M14 has finally been fully spoiled and I'm very happy with how the set looks. There are no dumb permanents like Omniscience to Show and Tell into play, no utterly ridiculous creatures or spells that hurt the game simply by existing (once again, like Omniscience) and a lot of promising, open-ended cards that all seem to have a reasonable power level but might turn into something beautiful. I really only have two minor gripes with the set: the Sliver change – where I'm unhappy with the special Sliver flavor being lost to the “you control” obsession – and that neither M14 nor Modern Masters actually raised supply for Thoughtseize, one of the biggest utility disruption cards in both Modern and Legacy. Here's hoping for Theros block, though.
Unlike a lot of recent sets, M14 has very few constructed cards that have exactly one obvious place to go, which is really sweet to see. The whole set encourages brewing and finding secret pieces to make the new cards work to their fullest potential instead of just finding the best thing we're already doing and doing it better.
That makes writing my traditional brewing article – which you're reading right now, if you really couldn't guess – quite exciting. There is even one card that is open-ended enough to merit more exploration, to the point that I actually ran out of room talking about it in this article:
So far this is clearly my favorite card from M14, because there is just so much potential there. On first sight it just looks like it should be possible to utterly break this but you also need so much to come together that it's very hard to find the right way to do so. Clearly the sweetest kind of card, though you'll have to wait for next week for that one.
Luckily there are 248 other cards in the set – let's have a look at the highlights, shall we?
The Obvious Hive Mind
I'll start with a group of cards everybody realized could have an impact – the new Slivers. Back in the day, before Lorwyn and all the new lords made Merfolk into the de-facto Lord-Swarm-deck of Legacy, there was MeatHooks – which is what, in true Eternal fashion, Legacy players called the Counter-Slivers archetype.
As soon as Merfolk managed to break through the eight-Lord barrier, the deck rapidly fell off the radar as its one reason for existence – having the most playable lords of any tribe – was easily reproduced without having to run three-plus colors. With the third Muscle Sliver and a solid Sliver one-drop courtesy of M14, the deck might be ready to make a comeback into viability after all this time. A starting build might look something like this:
Your big advantages over Merfolk are a better type of evasion – Flying works against everybody, pretty much – and Crystalline Sliver. Giving your whole team Shroud is incredibly powerful if you're trying to Voltron up. If you've ever played against Kira, Great Glass-Spinner out of Merfolk, you know how powerful even that pseudo-Shroud effect can be and Crystalline Sliver is like Kira on steroids.
On the flip side, you sacrifice Wasteland and an all-basic manabase, though Cavern of Souls is a nice bonus you get to pick up. At least you get to play Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares to raise the power level of spells in the deck, albeit by paying in the disruption department.
I'm unsure if Slivers is actually going to be strong enough to see a significant amount of play (and maybe we need a totally different approach to the deck), though I expect it to be relatively on par with Merfolk once the new lists have seen their final tweaks, possibly outclassing it at some points of the metagame cycle (generally whenever Flying is better than Islandwalk and the shroud is incredibly relevant).
Now, the list above is the most obvious build of Slivers I can imagine, and maybe that's something holding it back. One way I could see things going is a more tribal-focused build. A set of Fauna Shamans and a few utility Slivers could give the deck a totally different dimension, for example. Harmonic Sliver could answer all manner of troublesome artifacts and enchantments, Victual Sliver would turn races in your favor, Quilled Sliver will shut down most opposing creature decks once there are a couple of Slivers in play and Bonescythe Sliver looks like a solid finisher. Maybe this is something to explore?
Either way, I'm hopeful that we'll see another blast from the past making (small) waves in the near future.
The Show and Tell Hatebear That Could
… have been so much better. Imposing Sovereign is obviously the card I'm talking about. In a way, we finally get a Show and Tell hatebear. Sadly the cheat-something-big decks have already evolved past the point where the tap-effect is widely effective simply because tapping creatures doesn't do much to an Omniscience. Even Sneak and Show would often be able to play through it with only minor inconvenience. However, even though it's weak as a dedicated hate bear, Imposing Sovereign could provide some interesting redundancy elsewhere.
For one thing, forcing all opposing creatures to come in tapped could prove quite useful for a Zoo- or Naya Blitz-style deck to make sure its early creatures get damage through for one more turn while also buying that extra-turn against Sneak and Show. I already mentioned how effective the “time walk bear” (Burning-Tree Emissary) was back in my article on Naya Blitz and against decks that mainly plan to block your guys, Imposing Sovereign can play a very similar role.
The most interesting project for that guy has to be Meekstone White Weenie, though. I highlighted a very unusual brew of that kind making Top 16 in an SCG Legacy Open here already and I think that kind of deck would just love to run a playset of Imposing Sovereigns. The fact that Sovereign's effect is so close to Blind Obedience also makes it quite easy to get to a first draft list to start testing by just looking at what I did with the deck last time, leaving us with this to start from:
While I'm really not a White Weenie player, the list has a lot of incidental disruption and can hit quite hard while threatening to take total control of any creature matchup by locking the opponent out of ever untapping with something that could actually block the deck's creatures. So if attacking with small White dudes is your thing and you don't feel like playing Death and Taxes...
Spells Make Sparks
Clearly an ascended pyromancer is a powerful force in the multiverse but looking at M14, even a pre-teen pyromancer is a force to be reckoned with. Young Pyromancer is the red two-drop that might finally finish the ridiculous cycle that started with Dark Confidant, continued with Tarmogoyf and Stoneforge Mystic before finally nearing completion with Snapcaster Mage. At 1R for a small body with the potential to lead to a ridiculous board presence very fast, Young Pyromancer looks like it really fits the ranks of his colleagues quite well. Two questions remain, though: is it actually good enough, and what is the right home for it?
To answer the first one, my impression so far is that Young Pyromancer is quite streaky. Sometimes you play it on turn two, Daze your opponent's removal spell and end your third turn with five power on the board as well as a full hand. At other times it just dies without any value or is topdecked on turn ten with an empty hand – much less impressive.
There are two basic concepts I can see Young Pyromancer doing work in aside from just being a reasonable two-drop in monored Burn. First, he perfectly slots into some form of Delver deck. Canadian Threshold should at least try him out to see if a lot of 1/1s are better than one big Goyf, and Young Pyromancer seems like the perfect two-drop to make sure your Geist of Saint Traft doesn't get Liliana'ed in UWR Delver. Personally though, I'd be most interested in seeing what it does for UR Delver – the one Delver deck that doesn't actually have a finisher yet (well, Price of Progress aside).
Here's what I'll be trying out:
This list still tries to go to the face ASAP, the big difference being that there actually is a two-drop that can match your one-drops as far as raw power is concerned. There are a couple of additional free counterspells in the list compared to the currently-run Spell Pierce, and the goal there is obviously to be both better-able to protect Pyromancer and trigger it more easily thanks to the free spells. Snapcaster Mage was the deck's only long-term plan before, though I believe Young Pyromancer might just do the job better.
We're not limited to sticking with explored shells, though. Both a Grixis Aggro-Control deck and something running Punishing Fire seem like they could profit from hiring a young gun. I'll leave it to Caleb to explore the latter but the former has some sweet things going for it. Here's where I'll start testing:
Yes, I realize this deck has only seventeen lands. Given that Cabal ANT runs fine on fifteen with a similar cantrip package and RUG does on essentially fourteen (Wasteland does not count!), I don't think there should be much of a problem there. Not running Wasteland, on the other hand, is probably wrong but I like to come at things from a more extreme angle first, especially as the deck doesn't have the Stifles to complete the mana denial plan.
Instead of attacking the opponent's manabase – something that has lost significant luster with the omnipresence of Deathrite Shaman anyway – like a traditional tempo deck, this list concentrates on emptying their hand while countering the few spells they do get to cast.
The Gitaxian Probe/Cabal Therapy duo we know from Cabal ANT fills that role perfectly and even has incredible synergy with Young Pyromancer. Probe is another free spell to instantly generate value once our 2/1 is down and Cabal Therapy is mighty nice if the first casting already creates a 1/1 for the Flashback – which will also make a 1/1 so the Flashback is essentially free. This chains so well, in fact, that I've actually messed around with Quiet Speculation just to see if I could go turn-two Young Pyromancer into turn-three Quiet Speculation for three Cabal Therapy to build a cheap Mind Twist.
While I'm not sure the above lists are in any way close to optimal, I expect to see a lot of experimentation with Young Pyromancer as the format adopts M14 cards and I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least one shell that makes it their two-drop of choice.
By the way, you could obviously also just take a deck that's already optimized for casting a million spells (e.g. Cabal ANT or my red-splash High Tide build) and use Young Pyromancer to give the deck a quite different plan post-board. A Young Pyromancer that lives will buy a ton of time against Batterskulls, Nimble Mongeese and Tarmogoyfs while also giving you the opportunity to actually get full value out of your Cabal Therapies that usually just sit sadly in your graveyard.
Let me close this article by highlighting a few other cards that I believe either deserve mention or that I like enough to want to talk about even though I don't see any use for them in Legacy. In no particular order:
Celestial Flare gives White a way to address Geist of Saint Traft and Progenitus without needing four mana but also kills other creatures (in contrast to Renounce the Guilds). It's probably not going to see play, but it's nice to have the option now that Phantasmal Image doesn't work anymore.
Path of Bravery looks like it might somehow find a home in the Soul Sisters/Martyr of Sands decks that are turning up from time to time. Orzhov Charm already gave that deck a decent incentive to splash black, which would open the door to Lingering Souls and all the assorted goodness with Soul Warden triggers, Ajani's Pridemate and a Crusade that only works if you have lots of life – but also helps you get to that point.
Savage Summoning might actually be a tool for some creature-based combo deck at some point in the future, assuming there's such a deck that needs more than just Cavern of Souls and Aether Vial to fight countermagic.
Witchstalker is another card that looks potentially game-breaking – check what happens to Canadian Threshold when Thrun, the Last Troll resolves – but will probably end up not being good enough. A 3/3 with hexproof for three mana is reasonably efficient but nothing to write home about either, but when the opponent trying to interact with you makes it too big for even Tarmogoyf to handle, that's something to look at. Voice of Resurgence does that job significantly better, though, and hasn't seen much play yet, so I doubt a weaker version is going to change that... even though I still don't understand why people aren't running more Voices, so maybe it's all just people adjusting slowly? At the very least it, should give additional redundancy to the Pants deck, if that's your cup of tea.
Strionic Resonator I mention only because it does something absolutely unique. I don't think there's anything to break this with yet – at least I don't know of anything – but it seems like there should come a time when this becomes abusable, be it due to a new printing or because something old is discovered that has a trigger that's strong enough to be worth investing a card to double up on.
Chandra, Pyromaster is a brilliant planeswalker but sadly straight-up worse than Jace, the Mind Sculptor (surprise), so we would need a very specific set of circumstances to make her playable. One deck I could see wanting to use her is Imperial Painter. The deck plays control often enough for a draw engine to be worth it, has Sensei's Divining Top already to help set up Chandra, and runs enough acceleration to make her a turn-three play similar to what the U/B Tezzeret deck does with the blue Planeswalkers. Might be a reasonable backup plan?
Mindsparker is another red card with a lot of potential. Your typical blue Legacy deck can probably never beat this card if it stays in play, and it does a solid job at imitating Pyrostatic Pillar against many of the combo decks. High Tide won't be able to go off at all and every other combo deck abusing the cantrip cartel will suffer significantly as well. That sounds like a very solid sideboard card for red decks that want some additional edge versus blue without caring about any spell in particular, and the 3/2 First Strike body is efficient enough that this might actually end up seeing a little bit of maindeck play in something like Zoo as long as the format remains as blue-heavy as it has traditionally been.
One final card that has caught my eye is something most of you probably just ignored: Xathrid Necromancer. I've seen many a Rotlung Reanimator blowout back in the day and getting a guy back whenever one dies is pretty sick. The most interesting approach to this card – to me – is to use it as a redundancy tool in a deck that wants to drop as many Rotlung Reanimators as possible. Most of the good clerics also tend to be humans, after all, so they should play reasonably similarly in such a deck. I even compiled a list of possibly usable clerics already – maybe this will spark someone's interest:
Martyr of Sands
Mikaeus the Lunarch
Mother of Runes
Eight and a Half Tails
I think this list is reasonably complete, though it's always possible I missed something. It already shows a glaring weakness as far as the cleric-tribe is concerned: it's missing solid cards outside the three-drop slot but finding ways to work around that kind of limitation is what deckbuilding is all about. I mean it isn't like having access to nothing more than a single solid two-drop kept Goblins from being ridiculous in the past.
Well, here you have it, my first impressions and explorations of Magic's latest Core Set. Personally, I think the core sets have gotten better and better ever since Wizards decided to include new cards instead of just a collection of reruns, and this one is probably my favorite one so far – M13 was marred by what Omniscience means for the game, and before that there were Titans.
I hope you've enjoyed this little voyage of exploration, feel free to share any insights I haven't covered yet. I'll see you next week, when we'll see how dire we can make the future look in a prophet's eyes. Until next time, go forth and brew!