This is my favorite time of the year: the cusp of a new “large set” release and a major rotation in Standard. Decks are in flux, some dropping off into the harsh crucible of Extended, some changing with the times, and some brand new archetypes being born. If you could see me now I’m making rude and crude gestures to Umezawa’s Jitte and Heartbeat of Spring – don’t let the Standard doorknob hit ya where the good Wizards broke ya. I’m particularly thrilled about Jitte leaving; one of the elements of Magic I love the best are utility creatures, and Jitte mowed down small utility creatures like nobody’s business.
One thing I thought I’d do in the lead-up to the prerelease this weekend (and the release of the full spoiler online) is to go over the cards we know about so far from official sources, give you my thoughts on them and see what you all think about them in the forums.
Buyback 2WW (You may pay an additional 2WW as you play this spell. If you do, put this card into your hand as it resolves.)
Gain control of target creature of an opponent’s choice that he or she controls.
When Wizards gave this card to Alongi to preview, many people may have dismissed this as a card purely for casual gamers. There’s no denying it’s casual appeal, but – especially in the world of the Urzatron, Karoo lands and Signets – nine mana is not out of reach for a control deck. Buyback aside though, the base cost for Evangelize is perfectly set at five, which just so happens to be the turn after you’ve cast Wrath of God. One way creature decks play against Wrath is to apply just enough pressure to force the Wrath, and then follow the Wrath with something big and nasty that basically says “got another Wrath or no?” Evangelize is the perfect answer to that question, assuming they dropped just one large thing unaccompanied by a small dork. Smashing them with their own trump is bound to be satisfying for control decks.
The one big strike against Evangelize is the ubiquity of Faith’s Fetters, an excellent removal spell that obviously does not combo well with the new Sorcery. Opposing Vitu-Ghazi, the City Trees are also problematic.
I think the Magi cycle are quite cool; Wizards did a nice job of identifying classic artifacts that tapped, figuring out which color the ability suggested and then embodied them in creature form with the same casting cost, activation cost, and effect. As Flores pointed out in his preview, the “Diskman” ought to be hugely popular on the tournament scene with an incredibly potent effect and a toughness that gives him some durability. What blows my mind with this guy is his synergy with Loxodon Hierarch! Imagine a team of Green and White guys, including perhaps a Ohran Viper or two, and during your opponent’s end step you tap the Magus and respond by sacrificing your ‘Don to save your team while any pesky blockers get tossed into the graveyard (or even in worse-case scenario, forced to regenerate and be tapped). Not only do you set up a free attack (draw a card from your Viper, whoo-hoo!) but you also have your Diskman ready for another go if you need him. Add an Adarkar Valkyrie to the mix and you can even bring your ‘Don back for another life boost to do it all again. Random creature decks are going to be in for a long day at Champs.
Any veteran of the game nodded knowingly when they saw this card previewed on Wizards’ recent podcast. What’s the Reddest artifact ever? That artwork is pretty amazing too. The beauty of this Magus is how perfect it fits in with the recent Hellbent strategies of Rakdos, giving you a source of card advantage even when living off the top of your deck – assuming your Magus survives, of course! The trick is to make sure your deck can overload creature removal by playing plenty of other juicy targets – Dark Confidant immediately springs to mind…
Another perfectly captured classic throwback, this Magus suffers a bit from the fact that the original artifact – Mirror Universe – was hurt by the rule change where you could not go to zero life and then activate the Universe to kill your opponent. Paying six mana and keeping a two toughness creature alive while making sure your life is low enough to make the swap worthwhile is going to be a tough trick to pull off. Still, Black decks can make a reasonable go of it, trading life for cards (Dark Confidant, Phyrexian Arena, Phyrexian Etchings) to help enable the damage dealing potential while you get a fresh boost of life. Black’s hand destruction can help keep the Magus alive that critical turn or two. You know, the more I think about it, the less far-fetched it sounds… something like this:
Magus does something nice in a Dark Confidant deck – it lets you run more expensive spells without being too overly concerned about the hit you’re going to take from it, because you’re intending on passing that pain to your opponent anyway. The timing of Etchings is kinda nice, since you can let it go during your upkeep, take the life loss hit, and then go ahead and pop your Mirrorman.
Personally, I come down on the side of pretty awesome on this card. The trick is to think about what this card would normal cost without the drawback – 2WW for a slightly smaller Serra Angel, right? Without mana acceleration, you’d typically not be playing this until turn 4 anyway, so just imagine you’re getting a 50% mana discount. Heck, drop your Vulshok Morningstar the turn before, and you can go ahead and equip your Avenger the turn you play her! A more reasonable scenario might be being able to untap the Phyrexian Ironfoot you played the turn before.
Ancestral Vision is blue.
Suspend 4 – U (Rather than play this card from your hand, pay and remove it from the game with four time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)
Target player draws three cards.
The Suspend cards are quite interesting, and I imagine people’s upkeep steps are going to be quite a bit more interesting. One card’s stock that immediately goes up is Remand, which is going to be incredibly frustrating for those playing Suspend cards. One good way to combat that I think will likely be Rewind; you’d hate to fight a counter war during your upkeep and end up tapped down, unable to use the cards you draw from Ancestral Vision. Also, check out the recent Time Spiral rules primer and look up the rules change on no-mana cards. Note, “A card with no mana cost has converted mana cost 0.” Now, I may be wrong, but I think Recoup gives this a flashback cost of zero… (Yeah, I know I’m mainly focusing on Standard, but still…)
This card seems like the perfect finisher for a counter-heavy control deck, since you invest your mana early and then spend the rest of your mana drawing cards and taking control. When the Kraken hits you should have a full grip and plenty of mana available to protect your finisher.
Enchantment – Aura
At the beginning of enchanted player’s first upkeep each turn, that player gets an additional upkeep after this step.
This is definitely an interesting card, seemingly pretty damn narrow but the more you think about it the more options crop up. In a deck with a good number of Suspend cards, this is a potent enabler, halving the time it takes to play the spell. A quick search in Gatherer for Standard cards with the key word “upkeep” yields nuggets of ideas. Double duty from Dark Confidant, Bottled Cloister and Phyrexian Arena. Mo’ mana from Braid of Fire and mo’ critters from Hibernation’s End. Ratchet up the size of your Necroplasm, possibly slipping past the suicide count of three counters. Get more fire out of your Form of the Dragon.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
Flash (You may play this spell any time you could play an instant.)
Creature cards you own that aren’t in play have Flash.
Each opponent can play spells only any time he or she could play a sorcery.
I love creature decks, and I’m going to love playing this fellow as a hoser to counterspell decks. What a frickin’ nightmare for ‘em! Teferi incidentally also makes creature enhancers – most notably Moldervine Cloak – better, because you can enchant the creature and swing, and your opponent won’t be able to use creature removal on it until his turn.
Creature – Shapeshifter
As Vesuvan Shapeshifter comes into play or is turned face up, you may choose another creature in play. If you do, until Vesuvan Shapeshifter is turned face down, it becomes a copy of that creature and gains "At the beginning of your upkeep, you may turn this creature face down."
The really nice thing to remember here is that you can copy creatures that cannot be targeted. I’ve got an Adarkar Valkyrie deck I’ve been working on for Champs, and I recently fell in love with the possibilities of this Shapeshifter. Simic Sky Swallower got you down? When he attacks, tap your Valkyrie and target your face-down Shapeshifter, morph him so he then becomes an SSS, block, and when they both die your Shapeshifter comes back into play (hmm… maybe as another Valkyrie). Another thing to keep in mind is copying a creature with Graft when you first play the Shapeshifter; the +1/+1 counters will stick with him no matter what different shapes he takes on. Finally, the Orb of Insight gives us 18 hits on the word “Morph” so there are bound to be some excellent Morph critters you’d want to be able to use over and over again.
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
Whenever you play a creature spell, put X 1/1 black Thrull creature tokens into play, where X is that spells converted mana cost.
When you control seven or more Thrulls, sacrifice Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder.
What a fantastic realization of this character’s flavor from cards past – once he makes too many Thrulls, he gets “executed!” While he’s quite fragile for a five-mana creature, he can really crank out the Thrulls, and if you’ve got a way to control the number of them in play (I’m thinking Nantuko Husk and Plagued Rusalka), then you can use him over and over again so long as you don’t cast a creature with a converted mana cost of seven. Add Teysa to the mix and you’ve got a ton of token creature madness going on.
Living End is Black.
Suspend 3 – 2BB
Each player removes all creature cards in his or her graveyard from the game, then sacrifices all creatures he or she controls, then puts into play all cards he or she removed in this way.
You’re going to hate to spend your fourth turn setting up a card that won’t be firing off until turn seven, but think about how having this card ticking down in Suspend land will affect your opponent if he’s playing beatdown – it’s highly doubtful he’ll be committing more creatures to the board in that time. Still, Living End doesn’t fit too snugly with Black’s themes of hand destruction and creature removal unless you’re doing something radical like running maindeck Leyline of the Void. Another possibility is running this out there as an insurance policy against mass creature removal if you’re running an aggressive B/x deck (I’m looking at you, Mr. Nantuko Husk). Of course, there’s also the obvious Reanimator-type strategy where you prime the graveyard with huge creatures like Angel of Despair or Simic Sky Swallower, and you can always use Dredge to stock your graveyard full of creatures to just flat out overrun your opponent. Lastly, see the comment above (Ancestral Vision) about spells with no mana cost – Recoup for a really cheap Living Death!
Creature – Vampire
1B, Remove Sengir Nosferatu from the game: Put a 1/2 black Bat creature token with flying into play. It has "1B, Sacrifice this creature: Return to play under its owner’s control a card named Sengir Nosferatu that’s removed from the game."
Whenever I read this card I think of that Bugs Bunny skit where Bugs is staying at this creepy Transylvania-esque castle with a host who is obviously vampiric and wants to eat him some Hasenfeffer. But Bugs keeps saying “Abracadabra” and other magic words that keep transforming the vamp into a bat at inopportune times. Presumably this fellow’s ability is meant to dodge targeted creature removal with enough mana at hand. It also let’s you spend 2BB to “untap” him if that’s handy for blocking. If you happen to be splashing for Glare of Subdual, each 1B you spend can allow you to tap down another creature.
Creature – Demon
Shadow (This creature can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
BB: Creatures with shadow get +1/+0 until end of turn and creatures without shadow get -1/-0 until end of turn.
He has Shadowbreathing! This fellow is an obvious candidate for finisher in slots previously used to using the amazing Kokusho, the Evening Star, but having Shadow means he won’t be playing defense the turn you cast him. This definitely hurts if you on the wrong side of the Who’s the Beatdown equation. Once you untap, however, he’s going to end the game quickly, and in the meantime you’ll have enough mana to give all of your opponent’s creatures –3/-0, which should buy you time enough to race – especially if your final attack is for an extra +3/+0 or +4/+0.
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Legendary Creature – Human Spellshaper
R,Tap, Discard a card: Destroy target blue permanent.
1R,Tap, Discard a card: Jaya Ballard, Task Mage deals 3 damage to target creature or player. A creature dealt damage this way can’t be regenerated this turn.
5RR,Tap, Discard a card: Jaya Ballard deals 6 damage to each creature and each player.
Another card that’s a perfectly realized manifestation of her flavor text appearances, and pretty hot artwork ta boot! Jaya’s spellshaper ability means that any extra copies can just be shaped into spells, so forget about the Legendary rule and run four. I heard some rumors of pairing her first ability up with Govern the Guildless, which is pretty nifty I suppose, but I think Jaya’s a badass all on her own even if she’s “just” slinging Incinerates and Infernos around. One thing to keep in mind, according to the Orb of Insight, is that Madness is coming back, and a Spellshaper is a perfect Madness enabler. She’s also a great compliment to reanimation strategies, pitching fatties into the graveyard while holding down the fort with Incinerates.
It’s awesome that Time Spiral brings Slivers back, but Sedge Sliver is a quality creature in its own right, fitting right into a Black/Red deck perfectly whether or not you run any other Slivers. Sliver abilities that “stack” are particularly nice, so get two copies in play and you’ve got two 4/4 regenerators that are going to be a real problem for your opponent.
Split Second (As long as this spell is on the stack, players can’t play spells or activated abilities that aren’t mana abilities.)
Sudden Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Between Split Second and Flash, players who like to hide between a fist full of counterspells are going to have a tough time of it, and I’m definitely loving it! The beauty of this ability is that it takes away your opponent’s ability to respond – no regeneration shield, no sacrificing a creature to pump up Nantuko Husk, no pitching a card to Jaya for one last Incinerate, no Remand. When you absolutely, positively have to get two damage in and resolved; now you have a way.
Wheel of Fate
Wheel of Fate is red.
Suspend 4 – 1R (Rather than play this card from your hand, pay 1R and remove it from the game with four time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)
Each player discards his or her hand, then draws seven cards.
Now, I know I’m particularly sensitive to synergies with Dredge, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the parallels of this card and Tolarian Winds in Friggorid. Can Wheel of Fate turbocharge a Dredge/graveyard deck in Standard? Yeah, I’m working on it and will let you know what I find, but Dredge aside, this card has an interesting advantage to the original Wheel of Fortune – the turn you get a new hand, you’ll have full access to your mana since you paid for it with Suspend. When I talked about Rewind being a nice way of protecting Ancestral Vision, it goes doubly here. Wheel of Fate is a great way to restock your hand in a bounce-themed deck chock full of Boomerang type effects. In fact, having a Wheel of Fate fire off when your opponent has seven cards in hand, one or two cards in play and having already been forced to discard a few cards could prompt a disgusted concession. Oh, and another really good card to Recoup!
Ith, High Arcanist
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
Tap: Untap target attacking creature. Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to and dealt by that creature this turn.
Suspend 4 – WU
Ith’s Vigilance ability is an interesting one, letting him get in on an attack with other creatures when you’ve only got one chump blocker that you’re particularly worried about. Ith also presents some interesting tension between his Suspend ability, which you’ll want to play in the early game so you’ll want to play 3-4 copies, and his Legendary status, which means extra copies you draw might be dead draws. Luckily, there are other uses for extra copies, whether it’s fuel for Martyrs, Spellshapers, or pitch spells like Commandeer.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy
Legendary Creature – Human Artificer
Whenever you play an artifact spell, you may search your graveyard, hand, and/or library for a card with the same name as that spell and put it into play. If you search your library this way, shuffle it.
I’ve got a Mishra deck I want to test for Champs that utilizes Mishra’s Baubles and Booby Traps, and while it sounds kinda janky it actually might have some potential. The Baubles are nice cards anyway, effectively shrinking your deck, but also letting you set up your Booby Trap with perfect knowledge (assuming it’s not a land on top of your opponent’s deck). With a Mishra out, one Booby Trap equals two Booby Traps, and that’s twenty points of damage, folks. The one small flaw in the plan is that Wizards has recently made some tournament caliber lifegain (Loxodon Hierarch, Faith’s Fetters, Martyr of Sands), so twenty damage might not be enough.
Suspend 3 – 0 (Rather than play this card from your hand, pay 0 and remove it from the game with three time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)
Tap, Sacrifice Lotus Bloom: Add three mana of any one color to your mana pool.
I’ve seen some efforts to use this card in combo decks, particularly in conjunction with some of the Storm cards rumored to be in the set. Personally, I think it’s too unreliable to bank on this coming into play the turn you want to go off with your Storm deck. I suspect Lotus Bloom will shine more in Rakdos-themed deck since it will never clutter your hand if you don’t want it to, especially decks that benefit some from Hellbent cards, such as fueling a huge, uncounterable Demonfire.
If Gemstone Caverns is in your opening hand and you’re not playing first, you may begin the game with Gemstone Caverns in play with a luck counter on it. If you do, remove a card in your hand from the game.
Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool. If Gemstone Caverns has a luck counter on it, instead add one mana of any color to your mana pool.
I’m not really sure how much I like this card, though I suppose running a single copy wouldn’t be a terrible idea in many decks. A buddy of mine is convinced this card will be awesome in an aggro deck, potentially giving you a big mana jump on your assault. Might be a nice complement to Magus of the Scroll. One last thing – I imagine the counter will more often be called a “luck-sack” counter.
That’s what we have so far! For the prerelease, I’ll be helping Pete again this weekend, but instead of just my traditional Saturday only, I’ll also be working Sunday too! If you’re in the area, StarCityGames throws a helluva good prerelease, so I hope to see you there. Come by the registration desk and say hello.