The Journey into Nyx Prerelease is this weekend! Do you know what that means? We're about to experience one of the coolest things in Magic: full Block Limited. It feels like it's been forever since we got to play with a real block. I mean sure, there was Return to Ravnica, but that format felt more like drafting guilds than drafting a fully fleshed-out block. Journey into Nyx does exactly what you want the third set of a block to do—complement the existing strategies of the block while adding in a few new strategies of its own. How does it do this, you ask?
Today we're going to find out!
Let's start things off with one of the hot new mechanics. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of strive, though, there is one small grievance I need to air. Take a look at this card:
Strive is so similar to multikicker that it isn't even funny. I'm all for new mechanics, but when they are basically old ones repackaged, it can be a little annoying. Luckily for Strive, its lack of originality doesn't detract from the fact that it is a great Limited mechanic, like its predecessor before it.
So what does strive bring to the table? For the most part we're looking at slightly overcosted combat tricks that have the added utility of being able to target multiple creatures at the cost of extra mana. The first benefit of this is obvious—they come with a built-in mana sink to make them better the longer the game goes on. This goes hand in hand with monstrous and bestow to make sure you're never going to run out of things to do with your mana in this format.
Colossal Heroics is a perfect example of this.
The design of this card is pretty straightforward. For an increased upfront fee, you get a Savage Surge with the bonus of being able to dish out as many additional Savage Surges as you can afford at the normal price. Clean, efficient, and perfect for Limited.
The second benefit of the strive cards is a bit more subtle. Every time you strive, you add another target to the mix. We all know how our heroes love to be targeted. Have you ever hit two heroic creatures with a Dauntless Onslaught mid-combat? Blowouts don't get much bigger than that. Until now being able to target multiple heroic creatures with a single card was a very unique and valuable effect.
Let's close out strive with a look at two of the more interesting cards featuring the mechanic.
Aerial Formation is a tricky one to evaluate. The initial cost is cheap, and although the strive cost is a little pricey, the effect is a powerful one. The problem with it is that it is the kind of card that is great when it is winning you the game but can potentially sit in your hand and do nothing while you die. +1/+1 isn't going to be enough to give you the edge in most combats. To be honest, the biggest strike against this card is the color it is in. If you're playing blue, odds are a good portion of your creatures are going to have flying already. Because of this, expect to see Aerial Formation in green decks looking to get 10/10s through the red zone or U/W heroic decks that are willing to play anything with the word target on it.
Ajani's Presence is worth mentioning simply because of how awesome it is. I've played my fair share of Mortal's Resolve in this format, and getting to play a cheaper one jam packed with upside is going to be nice. It does everything from counter removal spells to provide a pseudo Fog when you need it all while multi-triggering heroic.
Speaking of heroic, Journey into Nyx does a great job of adding to the roster of heroes as well.
That is a pretty sick suite of common heroic creatures. They may not do anything flashy, but in a block based on targeting creatures, sometimes +1/+1 counters is all you need. For the most part, they come down cheap and with decent base stats, ready to accept anything you want to point their way. The one less than stellar option is Pheres-Band Thunderhoof. It is pretty much equivalent to Centaur Battlemaster, which hasn't exactly been an all-star up to this point. Fortunately, green got Setessan Oathsworn in Born of the Gods to fill the gap.
The one knock against this cycle is that we're going to have fewer Ordeals to work with. With only one pack of Theros in the mix, picking up one Ordeal is going to be tough, and getting two will be downright unlikely. This is good for the health of the format and not losing the game on turn 2 if you can't interact but bad for cheap heroic creatures.
Red won the lottery this time around when it comes to best uncommon heroic creature. Against nonred decks, +2/+0 and intimidate is absolutely backbreaking and threatens to end the game in a hurry, especially if it involves bestow creatures to further boost the Human Warrior's stats.
Although Constellation might seem like a weird name for a mechanic, it does a pretty accurate job of explaining what the mechanic does. Each card with constellation is a star that pairs with other stars to come together to form a greater whole. Now what does this mean for Limited?
Unfortunately, it promotes a type of drafting I don't really like. If you want to draft a constellation deck, the process is simple—take as many cards with the word constellation on them in pack 1 and follow it up with as many enchantments as possible in the next two packs. Not very complex.
The real trick when trying to draft a dedicated constellation deck is going to be figuring out when it is open. Players like drafting archetypes, and there aren't exactly a plethora of constellation cards to go around. If you try to force it, you can easily get punished and end up with a deck filled with mediocre enchantments and not much synergy to tie them together. It is pretty neat how the Font cycle works so well to tie the constellation strategy together while still providing reasonably costed effects for other decks.
Uncommon Bestow Cycle
This is the type of cycle that makes me proud to be a Limited player. They are just so enticing—how could you not want to play with them? When I open my first pack of Journey into Nyx, you better believe I'm going right past the rare to see if there is one of these staring back at me. Every Limited deck you play in this format is going to be that much better for having one of these babies on board.
The one dud in the group is Crystalline Nautilus. In any other set this card would be so much more reasonable. Unfortunately, in this block every other card has the word target written on it somewhere. The real killer is that your opponent can just bestow one of their creatures onto your Nautilus to kill it at almost no expense.
The rest however have everything you want in a first pick. They're powerful, versatile, and easy on the mana base. Did you know they even have another level of versatility that might not be apparent at first? Does your opponent have a pesky blocker in the way? Bestow Gnarled Scarhide onto it. Do you need to desperately kill one of your opponent's creatures before it gets into the red zone? Hook it up with a Spirespine and crash in, and you'll even get a 4/1 out of the deal.
This cycle is an example of flawless design on Wizards part, and I can't wait to play with it.
Last but not least, we have one of the key pieces to any Limited environment.
Theros set the stage. Ordeals were everywhere. When your opponent played a one-drop into one of the pesky two-mana Auras, it didn't matter if they were suiting up a Yoked Ox or a Favored Hoplite—you were in trouble. Rage of Purphoros and Lash of the Whip, two of the premier removal spells in the set, proved to be too slow half the time and not powerful enough the other. The one salvation was in blue. While Griptide and Voyage's end couldn't outright kill anything, they could bring a 10/10 lifelink Wingsteed Rider back down to earth.
Enter Born of the Gods. Ah yes! A breath of fresh air. The Hammer started to fall on some of the obnoxious Ordeal starts, and Wingsteed Riders everywhere had a new public enemy number one: Asphyxiate. With some more blue disruption in Refraction Helix and Sudden Storm, things were starting to get under control.
Finally, Journey into Nyx is entering the fray. Holy removal Batman!
Fourteen cards! And I didn't even list the cards that only kill enchantments. Get ready for your creatures to die a heck of a lot more often. Not to mention that outside of Eternity Snare, bestow was pretty much immune to getting two-for-oned. Now you can add Armament of Nyx, Oppressive Rays, and Deserter's Quarters to the list of cards waiting to punish the mechanic. It is going to be a very different world with so much removal readily available to pick up in pack 1. Prioritizing removal early before getting into the more removal scarce Born of the Gods and Theros packs is going to be a real strategy.
All in all, I can't wait to see what Journey into Nyx does to Limited. The themes we've all come to know and love are getting a nice boost, and some new strategies are going to crop up. More removal should go a long way toward improving the health and interactiveness of the format, but some of it is just narrow enough to not make it overwhelming.
I hope everyone has a blast at their local Prerelease this weekend!