So this is what we’ve all been waiting for – a Mark Gottlieb-designed set. Okay, maybe only some of us have been waiting, but back when Gottlieb started writing for the mothership, the thought of him leading a set would have come up with all sorts of odd fun. Did he live up to his pedigree of wackiness?
I think he did, but that makes it hard to sell unless you’re playing up the Mirran-Phyrexian battle. This set suffers from two things that aren’t really its fault: being a Gottlieb set, it’s harder to sell off a specific internal theme; and Scars of Mirrodin has been so underexplored for Constructed that surprisingly few of these cards we’re seeing slot into an existing archetype. (Seriously, for a large set we’ve seen almost nothing out of it in terms of new decks.) That means I love it, but I’m different in that way. So what are we getting thematically?
Cheap artifacts. There’s very little metalcraft we’ve seen, but we’ve seen quality artifacts for the low end of the curve, which counts for a lot. As Limited players have been learning increasingly, oftentimes metalcraft doesn’t reward building around it, but if you have a playable card without it, it’s a great bonus. I think we may see more decks head in that direction as we get a critical mass of playable artifacts.
Better infect creatures and more destruction. The Phyrexians certainly have a lot they want to kill, and the mass removal and midrange infect creatures look well suited to the task. It’s a lot easier to envision an infect deck with real punch (from my experience, the lack of toughness on infect creatures was a major issue in construction), and there’s quality spell support now for the Phyrexian way of life.
Battle cry. To combat the Phyrexians, the Mirrans basically read a book by Pianna, Nomad Captain on how to attack. Is this enough? Was Pianna much of a creature? Not really, and I’m not a fan of this mechanic for the same reason infect’s been difficult to build around; battle cry on low-toughness creatures (looking at you, Accorder Paladin) is near-worthless because those creatures probably will get to attack only once. The high-toughness ones like Hero of Bladehold are fine enough and should see play, and it’s possible an all battle cry (ABC?) deck would work, but I’m not sold on the idea as a whole. If I want to deal an extra damage per attacker, I’ll play Raid Bombardment and guarantee the damage. (That said, it could be pretty spicy to mix this with infect…)
I’ll go through some of my favorite cards as well as some underrated (and overrated) stuff. Starting with…
Yes, it’s a 3/1 for 2, but I don’t see that as particularly good. For sake of toughness and sturdiness, I’d much rather have Student of Warfare, and it’s not really seeing play. This will get chumped by a 1/1 and use its battle cry only the once, at which point it was a 1W sorcery that gave your other attacking creatures +1/+0 a turn from now. Is this Ice Age or something, where we get slowtrip minor effects? Count me out.
This is a major change for Limited play. Strictly better than Shatter, making red less necessary to white’s slice of the pie. Some people have done well with R/W metalcraft-ish-esque decks; I never can seem to, so maybe the Offering will let me mix white with, say, blue, where I’m much better.
Hero of Bladehold
Preeminent Captain that isn’t a Kithkin (a massive upgrade in my opinion – the fewer Lorwyn reminders, the better), the Hero is a battle cry creature I can get behind. Mainly, however, I will trade them to my friend who loves these sorts of creatures, and get stuff I actually like using. Fine card for people who play this style; the fourth toughness matters a great deal.
Remember this guy once Zendikar block rotates. Of course, the ability to reset Khalni Heart Expeditions has some value as well. This is solid utility that only figures to get better when its block is more prominent.
Cute card and I’d love to put it somewhere. But it doesn’t even have a use in my Myr Battlesphere deck, and metalcraft is easy enough to get in decks that want it. It’s more exciting in theory than practice. I’ll pass.
We’re used to evaluating similar creatures, but I like the unique features of this one. Protection from black (cheap, largely unconditional destruction) and green (the fatties that would love to block this) lets its double strike matter quite a bit, as red doesn’t play a lot of high-toughness stuff that could block this continually and blue/white defenders normally don’t have enough power to deal with this. And already being in white means there are fairly normal ways to boost its toughness out of danger. Even Accorder’s Shield looks very nice on this guy. In other words, the Crusader may have enough parts of his game to make the “Dies to Bolt” argument too weak. I tend to be partial to keywordvaganza creatures, and this one packs a punch while being familiar enough to play against that few realize he’s unfamiliar to play against.
Sick in multiplayer. If you have a bunch of weenie swarms in your playgroup, then this is one of those glorious reset buttons that lets you punish the swarmer next turn as opposed to just holding serve. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Blue Sun’s Zenith
After you’ve dragged the game out long enough, eventually your library would be nothing but 4 of these drawing each other. I don’t know if that’s worth anything, but it’s amusing.
Some have said the presence of Jace and Titans makes this a casual-only card. I’m not certain yet. To deal with it, Jace has to get smaller every turn, and many of the decks he’s in rely on Jace to do a lot of heavy lifting. Shrinking Jace slowly while also drawing three cards to their one has its fun. Regardless of my optimism for Constructed, it’s going to do ridiculous things in casual. Runeflare Trap/Sudden Impact decks may want this guy as a way to draw into their namesakes, while Temple Bell just got really interesting. (You may be saying “why didn’t little Jace get interesting?” Simple fact: he already was interesting.)
This goes in the Blightsteel Colossus category of “things that do what you’re used to but also grant infect.” It’s entirely possible that in both cases infect makes things worse. If you have an infect deck already, I can see you wanting this. In a non-infect deck, though, you probably just made the thing a decent blocker that’s scary to an empty board. Just about anything can be scary to an empty board. It’s a good card, but I don’t see it as particularly better than the other steal effects we already have.
This may get played in Commander decks that don’t sport black. But being a tutor that Browbeats into Concentrate seems surprisingly weak for the mana and the speed. That said, I’d love to be wrong, as this card seems fun. Ah well.
Never rule out the utility of untap abilities. I miss the days of Viridian Longbow on a Battered Golem and watching the pinging fly (usually with a Genesis Chamber out). You can do that somewhat with Soliton/Heavy Arbalest, of course, but the Spy may help that out some. It could make a fun no-rares deck if nothing else. I might do this and report back.
It’s been a long time since we had a Retraced Image effect (probably the last one was…Retraced Image), and having just recently bought some for a deck (ramp that ideally gets out multiples of Gaea’s Revenge or Simic Sky Swallower), it’s a fun card for sure. At realistic worst, it’s ramp. At best – probably in tandem with green – it can do some nutty things. Summoning Trap decks maybe can use some backup M&Ms? I don’t know…
Great sideboard card should the need arise. In Commander, this could be a nice cheap way to put someone off their mana for a turn as well. It’s one of those perfect cards that no one can really get mad about but does its job cheaply and effectively.
Given that I run Grand Architect in Standard, this is perfect for me. Its best use will be to lower a deck curve by allowing several 4-of bombs to turn into 3-ofs for consistency’s sake.
Forget the tap/untap ability; that’s some solid removal for blue decks and another way for controlling decks to have a threat. If you don’t play out stuff for me to counter, I’m slowly going to eat at your creatures. It’s a win-win if you’re the annoying blue mage (which may be redundant…)
Energy Chamber is a popular casual card for fairly obvious reasons. This guy’s a very good impression, and I’d say he’s definitely underrated at this point. For purposes of Limited, he’s also the billionth 1/4, which at the very least is more my style.
Wherever this ends up – casual, fringes of Constructed – the easy splashability will make it the hit that it is.
Black Sun’s Zenith
Is there a black Commander deck that doesn’t want this? I could use about 17 of these in my collection. Even putting a few counters on a midrange field – say, hitting Jund’s creatures for 2 counters apiece – is getting value of the card, and that makes it different from the other sweepers I know. Its utility at just about any stage of the game should make it a staple of at least casual, and who knows where it could go from there?
Go for the Throat
It’s Grave Titan removal for the mirror match. More importantly for the casual group, this is a card you’ll want to keep for a couple years from now, when it will be outside its initial context and therefore much more powerful. Mirrodin has a few of these cards – Karstoderm and more importantly Wrench Mind – and when they’re rediscovered, they’re quite effective. Skip the rediscovery stage and just remember to play with this somewhere.
This completely has the feel of a reanimation spell done right, one of the best cards at what it does. You’ll be happy you collected a lot of these, as several decks down the road will want them.
Is it good? We’re not used to first strike/infect, which is a solid combination of abilities, so we’ll have to see, but I think I’d rather have the Mirran Crusader in the abstract. Maybe because I’m the guy playing with green beasties a lot, but this guy seems to lose to a number of things in combat. I’d say this guy’s better when unblocked, while the Mirran Crusader is better in the middle of combat. This isn’t so much about the infect v. double strike as much as it is what they each have protection from. Maybe I’m wrong here, though.
This might be one of the rare guys that’s better in tournaments than casual, primarily because its weakness is Pacifism effects, which come up fairly often in casual but only rarely in Standard. The 5 toughness allows this to be a great blocker, which infect decks sorely needed, but is the drawback too much? Eh, probably not. This plus Distortion Strike wins the game on its own, so there’s that.
Sort of the Peppersmoke for infect, which is to say that it might actually be very good for the infect deck if you’re trying to bring it to Standard. Having enough removal to kill mana dorks is always great, and punishing them with a poison counter is great. In other words, in the early game this gets rid of exactly the annoying stuff infect wants to kill. For casual, you could do some sort of odd deck with Forbidden Orchard and Mnemonic Wall/Scrivener. I’d laugh.
Much better than Accorder Paladin to me, just because it’s more likely to survive combat.
Hero of Oxid Ridge
Reason #628 I love Sudden Spoiling.
Into the Core
This is going to be a Commander staple, I’d have to think. As I’ve been trying to build a Radha, Heir to Keld deck of late, one of the hardest things about red and green is trying to find enough 2-for-1s that aren’t just about killing small things. There are pretty much always two nasty artifacts you want to get rid of – I say this having been blown out last night by Rings of Brighthearth/Basalt Monolith in a Maga deck – so this is good at almost every stage of the game. Bravo.
A sweeper with late-game applicability is…well, it’s hot and I want them. It’s nice to see the pile of non-boring red cards get larger.
Green Sun’s Zenith
An all-format staple, this card is scary good. It’s Fauna Shamans 5-8, or just about anything, really. 60-card decks will get the most value around 2 or 3 for X, while 100-card ones probably will save it for larger things. And nobody goes home sad.
Lead the Stampede
I’m not as hyped on this one as Chapin was when he previewed it. It’s fine enough, but a deck that needs tons of creatures often rely on having more threats on early turns, so they don’t have the time to cast this. It’s fine to play as the last card from your hand, I guess.
Thrun, the Last Troll
Having been taught Magic by a blue/black sort of mage, I always love cards that stick it to them. It’s obvious that this does. Looks to be a good commander as well.
One of the absolute best casual commons of the set. Ramp spells are so classic and popular that it’s easy to miss how relatively few good ones there are, so every new one is a welcome option, particularly as a 2/1. Green was so dominant in Kamigawa largely because it had Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach. Now we have this and Cultivate. And some Titan guy who I hear is okay.
Glissa, the Traitor
I’m completely sold on her Constructed viability. She and Necrotic Ooze can make a graveyard matters sort of deck into something spicy. Getting back Perilous Myr constantly is annoying. Ratchet Bomb against token decks will be recurred frequently. I’m sure if you Mindslaver them, you’ll find a way to kill a creature of theirs to recur the artifact – say, running a creature into your first strike deathtoucher. And that’s the key; Glissa’s a house in combat who happens to provide some sick value if you can manage it. I’m tempted to go Phyrexian at the prerelease just to make sure I get one of these.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
How this guy plays in the early game will be very different from how a topdecked late one plays. Early, you’re searching for artifacts and making some of them creatures; late, you’re setting up some Drain Life action. This is unusual relative to the other planeswalkers and ups his play value quite a bit.
I will spare you the rant that others have made better. There are too many Elvish Piper sort of effects out there for me to be happy this was printed. That said, I don’t think you can stick him into just any deck the way you can a legendary Eldrazi. Sure, it can kill in one blow, but if it doesn’t, does the rest of the deck have any infect? If it doesn’t and this dies, then it’s very different than if a legendary Eldrazi dies. That’s the only saving grace of this card.
Would this be great fun with Tunnel Vision? Why, yes it would.
Fine value for your Glissa. This guy’s going to have value just about everywhere, but a huge chunk of it comes from that it’s easier to recur this guy than it is Pithing Needle. At least that’s where the value will be in decks that I play…
This guy’s so strange…what do I do with him? I think I Mirrorweave him and a bunch of tokens and kill people with odd stuff. It’s a thing I do.
Spine of Ish Sah
I like this card way, way too much. You could have fun with it being the only artifact in your deck and casting Shape Anew. You could have fun animating it with Tezzeret and daring people to attack. You could do something or other with it and World Queller. For the ultimate style points, though, I suggest Hellcarver Demon. In any event, I’ll find a home for these if I get some.
Sword of Feast and Famine
This seems to be better in most every way than Sword of Body and Mind. I’m an inordinate fan of discard, and I certainly enjoy having my lands untap. As with Mirran Crusader, protection from black and green is one of the tastier color combinations. Just plain excellent.
This may be a surprisingly effective anti-control card. Speeding up your clock a little bit while encouraging them to attack with at least a blocker may be worth it. Maybe it won’t be, but I’d love a format where this is good.
And there you have it. It’s a weird set, but there’s plenty of casual value and things we haven’t quite seen done before. There are very few cards with obvious applications, and that’s how I like it. I don’t know which side I’ll take at the prerelease – I was thinking Phyrexian for a long time, but I’m leaning toward Mirran now because I don’t want to have to try to infect people and because I can trade Hero of Bladehold to a friend who’s drooling over them – but it’s a fascinating set regardless and I can’t wait to see what winds up good, since it’s hard to tell at this point.