Introductions and Explanations
Greetings fellow multiplayer enthusiasts! My name is Prid3 and I'm a 15+ year veteran of the game who's been playing Magic: the Gathering since the year 2000. While I've followed and played the game at a competitive-level across every major duel format the bulk of my personal playtime has been spent at kitchen tables duking it out in large multiplayer matches. Be it Cube, Constructed or EDH I've played tens of thousands of hours of multiplayer Magic in my life and have since made it my goal to impart some of that knowledge and experience on to you. As such this set review is solely focused towards the multiplayer crowd with an emphasis on budget-minded, fair Magic that adheres to a Legacy-esque banned/restricted list. While I'll still touch on degenerate combos and unfair applications I understand that not everyone takes the game as seriously as my own circles and as such I try to balance my reviews to ensure that they're applicable to players of all levels. From turn 1 kills to turn 20 slugfests I'll do my best to keep these relevant for anyone and everyone who routinely sits down at a multiplayer table.
Before moving on I'll quickly touch on some important book-keeping notes that you should be made aware of before delving deeper into this set review. First, know that I never evaluate every single card in a new set. There's absolutely no reason to repeat "this card was designed for duel formats/Limited" hundreds of times so don't expect me to touch on chaff. I'll hit on what I consider to be the key multiplayer cards with an emphasis on the ones that you should make a concerted effort to acquire. Moreover, bear in mind that all ratings discussed in this evaluation should be taken with a grain of salt. It's virtually impossible to give a card a grade that accurately reflects its worth in Cube, Constructed and EDH and so for the purposes of this guide I slant it mostly towards Constructed. I'll touch on Cube and EDH whenever I feel that it's especially applicable but otherwise my primary emphasis will be on a card's 60-card Constructed applications. Finally, I'm not looking to pin down the perfect letter grade for every single card. I'm merely trying to provide you with a rough estimation of its overall worth.
Grading Scale: A: Oppressive cards that completely warp the game around them. These are format definers that typically dominate games in which they're left unchecked and usually crush adversaries who aren't employing similarly powered strategies. This makes them must-have competitive staples with limitless potential. Think Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Humility, Consecrated Sphinx, Sylvan Primordial, Repercussion. B: Extremely formidable cards that will enable you to pull ahead of the pack. Winning decks should be clamoring to field them as they figure to significantly improve your overall win %. This makes them top-priority acquisition targets for players of all skill-levels. Think Syphon Mind, Earthquake, Wrath of God, Rite of Replication, Ulvenwald Hydra. C: Powerful cards that winning decks will want to play. A list full of C's won't crush a table but a solid foundation of them should be good enough to keep you competitive. Think Wight of Precinct Six, Clever Impersonator, Taurean Mauler, Thragtusk, Restoration Angel. D: Marginal playables with which to flesh out your lists in the absence of reasonable alternatives. I strongly encourage that you enlist substitutes if it's a realistic option since they're unlikely to yield impressive win %s. F: Weak cards that wouldn't be played in an ideal world. Niche: Immensely powerful-yet-narrow cards that are Bs/As in decks that actively want them and Ds/Fs everywhere else. Sideboard: Stupendously powerful cards that you wouldn't maindeck against unknown adversaries but that have competitive applications in known metagames with defined threats. +/-: Used to denote a better or worse N. That is, a B+ represents a strong B whereas C- implies a weak C.
Mechanics and Themes
Conspiracies: Conspiracies are some of the most inherently powerful Cube cards in the game given their ability to increase the average number of playables per deck. Let's assume that the average multiplayer draft deck is 22 spells and 18 lands (the actual numbers are irrelevant since we can all agree that it will be something very close to that). Maybe 4-5 of those lands will be nonbasics (on average) which means that of the 45 cards that you draft maybe 30 will make the final cut (and that's a generous figure by all metrics). Assuming a 4 player game that implies that about 60 cards (roughly 33% of the total cards drafted) will rot in the sideboard and provide absolutely no value every game. This is where Conspiracies come in strong given their ability to increase the average number of cards played per deck. After all, your decks will still contain the baseline 22 playables and Conspiracies provide value above and beyond. This is why even the weakest conspiracies are still really freaking good relatively speaking. Let's take Assemble the Rank and Vile for example. By accounts this card is a heinous do-nothing pile of trash that shouldn't be good. What does it do? Give you a 2/2 if you draw a certain creature, have it die and have a Black mana to spare? That's awful. Still, how frequently does it get drafted and played even in a high-powered Cube? The answer is "way more than you think." After all, you're always going to get more than enough playables to build a killer deck so rather than nabbing 15 cards to rot in your sideboard why wouldn't you draft and play this? What's better, this effect or actual nothing? No matter how marginal this card seems (and yes, it's marginal as all Hell) the alternative is frequently going to be "nothing" and we'd all take a card that sometimes provides us with a 2/2 over actual nothing any day of the week. Now, the risk with the weak Conspiracies such as these is that sometimes you'll see them in pack 1 at which point you have to hope that they fall into the right hands as final picks. Comes packs 2 and 3 you'll almost always be willing to pick them relatively highly (your deck should be mostly built and so anything that enables you to go above and beyond 22 playables is stellar) but you obviously don't get to decide when and where Conspiracies show up. Still, make no mistake that basically all Conspiracies are awesome and that extends to the ones that I'm not even going to bother discussing. Remember, no matter how bad a card like Adriana's Valor seems it's still infinitely more valuable than a 15th worthless sideboard card.
Drafties: I have absolutely no idea what to label cards like Arcane Savant that have special effects when you draft them so "Drafties" it is. I dislike these kinds of cards since I find them to be a total nuisance. What annoys me about them is that they're extremely confusing for newer players to the point where you typically have to watch them like a hawk and ensure that they employ the cards properly. Not because of cheating or other shady nonsense, it has nothing to do with that, simply because of how easy that it is to forget about them and/or apply their effects incorrectly. "Woops, I forgot to reveal and name a card." "Woops, I was supposed to take an extra card here." "Woops, you were all supposed to do X." Every. Single. Time. In a Utopian world where everyone is a pro Magic player then sure, whatever, but in the real world I haven't had many positive experiences with these kinds of cards because they're too abnormal for newer players to use. They're significantly more trouble than their worth assuming that you use your Cube to bring newer players into the game so suffice it to say I rarely-if-ever field them myself.
Monarch: As much as this seems like a mechanic that promotes creature-based combat it's actually the complete opposite. The only time that I'd ever want to make myself the Monarch is if I'm looping Fleshbag Marauders, sitting behind an Ensnaring Bridge/Solitary Confinement, assembling Glacial Chasm + Eon Hub, Wrathing the board every other turn, Staxing the field with a Smokestack/Tangle Wire lock, you get the idea. After all, why would you ever initiate a "King of the Hill" game unless you were relatively positive that you'd win it? Never. As such I don't expect to see this mechanic outside of decks designed to obsolete creature-based aggression which more-or-less defeats the purpose of promoting combat. The mechanic is solid, drawing 2 cards per turn is sweet, but don't expect to see it cropping up in fair decks looking to battle back-and-forth with its adversaries.
Melee: This is my idea of a nightmare keyword. If you're wondering "is that good or bad thing?" ask yourself how many "good" nightmares that you've ever had. Not only does this mechanic only reward you for turning creatures sideways but it only provides meaningful value if you're doing it to multiple adversaries. And your payoff? Damage. So let's get this straight. First, I have to attack. Moreover it has to be against multiple adversaries. Now you're telling me that my reward for pissing the entire table off is DAMAGE? Yeah, no, sorry, pass. I'm still going to evaluate the playable creatures that contain this keyword but make no mistake that I'd never even humor the notion of sleeving one up myself. It's a trio of the worst possible things that you could possibly do in a multiplayer setting all rolled into one. In order for this mechanic to be remotely playable the creatures that it's printed on need to be utterly broken because even if they're above the curve do you seriously want a creature that virtually has "must attack each opponent each turn" printed on it in a multiplayer setting? Do you really want to simultaneously piss everyone off every turn? I'm sitting here shuddering just thinking about it. I'm glad that Wizards is trying to make aggro a thing in multiplayer but what they need to do is make the Hydra Omnivore mechanic a keyword. It's that simple. Melee is a reasonable bridge between the two but aggro is completely unplayable so these baby-steps will never pass muster. We need something ridiculously overpowered that can legitimately compete with the likes of combo, stax, ramp and control.
Council's Dilemma: Voting is essentially a "punisher" mechanic that will almost always leave you with the worst outcome. As an example I've never seen Plea for Power act as anything other than a strictly better Concentrate which isn't a card that sees any play. Time Warp is great but it's never going to be a card that takes an extra turn so just forget it. If you think that Concentrate is a fine Magic card then by all means, play it, but please don't kid yourself into thinking that you'll ever get a Time Walk out of the deal. As such when we see cards like Expropriate we have to analyze them assuming their worst-case scenario because that's going to be their average use-case as well. After all, assuming that you have a Waste Not in play could you ever reasonably expect the table to vote to discard their hand to Capital Punishment? Not really no. Before moving on I want to touch on the subject of "politics." Every time one of these sets get released people suggest using "politics" (the word that you're looking for is "manipulation" people) to trick weak players into doing your bidding. Players that I generally respect have suggested that I say things like "are you really going to let me draw 3 cards?" when casting Plea for Power to hopefully trick people to selecting the Time Walk mode. The notion that those tactics could ever work on reasonable opponents is utterly absurd and if you're trying to min-max against newer players then have fun maintaining a stable meta. I know that this is mostly just a rant but it annoys me to no end when people suggest using "politics" to turn a card like Expropriate into something that reads "take 4 extra turns after this one." Never has happened, never will, don't insult your adversaries and suggest otherwise, the end. You're paying 9 mana for Time Walk + Blatant Thievery and if you assume otherwise then get ready for disappointment.
Goad: Goad is an odd mechanic in that it scales inversely with the number the players. The fewer the players, the better that it becomes. After all, in the context of a 3 player game Goad forces player B to attack player C 100% of the time. Now assume a 4 player game and they have the option of hitting either player C or D (whichever is better for them). There's no incentive to provide them with this additional option and so the mechanic is strictly weaker. Extrapolate this to an 8 player game and now the mechanic is worthless because at least one player figures to have no board at which point Goad doesn't accomplish anything meaningful. This ensures that goad will always be a below-average mechanic in larger metas but assuming a 3-4 player game then it's "passable" but unexciting. The reality is that Goad essentially competes for removal (there's no way that "winning" deck can support both) so who's going to cut removal (which always works) for something significantly less reliable?
Echoing Boon: As much as I love free value this one is a bit of a stretch. How many beneficial spells does the average multiplayer Cube contain? It's not 0 but it's damned close. Obviously if you manage to draft one of these alongside a Hunter's Insight (obviously I don't play with that card but I literally can't think of a single "pump" spell that sees play in multiplayer Cube) then it's stellar but unless your Cube has a critical mass of support for it then I don't see a compelling reason to include it. It's a reasonably high pick if you do but for the life of me I can't envision what you'd run to support it.
Emissary's Ploy: While multiplayer Cubes don't typically include many 1-3 CMC threats this is still a reasonably powerful pick. Even if you're only slotting an extra 1-2 creatures that's still more value than what a sideboard card offers (which is nothing) and so its bar is quite low. This isn't game-winning value by any means but having access to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in your Golgari “graveyard matters” deck would be a welcome addition and you realistically only need 1 good inclusion to justify the pick. Sure, you're burning 2 picks to slightly upgrade one of the weaker cards in your deck but given that you're probably going to waste 10 regardless that isn't saying very much. What I will say is that it's important to stress that this Conspiracy doesn't increase your (virtual) playable count. You still only get to field 22 spells and 18 lands (or whatever) but you have more leeway with which to acquire and upgrade your 2-3 CMC threats.
Middling Pick (5-7)
Hired Heist: This card is passable primarily due to the critical mass of cheap threats that colors such as Green and White typically field. If you think of it as a Blue card then it's going to be heinous but turning an Elvish Mystic or Mother of Runes into a draw engine can be kind of a big game. I realize that it might seem foolish to suggest turning a mana dork into an Underworld Connections but, again, having one that can tap for mana or draw cards is strictly better than one that merely taps for mana and it's not as though you can do anything with the 10-12 cards sitting in your sideboard. That being said this isn't an early pick by any means and you really do have to treat it like a multicolor card because I can't think of many reliably ways to trigger it in a base-Blue deck.
Late Pick (8-10)
Hold the Perimeter: This card is absolutely fantastic. No, I'm not joking. Think about it. It will make the cut in 100% of drafts and provide value in 100% of games and that alone puts it head-and-shoulders above most other cards. After all, how many cards rot away in the sideboard every draft? At least 40? Whatever the number is it's insanely high so this seems like a no-brainer auto-include. It will be drafted and played 100% of the time and that's awesome. Before you ask, yes, I understand that some 1/1s and a 1/2 aren't going to end games of Magic. That's irrelevant. This is a card that you get to cast for free in 100% of your games and it will always give you the strongest starting board position. If you want to argue that someone will Swords to Plowshares your 1/2 and that the table will proceed to beat you down then, go for it, just don't expect anyone to take you seriously. This is the type of card that could reliably deal 4-6 damage before petering out and even if people simply sit back and do nothing, who cares? Whereas everyone else only got to play 22 cards and 18 lands you got to jam a 23rd for free. This is a very high pick that you should prioritize grabbing early and often because you're always going to end the draft with 22 solid playables so why wouldn't you actively seek out a 23rd that you get to cast for free every game?
Top Pick (2-4)
Hymn of the Wilds: I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this card and have reached the conclusion that it basically has to be good. Not because it will make the cut in your average deck but because it will excel in the right archetypes. More specifically I'd expect it to shine in creature-heavy Green and White decks that field plenty of permanent-based hate (such as Winter Orb and Tangle Wire) and powerful Enchantments (Mystic Remora, Survival of the Fittest, Rhystic Study, etc). Red isn't always spell-based either, especially when it comes to Artifact-heavy builds. Not that this discounts Artifacts or anything but getting one for your creatures seems solid. What I will say is that this effect is significantly weaker than starting with a land in play (it can't be used to cast Enchantments, Planeswalkers, Artifacts, etc.) and being unable to cast instant and sorcery spells is an enormous drawback. Even if you're playing the Pestermite + Splinter Twin deck it prevents you from fielding cantrips, permission, certain forms of card draw, etc. so it's unclear if it would even bolster your overall win %. My primary fear is that it will trap players into slinging weak decks under the false assumption that the card wouldn't be present if it weren't inherently competitive. While you shouldn't feel required to hold everyone's hand you shouldn't actively mislead them either and this type of effect arguably qualifies. Remember, we're not talking about a card that reads "your spells cost 1 less" or even "your creatures cost 1 less." No, it only effects the first creature that you cast each turn. As such you definitely have to proceed with caution since this isn't an auto-include by any means but it does seem reasonably powerful for creature-heavy builds.
High Pick (3-5)
Sovereign's Realm: This is the P1P1 dream right here. I'm not going to pretend like starting with 5 cards is a trivial drawback (it isn't) but at the same time who would ever pass this thing in a draft? Clearly you don't get to see it in pack 1 every game but the fact that it enables you to (more-or-less) draft the strongest card from each pack is ridiculous and don't forget that it eliminates the threat of mana flood. It still makes sense to draft some nonbasic lands (but not too many, you still need to draft 40 playables!) and you don't want to go crazy with your mana costs (you can only play Basic lands after all) but all disclaimers aside I think that everyone can appreciate just how powerful that this effect is. Even though you shouldn't literally draft any card from any color at any time (you're not going to curve Cryptic Command into Cloudthresher with Basic lands) you have significantly more flexibility and freedom than everyone else and I can't stress how important that it is that you never need to worry about mana flood. You are literally drawing into gas every turn of the game in a deck that presumably has a higher curve than most. After all, why wouldn't you draft a ton of bomby 7 drops and such? If you find them early on simply convert them into lands and dig into more as the game progresses. Again, starting with 5 cards is a nuisance but it's a small price to pay for stellar topdecks at every stage of the game coupled with the ability to jam all 5 colors if you're so inclined. This is another no-brainer in my mind unless you want to exclude it for power-level reasons.
First Pick (1)
Summoner's Bond: While it's true that you risk drawing both cards naturally it's offset by the fact that this card doesn't cost you anything to run. After all, it's ostensibly a free 2-for-1 and even when it fails to get there it's not exactly a devastating loss. The only thing that you've wasted is a draft pick and there's absolutely no risk of failing to grab ~22 playables. Easy come easy go. While you can blindly jam this into any deck with 2 or more creatures there's clearly some interesting applications for this card worth analyzing. First of all this card is utterly absurd in combo decks assuming that you pair things like Pestermite and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or Triskelion and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. It's also perfect for establishing "dream curves" such as Crypt Ghast into Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Elvish Mystic into Shaman of Forgotten Ways. Obviously if you opt for the latter you're not exactly happy to tutor up the Elf but the prospect of curving 1-3-6 into a turn 3 Primeval Titan (or whatever) is too tempting to overlook. Still, hey, there's nothing wrong with pairing Oracle of Mul Daya and Seedborn Muse either so there's no wrong way to eat this Reese's. With that in mind I want to stress that this card is a very high pick and you shouldn't be passing it lightly. Even if your Cube doesn't support combo kills you can't overlook the fact that it's a free 2-for-1 which is significantly more value than what a worthless sideboard card has to offer. If you expect it to wheel, guess again, because this should go early and often every game. Everyone is going to have 22 playables by the end of the draft so why wouldn't you prioritize a 23rd that will provide you with a free 2-for-1 in the majority of your games?
Top Pick (2-4)
Weight Advantage: As we saw with Hold the Perimeter and Sovereign's Realm it's critically important to stress that these are cards that will be drafted, played and cast in 100% of matches which a feat that few other cards can boast. Weight Advantage loses some points because A) it doesn't always provide value B) it only effects creature combat and C) it won't automatically be drafted and played but it's close enough that you can't overlook it either. Obviously it's a riff on Doran, the Siege Tower and Assault Formation but unfortunately grading this card isn't as simple as comparing it to those kinds of cards. Creature combat is the absolute worst possible way to go about winning a game of multiplayer Magic so when people do turn to it they typically lean on extremely large, evasive threats than kill in 1-2 hits regardless. Weight Advantage is decent if you're converting Magus of the Tabernacles into virtual 6/6s but even then it's not as though a vanilla 6/6 is a real threat in a multiplayer setting. It's also not as though anyone is playing with cards such as Indomitable Ancients so this effect isn't inherently insane by any means. That being said you block (or threaten to block) significantly more than you attack in multiplayer and so creatures tend to have higher toughness than power. As such this card is typically going to be an overall buff and since it doesn't cost you anything other than a draft pick this always going to be a solid playable and a high pick. I realize that I've spent the past half-hour explaining why it's a lackluster effect but at the end of the day it's usually an overall net positive and the value that it provides dramatically outperforms that of a worthless sideboard card. Having 4/4 Wall of Blossoms and Deceiver Exarchs makes blocking that much easier so don't overlook this badboy even though it only interacts with certain creatures hitting the Red Zone. You can feel free to pass on this if you dislike creature-based decks but even if you only run a handful of them then assuming this card is an overall buff (which it usually will be) then it's still more valuable that a worthless sideboard card.
High Pick (3-5)
Arcane Savant: This card seems absolutely bonkers to me. Let's start with the obvious and analyze its synergy with Blue's natural suite of mass removal. While it doesn't get things like Wrath of God it's flush with mass bounce such as Evacuation and sticking that effect on a creature is utterly absurd. After all, the Savant simply bounces himself which forces players to kill it if they ever want to stick a creature. Moreover, this card has immense synergy with Time Warps given the ease with which you can recur creatures. Going infinite with spells typically requires bouncing an Archaeomancer but creatures tend to be significantly easier to continually reanimate. Even if your Cube doesn't support true infinites, no matter, as taking an extra 2-3 turns is still an enormous game. Beyond that you also have to consider that this can drastically reduce the cost of spells such as Blatant Thievery and Insurrection and don't forget that it enables you to "splash" off-color finishers such as Rise of the Dark Realms as well. I also want to stress that you don't have to be winning the game to make this card worthwhile. Even if you're simply sticking a Damnation on him that's still perfectly reasonable. Not in the sense that you want to play a pseudo-Crux of Fate but because creatures are significantly easier to tutor for, recur, copy, bounce, etc. which makes "creature-based spells" almost strictly better than their counterparts. As such I absolutely adore this card and highly recommend including it in your cubes.
Top Pick (2-4)
Volatile Chimera: This is easily one of the most interesting cards in the entire set. Not "most powerful" but "most interesting." Obviously the dream-scenario is that you hate draft a Consecrated Sphinx, jam this on turn 3 and build your own copy on turn 4. Something close to that anyways. I think we can all agree how nutty powerful that would be so let's focus on how consistently this card figures to work. First of all you must exile 3 or more creatures and since the ability chooses one at random having one good hit isn't enough to make this effect powerful. Even if you have Conq Sphinx you easily activated him 5 times before hitting it (because you can hit the same one multiple times). Let's also remember that this card doesn't abuse ETB triggers and so copying Primordials and such doesn't exactly accomplish anything. Ok, no problem right? Just grab things like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Griselbrand right? Well, no, that's not realistic. First of all you'd have to see ~3 bomby finishers, waste high draft picks on them (those kinds of cards don't wheel), not play them (why the Hell wouldn't you?), draw your Chimera, transform it and have it hit the right one(s). Sorry, I lost count after the 8th hoop that this card forces you to jump through to make it work. Needless to say you're basically praying for the stars to align to make this card work on a consistent basis which is quite unfortunate if you ask me. Why, then, do I care about this card? Bluntly put even if this card isn't consistent it can still win games of Magic. Let's go back to my original example of a hate-drafted Consecrated Sphinx. Let's say you don't have other good targets and so this card only works 33% of the time. That's still pretty good isn't it? What's your base probability of winning a 4 player Cube draft? About 25% right? If a card "wins the game" 33% of the time isn't that good enough to make the cut? The math seems to suggest that it is. Obviously a 4 mana Conq Sphinx (it's not fair to call it 5 mana when you get to pay it in installments) doesn't literally win the game each and every time but it certainly helps. This is especially true when you're playing the colors Red and White which, let's face it, are garbage compared to the other 3. With all of that in mind what's the final verdict? Unfortunately this card doesn't make the cut for the simple reason that you're probably not going to get passed the truly insane finishers with any consistency. Who here has passed a pack 1 Consecrated Sphinx? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Didn't think so. I don't expect cards like Griselbrand to make it more than 2-3 picks so your probability of drafting Volatile Chimera alongside bomby finishers outside of your colors seems a bit too farfetch'd for my tastes. I still love this card's overall design but it's too weak to make the cut as it.
Late Pick (8-10)
Caller of the Untamed: I'll support any 1-card win condition and this vixen certainly qualifies. In removal-light Cubes this is the type of effect that spirals wildly out of control and ultimately creates an insurmountable advantage for the player activating it each turn. That being said if your Cube is anything like mine then it's filled with mass removal at which point these kinds of cards become unplayable. As such I only recommend adding it to your own if your games don't feature board clears occurring every 2-3 circuits since there's no point in tricking people with these "traps" if they're not going to go the distance. Assuming that you dial back on the AOE clears and emphasize spot removal (to make creatures more viable, not because it's more powerful) then she's a stellar finisher that figures to routinely seize control of the game and set the pace for everyone else.
Grade B in Cubes that are light on mass removal.
Middling Pick (5-7) in Cubes light on mass removal.
Sanctum Prelate: Staple Hatebear for competitive multiplayer. The ability to jam this on key numbers is oppressive for degenerate spell-based decks to play against and the body can always be blinked (using cards like Flickerwisp) to change it as needed. She also pairs insanely well with cards like Sphere of Resistance and Trinisphere given her ability to blank cheap (1-2) CMC spells while your sphere effects deny the more expensive ones (or vice-versa). This makes her a solid addition to most Stax decks as well. Do note that this card has next-to-no casual applications however so unless your meta is plagued with turn 2-4 combo decks then don't bother fielding this type of threat. After all, assuming that people are all playing generic creatures and spells what number are you going to name to "get them"? Obviously shutting 4 drops (or whatever) out is relevant, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but I wouldn't expect this to pass muster in most casual spheres.
Faith's Reward: Niche combo card. Pairs well with Second Sunrise/Open the Vaults and permanents that sacrifice themselves in order to generate infinite/obscene amounts of value. We typically call this archetype "Eggs" and here's a reasonable explanation of how it works. Faith's Reward also combos with cards like Balancing Act and Jokulhaups to nuke the board and leave you with an insurmountable board position which should be enough to win most games. That being said both of these archetypes are completely non-interaction, slow and time consuming making them some of the worst casual decks imaginable (from an aggregate fun perspective). The decks themselves aren't especially competitive either which is another strike in a long list of many. Otherwise I'll stress that these kinds of cards aren't playable as a generic "Counterspells" to Wrath of God effects so don't bother fielding them unless you're doing something actively broken with them. 4 mana conditional permission is heinous and will lose you significantly games than it'll win for you (due to wasted time and mana).
Ghostly Prison: Casual staple. This card was boasting a ridiculous price-tag and hopefully this will quell that once and for all. While you won't see this card floating around competitive tables it's a fantastic speed-bump in casual spheres when it can be employed to effectively dissuade aggression. After all, it provides people with meaningful incentive to direct their attention elsewhere since paying large sums of mana to attack is a very real cost early on. Attacks are generally made "all things being equal" and all things are not equal when a GP is kicking around. Moreover, the card is especially brutal when it's paired with things like Serene Master that punish people for attacking with small quantities of large threats. GP handles swarms, Master handles fatties, you get the idea. It also survives Wrath of God, stacks with Windborn Muse, combos with Sphere of Safety, etc. so if you're looking for a generic 3 CMC "blocker" you can't ask for much more than this.
Hallowed Burial: Niche mass removal spell that effectively deals with Indestructible threats and circumvents revival. Unfortunately it's almost strictly worse than Terminus and/or Tragic Arrogance but it's still a reasonable form of mass removal in revival-centric metas. Not a staple by any means but the card is fantastic if people are emphasizing recursion.
Pariah: Niche applications in decks with Indestructible creatures. It's conceivable (albeit unlikely) that it these types of sequences could leave the rest of the table drawing dead assuming that your adversaries are all playing grossly inadequate amounts of removal and employing damage-based win conditions. Obviously that's a lot of "ifs" but when this card works it's unbeatable so it's worth giving it a nod.
Expropriate: Time Walk + Blatant Thievery is a reasonable powerful, non-interactive finisher that should put you in a prime position to win the game. This is especially true in decks already fielding Time Warps since at that point you can virtually ensure your victory assuming that you chain this one into more. As it sits I wouldn't expect to get multiple turns out of the deal but if enough people control ridiculous bombs then hey, you never know. This card also pairs fantastically with Mizzix's Mastery, Narset, Enlightened Master and/or basically anything that can cheat its mana cost. Otherwise you'll want to support it with big mana and/or ramp since 9 is a ton of mana to reach the fair way. Still, the effect is game-winning and anytime you have a 1-card win condition you know that you're looking at a competitive finisher.
Followed Footsteps: As with Pariah this is a card that's basically unbeatable if people can't interact with it. The card is wildly unplayable in metas with reasonable amounts of removal but assuming that people omit it altogether then this will quickly seize complete control of the game. It's too niche for me to assign it a generic grade, 95% of the time this card will die to removal at little benefit, but assuming that you can dodge interaction then this card is sweet. For what it's worth this is best used on opposing critters to prevent it from being a 2-for-1. That way even if someone kills the Sylvan Primordial (or whatever) you can think of it as a 5 mana removal spell that forced another player's hand. It's still not good but that's way better than jamming this on your own creature and losing both to a random Doom Blade.
Merfolk Looter: Competitive staple for all formats and levels of play. It adds to your board, improves the average quality of the cards in your hand, fuels your Delve spells, supports your recursion, enables Flashback, digs for multiples, carries Equipment on and on and on. Any Ux deck can blindly jam this in the 2 CMC slot and be reasonably happy with the results.
Serum Visions: Cantrips are often employed to smooth your draws, mitigate the risks of manascrew/flood and/or to dig for specific cards that you're looking for. Powerful 2 drops, combos, hate, it helps you locate whatever you need it when you need it. While Serum Visions is significantly weaker than cards like Brainstorm and Ponder in decks with cheap shuffleeffects much like Preordain, Impulse and Dig Through Time it's ideal for budget-minded casual builds that can't afford them. After all, it provides full control over the cards that it sees while still providing meaningful card selection at a low cost. Unfortunately the card isn't powerful enough to be considered a staple in any format (including EDH) but it'll always be a solid-yet-unexciting cantrip for any Ux shell.
Mnemonic Wall: Casual staple. 5 mana is a lot to pay for a Snapcaster Mage but cards like Archaeomancer and Mnemonic Wall can do something that it can't; go "infinite." When paired with cards like Crush of Tentacles and/or Crystal Shard + Time Warp you can end the game by continually bouncing every creature or by taking all of the remaining turns. This makes it an ideal finisher in big mana decks and it's relevant to note that M.Wall is actually easier to support than Archaeomancer in Cloudpost/UrzaTron builds which typically struggle to reach a critical mass of Blue mana. This makes it an ideal budget-minded value engine that can force your opponents to find some form of interaction if they want to continue playing the game.
Show and Tell: Cheating out Omniscience into Enter the Infinite is a game win and Blue is more than capable of assembling the combo given its plethora of cantrips, tutors and card draw. There's also Hive Mind which can employ Pacts (such as Pact of the Titan and Pact of Negation) to immediately seal the deal. This makes SnT one of the most competitive combo finishers in the entire game for multiplayer purposes. As a generic value spell the card is typically awful and that holds true even when you're jamming things like Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play. It's not heinous or anything but I've rarely seen "value" SnTs win games of multiplayer Magic. I recommend sticking to literal game wins whenever possible since 3 mana Emrakuls (or whatever) win significantly fewer games than you probably think when multiple adversaries are involved.
Grade Niche A+
Capital Punishment: Heh, the name is ironically fitting isn't it? "Punisher" cards (i.e. ones that give your opponents control over the outcome) are almost always unplayable and this one is no exception. This is because their average use-case will almost always be their worst-case scenario since it's not as though your opponents have any incentive to screw themselves over. As a matter of fact the opposite is true. Their winningest line (by a significant margin) is to cooperate with one another to limit their effectiveness. Just think about it for a second and you'll understand why. If you're playing a dedicated discard deck people don't have any incentive to pitch their hands unless it's because they all have a big board with which to kill you. It's a lose-lose either way since you'll never get the outcome that you need when you need it. The same is true if you try and think of this as a mass removal spell for a Control deck since why would players with full boards let you get away with jamming a Life's Finale? They'll simply pitch their hands and kill you. For this card to be actively good you need to have a stable board and your adversaries need to have ~3 cards in hand and ~3 creatures in play. It's not good in dedicated control decks, it's not useful for dedicated discard decks, it basically only works as a generic value spell when cast on a stable board. It's not completely unplayable in that sense but understand that this card doesn't reliably accomplish anything meaningful so unless you routinely find yourself facing down full hands and full boards with a full board yourself then there's no compelling reason to acquire and field this in your Bx shells.
Thorn of the Black Rose: This card is cheaper than Custodi Lich and since the body is irrelevant either way this is the card that will see play (if any). While I think that the Monarch mechanic is terrible in generic midrange decks it seems reasonable in Control/Stax/MLD shells that obsolete creatures altogether. For example, you might curve this into a Death Cloud at which point you're drawing 2 cards a turn in a scenario where no one has any lands, creatures or cards in hand. You're resetting the game except people are down to 5-10 life and you get to draw 2 cards per turn starting on turn 1. While that seems like an utterly miserable way to try and win games it's reasonably competitive if nothing else. I'd still rather jam a Liliana Vess (or whatever) and use her ultimate to seal the deal but I won't overlook a reasonable alternative. Otherwise this card could work in Control decks filled with mass removal and/or other ways to obsolete creatures. Looping Fleshbag Marauders or abusing Grave Pact for example. At that point it's as though you have an indestructible Phyrexian Area that doesn't cost life which seems kind of sweet. Stax could work too and some combination of Winter Orb, Tangle Wire, Braids, Cabal Minion, Smokestack should more-or-less prevent you from taking damage.
Avatar of Woe: Not a competitive finisher by any means but she can frequently hit as early as turn 4 assuming that you open with some mass removal such as Innocent Blood, Smallpox, Toxic Deluge and Massacre. She still dies to removal at little benefit so to truly "break" her you have to pair her with persistent forms of revival such as Tortured Existence, Phyrexian Reclamation, Oversold Cemetery and Palace Siege. At 2 CMC you can typically cast 2 spells per turn assuming that she's one of them and while that's not going to win games outright it's a fantastic place to be in casual metas. She won't pass muster once people start employing more degenerate gameplans but otherwise looping a Visara the Dreadful is relatively powerful all things considered.
Diabolic Tutor: While we can all agree that Diabolic Tutor is no Demonic Tutor it's still a reasonably powerful Magic card in a budget-minded environment. This is primarily due to its ability to support powerful, non-interactive kill conditions such as combos. People constantly understate how difficult that it is to literally win games of multiplayer Magic. Realistically it needs to be done both "quickly" and "all at once" less you risk incurring the wrath of the entire table. In that sense you can often afford to pay 4 mana to tutor for one card given that you're not going to win "the fair way" very frequently to begin with. Rather, it makes sense to assemble Waste Not + Dark Deal (or whatever) for turn 5 so that you can immediately Exsanguinate the table down and put an end to their resistance. That being said I'm typically not a fan of expensive tutors in generic Control/Stax decks since card quantity tends to trump card quality when you're primarily concerned with governing the board. As such I'd rather jam things like Phyrexian Arena and/or Syphon Mind if my goal is simply to accrue value. Still, in the context of combos/degenerate synergies this card is significantly better than it looks and it should realistically see more play than it does. Clearly the advent of Dark Petition has killed what little stock that it once possessed but the card is significantly more competitive than it looks.
Fleshbag Marauder: Competitive staple. This is one of the most powerful (and budget-minded!) removal spells in the entire game and its value can't be understated. Paying 3 mana and a card to force each opponent to sacrifice a creature is already a stellar return on your investment and there's endless ways to loop the little guy as needed to obsolete creature-based strategies entirely. Unholy Grotto, Relentless Dead, Oversold Cemetery, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Gisa and Geralf, the list goes on and on. It also has immense synergy in sacrifice-oriented decks since you can probably imagine how good that it feels to curve out with a Viridian Emissary into a Fleshbag Marauder into an Eternal Witness or Meren of Clan Nel Toth. In that sense the card is both inherently powerful and naturally combos with throngs of cards that you would have happily played regardless. This is a must-have for all Black mages as its playable in countless shells and archetypes in every major multiplayer format.
Harvester of Souls: While I've personally experienced mixed success with both HoS and Kothophed, Soul Hoarder I think that these kinds of cards are criminally underrated in general. While he unquestionably dies to removal at no value this type of creature can figuratively win the game on its own by burying the table in card advantage when it's paired with powerful forms of mass removal. Curving him into a Toxic Deluge, Fleshbag Marauder, Languish or In Garruk's Wake should all-but wrap the game up and so I think that people need to start taking these kinds of cards more seriously than they currently do. Grave Titan is big and beats Swords to Plowshares but how frequently does it go the distance and kill everyone? Never? Sounds about right. Again, I recognize that you're incurring some risk by fielding these as your 6 CMC finishers but their power-ceiling is insanely high since left unchecked this is a legitimately game-winning effect. You don't have to grab these and start jamming them as 4-ofs immediately but they shouldn't be looked-down on as trash.
Infest: Card sucks. Play Massacre. No, seriously, why am I the only person on this Earth who plays with Massacre? The card is insane people!
Inquisition of Kozilek: Competitive staple. While it has next-to-no casual applications anything that can strip permission and/or deny key cards for 0-1 mana are staples in competitive spheres. Thoughtseize, Snuff Out, Unmask and more are all commonly employed against degenerate Combo/Stax/Control decks to protect and/or deny game winning sequences. After all, assuming that you can force your Waste Not + Dark Deal through that Swan Song then the win is all-but secured so anything that can reliably push it through is stellar. Moreover, you're not going to beat a turn 2 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur "the fair way" so stripping that Entomb or Animate Dead before it hits play can be crucial to your long-term success in the format. As to why this card has no casual appeal, just think about it from a mathematical perspective. You are down mana and a card, a single adversary is down a card and everyone else passively benefits at no cost to themselves. At best you're the second biggest loser from the exchange assuming that you nab a "fair" threat/answer. Clearly this is a worthwhile exchange when you're stripping permission/combo pieces so that you can win the game (or prevent someone else from doing so) but it loses all of its luster when both players are operating on a "fair" level. In that sense you shouldn't bother fielding these hyper-efficient 1-for-1 removal spells unless it's absolutely necessary because against fair decks full of generic creatures, removal and spells the net result is that 2 players are down resources and 2 adversaries walk away as free riders. That's no bueno friends.
Phyrexian Arena: Staple card draw engine for every format and most levels of competition. Turn 1 Dark Ritual into Phyrexian Arena is still a relevant opener to this day and it's one that I'll happily sling in any format and against any number of players. 3 mana is cheap enough that it won't throw off your curve too badly and 1 life is a trivial requirement to double your draw steps every turn. This is especially true given that Black is the color with Exsanguinate, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Kokusho, the Evening Star, etc. and so as long you hit your land drops and jam spells you should always find yourself in it to win it. From Midrange to Control to Combo to Stax this is a solid playable in any archetype and excels in formats such as EDH where life totals are high and games run long. You won't see it in the most competitive and degenerate decks of all time but anything below that and you're golden.
Unnerve: Card is bad. With that out of the way I want to talk about Tasigur's Cruelty which is a card that flew under my radar for quite some time. As a Pox aficionado I'd been looking for new ways to maximize the value of Waste Not and it took me far too long for me to stumble across this beastly Delve spell. Given that Pox decks frequently open on a Dark Ritualed Necrogen Mists/Liliana of the Veil into a Waste Not it's trivially easy to cast this for 1-2 mana by turn 4-5 which leads to stupidly degenerate sequences assuming that you have a Waste Not in play. It's still good value even if you don't but the majority of your free wins will stem from an early Waste Not or Geth's Grimoire. While it's not a practical 4-of and denies your ability to field Empty the Pits I've been extremely impressed with Tasigur's Cruelty in Pox archetypes and highly recommend fielding a couple of copies in your lists.
Grenzo, Havoc Raiser: While he's no Edric, Spymaster of Trest the new Grenzo still looks promising. You'll want to pair with tokens/multi-bodied threats whenever possible but you don't need to go overboard given that the effect has massive diminishing returns. At 2 power he plays nice with both Grenzo, Dungeon Warden and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death which are amazing value engines in Rakdos decks so I'm glad to see that he's willing to make nice with his allies. He also has natural synergy with token producers (and thus Purphoros, God of the Forge) and so there's clearly some powerful sequences that you enact with the guy. It sucks that he can't jam lands (it says "cast," not "play") but free spells are still decent and it only takes a single open target to get some value from his trigger. Don't forget that Red has plenty of solid burn such as Sudden Demise and Mizzium Mortars so clearing the way for him isn't especially difficult.
Grenzo's Ruffians: This is how you make a keyword like "Melee" work. Warchief Giant is a stellar 5 drop in my experience and if Hydra Omnivore has taught me anything it's that you can't underestimate this effect. These kinds of cards have immense synergy with Equipment and it usually only takes 2 hits to clear the table out should they manage to connect. Red is also flush with Haste enablers and mass removal both of which make it realistic to connect with this guy and the key thing to remember is that it only takes a single open target to make the card work. Moreover, Red has access to plenty of token producers/enablers with which abuse the Melee mechanic as seen with creatures such as Mogg War Marshal, Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Siege-Gang Commander. It's also relevant to note that Kessig Wolf Run is trivial to splash and that cards like Xenagos, God of Revels make these kinds of cards truly obnoxious to play against. As with every other burn card it loses most of its luster in formats such as EDH and EDH Cube where life totals are staggering and the prospect of burning the table out slim. It's certainly possible to enact an aggro/burn deck in those settings but I've yet to see a competitive build and this card won't be enough to break that mold.
Skyline Despot: I wish that we had seen more Monarch cards such as these. The "King of the Hill" should want nothing more than to sit back and block with giant beaters while accruing value and that's exactly what Skyline Despot enables. Best-case scenario you're drawing 2 cards per turn while jamming a free 5/5 flier into play. That's nuts. You can even take that one step further by pairing him with cards like Wildfire which should all-but ensure victory. After all, that's absurdly powerful sequence in basically any scenario. Clearly the risk of fielding this guy is that he dies to removal for little benefit, you get hit and now you're screwed. Bluntly put that's probably going to occur more often than not since it doesn't make sense to leave this thing alive and Red isn't exactly a defensive color to begin with. Still, I'll throw my support behind any powerful, uninteractive win condition and curving Skyline Despot into Wildfire off of ramp certainly fits the bill.
Subterranean Tremors: I've been singing Earthquakes praises for years so suffice it to say this card has me intrigued. That effect is ridiculously powerful on a fundamental level since it enables you to control the board at basically any stage of the game while doubling as a massive nuke to seal the deal later on. Subterranean Tremors gives up its ability to nuke players/Planeswalkers but gains plenty of relevant advantages in the process. First of all it doesn't cause any blowback which can be relevant for Control decks in aggro-ridden metas. If the name of the game is "survival" then avoiding self-harm can frequently make the difference between living and dying. Moreover, the card is ostensibly a Vandalblast in Artifact-light/less archetypes which is another incredibly powerful Magic card. Otherwise the 8/8 is a reasonable beater/blocker that could easily be relevant in the later stages of the game. While I wouldn't expect it to kill as reliably as Earthquake into Exsanguinate an 8/8 only needs to connect twice to pick someone off. With respect to where you could play this card I'm thinking Cloudpost/UrzaTron lists. After all, they don't need Artifact-based ramp and they can easily hit X=8+ as needed. Clearly this is a reasonable Earthquake variant for any archetype in any format but I don't love this card in EDH assuming that you're playing a whack of ramp yourself. I've never played with or against a base-Red deck that didn't have tons of Artifacts to begin with but if they do exist then this card figures to be stellar in those archetypes. Assuming that your Cube isn't flush with Artifact-based ramp this seems like a no-brainer and even then it still seems reasonable. That being said this card will truly excel in Constructed where you can play it in a slow Cloudpost list that merely needs to survive the early game in order to crush everyone later on.
Burning Wish: Quite possibly the single strongest Red card in the entire game (no hyperbole). While I loathe the fact that Wishes are returning to Magic no one can deny their competitive value in non-sanctioned games. After all, they bring pay-to-win consistency to decks of all shapes and sizes given that your options are equal to your investment in the game. The more that you invest in Red Sorceries the better than this card becomes. As such you blindly start any Red deck with 4 of them and simply Demonic Tutor for whatever you need whenever you need it. Broken rituals, Wheels, mass removal, hate, real hate, MLD, anything that your heart desires. Oh, and yes, that's how wishes work in non-sanctioned events. No, you don't need a preset sideboard. Yes, you can have 4x Mana Geyser in your deck and another 4 in your sideboard and still fetch them. It's legal. If you want to play with 8x Exsanguinate you can. If you want to play with 8x Show and Tell you can. I absolutely despise Wishes for this reason alone and I strongly encourage that you ban them for non-sanctioned play. Otherwise they're some of the most oppressive cards ever printed and become the best things to be casting by an order of magnitude. No card should be strictly better simply because you've invested more money into the game and no one should have to play against this degenerate nonsense.
Gratuitous Violence: This is a reasonable 1-of in basically any creature-based deck that can reliably cast it. Thermo-Alchemist, Guttersnipe, Goblin Sharpshooter, Purphoros, God of the Forge, Inferno Titan and more are all examples of relevant synergies but realistically it works with anything under the sun as long as it's a creature looking to deal some damage. There's not much to analyze in that sense since it's clearly not a card that you want to draw 4 of (it's slow, it's weak if you're behind, it doesn't effect the board, it requires support, it's unplayable outside of creature-heavy decks, etc.) but it possesses an immensely high power-ceiling that can close games out. Not a competitive staple by any means but a reasonable finisher for lists looking to shore-up their endgame bombs.
Guttersnipe: The advent of Thermo-Alchemist and Scab-Clan Berserker have bolstered the competitiveness of Red burn decks which have historically struggled to compete in multiplayer environments. The strategy is clearly unplayable trash in formats such as EDH but otherwise it's becoming more realistic to hit the table for 20. This is usually achieved with cantrips, powerfulburn and cheappermission. Mass draw helps too as is often locates the last few points of burn that you need to close the game out. Clearly this isn't a hyper-competitive archetype by any means but it's continuing to improve as new sets are released and it's conceivable that one day it could become a force in the multiplayer meta.
Tormenting Voice: While Red's rummagers will never supplant Faithless LootingTormenting Voice is the second-best option and typically sees play when maxing out on Looting doesn't quite cut it. This is especially prevalent in formats such as EDH and Cube where it's "one and done." While these kinds of cards don't compare favorably to the likes of Blue's cantrips they're relevant in any deck that cares about pitching cards and/or filling its graveyard. Dredge, Madness, Reanimator, "Artifacts matter," you get the idea. Please don't think of this as a generic value spell, a 2 mana 2-for-2 is worthless, but insofar as you can abuse your graveyard then this is a reasonable card to have in mind. Again, you'll almost always turn to Faithless Looting first but a small % of the time it'll make sense to field this thing instead. An easy example is if your deck has plenty of copy effect since using Pyromancer's Goggles to copy Tormenting Voice converts it into "2 mana draw 4 discard 1" whereas Faithless Looting is still "draw 4 discard 4." This applies to Reverberate, Dualcaster Mage, Wild Ricochet, you name it. I understand that that's a very niche interaction but it's still important to keep them in mind.
Regal Behemoth: Best-case scenario this card reads "double your mana and your draw steps" which is good enough to catch my attention. As with Skyline Despot this card is more competitive than it looks simply because MP is a "go big or go home" format and there's no prize for anything other than first. Even if this card only "works" 25% of the time that's still perfectly acceptable in a 4 player game since that's round-about how frequently that you should be winning regardless. Beyond the raw %s you also have to consider the fact that this card can more-or-less win games on its own (2 awesome effects + a huge body) and those kinds of cards demand a high premium in multiplayer. People toss the term "win more" around like it's going out of style but unless you're literally ending the game with a Tooth and Nail (or whatever) then believe me when I say that it's not "win-more." Otherwise it's relevant to note that while Green can't obsolete creatures with powerful forms of removal/denial most of them are board-focused and difficult to profitably engage. Moreover you can field things like Kessig Wolf Run to easily maintain your status as "King of the Hill" since any old creature should get the job done. I still think that the Monarch mechanic is at its best when it's paired with mass removal but it's not unreasonable to focus on dissuading attacks by building a powerful board for yourself.
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds: What excites me most about this card is her oppressive applications in unfair decks. While I wouldn't expect her to make waves a generic ramp spell (remember that she only ramps for 1 mana innately and that she costs 3 mana herself) I want to stress that you can't think of her as a Shaman of Forgotten Ways that you blindly run out on turn 2-3. Rather, you want to play her in decks that either cheat creatures into play and/or buff them significantly. Kessig Wolf Run, Animate Dead, Grafted Wargear, Natural Order, Xenagos, God of Revels, you need to actively build large creatures if you want to extract meaningful value from this type of effect. That being said the payoff is there since any card that can tap for 14 mana is utterly absurd on some fundamental level. It's not free, you have to work for it, but it's a worthwhile pursuit and that's all that matters. With respect to her draw clause I think that everyone is over-blowing its risks and rewards. Let's make one thing crystal clear; this isn't a draw engine for anyone (yourself included). If you think that your adversaries are going to "go off" and draw their deck from her then you're wrong. On the flip-side if you think that this is a Phyrexian Arena then you're also way off-base. The reality is that this effect is extremely marginal even in decks designed to abuse it. Assuming that you build your deck with it in mind then it figures to help more than hinder but it's not particularly important either way. If it makes or breaks the card for you then you're completely misevaluating it. I highly recommend ignoring it and focusing on her "I can easily tap for 5+ mana" mode since that's what going to win games of multiplayer Magic.
Selvala's Stampede: While I think that this card is being slightly overrated by the masses no one can deny that it's an extremely powerful and unique effect. Let's face it; the best Hypergenesis/Show and Tell/Eureka archetypes won't field it because a turn 3 Omniscience sure as Hell beats a one jammed into play on turn 6. As such I don't expect it to have hyper-competitive applications at the highest levels of play. That being said you can always choose to Show and Tell at least once and since Omniscience (into Enter the Infinite) is literally a game win this card will always have some inherent competitive value. After all, 6 mana "you win the game" is well above the curve in 95% of all multiplayer metas so far be it from me to call this card weak. The other mode is a cross between Lurking Predators and Mass Polymorph and assuming that you have a full grip when you cast it then you can safely assume that you'll probably get to flip into goodies. This means that you can't pair this card with mana dorks and whatnot (another big strike against it) but assuming that your deck is full of meat and ways to cheat it out then both modes are acceptable assuming that your hand is stocked. The danger is obviously that you won't always have goodies in hand and that's where this card fails as a whole. The first is usually good (if not game winning) but it it's a heinous card to draw in multiples. Otherwise the big risk with this card is that you can easily die before casting it assuming that your hand is full of uncastable nonsense. Worse, it might get countered or discarded at which point you probably can't hope to win. Obviously you can protect it with your own permission but backing-up a Show and Tell is significantly easier than protecting a 6 drop. As such I see this as being a cool singleton for ramp decks that rely on spell-based acceleration (i.e. not creatures) but I don't like the idea of playing 3-4 in fair decks that aren't going for an Omniscience win. The first seems great in any ramp deck with a high top-end but there's too many risks and too few incentives to jam it in large quantities.
Beast Within: As loathe as I am to admit it this is Green's strongest removal spell (Nature's Claim being a close second) and everyone should own a set for Constructed, Cube, EDH, everything. While I realize that a 3 mana 1-for-2 sounds heinous Beast Within is unfortunately a very unique Magic card. First of all it hits everything and that matters in multiplayer since you never know what types of decks that you'll be facing down. Whereas cards such as Calming Verse can often be weak/dead draws BW will always be relevant. Moreover it's an instant and that's crucial when facing down things like Consecrated Sphinx, Sire of Insanity, combo critters, etc. I think that Vindicate is basically unplayable by comparison since speed is everything in multiplayer. This is because all spot removal provides atrocious value to begin with and so you're only ever playing it as a last resort against cards that you can't otherwise beat. This, again, is why having a true "answer all" is so important. Even though paying 3 mana and a card to 1-for-1 is awful and giving them a 3/3 is a real drawback the fact remains that Green doesn't have reasonable alternatives and since you're not going to beat that Necromancy'd Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur otherwise get used to the idea that you'll have to play with this card in serious multiplayer environments. The card loses its luster as your meta decreases in competitiveness but even then, what, is no one doing anything remotely powerful? Unlikely. It's simply too fast and versatile to omit.
Birds of Paradise: 19 years later and this is still one of the strongest turn 1 plays in the game. Go figure. Simply put any 1 CMC ramper + color fixer is ludicrously powerful and BoP is no exception. You could literally start any base-Green deck with 4 of them and it would dramatically improve your overall win %. After all, you're not going to consistently win games of multiplayer Magic with aggressive threats, burn, midrange nonsense, etc. and so the sooner that you can start jamming real bombs the better. BoP enables you to jump the curve for the entire match (more-or-less), fixes all of your colors and dramatically improves your position against players who simply pass on turn 1 with no plays.
Burgeoning: BUY THIS FREAKING CARD. I try not to get too pushy when it comes to purchasing cards that cost more than a couple of bucks (USD) but if you're not acquiring these at $4-5.00 then you're out of your mind. I understand that $20.00 isn't a trivial investment but this is literally one of the most degenerate cards in the entire game and it's one that's playable in any deck that can reliably cast it on turns 1-2. I've splashed Green for this card alone and it's significantly improved my overall win % as a result. It's utterly oppressive and absolutely dominates decks/strategies that aren't operating on a similar axis. And like, let's get real, the card speaks for itself. What do I even comment on? "When you drop this on turn 1 you untap with 5 mana on turn 2." Does that need further explanation? Do I need to highlight its interaction with Wheels? Turn 1 Burgeoning, turn 2 Windfall, turn 3 untap with 9 lands in play. Who doesn't understand why that's good? Is anyone not aware of its degenerate synergy with Bouncelands? How about Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study? Do I need to go over why dropping these on turns 1-2 will all-but seal the game? No? You're damn right I don't. No offense but if you don't want to blindly jam 4 of these into 100% of your Green decks then I don't know what I could possibly say to change your mind. The card is horrifically overpowered in every sense of the word and it's playable in basically 100% of decks that can reliably cast it (assuming that your deck has, you know, lands). Buy 4 and play them in everything even it means that you have to rotate them around as needed. Yes, it's more work. Yes, it's worth it.
Forgotten Ancient: I'll throw my support behind any 1-card win condition regardless of how vulnerable that it is to removal. Left unchecked this card grows to gargantuan sizes in a relatively short timeframe and its ability to shift the counters around is immensely relevant for a color that typically runs a bevy of cheap rampers such as Elvish Mystic. While fantastic on turn 1 they quickly lose their luster and so anything that converts them into legitimate threats later on is extremely relevant. Otherwise cards like Kessig Wolf Run and Dense Foliage can somewhat shore up this card's inherent weaknesses (removal and blockers) but obviously mass removal will always be a savage beating. That being said I still actively like this card (and Managorger Hydra) and would always field them over trivial nonsense such as Solemn Simulacrum. Paying 4 mana to Rampant Growth and Cycle will never win a game of multiplayer Magic whereas this card can literally end games on its own. Is that his average use-case? No, not even close, but nothing will ever change the fact that in removal-light metas this card is bonkers. If yours is full of removal and/or combo based, no worries, don't bother fielding him. Otherwise get him in there because the card is nutty powerful if left unchecked.
Wild Pair: I'll start by saying that I've never seen this card cast as a generic value spell. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone given that it doesn't hold a candle to bombs such as Primeval Titan and Lurking Predators. After all, the effect is immensely restrictive and relatively difficult to abuse. That being said I have seen Wild Pair used in a variety of combo shells to moderate success. Grinning Ignus + Primal Forcemage was the primary interaction that I've seen and the idea is here is that you can stack the triggers multiple ways to fetch a variety of threats as needed. Basically you can fetch any P/Ts that total to either 4 or 10 including Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Otherwise it can do silly things with Cloudstone Curio and free creatures such as Memnite and Priest of Gix but I haven't seen that deck in ages so I can't recall how it won. Not that it matters much either way because I've never seen a legitimately competitive multiplayer application for the card. Still, the base card is decent and it does have degenerate combo applications and so on some level it's a playable Magic card. I wouldn't advocate acquiring and/or building around it but at the same I can't deny that fetching things like Grinning Ignus and Primal Forcemage and then going off with "5/5s" sound sweet. Sire of Insanity and Consecrated Sphinx are both 10 power worth of P/T for example and those aren't easy cards to beat. I don't care enough to actually build or play that deck myself but I'm also astute enough to recognize its competitive viability. If you're looking for a value 6 drop stick to things like Primeval Titan, Ulvenwald Hydra, Woodland Bellower and Lurking Predators whenever possible but keep this card on the back-burner if you're looking to abuse specific combinations of cards with matching P/T totals. If it naturally enabled Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or Triskelion + Mikaeus, the Unhallowed then it would have been stellar but unfortunately it doesn't support any of the common kill sequences. Maybe one day though.
Adriana, Captain of the Guard: This is the most exciting card in the set from an EDH perspective. As it sits the Boros color combo doesn't have a single combat-focused general despite the fact that the color combo is inherently aggressive. I'm sure that most people are aware of the fact that aggro and burn decks reign supreme in multiplayer, especially in formats such as EDH where life totals are nice and low. After all, cards like Goblin Guide scale absurdly well when tasked with killing multiple 40 health players off. That being said while Boros is the king of card draw, permission and aggression it's always lacked a solid "Red Zone" Commander to cement itself as the top dog in the format. Some people will point to creatures such as Tajic, Blade of the Legion, Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas, Iroas, God of Victory, Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran, Anya, Merciless Angel, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, Aurelia, the Warleader, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, etc. as examples to suggest that the color combo already has this role covered but bluntly put that those people are out of their minds. I mean, just look at how unique and special Adriana is! She's 4-6 mana, she cares about creature combat, she likes attacking, she's female, she's rare, how can you possibly argue that we've already seen this card? I'm glad that wizards has caught on the fact that we're tired of seeing Boros generals such as Soulfire Grand Master and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and realized that all we've ever wanted is to do is turn creatures like Mogg Fanatic sideways in a multiplayer setting.
All joking aside I will give credit where it's due. In the context of a Boros Token deck in a 6-8 player game this ostensibly turns an army of 1/1s into a Craterhoof Behemoth'd squad. Heck, even in a 4 player FFA it converts a Pia and Kiran Nalaar into a 5/5 and a pair of 4/4 fliers which is nothing to scoff at. I still can't believe that we got another 4-6 CMC "Red Zone" Boros beater but at least this is a "peaks and valleys" finisher with some ridiculously high highs once she gets going. Curving Mogg War Marshal into Spectral Procession into Pia and Kiran Nalaar into Adriana, Captain of the Guard is going to kill some kids and there's no two ways about it.
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast: Just so we're clear we're back to doing real reviews. With that out of the way this card is legitimately exciting since it's a value-focused Rakdos card that plays well in Artifact-based shells. Red lends itself itself well to Stax/mass land destruction (MLD) and Daretti, Scrap Savant has been a key roleplayer in those archetypes ever since his inception. After all, it's trivial to curve a Planeswalker into a card like Devastation and proceed to win the game by recurring something like Ward of Bones and then any finisher under the sun. Magistrate's Scepter, Darksteel Reactor, Wurmcoil Engine, anything. Binning Artifacts is easy using things like Faithless Looting and since these decks love Scrap Mastery anyways there's a ton of ways to abuse the discard aspect of looting. Otherwise the fact that this creates Aritfact creatures is extremely relevant for Shattergang Brothers so if you want something more Staxy then he's still your man for the job. He also fuels Contamination, jams a ton of Tangle Wires into play, goes off with Contagion Engine, supports Possessed Portal on and on and on. This isn't something that you blindly jam in a Rakdos deck as a generic value spell but insofar as you're looking to do something that's both unfair and Artifact-based then the new Daretti seems stellar. He won't supplant his brother but I do expect them to fight side-by-side (not literally) in plenty of archetypes.
Kaya, Ghost Assassin: **EDIT** When I originally reviewed Kaya I was under the impressed that she blinked herself and a creature (making her a non-interactive finisher in decks with creatures such as Gray Merchant of Asphodel). Turns out I need to RTFC, woops! With this knowledge in mind Kaya strikes me as a typical, underwhelming Planeswalker that will (all things being equal) get picked-off by a random evasive beater after using a minus mode or two. While both state "each opponent" she's not a Syphon Soul/Syphon Mind since you only gain the life/card once which is a direction that I'm sad to see wizards take. I can understand why they'd want to curve the power-level of Syphon spells in multiplayer but that's a topic for another day. As with any other Planeswalker Kaya seems reasonable assuming that you can get her on a stable board but in my experience that's extremely difficult without MLD which is frequently banned in multiplayer spheres. Assuming that you just run her out as a generic threat she's liable to die to just about anything. This makes her reasonable but unexciting.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest: Uh, what? This card has to be some sort of sick joke right? No? May God have mercy on our souls. Ok, let's go over the million reasons why this card is bonkers. First of all it's Sultai colored and since those are the 3 good multiplayer colors you can bet your boots that he'll see a ton of EDH play almost regardless of what his text box says. Now let's toss in the fact that he combos with Wheels to force each opponent to pitch their hand and rest assured that we're talking about a new competitive staple. Wheel of Fortune, Windfall, Timetwister, Dark Deal, Whispering Madness, Teferi's Puzzle Box, Time Spiral, the list of game-ending combo cards goes on and on. Moreover, let's not forget about Waste Not and Notion Thief who are equally excited to see them being jammed both early and often. Beyond that there's also the fact that Green means Burgeoning and oh by the way have you ever play against a Burgeoning deck that casts a bunch of Wheels? No? Here, let me paint a picture for you:
Does that seem fun or fair? No? WELL IT'S NOT! But wait, there's more! Because why would "your opponents don't get to keep cards in hand" be enough right? The card is also resistant to spot removal and limits the effectiveness of discard effects. Yes, if someone Thoughtseizes you then you get to draw into a new card. Seems balanced. Surely that's it though right? It couldn't possibly get any worse could it? IT COULD? Yes, it could. Remember our friend Laboratory Maniac and how we like to support him with Doomsday? Want to know a great way to protect him once you combo off? A card that reads "draw a card whenever a creatures you control becomes targeted." That's right friends, when someone goes to Swords to Plowshares your Lab Man it accomplishes actual nothing since you draw a card in response and win anyways. SEEMS BALANCED EH?
Moving on to something more niche I want to talk about its applications against Storm. Imagine that someone goes off and tried to Tendrils you out with a Leovold in play. You get to draw a card for each copy that targets you which means that assuming that you have Flusterstorm or Mindbreak Trap in your list that you'll probably be able to protect yourself and/or the rest of the table. This might seems trivial but it's very significant in competitive multiplayer where Storm is one of the more powerful Archetypes (especially in EDH). After all, this is a solid counter to that archetype without being a niche hatebear such as Eidolon of Rhetoric or Arcane Laboratory. Whereas those can be dead draws in some MUs Leovold is inherently awesome and he just so happens to demolish Storm.
Now that we're past chapter 1 of why this card was a mistake let's move on to how we can abuse Green mana dorks to reliably cast him on turn 2 (into a turn 3 game win) and how utterly absurd the card is with Bloom Tender. It's also an Elf, a creature (easy to tutor for and recur) and it's Blue so you can protect it with as much permission as we want. I'd like to go on but I think that you probably get the idea by now so I think that I'll leave it at that for now. This card is heinously overpowered and will see endless quantities of competitive play in every multiplayer format.
Queen Marchesa: Mardu, in my experience, only exists as a Stax/mass land destruction color. White and Red are the weakest multiplayer colors by an order of magnitude and so any pairing that includes them both has to be doing something wildly unfair if it wants to compete. The classic EDH archetype that we've all come to know and love is Kaalia of the Vast Stax which is a perfect representation of this archetype. The idea is to jam Kaalia on turn 2-3, follow her up with something like Armageddon and then use her attack trigger to cheat your creatures into play. It helps if you can cheat out something like Avacyn, Angel of Hope to protect your own permanents from your various Wildfire effects but even things like Iona, Shield of Emeria can still more-or-less lock players out of the game. Anyways, the idea here is that Mardu can't compete with Sultai when it comes to value, card draw, permissions, combos, ramp, etc. which means that you're mostly relegated to "Stax or bust." With that in mind Queen Marchesa seems interesting given that she does pair well with the archetype. Being the Monarch as you jam a Jokulhaups with an Assemble the Legion in play is a fantastic place to be since presumably players will struggle to knock you off the hill. You'll be drawing 2 cards per turn while setting everyone back to the Stone Age which ostensibly sets up you to win many turns down the road. It's not quick or pretty but it gets the job done. Otherwise it's relevant to note that even if you lose your status having an engine for things like Contamination, Smokestack, Possessed Portal, etc. is still extremely relevant. That being said given that we already have Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, Kaalia of the Vast and Zurgo Helmsmasher it's difficult to get excited about another Mardu Stax Commander but even if we look past EDH and more towards Constructed she's a reasonable singleton as either a card draw or token engine.
Coiling Oracle: I'm actually glad that Coiling Oracle was in this set since it provided me with an opportunity to reflect on its competitive value. While I've previously gone on record calling it a generic playable that you can "fire and forget" in any Simic shell I've since come to realize how that simply isn't the case. While Coiling Oracle is fantastic the 40% of the time that it hits a land (often one that ETB given that multiplayer decks are frequently built on budgets) the other 60% it's a total bust. Some people might argue "but he replaces himself" and my rebuttal is "ok, but does that win games?" Sit down and ask yourself how many Elvish Visionarys that you'd play assuming that you could field any number. It's always 0 isn't it? The reality is that if you go turn 2 Elvish Visionary and everyone else goes turn 2 Fellwar Stone then you're way behind. Period. You don't automatically lose but you're definitely in last place. This is why you should always field consistent ramp instead because that will win you more games on average. Before people interject "ok but a card that works 40% of the time is still acceptable in multiplayer" remember that the alternatives all work 100% of the time. Nature's Lore, for example, puts a Breeding Pool into play untapped 100% of the time. Three Visits nabs that Taiga each and every time. Now, with all that in mind it still does make sense to field this guy in some builds. When your deck has bounce engines such as Vedalken Mastermind, Eldrazi Displacer, Eerie Interlude, Cloudstone CurioCrystal Shard, Temur Sabertooth, etc. then it makes a great deal of sense to jam 4 and never look back. All I'm saying is that if you start a Simic deck with 4 of these and no support then you're not going to maximize your overall win %. You need specific synergies and support to justify fielding Coiling Oracle over consistent forms of ramp because otherwise you're spewing value about 60% of the time.
Spy Kit: While I can appreciate the novelty of the Cornered Market combo the fact that it only locks creatures out of the game prevents it from being a potentially degenerate archetype. Obviously it combos with a throng of differentcards but until we see something legitimately busted you can safely ignore this one for now. If we could somehow combo this with Biovisionary then we'd be talking about something worthwhile but unfortunately we're not quite there just yet. However this could easily be a real card at some point down the road.
Platinum Angel: As powerful as "you can't lose the game" sounds I've never once seen this card actually work (and not for a lack of trying). Even when people make it untargettable and indestructible I've always seen it fall to things like Cyclonic Rift, Toxic Deluge, Fleshbag Marauder, Terminus, etc. and the reality is that the most commonly played forms of mass removal can almost always deal with it. As with Pariah and Worship this is the type of card that seems as though it should be relatively competitive but in practice that virtually never seems to be the case. Still, hey, if people can't answer this thing then you win. Period. No ifs, no ands, no buts. If your meta is ridiculously removal-light then this ostensibly reads "7 mana you win the game" and since that card is heinously overpowered you can't dismiss these types of threats altogether. I'm sure that 97% of you can't blindly jam this and reasonable expect to win the game but for the 3% of you that can go wild!
Psychosis Crawler: Anytime a card reads "[event] each opponent loses 1 life" you can safely assume that it enables some reasonably powerful combo kills. The Crawler here pairs with cards like Waste Not, Trade Secrets, Blue Sun's Zenith, Teferi's Puzzle Box, Necrologia, Yawgmoth's Bargain, etc. to ostensibly win the game on the spot. While these combos are relatively slow and vulnerable to disruption the fact remains that this card can literally end games and that speak volumes about a card's competitive multiplayer value. You'll still never see Psychosis Crawler at the highest levels of play but in any meta where people are doing fair, reasonable things then it's trivially easy for a card such as this to OTK the table out of nowhere. Curving this into a Necrologia is GG assuming that you have the highest life total so it doesn't take much to seal the deal.
Throne of the High City: This is easily my favorite Monarch card in the set. It seems serviceable in both Stax and Control as a mid-to-lategame card advantage engine that carries a very low opportunity cost. The idea is to sandbag the effect until you've established control over the board and can reliably protect your status as the king of the hill. Winter Orb, Ensnaring Bridge, Tangle Wire, Death Cloud, Wrath of God, Humility, Armageddon, Jokulhaups, the list of ways to obsolete creatures stretches on and on. The idea here is to pop this at EOT and untap into an Obliterate or whatever. You've effectively reset the game except you're the one drawing 2 cards per turn starting on turn 1. Moreover, remember that the base card is a land that ETBU and since almost all Control/Stax decks can afford to field some number of colorless ones there's very little reason to omit these from your lists. It's not as though they carry a significant opportunity cost. Clearly it's competing with plenty of reasonable alternatives but colors such as Red and White typically lack card draw engines and so this seems like a perfect way to shore that weakness up. All-in-all this isn't a new staple by any means but I'd strongly consider fielding at least 1 in Control/Stax shells (or any board control deck for that matter) that's seeking additional ways to draw cards at no significant opportunity cost (which is going to be most of them).
Exotic Orchard: This is one of the most underplayed lands in the entire game and for the life of me I don't understand why avid multiplayer fanatics don't own a playset. I've been playing them for years alongside Reflecting Pool to enable 4-5 color brews and even in tricolored archetypes the card does some serious work. After all, at any point beyond turn 1 it's essentially a Mana Confluence sans drawback so I don't understand why I see so many 3+ color brews that omit them. Granted the card isn't free but it's not exactly expensive either and while there's some minute risk that everyone could be jamming monored the reality is that most people should be on some combination of Blue, Black and/or Green and so odds are that this will always tap for the colors that matter. Either way this is a must-have staple and any 3+ color shell should strongly consider the full playset.
Rogue's Passage: While this is another card that you'll never see at the highest levels of play but its ability to break board-stalls makes it an all-star in casual spheres. The reality is that while creatures such as Wight of Precinct Six, Taurean Mauler and Forgotten Ancient can grow to immense sizes it's nearly impossible to connect with them once the board gets too bogged-down. This is where Rogue's Passage shines given its ability to thwart blockers at next-to-no-opportunity cost. Unless your deck is 4+ colors it can likely support at least 1 colorless land and having an out to connect with your "Mortivores" is well worth the investment. Don't go wild jamming 4 in your decks or anything but sneaking 1 in there as a backdoor out is significantly more relevant you probably think.
Conspiracy 2 is a total slam-dunk and my hat's off to Wizard for releasing such a well-executed set. It's a stellar mix of flavour, power and fun all rolled into a tight package of 220 cards. The reprints are on-point, the new cards are well above-the-curve, there's a throng of new Conspiracies to fool around with in Cube, on and on and on. I'm also loving how Wizards is continuing to give a nod to the competitive multiplayer community since things like Recruiter of the Guard and Leovold, Emissary of Trest are going to enable new degenerate combo builds and archetypes. I'm digging the steady stream of White hatebears and I fully expect to see Sanctum Prelate causing degenerate spell-based archetypes all kinds of fits. Moreover, for those of us who simply want to smash the table with Battlecruisers there's plenty of cards like Selvala's Stampede and Expropriate that will be absolutely back-breaking to play against. I think that we can all get being the Red value engines in Grenzo, Havoc Raiser and Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast because God knows that the color is in dire-straights with respect to its competitive multiplayer value. Sure, you might see a Gamble or Wheel of Fortune every now and then but outside of combos, tutors, draws 7s and hosers the color rarely makes an appearance. Wizards truly knocked it out of the park with Conspiracy 2 and I can't wait to start brewing and battling with its offerings.
In our games, goading a creature was almost always a super game changing play that sprung up a lot of political discussion and emotions. It also tends to break stalemates by forcing someone to attack, which - again - I find super important in our MP games.
What about the instant clone man man? How can you forget someone so unforgettable so easily?
The only Clone that I sees play on a routine basis is Phantasmal Image since it combos with Palinchron to generate infinite mana. Everything else is playable but unexciting. I'm going to stop reviewing them unless they enable something truly unique or powerful.
I don't particularly like Wayfarer's Bauble but if you're looking an easy way to convert colorless mana into Red then it fits the bill. Prism is signifciantly more important for Blue decks given that it pairs with Crush of Tentacles to both trigger Surge and draw a card. Red can't actually "break" it very easily by comparison.
I just wish they didn't break the "4 of" rule. I'm not going to buy a 5th Dark Depths to support my Living Wishes.
Not breaking the 4-of rule would help but even then it would still be objectively correct to play 4x Living Wish and 4x Burning Wish in 100% of Green/Red decks respectively. You can even pull the "wish for more wishes" BS by nabbing Living With with Burning Wish. Hello 12x Sylvan Primordial! Glittering Wish same idea and Cunning Wish probably gets there too.
Assuming that you cast this with 1-2 reasonable threats in hand the card seems absurd. My primary fear is that it sucks in multiples and loses miserably to permission assuming that you're banking on the "Wild" mode to jam 15 drops into play. In slow, permission-light metas I agree that it's extremely difficult for this card to backfire since both modes are back-breaking assuming that you're not jamming a ton of mana dorks.
It's a competitive staple and one of the most egregiously underplayed EDH cards in the game. This is obviously due to its pricetag but even in my cEDH leagues that use F2P programs I routinely see Black decks that exclude them. Even in decks with 9 drops your average CMC is rarely significantly higher than 2 (and it can easily fall below that threshold) and given that you have 40 life to fool around with I don't understand why you'd ever exclude him.
That being I said agree that if you're jamming a ton of 4-7 drops then it makes absolutely no sense to include him. If your curve tops off at Gray Merchant and you field Exsangs then sure, go for it, but if you're playing fair Magic then the card sucks. I hate Bitterblossom for similar reasons and even had to cut it from my Cube since almost everyone who played it ultimately died to it. I don't even mean bad players, I'm talking about my friends who participate in tournaments and follow the scene competitively. My Cubes don't support combos since they're too oppressive and the reality is that you can't race your own BB playing "the fair way" with any consistency. Not that BB literally dealt 20 damage but one Earthquake, Rolling Earthquake, Exsanguinate, Gray Merchant, etc. later and you were basically drawing dead assuming that dealt ~8 to yourself.
Unlike other Planeswalkers Kaya isn't vulnerable to creatures (assuming that you're using her 0 mode obviously) and since burn is rarely played she's reasonably difficult to remove once she gets going.
I think you're making the same mistake I initially made... but Kaya can only blink either a creature OR herself. So either she doesn't really do anything (except drain your life), or she just gets punched in the face like other planeswalkers.