Elliot Fertik gave an excellent complete review of Apocalypse as he does with every set that comes out and I don't want to necessarily tread upon that same ground; people constantly complain about inane set reviews and how off base they all are. Well I got to thinking about why I read set reviews and I what I like about them is that you get another viewpoint. My initial view of a card may be slanted one way due to my playing style or pre-dispositions but reading someone else's opinions help refine your view of the set. You may end up changing your mind about a card or simply strengthening your initial view. Therefore I'm reading all the reviews I can get my hands on and offering up my opinion to those who are interested.
What I wanted to do was go over what I feel are the playable cards from Apocalypse broken down by categories I'll call five four and three star cards. They just happen to add up to fifty which is pretty nifty and makes a great title for this article. These are the cards that in my opinion will make a splash on Type 2 to varying degrees.
To put in plain and simple terms these are the cards that I'm going to want four of.
FIVE STARS: These are either the environment-shakers or just unbelievably good cards. Interestingly but not surprisingly there's only one monochromatic spell on the list. R&D did a fine job of making the enemy-colored spells powerful and desirable.
Enemy color painlands: Battlefield Forge Caves of Koilos Llanowar Wastes Shivan Reef Yavimaya Coast. These cards are going to make the biggest impact on Type 2 play. By smoothing the mana consistency of enemy-color decks the sky's the limit for deck construction. No longer are deckbuilders constrained by only allied color synergies.
Mystic Snake: A good creature counterspell has been a long time coming and once people get the hang of it expect to see snakes popping out all over. A creature counterspell offers plenty of great benefits from being Duress-proof to opening up Counterspell recursion possibilities with Sunken Hope or Temporal Adept.
Pernicious Deed: The next-generation Disk resembles a more powerful Powder Keg but the ability to immediately make use of the Deed and its flexibility for selective destruction makes it better than it's predecessors. Pernicious Deed will be one of the cornerstones of a new deck archetype utilizing green and/or black power cards.
Phyrexian Arena: Wizards has finally figured out how to"fix" Necropotence without diminishing too much of its card advantage power. Before becoming the combo engine of choice Necro was all about keeping your hand filled with threats and the Arena does this as well. Arena gives black-based decks a potent shot in the arm whether it's weenie beatdown control or somewhere in between.
Spiritmonger: Another green/black powerhouse Spiritmonger is hands-down the best creature in the set. Chock-full of useful special abilities and undercosted to boot expect this creature to stand next to Blastoderm as the threat creatures defining the environment. Yeah it's been overly hyped. Yes the hype is justified.
FOUR STARS: These are the"very good" cards exceptionally useful and playable. Expect to see these show up as staple cards in numerous deck archetypes.
Captain's Maneuver: I haven't heard many others talking about this but I think it will end up a sleeper for the set. Honorable Passage was a great sideboard card because it was both defensive and aggressive in nature. This card is just like that and yet flexible enough to redirect any color's damage. While a bit of a mana-hog for a spell you don't necessarily have to redirect all the damage dealt; just enough to keep your creature alive and to punish your opponent for it.
Death Grasp: Invasion gave Spirit Link a heckuva makeover with Armadillo Cloak and now we've got a new and improved Drain Life. Grasp gives the potential of a huge life swing that can buy you enough time to win the game. B/W Arena decks are sure to add this card to the mix.
Fire / Ice: The Fire side of this card is powerful enough to see play in red decks even if they’re unable to cast the Ice side. It's that good. Being cheap instant and potentially able to net two-for-one card advantage makes this card into a staple burn spell. U/R decks get the bonus of being able to play the Ice side on the odd chance that it's necessary.
Gaea's Skyfolk: Simple elegant design powerful. Flying grizzly bears with no drawback are just plain good.
Gerrard's Verdict: It’s no Hymn but Wizards has rightly decided to put the serious breaks on random discard. This comes pretty close though. You'll either net two spells or three life for each land they may have been sandbagging as discard protection. Either way you get something for your troubles. Very nice.
Goblin Trenches: Creating creatures at instant speed for a relatively cheap cost makes this a very good card. Turns all your excess lands into threats. While this doesn't exactly combo well with Ghitu Fire sorceries don't block Blastoderms very well either.
Life / Death: While the Life side of this split card isn't bad it's the Death side that's going to see play. Why? Well it's one of the few cheap reanimation cards out there and there's definitely some solid undercosted (and not so painful to animate) creatures worth bringing back from the dead. Of course there's always graveyard recursion possibilities with Reya Dawnbringer as mentioned in my previous article (how about a link to it Ferrett?).
Prophetic Bolt: Impulse is back and it's piggybacking on a Lightning Blast. Lightning Blast has always been almost good enough to play; getting to Impulse for just one more mana turns this bolt from almost good enough to WOW! Kudos to Wizards for not neutering this card by making it only able to target creatures.
Razorfin Hunter: Bears are good; Merfolk bears are real good. Merfolk bears that can poke are really really good. Whether you want to beat down or get some card advantage by knocking weenies to their death this card has what you're looking for.
THREE STARS: These are borderline good cards; most of them are pretty decent and pretty playable in the right deck. Some of them are questionable but I put them on this list because they may prove themselves during the course of their lifecycle. These are the cards that if they don't immediately go into some decklists I would still come back and check on them with each set rotation.
Anavolver/Rakavolver: I don't like the Volvers much but these may prove useful simply because of their flying ability. It just makes me wonder why you don't just play blue fliers if you're playing blue already?
Ceta Sanctuary: Cycling cards can be quite advantageous. What's interesting about this card is that it could easily be splashed into a Fires deck (with red and green permanents) to help it draw threats that much more consistently. I recently played a Fires deck with Kavu Lairs that did quite well so there's some precedent for adding card drawing to Fires.
Consume Strength: Steal Strength was an interesting card that didn't quite make it into the Constructed scene; doubling its effect just might make it worthwhile. Creature destruction and creature pumping all rolled up into a nice shiny instant package.
Dwarven Landslide: Heavy LD decks have been running Pain/Suffering simply for the Suffering part which costs the same as this without the kicker option. May show up.
Ebony Treefolk: Another 3/3 for three mana this one's ability to get larger makes it extremely potent in a deck that can support the color requirements. Having black in its casting cost makes it immune to Terror-type effects and it can conceivably pump itself out of burn range.
Gaea's Balance: I’m not a combo genius so if there's some good combo deck that can abuse this card I don't see it. However it is the one card that GUARANTEES that you can have every basic land type in play. This is why I imagine it may very well be the base for a few Domain decks. Also keep in mind that removing five lands from your deck and putting them into play (UNTAPPED) does some serious deck thinning. Just watch out for pesky counterspells.
Goblin Legionnaire: As a two-drop 2/2 he's already pretty decent. His Fanatic ability makes him good. The white ability is not useless either. The one weakness he has is that he needs to use mana to activate either ability so if you tap out expect your opponent to knock him off.
Grave Defiler: While most of the recruiters are rather unimpressive the existence of Lord of the Undead makes this one interesting. Is this the final piece of the Zombie Deck puzzle? Pack enough Zombies in your deck and you could net one or two cards each time you play this. Maybe you should splash blue for Soothsaying? Hmm... Now that I think about it Soothsaying could help out any of the recruiters....
Guided Passage: It's three cards for three mana. Though your opponent gets to both paw through your deck and decide which cards you want it is still pure card advantage that's relatively cheap. Probably the best use for this card is if you are just playing a few key creatures (Nether Spirit Squee etc) or either all creatures except a key non-creature spell (Opposition comes to mind). Of course in that case they could just give you another Guided Passage but that might not be that bad either...
Ice Cave: A bit clunky and it’s difficult to break the symmetry but there is some potential here since the effect can be quite powerful. I'm thinking the same sort of tools that can smooth the mana of domain decks can be used to enable Ice Cave to counter your opponent's spells no matter what colors they're using.
Jungle Barrier: Four mana is a bit much for a wall — but what a wall you get! The fact that it's a cantrip improves its value immensely; the fact that it can block Blastoderms and survive as well as kill off attacking weenies might edge it into Constructed decks. Might.
Lay of the Land: Sure green usually has better things to do on turn one like playing a Bird of Paradise. However a cheap Thaw effect can be pretty good in the right deck maybe Domain or a creatureless deck. May even"replace" lands a la Land Grant or Brainstorm; playtesting will tell.
Legacy Weapon: Awkward and hard as heck to use the effect is powerful enough to rate this card as something to think about. With mana acceleration and diversification like Harrow and Rampant Growth available I don't think being able to play this is completely out of the question. Heck Nate Heiss made Aladdin's Ring work in his Mafia King deck. I wouldn't discount this card as a trash rare just yet.
Lightning Angel: While her mana colors are tough to handle she is technically a bargain with the abilities relative to the casting cost. It will be interesting to see if she makes it into a deck. (Not with Flametongue in the format — The Ferrett)
Necra Sanctuary: I heard someone mention Necra Sanctuary in a deck with Sterling Grove; not a bad little combo since it actually helps you win. Pushes this Sanctuary up to the possibly playable category.
Night/Day: Two fairly solid effects in one card might find a home in the right deck. Is there an aggressive W/B deck out there that can escape the siren call of all the W/B control cards that Apocalypse brings?
Order/Chaos: I imagine there will be an aggressive R/W build in the not too distant future and this card might have a place in it. Both effects are pretty decent and affect the board in your favor.
Orim's Thunder: Another excellent example of an aggressive control card and it will also make the cut in any base R/W aggressive deck. This card came close to being a four star.
Phyrexian Gargantua: A large super-cantrip creature I like this the best of all the syphon creatures. Black does still have some decent acceleration available to it and using a Dark Ritual to get him out won't make you worry about your opponent gaining two-for-one card advantage in killing it. Some way of recurring him will net you some serious card drawing.
Powerstone Minefield: Red and White have some serious control cards available to it and this is another possible weapon in a creatureless/light deck or one with creatures that aren't bothered by this.
Putrid Warrior: This bear's flexibility might make the grade if an aggressive W/B deck raises its head.
Spectral Lynx: Obviously as an easy Blastoderm blocker and regeneration makes him worth considering. The regeneration requires a black mana so I imagine he will find a home in a black deck with a splash of white.
Squee's Embrace: My vote for the most humorously named card in the set it's actually a pretty good one. Cheap to cast with nice effects including one that negates the inherent card-disadvantage most creature enchantments garner.
Standard Bearer: As a creature that changes the normal flow of targeting in a game I expect this card to prove useful in some decks especially ones that have a vital creature they want to keep in play.
Suppress: If we ever have a decent combo deck again Suppress is one way to make sure no nasty surprises show up from your opponent's hand to spoil your fun. I think people might be underestimating this card as a neo-Time Walk since your opponent doesn't get his cards back until the end of his turn. Cast early enough the card he draws during his draw step is likely to be unplayable. This could be an interesting tempo card on par with Tangle Wire for weenie black decks.
Symbiotic Deployment: Any permanent that says"Do Something: Draw a card" can be potentially abused. Whether this card will be worth abusing time will tell. At this point it doesn't seem worth it to tie up your creature resources to draw cards when you'd much rather be attacking with them. And a card that locks you out of ever drawing another card after a Wrath of God looks questionable. But people will try it out.
So that's my take on the newest Magic expansion. Hope I gave you some food for thought and grist for your trade binder. It looks like a great set!