Against my better financial judgment, I attended my local prerelease. Against my deckbuilding judgment, I got 6th out of 31 people and got 3 prize boosters. (My first round opponent, who’s both a good player a nice guy, gave me advice that shaped my deck up; I went 0-2 v. him and 8-1 the rest of the day.) Along the way, I faced a variety of decks and cards that gave me sufficient impression to review them. This is as much of a set review as you’ll get from me this time – M12 feels too haphazard for me to get as excited as I am about individual cards – so without further pussyfooting, here goes.
While my experience was with Sealed, I’m a casual guy at heart, so most of my card thoughts lean to that evaluation anyway. I have no advice for M12 Limited, so that makes this a limited review, with all associated puns.
I’ll start with what was in my deck from the second round forward. If it’s all right with you (and it has to be!), I’ll skip reviews of the reprints unless there’s something I want to say about them.
Alabaster Mage – If you like white beatdown and can spare the slot, try her. She’s on curve, and as traditional lists of this type have fairly similar creatures to each other, her ability is Soul’s Grace at will, which shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s not a combat trick as much as a thing to do with spare mana, but that’s sufficient to be useful. Plenty of aggro decks in multiplayer stall out because you need some measure of blocking. Not with the Mage around. Go nuts! Gain life and stuff!
Assault Griffin – Maybe I should make a 5-color deck with this, Snapping Drake, Jagwasp Swarm, Sabertooth Wyvern, and Giant Dustwasp. Of course the best of these is the Jagwasp Swarm. Black will do anything to win.
Carnage Wurm – It is completely bonkers that this exists. This is going in my Animar deck without question. Consider the cards preceding it in Coresetland, Duskdale Wurm and Enormous Baloth. Carnage Wurm has the friendly mana cost of Enormous B. (its rapper name), the trample of Duskdale W., and the chance to be two sizes bigger than either one. Bloodthirst isn’t that hard to come up with in multiplayer – send a dork at the vulnerable one – and a 9/9 trample is going to rule most boards in the 60-card realm while being plenty relevant in Commander. These aren’t selling for anything, but don’t mistake it for its predecessors. Its moniker is apt.
Garruk’s Horde – Also going into Animar, as Horde is to Animar what Oracle of Mul Daya is to Vinelasher Kudzu. I didn’t see this enough in games to know how good this is, but you can build it around as easily and effectively as you can around OMD, and creatures win games more than lands do, so this is legit.
Gideon’s Lawkeeper (2x) – If your opponents have sufficient removal for an annoying tapping creature, they’re going to have it, so Blinding Mage’s second toughness isn’t worth the extra mana. That said, the Mage is a Wizard, which seems like a more natural fit for this ability than Soldier. For my mana, I’ll take this.
Grand Abolisher – This has Standard hype. For my purposes, it’s a stout Cleric to stick in my Sen Triplets Commander deck. In either place, it should be fine. My last-round opponent, who mattered particularly because this round was for packs and because he’s a really good player, was used to the no-spells aspect of this (the Dosan the Falling Leaf part) but still moved to activate Djinn of Wishes at the end of my turn. “No sir,” the Abolisher would have said if it were from a late-’80s board game with an electronic bit to have a half-second of digitized speech to seem awesome. The Abolisher forces most players to play very differently, and that’s sometimes enough to steal the win. Not everyone moves flexibly off their normal thought patterns with equal aplomb. Take advantage. Abolish with style.
Jade Mage – Remember when Ant Queen came out and everyone thought it was nuts? It turned out to be less than that but a solid multiplayer staple nonetheless, one of the most reliable ways for a random deck to make tokens if it needed them. I use them in my False Cure deck so I can entwine Plunge into Darkness and find my combo pieces; it works. Jade Mage isn’t a beefy win condition like the Queen, but being cheaper puts it close to the Queen in its utility to decks that need tokens. Repeatable Saprolings is relevant to more decks than repeatable Insects anyway, so that gives the nod to the Mage in some instances. Ant Queen’s still the A-grade of token making, but Jade Mage is a B+. Good enough for me.
Roc Egg (2x)
Sacred Wolf – It’s hexproof now.
Stampeding Rhino (2x)
Stormfront Pegasus (2x)
Angelic Destiny – A mythic Aura is a jarring concept, but this one’s got serious game, and when the price goes down on these, your white Commander decks would love to have one. Mine’s probably going into Zedruu, where it would provide beef, recursion, and a safely donatable permanent. The list of game-swinging Auras is low, limited to green (Mythic Proportions, Gigantiform), a rainbow (Elder Mastery), or lots of mana (Eldrazi Conscription). This is cheaper than all of them, in a different color, and can be used multiple times. I’ve been peeved by Rancor more times than I can count, and this is about as recursive. This is about halfway between Rancor and Eldrazi Conscription in mana cost and power, and that’s lofty company. You have at least one deck that wants at least one of these.
Spirit Mantle – You had me at anything that staples a Beloved Chaplain onto a creature. (It’s a running joke that my Sen Triplets deck always draws this guy early.) I have Unquestioned Authority in my Zedruu deck for a number of reasons, but protection from creatures is a fantastic ability in any format, especially as it’s rare enough that opponents aren’t used to playing around it, i.e. nobody sculpts their deck removal to deal specifically with the ability. For commanders, the +1/+1’s pretty sweet too. It’s not earth-shattering, but there are definite homes for this.
Druidic Satchel – This was the breakout hit of the prerelease and not just for me; one of my friends had it in his pool too and raved about it by day’s end. Besides that you get to ask “What’s in the bag?” every turn, the Satchel is one of the best support cards in recent memory. What makes it so good? The bag reveals goodies that are all of the same kind: value at its best when you’re behind. This scenario obviously isn’t what you plan for in duels, but in multiplayer it’s bound to happen a lot just by the odds, and while this isn’t going to win the game by itself, it like megacycling in how it smooths your deck’s performance. Gaining life, chump-blocking, and not topdecking lands are three of the most valuable things in multiplayer, and while the Satchel can’t provide any one of them consistently without help, you’re consistently getting something useful, and as a renewable resource it can give your deck enough time to get it together. Many decks could stand to have 4 of these – I’d recommend the ones with Voltaic Key first – but it certainly has a home in Commander as well, basically for any deck that might not have all the room it wants for defensive measures and therefore falls behind more than often than it ought. They worked this design space with Etherwrought Page, which is serviceable, but bag beats book.
Manalith – It’s more attractive than Darksteel Ingot. Not having indestructibility makes it not as stapleish as the Ingot for random Commander decks, but it’s also soon to be in larger supply than Ingots, and if you’ve got only the occasional need for color fixing it will do the same job.
Stave Off – Most of this card’s reviews were about its being underrated. I don’t know how everyone can write that at once, but hey…Auras aside there are only a few cards that let you give unwanted protections to others’ creatures: Crimson Acolyte (red only); Obsidian Acolyte (black only); Stormscape Master; Tel-Jilad Defiance (artifacts only); Thornscape Master; Tower of the Magistrate (artifacts only); and Willow Priestess (black only and for green creatures only). If you have a large creature that needs to stay on the battlefield while sometimes punching through, this is a good card for the job.
So that’s my impression of my own deck. What about other stuff?
Azure Mage – I didn’t see this draw too many cards because of curving out and wanting to keep counterspells open. Where this goes isn’t as obvious as it looks; still a good card presumably.
Garruk, Primal Hunter – The triple green is surprisingly limiting on this guy. I faced R/G in round 2; game 2 I Slimed an opposing Forest, and the opponent had to Reclaim the Forest just to cast Garruk close to on-curve. I already had him dead by that point, so I didn’t get to see how well Garruk’s abilities actually worked, but for decks with two colors this Garruk might be difficult to work with unless you’ve nailed the exact right cards.
Goblin Fireslinger – Prepare for this card to be completely annoying in your playgroup. You get your mana’s worth for sure.
Mind Unbound – My round 3 opponent built around this and had to maintain a 60-card deck as a result. I didn’t understand why until he drew 10 extra cards in 4 turns. Do you remember the potent danger you felt with cards that could burn you with lots of free spare mana? You can feel it again here.
Phantasmal Image – In round 4 I stared down consecutive-turn Frost Titans thanks to this guy. Thankfully my opponent then cast Flight on this one without thinking about the ability. As much as I love this card, its fragility might make it inferior to similar creatures; there are just too many ways to target it. It even tried to sacrifice itself when I inserted the picture.
Again, while I don’t feel the set cohere, there are many fun cards in it, and it does a solid job of providing for 60- and 100-card realms. Go check it out and all that.