Three Me’s

Take a look at some cards from Born of the Gods with Jim as he evaluates them as a Cube designer, a serious tournament player, and a connoisseur of fine design.

“Thank god! A good white two-drop that doesn’t cost WW!”

When spoiler season rolls around, everyone gets excited—but often in different ways. Because Magic can be so many things to so many people, each set features numerous cards that will excite many different types of players:

“Dude, what a busted Limited bomb!”

“Oh awesome, I can’t wait to put that in my Oros, the Avenger Commander deck!”

“Man, nothing to help my awful Mono-Black Devotion matchup. :(“

“Wow, finally a good card for my U/G section, and I can take out Temporal Spring!”

“Hey, this card combos with [insert obscure Legacy card here]!”

“I like pictures of dragons! What do all these words mean?”

Honestly? I’m no different. I tend to look at cards three different ways:

1. Cube Designer (Jimmy): Yep, this is often where I go first. As much as I love playing competitive Magic, I know cards will fall into their place and I will play them pretty much no matter what. While there may be cards that excite me, I get even more excited at being able to fill a hole in my Cube or support a new or underperforming strategy. Being able to view a card in the context of my Cube also can give me a good idea of the overall power level of a card in a vacuum without the confines of a certain format.

2. Serious Tournament Player (JimD): Of course very few cards actually get considered for the Cube, and the most important thing is for me to analyze how new cards are going to fit into whatever tournament format is currently most important for me. With my current focus being mostly on the StarCityGames.com Open Series, this means that Standard and Legacy are my highest priorities.

3. Connoisseur of Fine Design (James): For the most part, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to new cards. I’ve been playing for over ten years, and while the fantasy flavor of the game is cool, it really has little bearing on why I play. If Tarmogoyf were a wookie instead of, well, whatever the hell it is, it really wouldn’t affect my opinion of the game that much. However, Wizards has been doing a fantastic job with the flavor of the game in the past few years, and it’s hard not to be amused by cards like Ice Cage or Rescue from the Underworld.

Today we’re gonna look at some newly spoiled cards through these three lenses—it’s like getting three articles in one! I’ve named them to keep things simple.

Jimmy: This card is sweet! It’s pretty clear the power level of this card is very high, and the obvious comparison is Hero of Bladehold. While not quite as brutal as Hero, Brimaz is a great offensive threat that also can play great defense in racing situations. He holds Equipment well, fits the White Weenie/token theme in my Cube, and is a very easy card to get excited about. It’s not too often that we get cards that are slam-dunk inclusions in my Cube, but this seems like a pretty easy one.

JimD: Any card that’s going to be a slam-dunk inclusion in my Cube is also going to make a very significant impact on Constructed, and I think Brimaz has what it takes in Standard, Modern, and perhaps even an outside shot in Legacy. The biggest reason for this is mostly its body—for a three-drop, Brimaz is fairly difficult to kill. Most of the spot removal spells in the format are looking to deal either two or three damage or to kill creatures with three or less toughness (we will see some of these new removal spells later).

While Brimaz can be answered by Hero’s Downfall or Detention Sphere, neither of these are efficient answers since they maintain mana parity; both of those cards are usually used to answer permanents that cost more than themselves, which makes them still efficient at three mana. There’s also just the fact that many of the cards that kill Brimaz, like Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Mizzium Mortars, and Abrupt Decay, are not seeing a ton of play at the moment. It can also attack through many commonly played creatures and live to fight another day. Not to mention the fact it’s often going to be backed up by Spear of Heliod or Brave the Elements. This card is one of the most obvious good cards in the set.

James: Definitely a fun legend; my only real concern design-wise is when a card like this is just so powerful that it ends up getting played where it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Hero of Bladehold seems like the perfect topper for an army of creatures in an aggressive deck, but it was so good sometimes it was just used as a four-mana Grave Titan. I like that this card isn’t so bonkers powerful and can’t just end the game by itself in two turns. This card seems like Hero of Bladehold done right.

Glimpse of the Sun God




Tap X target creatures. Scry 1.

Jimmy: Am I lost in someone’s Limited set review?

JimD: While this card is not that important in the grand scheme of things, one thing that’s important to consider is that this is a pretty good heroic enabler, both in Limited and possibly in Constructed. You could definitely attack with your Favored Hoplite and Phalanx Leader and before blockers are declared cast this with X as four, tapping their two blockers, targeting your two guys, and getting to scry for one. Not every card is going to be a Brimaz, and understanding how to properly use midlevel cards like this in Block Constructed and Limited play is an excellent skill to possess.

James: I really like the design of cards like this. When Wizards can make a spell that seems reasonable on the surface but is actually an enabler for a major set mechanic in a non-obvious way, I think they’re doing a very good job. Back in the day they were much less subtle about this, which gave us gems like Catalyst Stone and Parallax Inhibitor.

Jimmy: Back when I was first designing the Cube, there was a major lack of good two-mana white creatures that didn’t cost WW. The Cube was packed with Soltari Monks and Hand of Honors, and it was just a disaster. I remember adding Blade of the Sixth Pride to the Cube and everyone rejoicing because they could cast their two-drop without being White Weenie. While we’ve done very well over the last few years with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Stoneforge Mystic; Imposing Sovereign; and so on, more are always welcome. This guy hits pretty hard, does a good job at slowing down some of the more powerful effects in Cube, and will be a welcome addition.

JimD: Standard however is another story. This card basically does one thing and one thing only in Standard: hose Sphinx’s Revelation control decks. There is really no other deck in the format that’s going to be drawing more than one card a turn. Mono-Black Devotion decks can simply use Underworld Connections on your turn, and many of the other card-advantage effects put the cards in your hand rather than draw them: Domri Rade; Jace, Architect of Thought; Garruk, Caller of Beasts; Chandra, Pyromaster; and so on. This makes Spirit of the Labyrinth essentially Blade of the Sixth Pride most of the time, which is not even close to Standard playable unless Sphinx’s Revelation sees a huge upsurge in popularity. The fact you can’t Last Breath it is also very relevant.

As far as other formats, this guy is likely going to do some work. In Legacy he can eat all sorts of Brainstorms, and on his best days he will get Aether Vialed in and do a Notion Thief impersonation. There might not be a ton of decks that want him, but he definitely has a job and does it well.

James: Why the hell is this card an enchantment?

Jimmy: Nah man, this ain’t my department.

JimD: Wow, these cards are awful.

James: These cards remind me of something . . .

Oh that’s right—they basically don’t even do anything! Like “lose first strike?” Is this some sort of sick joke? How many creatures actually even have first strike? Are we so concerned with winning the first strike subgame that we need to resort to removing our opponent’s creature’s ability to properly first strike us? Giving all of your guys first strike or flying is a reasonable ability, but this is a clear issue of making things far more complex then they need to be. Archetype of Imagination might as well read “all of your creatures are unblockable” and it would do the same thing 95% of the time. And why the hell are these creatures enchantments?

Jimmy: This card is cool, but Evacuation is going to be strictly better a huge majority of the time. We also have access to Damnation, Wrath of God, and Balance; this effect is simply not needed.

JimD: While not extremely powerful, this is definitely a card that could see play. Again, it’s much weaker than Evacuation would be, but if there is a control deck that does not have access to Supreme Verdict and needs a sweeper, this could do the job. This is of course assuming they don’t print some busted Krakens and Leviathans that would turn this into a very one-sided affair. One can only hope . . .

James: This is definitely what I was talking about when I mentioned Wizard’s newer design philosophy. From a gameplay perspective, the extra text on this card is almost flavor text, but it also is a fun way of giving the player an idea of what this card is all about. Much like how Baneslayer Angel really didn’t need to have protection from Demon and Dragons but it made it seem all the more impressive. This is definitely an amusing design.

Jimmy: While Last Gasp is a little below playability in my Cube, the ability to take down armies of tokens as well is definitely a good one. However, any two-mana card that costs two mana of a single color is going to be very difficult to cast in a timely fashion, and you really can’t afford to wait on your removal spell.

JimD: Again, the casting cost is really the only count against this card. As anyone who has played against Detention Sphere or Maelstrom Pulse before knows that the mere existence of a card like this is something that you must take into account before you start flooding the board with your triple Ash Zealot draw. The fact that it’s a black removal spell that can kill most early creatures and also deal with Nightveil Specter or a small Pack Rat army means this card is going to slot right in as the premium removal spell in Mono Black Devotion.

As we’ve said before, context is so important in determining what removal spell or creatures are playable, and this card fits like a glove. It’s possible this card could have Modern applications if there’s a deck that can cast it or if token effects gain popularity (perhaps with an unbanning of Bitterblossom?).

James: Pretty simple card with a basic mechanical design. I think the tension cards like this, Detention Sphere, and Maelstrom Pulse create is a really good one; it helps make players question always playing four of each card and how they should be sequencing their plays and judging risk assessment.

Jimmy: I’m pretty high on this card. While I try to keep the “paying life” effects to a minimum in black because of how poorly they stack on top of each other, this is really a very solid aggressive black creature. As Boon Satyr has shown us, bestow is a very powerful ability, and being able to take one of your ground guys to the sky for a killing blow is excellent upside on an already well-costed creature. This guy is definitely a consideration.

JimD: A card like this only really needs one thing: a home. It’s clear this card has enough power to make a mark on Standard. It’s evasive, is a fast clock, has two black symbols for devotion, and offers a ton of late-game value. While heroic is not really a huge deal in black yet, this is a very reasonable way to trigger it without going too far out of your way. I’m definitely calling this card out as a sleeper, and the only real question is what deck wants it.

James: Nothing too exciting about this one, just a somewhat obvious design merger of an aggressive black creature and bestow.

Jimmy: Searing Blaze, the obvious comparison, is not in my Cube. Again we see a double-color costed two-mana spell, and again we see the struggle in trying to cast it in anything but mono-red. I couldn’t imagine ever putting this in my Cube over Searing Blaze anyway.

JimD: This is definitely a card to keep an eye on, as Searing Blaze is a completely absurd Magic card. While it clearly has its downside in the late game, being able to Bolt their guy and them at the same time for only one card and two mana is a very easy two-mana two-for-one in an aggressive red deck. This card is much more consistent and mostly does the same thing and is going to be very contingent on (once again) the context of the creatures we’re trying to kill. The red deck in Standard is sorely lacking a one-mana removal spell, but this plus Lightning Strike gives it a really good push in a hyperaggressive direction. In any other format, Searing Blaze is available and almost always better.

James: Searing Blood, Searing Blaze, yeah . . . we get it. Very clever Wizards.

Jimmy: Honestly, the bar for multicolored cards is so high in my Cube that it’s extremely hard to overcome; this is especially true for some combinations like G/W and R/G. Devotion is also not a great mechanic for the Cube because as we’ve been saying all article cards that cost a bunch of colored mana symbols are hard to cast and few and far between because of it.

JimD: Standard is the place where everyone is talking about this guy, and I’m going to be completely honest—I don’t see it. I spoke about how awkward Purphoros, God of the Forge felt in the  Naya Devotion deck I played at the Invitational, and Xenagos, God of Revels just seems like more of the same. Costing five is so much more than four, and having your curve topper be a Fires of Yavimaya effect is really not exciting me very much. How many creatures are you actually even going to have left in your hand after you cast him and hardly affect the board at all? And even if you get a Xenagos, the Reveler going alongside himself, is your opponent really going to have trouble with one large non-evasive creature attacking every turn?

Like Purphoros, Xenagos, God of Revels just seems like a card that you are never really going to have a good time to cast when your opponent is interacting with you. If we really want to commit a card to the board that’s not going to directly affect the board, why don’t we just spend another mana and draw a ton of cards off of Garruk, Caller of Beasts? I really don’t think this card is anything more than fringe and borderline playable and am frankly rather surprised at the hype and high preorder price.

James: I think the lesser Gods are stupid. There, I said it. The five monocolored Gods are all pretty fun, powerful, and well balanced along with most importantly being iconic. They will be casual staples for a long time to come simply because they are so unique. Having ten more of them really takes away from this appeal, and frankly the whole “only a creature if your devotion is this high” is a very awkward mechanic to begin with. They also just don’t seem very good, and if they aren’t fun or interesting, what’s the point?

Jimmy: See above; this card is not even close to displacing any U/B card.

JimD: This card is somewhat interesting in Standard or Block because it actually has a fairly reasonable effect the turn it comes into play as an enchantment. Mill strategies in Standard are often two things: very popular with the more casual crowd and not very good. However, there is certainly no lack of the effect currently in Standard. Aside from Phenax, God of Deception, there are two fairly powerful planeswalkers in Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Jace, Memory Adept along with Glimpse the Unthinkable 2.0 in Breaking // Entering.

These cards are already pretty good against the slower strategies in the format, and there are also a number of high-toughness defensive creatures that could be put to use against the more aggressive decks. While I don’t necessarily think Phenax will set the world on fire, it’s certainly something to consider. This is also a deck that might enjoy casting Whelming Wave.

James: See Xenagos, God of Revels. Also, what do you think the Vegas line was on the U/B God having some sort of mill effect? Jeez Wizards, way to break the mold.

Jimmy: No thanks; see Celestial Colonnade, Tundra, Seachrome Coast, Hallowed Fountain, Flooded Strand, etc.

JimD: THANK GOD! F*** you Azorius Guildgate!!!

James: I think these could have been uncommon, but I like them. They gotta sell them some packs, am I right?

With about one-third of the set spoiled, we’ve seen some interesting cards but nothing too groundbreaking yet. There’s definitely some rich getting richer going on with Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion, but that’s to be expected the block fleshes out. All three of me are still very curious how far they’re going to take the inspired mechanic, and we will all be watching the spoiler closely all week.

What about you? What’s the thing that stands out the most to you when looking at new cards?