Thirst for Knowledge – Initial Thoughts on M11

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Tuesday, June 29th – M10 was a fantastic set in terms of power level for Standard as well as being an enjoyable in the Limited environment, but I was skeptical as to whether or not M11 would be able to stack up. After all, some of the novelty of M10 would surely have to wear off by now for M11, but Wizards is doing enough new things with these revamped Core Sets to keep things interesting.

I’ve had a lot on my plate this past week as I’ve been moving, but I’ve kept a diligent eye on the M11 spoiler even though I haven’t been able to do much playtesting. M10 was a fantastic set in terms of power level for Standard as well as being an enjoyable in the Limited environment, but I was skeptical as to whether or not M11 would be able to stack up. After all, some of the novelty of M10 would surely have to wear off by now for M11, but Wizards is doing enough new things with these revamped Core Sets to keep things interesting. Limited with Core Sets is often always very similar, and I don’t doubt that M11 Limited will be very much like M10’s was, but M11 is looking quite promising for Standard.

First of all, Baneslayer Angel makes a triumphant return (and has taken quite a large price hit, finally), and that is good news for anyone looking to follow the Jace/Wall/Day/Gideon format for deck design this fall. Siege-Gang Commander is out, but he will remain in Standard for the rest of Jund’s time in the format, so that’s more or less a moot point. Path may be leaving in the fall, but Condemn is a fine replacement and will undoubtedly be filling out the aforementioned UW Control deck’s removal suite. Doom Blade, Lightning Bolt, Negate, and the M10 lands are all returning, so we’re not losing that many key Core cards this October like I had expected that we would. We did, however, pick up some goodies.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the most obvious cards first — the Titans. The Mythic cycle of “Titan” creatures seem to be the selling point of M11, and it isn’t hard to see why: all of them are not only Constructed-playable, but they perfectly embody what “Mythic” cards are all about. Let’s take a look at each, shall we?

Sun Titan
Creature — Giant (M)
Whenever Sun Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may return target permanent card with converted mana cost 3 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.

Sun Titan is probably among the best of all five, as his ability gives deck-builders a little leeway in how they use him. The beauty of these cards is that they are all 6/6 beaters for 6, which in and of itself is pretty decent. That means that at the very least they’re going to be beating a Baneslayer Angel in combat, and just by attacking (or being cast) they’re causing mayhem. Sun Titan has lots of synergy with, well, any permanent that costs 3 or less, but mostly we’re looking at a way to return Tectonic Edges, Oblivion Rings, manlands, Jace Belerens, Courier’s Capsules, Sea Gate Oracles, and maybe even Qasali Pridemages to play. Every turn. In the case of Oblivion Ring, if you’ve got a way to destroy it in response to its enters-the-battlefield trigger, you can keep exiling permanents every turn just by attacking with your 6/6 creature (which, by the way, you’ll be doing anyway — no sense in keeping him back to block, right?).

Now, this guy is six mana. Six mana is a lot, but this card might actually be worth it. The real question becomes whether or not he is better than, say, a Sphinx of Jwar Isle or a Sovereigns of Lost Alara. In the case of the latter I’d say certainly not, but he’s a reasonable card to play in a deck over the former given that you work a little harder to make it efficient. Much like Vengevine, Sun Titan is an inherently good card that needs some effort to make “great,” but he has a lot going for him. He is exactly the kind of card that should and will be built around, and I’m sure great minds like Conley Woods are already brewing up decks with him. Also, as an aside, I’d wager that this will be one of those cards that get a lot better when we have more, say, artifacts roaming around…

Next up, Frost Titan!

Frost Titan
Creature — Giant (M)
Whenever Frost Titan becomes the target of a spell or ability and opponent controls, counter that spell or ability unless its controller pays 2.
Whenever Frost Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, tap target permanent. That permanent doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.

I’ll be the first to admit that Frost Titan’s “evasion” ability is a lot worse than, say, Vigilance, but it’s not altogether bad. I mean, making your opponents pay 5 mana to Maelstrom Pulse this guy or 3 mana to Path it is kind of cool, but by the point in the game that we’re laying down 6-mana spells, your opponents can probably work around that. Add onto that the fact that his ETB/combat ability isn’t nearly as good as the other Titan offerings, and you’ve got a pretty subpar card. Again, it’s not as though it’s bad, but there would be very little reason to ever play this over a Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Keeping Putrid Leeches, Celestial Colonnades, and Baneslayer Angels tapped just doesn’t seem as good as the rest of the Titans. In the case of the other four, at least, you get a solid effect for your mana regardless of whether or not the 6/6 sticks around, but if I wanted to keep permanents tapped in Standard I think I would just play Ajani Vengeant.

Moving on…

Grave Titan
Creature — Giant (M)
Whenever Grave Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, put two 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield.

Now this is nice. While it’s true that Siege-Gang Commander won’t be out of the format until the fall, this card might just be a better fit for Jund anyway. For 6 mana you get ten power, which is pretty absurd, and more than half of it is Deathtouch. Broodmate Dragon only gives you eight power, and while that is flying power, this guy promises more dudes if he sticks around. He also can’t die to Bituminous Blast, and unless he is dealt with quickly he has a very similar effect to that of Master of the Wild Hunt. The best part about this guy is that he makes you an insane army for absolutely no cost to you beyond the initial 6 mana investment. Grave Titan is probably the best topdeck Jund could hope for against control decks and creature decks alike (aside from Bloodbraid Elf, obviously). Against control he demands removal immediately or threatens to single-handedly win the game, and against the mirror he provides an impressive wall of defense. Granted, Siege-Gang offered more blockers, but they weren’t 2/2s, 6/6s with Deathtouch, or being continuously spit out. It’s hard to say if Jund will adopt this card, but I have a feeling that it should. I’m a huge fan.

Red is next!

Inferno Titan
Creature — Giant (M)
R: Inferno Titan gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
Whenever Inferno Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, it deals 3 damage divided as you choose among one, two or three target creatures and/or players.

Arc Lightning for 6 mana isn’t that sick, but attached to a 6/6 with Firebreathing it isn’t all that bad. Inferno Titan is certainly a lot worse than Grave Titan or Sun Titan, but he’s miles ahead of Frost Titan in terms of utility. Standard has lots of creatures, and having an enormous beater than can Bolt a dude every turn isn’t that bad (Razormane Masticore was okay). The only reason I think this card might actually make a splash, though, is because it is an Arc Lightning, which means that we could use it to turn off Noble Hierarchs, Cunning Sparkmages, Birds of Paradise, and Lotus Cobras. Every turn. That’s not too bad, though Inferno Titan hardly has a home right now aside from as a sideboard card in the Jund deck, but he might be good enough to force himself somewhere. After all, if the board is clear you could just cast him, Bolt your opponent, and then swing the following turn for 9+ damage before putting any mana into his Firebreathing. Something to think about.

And last, but certainly not least…

Primeval Titan
Creature — Giant (M)
Whenever Primeval Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may search your library for up to two land cards, put them onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Green as a color has come a long way in recent years, and Wizards has done a wonderful job of designing cards in the color that really feel Green and are also very good to boot. Primeval Titan is probably not as good as its Black or White counterparts, but it’s VERY strong regardless. As many have already pointed out, you can search up any lands with his ability, and that in and of itself should sell you on this card. Then consider that he’s a 6/6 trampler that can ramp you into Emrakul in just a few turns and it’s not hard to see the role this card will play in the coming months. I fully expect a Turboland variant to be running this guy, as being able to fetch multiple Eldrazi Temples (or an Eye of Ugin) is simply far too good to pass up, not to mention that he’s a fine win condition just as he is. Did I mention that he also plays incredibly well with landfall triggers like that of Lotus Cobra and Avenger of Zendikar? Or that he can dump manlands into play? Or Tectonic Edges? Or, heck, Sejiri Steppes to give himself protection?

The more I consider the possibilities for this card, the more it becomes apparent that he’ll be very important to any ramp strategies in the next year or so, and that alone makes him probably the most likely of all the Titans to see competitive play. However, he’ll need some help, and Wizards has done a wonderful job of lending him a hand with this card:

Sorcery (C)
Search your library for up to two basic land cards, reveal those cards, and put one onto the battlefield tapped and the other in your hand. Then shuffle your library.

This card has been spoiled for a long, long time, but that doesn’t take much away from how insane it is. Kodama’s Reach was pretty good (and by “pretty good” I mean “possibly the best ramp spell ever”), and Cultivate is functionally identical. It’s almost a shame, too, since Harrow is such a good card, but Cultivate is simply better. I mean, sure, Harrow is better with landfall, but Cultivate is physical card advantage and it doesn’t make things awkward when it gets countered. Turboland does fairly well for itself right not in terms of ramping up lands, but Cultivate and Primeval Titan could easily take the deck in a whole new direction. M11 actually does a lot for Turboland as an archetype, because giving Green lots of powerful cards benefits that deck the most, since most often “powerful Green cards” mean “big creatures” or “mana ramp.”

For an example of what I mean, take a look at this:

Gaea’s Revenge
Creature — Elemental (M)
Gaea’s Revenge can’t be countered.
Gaea’s Revenge can’t be the target of nongreen spells or abilities from nongreen sources.

Now this card is Green! Once again, Wizards has captured everything Green is all about, and this is a perfect example. Being an 8/5 makes this card a lot weaker, of course, since Baneslayer Angel is just big enough to take it down in combat, but otherwise this guy seems reasonable. You can’t counter him, you can’t kill him with spot removal, and you can’t really do a whole lot about the 8 haste damage if all you’re holding is Maelstrom Pulse or Day of Judgment. Unlike most big Green fatties, though, he doesn’t have trample (and thus can be blocked all day by Elspeth tokens), but he’s still a pretty large monster. Again, I think his lack of trample will hurt him in terms of playability, and for 7 mana Avenger of Zendikar is just better, but this is the kind of card that isn’t totally outside the realm of “good enough.” It might be a decent card for Turboland, given that the deck takes a more threat-dense approach to its design in the future.

The other card I was thinking of for that archetype is Time Reversal:

Time Reversal
Sorcery (M)
Each player shuffles his or her hand and graveyard into his or her library, then draws seven cards. Exile Time Reversal.

This card has gotten plenty of time in the spotlight, but let’s be honest — it’s pretty okay. It’s certainly not as good as, say, Time Spiral, but it will definitely have its place. Probably good enough for Legacy, Time Reversal will probably see play in Turboland alongside Time Warp as a means to cheat the opponent out of doing much of anything. Turboland has enough mana to play both in the same turn, and so you will be able to benefit from the fresh hand before your opponent and hopefully make good use of it to cast something like Ulamog or Emrakul and just in the game. It gives the deck a much-needed source of real card advantage, and it will likely be a 2 or 3-of before too long.

Next week I’ll look at more from the spoiler, including my thoughts on the state of Blue (notice how I didn’t talk about Mana Leak at all). Stay tuned, and keep your eyes open!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO