The new fall set is finally upon us and it looks easily more exciting than anything else released recently. While we’ll be sad to say good bye to Return to Ravnica – Justin: I’ll miss you “End of turn [mtg_card=Sphinx’s Revelation] for seven, I gain seven life and draw seven cards.” – we’re just as eager for the new standard metagame, getting the Onslaught fetches for Modern and the brand-new draft environment. Here are the cards that we think you should really keep an eye on.
Josh says: In a world full of giant scary monsters, and devastatingly powerful Planeswalkers, it’s easy to fall behind on the board, and never be able to climb your way back to the top. In this world, [mtg_card=Clever Impersonator] is a [mtg_card=Godsend]. Copying *any* nonland permanent, you can duplicate your beefiest creature or copy your opponent’s most powerful Planeswalker. Whether you’re being buried in 1/1 tokens from [mtg_card=Elspeth, Sun’s Champion] or trying desperately to fend off a [mtg_card=Garruk, Apex Predator], [mtg_card=Clever Impersonator] will help you get the drop on your opponent. Hell, copying a Garruk lets you immediately +1 him to take down the opposing Garruk. It should be noted that the Legend and Planeswalker rules have changed recently, allowing each player to have their own copy, rather than both being sacrificed immediately when a second copy is played. Suffice to say, [mtg_card=Clever Impersonator] will make your opponent [mtg_card=Think Twice] before running out their favorite ‘walker.
Charm Cycle – [mtg_card=Abzan Charm], [mtg_card=Jeskai Charm], [mtg_card=Sultai Charm], [mtg_card=Mardu Charm], [mtg_card=Temur Charm]
Justin says: Ask yourself this, has there honestly ever been an outright bad multi-colored charm? Sure, some of them are pretty conditional, but I’m pretty certain every single one of them has seen constructed play in some format at some point, even if it’s just sideboards. It turns out stapling three different color specific abilities on an instant speed card makes it really hard to churn out a complete dud. While we are just coming off the two color charms in Return to Ravnica block, these new three color charms are more similar to their cousins in Shards of Alara. I don’t know if I’m ready to say any of the Khans of Tarkir charms are quite [mtg_card=Esper Charm] levels of awesome yet, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a three colors deck that’s not interested in having its on-color charm somewhere in the 75. And certainly anyone playing these colors will scoop them up for Commander. Personally, I’m a big fan of [mtg_card=Sultai Charm], it’s a versatile answer to a number of card types and worst case replaces itself to dig for what you need.
Josh says: A 2/1 for one mana is almost always a good deal, and [mtg_card=Bloodsoaked Champion] takes it up a notch by returning himself to the battlefield anytime you attack with a creature. You can attack into defenders all day with this guy, hoping to sneak some damage through. He’ll pair particularly well with an evasive creature, that can attack unopposed every turn, allowing [mtg_card=Bloodsoaked Champion] to reappear turn after turn. He’s sort of [mtg_card=Gravecrawler], if a little more expensive to return. Sacrifice him to cards like [mtg_card=Altar’s Reap], or the new nastiness, [mtg_card=Butcher of the Horde]. A 2/1 for one with major upside is always going to rank high in my book.
Justin says: For anyone that’s been following Magic for a while, creatures have been steadily getting better over the years. So it’s a little surprising that [mtg_card=Mantis Rider]’s progenitor, [mtg_card=Lightning Angel], came out all the way back in Invasion block in 2001. Besides one extra toughness and an additional mana symbol, the two cards are pretty much exactly the same – unless you happen to have a monk tribal deck. The creature body is right on size for the cost, but in both cases a hefty color requirement gets the keywords flying, haste and vigilance on top of it. And this combination of abilities is just really well suited for closing out a game quickly. Flying gives it evasion, haste to start the beatdown right away and vigilance makes it difficult for your opponent to race back. This combination is also incidentally really good at taxing planeswalkers. I expect a lot of [mtg_card=Kiora the Crashing Wave] and [Xenagos, the Reveler] will die to a hasty [mtg_card=Mantis Rider] the next turn. Sadly [mtg_card=Mantis Rider] probably won’t see a ton of play in older formats where extra toughness gives [mtg_card=Lightning Bolt] protection, but it’s a strong start to some kind of tempo Jeskai build in Standard. Some burn spells, a few other decent threats ([mtg_card=Goblin Rabblemaster] fits really well in a deck that can get blockers out of the way) and some strong tempo cards like [mtg_card=Crippling Chill] or [mtg_card=Void Snare] and you’re basically half way there. Even the new [mtg_card=Jeskai Charm] seems right up the deck’s alley.
Josh says: Cards in the Ascendancy cycle aren’t all terribly impressive, but in a swarm deck, [mtg_card=Mardu Ascendancy] is going to be backbreaking. Every creature you attack with creates a 1/1 red Goblin that’s also attacking. Pair this with the likes of [mtg_card=Goblin Rabblemaster] and [mtg_card=Foundry Street Denizen], plus the various warrior buffs and draw options from Khans, and you’ll be creating major headaches for your opponent.
Justin says: Much in the same way that the charms are good, [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] is just a little Swiss army knife of awesome. For starters, a 4/4 for three mana is just solidly good. [mtg_card=Loxodon Smiter] saw play throughout its life in Standard and sees a bit in Modern too. Where [mtg_card=Loxodon Smiter] had some precisely targeted abilities against counterspells and discard, [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] just has a suite of activated abilities that you can leverage to your advantage. Have an extra red mana? Smash face this turn with haste. Need to dodge a removal spell? Return [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] to your hand. And finally, want to attack through that pesky [mtg_card=Polukranos, World Eater]? Well [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] can pump up to a 6/6. The last one even gives it pseudo-evasion on the right board state, since just attacking with it threatens the ability, making it unprofitable to block. It’s a little, ok a lot, hopeful, but turn 1 mana dork, turn 2 [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade], turn 3 [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] with haste is a pretty ‘savage’ way to start the game. It also synergizes really well with some of the other Temur cards. [mtg_card=Surrak Dragonclaw] ensures that your [mtg_card=Savage Knuckleblade] can’t just get chump blocked by a token, it’s one of the cheapest ways to trigger or enable the ferocious ability, and while expensive, you can get a little draw engine going with [mtg_card=Temur Ascendancy] by bouncing and recasting it.
This time around we decided to change things up a bit. Rather than just snipe at the [mtg_card=Wandering Ones] of the set, we stuck to the subjectively “good” spectrum of cards.
[mtg_card=Pearl Lake Ancient]
Josh says: After playing with [mtg_card=Aetherling] for so long, [mtg_card=Pearl Lake Ancient] seems absolutely dreadful. Being a Mythic, you’d expect it to do something other than suck, but it apparently didn’t get the memo. Sure, it’s uncounterable. Sure, it’s bounceable. But the cost to bounce it is so prohibitive that you’ll rarely if ever be willing to set yourself back that far, just to protect it. Also, it’s seven mana, and we’re losing the bulk of our control cards, so there’s not likely going to be a viable deck for him to live in anyways. This is a Mythic you’ll be sad to open.
Justin says: Prepare to groan every time you open this in Sealed. Don’t get me wrong, I might be a pretty competitive heavy player, but even I’m pretty excited about the teasing of Ugin and knowing one of the sets in Khans block has a time travel theme. It doesn’t take a genius to put those two together. But this card is just bad, even for its intended purpose. The first ability is aimed at the Commander environment, giving you some protection against other players taking extra turns, but I just don’t honestly see that many folks wanting to dedicate a whole card to that. The second ability gives you a way assemble some synergy or interaction with this card to get an extra turn, but the prohibitively high mana cost and auto-exile R&D safety pretty much keeps it from being exciting in the slightest. Heck, with [mtg_card=Trading Post] rotating out, I think the most interesting thing you can do with it at the moment is throw it at someone’s face with [mtg_card=Shrapnel Blast]. Maybe there is some kind of cute interaction with [mtg_card=Pyxis of Pandemonium] and a few other draft chaff cards, but I’m not holding my breath on that.
[mtg_card=Retribution of the Ancients]
Josh says: While removal in limited is at a premium, the fact that you’re debuffing your board every time you use Retribution of the Ancients makes it significantly less good. Also, it’s literally useless if you don’t have several +1/+1 counters, or any way to make them. Imagine pairing this with the Outlast ability, which might seem good at a glance. Then you realize that you’re spending up to 10 mana and three turns to kill a 3/3. That’s really bad.
Justin says: [mtg_card=Mindswipe] is one of those cards that’s bad based on just how close it is. The theme is spot on, there are a lot of decks throughout Magic’s history and formats combining blue counterspells with red burn spells. They tend to gravitate towards builds that favor putting out small evasive threats in play with the counterspells to protect them and disrupt the opponent along with the burn to clear blockers or finish off those last few points of life. So the base idea of a counterspell that also domes your opponent for some damage is pretty appealing in a vacuum. There’s even been a few spells and effects along these lines already, though it tended to be more blue and black pairings with life loss, not damage to players. Which can be relevant when planeswalkers are on the board. That said, the rate of return on [mtg_card=Mindswipe] is just really bad. At its initial three mana you’re getting a [mtg_card=Force Spike] with [mtg_card=Gutshot] to a player on it, even in a tempo orientated deck that 1 damage is hardly worth say the scry you could have gotten on [mtg_card=Dissolve] instead. At five mana you start to get into the realm of a card at face value you probably would consider playing, [mtg_card=Mana Leak] and [mtg_card=Lava Spike] are both respectable Magic cards, but this does start to open up the awkward nature of this card. For anyone that’s been casting [mtg_card=Syncopate] recently will tell you, where controller pays X counterspells are at their best is when your opponent taps out or nearly taps out, so that you can counter their spell for cheap. This usually allows you to cast another spell that turn. [mtg_card=Mindswipe] wants to go the opposite way and dump more mana into it. This is also before considering the often big downside to soft counters, especially X based ones, is that you can play around them. A spell like [mtg_card=Power Sink] can be a really dead card a times, and [mtg_card=Mindswipe] adds another mana to trim the X number. At the very least, [mtg_card=Mindswipe]’s damage isn’t conditional on the spell being countered; it will still hit them even if they can successfully pay.
[mtg_card=Altar of the Brood]
Josh says: Milling isn’t really a thing, but Delve is. Giving your opponents fodder to Delve with, without actually having a mill-based win condition, is crazy, but that’s what Altar of the Brood is all about. It’s not just unproductive; it’s actually harmful if your opponent is playing any one of the many Delve cards in Khans. It could theoretically have some application in some other format somewhere, but I sincerely doubt it.
[mtg_card=Flying Crane Technique] & [mtg_card=Master of Pearls]
Justin says: Fair warning, these are not in fact bad cards, but I wanted to take the opportunity to point out some design issues I have with cards like this. Magic is an awesome game, and one of its best aspects that I constantly praise is the ability for the same game to be simultaneously so many different experiences for a wide variety of folks. A casual game of Commander is about is about as far removed from something like Vintage Rotisseries Draft as is theoretically possible in a game involving the same play pieces and rules. And that’s really great for the wider Magic community, but this does mean that every Magic set needs to serve a lot of different masters. There needs to be powerful and cost pushed cards for constructed, big flashy effects for Commander, reprints in order to support older formats, and this all needs to be balanced together and against itself for the limited environment. Here’s my issue with cards like [mtg_card=Flying Crane Technique] and [mtg_card=Master of Pearls]. These cards do nothing but blow out games of limited. There’s always plenty of other powerful cards that can take over a game of limited in the set, but at least those cards feel like they have an intended place outside of just upsetting your win-and-in at a PTQ. That [mtg_card=Grave Titan] is going to do more than jus stomp me this game. However, cards like [mtg_card=Flying Crane Technique] and [mtg_card=Master of Pearls] are in this limbo state of not being quite good enough for Standard, and certainly not older formats, and not really having enough impact for the EDH/Commander crowd – though admittedly they are close. It’s [mtg_card=Overrun] all over again. For five or six mana you can be doing better things in other formats, but in limited combine any of these cards with a decent boardstate and you basically just win. Part of Magic is having this kind of variance baked into the cards, but I think you could still get the same result and make a card that’s not just going to go straight into the bulk rare binder afterwards.
Commons That Will Rule Limited
Dual Lands Cycle
Josh says: These almost go without saying, but being at Common means you’ll be seeing plenty of them when you open your Sealed Deck pool. With a focus on three-color shards, you’ll definitely need some mana fixing, and these guys will keep you on the right mana, albeit a turn delayed. The one life point isn’t going to be relevant in most cases, but it’s nice to have some minor upside to the lands coming in tapped. Justin notes: In draft, be sure to prioritize the enemy color pairings instead of the ally ones. Each enemy can go in two wedges, while ally can only go in one. See for instance, [mtg_card=Blossoming Sands] can only go in Abzan, but [mtg_card=Jungle Hollow] goes in both Abzan and Sultai.
[mtg_card=Crippling Chill] & [mtg_card=Force Away]
Justin says: In a set with a bunch of really expensive bombs and folks sinking a lot of mana and resources into morph, prowess or delve, that puts a big uptick on the value of solid tempo cards. Both of these cards exceptionally excel since they are right at home in more aggressive blue decks looking to trigger their prowess and push through blockers as well as they are equally good in a more defensive controlling deck looking to stall and take advantage of some late game cards. There’s a pretty high floor on how bad any card that cantrips can be and [mtg_card=Crippling Chill] offers up a valuable spell effect at instant speed no less. Typically the sorcery speed version of these spells have only been good on the offense, since you only lock a creature down for 1 turn defensively, but [mtg_card=Crippling Chill] can be cast before combat to keep a nasty bomb off your back for two whole turns and you get three cards off your deck to find an answer. Likewise, [mtg_card=Force Away] is just a super solid way to set your opponent back, especially if they just did something like eat up a bunch of their graveyard on a delve creature. That it will sometimes loot you out of a useless land or dead card is just gravy. Don’t forget that for your three power creatures with prowess, the prowess will trigger when the spell is cast. So prowess resolves first, pumping the power of the creature to four, which in turn will cause the ferocious effect to occur. Ferocious does have an intervening if though, so if they remove all your four power creatures before the spell resolves it won’t get the ferocious effect.
Josh says: A 2/1 for two isn’t great, but the Outlast ability on this guy, and the fact that he gives First Strike to any other Outlaster you have is going to make attacking you nigh impossible. He’s not likely going to win games on his own, but rest assured, he’ll make it a real chore to be aggressive after turn 4, especially if you manage to pull a handful of other counter producing creatures or effects. Paired with the other Outlast buff creatures, your defenses will be nigh impenetrable fairly quickly.
Justin says: Any time a conversation can begin with “it’s kind of like [mtg_card=Cloudgoat Ranger]” you need to be paying attention to that card for limited. To be fair, it’s obviously no [mtg_card=Cloudgoat Ranger], but it’s the closest we’re probably going to get to one any time soon. The big upside of this card is just how versatile it is. Spitting five points of power and toughness spread across four bodies is almost absurd for a common. That it can also just come down on turn three as a Morph just makes it that much more flexible. Don’t forget that there’s two different on color [mtg_cards=Overrun]s at common in the set as well. A lot of games are going to end with end of turn Morph [mtg_card=Ponyback Brigade], untap, and [mtg_card=Rush of Battle] or [mtg_card=Trumpet Blast] your team. Just either one of those two cards is threatening 13 damage with only [mtg_card=Ponyback Brigade] on the board. Chances are that your opponent probably didn’t factor into their combat math. I also like that even if it’s a little less exciting to not Morph it, you still get the little goblin army if you need to hard cast it for six.
Josh says: Okay, so six mana for a 2/2 isn’t exactly amazing, but Ponyback’s Morph cost is one cheaper, and you still get the three 1/1 Goblins when he flips. Even 5 power and 5 toughness for five mana isn’t exactly stellar, but getting three surprise blockers can turn the tide in a contested combat situation. He’s three colors, of course, so you’ll only really be playing him if you’re already working towards that shard, but he has a lot of potential, and a couple of them can be devastating.
Delve Commons – [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise], [mtg_card=Shambling Attendants], [mtg_card=Sultai Scavenger] and [mtg_card=Hooting Mandrills]
Justin says: There’s a pseudo-cycle of delve cards, since delve doesn’t actually come in every WUBRG color, just green, black and blue, and all of these common delves are deceptively powerful. They might not be super well suited for any aggressive decks, but any midrange or controling deck is going to want at least one or two delve cards for the upside that they offer. Limited is often a format about trading. One of my first rules of thumb for new players in sealed or draft is that all your cards should either be creature or kill creatures. Cards are going to end up in the graveyard even without enablers over the course of the game as you block and trade or use up removal. The upside that I mentioned with these delve cards is that some point during the mid to late game you’ll get into a situation where you can deploy a delve card cheaply and also commit another relevant play to the board. This creates a big tempo swing in your favor, which, depending on the specific card, can help you stabilize, pull you ahead when the board is gummed up or set you solidly ahead when you’re winning. Worst case, the [mtg_card=Sultai Scavenger] and [mtg_card=Hooting Mandrills] are not even that overcosted for their bodies. Even if it’s a little expensive, a 4/4 trampler and a 3/3 flyer are both relevant creatures in the late game. And the more [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise] approaches [mtg_card=Ancestral Recall] the more absurd it gets, that card will almost single handily swing a game of two controlling decks duking it out. Do be very careful about how many delve cards you put in your deck, without enablers you’re only going to be able to support a small number of them. So prioritize one or two of the best ones and leave the others in the sideboard unless you hit a grindy match-up.
Honorable Mentions – [mtg_card=Leaping Master] & [mtg_card=Ainok Bond-Kin]
Justin says: If I didn’t miscount, there are 35 creatures with morph in Khans with 26 of those at common and uncommon. So there’s a greater than normal chance that your opponent is going to be playing a [mtg_card=Gray Ogre] on turn three that they probably won’t want to trade off for your two drop. Since they will be wanting to get the morph effect later in the game. Also, if you take a look at all the morph costs, you can almost universally attack or block any morph when you opponent has four or less mana open with your two drops. All of the cheaper to morph creatures will trade or bounce, except for [mtg_card=Sidisi’s Pet] which could eat a 2/1, with any two power creature. There’s no weirdness of needing to guess if there’s say a [mtg_card=Battering Craghorn] under there, for those of you who were around during Onslaught limited. Only once they reach five or more mana do you risk getting blown out. What this all means though is that good two power creature that can come down on turn two are a bit more valuable than they normally would be. I especially like these two because they are still useful in the late game.