Today I am going to focus on writing my normal set review article with an eye to Five Color.
For years I have reviewed sets with a more casual friendly eye. Recently, I have begun to add some remarks geared towards other formats as well, from multiplayer to Peasant and more.
What I like to do is to pick the cards I talk about. That way, the article is not cluttered up with a lot of boring comments about cards that will have little impact outside of Limited tournaments. Now, of course in casual land, every card will get played somewhere, there is no question of that. However, I want to focus on those that may truly make an impact, not merely those that you will see played.
Since much of this article will be reviewing cards from Five Color’s perspective, allow me to introduce the format. In Five Color, players must play a deck of at least 250 cards, 20 cards of each color, using Vintage sets, and with some additional quirkiness due to the nature of the format, so for instance, we have our own banned and restricted list, and we allow very generous mulligans. You can find the official rules, B&R list, forums, decks, and articles here. Check it out later.
You might think that because Shards is a multicolor set, that a lot of the cards would be good in an environment where every deck runs all five colors. While a card being two colors is nothing major in this format, getting up to three, four, or five colors in a card can push things, so as the number of colors in the card’s cost increase, its power also needs to ramp up significantly in order to get it played.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the cards in Shards. We will start with White and then move around the color wheel, ending in Blue, before moving to multicolor cards, lands, etc.
White has a nice smattering of solid role players, but no massively strong banner card that will turn tables in the casual world.
Angelsong – Just a few days ago, I was able to win a game at the multiplayer table because I had out a Sunforger and used it to play Dawn Charm as a Fog, and give me the one extra turn I needed in order to kill my opponent. I have regularly been against the use of dedicated Fogs in my articles, because I think a lot of players rely too much on temporary delaying the game by using Fogs or life gain. However, even I admit that there are a handful of times when you want a Fog, and Angelsong gives you the Fog if you need it, or it can cycle if you don’t. It’s an ideal card for anybody still rolling with Astral Slides in their decks, plus a useful tool for many casual oriented decks.
Dispeller’s Capsule – The beauty of this artifact is that it can be retrieved by cards like Trinket Mage or Leonin Squire or Auriok Salvagers type cards for more uses.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant – Although her uber-ability is amazing in multiplayer, she takes forever to get there, giving your opponents too much time to solve the problem of how to kill her. Her other two abilities aren’t that interesting either. Expect to see her from players who are seduced by her best ability, but expect to have plenty of time to kill her.
Excommunicate – Remember to note cards with simple names and simple abilities like this, because Wizards doesn’t use up the simple names normally, expecting the possibility of promotion to the base set later.
Invincible Hymn – In Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, I have something like 1400 or 1500 cards. This is pretty powerful there. Ouch. This thing has some power in Five Color, but the eight mana cost may keep people from playing with it. I’ll bet they want to, however. It’s a good Wish target for your Burning and Death Wishes. Note that in these cases it’s best to ignore what the card says and count the cards that are not in your library and subtract the number of cards in play, hand, graveyard, and removed from game zone from your deck build total.
Knight of the White Orchid – I like the little Tithe built into it, so I might drop it into Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy. Expect to see these running about in any Five Color aggro deck that believes it can run the double White, because not only is it a 2/2 first striker for two but it can also smooth your mana by getting a dual land.
Resounding Silence – This has value to me in multiplayer, where removing an Akroma or Darksteel is great, and cycling it to get two later in the game is also gravy.
Scourglass – This is a good sweeper that keeps your mana artifacts in play. Many sweeping removal cards like Nevinyrral’s Disk and Akroma’s Vengeance also hurt manabases by hitting Fellwar Stones and such. Now you have a removal card that kills Planeswalkers, enchantments, and critters, but leaves artifacts and lands alone, allowing you to keep your mana artifacts. It will also allow you to keep artifact creatures alive, which gives you some ability to build around… but it will not kill nasty artifacts on your opponent’s end, so there are still some worries.
The large creature theme is odd, but I suspect it will play well with multiplayer. In Five Color, a humble 1/1 for one mana may be the most powerful card in the set, adding a potent enemy to players everywhere. The rest of the cards are weaker than normal, although I am fond of Skullmulcher.
Druid of the Anima – I like playing around with two-drop elves like Urborg Elf and Quirion Elves so much that I am almost sure to find a home for this one in some deck or other. Not as good as Skyshroud Elves, but it’s still a winner.
Elvish Visionary – I am about to tell you something, and I really mean this, so be prepared… Every single tribal elf deck should run four of these. Card drawing is not as bad in Green as it used to be, but tribal decks are packing a bunch of creatures and no good card drawing spells. As such, getting both an elf body plus a card is a good deal, since there’s no echo here (Multani’s Acolyte).
Mycoloth – Since this card has a danger of being too greedy on the devour side in order to build it to an impressive size, just remember that the creature is very vulnerable and fragile. Anything from Terror to Pongify can off this.
Naya Battlemage – Just like any cycle, this one has better ones than others. Getting a tapper as well as a pumper is pretty solid. Not amazing tournament caliber solid, but multiplayer casual solid.
Skullmulcher – Is it just me, or is this a very Black card? Would it feel out of place to anyone with a Black in the casting cost instead of a Green? It’s not a bad way to filter creatures into cards, so you can sac walls, token creatures, creatures that have been enchanted by Pacifism type cards, and more into new cards for your hand and yield you a bigger Skullmulcher as well.
Spearbreaker Behemoth – The cost of indestructible has gone down over time. It used to be that a Phantom Monster with indestructible cost seven mana, and now we get a 5/5 for seven mana with both indestructible in hand and the ability to make other larger creatures equally indestructible.
Wild Nacatl – This creature will become a one-drop of choice for numerous aggro decks throughout the Five Color world, and will see massive tournament play. Decks with access to a ton of duals can really make this sing. This might be one of the most impactful cards in the set for Five Color. It’s not even that bad in a two-color aggro deck alongside Kird Ape for Peasant.
Red has some solid cards like big creatures, burn, and more. In my opinion, the best cards in the color are two that make multiplayer more fun for you, Flameblast Dragon and Hissing Iguanar. There are not a lot of houses for your tournament Five Color or Peasant decks here.
Crucible of Fire – I really wish that they had continued the Tribal technology past Lorwyn, so we could have this be Tribal. I don’t think you should introduce a whole new card type if you are just going to keep it in one block. Imagine if they had kept equipment to just Mirrodin Block, or Planeswalkers to just Lorwyn, or Legendary permanents to just Legends.
Flameblast Dragon – A recursive Blaze while also attacking for damage makes this very interesting. Attack one open player, then Blaze kill another. Then attack that player again the next turn and Blaze kill a third. This is a game-changer in multiplayer.
Hell’s Thunder – This card doesn’t suck, and as mentioned in previews, the fact that it flies is very interesting. It should be fun to drop this, hit for a bunch in the air, and then unearth it later as you have need and spare mana. I would have preferred that it have been concepted as a Phoenix, however, since we get few flying Red creatures that self return from the graveyard.
Hissing Iguanar – It’s a very aggressive 3/1 for three mana and it hits players for damage. This is a nice Red creature. Play Wrath of God with this out, and someone may be taking a lot of damage, perhaps even a lethal amount. Nice.
Rockslide Elemental – What if we were to essentially reprint Khabal Ghoul but with first strike? Think that might get played? Some of the other new Khabal Ghoul creatures in the other colors are not that great because of cost, or the ability combined with it. This one is good in a color that loves to sacrifice things, from Mogg Fanatic to Goblin Bombardment.
Soul’s Fire – For when you want a Fling but don’t want to sacrifice the creature, there’s Soul’s Fire. That makes this pretty powerful as a combo spell, because in multiplayer you want to be able to kill multiple players. Sacrificing a big creature for a lot of damage in order to kill someone is nice and all, but I’d prefer to keep the creature alive to help kill other players. That’s why Soul’s Fire is pretty good, and I suspect it will see a lot of casual play. Note that this targets the creature, so no using it to deal damage when Akroma the First is in play.
Where Ancients Tread – Of all the cards with the “creature with 5 power or greater” mechanic in the set, this one is the best. It can kill opposing creatures, yielding you card advantage, or it can quickly kill an opponent, yielding you player advantage. Either one has strong value. Playing a Ball Lightning never looked so good.
There are some solid cards here to either build around or to supplement existing decks. My favorite of these cards is the Corpse Connoisseur.
Ad Nauseam – Drawing cards is fun, and you can draw a whole mess of cards. Combine this with, say, Invincible Hymn in my deck for 100 cards drawn or so. In normal decks, this is a great adjunct to an aggro strategy which often runs cheap cards, but it is more expensive than most card drawing spells. Would you rather play Fact or Fiction or this? In Five Color, at the five mana mark I can draw five with Allied Strategies or I can gamble and lose life with this. You get the point.
Bone Splinters – Death Bomb was an experiment to see if Wizards could make a Terror-ish spell so bad people wouldn’t play it, and they still drafted Death Bomb as a high draft pick. This is a sorcery and requires a sacrifice and allows for regeneration, but it has two things going for it. First, it costs just a single, solitary mana. And second, there are no targeting restrictions. How many “Destroy Target Creature” cards in Black have no targeting restrictions? Even Chill to the Bone and Eyeblight’s Ending have targeting restrictions, but this does not. In a deck with disposable creatures, this will be money.
Corpse Connoisseur – Sometimes Entomb is used to stock your graveyard for a future reanimation spell. Sometimes it gets you a card with flashback or something else. Then sometimes it can get you an Incarnation with a powerful ability while in the yard, such as Anger or Wonder. Corpse Connoisseur is a 3/3 body so it adds that to the table, but it can never act as the second of those three. It can get you a creature to animate, but as a five mana Hill Giant, that’s probably going to be a bit too much to pay for the ability. However, getting a Filth or Genesis or Glory for your yard is really, really strong, and makes playing this dude worthwhile.
Executioner’s Capsule – This has all of the power of the Dispeller’s Capsule, but it is in the wrong color to abuse it with White effects. Note that Salvaging Station will tap to recur this, and give you a powerful recursive engine of death.
Fleshbag Marauder – You can look at this like an Innocent Blood for three mana instead of one. You can also look at it like an Innocent Blood with a 3/1 body that allows you to sac something less important like a creature that’s Pacified, or a Wall of Roots with four counters on it, or a Bogardan Firefiend, Hornet Harasser, or other similar card.
Salvage Titan – This is actually a pretty respectable creature for its cost. You’ll rarely want to sac the artifacts to bring it into play, since it has the cost and power/toughness of a Craw Wurm making is acceptable in Black. Then you can recur it at no additional resource cost, just removing some cards in the graveyard from the game. That’s very strong.
Vein Drinker – This is a card after my own heart, with a strong combination of abilities that makes me smile. Much has been written in the previews on this card, and I consider it to be quite strong. I’ll leave this review at that, since you can read tons elsewhere, but I really enjoy the synergy and power of the card.
There are a handful of interesting cards here, especially Tezzeret, which is probably the most powerful of the cards from the mono-colored section of the set, with the other only contender being Wild Nacatl.
Covenant of Minds — Hey, I like to draw cards, and in multiplayer, sometimes you need a temporary ally, and that temporary ally who needs you to find removal for a third opponent’s Akroma might help you find it, if you use a card like this to do the searching. If the card is not in the top three, then you can draw five and try to find it there. There are tons of threats when you can use this to really find an answer, from a Wrath effect to artifact or enchantment removal.
Gather Specimens – This is great in multiplayer when someone cycles Decree of Justice, or plays something like a Living Death. It also acts as a Desertion for creatures for one more Blue mana. However, I believe that most of the time you’d prefer to have that Desertion, which is a hard counter for anything, gets you an artifact or creature, and is cheaper.
Master of Etherium – It’s already obvious what deck you put this with, but I fear that if I didn’t mention it, someone would post that this card was awesome and I’m a bad writer for not mentioning it, so to those readers, here you go. This is awesome. And boring.
Mindlock Orb – There have been an increasing amount of cards with a similar mechanic from Shadow of Doubt to Aven Mindcensor. Both of those have begun to get some strong play in Five Color because they shut down Flash decks, and Mindlock Orb will do the same, but it also prevents the owner of the Orb from searching for lands, using tutors, and so forth. As such, I doubt this will also see play against Flash decks. In multiplayer, if you play this, then you could hose a few decks, but beware the righteous wrath of a player who can’t develop their manabase because Sakura-Tribe Elder is shut down.
Tezzeret the Seeker – There are already discussions to ban this card in Five Color, although I prefer for players to experiment with it for a while before deciding its ultimate fate. We have not restricted Liliana Vess, but this gets the card immediately. It is a Painter-Grindstone win next turn, barring something in the deck like a Gaea’s Blessing. It’s obvious that this is strong in casual, Five Color, and multiplayer. Its ability to untap artifacts can give you extra mana. Note that Tezzeret can search for zero-mana artifacts with no loss of loyalty.
This set is full of gold cards, but it really pushes the envelope with creatures, having a multitude of very, very strong creatures, led by Woolly Thoctar. This may be the set with the most aggressively priced creatures compared to power/toughness ever, and they are mostly in this section.
Ajani Vengeant – I have mentioned this card before. Don’t play it in multiplayer, because players will fear the final ability so much they will nut-punch you. The Lightning Helix ability is okay, and the tapping is acceptable, but the final ability to just ruin one player’s manabase is so unfortunate in multiplayer that it will get you hurt for playing Ajani Vengeant, even if you do not intend to use it. I will not kill Ajani Vengeant. I’ll just kill you. In the game, not in real life.
Bant Charm – Wizards is in the business of selling cards, so they sometimes overemphasize how good a card is. This charm can Shatter, which is acceptable, or it can counter an instant, which is barely useful, or it can get rid of a creature it can target, which is acceptable. The result is a solid but unspectacular card that can fill out your deck but should be expected to do the heavy lifting.
Blightning – A lot of aggro Five Color players are hyped about this card, because not only is it discard but it also deals three to the head. Unlike other discard, it is not useless once your opponent has no grip, because it can still go to the dome. I think if you are playing the colors, you’d be silly to run anything other than random discard (like Hymn to Tourach) or this.
Branching Bolt – In multiplayer I try to squeeze card advantage out of every card I can, from Annihilate to Exclude to Orim’s Thunder to this. This can off two creatures, but in a pinch, you can just take out one, similar to cards from the past, like Hull Breach.
Broodmate Dragon – Sometimes I think a card is okay, but obvious, so I don’t bother to mention it. This makes two 4/4 flyers for six mana, three of it colored. It’s good enough to win you the game, but not good enough to bring you back from a losing position. It is good, but not a spectacular must-play sort of card.
Cruel Ultimatum – The Ultimatums have a very awkward casting cost, and can really only be played in three-color decks. Some are not worth the seven mana, all colored, that it takes to get there. Brilliant Ultimatum is an example of one such card that does not appear to be worth the stretch. This one might be, but only just. Gain some life, get a creature back, draw some cards, force a discard, make someone lose 5 life, and Edict someone. That’s pretty strong. Note that you cannot choose multiple target opponents, so at a multiplayer table, you could not Edict one player, force another to discard and a third to lose 5 life if you want. I wish they had designed this card with more flexibility at the multiplayer table, then it might have been worth going through the hoops to play it.
Empyrial Archangel – It’s a 5/8 with flying, shroud, and a better Veteran Bodyguard ability, and yet I feel a little underwhelmed. I guess next to Akroma, all angels look underwhelming. I mean, Razia barely caused me to bat an eyelid.
Esper Charm – This card already existed. It was called Consult the Necrosages. Taking that card, adding a White to the cost, adding the ability to Demystify and making it an instant does not make it a better card. This is just a really hard to cast Counsel of the Soratami or Mind Rot.
Goblin Deathraiders – If you read my articles, then you know how much I loved Blade of the Sixth Pride from Future Sight as a 3/1 for two mana. This has an ability that is occasionally pertinent, but is harder to cast. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but visions of a two-drop as good as Watchwolf dance in my eyes.
Godsire – Of the eight mana creatures with the 4UWWG pattern of mana costing, this one seems to be the least powerful. At least Empyrial Archangel changes the game. This just makes 8/8 tokens with no abilities, and does not have any pertinent ones itself. If I pay eight mana for a creature, I want it to have more than vigilance and a tap ability. I want to see shroud or trample or regeneration or something.
Grixis Charm – Boomerang, or Last Gasp (actually a bit better), or Trumpet Blast. Interested? I thought not.
Hellkite Overlord – We’ve been playing with this thing for a few weeks now, and it is basically the Akroma of Dragons. No dragon is better in multiplayer than this bad boy.
Hindering Light – I play Confound, and this is better, although the casting cost is more difficult.
Jhessian Infiltrator – I used to play Gaea’s Skyfolk in my Five Color aggro deck. This just replaced them.
Jund Charm – This is the best of the Charms for multiplayer. Having the ability to instant speed Tormod’s Crypt a person is really strong. It can get rid of all of the junk from incarnations to creatures with unearth to flashback to cards that are fuel for recursion to hurting a Tarmogoyf or Mortivore. This is great before a Living Death or similar effect. Being able to Pyroclasm as an instant is also great protection from a variety of things. For example, if someone cycles Decree of Justice at the end of your turn, untaps, and swings, you never have a chance to play Infest or Pyroclasm. Now you can have a defense against such things. The last ability to permanently pump a creature with two +1/+1 counters is okay, but obviously the worst of the three. It’s an expensive combat trick that lasts, but is not worth the card. The other two abilities are so strong, however, that you won’t mind it being there.
Naya Charm – And this one is probably the second best. Regrowth as an instant is strong. The other two abilities are not that great – Lightning Bolt a creature or tap all creatures a player controls are just okay. It’s the Regrowth that’s the value here. The Jund Charm can get you card advantage or answer multiple problems, and this card does not, so it is not nearly as powerful.
Prince of Thralls – I mean, just compare the coolness that is Prince of Thralls to the suckiness of Godsire. This thing makes Stone Rain deadly and Terror downright unfair. What does Godsire do? Make something the next turn that can’t attack until the turn after that and can be chump blocked, killed, answered with any number of blockers like Cho-Manno, Commander Eesha, Beloved Chaplain, or even Spirit Mirror? This is cool and easy to kill if it gets out of hand, which makes it seem like less of a threat. Godsire doesn’t even get out of hand without stuff like Fires of Yavimaya and Seeker of Skybreak or something similar. To be fair to Godsire, Sphinx Sovereign isn’t that good either, so it has a friend in its suckiness.
Realm Razer – This is another of those cards that suck, but at least there is an out to get you your lands back, so this is one mass land removal spell which appears to be fair to my eyes. Play it as much as you want in multiplayer.
Rhox War Monk – I’m not sure how many hoops you have to jump through to play something like this. On the third turn? This is great. On later turns, not as much. Maybe a three-color deck can handle it, but not more. Note that Sprouting Thrinax is also good, but a lot of the other aggro creatures in this general range do not impress me as much.
Rip-Clan Crasher – Like other bears, this one could get some play in Five Color Aggro decks because it pushes the aggro limit to the max, getting you that one precious extra hit in with its haste.
Sarkhan Vol – He might be in a lot of flavor texts, but let’s take a closer look at him. One ability acts as a pseudo Fervor plus it can ensure your creatures are always bigger on offense. That’s pretty solid. Then he can Threaten an opponent’s creature, which might be useful in rare occasions but I doubt I’d use it much, not even in multiplayer. Finally, he can make a passel of dragons. Making five 4/4 dragons all at once appears really strong from where I am standing. Verdict – very playable, and much better than some of the others in the set, but still no Tezzeret.
Sedris, the Traitor King – This is defiantly a “Build Around Me” card with some potential. When every Shriekmaw, Ghitu Slinger, Avalanche Riders, Temple Acolyte, and Mulldrifter has unearth, you can cause some serious problems. Seems like a play on Sol’Kanar the Swamp King, with a similar name, size and virtually identical casting cost.
Stoic Angel – Much like the above card feels like a remade Sol’Kanar, this feels like a remade Lightning Angel, as it was probably meant to do. Instead of haste, we have a strong Smoke ability attached. The result is a decent creature.
Tidehollow Strix – It’s more fragile than a normal beater, but the addition of deathtouch is solid. Will aggro decks embrace it?
Violent Ultimatum – Of the remaining Ultimatums, the Titanic one won’t win you the game if Overrun won’t, although the lifelink will keep you from dying from your alpha strike, and this one takes out three things, making it often worse than Decimate at the multiplayer table but more flexible. Its casting cost is simply too tough, but it is probably the second strongest.
Woolly Thoctar – Although some of the other tri-mana three drops are tough on the mana and do not scale well, this one does scale well. Even if you have to wait a turn to set your mana and it comes down on the fourth turn, a 5/4 on turn 4 is strong. Even on the fifth turn, it’s a five-power creature. The result is a very powerful creature that might be worth trying to push to turn 3, but where you are not upset if you don’t make it.
Lands and Artifacts
There are a handful of cards here, including the powerful Relic of Progenitus.
Lich’s Mirror – This card is already getting a lot of press in the Five Color forums as a potentially broken card in the format. It is also great in multiplayer, where you do not die if you die. Note that this is a Mythic Rare, and I do not know why. Perhaps it is a story element from the novel or something.
Oblelisks – These are really good, no question, and better than the Cameos from Invasion which no one ever played. Still, I’d rather have a Fellwar Stone at the multiplayer table.
Quietus Spike – There are players who love this and are champing to build decks around it. You will see it in casual games at the card store and the kitchen table alike.
Relic of Progenitus – Better than many other graveyard removal methods as long as you do not mind hitting your own. Morningtide was always a great Wrath of Graveyards, and now we have a colorless one that draws you a card, so I suspect this will become a valuable tool for many decks to combat graveyard abuse.
Panoramas – The five Panoramas are really strong, and note that they can tap for mana themselves if you need them, and they do not come into play tapped, so your mana growth is not inhibited. You could play it on the third turn, use it for a Call of the Herd, then when you have extra mana, fetch away.
Tri Lands – They come into play tapped, and then tap for three colors of mana. Not since the lairs have we had a set of tri lands, and these do not hinder your mana development as much like those do. The result is a strong card for any allied tri color deck. I will definitely be using these and the Panoramas in my decks for future articles.
And with that, we have once again come to the conclusion of another article. I’ll stop because I’m almost at 5000 words, and I need to call it a day. I hope that you enjoyed the set review, and join us next week when I build some decks around Shards of Alara cards.