Ixalan has some hard acts to follow. Kaladesh is the most powerful block in modern memory, as literally every artifact block always is, and Amonkhet wasn't a slouch either. While, even with most of the rares revealed, I'm unsure tribal nonsense can keep up with Gearhulks and Gods, there are still a few really interesting things to come out of the pre-"official preview" previews.
Almost more so than any of the cards revealed, the big hype has been over the planeswalker uniqueness rules change. For those who missed it, planeswalkers are no longer unique by type. They are now all legendary permanents and operate the same as any other legendary permanent: uniqueness by name.
Like everyone else, my first reaction was to search for cards with the word "legendary" in their text boxes. The one that jumped out was Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper. We've heard this story before: lands that make two mana are really good. Planeswalkers are especially good when cast a turn early. Time to get to deckbuilding.
First of all, Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper is exclusively a Modern card. Legacy has a strictly better version with fewer restrictions.
When browsing for legendary pernaments, the following cards caught my eye.
When browsing for planeswalkers that are going to run away with a game if you present them earlier than expected, involve multiple colorless costs, and don't baseline suck, I came up with the following:
Let's trim that down a bit: It just so happens that most legendary creatures are white and red, which conveniently have the most exciting planeswalkers to sneak in a turn early.
The shell that immediately drew me in is All-In Red. Not to be confused with Skred Red, this deck is much more like the Legacy Ancient Tomb decks. You are trying to cast something dumb on turn 2, whether that is a planeswalker or "just" a Blood Moon effect.
I started using Jusin Fry's Top 8 list from an Invitational Qualifier and got to goldfishing.
I quickly realized Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper had some issues here. It was good at making only your mediocre and absolute best draws better. Specifically, you are a turn 2 deck, where Untaidake was making your turn 3 better, and you aren't really trying to cast multiple things that cost four. At that point, if the card was just a Pyretic Ritual that cast your first four-drop, it might be better.
Lesson learned: Untaidake really needs to be casting multiple things and you need to be casting three-drops with it, or at least be capable of operating off Untaidake and one or two basic lands.
I think the direction to take here is white-based. Heart of Kiran feels like the kind of early play I'm looking for, as does Thalia, Heretic Cathar. As much as I hate that card in the Humans decks, in a deck where your opponent's 5/5 blanks fewer of your attacks, it is more interesting.
- 1 Archangel Avacyn
- 1 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
- 2 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
- 2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
My initial list was mono-white with Runed Halo, but that is not a combo with planeswalkers, so I had to branch out for additional answers. I don't want to get too funky with the mana, given that I'm leaning on a colorless source, but it's possible you could move to literal Orzhov Signet as your ramp spell if you wanted Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or something. You could also imagine a similar W/R list with Nahiri, the Harbinger, but I have real concerns about having enough good interaction without Fatal Push.
Overall I'm unsure if Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper is quite there for Modern right now, but it feels like that's more an issue of the card set than the card. Just goldfishing, there was a clear benefit to not just playing Noble Hierarch in making your deck more resilient to Fatal Push and letting you play your own sweepers.
I'm going to be watching each set for legendary creatures that line up with this card. Maybe Wizards will go crazy and release a three-cost planeswalker that doesn't require double of a color of mana to cast. Who knows? All I know is that Untaidake might not be a "now" card, but it's definitely a "when" and not an "if."
If you are looking for sure immediate impact, you should step back a format or two into Vintage and Legacy. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a very powerful card that has always lived in the shadow of doing nothing if Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been cast.
"But Ari, if you have Jace, the Mind Sculptor active, shouldn't you win?"
Yes, but it's not that simple. It needs to be cast on a stable battlefield, meaning your prior cards and sometimes your next two or so have to do something. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy struggled there. Now he can "flashback" a card to pick off a threat and hang around to -2/0 an attacker and let big Jace's Brainstorms takeover.
"Flashback" is in quotes because it isn't actually flashback, which is important. You can Jace, Telepath Unbound a Force of Will and cast it via exiling a card, which means Jace, Vryn's Prodigy can protect a tapout Jace, the Mind Sculptor in ways Snapcaster Mage really couldn't.
Ruin Raider is the best card previewed by miles. We've been burned by Dark Confidant lookalikes for a while, so I'm not surprised no one has picked up on this fact. But Glint-Sleeve Siphoner shows that Wizards has scaled back on their fear of the original's power level and Ruin Raider is yet another in that line.
The important text on Ruin Raider is "at the beginning of your end step." Unlike any other Dark Confidant, it has immediate return. You don't need to even cast it pre-combat, as the trigger checks raid on the end step! The typical case is a Rogue Refiner that keeps on giving.
You do need to keep your curve low to manage multiple activations, but that seems easy enough. Earthshaker Khenra is a big way to utilize extra lands on a low curve.
"But Ari, what about two-color mana sucking?"
Let me tell you about some "Dragonskull Summit entering the battlefield untapped" business. Untapped multicolor lands are great and will never stop being great. Mana for allied color pairs is now better than enemy pairs by a fair amount.
I don't want to push a full decklist until we have more cards, but I'm kinda excited by the prospect of Rakdos.
I'm 100% to play Scrapheap Scrounger in my deck, but that might also mean a full port of the Vehicles cards. One draw of this is that you can play Dragonskull Summit, Canyon Slough, and some basics, and maximize your untapped lands while artifacts smooth out your mana. Another draw is how artifact payoffs make Aethersphere Harvester look good.
My concern is that I don't know if the payoffs past Unlicensed Disintegration are worth it. It depends a lot on the two-drops everyone else is playing. Inventor's Apprentice as a 2/3 could be horrible if two-drops are three toughness.
The other option is just Pirates. I'm going to reserve judgment there until I see a one-drop.
If there isn't another Dread Wanderer-level one-drop to play, I can't imagine literal Pirates being the place to be.
I do think Rowdy Crew is just a good Magic card. Again, it is a built-in cantrip creature. The downside is that you need a low curve, as random discard when your hand is full of exciting four- and five-drops makes you feel dumb. With my Pirate wizardry, your Chandra, Torch of Defiance is now…a Swamp!
Fortunately, that's the same downside as Ruin Raider. Chandra, Torch of Defiance versus this card likely comes down to how aggressive your opponents can be. Whirler Virtuosos and Glorybringer point to Pirates, which is a good sign for Rowdy Crew.
Cut // Ribbons is another general draw to B/R. The card didn't see much play this year, but when it was in decks, it was great. Now that B/R mana is good, I expect it to be a real winner. Add to that the fact that I have just listed off two solid cards that put you up lands and it isn't that horrible to Ruin Raider, and I expect it many games to end with it. Or just in Jund shells with Glorybringer and Attune with Aether.
Time for my favorite part of preview season, where I get to rant about mana!
The next most important cards revealed so far are the Magic 2010 check lands. We are so programmed to assume allied-color spells mean awkward curves with years of enemy painlands and fastlands, and unlike the Shadow and Battle lands, these lands won't supply that miserable experience.
It is worth noting enemy creature-lands leaving the format emphasizes this change. Pure enemy duos are trying to operate off a single set of multicolor lands, which never ends well.
The first exception to enemy-color bad mana is with wedges where your low drops are in the center "enemy" color, as with Mardu Vehicles and Toolcraft Exemplar. The second exception is Attune with Aether plus whatever you want.
So the possible shells to start with:
- Attune with Aether choose your own adventure
- Two allied colors
- Wedges with early plays in the enemy color
You have lots of options within that, but the limitations are well-defined. With Mono-Red and more aggro on the way, curving out feels like it is going to matter. Don't lose to your lands.
Time for more minor card notes.
Kinjalli's Sunwing is going to succeed where Thalia, Heretic Cathar failed. Not only are multiples not dead, but the flying means the card has longer game utility.
Also, this card dying to Glorybringer is absolute garbage. It should be an honorary Dragon. It flies and has scales. Just because it doesn't breathe fire doesn't mean it's not part of the family.
(Drakes and Dragons being split also annoys me, for the record.)
Calling it now: Sunbird's Invocation will see Standard play. Adding minor cascade to every card and being fine in multiples is a real way to bury someone in cards. I don't know when that will happen or how, but the card looks super-fun, so I may as well tell people in advance to maximize fun had across all players.
All I know is you'd better be ready with and for The Scarab God. That card is messed up.
And Torrential Gearhulk.
Wow, Standard is still going to be really powerful.