One thing that has become quickly evident is that Dragons of Tarkir is going to provide more to the Standard format than any third set in recent memory. What's even more impressive is that the playability looks to be spread across colors and rarities, which could lead to a diverse and fun few months of the format before Magic Origins.
Last time we looked at the blue and white cards I was excited to play, and now we have the rest. Strap in and get comfortable folks, this one is not short.
Is it possible that the Warrior deck now has too many options? We have the two Chiefs in Khans and Brutal Hordechief who want us to go wide, we have Arashin Foremost who really wants one or two big threats, we have Secure the Wastes to flood the board, and now we have this guy who really likes a Voltron. Alesha, Who Smiles At Death seems to favour a longer game, but all the one-mana 2/1s are pushing us towards beatdown. Finding the correct, or rather optimal, configuration for a Warrior build is going to be challenging.
What's not a challenge is figuring out that our fanatical friend is a powerful Magic card. The starting point of a three-mana 3/3 is decent enough when we have a relevant creature type, and the added ability to make our opponent take it on the chin with some two- or three-point drains pushes him over the top. The dream of draining for five or six is probably not a realistic one, but getting in those last few points will certainly be easier when we're just lobbing one-drops at our opponent's face. The marginal perk of ensuring our Bloodsoaked Champions aren't getting exiled by a Perilous Vault or countering a Bile Blight should not be overlooked.
When was the last time a black combat trick was any good? I can't promise this is top-notch powerful, but it certainly made me take note. The biggest upside here is that any creature you target with this is going to survive a block from Courser of Kruphix (killing it in the process, of course) and is going to get through a Sylvan Caryatid. Later in the game, even the threat of coating your attacker in venom will make your opponent hesitate before blocking with a Siege Rhino or similar. Illusion is, after all, the ultimate weapon when dealing with venom (a billion points if you get that reference). The toughness boost is often going to allow your creature to survive a lot of point removal, and if you are ever able to target a Tormented Hero or (heaven help your opponent) an Agent of the Fates, you are laughing.
There are a lot of very good Magic players dismissing this card. Now maybe this goes to show why I am not on the Pro Tour, but I don't get it. Creature-heavy aggro decks often lose the attrition war against the midrange decks that can sweep away their board before dropping bigger, badder threats. Dropping a Corpseweft on turn 7 or 8 and being able to make a couple of 6/6s or even 4/4s will put those decks right back in the game. There is a minor drawback in that you are taking cards out of the graveyard, which takes away fuel for cards like Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, but we're only eating creature cards, and the upside is potentially higher. Given that duplicates are at best redundant, you're not going to want more than one or two copies in your 75, but I have plans for this already. Stay tuned…
I loved this card as soon as it was spoiled, and it has quickly risen to the top of the list of my favorite cards in the set. Really, Risen Executioner checks all the boxes I wanted from this set. Zombie? Check. More than one black pip? Check. Graveyard interaction? Check. Resilient? Check. It slices, it dices, it's a floor wax, it's a delicious curve-topper. Oh, and it enables this spicy little number.
- 2 Blood-Chin Fanatic
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 2 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Risen Executioner
- 4 Shambling Goblin
- 2 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
- 3 Tymaret, the Murder King
I'm still working on a sideboard plan, but I'm going to want Underworld Cerberus, more removal, maybe a Dictate of Erebos, and possibly even Abhorrent Overlord. I've been messing around with the Stockpile engine online, and you can whip through your deck at unreasonable speeds. Blood-Chin Fanatic can sacrifice the Executioner and Bloodsoaked Champion for value, as well as Tymaret if you're hurting for red mana. It's possible the Corpseweft needs to be in the board and that some number of Black Cats and Sultai Emissaries need to be in the 75 somewhere. We're making pretty good use of the lord ability on the Executioner, but that is more of a bonus than anything else. Sidisi is obviously very powerful and enables me to find the missing piece of the recursion engine, but so far the most common use has been to tutor up Gray Merchant for the kill.
Because when you say "draw X cards," I think "have a chat with liquid hot magma." Questionable flavor aside, there's a niche for this card, and all we need to do is find it. The one I have seen most often is putting it in a Storm shell and casting it the turn before we go off, or potentially even mid-stream for those times you have all the mana and none of the kill cards. Nothing else that Storm can do even comes close to this sort of raw card-drawing power, and if you're able to copy it with an active Pyromancer Ascension, you'd have to be suffering some serious RNG karma to miss hitting a win condition. Even if you do whiff, you might hit enough rituals and card draw to try again next turn since you still have access to everything you hit.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Commune in a midrange deck to help it win the mirror matches. There's not much I lava more than a grindy, attrition-filled slugfest that is decided by the person who can see the most cards, and not much in Standard lets us see so many at once. If there's a Jund or Naya midrange deck to be had (and there is, I just haven't found it yet), Commune is almost certainly a big part of it.
I won't spend too long on this one, but I will say that the combo deck involving Descent of the Dragons, Battlefield Thaumaturge, Dragon Tempest, and some number of other creatures (usually three) looks remarkably fun. I had already been trying to find a deck with Thaumaturge, Icy Blast, and Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (among other cards), and having a second angle of attack could well be the help it needs.
I don't want to bring you down, but Descent is never going to be more than a combo piece. The Mono-Red decks that could use this to upgrade their creatures don't want a six-mana spell, and the decks that want a sweeper don't want to be giving the opponent a bunch of 4/4 Dragons. If it were an instant, or if Ratchet Bomb were legal, then maybe. As it stands…no.
No matter what happens I will always be a combo player at heart, a Johnny through and through. Storm is right on the fringe of the top tier decks in Modern right now, though you probably shouldn't tell Jon Finkel or Tom Martell that. Although Dragonstorm has some drawbacks that the more traditional Grapeshot version does not (like getting stuck with three Dragons in hand), it also has the advantage of being able to go off with a storm count of three. Dragon Tempest lowers that to a mere two, though things would have to be very strange for us to hit nine mana having only cast three spells. Playing Scourge of Valkas and Thundermaw Hellkite as our Dragons also lessens the worry of big clunky eight-drops cluttering up out hands. Here's a rough sketch of a list:
I'm tempted to play a See Beyond over the Izzet Charm, just to smooth out our hand. I've also considered a split of Thundermaw and Stormbreath Dragon just because Path to Exile is so prevalent. The sideboard would likely allow us to convert to a U/R control-style deck with Dragons aplenty, siding out the rituals for countermagic and maybe some removal. We might also want to find room for a Boseiju, Who Shelters All.
Far be it of me to tell someone not to play any given card, but the math just doesn't support playing Dragonlord's Servant in most decks. The cost reduction of one mana is no better (and in many cases worse) than a mana accelerant unless you are casting more than one Dragon in a turn. If there were any Dragon tribal cards, there might be a discussion to have here. That could be overlooked though if we wanted to attack with the Servant since we wouldn't have to worry about what we should tap him for. A 1/3 isn't scaring anyone in combat though, so that's not a consideration. Really just not worth a card.
It has historically taken a while for cards with this ability to start seeing play, and our Shaman friend here is just too good to not have a home at some point. However, a caveat: Aggro decks do not want Ire Shaman. In an environment with so many one-mana 2/1s, we're never going to want to play this on turn 2. A three-mana 2/2 is likely not much better in a fast deck, though when we flip it the next turn, we're very likely to be able to cast whatever we exile.
It's far more likely that Ire Shaman is played in a midrange deck that can use it as early offense or defense if needed while still being able to take advantage of the flip. As an added bonus, many of those decks will be able to manifest the Shaman with Mastery of the Unseen or Whisperwood Elemental, as well as being able to see the top card with scry or Courser of Kruphix.
Not a great deal to say here except that once Anger of the Gods rotates, we might have to try this one on for "seis." Depending on how things shake out, that could spell disaster for slower red-based decks against creatures with three or more toughness.
Yes I wrote that mostly for the puns. I regret nothing.
I'm not sure if this card is just too expensive. On one hand, it would go beautifully in an U/R Control deck with Riddle of Lightning and the broken blue delve cards as well as some lower-end burn. I played something similar before DTK and found that I would lose the long game when their creatures outclassed my removal, which Volcanic Vision would easily fix. On the other hand, it costs seven mana and is a sorcery.
Does the interaction with Soulfire Grand Master help at all? That's a buttload of life to be gaining. Probably. Okay, this card is probably bad, and I am probably going to play it. Feel free to point out to me that I knew this when I write about how bad the deck is in a few weeks...
It's hardly exciting, but I can definitely see the Survivalist taking over for Reclamation Sage in decks that are heavy on manifest effects like G/W Devotion. You also get a bigger body for your troubles, which can occasionally be relevant. Unless Elf tribal becomes relevant (which it might, it's been a while) then this seems like a reasonable change.
Doran has been sitting in my binder for months, daring me to build around him in Modern. So far I have resisted, but now, with four more draws to turn on the butt end of my deck, the pull is stronger than ever.
Cards with unique effects are really hard to evaluate. In Standard, we can now pay G to attack with a 3/3 hexproof for two, we can attack with a 5/5 for two that gains us a life each turn, we have multiple one-mana 4/4s, and both Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino get better. Because those cards weren't already busted. Heck we could even make a case for playing Sidisi's Pet!
We won't though, because the key to making a reasonable Assault Formation deck is going to be avoiding creatures that are terrible without the Formation. We can stretch a little for something like Nyx-Fleece Ram because it is rarely dead, but the Pet is out of the question. Probably. The base is still an Abzan deck, so we aren't wholly reliant on one card to be any good. We can also play Sidisi, Undead Vizier to tutor up the Assault, while also giving us a six-power attacker.
Just writing about this deck has me all worked up. One rule must be followed though: If you play it, you must call it Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Initially I dismissed this card entirely. Really, how many cards will have counters on them anyway? In discussion with friends though, I was inspired to re-evaluate my position on it in light of one key card: Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit.
She's not alone in making Inspiring Call a value card, but she's the first one that we discussed. Ajani Steadfast, Salt Road Ambushers, High Sentinels of Arashin, Gavony Township...it's a long list of good cards, most of which we'd be happy to protect from a board wipe. We're likely playing it in a deck that already has Whisperwood Elemental, giving us a great deal of protection from anything not called Perilous Vault. Fortunately, the control decks are going heavier on permanents now, so Perilous Vault is seeing less play.
Oh and don't forget we're drawing a bunch of cards! For three mana at instant speed, we'd be okay with drawing two and protecting one creature. Anything more than that and we're laughing.
"If only it cost one less" is a familiar refrain. At 2G for a 2/3, I would be all over the Ambushers. As it stands, I think the card is pretty good in a deck heavy on flip effects, making even a humble Rattleclaw Mystic into a beefy threat.
I was already looking at Deathmist Raptor as the card that pushed me over the edge for playing the Trail of Mystery deck in Constructed, and the Ambushers aren't doing anything to change that thought. I've been messing with it on MTGO, and it was already pretty good before DTK, so I might have to put it through some more paces.
Another unassuming card that I can actually see myself playing. It's got modular, which has had some degree of success in competitive Magic, and at one toughness, we can easily bolster the Servant up with Anafenza, Dromoka's Command, and the like. A G/W Aggro deck likely wants a lot of counters anyway, and this card scales up nicely the more ways we have to add counters.
The problem I foresee with that deck is choosing between two two-drops that ostensibly work so well together in Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Avatar of the Resolute. Without a G/W dual land that enters the battlefield untapped, we can't reliably have them both, but Servant does make Avatar more of a consideration than it might otherwise have been.
Remember Somberwald Sage? During its time in Standard it saw more than a little play in decks that wanted to power out cards like Craterhoof Behemoth and Soul of the Harvest. Now I'm pretty sure a Shaman ranks higher than a Sage, and I am equally sure that the Shaman is just a better card than the Sage.
First of all, it blocks and kills a lot better. In that it actually can block and kill. If I am dropping three mana on a creature, I need it to be able to do more than tap for mana. As a 2/3, we won't feel nearly as bad drawing this in the lategame, and against the red aggro decks we can absorb more damage while in all likelihood eating an attacker. Second, we can diversify the mana we add. Somberwald Sage only gave us one color, albeit three of that color. Now when I went to school, two was, in fact, less than three, but in this environment, adding two mana in any combination lets us cast literally any Dragon in the format. With the Dragon-reveal cycle being so powerful and Dragons themselves being more tournament-worthy collectively than ever before, this ability is way better than Somberwald's would be.
The formidable ability is just that. It won't be easy to activate against the decks against which it is good, but if you ever do manage to power it out, you're winning the game on the spot. Devotion seems like the easiest way to both manage the power requirement and the mana, but really this ability is just a nice bonus on a card that is good without it.
It's an unpopular opinion, but Dromoka is easily my favorite of the new Elder Dragons. Lifelink has been sorely missing from tournament-playable creatures recently (likely because we have Whip of Erebos), but it is an ability I value very highly. The uncounterable clause is perfect in a format with Disdainful Stroke, and the semi-Abeyance takes the edge off spells like Bile Blight and Hero's Downfall since they have to be cast at sorcery speed, taking counterspell mana away.
Although it will take two burn spells in almost every case to dispose of Dromoka, she does just die to any black-based spot removal, as well as Valorous Stance and Radiant Purge (if the latter starts to see play). The lifelink is also slightly less relevant on a six-drop than it would be on, say, Vampire Nighthawk (come back little buddy, we miss you), but if we can cast her early she will just end the game in a heartbeat.
Putting creatures and planeswalkers in graveyards is what red and black do best. With Kolaghan at the top of a R/B(x, maybe) deck, other midrange strategies will be hard-pressed to cast any creatures that can stem your assault. As a 6/5, Kolaghan will be able to end most games in a hurry, but when you add in the haste ability, you make every creature off the top into an even bigger threat.
The thing I can't stop seeing with Kolaghan, though, is that she turns Sarkhan Unbroken's ultimate from "you have a turn to wipe the board" into "I win now." I understand it's the snowiest, most gift-filled magical Christmasland of all time, but a guy can dream. She's also an option as a one-of in the Dragonstorm deck I mentioned above in the rare circumstance where you draw too many Scourges to go off.
Everyone loves casting Dragons, but very few of the Dragons in this set have the potential to clear up an opposing board. Dragonlord Atarka does it pretty well with a huge body attached to it, but as good as that is, it can only take out a few targets and can do nothing about hexproof.
Harbinger, on the other hand, can really clean up the board. Untapping with it against any aggro deck likely means you win, although admittedly that's hard to do. Three toughness is pretty fragile, after all. The potential is there, but perhaps the time is not right for the Harbinger just yet.
And speaking of Dragons we want to untap with! I just want to attack with the Ventmaw once and cast something huge as a result. One measly time. Is that really too much to ask?
Once again we're looking at a completely unique effect in Magic, one that essentially refunds its mana cost and does not restrict us on how or where we spend the mana. You get it as soon as you turn it sideways, so if you should happen to have, oh I don't know, a Harbinger of the Hunt sitting around you could clear out some potential blockers in the process. Or maybe you want to flash bestow a Boon Satyr, or monstrous your Stormbreath Dragon or Polukranos? Heck maybe you just want to Crater's Claws for about a billion post-combat. All this can be yours!
Anything But A Drag
Recent tournament results have shown that Dragons of Tarkir is bringing a lot to Standard, with tournament-quality Dragons being at the top of the list. That rarity aside, we have only just nibbled at the edges of the delicious, delicious tray of nachos that is this set, and as we get closer to the center, I expect more and more tasty gems will be uncovered under that wonderful melty cheese blend.
Dammit, now I want nachos.
Although brewing right now is somewhat stifled by the power and prevalence of red aggressive decks, I have a lot of fun ideas bubbling away under that cheese layer (the metaphor must continue!), and I look forward to sharing them with you all in the coming weeks. As always, I'm excited to hear your ideas and feedback so please do share.
Until next time, brew on!