Just a few more days to go until the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease, and I'm really excited to play with some of these new Magic cards!
Today I'm going to be reviewing the cards in Khans of Tarkir for Vintage play, and while the set may not be a Worldwake or Return to Ravnica on the surface with regard to outright awesome Vintage staples, there are still quite a few gems hidden among the ruins of Tarkir.
In many cases, the Vintage staples that occur in new releases are meant to be the flagship card or cards that are meant to really sell a set. These kinds of cards are typically of a Vintage caliber simply because card designers pushed the power-level of a few cards which catapulted these cards into a "cannot be ignored" stratosphere.
Cards that are hard to ignore...
Every person who ever cracked a booster pack of Worldwake, Innistrad, or Avacyn Restored was secretly saying a little prayer that a foil version of one of these amazing cards would be shining back at them from the pack.
Unfortunately, for Vintage fans looking for the next Snapcaster Mage from Khans of Tarkir, WOTC's dream cards to open from this new offering are all reprints (albeit exciting ones):
Who wants Onslaught fetchlands!
The "Khanslaught" allied fetchlands are clearly the most attractive cards and most dynamic selling point of this fall's new Magic expansion. Obviously these five lands are among the most dynamic, powerful, and played land cycles of all time and are clearly at a level that sees a ton of Vintage play. Therefore, the good news is that if you or your friends were looking to complete player's sets of these amazing lands that Khans of Tarkir will make them readily available at a more affordable price.
However, if you are like me and already have a complete set of these fine cards (with the awesome old card face) then you will also quickly have realized that reprinting these cards does very little (if anything at all) to change the landscape of the Vintage format.
As I was briefly stating earlier that when the flagship cards of a set are reprints, as is the case with Khans, there is a high chance that the set won't be chock full of Vintage staples. As I always point out on the subject of Vintage playable cards in virtually every Vintage set review that I've ever done for this website, making the cut as a defining Vintage card is extremely difficult for a number of reasons:
-The card must be intrinsically very powerful with regard to mana cost vs. effect. Every new card is competing with every other card so in order for a new card to make the cut it must basically be the best, most efficient version of a desirable / powerful effect.
-The card must be unique. Cards that have unique effects tend to find their way into Vintage.
-The card typically needs to be two mana or less, or have a qualification that allows it to function in a deck that circumvents casting spells "fairly," i.e., an artifact that goes into a Mishra's Workshop deck or a card with an "in the graveyard" ability that can create a free effect in a Dredge deck.
In most cases, a Vintage playable card needs to meet all three of these qualifying characteristics, which is basically a tall order for any Magic cards to achieve. If you really think about it, it makes a ton of sense how difficult it is for any new Magic card to make its presence known in Vintage; after all, new cards are basically trying to earn slots in decks alongside truly egregious "mistake" cards like Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus!
While I don't think that Khans of Tarkir will be offering players the next format defining four of, like Snapcaster Mage or Deathrite Shaman, I do think that there are a lot of neat and underappreciated cards that could allow savvy deckbuilders an opportunity to gain an edge on the competition.
So let's take a look at some of the sleeper cards from Khans of Tarkir and discuss the how, why, and where these cards could be difference makers in Vintage.
I'll be whatever you want me to be.
Clever Imposter certainly sets the bar pretty high with regard to being a "unique" Magic card in the sense that it is literally the only "clone" effect that can copy opposing planeswalkers. Obviously, it isn't great at copying allied planeswalkers or legendary creatures (because it will cause the preexisting one on your side to die from the Legend Rule), but with the changes to the legend rule it is quite nice to copy an opposing planeswalker.
The card is also kind of cool because it can copy Tinker targets like Blightsteel Colossus, Myr Battlesphere, or Sphinx of the Steel Wind to regain parity on the board. So in basically any situation, Clever Imposter is guaranteed to be the best card in play, which is pretty cool. The obvious downside of this card is that A. it costs a lot to play as four mana is a ton in Vintage even for a very powerful effect and B. there will be decks and board states where there are no good targets for it to copy.
I don't see this card as a staple that will see a ton of play, but I can see it being the kind of card that individuals who are trying to go a little bit bigger with more controlling decks might want to include as a one of.
Somebody explain to me how this isn't a Zombie!?
Grim Haruspex is the type of card that simply falls into my "it's a good little value card" category. The card is no Tinker or Yawgmoth's Will at 2B, but the card can do lots of work and could potentially be a kind of linchpin card in the right deck.
I like the synergy between the Grim Haruspex and cards that allow a player to sacrifice his or her own creatures for value, in particular:
It was good enough already so let's make it draw a card in addition.
A three mana creature that attaches "Draw a card" to the untimely death of any of a player's other creatures is a pretty decent value and shouldn't be shrugged off as nothing. If somebody were to challenge me to build "The Rock" in Vintage, this might be a weapon that I'd be looking at as a recursive draw engine to go along side my Cabal Therapy and Skullclamp type cards.
I could also see this as the type of card that could show up in a Dredge deck that revolved around actually making mana and casting spells. Turning those extra draws from Cabal Therapy or Dread Return into extra Dredges could become very devastating very quickly, not to mention that cards like Bloodghast or Narcomoeba are the perfect victims to be sacrificed!
It may not be a "right now" type of card, but if we one day arrived in a world where Bazaar of Baghdad was restricted and players needed to get their Dredges some other way I believe that this card's stock could skyrocket.
Grim Haruspex is also a Human Wizard which means that the card could also find a home in Cavern of Soul decks like the multi-color aggro lists that are floating around as a tutor target type card.
Lastly, Grim Haruspex has morph - not that it is super relevant or anything, but hey maybe your opponent plays an Etched Champion or a Sword of Feast and Famine one day, and you are very happy to have a colorless creature to do some blocking with. Extra abilities never hurt, right?
Speaking of random maybes for a Dredge deck....
I've never claimed to be much of an expert on building or tuning Dredge decks in Vintage, but both of these cards have caught my attention as possibilities. Ancestral Recall and Terminate for one mana are both fantastic values, and I wouldn't be completely surprised if these cards eventually found their way into the format as fringe players.
Pyromancer Ascension in Vintage? One day...
I've long held that opinion that U/R Storm is a Vintage deck that has long been on the verge of being a playable option. The problem with such a deck is that it is probably an underdog to the already existent U/B Storm deck which has tools like Necropotence, Yawgmoth's Will, and Demonic Tutor.
Rule #1: Don't play a bad something else...
All of that being said, the consistency of a U/R Storm shell could one day provide enough incentive that it would be worth playing with. I'm always looking at random potential U/R Storm cards trying to find that critical piece to put the deck over the edge. Tormenting Voice is a card that appears to have a lot of upside, as it draws cards and puts cards into the graveyard. Both of these things are quite good in a Storm deck.
I have a lot of respect for 2cc card draw spells in Vintage (even ones that seem conditional or uninspiring). Keep in mind that a little bit of innovation put all eight copies of Strategic Planning in the 2008 Vintage World Championship into the top 4!
Colorless Ramp spell?
Here's a card that by my own admission I'm not exactly sure what to do with, but it certainly fits a few of my criteria to be a Vintage playable spell.
First of all, it's a card that can be played as a morph and then turned face up to ramp into colored Temur mana and then can also tap for an additional R, U, or G. I'm not really sure what kind of deck would necessarily want this effect, but it is worth noting that it is now a possibility.
The card itself is actually pretty solid all on its own. Two mana for a Temur mana fixer with a reasonable 2/1 body isn't actually terrible, especially in a world full of Sphere of Resistance effects and Wastelands. It is possible that a Temur deck might actually want a few copies of a card like this simply to add consistency and potency to its mana production. The problem is that a card like this competes for slots with monsters like Tarmogoyf and Young Pyromancer.
The card is also comparable to Noble Hierarch (though Hierarch costs half as much) and if time has taught us anything it is that mana is everything! I'd be surprised if the card saw more than a little fringe play along the way, but I wouldn't be shocked to see a Temur deck make room for a couple copies.
Flexible and powerful.
Abzan Charm offers a lot of really good options for the cost of WBG. Abzan is not really the most played wedge in Vintage, but there are three and four color creature decks floating around that might really enjoy having access to this card.
The biggest problem holding a card like this back is its mana cost. At three mana, it's sort of a long shot to see considerable play, but when coupled with the fact that it is in a color combination likely to be playing lots of Cavern of Souls, things start to look even more bleak.
I do really like the way that this card has the potential to be a real solid combat trick in Tarmogoyf vs. Tarmogoyf matchups. Getting to upgrade your own Goyf while also killing theirs in combat is a pretty big game. I also like this card in addition to Abrupt Decay because it is a removal spell that can topple Restoration Angel or Blightsteel Colossus.
Abzan Charm is a useful spell and if there were a deck already out there where this card could be played I'd likely be putting it into that deck.
Three for four four.
Anafenza, The Foremost is my pick for the best Vintage card in the set overall. The base cost of Abzan mana for a 4/4 with two abilities is an absolutely fantastic quality for a finisher. However, when those abilities are both strong, relevant abilities, it creates a crucible for a real, powerful, Vintage playable to shine.
Four toughness is also significant because it doesn't get hit and killed by a Lightning Bolt.
First of all, the card imposing the condition on the board of "whenever a creature would be put into an opponent's graveyard from anywhere, exile it," is a pretty big game. That alone makes it impossible for Dredge to actually do anything. If they can't get creatures into the yard, they can't get free creatures, can't trigger Bridge from Below, and can't reanimate anything. So, all things considered, this is the type of card that all by itself can earn a player free wins against Dredge.
Second, it's pretty sweet that when Anafenza attacks that it can boost up other members of one's team with +1/+1 counters. While putting a Battlegrowth onto a creature isn't the biggest deal in the history of Vintage, this is just a free roll that can matter.
Also keep in mind that Anafenza can put the counter onto any tapped creature, not just attacking creatures, which means that a player can use Deathrite Shaman pre-combat and then buff it with Anafenza. That may not come up a bunch, but it's certainly something to keep in mind.
I can't outright refuse a good Charm...
While this spell probably falls into the "probably not" category, it's at least worth mentioning. It does kill a Blightsteel Colossus, goes to the dome in racing situations, and can provide a mini overrun + lifelink to one's team.
Any card that can do a bunch of things in Vintage, and one of which is kill a Blightsteel Colossus, is worth looking at. The biggest downfall of this card is that it is in a color that already has Swords to Plowshares, which already kills Big Bad Blighty dead.
Maybe Jeskai Charm sees play in a Vintage deck down the line somewhere that can make tokens and take better advantage of the third mode.
These are real cards folks.
Mantis Rider is an unbelievable Magic card. The stats are fantastic and once again great base statistics with an additional slew of abilities makes for an exciting card. In fact, three very, very good abilities make this a card that I think will see some play in Vintage alongside Delver of Secrets and friends.
Having haste and three power allows Mantis Rider to come down and straight up take down a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in one hit. Being able to quickly join a friend like Insectile Aberration in the sky to deal a bunch of damage out of nowhere and close games seems pretty sweet as well.
Also, anybody else notice that this human has a thing for insects just like Delver of Secrets? Just saying…
I like this card in a creature deck full of disruptive cards like Lightning Bolts, Swords to Plowshares, Spell Pierces, and Force of Wills. The only downside of this card that could ultimately end up holding it back is that it matches up really poorly against Restoration Angel coming down to block. The upside is that Mantis Rider is (for some reason) a Human and can be protected by Cavern of Souls.
Savage Knuckleblade is an amazing Magic card. Once again we see the great base stats along with three very good abilities tagged on as a bonus.
The card seems like a very reasonable inclusion as a late game card in a Temur Delver deck as it is virtually unkillable because of the bounce ability and can do all kinds of other damage in the red zone via its other combat abilities. It will pretty easily be able to trump nearly every playable Vintage creature in the event that a game goes long.
The only creature that I think competes with Savage Knuckleblade in the late game is True-Name Nemesis. There are obvious upsides to both creatures, but it is nice to have an option about which finisher one wants to play in a three color deck.
I wonder what it is?
Basically, Mask now allows players to play any creature face down as a morph creature that can be turned up for free whenever that correct criteria are met. So, Secret Plans and Illusionary Mask basically creates a world where every single one of your creatures will have "draw a card" attached to their text.
The Sultai of Swing.
Sultai Charm is another awesome card. All of the modes are excellent and because the "Disenchant Mode" basically does two things, this charm has virtually four modes!
That being said, the full swath of Sultai mana in the casting cost makes this flexibility come at a pretty steep cost. The good news is that the types of decks that would want a card like this, Sultai Fish and Sultai Control, are among the best decks in the format at generating the mana cost and also wanting this kind of flexibility. I would never advocate cutting an awesome card like Abrupt Decay for Sultai Charm, but I think that deckbuilders will value the versatility of this card and that we will see copies of this Charm making their way into Vintage as singletons in some builds of Sultai.
The biggest downside I find with this card is that it can't actually deal with an indestructible Blightsteel Colossus. It's kind of awkward that our "flex" slot can't answer one of the format's biggest threats even for three colored mana! That said, there are few other things that this card won't deal with and as a result I think it will see some play here and there as a 60th card in some 75s.
Not yet, but maybe one day.
There is literally no current reason to ever play with this card, however, I think that it is in fact worth mentioning because of its uniqueness.
In a world where there was some sort of a burn deck in Vintage, Workshops could play this card as a way to gain life since all of their creatures are colorless anyways. In the right deck this card is basically just a land that says 2T: gain between two and five life. There are lots of decks that cannot actually beat a card like that very easily.
I wouldn't go putting them in my Workshop sideboards or anything, but there are certainly configurations of the metagame where I might consider it sometime down the road...
Time is on my side.
Aside from being a pretty cool reference to the fact that Eldrazi could be coming back sometime soon, this card is borderline Vintage playable. It's a great defense against Time Vault combo decks since it renders the combo virtually worthless. I could see this being a potentially interesting sideboard strategy for Forgemaster style decks to toy with against blue decks.
It's also pretty cool that if you sacrifice Ugin's Nexus to Kuldotha Forgemaster to search up some devastating fatty that you'll immediately get rewarded with another turn in which to swing with said devastating fatty.
Fortunately, WOTC figured out the joke with Goblin Welder and a pair of Ugin's Nexus = infinite turns as the Nexus exiles itself in order to grant the additional turn bonus. Nonetheless, if super Time Vault decks like Steel City Vault become too good or too big of players in the metagame, there is always this five drop as a possible way to battle back!
As you can see, there are lots of exciting fringe Vintage playable cards ready to be tried out and brought into battle this fall! Of all of the cards in Khans of Tarkir the five that I think are most reasonable to make a difference in the format are as follows:
2. Sultai Charm
3. Ugin's Nexus
4. Mantis Rider
All things considered Khans of Tarkir looks like a truly amazing set, and while its impact may be the least felt in Vintage because of its lack of a true Vintage game changer, I believe that this set is going to be a huge player for Modern and Standard. I can't remember the last time that I was this excited for a new set to be released, and I'm looking forward to getting to open and play with the new cards!