Darksteel and Five
Ah yes, it's that time again. A new set is released and hordes of set reviews follow in its wake. Although a smaller set than Mirrodin, Darksteel is larger than previous block expansions, thus creating an interesting situation. We get more cards from the middle expansion than we normally do, and that may have an interesting effect on tournaments, especially Type Two and Block.
Luckily, this article does not concern itself with Type Two and Block tournaments. While other set reviews focus on draft and modern formats, this set review looks at Darksteel's application to an established format - Five Color.
In case this is your first time reading one of my set reviews, allow me to get the ground rules out of the way. One of the most boring things about set reviews is that so many cards which are marginally useful are reviewed. There's only so many times I can read comments like,"Okay in sealed, bad in Constructed," or,"Not the worst choice in a theme deck, but poor quality for tournament decks." I have better things to do with my time than to review a bunch of chaff and filler. That will give me more time to discus the Darksteel goodies.
When I see Limited or Type Two set reviews before the set is even officially released, I have to cringe. How can someone already have the necessary information to review a set without playtesting the cards? However, established environments like Five Color and Type One have different standards. Playtesting is not needed as much, because there are standards. Countermagic has to stand up to the very best, burn has to stand up to Lightning Bolt, mana fixing has to live up to Land Grant and Tithe, removal has to hold a candle to Swords to Plowshares and Cursed Scroll, and on it goes.
Of course, like many formats, Five Color has a casual side and a competitive side. Literally anything can see play on the casual side. It's my intention to address everything on the continuum from serious casual through competitive play. The people who are looking for the good stuff. Simply because I do not include Darksteel cards does not automatically mean that I think they suck. But it might.
Usually, I start off by looking at some Darksteel themes before heading into specific cards. The themes this time are largely simple, and most will not work in a Five Color deck.
Indestructible - An interesting effect that may not have as much of an impact on the tournament side of Magic as on the Kitchen Table side. Some indestructible cards are altogether too expensive. The occasional card, however, is very intriguing. We'll look at a few below.
Affinity for Landtype - No matter how focused your Five Color deck is, the simple fact is that it will hardly have enough to make these creatures a serious candidate for consideration. You'll need to look elsewhere for your creatures.
Modular - A bit cute, and maybe powerful in a sixty card deck, but there is a decided lack of powerful, aggressively priced artifact creatures running around. Even if you played Masticore, Juggernaut, Su-Chi, Chimeric Idol, Phyrexian War Beast, and Ticking Gnomes in your Five Color decks, you run out of bodies soon enough. That's a lot of artifact creatures, and its only twenty-four cards out of 250. Thus, any arcbound creature must itself be aggressively costed in order to run it, and, unfortunately, they simply cost too much.
And now, the specific card comments. Like always, we'll start in White and work our way around the color wheel to Blue, then hit artifacts and lands.
White doesn't have much to offer in Darksteel. The cards are bland and the creatures mostly rehashes of previous creatures. There is one exception in Pristine Angel, which, although interesting, lacks punch.
The interesting thing about Hallow is hardly its ability. Cards have been printed in white before with a similar flavor. The interesting thing is its casting cost, which is rather cheap. It only prevents damage from a single spell, but preventing all damage that a Pyroclasm does might be pretty handy. I don't believe that Hallow will have any immediate impact, but if cheap sweeping creature removal is printed that is damage based, you may see it turn up as an answer. For now, Red is the color most likely to deal damage and the color least played, which makes Hallow a card to note and remember, not to play.
There are few creature slots as clogged up as the White two-drop. However, there are very few quality two-drops in white that avoid having a double White casting cost. As Equipment becomes more abundant, this creature's utility rises. Even if Equipment becomes twenty or thirty cards in a deck, this creature will never be on par with Wild Mongrel, but it may just be good enough to play in that situation.
An interesting effect to say the least. Iridescent Angel is a 4/4 flyer with protection from all colors for seven mana. Here is a 4/4 flyer which can have protection from all colors and artifacts as well. There are not too many artifact creatures that have flying running around in Five Color decks, but it's still a nice bonus. Although it only costs six, you have to wonder at its power, since you can only rely on its ability on defense. Barring another card, of course.
A ten-mana sorcery will have no effect on any competitive Five Color game. Soulscour might be a fun card for your multiplayer Five, but not for anything serious.
Traditional reviews of Green creatures always included a few creatures per set that have the following phrase attached to them"Might be a great reanimation target, but there are so many good targets out there, that it will probably get lost in the numbers game." Just assume that every big beefy stick in this set is included in the list below with that tagline and we'll move on, fair enough?
This is just a weird card. A 4/4 for five mana is Durkwood Boars territory, so a creature needs a good ability (a la Arrogant Wurm) to see play. To be honest, I've never really tried to look at lifegain cards like I have to now.
Obviously, no matter how many Ageless Entities or Well of Lost Dreams are in your deck, you still do not want to play dedicated life gain cards like Heroes' Reunion. However, cards that have other abilities and also gain life might move to the front. Maybe you'll want to play Chastise instead of Order/Chaos. Multani's Decree instead of Tempest of Light. Spike Feeder instead of Troll Ascetic, and so forth. In this case, you might have an interesting confluence of secondary effects and cards like Ageless Entity that uses those effects.
No matter how interesting a card may seem at first, you very rarely find room for a card that has three mana in the casting cost in Five Color. Only card's with enormous and abusable power like Future Sight and Mind Over Matter are exceptions to that rule.
This might be just good enough to see play. As a 5/5 for four mana, its disadvantage can be a bit harsh against a mono-brown deck. Every serious Five Color deck plays artifacts, if for no other reason than to smooth out mana problems. But cards like Mox Diamond, Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone and the like will have already been played by the time Karstoderm comes to play. As such, it seems like a pretty potent card.
Pulse of the Tangle
For Five Color, this is no Call of the Herd, despite the hype. It is not as splashable, and it only returns to your hand when you are in a disadvantageous situation. In those situations, I doubt you want to play a 3/3 token creature, but something else.
Reap and Sow
One of three possible trouble cards from the set. The ability to get any land was restricted only to Crop Rotation for a long time. Along came Weathered Wayfarer and the ability remained unique enough to restrict him as well. In the past two sets, we've doubled the number of cards with this ability with Sylvan Scrying from Mirrodin, and now this. All of its predecessors have been restricted in Five. That's how powerful this ability can be. However, most players want cards to help their mana base on the first or second turn, not the fourth. Reap and Sow is slow enough that it may very well not be restricted. Since it doubles as splashable land destruction, it is quite a versatile card. As such, I expect to see it played quite often.
I like neat tricks. Things that catch your opponent by surprise. But this is crazy. Six mana for a simple 3/4 that blocks flyers? That's six mana for a creature that is a speed bump for many four and five drop creatures like Possessed Aven, Mystic Enforcer, and such. There is no way that this card is playable under most practical circumstances.
A one drop that can either temporarily fix mana or swing. Provides a deterrent to Jackal Pups and trades with most other one-drops like Savannah Lions. This card had the potential to be played as an adjunct to Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise, but will never be a replacement.
Another interesting creature. As a 2/1 for two mana, this card is not that great. As a card with a double Green casting cost, it gets worse. However, Green is often one of the focus colors of a Five Color deck. A lot of competitive decks focus on Green early, so that they can play their mana fixing cards. With that in mind, Green may be a better choice for a double colored two-drop. Heck, if you are going to play one, Green is probably the best option. The Zealot can trade with most one and two drops and also acts as a Seal of Cleansing. The potential for an advantageous trade on your part is quite high, which makes the Zealot very tempting.
As usual, Red does not have a lot of potent cards for Five Color. None of the cards below are better than situational.
See the review of Fangren Firstborn above. Unless it breaks the game in half, no triple color casting costs.
Not too bad of a card. It can get you over that first few turns hump quickly. First turn land, Mox (doesn't matter what kind), Mind Stone. Second turn Krark-Clan Stoker. Third turn tap the artifacts and your two lands (four mana), maybe play a third land for a mana (five mana), sac the Mind Stone for two more mana (seven mana) creating a powerful early turn. Not too shabby.
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
Cute, but not that powerful. Although it could save the occasional artifact, it probably won't do anything more. Might, and I mean might, see play in a heavy artifact deck.
Vulshok War Boar
If you have artifact lands, a good helping of artifact mana, and several other cheap artifacts, then your four drop of choice may very well become the Vulshok War Boar.
Black has several intriguing creatures and a possibly powerful but expensive spell. Of the lot, I think Nim Abomination might have the most potential.
Some players really like the Painful Memories ability. It basically buys you a turn where you opponent cannot draw a card on a 2/2 body. I doubt that it has enough power to see play, however.
If you are thinking that this will get the same review as Flamebreak and Fangren Firstborn, then you are right. Sort of. However, Death Cloud has power that neither of those two cards have. I would not be surprised to see a control-ish deck take advantage of Death Cloud.
Of the Echoing cards, the Decay is probably the most playable. For two mana, you can kill almost every aggressive one- and two-drop. If your opponent has out two creatures that are killable, then it becomes a nice bonus. Where the Decay really shines, however, is against token creatures. Kill all of the Myr from a Myr Incubator, for example. Cobras from a Snake Basket, soldiers from a Mobilization or Raise the Alarm or Decree of Justice, and so forth. Wipe out a horde of small tokens of the same type.
In addition to the White two-drop, another slot with a high number of quality creatures in the Black three-drop. From Phyrexian Negator to Hypnotic Specter to Dross Prowler, there are a lot of good creatures to consider. The Nim Abomination is splashable and has a high power and toughness (3/4), but you essentially lose three life because you cannot attack the turn it comes into play. It is also a Zombie, so if your Sarcomancy token dies, you won't lose life while you control the Abomination. This creature has enough potential that it may see some use. We still have Dark Ritual in Five Color, after all, so having a potential Ritual creature is handy.
Pulse of the Dross
Personally, I am not a big fan of this card, but others have mentioned that they like it. In an aggressive deck where you burn through cards quickly, you might want to use this to winnow your opponent's hand down as well. It just seems like it costs too much to me.
Interesting enough to warrant a second look, Scrounge might be a pretty good way of taking an opponent's artifact after you destroy it. That usually takes two cards however - the Scrounge and a card to destroy one of your opponent's artifacts. Since we have Blue in our decks, maybe it would be better just to play Confiscate or Steal Artifact. Since those cards aren't played that much, I have trouble seeing how Scrounge is a viable alternative.
Blue gives us a few counterspells to mull over, a couple of interesting utility creatures and a potentially powerful tutor effect. Seems like the Blue of old in many ways.
Many decks have countermagic, including a more modern version of aggro, Wisconsin Beats. Last Word doesn't have any effect unless your opponent is playing countermagic, but as more and more decks run countermagic, Last Word becomes more viable. Right now, with a lot of decks running about, this might not be a bad choice for a more Blue heavy deck that does not want to get out-countered.
This card is just interesting and unique enough that it might have a powerful effect on the board. Seal of Cleansing becomes a Terminate and your artifact creatures are no longer Disenchant-able. Still, it's only a 2/2 for three mana. That's not that great.
Pulse of the Grid
The good Pulse. Highly useful if your opponent has a bunch of cards in hand and not bad otherwise. Although it does depend on your opponent's handsize to determine how powerful it is, it's always a playable spell.
The second of the three cards in this set that may be actionable. Reshape is a bad Transmute Artifact, but Transmute Artifact is restricted. After Tinker and Transmute Artifact, if your Five Color deck still wants artifact tutoring, you could play Fabricate, which is not restricted. With all of that artifact tutoring available, I'm not sure that the average deck will want a Reshape. Will it prove to be abusable, even in its current incarnation, in dedicated artifact decks? There I just don't know.
You don't see too many 1/2 creatures for three mana running around in decks. However, the Artificer seems to have three things going for it. Firstly, it only had one Blue in its cost, making it a decent enough one drop. Secondly, you can use it to untap artifacts that make multiple mana to make even more mana. Thirdly, you can use him during your opponent's upkeep to lockdown artifact mana. Sure, there are other possible uses, maybe he'll tap down a Winter Orb and allow you to untap or something, but usually, he'll either speed you up or slow your opponent down. Will you have enough artifacts to run him and make him useful?
Splashable countermagic is always helpful. Vex allows the same level of card disadvantage as Arcane Denial, but it is more expensive to play. I'd also rather allow my opponent to draw two cards and myself one than to make them draw one and me nothing. The card advantage meter may still read that I am in the hole one card, but the proportion of cards drawn is much different. Since Arcane Denial regularly sees use, I would not be surprised to see Vex pop up, but I think that it is an awfully high price to pay.
With so many artifacts in the set, the abilities are many and varied. The arcbound creatures are a disappointment, but several indestructible cards appear below. There are a lot of retreads, but also a plethora of new abilities and ideas.
As a creature with a Jade Statue effect, you'd expect a creature with a bit more power. However, the Brute has staying power. It can take out any two toughness creature and live due to its indestructibility. It can block something like a Blastoderm ad nauseum because it just won't die. It will also survive many creature elimination spells. As such, it provides an interesting winning condition.
As a mana fixer, it's a bit slower than Fellwar Stone and Mox Diamond. However, it does survive Obliterate, Nevinyrral's Disk, and Pernicious Deed sweeping effects. Otherwise, it really becomes a question of whether or not a slow-but-proven mana fixer like Darksteel Ingot can find a home in Five Color. Some players will definitely try it out, I'm sure.
Five Color is not always about the cute effects and the pretty winning conditions. The Reactor is way to slow for any competitive environment, Five Color included.
A bit on the expensive side but it does have the ability to gain several abilities. It also hurts your own ability to reuse your own dead creatures in other ways, so be careful.
This is a card that may seem subtle at first, but quickly looks more and more powerful the longer you consider its implications. Whenever your opponent discards, you draw a card. Wild Mongrel, Psychatog, Aquamoeba, Compulsion - the Odyssey block was full of these abilities and that has spilled over into Five Color. Add to that some of the powerful card drawers in Five Color - Memory Jar, Wheel of Fortune, Windfall, Contract from Below... The more I think about the Grimoire, the most uses I see for it. It looks like more than just some Megrim-Bottomless Pit combo for Kitchen Table Magic - it looks like a powerful card.
The Bola gives a creature the ability to tap another creature and unattaches itself. I admit that appears to be a very plain ability. But, with an equip cost of just one mana, it becomes a cheap, limited Opposition that only costs one mana to cast.
Sort of like a Worship. Except you need a lot of permanents to burn if you start taking damage. There are enough ways in Five Color to get a lot of permanents in play, but it pales in comparison to Crumbling Sanctuary and I don't think this could ever replace the Sanctuary.
I miss the days when legends were always named"Ahyshwa, Dealer of a Thousand Deaths," or"Fygaynud, Creator of Light," or"Thogisduh, the Harrower." Ah well. A 4/5 for seven mana is nothing major, so Memnarch is going to need some really special abilities to be of use. It has Blue activation abilities, which shouldn't be too much of a problem by the time you have seven mana.
Unfortunately, having three Blue in one turn so you can use Memnarch's combo is not the easiest stunt, but many Five decks emphasize the color Blue and its mana. The second ability, to steal artifacts permanently for 3U, is probably enough to tide you over until your mana base gets better. If you need help, just steal your opponent's Chrome Mox, Tree of Tales and Mox Crystal.
The problem with Howling Mine was always that your opponent drew the extra card before you did. At least it only cost two mana. Here you have an artifact that will, admittedly, help your deck out a lot. For that help, however, you pay six mana and help your opponent out just as much. Since your opponent benefits first, this card isn't one that will make many people's decks after closer inspection.
Sort of a Mobilization and a Shared Triumph (naming Soldiers) in one. It's very slow, but may be a decent enough token generator in the right deck. I'd rather have something that spits out more formidable tokens (Riptide Replicator, Phyrexian Processor) or that is more versatile (Metrognome). Preferably the former.
The most broken Mirror since Mirror Universe (face it, Reflecting Mirror wasn't all that good. Nor was Mirror Golem nor Mirror, Mirror....) Panoptic Mirror is the third and final card from Darksteel that appears to be actionable. Imprint Time Walk, Time Warp, Contract from Below, whatever you need. And get it every turn? Pretty unstable and arguably a candidate for restriction, if not outright banning.
It is nice when a new card is printed where nobody can immediately assess the impact. All I can say is that Five Color has 250 cards, not sixty, making the likelihood of drawing one in your opening hand much less likely. However, we have much more generous mulligan rules, so you have more chances to draw a Serum Powder. I have no idea how the stats break down and the very idea of how the math works to figure out whether this is worth playing in a 250 card deck with our mulligan rules... well, let's just say that I'm starting to smell smoke.
Shield of Kaldra
An indestructible creature has a lot of advantages. It cannot be Wrathed away, no damage will take it out (except maybe something like Disintegrate), and such. It makes a perfect blocker, and a nice ability to add to a deck with a lot of Wrath effects. However, the investment is four mana initially and four more mana to equip the creature. In eight mana, you will have not changed the board position at all. That's a bit scary when you think about it, and as such, the Shield seems pretty limited.
Skullclamp is a very powerful card. The beauty lies in its cheap equip cost and ability to turn any creature you control into a cheap Jayemdae Tome. Attack with an Aquamoeba and trade with a Savannah Lions. Why not, when its equipped with a Skullclamp and you can draw a card? This is a good Equipment card to use with the Leonin Shikari mentioned above.
When I first looked at the Spawning Pit, I exclaimed to my friend that this was the most abusable card in the set. At the time, only sixty cards of the set had been revealed, so I would take back my statement in light of many of the new cards (like Panoptic Mirror). Nevertheless, this is a potent card because it gets counters from token creatures as well, which I noticed as soon as I read the card. Sacrifice a creature to make half of a 2/2 Spawn token.
Creatures that are dying anyway, or which trade with an opponent's creature now have an extra use - to become half of a 2/2 Bear. Better than nothing, right? Since this card is so cheap (two mana to play, one mana to create the creature), I will likely try it out.
Have you ever wanted to single-handedly decimate your opponent's manabase? Well then Sundering Titan is for you. A 7/10 for eight mana which destroy a bunch of your opponent's permanents is a good deal, but you might want to look to Tinker to get it into play sooner. Occasionally you'll need to destroy one or two of your own land, but you can rape your opponent's lands with the Titan, and that's a pretty powerful and one-sided effect, especially on a 7/10 stick.
Sword of Fire and Ice
Like it's brother below, the sword has a high equip cost. With all of the abilities that the creature receives, you'd swear that it's a Morphling. Gets bigger, protection from two colors, becomes a Thieving Magpie and Shocks something? That is a mega-powerful list of abilities.
Sword of Light and Shadow
The other half of the opposing swords is arguably better. Most creature removal is either White or Black, the pumping effect takes it out of the range of burn, but the Raise Dead and life gaining effects are not as good as its sibling. When will we see a Sword of Air and Branch or a Sword of Earth and Muck?
What an odd combination of abilities. Play it to reduce some damage dealt to you or use it to pump your creatures on the offense. It's very odd, but highly versatile. It lacks power, however. If it simply prevented two damage from each attacker or gave your attacking creatures +2/+0 then it would be better - this is one case where versatility is a bad thing.
Wand of the Elements
Although it costs four to play, it puts token creatures into play for free, and that is a nice ability. It should allow the sacrifice of more lands, that would be more powerful, because here, you just don't have enough lands to run it.
Well of Lost Dreams
I like drawing cards and I don't mind gaining life. This is another of those cards that, if enough are printed, may prompt people to play different cards. Exile your creature and I draw three cards?
There are a couple of interesting lands, including a land that would have made an impact a long time ago when a certain Erhna-Geddon (then Maro-Geddon, Blasto-Geddon, etc) deck was around.
Since Mishra's Factory sees play, the Blinkmoth Nexus has some competition. This one flies, but we also have Faerie Conclave. Additionally, Nantuko Monastery and Treetop Village are pretty good. The point here is that the Nexus is competing with a lot of established cards for just a few slots in a deck. It'll probably lose out.
One of the most popular aggressive strategies revolves around Armageddon. As such, an indestructible land may be very beneficial. Since it only taps for a colorless, it may not make many deck's cut, because there are only so many lands that you can have that tap for colorless when you play all Five Colors.
All in all there are fifty-four cards reviewed above. Whew! It looks like a fun set, and yet is also has a feeling that it's a bit more powered down than Mirrodin. Let's hope that it gives all of us a few fun cards to play around with no mater what format we play.