I peeked into our Tournament Organizer’s back room last night. He had cases of stuff labeled”CoK Booster.” Nope – he’s not selling”male enhancement” online – it’s the prerelease product. However, our TO plays by the rules, so we won’t be opening those boxes for a couple days. All I can say about the actual product is that it is being shipped in the standard Wizards cardboard boxes. Those boxes look just the same as the last set’s boxes. Only the name changed. Nothing to see here. Move along…
Of course, I can also work off the MTGNews spoiler, which is pretty close to complete. It may also be accurate, but as with all spoilers, there may be some errors. For example, here the text of one card, as it appears in the spoiler at this minute.
Order of the Sacred Bell – 3G
Creature – Human Monk
You Are Surprised And Killed By A Manticore! It Quickly Shreds Your Flesh And Devours You!
Somehow, I don’t think that’s accurate. If it kills you – meaning you lose the game when you play it – then it is clearly one of those”skill testers” Randy Buehler likes to write about. It’s truly depressing how bad cards have to be to test our skills. If, on the other hand, it kills your opponent, then the card is undercosted or missing a disadvantage. It should probably come into play tapped.
Now I know everyone and their brother will do a card by card set analysis – and I know that Knut is overjoyed at the thought of editing them all [I’m trying to keep my dinner down right now just thinking about it. – Knut] – but I am just going to talk about a few cards and a couple mechanics. My focus is primarily casual play, but I’ll include a few thoughts on serious formats.
First, I’ll make the obligatory comments on Draft and Limited. The set looks like it’s more aimed at these formats. It has a lot of creatures with combat related abilities, lots of combat tricks, and the new Legends rule* makes Legends a lot more playable. This is not too surprising – we came off a block built around combo and Constructed play (although the Affinity mechanic proved excessive), so a more Limited-focused block was predictable. This isn’t Masques block II, however: Masques was all about horrible creatures with big price tags. CoK has some amazing 5/5s for bargain prices.
The other change in Limited is that we will all have to start paying attention to colors and signals again. The cards in this set are colored – and many playables require two or more colored mana. Moreover, only Green has any mana fixers. The days of 15-16 land and splashing three colors with off color Myr and Wayfarer’s Bauble are definitely over. Welcome back to the real world.
The splice mechanic looks interesting, but is very definitely block only. When you play arcane spells, Splice lets you reveal a”splice” card, then – in effect – add the text of that splice card to the arcane spell. For example, Glacial Ray is a 1R, Arcane Shock with splice. If you had two Glacial Rays in hand, you could cast one Glacial Ray and splice the second onto it. The spliced one stays in your hand. It is an interesting mechanic, but so far splice only allows you to splice cards onto Arcane spells, and Arcane is a subtype of instants and sorceries only present in this block. Unless Wizards erratas previous instants and sorceries to have these subtypes, the mechanic is pretty limited to block decks. None of the cards I have seen so far are so useful that you would play them in decks without lots of Arcane cards to splice them too.
The block has a number of new mechanics (like that’s news.) One mechanic is a cycle of”Deceivers.” These creatures are relatively cheap and have two abilities. One allows you to look at the top card of your library. The second allows you to reveal that card, and, if it is a land, do something. The abilities are nothing amazing, but the ability to look at the top card in your library is often nice. It combos well with certain cards. It makes Vexing Arcanis a Jayemdae Tome. It lets you know when to activate Call of the Wild. It is not, however, a combo with Booby Trap – unless you are suicidal. (You can only look at the top card of your library.)
A second mechanic is a cycle of Shrines. All of these are Legendary, so you cannot have multiples of a single type in play. However, many of them are useful, and all get their effect times the number of Shrines you control. White gives two life per Shrine on upkeep. Blue draws cards. Red deals damage. Black forces opponents to discard. Green gives you 1/1s. They are a touch expensive, but the Blue and White ones combine nicely. The White one could also fit into a lifegain deck, together with the Well of Lost Dreams to draw cards when you gain life. Living until you get to that point might be difficult, but if you can, it should be good.
Blue includes a new tutor (Gifts Ungiven) that lets you search for four different cards, then an opponent chooses two which get discarded, and you get the other two. Imagine having mana midgame, then searching for a Pulse of the Fields, Well of Lost Dreams, and the Blue and White Shrines. Your opponent had better win quickly, because, if not, you should get control shortly.
The set includes a cycle of really big Spirits that, if played from your hand, have a”divinity” counter. As long as they have the counter, they are indestructible. You can remove the counter and cause a really big effect (e.g. destroy all other creatures, all opponents discard their hands, etc.) The downside is that the creatures are all very expensive. However, I think I might try the White spirit in place of Akroma in my White control multiplayer deck.
The Black one, which causes all players to discard their hands, could be cool in a deck with Geth’s Grimoire – or Megrim. The only trick is getting the creature in play – it is not cheap. However, Black does have some mana acceleration – like Dark Ritual and Cabal Coffers. It’s worth a try. You could even play the Black Myojin, then, on your next turn, Prosperity for a ton, let that resolve, then force the discard. With even one Megrim, that should clear the table.
Another cycle, this one of two-mana 1/2 creatures that have special leaves play abilities. These abilities count the number of Zubera, of any type, that have gone to a graveyard from play that turn. The White one, for instance, reads:
Silent-Chant Zubera – 1W
Creature – Zubera Spirit
When ~this~ is put into a graveyard from play, you gain 2 life for each Zubera put into a graveyard from play this turn.
When this creature dies, you will at least gain two life. You gain more if other Zuberas have also headed for the graveyard. The other Zuberas have other abilities, also cumulative, including drawing cards, discard, damage to creature or player and creating 1/1 tokens. (The colors should be obvious.)
The first thought people have is to play a bunch of Zubera, then play Wrath of God. That could work – say you had two White, one Blue and one Black Zubera in play, then the Wrath would cause all of them to trigger – and each sees all the others going to the graveyard. That means that you would gain sixteen life, draw four cards and your opponent would discard four cards. However, that is way too unlikely a combo – and it only happens once. You need a more permanent method of killing Zubera, like Goblin Bombardment (1R, enchantment, sacrifice a creature: ping something.) Then you need a method of bringing the Zubera back. Coffin Queen works, but only for one per turn. Patriarch’s Bidding is better – but it only works once. Patriarch’s Bidding imprinted on Panoptic Mirror is even better – but that still only works on your own turn. However, there is one truly broken multiplayer card that would work perfectly with sacrificing Zubera.
If you have Lifeline, use Altar of Dementia as your method of sacrifice. It is a lot slower than something like Goblin Bombardment – but if you set this up, you want to savor it. Then add Conspiracy to make everything in your deck a Zubera. You want to play White for Leonin Abunas (to protect the Lifeline and the Conspiracy) and Enlightened Tutor (to find the pieces). For creatures, Zubera, Gravedigger (to get dead creatures), Sengir Autocrat (counts as four Zubera with Conspiracy in play) and so forth.
That deck should be amazingly annoying. It would be pretty funny (okay, just for your team) to play this in the emperor spot.
[In the finals of the Team Sealed event at our prerelease, Justin LaRose wrecked me by playing two Zubera in a turn and then sacrificing them to the spirit that lets you search your opponent’s hand and choose a card for them to discard. Two Zubera + two activations meant my Dragon, two Cursed Ronin, and another excellent beater all went to the graveyard in one turn, earning Justin and his team a victory. It was quite savage. – Knut]
The Two-Colored Lands
As is typical in recent main sets, Champions includes a set of multicolored lands. In this case, they are allied color lands that tap for colorless mana, or tap for colored mana, but don’t untap during your next upkeep. Tempest block had these previously in opposing colors, and Ice Age had them in allied colors. However, these are not reprints – they have new names. These types of lands – called depletion lands because they once used”depletion” counters – are very slow, and only playable if you have nothing better. On the plus side, they are uncommon, so newer players won’t have to struggle to get them – and they are all the block has so far.
The Rat Deck
We almost have a Rat deck already, with Chittering Rats, Ravenous Rats, and Relentless Rats. The new set gives us three more worth adding to the deck. Marrow Gnawer is a fat rat, with a high casting cost (3BB), but he gives all other rats Fear. He also increase the size of the rat horde over time. More importantly, Nezumi Cutthroat is a 2/1 fear dude for 1B – which means that a rat deck could develop some speed. Nezumi Graverobber is listed as a 2/1 for 1B. Nezumi Graverobber is also a”flip” card. He has an activated ability that eats cards from a graveyard. When he eats the last card in an opponent’s graveyard, he becomes a 4/2 that can animate creatures from any graveyard. [He’s positively gassy in Limited. – Knut] Finally, Nezumi Shortfang is a replacement for Cabal Interrogator – it is a 1/1 for 1B that can force an opponent to discard for 1B and tap. Shortfang is also a”flip” card – once an opponent’s hand is empty, it becomes a 3/3 that works like The Rack, dealing damage if a player has fewer than three cards in hand.
I haven’t seriously tested the deck yet, but if the spoiler is correct, Rat decks may be playable in the new Standard and in casual play. Reusable discard and speed should help beat control, and Ravager Affinity has some new hate to face. The Type Two deck would still have the power cards that made mono-Black passable in Mirrodin Block: Death Cloud, Echoing Decay and Terror. It’s worth a try, but only testing will tell.
Samurai of the Pale Curtain is a 2/2 for WW, with the ability that any permanent that would be put into a graveyard (apparently from anywhere) is removed from the game instead. This could have some use against Reanimator decks and the like. Unfortunately, nothing searches specifically for Foxes or Samurai, but Worldly Tutor, Eladamri’s Call and Citanul Flute all work. It may have a place in some 5 Color decks as a hoser (although WW is rough.) It may also see some play in Extended White Weenie (if there is such a thing) as a sideboard against Reanimator. Maybe.
Isamaru, Hound of Konda is a 2/2 White creature for W. Wizards is still trying to make a White Weenie deck. It that is your thing, this is about as good as it gets.
White weenie has to consider a new Propaganda – now in White – called Ghostly Prison. White Weenie can play this for protection, but may have to sideboard enchantment kill, because opposing White decks will also have this. [Or they could just play Kami of the Ancient Law. – Knut] Propaganda has always been a bane to fast beatdown decks that rely on a lot of creatures, however, it is nicer to have this effect in White than Blue. That said, it is probably a good idea to have sideboard enchantment kill in any beatdown deck. That could be tricky for the Rats deck.
Yoshi, the Morning Star is a legendary 5/5 White dragon for 4WW. If it is put into a graveyard from play, it’s basically a super Blinding Beam. This is clearly a bomb in Limited (assuming you aren’t already dead to the fearful rats deck), but I’m not sure how useful it is in serious Constructed. In more casual decks, this could be an interesting reanimation target – or amazing in a Zirilan of the Claw/Rashida Scalebane deck.
Azami, Lady of Scrolls, is listed in the spoiler as a 0/2 for 2UUU, with the ability to tap wizards to draw cards. Maybe this is the card that made Wizards broken in the old Future-Future league – but it looks really expensive, vulnerable and color intensive for what is – basically, a one-sided Howling Mine. It could be better than it looks, but there are very few Wizards in the set. In casual play, in a Wizards deck, it might be okay. Not insane, but okay.
Blue also get some card drawing. Inspiration (draw 2 cards) is now a Sorcery for 2U. Petals of Insight is a sorcery for 4U that reads: look at the top 3 cards of your library. You may put those cards on the bottom of your library in any order. If you do, return Petals of Insight to owners hand. Otherwise, draw 3 cards. Gifts Ungiven, however, is the amazing card I mentioned earlier. It is basically Fact or Fiction as a tutor. You search for the four cards, and an opponent chooses two to put in a graveyard. Best of all, according to the spoiler, it is an instant. Wow. This will get banned in 5 Color pretty quickly: Imagine having to split Time Walk, Burning Wish, Recoup and Contract from Below.
Blue also gets three counters, including a glorified Memory Lapse (Hinder), Prohibit’s bigger brother (Thoughtbind), and a situational counterspell (Hisoki’s Touch) that should be great in Block, but suck outside it.
The blue Myojin is a 3/3 for 7UUU (yes, ten mana) and it doesn’t even fly. How sad is that? Blue also has some interesting cards, but they are really expensive. For example, there is Reweave, a Polymorph effect – which kills a creature then finds a replacement by revealing cards from the owner’s library. Unfortunately, it costs 5U. It splices for a bit less, but not enough.
Blue does have some interesting tricks. For example, here’s Sift through Sands:”1UU, Instant – Arcane, Draw two cards, then discard a card. If you played a card named Peer Through Depths and a card named Reach Through Mists this turn, you may search your library for a card named The Unspeakable, put it into play, and then shuffle your library.” To play all three cards costs 3UUU, and the creature it gets is a 6/7 flying trampler. It might almost work, and since all the cards are instants, you could do it on your opponent’s end step.
Finally, Blue gets Time Stop – an high priced instant that ends the turn. My first thought is that this is the absolute worst card to imprint on Panoptic Mirror in existence. Beyond that, it is a method of countering Obliterate – and will be the topic for lots of discussions of interest only to judges. I won’t inflict those on you.
Moving on to Black, the cards get a bit more interesting, but so many feel like slightly worse versions of marginal cards from sets past. Bloodthirsty Ogre, for example, feels like a Bounty Hunter – but the third rate bounty hunters that get gunned down en masse in the opening credits of spaghetti westerns. Cranial Extraction is a better version of Extract, but is really only good against combo or control decks (or Tooth and Nail – to get that card.) Against combo, where it could eliminate critical pieces, it seems way too slow. Against control, it could remove the few win conditions, but how would your resolve a four-mana sorcery? Moving on, Distress is Duress – but at twice the cost. Sure it hits creatures, but so what? It doesn’t slip under Condescend like Duress. Still, if it’s all we have, we’ll probably take it.
Horobi, Death’s Wail looks like an interesting twist on Cowardice. Whenever a creature is the target of a spell or ability, destroy it. Too bad Horobi is a creature that you need to protect – and no, Lightning Greaves is not the answer. However, I don’t see anything that targets widely and often enough to make this useful in block. In casual, Death Pits of Rath and Noxious Field is a better combo.
Iname, Death Aspect is a 4/4 for 4BB that lets you search for any number of spirit cards and put them into your graveyard. Since the Zubera are all Spirits, you could include them in a Patriarch’s Bidding / Zubera deck. You could also include this creature in a Living Death type deck. Just play other Spirits, such as Sibilant Spirit. The only down side is that Spirit of the Night is not a Spirit, for some reason. It was just a Legend, but is now a Legendary Creature with no creature type thanks to the new”Legends rule.”
Night Dealings is one of the few interesting non-creature cards in Black. It is basically an expensive tutor enchantment. However, it only works when you are already dealing damage. This makes it useless for beatdown decks that cannot afford the up-front cost of 4BBBB to get the first extra card. It is also problematic for combo decks, since they may not be able to deal damage before getting the combo. It is a tutor – but it seems seriously overcosted.
Looking at the set more and more, it really does resemble Masques. It is almost all creatures and combat tricks. There is almost nothing that calls for interesting interactions – but I still have more to wade through. I will mention, however, that the Fear creatures make black look very strong for Draft and Limited. It may not quite be another Urza’s Saga – the rule is draft Black – but it looks a bit that way. Better Limited players than I am will have to determine that. As for Constructed – White may hate Black enough to be lethal. Purge and Ghostly Prison is an ugly combination.
On to Red – and once again the spoiled cards are nearly all creatures or combat tricks. The reprinted Lightning Bolt (Lava Spike) is not that exciting – it’s just a lower priced mini-Lava Axe. Mindblaze is slightly more interesting (5R: choose number and name a card. Target player reveals library and takes 8 if there are exactly that number of that card.) The annoyance factor would almost make that attractive in 5 Color (reveal your library!) – but you can do better in 5 Color spending six mana on a sorcery – or a couple sorceries. Time Walk, Recoup, Contract is always good.
Soulblast is quite a card. For a measly 3RRR, you fling every creature you have at an opponent. That is quite a finisher. What is even better, in a multiplayer game, you could Radiate it. Expensive, but it could end the game with a bang. On the down side – is this the Volcanic Wind (Volcanic Win) of this block?
In every block, Goblins gets something that will haunt wider formats. In this block, it may be Zozi the Punisher – the goblin version of Ankh of Mishra. Type One Red speed decks were already playing Ankh a year ago, and Extended goblin decks should snap this guy right up. Just what the format needs – something to make fast Red decks better. Why, exactly, did this guy have to be a Goblin?
I’m not a dedicated Red player, so I don’t see anything that exciting here, except two rares. The Red legendary 4/4 (Kumanon, Master Yamabushi) that can deal reusable damage is not quite Arc-Slogger, but it is close. Ryusei, the Fallen Star is a great dragon, with a leaves play ability on a par with Crater Hellion. Both will be solid in Limited and casual.
Finally, on to Green. Green gets a lot of mana fixers. Komada’s Reach, which puts one land into play and one land into your hand, is on a par with Rampant Growth and may be playable in 5 Color and elsewhere. Green also gets its typical mix of creatures, ranging from skill testers to pretty nice.
Two Green cards stand out, especially in Extended and casual.
Glimpse of Nature (G, Sorcery, Whenever you play a creature card this turn, draw a card.) is going to be insane in elf decks and similar weenie decks running Gaea’s Cradle. I don’t know whether Type Two Affinity can go Green to include it, but I will certainly try it in mono-Green beats. It could also be insane in Aluren decks – the only question is whether the deck would deck itself. In Type Two mono-Green beatdown, Glimpse of Nature could combine with Azusa, the monk that lets you play additional lands each turn. I know that Azusa was designed to combo with the cards that return lands for special effects, but I think Rude Awakening might be a more powerful combo.
The second card I expect to play around with is Time of Need – a sorcery for 1G that searches for a Legendary creature. Rofellos seems to be a likely choice early, and something like Memnarch or Silvos late. In Type Two, it could get Azusa, although playing a tutor like that dilutes the deck a bit: it wants to have lots of cheap creatures.
Green also gets two enchantments that affect lands and mana. Mana Flare is now Green – which might fit the color wheel, but I’m not sure what I would do with it that I’m not already doing with Mana Flare. The second untaps all your lands when a creature deals combat damage to an opponent. This could be a fragile combo with something that provides extra combat phases, or a lot of haste creatures, but it is generally not all that good. You don’t really want to tap out before combat, because untapped lands let you at least bluff combat tricks, so a post-combat untap is not going to be that amazing.
Next, the artifacts. These are a little more interesting, but just slightly.
General’s Kabuto is a pretty good way of preserving an important creature. It could protect a Royal Assassin pretty well – or a Peacekeeper. Kondo’s Banner, on the other hand, is equipment for an attacking army. If such a thing is possible, it might make White Weenie playable. Moonring Mirror looks like interesting card drawing – it could actually be playable. Sort of. In a Zur’s Weirding-type deck.
The main mechanic that looks worth testing a lot seems to be splice, and the one artifact that looks to be really broken – if anything can be called that – is the artifact (Long-Forgotten Gohei) that makes Arcane spells cheaper and gives all spirits +1/+1.
I know I keep talking about resemblances to Masques block – but isn’t Junkyo Bell the new equivalent to Puffer Extract? Sort of? Jade Idol isn’t exactly Chimeric Idol, but it’s close. The block looks a bit dull from my perspective – but remember that I love building casual combo decks.
When I wrote this, the spoiler wasn’t quite completed, but I don’t see anything that isn’t creature or combat related. There is certainly nothing to assist any of the combo decks from the last block, and nothing Affinity wants. Even the counterspells are particularly narrow. There are no Wrath effects, aside from the rally expensive White Legend. There are no strange, tricky effects like Teferi’s Puzzlebox or Transcendence. (Okay, maybe the artifacts that set cards aside are like Puzzlebox.) Doublestrike has taken a vacation. [It’s on a flip card. – Knut] There are no life for cards enchantments (e.g. Necro or even Greed), and few non-land mana sources. I don’t even see the skills testers like Quicksilver Fountain. The only rules breaker simply ends the turn.
End of discussion.
Looking forward to states, Goblins is gone. Affinity is not – but the set includes a new anti-Affinity card that is basically Winter Orb for artifacts. It costs three. I don’t know that it is enough. Affinity decks running Somber Hoverguard, Atog, and Cranial Plating don’t really care that their artifacts are untapping slowly. They can untap one artifact land per turn, plus Glimmervoid and Blinkmoth Nexus – or untap Aether Vial. Even adding the new Propaganda, if that rumor is true, merely forces the Affinity deck to wait until it gets Hoverguard and Plating or Ravager and Disciples. I think Affinity is still tier one. After all, Damping Matrix is a three-mana artifact – and it wasn’t enough to stop Affinity in block.
Big Red is still around and doesn’t lose much. I’m not sure how much it gains – the main suspects are substitutes for the existing cards (the new legendary Arc-Slogger, Glacial Ray vs. existing burn spells, etc.) Look for a Red mage to answer that. However, I think the Ponza version of the Big Red decks might find a place for Zozi the Punisher. An Ankh that beats seems like a good addition. In the bizarre world I occupy, I am also considering combining the land that gives creatures Haste (Hall of the Bandit Lord) with Cosmic Lava. Better Ball Lightning, Baby!
U/G decks keep most of their pieces and gain a couple possibilities. Hinder is a better counterspell than Vex, although the double Blue could be a problem. However, like the March of Machines/Obliterate decks, U/G or U/w control decks will be the last to develop. You cannot build control until you build the stuff that has to be controlled. Moreover, control decks will have to deal with Boseiju, Who Shelters All, the land that makes spells uncounterable.
One other consideration – several old combo decks died to Affinity and Goblins. Now that Goblins is gone, I will revisit some of those other decks. Next time.
The prerelease is less than two days away, as I finish this. I should have the cards in hand in my hands in a couple dozen hours – and an hour after that I’ll probably realize what I should have said. I’ll make some of the corrections in the forums.
* For those of you that haven’t heard, the new rule makes”Legendary” a supertype, and”Legend” as a creature type no longer exists. (Supertypes are things like”basic” in”basic” lands.) This means that things like Unnatural Selection (that change type – not supertype) cannot add or subtract Legendary status. The other change is that when two Legendary creatures are in play at the same time, they both die. Not just the one most recent played – both of them. It makes Legends both creatures (if there is no copy in play) and removal (if there is.)