After writing and reading tons of articles about the potential impact that Khans will have on Magic everywhere from Commander to Vintage, we now have the cards in hand! Now that I've gotten a chance to play with the actual cards, I have a few final thoughts on how the cards actually are playing at the kitchen table.
There are some hidden gems that no one is talking about in columns, and some overhyped problems. I want to take a look and peer under the hood at Khans from a variety of angles, all of it being aimed at Commander and other casual players.
<h2>Narset, Enlightened Master</h2>
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For legendary creatures, we've rarely seen a commander as powerful as flexible as Narset, Enlightened Master. Narset is rocking some serious potential. You can use her in a host of different Jeskai shells. For example, you can build your typical Izzet deck that's focused on a instant/sorcery matters theme. Toss in cards like Djinn Illuminatus, Young Pyromancer, and Quiet Contemplation. Then add white to your build and add in great classic multiplayer sorceries/instants from white (such as removal). Now you can run Narset around that shell as your legendary creature of choice. She'll play all of those great noncreature spells when she triggers, and that'll include those sorceries and instants!
Or you could build a typical Azorius-themed artifact deck. Run blue and white artifact loving cards, such as Sanctum Gargoyle or March of the Machines along with artifact studs like Darksteel Forge. You can roll a great artifact deck, and then just add red. In heads Goblin Welder or Bosh, Iron Golem. You've added red to your Azorius deck to create a very different Jeskai deck. Again, Narset will let you play all of those artifact goodies when she attacks (as well as other stuff too!).
Shoot, you could build a planeswalker "Let's be Friends!" deck or an enchantment deck. There are quite a few constellation cards (from Journey into Nyx) in the Jeskai colors. Toss in Replenish or Rhystic Study. You could also run some nasty auras and use them to enchant Narset and have a Jeskai Tron deck. Equipment tutors from Godo, Bandit Warlord to Stoneforge Mystic are also available.
And that's not all. What if you just build a control deck with fewer creatures? You have other permanents and sorceries/instants to keep a handle on stuff, like Control Magic. Alternatively you can have a strong aggro deck with a lot of token spewing spells that get cast for free and then include pump via cards like Dictate of Heliod. You don't have to have a massive theme. You can just win with Narset. Narset is ideally situated to win with a lot of different archetypes for Commander.
I would not be surprised if Narset ends up being one of the most commonly played Commanders in the next year.
What about the return of morph to Magic? I always felt that was one of the strangest mechanics of all time, and it's fun to see another run of it in the sun! There's a different feel to morph for me in this set. I played a plethora of Limited during Onslaught's days. There were a metric ton of strong morphs with powerful game-breaking morph-triggers. Take blue, as one example. Blue can counter a spell (Voidmage Apprentice), bounce a creature (Echo Tracer), swap a creature for another (Chromeshell Crab), fork a spell (Mischievous Quanar), redirect a spell or an effect to a new target (Willbender), and counter spells in other ways (Voidmage Prodigy; Disruptive Pitmage). In Khans, the only similar effects are...um...Kheru Spellsnatcher and Thousand Winds--both with 6+ mana morph flips. They feel a lot weaker in ability.
Sure, we have a multicolor bounce morph in an uncommon slot and so forth. But the morphs in this set feel like they have weak triggers, overly expensive triggers, or just a combat trick of some sort. In black, if you want to kill something with a morph creature, there's no Skinthinner (or Bane of the Living) or even an Aphetto Exterminator that'll take out some creatures. The best we have is a deathtouch morph at uncommon (Ruthless Ripper).
It feels like morph plays more of a Limited role and not really one that pushes into my Constructed casual Magic decks much. How many morphs make a serious claim for deck space? The Spellsnatcher, Thousand Winds, Grim Haruspex (but not because of the morph ability), Ashcloud Phoenix, Hooded Hydra, Jeering Instigator, Rattleclaw Mystic, and the Ripper. Not that much. (Now, to be fair, Onslaught Block was an entire triad of sets I'm comparing Khans morphs to. To be fair back, many of the cards mentioned above are just in Onslaught, and we still don't have anything similar).
So morph is a different thing this time around, and it's more Limited play than Constructed fun.
What about other mechanics?
Outlast is my favorite mechanic in the set. It easily makes out over other stuff. The ones that pump other +1/+1 countered folks are awesome. People were already running things like Sapphire Drake. Now you can play something cheap and fun that grows over time, and it has +1/+1 counters of its own to enjoy and use for other effects. A Sapphire Drake would not be amped by a Crowned Ceratok, but your Abzan Falconer, after one use of outlast, will be aided by Tuskguard Champion.
Even "bad" outlast cards have some strong value. For example, I think Disowned Ancestor is really good. Play it on the first turn and block stuff for a while with its 0/4 body. If it's not needed, just outlast it to make it a bit bigger turn after turn until you have a 3/7 beater. Outlast is like level up that provides immediate results!
For similar reasons, Abzan is my favorite clan in the set. It has the strongest set of mechanics and support cards in the set, and I really enjoy it. Good job Abzan!
On the other hand, raid is my least favorite mechanic, because it's not that strong--there's not a huge payoff for most raid stuff. There are just a few raid cards that interest me, and that's it. Meanwhile, prowess isn't that much either outside of a combo deck or something similarly unusual. Even ferocious feels a bit too Naya for my tastes mechanically. Delve is fine, but after that, it's a pretty weak set of mechanics to my mind.
What's my favorite three-color combination from Khans? Abzan, right? Nope, Esper. Gotcha! I love the support cards that we get from these three colors (Bitter Revelation, Utter End, Wingmate Roc, Treasure Cruise). We have great tools (Grim Haruspex), great threats (Sorin, Solemn Visitor; Clever Impersonator; Empty the Pits), and answers (End Hostilities). It's a blast of fun stuff!
By the way, while speaking of Bitter Revelation, it's is my most used card from Khans thus far. It feels like one of the best cards from the set, bar none. It is the Harmonize that I expect to lean on for a long time hence. Yay, Revelation!
And it's joined by a lot of other highly touted cards. I named Utter End the best casual card from the set, and thus far, it has not disappointed. I've liked the power of Wingmate Roc as well, as one of the only raid cards of worth.
On the other hand, Sarkhan has been a bit weaker than expected. You just use his first ability most of the time. That just makes him a good five-drop dragon akin to Thundermaw Hellkite or Stormbreath Dragon that's not good at defense. I'm sure that Sarkhan is okay with that, but I'm not--in Commander, I am facing too many people to leave a naked flying board that entices people to swing over and knock some loyalty counters off the good 'walker. Meanwhile, shooting a creature for four damage is just too slow, weak, and uses too much loyalty. You can threaten his ultimate, but it doesn't work in every deck. Many control decks feel the discarding every turn isn't worth the price of the extra cards. When playing against multiple opponents, he's not as strong as I was hoping he'd be. I thought he might be the best mono-red planeswalker of all time. He's not. Chandra, Pyromaster still is. I think Chandra, the Firebrand is next, and then Sarkhan replaces Koth in the three spot.
While Sarkhan is a bit overrated, what cards have impressed me?
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My vote for most underrated card for Commander right now might be Siege Rhino, which I've seen very little of in kitchen table decklists. My early results show that it's really abusive at the kitchen table due to size and the Kokusho-eque enters-the-battlefield trigger married to a cheap cost. (Rules note: You only gain 3 life when it drops at a multiplayer game, not 3 life per opponent.) Unfortunately, in order to run Siege Rhino you need to be either five color or Abzan, but he's really strong when you can play him.
<div align="center"><a href="http://sales.starcitygames.com//cardsearch.php?singlesearch=Cranial%20Archive"><img src="http://static.starcitygames.com/sales/cardscans/MTG/KTK/en/nonfoil/CranialArchive.jpg" width="223" height="311" border="0" style="padding: 1px" /></a></div>
Another unappreciated card is Cranial Archive. It's is a more expensive but a very flexible version of Thran Foundry. It still exiles itself on use, so it's difficult to abuse. But it also replaces itself, so there's no loss of a card to use it. You can use it to reshuffle your own graveyard, and protect it from graveyard removal or restock those goodies. Or you can aim it at someone about to abuse their own 'yard and force them to tuck it all away. Either way, it's got some strong flexibility. Consider it for your next deck as a flexible artifact tool.
<div align="center"><a href="http://sales.starcitygames.com//cardsearch.php?singlesearch=Tomb%20of%20the%20Spirit%20Dragon"><img src="http://static.starcitygames.com/sales/cardscans/MTG/KTK/en/nonfoil/TombOfTheSpiritDragon.jpg" width="223" height="311" border="0" style="padding: 1px" /></a></div>
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon might be lost in the many reviews about various treats and beats from the set, but don't sleep on it. Many decks meet the threshold for having a bunch of colorless dorks out (such as eldrazi drone, slivers, or artifact decks). The Tomb just requires a tap to use, not a sacrifice, so you can gain a bit of life every round. If you just control three or four artifact creatures over a few turns, you can easily jump your life total by twelve or sixteen life without much investment at all. The Tomb is a solid adjunct to these decks.
And that wraps up my thoughts on Khans, post-release. From the underwhelming Sarkhan to some cards that are punching above their weight class, and from mechanics to clans, there's a lot of fun stuff to talk about with the new set! Tons of great cards are fighting for spots in our Commander and other casual decks!
From Tarkir to your kitchen table, Magic awaits!