Last week we took a look at some of the mono-color and two-color cards in the set, including my sleeper pick for the season (Sagu Mauler) and one of the best removal spells printed in a long time in Murderous Cut. This week we have a much more difficult job, as we are going to look at the three-color cards from each of the clans. Three-color cards are notoriously difficult to evaluate, as not only do they have to be good, but there has to be decks that want them as well.
While a ton of ink has been spilled on many of the other cards in the set like Siege Rhino and Savage Knuckleblade, some cards aren't really getting the press they deserve. Anafeza, the Foremost is quite good, and is going to see a lot of play in pretty much any Abzan deck that can cast her.
The quick comparison is to Loxodon Smiter, a card that saw a bunch of play during its time in Standard, and Anafeza is even better. While the "can't counter" and anti-discard functions were sometimes useful, most of the time it was nothing more than a three mana 4/4. Anafeza's combat ability looks somewhat innocuous, but this sort of consistent advantage accruing over time really adds up; soon enough your Courser of Kruphix is a 4/6 attacker and the board stall that had developed is now broken.
Anafeza will likely be at her best as a curve topper for an aggressive deck, as her size and ability to keep your smaller creatures in combat will definitely help you close games out, but she also plays just fine in a midrange strategy just looking for a big, cheap body to gum up the ground and take to the redzone later.
She's not a world-beater, just a very solid roleplayer that will see a lot of play over the next few years.
Anafeza, the Foremost: 7.8
This card is absurd. I had to read this card like four times before I was able to properly conceptualize what it does. The two most broken things in Magic are fast/free mana and drawing cards, and they are things that Wizards of the Coast has almost completely sworn off in modern Magic design. Cards like Time Spiral or Mind's Desire don't really exist any more, as Magic has become a fairer game overall.
And then there's this woman.
She actually just casts a Mind's Desire for four every time she attacks! You could hit Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Lightning Strike, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and Jace's Ingenuity and just cast them. All of them. For free. Narset doesn't even have to actually deal damage, which means you can use the spells you cast to help plow the road for her. While her body is pretty small for her cost, hexproof should ensure that you are able to attack with her at least once, and if you've built your deck with her in mind, I'm not sure how you really lose any game where you are able to attack with her.
The huge question mark is, is there a deck for Narset? Narset comes with a lot of restrictions- you are likely going to need a deck of mostly non-creatures, that is able to clear the board and make use of a card advantage engine that doesn't do anything but provide a first strike blocker the turn you cast it.
Is Narset just overkill? A big time Commander card that's just too ambitious for sixty card formats? I'm not sure, but I'm excited to see her start popping up in decklists.
Another really awesome card that people aren't talking about, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is a mini-Grave Titan. Assuming you've built your deck correctly, Sidisi will be good for five power the turn she comes into play, which is fantastic for a four drop, and will continue to make tokens every turn as long as you can back her up. She also is extremely synergistic with Murderous Cut, as once you attack with her for the first time you will have triggered her twice, meaning there will likely be 3-4 cards in the graveyard you don't need that you can delve to destroy any blockers that might get in Sidisi's way.
This is not even accounting for what Sidisi can do in a dedicated graveyard deck. Aside from just making tokens, Sidisi also fills up your graveyard relatively quickly while also triggering off other graveyard enablers like Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods.
While three toughness is a bit small for a four drop, that's really the only downside to what will be a format defining threat. Pick up your Nighthowlers now, I know I have.
Sidisi, Blood Tyrant: 8.5
The long and short of it is that I'm not really impressed. He does hit hard, but I have trouble imaging a deck that would want him. If you're an aggressive Mardu deck, why not just play Sarkhan or Stormbreath Dragon? Zurgo is a possible sideboard card against decks with no blockers, but otherwise I don't see him making an impact.
Zurgo Helmsmasher: 3.6
Everyone seems to like Surrak Dragonclaw, and I seem to be in the minority as I'm pretty unimpressed. While he has a ton of words on him, most of them have to do with the pretty minor text of making himself and your creatures uncounterable. It's pretty doubtful that there are going to be any counterspell heavy decks in the new Standard, and even then they will likely all have removal and can just let him resolve and kill him. As a counterspell hoser, Surrak Dragonclaw is pretty unnecessary.
So let's look at what else he's got going for him.
He's a five mana 6/6 - this is honestly par for the course at this point, and his lack of evasion really hurts as he is basically a big dumb idiot.
He has flash - while this is somewhat relevant, unless you had other plans with your mana for turn 5 he is going to be pretty transparent. Maybe people walk into him the first week of Standard, but any reasonable player is not going to attack their 4/4s into a full grip and five open Temur mana.
He gives your other creatures trample - yawn. A pretty mild upside, not worthless but not exciting at all.
Surrak Dragonclaw: 4.7
I don't want to spend a bunch of time on the Charms, as not only have they already been discussed by many other writers, I'm also just not really a huge fan. While Charms usually look awesome and versatile, very often they are just too overcosted to really have a strong impact on the game. Unless they have a mode that is already very well costed (like the Time Ebb on Azorius Charm, the draw two on Esper Charm, or the four damage on Boros Charm) the effect you get is usually not worth the full cost.
Think of a charm like an all-in-one printer. Does it make copies? Sure. Does it print photos? Sure. But what happens when you need to make 200 copies of DCI decklist sheets and it runs out of ink on page fifteen? Or when you want to print out your wedding photos and they look like total crap?
Specific tools are made for specific jobs; they have a job to do and they do it cleanly and efficiently. Charms are merely adequate, and 'merely adequate' is not what I look for in a Magic card.
Regardless, most of the Charms are playable so lets take a quick look.
An awkward removal spell that can't kill two of the most powerful creatures in the format (Courser of Kruphix and Goblin Rabblemaster), a bad Sign in Blood, and a bad pump spell. Abzan Charm is fine and will be good if the removal part of the card ends up being able to kill most of the relevant threats in the format. Being able to draw cards off your dead removal spell is certainly nice, and despite its shortcomings this is one of the best of the bunch.
Abzan Charm: 7.1
It's like Azorius Charm and Boros Charm had a baby, how adorable. The Time Ebb effect is one I do like in an aggressive deck, and having that stapled to a four damage burn spell and a reasonable combat trick if you are racing does make Jeskai Charm pretty versatile. The problem is Jeskai seems like a very confused clan. If they are aggressive, this card works out well, but the spell-based nature of the clan makes it seem like they want to play control, which this card does not fit in at all.
Jeskai Charm: 5.6
Probably the best Charm in a vacuum, but it is severely hampered by the fact that most major threats in this format can't be killed by Ultimate Price. Most playable enchantments are mono-colored creatures anyway, which limits the current usefulness of the second ability, while the third ability is essentially just cycling unless you are discarding for some sort of profit. The most overrated Charm for Standard.
Sultai Charm: 6.8
Flame Slash is a reasonable removal spell, but it is supposed to cost one mana, not three. You also get the option of a three mana Raise the Alarm or a three mana Duress. Mardu Charm is the perfect example of our all-in-one printer card, as it does none of its three modes well. I'm not a fan.
Mardu Charm: 4.8
This is a very difficult to cast three mana Mana Leak, and that is not very good at all. While the fight mode is sometimes useful as Domri Rade has shown us, it is much worse than the over removal options, and the third ability is about as useful as the lifelink on Azorius Charm. This is the worst Charm.
Temur Charm: 4.6
Now this is a charm. A three mana completely non-conditional removal spell, Hero's Downfall kills any creature you need to kill for a very reasonable rate, and will mostly be used in this mode. The kill a planeswalker mode is also very good, as planeswalkers are often hard to deal with and cost more than three mana, giving you a powerful answer that also gains you tempo. Hero's Downfall's non-existent third mode will never be played, as you will be too busy using its first two modes early and often.
Hero's Downfall Charm: 9.3
Siege Rhino really is the ultimate midrange card: it costs four mana, which is a bit expensive for aggressive decks but cheap for a control finisher. It has a good sized body that's not going to blow you away but is big enough to be a solid blocker and rumble in on offense. It has pseudo-haste as it drains for three right away, which can help close a game, while it also defensively gains three life making it a good stop to an aggressive rush.
All things add up to a very good but confused card. What kind of deck exactly wants Siege Rhino? Is it so good that every deck wants it? When is it better than Polukranos, World Eater or Reaper of the Wilds? Should they be alongside each other? There are a ton of options right now for midrange four mana green creatures, and while Siege Rhino stands out it's hard to tell if it's the best choice or not.
This is the kind of card that bores me, as it just obviously good. It doesn't push a strategy or synergize with anything in a fun way, it just gets by on pushed power level alone.
Siege Rhino: 7.8
Xenagos, the Reveler and Kiora, the Crashing Wave just got a whole lot worse. As if Lightning Angel wasn't already good, Mantis Rider gives us an entire mana of discount for only one point of toughness, and that is clearly a very good deal. Another obviously powerful card, Mantis Rider is an excellent evasive threat that hits hard, blocks well, and does a great job of threatening planeswalkers.
The question is again, what deck wants Mantis Rider? Like Jeskai Charm, Mantis Rider seems to prefer a more aggressive shell, while Jeskai seems more like a control wedge. Mantis Rider could still be good in a control deck as it can block and threaten planeswalkers, but it feels a little lost.
Still, I like Mantis Rider a lot. This ones gonna see a ton of play.
Mantis Rider: 8.4
Crackling Doom is another good sleeper, as it provides a great answer to many of these huge multicolored monsters with upside, while also being an excellent answer to what is going to be one of the most frustrating cards in the format, Sagu Mauler. Using a sleeper to answer a sleeper, makes sense.
Of course your deck has to actually be able to cast this card, which will severely limit the amount of play it can see, but this card is definitely for real. I'm not sure what a Mardu deck is going to look like yet, but this card definitely will have a place there.
Crackling Doom: 7.4
So many cards so little time!
There are a bunch more cards I wanna talk about and brew with, but we're gonna have to call it a day for now. Feel free to ask about certain cards, and let me know what you think about the ones I've already discussed. Evaluating cards in the first few weeks of a set is one of the most difficult things to do in Magic, and having a group discussion is a great way to do it.