It sure is good to be king.
Or at least I would assume so. I've never actually been king, so it's certainly possible that I'm wrong. There are some scenarios where I could imagine being king sucks. You know, like during the throes of a successful assassination attempt or midway through a violent and ultimately successful coup. I'd rather be the stable boy in that scenario.
I imagine the same thing holds true for being queen. Rumor has it that Marie Antoinette was truly insufferable during the great cake shortage of 1789. Those were dark times. I hear she had to resort to pie. I can't imagine just how hard that must have been. My heart would go out to everyone involved if it didn't take place hundreds of years ago . . . and if she wasn't a bit of a jerk.
Generally speaking, though, I imagine being king isn't too bad. I envision Brimaz, King of Oreskos sitting there, having the opportunity to eat cake or pie, not being assassinated, and ruling over his cat subjects with a vigilant eye. The life. Doesn't get too much better than that.
The question then becomes this: if he is good enough to be heralded as the cat king, is he also good enough to rule over Standard?
Personally, I think so. I think this fine gentleman has what it takes to make it in the real world, but only time will truly tell the tale here.
Still, there are some ways we can go about evaluating this card and other cards to determine whether or not they're going to be good enough to make the jump into a format like Standard. I want to put Brimaz through the process and see how he looks when he comes out on the other side. My guess is that he's going to look a lot like he currently does presently—quite the dashing cat soldier—but don't quote me on that.
Is It Good In A Vacuum?
I think the first step in evaluating a new card is to examine the card by itself on sheer power level alone and ignore the surrounding format. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a bad card in a format where Mizzium Mortars is one of the most played cards, but that doesn't mean that Blood Baron of Vizkopa is inherently a bad card. While a card like Blood Baron might never see play for a variety of reasons, the fact remains that the card itself is powerful enough to be a strong metagame force if the right conditions are met.
For example, if a mono-black deck with few answers to Blood Baron were to somehow become one of the most dominant decks in Standard, it's certainly conceivable to think that Blood Baron would finally be a good card. Thankfully, something like that has never happened, but it's nice to pretend, even if only for a second.
There's something that we see happen all the time. A card comes out with a reasonably high power level, but it's held down by the format it was born in. Pack Rat didn't see play for an entire year. It's pretty easy to see why when you take into consideration the prior format. Bonfire of the Damned and Tragic Slip were two of the most popular cards, and one of the best decks in the format was all about putting Angel of Serenity into play, something that could be done as early as turn 3. It also takes a long time to build up enough Rats to power through a few Thragtusks.
So while a card might not be an immediate force in Standard, it's still possible that months or even a year later it could finally have a breakthrough. It's easy to miss these cards if you only focus on evaluating cards based on the context of the current metagame and ignore how powerful they are and what kinds of formats they will need in order to be good.
Now, there is no such thing as truly evaluating a card in a vacuum. That's not possible at all. Without some level of context, it's not really possible to make reasonable judgments. Is haste an important keyword? If you've never seen a haste creature before, it might be pretty hard to say whether or not haste is going to be good. Is lifelink good? What about vigilance?
To decide whether or not a card is inherently powerful, one of the best things you can do is compare it to previous cards that were powerful and see how it measures up.
Stats-wise Brimaz is roughly on the same level as Loxodon Smiter. Both are way above the normal curve in terms of size to mana cost ratio. Both attack for four damage unhindered, and both can provide four power on defense as well. Loxodon Smiter can't be countered, an ability that isn't often that relevant since decks that can counter Smiter typically also don't care that much about the card (in other words, they generally have some form of board sweeper or a wealth of removal).
Instead of that, Brimaz offers vigilance and the ability to put 1/1 Cat Soldiers into play whenever he attacks or blocks. Those two abilities combine to be a backbreaking combo against aggressive decks that will likely struggle to profitably block Brimaz. Loxodon Smiter just often ended up being a glorified wall against those decks. You couldn't profitably race them, so it wasn't worth attacking, yet they couldn't really attack too well through a 4/4 either. With Brimaz, you can keep attacking, and while the tokens you generate might just get eaten up in the attack, it's also certainly possible that between anthem effects or your opponent just having a bunch of X/1s that those tokens do end up mattering a lot. Brimaz is just as hard to attack through as Smiter is.
Brimaz is also legendary, which is a slight knock against him. One of the most powerful things about Loxodon Smiter is just curving turn 2 Smiter into turn 3 Smiter and bludgeoning your opponent's life total before they really have an opportunity to do anything.
Ultimately, though, I think Brimaz is more powerful than Loxodon Smiter.
The comparison to Hero of Bladehold comes in the scaling amount of damage that these creatures deal over a period of time. A Loxodon Smiter is going to deal four damage each and every turn against an opponent with no interaction. Thanks to generating Cat Soldiers each time it attacks and blocks, the damage Brimaz can put out is going to scale against an opponent without interaction. While Brimaz will just attack for four the first turn, the next turn is five and the following is six.
Hero of Bladehold deals seven damage on the first attack and eleven on the second attack. It also can pump the rest of your squad to really boost damage output significantly. In that regard, Brimaz isn't even close to being comparable to Hero. However, Brimaz also costs one less mana, which is very relevant. It's not entirely fair to compare Brimaz to Hero when you can drop Brimaz a turn earlier and when it has a more immediate impact on combat.
Still, the consideration can be quite meaningful in the context of a control matchup. A control opponent isn't typically going to have many creatures to really interact in combat, so the comparison with Hero of Bladehold is important in evaluating how early your opponent has to interact with Brimaz before he ends the game by himself.
A naked Brimaz on turn 3 will have dealt fifteen damage by turn 6. A naked Hero of Bladehold on turn 4 will have dealt eighteen damage by turn 6. A naked Squire will have dealt four damage by turn 6. However, the damage to your opponent's psyche from having to witness a completely naked Squire attack them unabashed for four long turns is certainly worth any amount of extra damage these other cards could deal. It's important to win the mental game.
Ultimately, it seems as though Hero of Bladehold is a better card than Brimaz when it comes to raw efficiency and damage output. However, Brimaz isn't too far off, and Hero of Bladehold is really one of the best cards ever when it comes to that category. Brimaz even being close here means that it certainly has some serious potential for Standard play.
Is It Good In The Metagame?
After deciding whether a card is powerful enough to see play based on sheer power level alone, the next step is to actually take the card and evaluate it based on the context of both the current Standard format and the expected Standard format.
The first thing I like to do is look at which cards work well against the card and which cards work well with the card. Two cards that I've identified that work well with Brimaz are Spear of Heliod and Azorius Charm. In fact, I played Brimaz alongside both of those cards in a Versus video that is available today on the Select side. With Azorius Charm, you can attack or block a bigger creature and get a free Cat out of the deal by putting their blocker or attacker back on top of their deck. Spear of Heliod pumps both Brimaz and the tokens he generates, providing a much larger benefit than you would ever get out of a single creature like Loxodon Smiter.
Brimaz poorly interacts with cards like Doom Blade; Frostburn Weird; Master of Waves; and Jace, Architect of Thought. Doom Blade or another equivalent cheap removal option costs less than Brimaz, and Brimaz doesn't leave anything behind if he immediately dies, which makes cheap spot removal a very attractive option for handling him.
Much like how Spear is great with token generators, Jace is likewise just as good against them. While Jace's +1 can't stop the initial token from getting in for one damage the turn it's created, Jace can certainly prevent that token from ever really doing anything again.
Master of Waves and to a lesser extent Frostburn Weird are very powerful against pretty much everything that aims to attack on the ground. Brimaz is no exception. While Brimaz can generate Cats that trade with 2/1 Elementals, Brimaz himself can't really attack into a Master of Waves since he just trades with two Elementals himself.
Based on this, it seems like Brimaz probably isn't a very good fit for the current metagame. There's a reason Loxodon Smiter isn't exactly tearing up the tournament scene right now, and it's certainly in no small part to the prevalence of these format-defining cards.
So is that it? It doesn't fit into the current format, so it's a done deal? Shelf it and maybe bust it back out in a year so it can do the kind of thing that Pack Rat and Nightveil Specter did, where they sucked for a long time before finally becoming format all-stars?
One thing this analysis didn't really cover is what the format might look like moving forward. One of the great skills of deckbuilding isn't just building good decks; it's building decks that are going to be good based on what everyone else is building. One of the easiest ways to experience success is to figure out what level everyone else is going to be on and then put yourself on the next level after that.
It just so happens that there are a lot of new and powerful removal spells in Born of the Gods. It also just so happens that none of them kill Brimaz. The presence of these cards might also be enough to push out cards like Master of Waves from being dominant.
If Mono-Black Devotion starts to trim on Devour Flesh for Bile Blight, then Brimaz gets better. If red decks start cutting Mizzium Mortars for Searing Blood, then Brimaz gets better. If Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow start to push Mono-Blue Devotion out, then Brimaz gets better.
Mono-Black Devotion gains a lot from Born of the Gods, and Mono-Black Devotion's best new removal spell only kills creatures with three or less toughness. It's certainly reasonable to think that in this new format we might start to see a lot more X/4s begin to dominate as a result.
Does It Fit Into Existing Decks?
Sometimes there is a card that is powerful and good in the metagame but still doesn't see much play. An example is Chained to the Rocks. The card is very good right now, but Chained to the Rocks is still not seeing a whole lot of play because it pigeonholes you into playing R/W. Now, there are a number of R/W decks that have been putting up relatively decent results, and a lot of that is thanks in no small part to Chained to the Rocks. But I imagine if the card were less restrictive it would play a much larger role in the Standard metagame.
While Brimaz is certainly strong enough on power level to see play and while I think the metagame is going to shift enough with Born of the Gods to where he will actually be good in that context, the question still remains if there are any decks out there that actually want to play him.
I think the answer is yes. The first is W/R or W/B Aggro. W/R Aggro doesn't really have a good three-drop besides Banisher Priest. Reckoner would be good, but Mutavault is so powerful that it's not worth playing Reckoner since the two don't mesh. W/B has Xathrid Necromancer, but I have always been unimpressed with that card. It's not white so it doesn't work well with Brave the Elements, and it's a very unimposing creature by its lonesome. Brimaz definitely fills a hole in that deck by providing a bigger body that can brawl a bit better against some of the bigger creatures other decks play, and he hits relatively hard by himself.
Brimaz is also pretty nice with Brave the Elements and Spear of Heliod, as identified before. Brave the Elements prevents your opponent from blocking and ensures that the token is going to be able to survive combat and get in for damage even if your opponent has a bunch of 2/2s. Spear of Heliod, as mentioned above, is simply excellent alongside any card that can generate tokens, such as Brimaz or Precinct Captain. Spear is also the best card in those W/R and W/B Aggro lists in my not-so-humble opinion, so anything that makes it better gets a cheesy smile and a big thumbs up from me.
I also think Brimaz can fit into a white devotion shell. Whether or not you want to call that an existing strategy is up to you. I've spent a lot of time trying to make it work, but it has never really taken off. However, the fact remains that Brimaz offers the deck a lot. For one, that deck utilizes tokens very effectively thanks to Spear of Heliod and Archangel of Thune. Token generation is also one of the key plans against Desecration Demon. You bury their Demon under a swarm of tokens and leave it unable to do anything.
Secondly, Brimaz is good at providing cheap devotion. While the three-drop slot already has a lot of options, I feel like Brimaz offers a larger upside than a card like Boros Reckoner and is better in a wider variety of matchups. Both are good against aggressive decks, but Brimaz can also demand an immediate removal spell from a deck like Mono-Black Devotion or U/W Control in a way that Reckoner struggles to replicate.
Here is the list I played in the Versus video:
- 4 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 1 Ephara, God of the Polis
- 2 Heliod, God of the Sun
Not having Boros Reckoner makes playing basic Islands a thing that can happen, which also means that casting Sphinx's Revelation becomes much easier in this deck than it has been in past iterations of white devotion.
Overall, I feel like this list has a lot of promise and could possibly end up being the best version of a Heliod deck I have come up with yet.
With that being said, does Brimaz have to go in a devotion-based midrange strategy? Can he fit in something else?
Does It Work In New Archetypes?
Sometimes a card doesn't fit into any existing decks but ends up being good enough to make the cut in an entirely new archetype.
Maybe the best shell for Brimaz is actually not a devotion-based W/U deck. Perhaps he fits better in a deck that still offers a lot of the same powerful white permanents as the Heliod deck but achieves the ability to cast them with natural ramp spells rather than relying on Nykthos.
For example, I feel like there is a lot of potential in a Bant shell along these lines:
Brimaz is good at defending your life total and defending your planeswalkers to give you time to ramp into a big endgame with Angel of Serenity and Sphinx's Revelation. Brimaz into Kiora in particular seems like a good way to lock out your opponent's combat step for at least a turn. If you can untap with Kiora, you can then use the -1 to ramp into something like an Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Really, I think the main thing holding a deck like this back is the mana base. The cards are definitely powerful enough to get the job done, but can they be consistently cast? I think that's something that can only really be learned through testing.
Regardless of whether it happens in a month or a year, I think we're going to look back and find that Brimaz was one of the more impactful cards from Born of the Gods. I'd like to get a head start on that, and I think some of these decks have the potential to really showcase his power.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I missing anything? Let me know if you think Brimaz can haz what it takes to cheeseburger his way into this Standard format or if there are any sweet Brimaz interactions that I'm simply overlooking.
I wouldn't be surprised if Standard was filled to the Brim with them.