The Fates of our (immediate) future have been Reforged, and with spoiler season coming to a close right now, it's time to brew and explore again. With Khans of Tarkir causing a huge upheaval, we're in the somewhat unusual situation that the true impact of the infusion of power into the Eternal formats as a result of Treasure Cruise and friends still haven't fully played out yet, and already we have a new set to consider.
My expectation from the spoiler is that Fate Reforged won't cause anything close to the upheaval Khans caused, not that that's a necessary quality in an interesting set. Fate Reforged still brings us a number of pushed cards, power level-wise, some interesting and intricate designs, and enough to think about that it makes me happy to look at the directions R&D has been taking set design as a whole lately, even if I'm still a little skeptical about the power level (and mana cost) of modern day finishers.
Well, enough introduction, you all know what these brew review articles are about, so let's go and look at today's real stars!
Let's start with one of the cards that are getting all the hype - justifiably so in this particular case. After having completed the "busted two-drops" cycle started with Tarmogoyf and ending with Young Pyromancer, it seems Wizards is now bound to try and do the same thing with the three-drops cycle you could say was kicked off by True-Name Nemesis (or Knight of the Reliquary/Geist of Saint Traft if you want to count multicolor cards).
I'm gonna say it right now: Monastery Mentor is better than True-Name Nemesis (and also more interesting to play with and against). Yes, it's easier to kill but usually not without leaving some value behind. At the same time though, it similarly dominates the board (by flooding it with tokens) while fixing True-Name Nemesis' biggest weakness because it also provides a reasonable (or rather unreasonable, given how fast this can kill) clock on its own. Monastery Mentor basically has all the utility of Young Pyromancer in how flexible you can use the tokens with the huge difference that your army usually will be large not only in number but also in size.
I don't know how exactly that'll play out in Standard, but I expect Monastery Mentor to be a major player in the Eternal formats. If you manage to play three more spells the turn the Mentor is cast, another four the next turn bring things from twenty to zero in one fell swoop. In Vintage, this is actually reasonably easy to do between Gush, Gitaxian Probe, Mental Misstep, Force of Will, and all the artifact mana - which also triggers Mentor! - but even in Legacy it shouldn't be too hard to guarantee two tokens sitting in play if you plan for it (though it might depend on the opponent giving us a Daze target). That would make Mentor's leftovers after removal into basically a double Monastery Swiftspear draw, and I'm reasonably sure we all know by now how those play out.
I could easily see a sequence such as Monastery Mentor, Gush, some kind of Mox, and a Time Walk becoming a very common way to win from Gush decks, similar to the one I'm planning on using in our Vintage FNMs (first one's on Friday, yay!) that splashes white for Mentor instead of red for Young Pyromancer. But Mentor is a cheap and compact enough win condition in Vintage that I wouldn't be surprised to see it turn up in a variety of blue decks as the convenient split finisher that plays a great value game early, and often plays the role of one turn-clock later in the game.
In Legacy, the additional colorless mana and lower number of available free spells might actually work against Mentor in a significant way, but I expect a lot of future Pyromancer + Treasure Cruise decks to splash white from now on to access copies 5-8 of Young Pyromancer, likely to the detriment of Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis. My very first approach looked very basic and has been doing solid work in the couple of games I've managed to play so far:
This is basically BBD's Grand Prix New Jersey winning Jeskai Stoneblade list with a condensed aggression package - eight threats, all of them token makers - and additional disruption in the maindeck. Meddling Mages, a la Gro of old might be a little too cute, but I've been kind of liking them so far. The synergy with Gitaxian Probe is pretty awesome, and being able to just lock opponents out of necessary combo pieces or protective elements is great (Meddling Mage is the perfect second creature to put next to a Pyromancer against Miracles, for example). It might easily be better to play more countermagic or something like Misdirection though.
To cut all this a little short, I think Monastery Mentor is gonna be a big player, and it fuels exactly the kind of strategy Treasure Cruise has already given a push, though with enough of a midrange twist that we might see things moving from all out aggression with Delver to a slightly higher curve velocity deck that tries to faux-combo its opponents with its token generators.
I really enjoy the idea behind the manifest mechanic, as it just feels right just from reading it. Getting on curve plays that have at least a shot of panning out as solid value later in the game is exactly the kind of variance reduction I enjoy in design. Cloudform is actually my least favorite design of these just because it's the most likely to lead to annoying blow-outs by hexproofing something that should never have that ability (at least you can interact with the Cloudform itself, I guess.).
The fair, apparent use of manifest though, isn't exactly what we'll be about in the Eternal formats I suspect, so Cloudform suddenly becomes quite interesting. Manifest is yet another tricky way to cheat out a cheap Phyrexian Dreadnought and one that works incredibly well with library manipulation such as Brainstorm and Sensei's Divining Top. For that particular use, Cloudform with its hexproof is clearly the most valuable manifest-enabler because the Dreadnought combo's most detrimental foe has been Abrupt Decay for a while now.
I wouldn't be surprised if something built on the foundations of the old Dreadstill lists turns out to suddenly be reasonable again now that we have an enabler that also protects the Dreadnought from removal, and I could even see a more controlling direction using the combo as a Tinker-style finisher with the help of Enlightened Tutor ending up being a solid deck - which is why there's a Lightform up above. After all, if you're already tutoring, I can see quite a number of matchups in which I'd rather have a lifelinking Dreadnought instead of a hexproof one.
This is what I'd expect the core of either kind of list to look like, leaving about twelve slots to mix and match the spells you want to define the rest of the deck's strategy:
Oh, and for Standard, keep in mind this costs UU and works quite well with Thassa, God of the Sea to begin with. The devotion strategies have been mostly forgotten since rotation, but that was mostly because they were missing decent enablers.
On the surface, it's a card that doesn't actually do anything other than provide a bunch of surprise blockers, but Rally the Ancestors could have some hidden depths. Rally the Ancestors seems like it might be breakable if someone can find the right shenanigans to pull off. The effect is surprisingly close to a limited time only Replenish for creatures after all.
There are three straightforward sets of creatures that might support that - Goblins and its haste lords, Elves and its Heritage Druid mana engine, and Allies. Allies you say? Well, if you manage to put enough allies into your graveyard, Rally the Ancestors allows you to pull all of them out and win on the spot with the scaling enters the battlefield triggers, Scapeshift style. The most amusing thing about this? Halimar Excavator gives you something that plays well as both an enabler (start by milling yourself) that also provides a very valid trigger-based win condition.
The thing I like most about that approach is that it would allow the setting up of a weird two-step combo plan by using Return to the Ranks as a second step tool:
Rally the Ancestors back a Halimar Excavator and any four other Allies, mill yourself for 25, use those to convoke out a Return to the Ranks for another Excavator and another two allies, and you get to mill your opponent for 48. Pretty impressive, though clearly not a finished product yet.
I'm sure there are other options to try and abuse this card, especially involving actual sac outlets - Skirk Prospector in particular seems like it might be decent in something trying to abuse Goblin-haste-lords. All in all, a card I thoroughly enjoy even if I'm not sure yet how and if we should be using it exactly.
For the Eternal formats, the whole "spells have lifelink" text is a distraction here in my opinion. Instead, this looks a lot like an Auriok Salvagers type card to me, at least for Vintage. Something that can easily end the game given reasonably simple conditions (in this case: you have Time Walk and six mana on board with Soulfire Grand Master out) and grinds decently while you're setting up that win condition (Ancestral Recall is some good to recur too, I hear).
I already mentioned the infinite turn loop with Time Walk I'd put this in my deck for, but this also reaps some pretty sweet rewards when used purely as a utility tool. With Force of Will, you get to create a four-mana buyback Forbid that buybacks for discarding only a single (blue) card, six mana enable Counterspell or Mana Drain recursion (depending on format) and the Grand Master also ensures you won't run out of Lightning Bolts, Disenchants, or Swords to Plowshares later in the game.
I could also see this turning up as a utility card in a couple of Legacy decks, but I think its real potential lies in Vintage in a deck similar to Bomberman that can play a grindy, creature-based aggro-control game and win on the spot once it's found a specific restricted card. I don't even have a brewed up list for this one yet - it might turn out combining with some Monastery Mentor shenanigans, for example - but I'm already excited to see how Soulfire Grand Master does in actual gameplay.
So delve Time Walk is a thing too? Didn't they usually restrain themselves and made only either Time Walk or Ancestral Recall in the past for these kinds of "rebuild the old brokenness through cost reduction" designs? I'm not complaining, it just seems like a notable deviation from standard practice.
As for Temporal Trespass as a card, well, this one I'm less excited about than I was for Treasure Cruise. First, Time Walk as an effect is reasonably overrated. Sure, in some games it's incredibly broken and abusive, but a lot of the time, Time Walk is solid (either cycles for zero or plays as a free Explore) but not something I'd be interested in for more than three mana. Actually, UUU is pretty much the highest cost I'd put Time Walk into a random deck at, and this costs an additional eight delve-able mana.
That's a lot more severely overcosted than the two draw spells were (Cruise and Dig are both above non-delve playability by about four mana in my estimation). I could definitely see Temporal Trespass being played in Legacy as a one or maybe even two-of in decks with Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer because those two make it really easy to turn a Time Walk into an instant kill, but don't expect it to cause even close to the kind of upheaval Delvecestral Recall did. In fact, assume it'll largely not make it into any of the older formats.
This is my favorite card from the set, not close. A decent card draw ability in red, and an intriguing and abusable one at that.
First, just look at this card on its own. A 2/1 for two isn't particularly exciting, but it's a decent curve filler to make sure you get to use your mana efficiently early on. The real interest in it is later in the game though. Clearly the body won't matter anymore at that point, but that's true for a lot of two-drops. Where those are dead though, Humble Defector draws you two cards you get your whole turn to use before your opponent can even consider trying to catch up. That might be exactly the tiny push you were missing to finish off your opponent in an aggressive red deck.
Defector is also an interesting tool for combo decks (who cares about handing it over if they're dead before it untaps?), as it's a great card storage facility. Against black disruptive deck, drawing cards on the spot can be much worse than doing so after the opponent has exhausted their discard spells. In this role, Humble Defector obviously directly competes with Dark Confidant, but the fact that it only takes one turn to draw two and doesn't help your opponent race both make decent points in its favor.
While all of that is nicely elegant design, it's far from the kind of play I'm salivating at when looking at the Defector. What I really enjoy there is that it has all the makings of a powerful engine card. You see, if you can untap it at instant speed, Humble Defector becomes a ridiculous burst draw engine very rapidly.
The obvious thing to do with that is to combine it with Jeskai Ascendancy in Standard. Turn 2 Humble Defector, turn 3 Ascendancy, turn 4 Raise the Alarm, Stoke the Flames, draw six cards seems "decent," right? Basically the Ascendancy deck - whichever form ends up turning out best with the influx of new cards - now gets a two-drop that will work as a reasonable draw engine on its own - are you really tapping this for two cards and giving it back to the Ascendancy player that might go off with it? - and becomes completely busted if the deck has found its namesake enchantment.
However, Jeskai Asccendancy isn't the only thing this works well with. Easy to pay for instant speed untap effects like those of Quirion Ranger and Scryb Ranger already make this quite busted and locking out most of your opponent's spells like the Chalice of the Void decks do could make the Defector quite good too.
I feel like I might easily be overrating how good this is because I find the design so compelling, but I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that Humble Defector has spawned its very own archetype subgroup that happily relies on what might be one of the best non-blue draw engines we've seen in recent times.
That concludes the Fate Reforged cards I really have a lot to say about, though there are quite a few that I have at least a little something to say about.
This is another card I mention more because I like it than because I expect it to turn up in any format I play with regularity. Making Gravedigger a 3/2 with prowess is a pretty significant upgrade, meaning this is likely prime Standard material if you can make its enters-the-battlefield ability as valuable as Gravedigger's usually is in a Limited game.
Whatever Jeskai Ascendancy deck establishes itself after the new set becomes legal might at some point want to use this as a postboard option against enchantment hate. I also somehow feel like there might be a G/W Enchantress style deck (with Eidolon of Blossoms and Courser of Kruphix plus maybe some other enchantment creatures or, say, Lightform) hidden somewhere in this Standard. If that's true, that deck might be interested too.
It's not inconceivable that this will find its way into the G/W Hexproof deck in Modern as it works both as a finishing aura and a draw-engine once you manage to hit four mana. I could also see this actually playing reasonably in Standard, either in Heroic (you already have a number of auras and Hero of Iroas makes it cheaper) or the G/W Enchantress deck I alluded to before (nice with bestow creatures, secondary kind of draw engine, also works with the manifest enchantments).
Not a card you expected to be mentioned? Well, I've been burned by totally overlooking Monastery Swiftspear so I suddenly find myself taking prowess very seriously. Prowess is very good in Legacy and Vintage, and putting it on a creature that will simply cycle when it can't do its intended job makes for a very low commitment win condition. Getting a 1/1 that can easily end the game at a reasonable pace and usually won't actually cost you a card if it gets stopped is something I could see a number of decks be interested in, especially in Vintage, the format that allows for the longest spell-chains in decks that aren't dedicated combo. The Sage is also a neat card to sacrifice to Cabal Therapy, for whatever that's worth.
This might be the kind of card needed to ensure you can trigger your Vengevines consistently in a Modern DredgeVine build. It also has nice synergy with Fauna Shaman (and would be okay with Survival if we still had access to that in Legacy).
Speaking of Modern DredgeVine, Flamewake Phoenix is a great complement to Vengevine among your pay off cards for that kind of deck. It has haste to help swing for lethal the turn you Vengevine them, and its ferocious condition is easily fulfilled by the Vengevines themselves. I think it's only a matter of time until that strategy will reach the critical mass of tools to become a real player in Modern if this doesn't get it there yet.
Circular Logic without the Madness? Clearly, cold-hearted logic is more powerful a way to disrupt your opponent than the emotional approach of making them suffer your disdain.
A heroic trigger plus a cycle and the ability to untap your Humble Defector once. Is that good enough to see play somewhere in Standard? Is Heroic Ascendancy calling again?
This printing isn't all that significant on its own but quite relevant to look at as the second coming of Vedalken Engineer. Between Engineer, Weaponsmith, and Grand Architect, you can be reasonably sure you'll hit at least one of your "Mishra's Workshop-esque creatures" early in the game and likely even a replacement should that end up getting killed. This finally allows you to construct your deck reasonably reliant on drawing your mana enablers, something these kinds of strategies basically require by necessity to be good enough to be worth pursuing - not that I'm sure that deck will actually be any good anywhere it's legal.
I like this somehow. It's the kind of blowout in non-Eternal formats I'd expect of a six mana spell but still conditional enough to lead to a ton of interesting and awkward games. Six mana is a lot, but bouncing an opposing Siege Rhino, getting your own (including the trigger), and blocking their other attacker might make this a cool play to see in Standard soon.
Hmm, red Berserk (you aren't using this on things that don't trigger ferocious) for a mana more and multiple copies don't stack. I'd have loved this when I was still trying to play Psychatog in Legacy (no need to splash green to be able to Cunning Wish for Berserk), but I'm not sure where it fits in the older formats now--is there a point to splash for it in Modern Infect so that the deck can start playing more like the Legacy version between Become Immense and this? For Standard, it sure looks like this would be an awesome card in some aggressive deck that plays a lot of pump spells like Boss Sligh or some sort of Heroic deck. Wizards is getting more and more aggressive with cards that approach Berserk's power level over the last years, and I wonder if they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot with one of them sometime in the future.
I just want to (sadly) point out how much better this lowly uncommon is compared to the card that inspired the whole dash mechanic (Viashino Sandstalker).
If you can ferocious this with a Tarmogoyf that's getting blocked, your guys can suddenly trade with True-Name Nemesis (and lesser "protection from something" issues can be solved in the same way). I somewhat suspect that True-Name Nemesis is mostly a thing of the past with Monastery Mentor around though.
This looks like it should be a decent card against creatureless and creature-poor decks and one that will still often have enough impact to matter in creature mirrors (given that you build the deck you put this in). Three mana is sadly probably one too much for Eternal play.
I don't think this is an Eternal card, and I don't know what it goes in yet, but it's a pretty ridiculous mana ramp tool, as it essentially produces four mana every turn, even paying you back two the turn you cast it. That actually compares favorably to Thran Dynamo, a card rightly regarded as among the most powerful lategame mana ramp effects ever made.
I have no idea if Figure of Destiny 2.0 is any good, what with the increased activation costs, though I kind of like that this time you get to repeatedly abuse the "ultimate."
This could actually be interesting as a super-Rancor for an aggressive deck with enough legends. Not sure that exists yet, but if more Isamaru's start to appear, this might be going somewhere
No idea if either of these is actually any good, I merely mention them because they're both easy to cast with Mishra's Workshop and have better stats than most other cheap options available to that deck.
Before I close this out today, let me say a few words about the overall impression I have of Fate Reforged. Simply put, I love the direction design has been embracing since Khans to Tarkir - actually, since M15 to be honest. There are powerful single cards - quite a lot of them, actually -clear and obvious build-around-me's, but a lot of the power level of the sets is tied up in open-ended, highly flexible cards that get the gears turning in the deckbuilder's mind.
That doesn't mean those cards are necessarily even good, but their costs and abilities are pushed enough that they will become really good once we find a way to take advantage of them. R&D is ready to take steps that might turn out dangerous (if only because it isn't obvious what the heck we as players will come up with), and I'm loving them for it. I'd rather have cards end up needing to be banned than a mire of mediocrity and predictable gameplay and deckbuilding to wade through for sure.
Given the nature of these designs, I can't really say how many of the new cards will actually pan out as staples or even playables in the older formats - though I'd take bets on Monastery Mentor making it currently - but there are a lot of them I expect to see at least from time to time, on the fringe as it were. And really, that's what I'm hoping for out of new sets on a regular basis - lots of things to further empower the fringes of the Eternal formats with some flagship prints once in a while to help throw a wrench into the established matchups of the majority players.