Introductions and Explanations Who Am I?
Greetings fellow multiplayer enthusiasts. My name is Kyle "Prid3" Brecht and at the time of writing this I'm a 16 year MTG veteran who's been playing and following the game competitively (across all relevant duel formats) for well over a decade. That being said whereas most Magic players spend the vast majority of their recreational time dueling/drafting/testing the bulk of my personal playtime has been spent at kitchen tables slinging spells in large multiplayer matches with my friends, family and acquaintances. Be it Cube, Constructed and/or EDH I've literally played tens of thousands of hours of multiplayer Magic in my lifetime and so I consider myself to be an expert on the subject as a whole. With that in mind I'd like to offer you my take on how Commander 2016 will affect the global multiplayer scene as a whole. That is, unlike similar set reviews this one is going to be purely focused on multiplayer formats and dynamics with absolutely no emphasis on duel and/or limited Magic. While I understand that this sort of content won't appeal to everyone it's my belief that multiplayer Magic is played by a relatively high % of the casual MTG playerbase and so it's my hope that most of you will be able to extract meaningful value from my expertise.
I'm a fiercely competitive player and my set reviews are going to reflect that. That is to say that this is largely going to be a competitive multiplayer set review and so don’t expect me to put any emphasis on subjective measures such as fun factor, flavor nor self-imposed restrictions. While I recognize that terms such as "casual" and "competitive" carry many negative stigmas in the MTG community rest assured that I don’t use either maliciously. As far as I'm concerned it's a simple matter of mindset and how players approach the game from a mental perspective. "Competitive" Magic players such as myself typically build decks with the goal of maximizing our overall match win % given an expected metagame. "Casual" players on the other hand tend to consider a wide variety of variables and factors beyond winning alone. Clearly it's an entire spectrum as opposed to a small subset of two data point but the key thing that I wanted to stress is that these terms have absolutely no bearing on a person’s worth nor morality. No one is inherently better or worse for thinking about a game in a different way. The only reason why I’m going to focus entirely on “what wins games of Magic” is because every other variable is far too subjective to make definitive, sweeping claims about. That being said everyone enjoys winning and while most of us can still have fun losing all things being equal we’d rather win games than lose them.
Grading Scale: A: Oppressive cards that completely warp the game around them. These are format definers that dominate games in which they're left unchecked and crush adversaries who aren't employing similarly powered strategies. This makes them must-have competitive staples with limitless potential. Think Toxic Deluge, Humility, Mystic Remora, Carpet of Flowers, Wheel of Fortune. B: 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 Grave Pact, Rolling Earthquake, Wrath of God, Recurring Insight, Scavenging Ooze. C: Powerful cards that will enable you to keep pace with the rest of the field. 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 Syphon Mind, Clever Impersonator, Fiery Confluence, Realm Seekers, Oreskos Explorer. 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 shouldn't be played. Niche: Immensely powerful-yet-narrow cards that are Bs/As in decks that actively want them and Fs/Ds everywhere else. Think Waste Not, Repercussion, Limited Resources, Intruder Alarm, Lurking Predators. Sideboard: Tremendously powerful-yet-niche cards that you shouldn't maindeck against unknown adversaries but that have competitive applications in known metagames with clearly defined threats and strategies. Think Dystopia, Energy Flux, Compost, Stony Silence, Blood Moon. +/-: Used to denote a better or worse N. That is, a B+ represents a strong B whereas C- implies a weak C. Cubeworthy: Used to denote cards that I would both play in multiplayer Cubes and assign early picks to. I want to emphasize that second part because any card is arguably cubeworthy but I'm not going to promote cards that I'd reasonably expect to wheel and/or rot in the sideboard a large % of the time.
What's this about Duelyst's heritage now? I thought that Magic was the original trading card game! While it would be easy enough for me to blindly state that "this card is underwhelming" and move on to the next one that obviously wouldn't provide my readers with a framework that they could employ in order to critically evaluate these kinds of cards themselves. The primary reason why multiplayer fanatics shouldn't be enticed by a souped-up version of Blood Mist is because purely aggressive cards don't translate well to the wild world of multiplayer. After all, it's significantly harder to have the strongest overall board position when there's multiple adversaries involved and cards like Duelist's Heritage don't offer any defensive value. This makes them heinous when you're behind and unexciting even when you're at parity and/or slightly ahead given that you'll still struggle to make profitable attacks. This is because any race (even a winning one) loses most its luster once you realize the fact that you ostensibly have to be trading 3-for-1 on damage simply to break-even in a 4 player free-for-all (FFA). Otherwise these kinds of cards are terrible against removal and given that Wraths are the de facto form of interaction in multiplayer that's all the more reason to avoid these kinds of cards like the plague.
That being said Duelist's Heritage isn't entirely worthless. This card is clearly designed to "spread the love" as it were by buffing an attacking creature from the active player each combat. As such it's unfair to merely label it as being "just another Blood Mist" given that it can conceivably trigger up to N times per circuit where N is the number of players. Even when you're not attacking yourself it can still provide reasonable value insofar as someone else at the table is. Unfortunately players typically have less incentive to make aggressive moves when damage doublers are in play given the dramatically increased risk/reward of losing blockers. For example, I've been playing with Crescendo of War in my Token-based archetypes for years and believe me when I say that it does a fierce Moat impersonation at times. The looming threat of "I'm just dead if my blocker(s) get(s) removed" is a tough pill to swallow which is why these kinds of cards are significantly weaker at promoting aggression than you probably think.
Finally, it serves a very niche role as an "equalizer" for small fish operating in big ponds. That is to say that Duelist's Heritage enables relatively weak players to band together in order to neutralize stronger ones in a timely and efficient manner. This can be vital for players looking to team up on foes fielding oppressive Combo/Control/Stax/Ramp builds that they wouldn't otherwise be able to beat. After all, it turns any random Grizzly Bears into a 4 power beater and it doesn't take many hits from one of those to pick a player or two off. As such it's trivially easy to form temporary alliances in order to neutralize key threats before they seize control of the game. Again, even if 3 of the players are casting literal Grizzly Bears they're still bashing the Combo player for 16 or more damage on turn 3 and so there's no world in which they’ll be able to goldfish their kill unless they play a significantly more interactive game of Magic. While I understand that these kinds of tactics are typically frowned-upon I personally feel as though it's important to highlight cards that "small fish" can employ to topple "big fish" when needed. After all, it's utterly depressing to have same person win the vast majority of the matches, especially if he or she is doing so in a completely noninteractive fashion. As such it's important to keep cards like Sylvan Offering and Duelist's Heritage in the back of your minds, especially if you're a newer player to the multiplayer scene who's struggling to compete with the veterans.
In the great words of Admiral Ackbar: "it's a trap!" While this card is wildly unplayable I'll once again take the time to explain my rationale in order to help you, the readers, learn how to evaluate similar kinds of cards for yourselves. It might seem tedious but it's definitely worth taking the time to explain why expensive + conditional spot removal spells are basically unplayable in multiplayer formats so please bear with me. With that in mind I'll start my analysis with a general discussion of spot removal before touching on Entrapment Maneuver itself at the very end. The broad strokes overview is that spot removal is at its worst in multiplayer due to the increased threat density and the "free rider problem." That being said such an explanation is far too simplistic and fails to explain when and where it makes strategic sense to employ it.
First and foremost you have neither the cards nor the the mana to answer threats on a 1-for-1 basis in a multiplayer setting. After all, the average number of threats deployed in multiplayer spheres is exponentially higher than what you'll typically see in duels. As such you'll struggle immensely to match every relevant threat with an answer if you're making equivalent exchanges given that it’s virtually impossible to do so from a purely mathematical perspective. Moreover, they're also going to be deployed at a significantly increased rate given that each of your adversaries will have an opportunity to cast them every circuit. That is, not only is the total quantity of threats being cast dramatically increased but they're also hitting the table at an alarming rate. As such even if you somehow could match every Grizzly Bears with a Doom Blade you'd never meet the intense mana demands required to cast them at a reasonable clip. This explains why players have such tremendous incentives to field mass removal over spot removal in the context of multiplayer formats. It's virtually impossible to gain velocity by removing threats on a 1-for-1 basis which is why it's so critically important to shift the emphasis towards global solutions whenever possible.
Next there's the issue of the “free rider problem." It's an economic term used to describe the social and financial ramifications of providing free services that passively benefit everyone at no personal cost to themselves. Without having this entry degenerate into an economics class let's take a quick second to analyze the net result of resolving a spot removal spell in a 4 player FFA involving Players A, B, C and D. Assuming that Player A casts Swords to Plowshares Player B's Consecrated Sphinx then how does that impact "society" as whole? The answer is that while Players C and D are celebrating Players A and B are miserable. This is because Players A and B traded resources on a 1-for-1 basis while Players C and D passively benefited at no cost to themselves. After all, they no longer have to concern themselves with neither the Consecrated Sphinx nor the Swords to Plowshares which is a massive win that didn't cost them anything. In that sense Player A is at best the second biggest loser of the exchange relative to Players C and D who passively benefited at no cost to themselves. This further explains why you'll typically see mass removal spells employed in multiplayer given that they interact with players on a global scale and thus circumvent the "free rider problem."
With that in mind do I think that Entrapment Maneuver is sometimes playable? No. It's a straight F and you can safely ignore it. Playable spot removal has to be cheap and unconditional of which this is neither. It doesn't even reliably deal with combat-based Battlecruisers such as Blightsteel Colossus and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger given that players can always elect to play around the effect by attacking with multiple creatures if needed. The card is obviously fantastic when it works but its average use-case is so underwhelming that there's simply no compelling reason to field it over alternatives such as Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Heck, even Condemn is almost strictly better given that it reliably tucks those Blightsteel Colossuses away even when they're hitting the Red Zone alongside Treasure Mages (or whatever). I obviously realize that it's designed to be played in Token-based decks but it's simply far too conditional and unreliable to actually make the cut. The combination of "bad removal spell and "unreliable token spell" doesn't come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
Unfortunately there's nothing that I can advocate on behalf of my client. While I understand the concept of pumping creatures in order to promote aggression (towards everyone other than you obviously) I wouldn't expect her to reliably accomplish that goal. Many decisions made in multiplayer are done "all other things being equal" and suffice it say that equality flies out the out when people are actively harming you. As such instigating conflict is the last thing that players should be looking to do in the developing stages of multiplayer matches less they run the risk of engaging in mutually assured destruction behavior. These are scenarios in which two players ostensibly eliminate one another from the game by ensuring that, win or lose, there's virtually no possibility of having their "rival" go on to win the game themselves. In that sense one of the easiest ways to secure defeat is to get bogged down in an early war only to find yourself irrelevant in the mid-to-late stages of the game. The same basic concept applies to breaking board stalls which this card is also woefully incapable of doing. Players will gladly take you up on your offer for some free +1/+1 counters but by no means will they have any extra incentive to start hitting the Red Zone.
With respect to her defensive merits it's important to stress that she'll never protect you when it matters the most. If you have Planeswalkers that you want to defend and/or a low life total players can simply elect to forgo the trigger in order to maul you. She's very much a punisher card in that sense since your adversaries will always choose the option that's best for them and worst for you. This is why you can't reasonably treat her as a "Peacekeeper" under the blind assumption that she'll reliably operate as a one-sided Moat. For better or for worse other defensive measures are always active whereas this one can be neutralized with a simple "no." Moreover, it's important to highlight that Aggro is a more-or-less obsolete multiplayer archetype anyways given how poorly the tactic scales as the number of players increases. I previously discussed most of this back in my analysis on Duelist's Heritage and most of those concepts apply to this card as well.
This card's average use-case is as a marginal 1/4 blocker that provides an small quantity of value for everyone. Even in dedicated +1/+1 counter decks that employ value engines such as Hardened Scales, Fathom Mage and Doubling Season she's still an unexciting playable at best. There's simply no getting around the fact that she doesn't protect you when it matters the most so unless you're going deep on the +1/+1 counter theme then you're just spinning your wheels. Heck, even then I don't want to label her as a Niche threat given that I could easily envision +1/+1 counter archetypes omitting her entirely. This is a bottom-of-the-barrel playable and little else.
If Fogs are marginal in duels then they're absolutely heinous in multiplayer where they merely negate a single combat phase from a single adversary. This variation obviously gets bonus points for her large body and ability to neutralize mass burn spells such as Comet Storm but those scenarios alone are never going to be good enough to justify fielding this type of threat. With that in mind Selfless Squire will see play for the exact same reason that Spike Weaver sees a fair amount of casual play; the body. Whereas you can't Eldrazi Displacer a Holy Day, Vedalken Mastermind a Tangle nor Reveillark a Darkness these blink/bounce/recursion engines can be paired with Selfless Squire in order to stymie creature-based aggression. Astute readers probably recognize the fact that blinking/bouncing one ~3 times per circuit requires a ludicrous sum of mana but it's critically important to highlight the fact that the threat of the activation is significantly more formidable that the activation itself. After all, it's extremely difficult to justify attacking into someone who can neutralize your advances at no significant opportunity cost to themselves while leaving yourself vulnerable in the process. As such insofar as you're able to threaten an activation then you should be able to pacify the table for a reasonable portion of the game. Otherwise the card is largely unplayable outside of archetypes that can reliably abuse her ETB trigger. She’s too expensive and niche and even if you manage “get” someone you'll still struggle connect with an evasionless beater unless you have something like Rogue's Passage lying around. Even then she'll only excel in removal-light + creature-based metas as there's very little incentive to building around this type of synergy only to lose everything to a generic mass removal effect.
Grade: B Cubeworthy
At least now we can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that White isn't going to get completely skunked this set. Given that this is the first card with Undaunted that I'll be reviewing I'd like to take this opportunity to quickly analyze the keyword as whole. After all, it's one of the most powerful and interesting multiplayer mechanics that we've ever seen and it's sure to leave a lasting impression. With that in mind the mechanic more-or-less speaks for itself. The more opponents that you have the better that it becomes and there's not much else that you need to know. For what it's worth a good rule of thumb is that it's oppressive in 5+ player FFAs, acceptable in 4 player FFAs and weak everywhere else. Note that unlike me you're not required to rate these kinds of cards in a vacuum so please use your heads and adjust their grades accordingly. If you typically play Duels/2HG/Star/3 player FFAs then they're all Fs whereas if you routinely play in 6 player FFAs then they're all A+s. The only people who need to do any thinking are the ones who play in exactly 4 player FFAs so unless that's you just skip to the next section and save yourself some time.
Assuming a 4 player FFA Sublime Exhalation clearly loses out to Wrath of God and/or Day of Judgment in White-based Control decks. After all, some % of the time it'll cost more than 4 mana yet it doesn't offer any competitive advantages to offset its anemic endgame value. Since we're weighing "potential drawbacks" vs "no additional upsides" the card is objectively weaker and there's no two ways about it. Obviously if you're in the market for a third 4 CMC mass removal spell for your EDH decks and/or Cube then it foots the bill but otherwise it's not going to dramatically change the way in which we build White-based Control decks. Rather, the primary reason to get excited about Sublime Exhalation is because of its splashability.
Sublime Exhalation is going to see copious amounts of multiplayer play as an easily splashable mass removal spell. Unlike most of its alternatives Sublime Exhalation only costs a single White mana which makes it significantly more splashable when that's your secondary or even tertiary color. Remember, a huge % of the multiplayer community struggles to splash powerful mass removal spells such as Wrath of God and Day of Judgment in their budget-minded Control shells. This is because they simply can't afford to drop hundreds of dollars in order to acquire ideal fetchland + dual/shock manabases and are thus faced with the dilemma of either building something's slower, more inconsistent and/or that doesn't have the ability to splash mass creature removal. This is where Sublime Exhalation will truly leave its mark and why most newer players should make a concerted effort to acquire them. Even if you're not the strongest deck builder with the deepest pockets you'll never struggle to cast this on-curve and that’s a huge blessing to the casual scene.
Finally, just so that I can't be accused of hiding from the hard numbers I'll even prove just how significant that the delta is. We can employ hypergeometric distribution and conditional probability to determine that we'd need roughly 18 sources (30 for EDH) of White mana in order to reliably (defined as >= 90% probability) draw 2 or more sources by turn 4 in a typical 60-card (99 for EDH) Constructed deck. Assuming that you shift your requirements down towards a single White source then those number drop down to 10 (Constructed) and 18 (EDH) respectively. Again, White-based decks should stick to the alternatives whenever possible but this is a massive boon to casual Control mages who'll now have a significantly easier time curving out into mass removal on turn 4 even if they're simply playing a split of Basic lands.
Grade: B Cubeworthy
While I recognize that we're not looking at the next Cyclonic Rift people are seriously sleeping on this monster. Assuming a typical 4 player FFA it's ostensibly a 4 mana nonland board wipe which isn't a card that currently exists. The closest alternatives that we have are things like Whelming Wave and/or Engulf the Shore which are still powerful magic cards but easily a full tier below Coastal Breach. Obviously it slips into Devastation Tide (or worse) territory as players start dying off but it's immensely powerful early on while everyone's still alive and kicking. Moreover, as with Sublime Exhalation it's utterly absurd in 5+ player FFAs because wiping the board for <=3 mana is clearly busted. That being said I want to stress that it's legitimately competitive even in traditional 4 player multiplayer pods so please don't go thinking that "this isn't a card for me." Unless you're primarily playing 2HG, Star, and/or 3 player FFA then this is a multiplayer staple.
With respect to its value applications mass bounce boasts immense synergy with powerful ETB triggers such as the ones found on creatures such as Gilded Drake, Sea Gate Oracle, Archaeomancer, Clones, Body Double, Oblivion Sower, Torrential Gearhulk and Diluvian Primordial. I want to specifically highlight their synergy with spell-based recursion engines such as Archaeomancer and Mnemonic Wall since together they create a soft lock that prevents your adversaries from sticking permanents for more than a turn. Obviously players can simply kill the recursive threats to break the combo up but the onus is still on them to interact with you if they ever want to keep a permanent in play. Moreover, mass bounce pairs well with niche permanents such as Oath of Jace and Parallax Wave that benefit immensely from being re-deployed on a continual basis. In that sense not only are you hindering your adversaries but you're also frequently setting yourself up to extract additional benefits from your value spells and effects. This makes Coastal Breach ideal for blink/bounce-based play which is obviously one of the most popular archetypes regardless of format. Be it Cube, Constructed or EDH players of all shapes and sizes are drawn towards value-based blink decks making this a no-brainer acquisition.
Shifting over to its Wrath of God applications mass bounce not named Cyclonic Rift tends to be criminally underrated in general given that it's not a permanent solution to a recurring problem. After all, whereas traditional forms of mass removal legitimately neutralize threats mass bounce only deals with them in the short-run. Given enough time your adversaries will simply redeploy their permanents which will then (presumably) force you to find other ways to interact with them. That being said these concerns are largely illegitimate in my experience given that it's crucial to stymie the early-game board development of your adversaries regardless of whether or not that it’s permanent. After all, you'll rarely have the strongest and/or fastest draw when multiple adversaries are involved and so unless you significantly hinder your foes you'll commonly find yourself falling impossibly far behind early on. In that sense mass bounce such as Coastal Breach is required to keep pace with the rest of the table even if it causes long-run card disadvantage.
Moving on to Coastal Breach's degenerate combo applications the card starts to look wildly unfair in large FFAs where it can function as a 1-2 CMC "Hurkyl's Recall" that doubles as mass removal for hatebears, Spheres and/or disruptive Enchantments. This can be crucial for Storm-based combo decks that require a critical mass of spells in order to rattle off a win. After all, bouncing all of your fast mana only to redeploy them as rituals that up your Storm count is one of the easiest ways to close games out assuming that you deck has spells/effects such as Grapeshot, Tendrils of Agony, Aetherflux Reservoir and/or Mind's Desire. That being said a 1-2 CMC Devastation Tide is significantly more competitive than a 4 CMC alternative which means that this will only be relevant for players who participate in large FFA games. While that's clearly only going to represent a small fraction of the overall multiplayer player base it's still important to keep these kinds of backdoor applications in mind.
Grade: B+ Cubeworthy
I'd wager dollars to donuts that every Magician worth his or her salt had the exact same reaction upon reading this card: "Holy cow! The art clearly depicts a Manta Ray so why is this thing being classified as a 'Skate'?" As such the card is completely unplayable and can be safely ignored.
Ahem. Ok, the real reaction that we collectively shared was "How the heck do we break this degenerate monstrosity?" Let's start with the obvious; this card is clearly absurd and so buckle up for my glowing review because we're going to go deep on this one. Doubling every counter on any number of target permanents is an utterly degenerate ability to jam on an ETB trigger and possesses countless competitive applications as a result. This is especially true once we take into account the fact that it doesn't specify "permanents you control" which makes it ideal for team-based formats and/or political play. With that in mind the obvious multiplayer applications for this type of effect includes Stax, Superfriends and blink/bounce archetypes among other things.
If Superfriends is more your speed Deepglow Skate combos with almost any Planeswalker under the Sun in order to immediately pop their ultimate. It's ostensibly a second copy of Doubling Season in that sense which is extremely relevant for singleton formats such as EDH and Cube. The scariest pairings tend to be things like Jace, Architect of Thought, Tamiyo, Field Researcher, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, Venser, the Sojourner and Teferi, Temporal Archmage which can quickly seal the deal if left unchecked. That being said whereas Doubling Season leaves next-to-no room for interaction the same cannot be said for our friend Deepglow Skate. The fact that you're forced to cast your Planeswalkers first is a major downside given that your adversaries already have massive incentive to remove them. This is true regardless of the presence of degenerate combos/synergies since it virtually never makes strategic sense to play for the short-run in multiplayer formats. All things being equal players should expect games to run long and thus prioritize removing card advantage engines over dealing trivial sums of damage to their adversaries. In that sense while I do expect this card to shine in Planeswalker-heavy builds be aware of the fact that (ignoring budgetary concerns) it'll never supplant the likes of Doubling Season.
Otherwise Deepglow Skate boasts immense synergy with blink engines such as Eldrazi Displacer and Brago, King Eternal in decks that have a critical mass of "counters matter" permanents. What I will say is that that second requirement is easier said than done and I think that most players are overestimating its average use-case in stock blink archetypes (be they EDH or otherwise). Brago, King Eternal aside the traditional versions of most blink archetypes aren't well-equipped to extract meaningful value from this type of effect which begs the question as to its overall worth. After all, there's no compelling reason to blink/bounce cards like Lighthouse Chronologist, Iceberg and/or Managorger Hydra only to undo all of your hand work. As such it's not clear by any stretch that it'll make strategic sense to warp your deck around a card that you'll struggle to locate in a timely fashion in a large % of your games. Very few blink decks employ a critical mass of niche threats such as Djinn of Wishes and Ring of Three Wishes that excel both with or without the help of a card like Deepglow Skate and so it’s not going to be a shoe-in by any means.
Grade: C+ Cubeworthy
Here we have yet another utterly absurd multiplayer Magic card that spirals wildly out of control if left unchecked. After all, an enormous % of staple multiplayer creatures possess powerful ETB triggers (think Eternal Witness and Gray Merchant of Asphodel) which makes this type of auto-Clone effect immensely powerful. Moreover, Blue is the only color that has access to a critical mass of cheap permission spells (such as Swan Song, Counterspell, Forbid and Cryptic Command) which it can employ to protect Faerie Artisans from removal. This is obviously ideal when you're fielding oppressive card advantage engines as powerful as these. Beyond that we also have to consider the fact that the tokens aren't exiled when Faerie Artisans leaves play which makes it ideal when paired with blink-based engines such as Eldrazi Displacer. After all, objects that change zones "forget" information that they previously knew which ensures that a blinked Faerie Artisans will "forget" to exile tokens that she's previously created the next time that a creature ETB. Pretty busted eh?
What I like most about this type of effect is that it's both free and passive which inherently favors Magicians playing a tight, patient and passive Control game. Even in scenarios where nobody is making aggressive moves the game naturally favors you (all other things being equal) given that you're extracting value from the vast majority of the threats being deployed by your adversaries. This ensures that Faerie Artisans will be a potential playable for virtually any Blue-based Midrange/Control/Ramp/Stax/Prison strategy regardless of the format be it Constructed, Cube, EDH or otherwise.
If you're one of the many people gushing over this card then I urge you to get a grip. While it's certainly a reasonable playable in Equipment-dense multiplayer spheres that's just about all that you can say about it. The prospect of ambushing someone in combat by building a surprise blocker is marginally relevant but it's not as though we're discussing game-winning value or anything. It's merely an unexciting way to create a durable threat that will hopefully provide you with value throughout your games. Obviously this card isn't unplayable but at the same time it's neither powerful nor exciting either. This is because it's reliant on having your adversaries present you with a relevant target for it and even then it's only "fine." While I understand that there's value in 2-for-1s it's clearly not as though we’re looking at the next Treachery or anything. If your meta routinely fields a critical mass of Equipment such as Skullclamp, Umezawa's Jitte, Swords, etc. then feel free to jam it in your Blue creature-based shells but otherwise you can safely ignore it.
Grade: B+ Cubeworthy
For the purposes of this discussion I'm going to assume a typical 4 player FFA but this card obviously scales wildly out of control as the number of players increases. If you routinely find yourself sitting down with 6-8 players then this card is clearly oppressive and it'd be ridiculous to argue otherwise. That being said what's there to even analyze about a 3 mana draw 3? Painful Truths is already one of the most competitive draw spells in the entire game and this is a variation that doesn't cost life, doesn't require 3 or more colors and that never whiffs on lands. As such we're clearly looking at a instant multiplayer staple that will see endless amounts of competitive play for years to come. Obviously you have to treat it as yet another Undaunted card given that it's heinous in formats such as 2HG and/or 3 player FFAs but in any 4+ player FFA it’s utterly absurd. Paying 3 mana to draw 3 spells is a ridiculous return on investment even if it's at sorcery speed and there’s no two ways about it. Drawing cards is relevant for every strategy and at every level of play and so everyone should make a concerted effort to acquire these. As long as your deck is Blue and has spells and then you can justify fielding it no questions asked.
Before you even ask, no, it doesn't matter in the slightest if your opponents collude to give you the 3 worst spells that you reveal. I would happily play this card even if it read "draw your 3 worst spells in your top 10 cards" and I can guarantee you that Manifold Insights is going to be significantly better than that a reasonable % of the time. After all, players make mistakes and/or alliances can sometimes be formed and so there's no reason to assume that the worst-case scenario will be its only use-case. Clearly the worst-case scenario figures to be its average use-case, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but when the floor of your 3 CMC card is "draw 3 spells that you actively put in your deck" then how bad can it possibly be? The way that I see it is that if you’re able to draw 3 spells and be actively unhappy about it then the fault lies entirely on you as a deckbuilder and not on Manifold Insights as a card draw spell. After all, you chose to put those cards in your list for a reason and so if you're unhappy to see that many of them then there's nobody to blame but yourself. As such I maintain that this card is completely bonkers and that everybody should be playing with it.
For those wondering about the math let's look at nightmare scenarios involving land-heavy decks. For Constructed the maximum number of lands that a Blue deck could reasonably run is around 24 because even Control-heavy builds should simply field additional artifact-based ramp, cantrips and/or mass card draw spells at that point. For EDH we'll assume 40 because I couldn't envision a build (be it casual or competitive) that fields more than that. After all, EDH is full of oppressive artifact-based ramp and playing Blue gives you access to a plethora of powerful cantrips and card draw spells. For Cube I'll assume 17 lands working under the assumption that the vast majority of Cubers prioritize artifact-based ramp, cantrips and card draw in order to avoid fielding 18 or more lands. Using hypergeometric distribution we can calculate the probability of hitting 8 or more lands in 10 cards to be 0.6796% (Constructed), 0.9536% (EDH) and 0.7938% (Cube) respectively. That is, assuming a 4 player FFA Manifold Insights will draw 3 spells over 99% of the time even if you assume extremely land-heavy builds that don't take maximum advantage of Blue's competitive suite of cantrips and draw spells. If 99% doesn't qualify as "reliable" then I don't what does and so I refuse to humor arguments to the tune of "the card isn't consistent." I've objectively disproved that claim and it's ridiculous to argue otherwise. 99% also gives me enough leeway to argue that even if you run 26 lands in Constructed or 42 lands in EDH (for whatever reason) that you're never shifting the needle far enough to make the card unreliable. I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to hit 9-10 lands with this thing but math doesn't lie and 99%+ reliability speaks for itself.
With that in mind let's discuss where Manifold Insights falls short. First of all it can't be used to hit early-game land drops which is a relevant advantage that alternatives such as Thirst for Knowledge boast. Moreover, it loses all of its luster once players start to die off and worst-case scenario it reads "3 mana draw your worst spell." That card would be heinous and I'm not suggesting otherwise. The first concern is legitimate and it's the primary reason why you wouldn't necessarily jam 4 of these in Constructed formats for example. Digging into early land drops can be crucial and Manifold Insights does nothing to mitigate the risks of mana screw. While this doesn't impact formats such as Cube nor EDH it does mean that you'll probably only want to run 1-2 in Constructed. That being said the fear of obsolescence doesn't bother me in the slightest and I wouldn't recommend giving that argument much merit. I obviously can't speak for anyone other than myself but I rarely encounter multiplayer games that end in long, drawn-out affairs between the final two players. More often than not the game ends shortly after the first few players start dying off since that typically only occurs once someone assembles a board state powerful enough to trivialize the actions of his or her opposition. Degenerate combos, oppressive synergies, gargantuan Battlecruisers, one-sided board wipes and more are all frequently used to close games out and they typically don't leave room for much interaction in the interim. As such I rarely encounter these fabled "duels of the fates" in which exactly 2 players with relatively even game states duke it out to clinch the win. The reality is that this card is fantastic in the early-to-mid stages of the game which is significantly more important than the ultra lategame. Drawing 3 spells (albeit your worst ones) for 3 mana will keep you in-it-to-win-it longer than the vast majority of the alternatives. This is why I highly encourage players to acquire and play Manifold Insights and why I consider it to be a competitive multiplayer staple in any format in which you have 3 or more adversaries.
No Maximus, I am not entertained. For those of you who perceive this to be a potent multiplayer finisher I feel compelled to ground your expectations back in reality. This card is cruel and unusual punishment for all of us dedicated Black Mages given that Worst Fears is a marginal playable at best in multiplayer and Cruel Entertainment is strictly worse as far as I'm concerned. Stealing a single turn from a single adversary is rarely good enough to secure victories when multiple opponents are involved which is what you're generally expecting from your 7+ CMC bombs. The fact that Cruel Entertainment effects multiple foes is obviously interesting but it's not nearly compelling enough to offset the significantly more frightening concern that lies beneath the surface.
The reason why this card is completely heinous is because there's an immense risk of having your adversaries form a temporary ceasefire in order to neutralize its effect entirely. This is because they'll virtually never have any strategic and/or logical incentive to engage in mutually assured destruction behavior and it's utterly foolish to argue otherwise. It's also not as though you can reasonably select yourself as one of the target players given the symmetrical nature of the effect. If The Dark Knight has taught us anything it's that A) Heath Ledger is an amazing actor and B) You can put someone's finger on the trigger but you can't force them squeeze it. You're giving people the relatively simple choice of "do you want to lose the game?" with the obvious answer being "heck no." While I can empathize with those of you who dream of forcing players to tear each other apart the reality of the situation is that players are generally playing for themselves and not for you.
Now, some of you might argue "the first player to act has no incentive to trust the second" which is certainly a reasonable argument but not one that I'm inclined to give much credence. Players at most levels of play value their reputations highly from what I've experienced and tend to look beyond the game in question towards the future when making game-changing decisions. Right or wrong I'd argue that the vast majority of players value their word more than the potential advantage accrued from double-crossing a single adversary in any given multiplayer match. Since it doesn't make logical sense to assume that players would act against their own best interests I can't think of a single compelling reason to field a card like Cruel Entertainment as one of your finishers.
Hear that? It's the sounds of a legion of Black Mages cursing Wizard's name and swearing vengeance. Curse of Vengeance is a silly card with no worthwhile prospects and no competitive value. It's far too slow and unreliable to consistently yield a significant return on your investment and can be safely ignored as a result. As much as I'd like to expand on this topic there's virtually nothing to say about it. It literally doesn't do anything in an enormous % of games and even if it's only costing you a single card and mana there's still no compelling reason to take a chance on it. There are thousands of competitive Magic cards that "do things" and this isn't one of them. If anything this card is actively bad because once the chosen player starts losing players will be forced to either deal with you before or after you draw ~15 cards and gain ~15 life. Since that's a no-brainer decision I could easily see this card actually lowering your overall match win % when all's said and done.
Thankfully this isn't the curtain call for C16's offerings to Black Mages or else I would have been sorely disappointed. If you haven't read it already I highly encourage you to read my review for Entrapment Maneuver because I'm not going to discuss my general thoughts about spot removal in the context of multiplayer formats any further. With that in mind Curtains' Call is an extremely marginal spot removal spell assuming a typical 4 player FFA pod given that it's essentially a Murder with a trivial upside. While that generalization may seem extremely unfair and/or misguided I'll gladly explain my rationale as I truly believe that this card is terrible outside of large, 5+ player FFA games. That being said I recognize that it's not immediately evident as to why that is and I'll gladly take the time to discuss why killing two creatures isn't "twice as good" as killing one creature in the context of multiplayer.
As I previously explained the only compelling reason to field spot removal over mass removal in multiplayer is to deal with game-ending bombs such as Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. When these "Consecrated Sphinx" level bombs hit the battlefield you're ostensibly forced to remove them immediately if you want to have a reasonable shot of winning the game. Now, the reason why Curtains' Call is a marginal answer at best is because you never have the luxury of waiting until there are multiple game-ending threats in play before you’re able to deploy your spot removal. When that EOT Deceiver Exarch into Splinter Twin gets jammed your hand is forced and there's no two ways about it. As such while I fully expect this card's average use-case to be "3 mana destroy two target creatures" the reality is that you're only going to care about one of them. Clearly I'm not suggesting that you're actively unhappy to kill the second but odds are that you could have simply ignored it until someone Wrathed the board. This is why I don't consider Curtains' Call to be significantly more powerful than a generic Murder variant none of which currently see any multiplayer play to begin with. Hero's Downfall et al. are unplayable trash and a marginally superior alternative isn't going to pass muster. After all, 0-1 CMC alternatives such as Slaughter Pact, Dismember, Snuff Out and Murderous Cut are almost strictly better because they still neutralize the "must kill" threat while costing significantly less mana in the process. As such I highly encourage that you stick to the cheapest removal possible even if it's 2 CMC alternatives such as Malicious Affliction, Ultimate Price, Go for the Throat and/or Victim of Night. That extra creature just isn't worth the extra mana.
Note: none of this logic applies to large FFA games. Given enough adversaries Curtains' Call becomes the single most powerful spot removal spell in the entire game. I'm merely analyzing its average use-case in the context of 4 player FFAs.
"Who wills the end, wills the means" has never rang more true. Yawgmoth's Will has long since been in the discussion for the single most powerful Magic card of all time given its ability to act as an oppressive mass recursion engine for degenerate combo decks. It's frequently paired with fetchlands, rituals, tutors and more in order to generate obscene quantities of mana and enable degenerate combo sequences. As such it's been affectionately dubbed as "Yawg Win" given that it almost always secures victory once it it resolves. Unfortunately Magus of the Will has impossibly large shoes to fill and we can't realistically expect it to boast even a fraction of the power that the original possessed. That being said it's still worthwhile to discuss when and where it'll make sense to field this type of threat given that the prospect of an unrestricted Yawgmoth's Will is simply far too enticing to overlook.
Bluntly put I don't expect Magus of the Will to make significant waves in any multiplayer format. When you double a spell's mana cost and impose a strict "Suspend 1" clause even the (arguably) strongest card of all time loses most of its appeal. While I'm sure that we could all agree that a Yawgmoth's Will with "Suspend 1" would still be an immensely powerful Magic card Magus of the Will's primary drawback lies in the fact that he's a creature. Untapping with one can easily end games on the spot which, unfortunately, isn't a fact that's going to be lost on your opposition. This ostensibly forces them to remove him by any means necessary which isn't an especially difficult task in a multiplayer setting. Note that I give zero credence to nebulous terms such as "politics" in the context of win-or-lose scenarios given that no competent adversary could ever be tricked into ignoring a game-ending bomb such as Magus of the Will. He asks a very simple question of "do you want to lose game?" and it doesn't a genius to figure out what the answer is. The only rational response is to kill him on sight and given that there's no compelling reason to field a Nessian Courser simply to have it Doom Bladed Magus of the Will won't see nearly as much play as the original.
That being said Magus of the Will isn't unplayable by any means. First of all the card is stellar in removal-light metas in which players aren't overly concerned with interacting with others. If they simply want to keep to themselves and goldfish then many of Magus of the Will's drawbacks will be largely circumvented. Moreover, being a creature is relevant for recursion effects/engines such as Reanimate, Oversold Cemetery, Animate Dead, Necromancy, Sun Titan, etc. As such it's trivially easy to recur him as needed until you manage to get one to stick. This is especially true for lists that have extremely durable forms of revival such as Volrath's Stronghold and/or Emeria, the Sky Ruin that players will struggle to remove in general. Moreover, unlike Yawgmoth's Will you're presumably allowed to field as many of these as you please. This is relevant for players who adhere to some form of banned and restricted list and who can't simply employ Yawgmoth's Will instead. EDH is basically the only multiplayer format with a widely recognized banned and restricted list which is problematic for the hundreds of thousands of multiplayer Mages who don't play it as their primary format. That being said I've rarely encountered the "anything goes" crowds who allow people to play with any card in any quantity. Rather, you typically see cards such as Yawgmoth's Will banned or restricted given that they rarely support fun and interactive games of Magic.
Moving on I'd like to discuss the most competitive ways to abuse this type of effect. While I'm sure that many players are aware of the role that Yawgmoth's Will plays in both Vintage and EDH the reality is that basically any deck under the sun can abuse mass recursion spells as obscenely degenerate as these. As such I'm not going focus my efforts on explaining its applications in degenerate combo shells such as Doomsday and/or Storm because I'd rather emphasize interactions that are also relevant to the casual player base. With that in mind regardless of what you're recurring with Magus of the Will your primary bottleneck is going to be mana. After all, the more mana that you're able to produce the better than this effect becomes and that's true regardless of how fair or unfair that you're building your decks.
As such Magus of the Will decks should have a strong emphasis on fast and/or big mana. Staples such as Cabal Coffers, Dark Ritual, Bubbling Muck, Cabal Ritual, Crypt Ghast, Magus of the Coffers, Nirkava Revenant and more will enable you to extract unreasonable amounts of value from mass recursion effects such as these and thus should be prioritized whenever possible. After all, they'll enable you to consistently recur huge swaths of your graveyard if needed which is obviously ideal in "go big or go home" multiplayer formats. To those of you worried about 2-for-1ing yourself with rituals rest assured that such concerns are entirely unfounded. You should be happily playing cards like Dark Ritual and Bubbling Muck in all of your Black EDH decks given that there's no compelling reason to exclude oppressive draw spells/engines such as Necropotence, Greed, Erebos, God of the Dead, Ad Nauseam and Necrologia in formats where you start the game with 40 health. These concepts also port over to Constructed where you can support these mass card draw engines with powerful forms of lifegain such as Exsanguinate, Tendrils of Agony and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Rituals are amazing when you're routinely drawing huge swaths of your deck given that they enable you to deploy your spells at a significantly faster clip. In that sense Magus of the Will is very much and "every person's" card since nothing that I've discussed here is specific to a given subset of strategies or archetypes. He certainly won't live up to the original but there's clearly enough going to here to keep everyone excited.
Just when you thought that things couldn't get any worse for us Black Mages Wizards decided to leave us with this little parting gift. 3 mana sorcery speed spot removal is heinous in multiplayer and there's no two ways about it. After all, expensive + slow spot removal is inherently weak in multiplayer due to the reasons that I previously discussed back in my review for Entrapment Maneuver. The reason why cheap + instant speed spot removal occasionally sees play is because it answers game-ending bombs such as Consecrated Sphinx, Sire of Insanity, Griselbrand and/or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur which can frequently enter the battlefield as early as turn 2. Note that none of those creature care about sorcery speed spot removal in the slightest which is why you're almost always going to see alternatives such as Swords to Plowshares and Snuff Out played over Parting Thoughts.
Moreover, it's not even pushed as a "Momentous Fall" style draw spell and so if you're under the impression that it'll make the cut in EDH decks such as The Mimeoplasm and Ghave, Guru of Spores as a generic value engine then guess again my friends. There's already plenty of "Life's Legacy" variants on the market and the only ones that see any reasonable amounts of play are Greater Good and Disciple of Bolas. Given that Life's Legacy virtually never makes the cut to begin with it's ridiculous to suggest that Parting Thoughts is going to pass muster. After all, not only does it cost more mana but it even causes life loss. As such I have no idea why people think that this is a generically powerful card draw spell unless their deck is already running all of the available alternatives.
Finally, the card doesn't even make the cut on the back of versatility. Some people will argue "it's not competitive as Murder nor as a Life's Legacy but it's the fact that it's both that pushes it over the edge." Nope, sorry, that's not how competitive Magic works. Mashing two unplayable spells together rarely-if-ever yields something worthwhile and Parting Thoughts is no exception. You'll win significantly a higher % of your games by fielding the most powerful cards for their respective roles even if they consume more deck slots overall. This is why you should stick to things like Slaughter Pact, Dismember, Greater Good, Disciple of Bolas, Snuff Out and Murderous Cut that do one job extremely well as opposed to two jobs poorly.
Burn struggles immensely to compete as a viable multiplayer archetype for relatively obvious reasons. After all, while it's trivially easy to deal the 20-30 points of damage required to close out duels and/or 2HG games the same cannot be said for larger FFA games. This is especially true in formats such as EDH where the baseline health total of your adversaries can often be 120 or more. Moreover, even though global burn spells such as Price of Progress, Sulfuric Vortex and Manabarbs alleviate those concerns it's still extremely difficult to actually win games of Magic while employing a dedicated burn strategy. This is primarily because your burn spells don't typically affect the board which is a monumental problem when you're actively annoying the entire table. After all, the rational response is for your adversaries to band together into order to take you out which is what typically occurs from what I've personally experienced. Don't get me wrong, you'll still do a ton of damage before biting the bullet, but I've never played with or against a burn strategy that could actually win games of Magic on a consistent basis in a multiplayer setting. Smashing the table for 40 damage by turn 4-5 can be immensely fun at times but it doesn't have any competitive value with respect to bolstering your overall match win %.
Anemic threats such Charging Cinderhorn do very little to progress the burn archetype as a whole. While you could certainly envision scenarios in which its deal ludicrous sums of damage its average use-case figures to be unexciting at best. After all, it's relatively slow, it's vulnerable to removal, it has has terrible stats and it's largely at the mercy of whatever archetypes that your adversaries are playing. I understand that he can be employed to break board stalls but why wouldn't you simply field Insurrection if you're worried about the board getting too bogged-down in the later stages of the game? All-in-all it strikes me as an extremely weak and forgettable threat that will neither inspire new archetypes nor bolster preexisting ones.
For those of you who aren't interested in degenerate combo/synergy applications here's where the analysis starts to diverge. Exiling two threats at instant speed for 4 mana is decent rate but extracting maximum value from this type of removal spell is often easier said than done. In a previous section I explained how spot removal exists almost solely to remove game-ending bombs that players can't be allowed to untap with. Sire of Insanity, Consecrated Sphinx, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and more are all examples of creatures that need to die as soon as they enter the battlefield and so you don't have the luxury of waiting until you can nail two of them simultaneously. That being said it's still hard creature removal in Red and it even answers indestructible threats such as Blightsteel Colossus and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Assuming that those types of Battlecruisers are plaguing your meta then you could easily find yourself forced to employ marginal spot removal spells such as these. Not because they're actively good or anything, but because the alternative involves losing the game outright.
Before moving on I want to quickly note something about Chaos Warp style effects. Obviously there's an inherent fear that you'll upgrade an opposing threat into something that's significantly more dangerous but unfortunately this is a clear-cut example of "beggars can't be choosers." Red literally has no other way of removing Enchantments (barring colorless mass removal spells) and it struggles immensely to remove large creatures that it can't easily burn to death. Chaos Warp isn't a multiplayer staple because it's the best card for the job but rather because it's the only one. You're not going to beat cards like Cabal Coffers, Gaea's Cradle, Survival of the Fittest, Humility and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur otherwise and so your hands are tied on that front.Clearly if Red had access to better forms of interaction then we wouldn't need to rely on cards such as Divergent Transformations but the sad reality is that it doesn't. As such this isn't about what "we want to run" but rather "what we have to run in order to compete."
While it pains me to be a buzzkill I don't understand why this card has some people whipped-up into a frenzy. Threaten effects tend to be rather heinous in multiplayer unless they're global versions such as Mob Rule and Insurrection. After all, it almost never makes strategic sense to push for damage against a single adversary given that you'll still have a find way to tackle the remaining ones as well. Moreover, if you're merely employing them as conditional removal spells then you're not going to make it very far. Obviously sacrifice outlets such as Goblin Bombardment and Greater Gargadon ensure that they'll always bite the dust but at the same time why would you ever feel excited to pay 3-4 mana in order to conditionally remove a single threat from a single adversary? Also, doesn’t that neuter the recurring aspect of this card? Bleah! While I can appreciate the prospect of trying to steal + kill/ultimate a Planeswalker and/or get some free swings off with a Grave Titan this isn't a competitive card by any means. You could certainly choose to pair with it either Bazaar Trader or Conjurer's Closet in order to permanently steal opposing threats or even jam it alongside Helm of Possession to generate some sick value. That being said none of those sequences are game-winning synergies by any means and so it's difficult to argue that this card has any competitive merit. After all, its average use-case is far too anemic to warrant consideration and so unless you're able to reliably steal a Planeswalker ultimate with Frenzied Fugue then I don't see a compelling reason to field it.
I spy with my little eye a card that's not going to see any competitive play. For as much hype as creatures such as Goblin Diplomats, Dulcet Sirens, Maddening Imp and Fumiko the Lowblood generate they're always the first cards that end up getting cut from lists. This is because the dream of slaughtering utility dorks rarely-if-ever occurs in practice given the dynamics of how most multiplayer games play out. First of all it literally doesn't do anything against creatures who can inherently tap themselves and even if you're "wasting" the activated ability it still beats losing your threats. Moreover, even if your creatures aren't able to tap themselves there's almost always at least one player who doesn't have much in the way of blockers and so you're rarely forced to chump attack your minions into their doom. Beyond that if push comes to shove players can always choose to remove the instigating threat(s) or even sacrifice the creature tokens as needed. After all, given the choice of chump attacking your team into a wall blockers or killing a generic 2/1 for 3 then you're going to choose the latter almost each and every time. Finally, Goblin Spymaster doesn't actually trigger the turn that you cast him given that the token is only created at EOT. As such your opponents have a full turn to determine how they're going to address him (if at all) which is another obvious strike against him. Again, I can appreciate why this effect might seem powerful on paper (especially at breaking board stalls) but in practice it's never nearly as impressive as it seems.
What I will say is that I understand that these kinds of cards appeal to a certain % of the playerbase. Some people just want to watch the world burn and they'll happily field anything that injects an element of chaos into the game. That's perfectly fine and far be it from me to dissuade people from thinking or doing otherwise. That being said this is a competitive multiplayer set review and so I only care about "what wins games" and not "what's fun and exciting." Goblin Spymaster doesn't significantly advance your own game plan, doesn't reliably hinder your adversaries and it's completely worthless against huge swaths of archetypes such as Ramp, Control, Stax, and Combo. In a world where everyone and their mother is playing creature-based decks, very few people employ mass removal, every game devolves into board stalls and no one can remove Goblin Spymaster then sure, he's relevant. The problem is that I lost count after the 5th condition that he imposes on you and rest assured that there's no compelling reason to jump through all of those hoops for such a marginal effect.
Grade: B Cubeworthy
This card is absolutely amazing and come Hell or high water I'm going to test the heck out of it. Some of the most powerful tutors in the game are things like Gamble, Entomb, Survival of the Fittest and Buried Alive all of which are capable of sending cards straight to the graveyard. Moreover, Red boasts an impressive suite of rummage spells such as Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion and Daretti, Scrap Savant which are all well-equipped to binning it at nearly any stage of the game. Given that Wheel of Fortune is arguably the most powerful Red spell in the entire game suffice to say that I'm excited about the prospect of playing an instant-speed alternative that enables me to untap with a fresh hand in addition to all of my mana. The fact that it naturally combos with other Wheels is also absurdly relevant given that we're actively happy to pitch these at any time and for any reason.
Now, clearly 6 mana is a steep price to pay for what is essentially a 3 mana effect but that doesn't quite paint a fair picture of the story now does it? While this may seem like the Magus of the Will dilemma all over again reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that you can activate Runehorn Hellkite at EOT and untap with a full hand and all of your mana is completely absurd, especially in the context of degenerate combo decks that can easily win from that position. Moreover, assuming that you bin it with something like Survival of the Fittest or Scion of the Ur-Dragon (in EDH obviously) then you're only looking at a trivial investment of 1-2 mana in order to gain access to this type of effect. Only a small % of tutors can actually nab a Windfall effect which is why applying it to a creature is a huge boon to formats such as EDH. Beyond that I want to reiterate that it naturally boasts immense synergy with other Wheels given that it's only castable from the graveyard to begin with. This is extremely relevant for mass recursion spells and effects such as Yawgmoth's Will, Mizzix's Mastery, Past in Flames, Scrap Mastery, Living Death and Metallurgic Summonings that can easily convert these Wheels into literal game wins. As such This is going to be a competitive staple and multiplayer fanatics would do well to acquire some at their earliest convenience.
In the interest of full disclosure I'll stress that the base card is completely unplayable. Any plan that involves hardcasting a 6 mana 5/5 flier is doomed to fail in any multiplayer setting so please don't include this in decks that can't reliably bin it as needed. Having it die to removal should be used an absolute last resort because you're not going to win a significant % of games in which you spend 12 mana on a Wheel. Again, the idea here is that this card is essentially free to bin with cards like Survival of the Fittest and Buried Alive and the high price tag is easily offset by the fact that you can activate it at EOT.
Since this is easily the best example of a niche card that we're seen thus far I’d like to take a quick second to reiterate the fact that "niche" isn't synonymous with "bad." While it's true that Benefactor's Draught offers next-to-no value in the vast majority of Green decks when it's good it's easily one of the strongest cards in your deck. For the purposes of this discussion I'm going to focus on EDH since that’s where it'll see the largest quantity of play but bear in mind that most of these discussions point will port over to Constructed (and even Cube) as well.
Benefactor's Draught will shine in decks that feature a critical mass of creature who possess activated abilities that require tapping. While I realize how blatantly obvious that that probably sounds rest assured that I haven't been hitting the draught too hard.This is because it's not going to be "fine" nor "passable" nor "decent" when you draw it on a board full of mana dorks. Rather, it's a card that you'll be ecstatic to see almost each and every time. Personally I'm thinking about Green Commanders such as Selvala, Heart of the Wilds and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard that open every game with a turn 1 mana dork into their Commander on turn 2. From there they’re typically looking to jam additional untap/mana engines such Quirion Ranger, Fauna Shaman, Priest of Titania, Scryb Ranger, Elvish Archdruid and more. In these scenarios Benefactor's Draught is ostensible a cantripping ritual that boasts immense synergy with your degenerate mana and/or tutor engines. After all, the card immediately replaces itself and since it'll almost always generate mana there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't play it in these sorts of decks. Is it the flashiest card in the game? No, not even close, but it's always going to make the cut and that's all that matters.
Now, some people will argue that these kinds of cards are too risky because they're weak when you're behind. While I'm not denying that Benefactor's Draught is garbage when it's cast on an empty board my question to people who doubt this card is "ok, but what does that matter?" I hate to break it to you but when you lose your board while playing an Elfball deck in EDH then nothing that you draw is going to feel relevant. That's how Elfball works. You need a critical mass of creatures in order to generate an obscene quantity of mana in order to power out game-ending Battlecruisers such as Craterhoof Behemoth. As such you're not going to beat a bunch of mass removal to begin with and so how is having another marginal draw going to change the outcome in the slightest? It’s not. Again, I'm not denying the fact that a 2 mana cantrip is heinous but the reality of the situation is that you've already lost the game if it ever comes to that. Benefactor's Draught is the kind of card that's amazing when you're ahead and that's all that matters because Elfball decks literally can't win from behind.
Lastly, I think that it's worth taking a second to analyze its applications as a generic card draw spell. I recommend treating it as a "nice to have" bonus rather than a consistent source of card draw because otherwise I’m afraid that you’ll be sorely disappointed. I understand that you can cast it during anyone's combat phase and astute players should definitely look for spots where blocks are going to be more-or-less forced in order to extract solid value from it. Bear in mind that you do have to cast it before blockers are declared if you want to draw extra cards but luckily you're not required to be the aggressor. A 2 mana instant speed draw 2 is clearly an amazing Magic card and this can easily surpass that benchmark in the right context. That being said I don't consider this to be a free-roll or anything so please don't start playing it as a Divination of sorts. After all, your opponents still have the agency to decline blocks if desired and so it's not nearly as free as it probably seems. That being said the idea here is that this mode is completely free since you should be ecstatic to play a cantripping Vitalize to begin with.
I think it's safe to say that evolution has escalated wildly out of control if it's reached the stage where it's creating Harambe Wolverine hybrids. Anyways, given that this card is ostensibly another version of Orzhov Advokist I highly recommend reading that entry if you haven't already in order to glean my complete thought on this style of card. That being said this one differs with it in many respects and so I still plan to offer new insights. Much like Duelist's Heritage this card serves a niche role as an “equalizer” in the sense that it enables weak players to band together in order to topple stronger ones. I also like how this card dodges mass creature removal and I appreciate how it converts anemic wimps into relevant threats. Green decks are often flush with mana dorks that become largely irrelevant over time and this is a fantastic way to inject some value into them come the mid and lategame.
Generic applications aside this card will clearly shine in dedicated +1/+1 counter decks that feature things like Hardened Scales, Proliferation, Doubling Season, Cauldron of Souls, Ivorytusk Fortress, Ghave, Guru of Spores, etc. While I realize that this probably doesn't need to be spelled out for many of you it's still important to keep the obvious details in mind less you overlook potential synergies when fleshing out your lists. Moreover, this is the best way to break the "parity" of this card (if you can even call it that) since it'll enable you to go over-the-top of the player that you're helping if it ever comes to that. I'll once again encourage you to use these types of cards as leverage to form alliances against the stronger players (if any) but if push comes to shove there's value in knowing that the status quo naturally favors you even in the scenarios where you're supporting your adversaries.
Moving on, I'd like to quickly (ha!) discuss the concept of 2-horse races and why they're generally advisable in the context of multiplayer matches. What's a 2-horse race you ask? Imagine that you're a jockey competing in the Kentucky Derby which is the world's largest and most prestigious horse racing event. You're approached by a mysterious stranger and given the opportunity to dope your horse in a completely undetectable way that won't harm it nor cause lasting damage. Neither you nor your horse can possibly suffer any negative consequences as the result of accepting this deal and this new "super drug" will leave you primed to crush your opposition in a triumphant fashion. The catch? If you agree to administer the drug then one of your adversary's horses will also be doped with it. The question is "do you accept the terms?" The answer? "Yes!" Assuming a baseline level of competition your probability of winning a given multiplayer match is roughly 1/N where N is the number of players. While the actual number will vary based on experience, technical ability, card pool and a host of additional factors it's virtually impossible to garner anything close to a "winning" record. Even if you're the strongest player with the best deck assuming that you're playing at your skill level you're never going to be heavily advantaged over the rest of the field. This has been proven countless times even at the Pro Tour level given that even the winningest competitors of all time only boast a (roughly) 65% match win %. In that sense while it may seem crazy to suggest giving one of your opponents an immense advantage from a purely competitive standpoint it makes strategic sense to do so insofar as you're also significantly bolstering your own probability of winning in the process.
What a lot of people fail to understand is that even if your opponent goes on to win 40% of the time and you only go on to win 35% of the time (i.e. neither of you win the remaining 25%) that's still an absolutely amazing deal and you should always agree to enter that contract. The notion that you could walk into a 4+ player multiplayer game with a ~35% probability of winning is completely absurd (again, assuming a baseline level of competition) and so jumping from ~25% to ~35% is an oppressive leap by any metric. Furthermore, while I'm implying that your win % could theoretically be lower than that of the other "horse" that's rarely-if-ever going to be the case in practice. After all, your deck is presumably going to be the one specifically designed to abuse the the card(s) whereas the same will not always be true for each of your adversaries. There's often weak links, people who're down-and-out, someone testing a silly brew, on and and on. You can target anyone for any reason and assuming that you put a bit of thought into it then odds are you're going to set yourself up for a very easy win if you build your deck properly. Knowing this you should be absolutely willing to enter 2-horse races if the situation presents itself.
With that in mind what's my final verdict on Evolutionary Escalation? Unfortunately for those of you who stayed through my sermon it doesn't quite fall into the same category of card as Trade Secrets. I still stand by everything that I've said about 2-horse races but unfortunately this card isn't quite powerful enough to reliably initiate them. It's still a reasonable playable but not something that could ever be considered a true multiplayer staple.
While I understand the design that Wizards was going for my primeval instincts tend to kick in when I see multiplayer cards as weak as these and so I'm not going to pull my punches simply to protect their pride. A common grievance aired by casual players is how games routinely devolve into pacifist board-stalls in which no player can profitably make aggressive advances towards his or her adversaries. This has historically been where "nutcrackers" such as Cyclonic Rift, Mass Calcify, Craterhoof Behemoth, Insurrection and In Garruk's Wake have shined given their innate ability to utterly demolish them. That's clearly what Wizards was striving to replicate with Primeval Protector but unfortunately I can't help but feel as though they missed the mark. An evasionless 10/10 isn't the game-ender that we'd like it to be, especially in formats such as EDH. Moreover, the single +1/+1 counter for your team doesn't do nearly enough to force it through any reasonable ensemble of blockers. Whereas cards like Beastmaster Ascension, Avenger of Zendikar and/or Craterhoof Behemoth will all-but seal the deal Gaea's Anthem is merely a drop in the bucket. Obviously it helps you're able to blink/bounce the body and/or Proliferate the counters but otherwise you're still going to need additional support to close the game out. In that sense I don't value this card highly and don't expect it to make waves in any multiplayer archetypes including Elfball, token, weenie and swarm decks.
This review will be short and sweet because this card is largely unplayable outside of large FFAs. A marginally superior Restock isn't going to pass muster in any multiplayer format and there's no two ways about it. Clearly if you routinely facing 5 or more adversaries then the card is utterly broken but assuming a traditional multiplayer pod of 4 players then it's almost never making the cut. While I realize that 4 mana is significantly less than 5 that doesn't even come close to painting the full picture as to why this card is unexciting at best.
The first reason why this card is largely unplayable is because it isn't cheap. In the context of degenerate combo decks speed and reliability carry significantly more importance than virtually any other factors which is why they'll almost always field the fastest and more reliable options available to them (such as Noxious Revival and Regrowth). Now, at first glance this card might seem like it's "twice as good for twice as much mana" which could trick some players into thinking that it's both competitively priced and consistent. That isn't the right way to think about these kinds of cards however. After all, you'll rarely need to recur more than one key spell in order to support your combo and Magic isn't a game like Hearthstone where you're automatically granted a new source of mana each and every turn. Expensive spells tend to carry a significant opportunity cost given how resources are managed in the game. After all, you won't always draw enough lands to cast them, they're difficult to cast alongside other spells, they're terrible against Prison/Mana Denial/Stax archetypes and/or mass land destruction, they cause significant tempo loses when they're answered by cheaper spells on and on and on. This is why Regrowth is significantly more competitive than double Regrowth and why the latter won't see nearly as much play.
Avacyn, Angel of Hope this card is not. I've had casual players attempt to convince me that these types of Battlecruisers are perfectly playable in less competitive spheres but at the same time I've yet to read a compelling argument as to why that would be the case. After all, I've played both with and against Spearbreaker Behemoth countless times in my day and it’s never came close to being close to being relevant. The idea was obviously to employ it in order to beat up on Control mages but in practice it never accomplished anything relevant. After all, it's still extremely easy to remove the rest of your critters with basically any form of interaction and they're basically worthless as standalone threats.
Moreover, the beauty of cards like Avacyn, Angel of Hope is that they combine with mass denial cards such as Armageddon and Jokulhaups to all-but seal the deal. The same cannot be said for Stonehoof Chieftain variants who offer significantly less value than you probably think. Obviously you can attack with them and Wrath the board post-combat in order to Plague Wind the field but suffice it to say that I'm not thrilled about the prospect of focusing my entire endgame on removing creature-based threats. I'd rather do something to actively win the game instead and turning an 8/8 trampler sideways doesn't even come close to qualifying. While I recognize that this brand of finisher isn't geared towards players such as myself I still don't understand why you wouldn't simply field consistent Battlecruisers such as Avenger of Zendikar, Boundless Realms, Woodfall Primus, Craterhoof Behemoth, Terastodon and Tooth and Nail instead.
Bluntly put I don't have anything insightful to say about these Commanders. I expect them all to see reasonable quantities of EDH play but only because of their Partner ability. After all, if you want to (for example) splash Boros in your Reyhan, Last of the Abzan deck then it's not as though you have the luxury of fielding something relevant. Rather, you'll unhappily field Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder out of necessity. Otherwise I can't think of a single compelling reason to field any of these creatures as Commanders (or in any other format for that matter) and so I wouldn't advocate fielding them anywhere else (including the 99).
Unfortunately there's no hidden treasure yet to be excavated from this ruinous pile. While this may seem like a reasonable enabler for Reanimator, graveyard-based and/or Delve archetypes the reality is that paying 4 mana to loot cards will never pass muster. It's critically important to stress that this is card selection and not card advantage which is why it should never see play over alternatives such as Thirst for Knowledge and Fact or Fiction. In practice you'll virtually never have a compelling reason to spend this much mana looting a hand's worth of cards away which is why you can safely ignore this card.
Since this is going to the the first 4 color Commander card that I'll be reviewing I'd like to quickly discuss my stance on their applications outside of EDH. While I recognize that Atraxa et al. could easily see play in every multiplayer format the fact that they're all 4 color legendary creatures would force me to qualify their use with a laundry list of pre-existing conditions. With that in mind let's just keep things as simple as possible. If your Cubes and/or Constructed decks support the same kinds of cards, themes and/or strategies discussed throughout my reviews then please feel free to field them outside of EDH. Otherwise I don't see a compelling reason to waste everyone's time analyzing cards that are far too niche to see widespread multiplayer play. Shifting the focus back to Atraxa suffice it to say that we're hearing Wizards loud and clear on this one. This card is immensely powerful and she's going to be a formidable force for years to come. After all, not only does she come equipped with a bevy of relevant keywords but she also boasts a formidable value engine that's relevant for a host of difference archetypes. With that in mind let's start breaking this card down piece-by-piece.
Starting with her keywords it's clear that Atraxa came prepared to brawl and her strongest builds are likely going to reflect that. Flying and lifelink enable her to swoop in for massive life swings each and every turn in order to fuel degenerate value spells/engines such as Necropotence, Necrologia and Ad Nauseam. Vigilance enables you to play both offense and defense and, more importantly, boasts immense synergy with Prison effects such as Stasis and Static Orb that would otherwise prevent you from beating in for Commander Damage. Otherwise Deathtouch + Vigilance makes her a defensive bastion which is relevant when you're trying to protect key Planeswalkers from opposing threats. Beyond that all of these keywords are useful for things like Odric, Lunarch Marshal and/or if you decide to build her as a Voltron general. Still, while these synergies are all well and good it pales in comparison to the real reason to stick Atraxa at the helm; her propensity to proliferate. Atraxa's proliferate trigger is an utterly absurd mechanic and those who make a concerted effort to abuse it will reap the rewards of their labors. If you're hellbent on building her as a goodstuffs and/or Voltron Commander then I obviously can't stop you but at the same I don't understand why you wouldn't want to do something significantly more degenerate.
Since we're on the topic of Doubling Season it's probably worthwhile to analyze her applications in dedicated counter strategies as well. Again, by no means should you think of these tactics as being separate entities given that Doubling Season boasts immense synergy with both Planeswalkers and Tangle Wires alike. With that in mind I think it's obvious that Atraxa will play extremely well dedicated +1/+1 counter decks that employ things like Primal Vigor and Avenger of Zendikar in order to scale wildly out of control as the game progresses. From the lowly Scavenging Ooze to the mighty Realm Seekers there's any number of ways to abuse proliferation engines and the fact that she inherently grants you access to 4 colors is ridiculous. Even if we ignore +1/+1 counters for the time being it's clear that she pairs well with any card that has the word "counter" on it. Lighthouse Chronologist, Djinn of Wishes, Ring of Three Wishes, Myojin of Night's Reach, it basically doesn't matter what the counter does as long as it exists in the first place.
Moving beyond physical counters I'd like to quickly address poison. Atraxa is basically the only commander who can convert cards such as Inkmoth Nexus and Ichor Rats into a literal game win with little-to-no effort. It's just a matter of getting a single poison counter on each adversary, locking the board down and then passing until you win. Contagion Engine et al. can also be employed to dramatically hasten the process but realistically aren't required. The primary reason why I bring this up is because many Atraxa decks are going to want to field Crucible of Worlds regardless and as everyone already knows Crucible + Inkmoth Nexus is already a decent ways to close games out in a pinch. Otherwise Ichor Rats only consumes a single deck slot and, again, can easily defeat any number of adversaries assuming that you Armageddon with a Tangle Wire in play (or whatever).
Shifting the focus away from competitive play I hope that I'm not turning anyone off of Atraxa with my analysis. While I personally expect her to thrive in Stax and/or Superfriends-based archetypes she's an absolutely monster when paired with (literally) any card that cares about counters. If you want to pair her with "fair" cards such as Managorger Hydra, Djinn of Wishes and Ring of Three Wishes then that's perfectly fine too. If you want to keep the Planeswalkers and ditch the Armageddons I won't try and stop you. Atraxa is one of the coolest and most powerful Commanders ever printed and I highly encourage everyone to give her a spin. She's perfect for players of all shapes, sizes and skill levels because it's virtually impossible to mess her up.
Coming off the high that is Atraxa we were always to be underwhelmed by the poor, unfortunate soul forced to follow in her wake. Until we weren't! Breya’s a monstrously powerful combo Commander that will see copious amounts of competitive play. She's also the ideal Izzet "artifacts matter" Commander that we've been pining for and she even comes with Orzhov for free. While I realize that it may not be immediately evident as to why Breya's a competitive powerhouse rest assured that she's everything that we could have ever hoped for in an "artifact matters" Commander and then some.
Starting from the top Breya has access to an easy kill sequence using Krark-Clan Ironworks/Ashnod's Altar and Nim Deathmantle. The idea here is to bin both Breya and one of her tokens in order to generate the 4 mana required to pay for Nim Deathmantle's trigger. This will enable you to recur Breya from your graveyard to play. After all, you're not forced to send her to the Command Zone when she dies. Anyways, this sequence obviously nets 1 Thopter each iteration and given that we can repeat this process as many times as we please this enables us to generate an arbitrarily large (henceforth referred to as "infinite") quantity of 1/1 Thopters. Next we can use those Thopters to generate infinite mana using one the aforementioned sacrifice outlets. From there we can use Breya's activated abilities in order to gain infinite life, kill infinite creatures and Lava Spike every player an infinite number of times. Moreover, given that Breya is 4 colors she naturally provides us with access to mass card draw spells and hard tutors such as Mystic Remora, Gamble, Vampiric Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Steelshaper's Gift, Demonic Tutor, Transmute Artifact, Reshape, Rhystic Study, Wheel of Fortune, Fabricate, Windfall, Grim Tutor, Whispering Madness, Tezzeret the Seeker and more in order to reliably assemble these components. As such she'll consistently be able to gather the tools required to enact her combo kills in a reasonable time-frame. Finally, if all else fails she can even employ mass recursion engines such as Yawgmoth's Will, Scrap Mastery and Open the Vaults in order to recur the entire combo (herself included) when needed. Again, sending your Commanders to the Command Zone is completely optional and it'll sometimes make sense to send her to the graveyard so that you can instantly win off of a Scrap Mastery/Open the Vaults assuming that you're able to bin your entire combo.
Moving on, Breya also lends herself well to the "Bomberman" kill. This combo involves assembling Auriok Salvagers + Lion's Eye Diamond in order to generate infinite mana of every color. From there you're able to cast Breya from the Command Zone, have her sacrifice herself and one of the tokens to ping an opponent for 3 and repeat this sequence ad nauseam until you win. Given that Lion's Eye Diamond is extremely easy to tutor for using the aforementioned tutors, Reshape and Transmute Artifact this is yet another relatively consistent combo kill that doesn't consume many deck slots at all.
On that note Breya boasts immense synergy with literally combo that produces infinite colored mana given that she immediately converts it into a game win. The idea here is to cast her from the Command Zone, sacrifice her + one of her Thopters to Lava Spike a player using her activated ability, send her back to the Command Zone and repeat ad nauseam until you win. The simplest way to do this is with Grand Architect + Pili-Pala which immediately wins the game. Otherwise there's Worldgorger Dragon combos which are slightly more complicated by equally effective. Assuming that you’re able to bin the WGD (Entomb, Faithless Looting, Careful Study, etc.) and recur it with Auras such Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead and/or Necromancy then you can blink your lands in and out of play an infinite number of times in order to generate infinite mana of every color. Afterwards you can have your Animate Dead effect recur any other creature in any graveyard in order to stop the loop at which point you can employ Breya to win the game on the spot using the same Lava Spike loop that we've discussed numerous times already. The problem with this particular combo is that it creates a draw if you're unable to recur another creature from a graveyard which obviously forces you to jump through an additional hoop. That being said it's still a potential turn 1 kill off of things like Dark Ritual, Entomb and Street Wraith and it’s also important to stress the fact that all of those recursion spells can nab any creature from any graveyard and so it’s typically not a major concern.
Now, bear in mind that we're still only scratching the surface of the potential combo kills that Breya enables. You can also employ a Doomsday combo kill sequence along the lines of Predict, Laboratory Maniac, Gitaxian Probe, Lion's Eye Diamond and Yawgmoth's Will in order to instantly win the game against any number of adversaries. Unlike some of the previously discussed win conditions this one bypasses all forms of damage prevention and so not even a Glacial Chasm will be good enough to thwart your advances. Breya also has access to the Angel's Grace/Phyrexian Unlife + Ad Nauseam combo which enables you to draw your entire deck, untap and combo off with any of the aforementioned kills. While I could go on and on I hope that it's clear that Breya is an absurd combo enabler who's going to see an immense quantity of competitive play.
Moving away from combos I'd like to discuss the strongest way to build around her activate abilities. Breya naturally lends herself to the "Eggs" archetype that used to see play in Modern. While the deck has since lost some of its key cards to bannings the original incarnation sought to pair cheap cantrip artifacts (such as Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, Elsewhere Flask, Ichor Wellspring and Skycloud Egg) alongside mass recursion engines such as Second Sunrise, Faith's Reward and Open the Vaults. This enabled you to draw huge swaths of your deck in order to assemble key combo finishers which, in the context of Breya EDH, could easily include things such as the Krark-Clan Ironworks + Nim Deathmantle combo, Doomsday or even the "Bomberman" kill. Breya obviously lends herself well to the Eggs archetype given that her activated ability benefit immensely from having expendable resources such as Chromatic Star in play. The idea here is that she plays a solid value game while digging for instant-win combos which is obviously a fantastic place to be.
Lastly, I want to stress that Breya is still very much an "every person's" Commander. If nothing else she enables you to play all of the relevant "artifacts matter" colors and there's nothing with building a synergy-based deck that's not necessarily looking to field a dozen combo kills. After all, there's nothing wrong with jamming Windfalls and Wheel of Fortunes in order to build towards gargantuan Scrap Masterys and Open the Vaults even if they’re not ending the game on the spot. If you simply want to go deep on value engines such as Trading Post and Unwinding Clock then that's perfectly fine too. Moreover, it's important to stress that sacrifice outlets such as Goblin Welder, Reshape, Transmute Artifact, Trash for Treasure, Daretti, Scrap Savant and more love seeing things like Eggs, Ugin’s Nexus and Spine of Ish Sah regardless. As such you can still field them in fair, value-based decks and feel actively good about it. The reason why I emphasize noninteractive combo kills is because those are what will enable you to compete at the highest levels of play which is relevant for players who struggle to consistently win games of Magic. The way that I see it is that anyone can tone a deck down if it proves to be too powerful but there's nothing worse than investing into something that doesn't provide you with a significant return on your investment. As such I'd rather promote synergies and tactics that are "too good" since you can always choose to dial them back if needed.
If this card seems playable to you then you're making a grave mistake my friends. Given the presence of 1-3 CMC alternatives such as Animate Dead I struggle to envision an archetype where this would ever make the cut. While I appreciate the bonus utility offered by the basic landcycling when the base card is this wildly unplayable it doesn't exactly push the needle very far in the other direction. With that in mind I'll still briefly cover its limited applications. First of all Red and Black have access to degenerate forms of mass spell recursion such as Yawgmoth's Will, Past in Flames and Mizzix's Mastery which provide players with strong incentives to fill their graveyards with powerful spells. Moreover, many Red and/or Black Battlecruisers have formidable "on attack" and/or "on combat damage" triggers such as the ones seen on Banshee of the Dread Choir, Master of Cruelties, Grave Titan, Scourge of the Throne, Inferno Titan, Hellkite Tyrant and even Utvara Hellkite. Clearly neither of these synergies do nearly enough to offset the fact that Grave Upheaval is a 6 mana pile of trash that won't see any reasonable amount of play in any multiplayer format however.
Ikra plays well in the Doran, the Siege Tower "toughness matters" archetype while also enabling you to play a 4th color. Moreover, given that Black and Green (and even White) are the kings of tutoring it's trivially easy to locate Doran as needed which takes some of the the sting out of losing him from the Command Zone. As such I fully expect Ikra to be a relatively common casual EDH Commander. That being said the Doran deck isn’t remotely competitive which is why I won't bother discussion the archetype any further.
The real reason why I'm taking the time to analyze this card is because I wanted to highlight how criminally overlooked lifegain is in the context of Black EDH decks. Bluntly put I don't understand why people don't start all of their (Black) decks with cards like Necropotence, Erebos, God of the Dead, Greed, Necrologia and Ad Nauseam given that you inherently have 40 life to pour into them. After all, if everyone is playing durdly value-based decks then why the heck wouldn't you want to pay 5 mana in order to draw 10 cards? What are you doing that's better than that? That is, the primary reason why Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper is significantly better than she looks is because Necropotence is a heinously degenerate Magic card when you have 40 life to play around with and so anything that supports it is almost inherently worthwhile. Remember, while raw lifegain is obviously completely irrelevant in a vacuum if you change Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper's text to read "your creatures draw cards equal to their toughness when they deal damage to players" she starts to look a heck of a lot better.
While I'm somewhat surprised to see an Azorius version of Taurean Mauler/Managorger Hydra/Forgotten Ancient it's not an unwelcome sight by any means. Although I'm ashamed to admit it I'm actually quite fond of these scaling threats even though I don't consider them to be competitive staples by any means. For whatever reason I thoroughly enjoy fielding them in casual, removal-light metas as snowballing threats which spiral wildly out of control when left unchecked. For what it's worth being naturally evasive helps to boost this card's viability because rest assured that there's a monumental difference between Managorger Hydra and Taurean Mauler. Even when ignored I've never actually seen a large Taurean Mauler connect with someone but I've definitely witnessed rogue Managorger Hydras picking players off every now and then. What I like most about these kinds of threats is that you don't have to think to long or hard about them. They're "fire and forget" beaters that scale extremely quickly as the game progresses and that can sometimes (albeit rarely) win games when ignored. Obviously their average use-case involves dying to removal, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but they can certainly thrive in casual and/or removal-light metas.
For what it's worth none of this hinges on the card acting as your Commander. This is a threat that could reasonably see play in any multiplayer format and I wouldn't fault anyone for jamming it in their Cubes and/or Constructed decks. Slam it on turn 4 and put the onus on your adversaries to do something about it. Is it going to reliably seal the deal? No, but it can and that's actually saying something in a multiplayer setting. Whereas cards like Curse of Vengeance and Goblin Spymaster will never win games of Magic for you there's definitely a world in which you run this out and bash people for their health total. I absolutely refuse to discount anything that can literally seal the deal which is why I give these kinds more credit than most.
While I was initially down on this card I've since come around on it slightly. The conclusion that I eventually reached is that Bloodgift Demon is already a marginal playable in casual spheres and Kraum, Ludevic's Opus is going to be a strictly better alternative a reasonably large % of the time. While it's not going to reliably draw 2-3 cards per circuit he figures to trigger at least once on average and that's good enough to push it into the playable range. As such I could reasonably expect this card to see play across a wide variety of multiplayer formats beyond the scope of EDH. It'll never be a competitive staple by any means but insofar as he's being held to the Bloodgift Demon standard he's always going to be playable-yet-unexciting filler.
Apparently Kruphix is the chosen one in the Magic Universe given that every card bearing his name winds up being oppressively overpowered. Kydele pairs with any Wheel and any untap engine in order to generate infinite mana and presumably win the game on the spot. After all, Staff of Domination conveniently converts infinite mana into infinite life, infinite taps/untaps, infinite card draw, etc. which essentially shaves this down to a 3 card instant-win combo assuming that your deck has a Goblin Cannon or Laboratory Maniac hiding it in somewhere. You can obviously pair her with any of the other untap engines as well (such as Umbral Mantle, Sword of the Paruns and Singing Bell Strike) assuming that you have access to a reliable mana sink such as Blue Sun's Zenith in order to dig for the win. That being said if we're being completely honest with ourselves Staff of Domination is basically the only way to go and so it makes significantly more sense to use the deck slots on cantrips, tutors, draw spells and cheap permission instead.
This card clearly wasn't designed for players like me and so it doesn't make any sense for me to analyze and/or assign it a grade. As with Phelddagrif, Zedruu the Greathearted and every other "group hug" Commander it's geared towards casual players seeking to inject chaos into their games by enabling everyone to draw all of their cards, play all of their lands, cast all of their spells, etc. They obviously have next-to-no competitive value but there's clearly more to life than maximizing your overall win % when playing casual Magic with like-minded individuals and so feel free to play Group Hug archetypes if that's what'll make you happy.
As much as I try to ignore flavor and stick to the facts I can't help but feel disappointed about Ludevic's big appearance. He's been such an iconic villain for so many years at this point and when he finally sees print his card has nothing to do with neither necromancy nor alchemy? I hate to say "I expected nothing and was still disappointed" but I can't think of a more fitting description about how I feel about him.
Flavor fail aside Ludevic is a worthless competitive card given that he's ostensibly a Howling Mine. Obviously players are heavily incentivized to attack other players over you but rewarding them with additional cards carries a significant opportunity cost. Ultimately he's a cheap draw engine who enables you to Partner into various 4 color combos and as such it would foolish to dismiss him entirely. He's going to see play for the Partner effect alone and there's no two ways about it. That being said you're out of your mind if you think that Temple Bell is a reasonable playable in a multiplayer setting because allowing the entire table to draw extra cards is a frightening proposition.
While this is arguably the most exciting member of the basic landcycling cycle that we've seen thus far don’t fly out of your way to acquire some. After all, the fact that it costs 5 mana immediately kills any potential that it could have otherwise possessed. Not because 5 mana is "too slow" for multiplayer or anything, but because token decks don't need more 5 drops. Doubling Season, Primal Vigor, Cathars' Crusade, Angel of Invention and more are all clogging that spot in the curve already. Moreover, between pre-existing alternatives such as Increasing Devotion, Cloudgoat Ranger, Geist-Honored Monk, Knight-Captain of Eos and more it's not as though we're hurting for additional options. It's not an unreasonable substitute by any means but the delta (i.e. the difference in power-level) between it and the alternatives isn't very big. This makes Migratory Route marginal filler at best which, in all fairness, still puts it head-and-shoulders above some of the other cards in this cycle.
Well at least the name is fitting because my soul is going to need some tending after this one. Look, I get why this card can't be Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Ravos only consumes half of your Command Zone and thus it would egregiously overpowered if he were a competitive recursion engine by his own right. That being said I can't help but cringe in absolute disgust at this strictly worse version of Tymna the Weaver who, for whatever reason, costs significantly more mana. No, seriously, what was Wizards thinking? Who came up with that idea? I'm not even being hyperbolic. Tymna nets up to 3 extra cards per turn, including the turn that she comes into play whereas Ravos only nets a maximum of 1 extra card per circuit and after a full turn of delay to boot. So how is it that Ravos costs 5 and Tyma only costs 3? If anyone can explain that one to me, please, I'm all ears. Needless to say this card will see actual zero play because there's absolutely no compelling reason to ever field him over Tymna.
The nicest thing that I can say about Reyhan is that he's not terrible. Assuming that you're playing a 4 color +1/+1 counter deck then giving all of your creatures Modular is a relevant bonus that puts him a step above his largely unplayable brethren. I wouldn't expect the deck to exceed anyone's expectations but it's not as though you have alternative substitutes if you're in the market for a dedicated 4 color +1/+1 counter deck. For those of you wondering about his competitive applications I haven't discovered a single compelling reason to field him over Ghave, Guru of Spores/Marath, Will of the Wild. To the best of my knowledge he doesn't any enable any degenerate synergies/sequences that merit sticking him at the helm. As such you're ostensibly trading your oppressive Commander in order to gain access to a 4th color which I can't imagine is actually worthwhile. This, again, is why I don't have much to say about Reyhan other than the fact that he's marginally playable in dedicated +1/+1 counter decks. These sorts of factors are obviously irrelevant to casual players and he'll see plenty of play regardless but this isn't a card like Breya that supports clean combo kills. Again, his effect is certainly reasonable in a dedicated +1/+1 counter deck but he's a far cry from being an exciting build-around-me. Assuming that your deck doesn’t have a dedicated +1/+1 counter theme I highly recommend fielding Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper instead if only because she boasts immense synergy with oppressive card draw spell/engines such as Necropotence, Necrologia and Ad Nauseam which are relevant for every archetype and strategy. She clearly isn't amazing either but obviously you're not being presented with a wealth of alternatives to select from.
You had one job Wizards. One job! All you had to do was have this card state something along the lines of "if a creature you control would deal combat damage to the chosen player, it deals that much damage to each opponent instead." I don't know what the ideal text is from a rules perspective but you can clearly see where I'm going with this. Anyways, in order for Aggro to be viable in multiplayer we need to start seeing more Myriad/Hydra Omnivore-esque mechanics that enable you to simultaneously pummel your adversaries into submission. A 2-for-1 such as Saskia is a sizable upgrade but it's still not nearly enough to enable Aggro to compete with the likes Control, Combo, Ramp and Stax in multiplayer formats. This is especially true in EDH given that chewing through 120+ HP is virtually impossible do to "the fair way." It honestly baffles me as to why Wizards refuses to push Aggro in multiplayer because it's a completely irrelevant archetype as things stand and I'd eventually like to see it thrive and prosper as a viable strategy. I understand that you can load her up with Equipment and/or Hatred your way to Commander Damage kills but it’s not as though she’s taking the table out in one fell swoop when she basically needs to be.
While marginal this card has a lot more going on for him than most of the other Partners. First of all he's two of the "Big 3 Colors" (Green, Blue, Black) which makes him significantly more competitive than a huge swath of all other legendary creatures. Simply Partner him with anything Green and you're good to go basically regardless of how you build your final deck. Beyond that he's also a cheap value engine who threatens to trade with anything that heads your way. He's very similar to both Baleful Strix and Glissa, the Traitor in that sense and both of those cards are reasonable playables in most multiplayer spheres. After all, many combat decisions are made "all other things being equal" and suffice it to say that deathtouchers dramatically alter the dynamics at play. Otherwise he's an artifact himself which is relevant for niche tutor/value spells and effects such as Goblin Welder, Reshape, Transmute Artifact, Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast and Daretti, Scrap Savant. While none of these aspects are particularly competitive in their own right together they create something that's marginally greater than sum of its parts.
Since it's clear that Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix is going to be a competitive staple we should be able to safely ignore Thrasios, Tritor Hero. After all, there's no possible way that such an unassuming Merfolk could possibly prove to be a hero of the format right?
Thrasios, Triton Hero is going to see endless amounts of competitive play given his ability to combo with infinite mana in order to draw your deck, put your entire manabase into play and (presumably) win the game on the spot using a card like Goblin Cannon or Laboratory Maniac. Before I get barraged with a sea comments along the lines of "but the lands ETBT" let's not overlook gems such as Amulet of Vigor and Lotus Cobra that will easily circumvent this dilemma. This is especially true given our ability to employ fast mana such as Elvish Spirit Guide, Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox and Lotus Petal even in scenarios where we’re unable to float any additional colored mana. While that's obviously irrelevant for the Amulet it ensures that things like Lotus Cobra will never rot in your hand during your key combo turn.
With respect to his casual applications the activated ability is far too anemic outside of decks that are willing to tutor for Training Grounds (and/or Heartstone). 4 mana is simply too much to pay for a pseudo-Coiling Oracle but it obviously starts to look rather oppressive at 1-2 CMC. As such if you want to build something less combo-based I highly recommend pairing him with a Black Partner and fielding as many hard tutors as you can afford. Even if they're sub-optimal alternatives such as Beseech the Queen and Diabolic Tutor that's totally fine because small inefficiencies are irrelevant when you're casting an unlimited quantity of Coiling Oracles. Note that you should still play Training Grounds in the combo versions of the deck but the idea here is that the base card isn't quite powerful enough to pass muster. Obviously he's the strongest generic Simic Partner and will see extensive play for that reason alone but the idea here is that his activated ability really isn't that impressive unless it's being properly supported. The key take-away is that I highly encourage supporting him with Training Grounds and/or Heartstone to convert him into a legitimately powerful card advantage engine whenever possible.
While Tymna is a legitimate build-around-me I want to begin my analysis by discussing her generic applications. Even if you don't make a concerted effort to build around her trigger it's still trivially easy for most noncombo archetypes to reliably activate it and so I expect her to be the de facto Orzhov Partner as a result. After all, her average use-case is ostensibly Phyrexian Arena and in the context of a creature-based deck with evasive beaters then you could easily be looking at an additional N-1 cards per circuit where N is the number of the players and you can’t reasonably expect more than that from your 3 drops. In that sense she’s basically strictly better than Ravos, Soultender who, at 5 CMC, is a laughably unplayable pile of trash by comparison. I couldn't even envision a world in which he out-performs Tymna as a generic value engine and so I highly recommend acquiring her if you ever plan on building 4 color EDH lists. It’s such a lopsided comparison that it’s not even funny.
Moving on, Tyma has competitive build-around-me applications in the sense that she does a decent Edric, Spymaster of Trest impersonation while enabling you to play a 4 color deck. The idea behind Edric is to fill your deck with evasive 1-2 drops, cast Edric, draw a ton of cards, protect your board with cheap permission (Swan Song, Spell Pierce, Counterspell) and ultimately seal the deal with mass card draw engines (Bident of Thassa, Coastal Piracy) and Time Walks (Notorious Throng, Time Warp, Capture of Jingzhou) to ensure that you adversaries never take another turn. Ideally your opponents will be unable to force their mass removal though your free/cheap permission nor take a single turn between them once you've accrued 5 or more mana. Tyma strikes me as interesting in the sense that she enables you to play 4 color Edric that gains access to hatebears such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Vryn Wingmare, Aven Mindcensor and mass land destruction such as Armageddon and/or Ravages of War. Unlike Edric her draw component caps at N additional cards per turn when N is the number of adversaries but that's still good enough to get the ball rolling while you dig for your key engines and deploy your disruptive threats. Moreover, Black/Green provide you with access to stellar tutors which you can conceivably employ to tutor for Edric himself if desired. I do realize that there's obvious tension between casting "Thorn of Amethysts" and noncreature spells but we'll eventually find a strategic mix that works even if it means forgoing the tutors altogether.
Now, through testing we could eventually determine that plain old Edric, Spymaster of Trest is still more competitive due to the increased consistency of reliably curving out into the most powerful version of the effect. I wouldn't deny that for an instant. The reason why this doesn't concern me is because Edric is an absolutely stellar Commander and a slightly weaker variation is still going to be extremely competitive. That is, even if Tyma doesn't become a Tier 1 Commander there's no shame in chilling at Tier 2. As such I see no compelling reason to discount this effect since drawing up to 4 cards per circuit is an utterly absurd effect to stick on a 3 drop and I have every reason to believe that 4 color Edric could leave its mark on the EDH scene. Having no testing under my belt I can't reasonably argue that she's going to be a Tier 1 commander but I think that it would foolish to start her anywhere below Tier 2.
While I would never actually play with this type of card myself it's not completely unplayable. Doubling it with Pyromancer's Goggles is a big game for example and it pairs well with similar burn spells/engines such as Price of Progress, Acidic Soil and Manabarbs. Moreover, the basic landcycling is actually relevant for Mizzix's Mastery since you could conceivably spend the early game whittling people down only to Mana Geyser an Overloaded Mizzix's Mastery in order to to seal the deal. As such if you're playing a Ramp deck with an emphasis on global burn (possibly Ruric Thar, the Unbowed EDH) then there's some world where this card actually makes the cut. I realize that I'm stretching here but as I've said many times already I'm a huge fan of reliable + noninteractive finishers that can defeat any number of adversaries. This technically qualifies and so there's no reason to dismiss it entirely.
I don't understand why Wizards even bothers to print mechanics such as Cascade and Storm. When has the free mana and card advantage ever enabled degenerate strategies? Don't answer that question. Before I get into how Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder is going to dominate competitive EDH play I'd like to take a quick second to address his casual applications. This card is utterly absurd and anyone who thinks otherwise is off of their rocker. If you want an oppressive 4 color goodstuffs Commander look no further than Yidris because this card is a total bomb. It's trivially easy to curve some early ramp into a turn 2-3 Yidris and from there you're almost always going to be able to connect with at least one opposing player in a typical 4 player multiplayer pod. I've read a lot of complaints and/or fears that he'll have to be paired with support such as Lightning Greaves but I don't buy any of that nonsense for a second. He's a 5 power trampler in the colors that have access to all of the ramp and all of the removal and so I don't understand where this fear is stemming from. If he dies to removal then he dies to removal and I don't see how Lightning Greaves is going to change that (you can obviously respond to the Equip trigger). Anyways, Yidris figures to provide an absurd mana and card advantage every time that he connects regardless of what you're pairing him with. It literally doesn't matter what the other 99 cards in your deck are because that trigger is busted no matter how you slice it. It's both free mana and free cards which is relevant for 100% of strategies be they Ramp, Midrange, Contol or other. He's a 4 mana version of Maelstrom Wanderer and if that alone doesn't excite you then I don't even know what else to say.
With that in mind let's get to the broken. When I first saw this card I immediately started testing him alongside degenerate 0 CMC bombs such as Hypergenesis, Living End, Lotus Bloom, Ancestral Vision, etc. He's especially intriguing in decks that have exactly one which they can now reliably cast as needed. Bear in mind that this is where recursion engines such as Bow of Nylea shine given their ability to recur that key spell indefinitely. Anyways, sample decks that I built myself included Hypergenesis + Omniscience and every Wheel + Living End both of which felt quite powerful. Otherwise the strongest value spell in a vacuum seems to be Ancestral Vision given that every deck and strategy is happy enough to draw 3 cards. What I like most about Ancestral Vision is that it's never situational and it never backfires because drawing 3 cards is always relevant for every strategy (be it fair or unfair). When paired with recursion such as Bow of Nylea you're simply drawing a ton of extra cards every turn which is obviously amazing regardless of what you’re doing. Otherwise I hope it's clear that Bow of Nylea is especially relevant given its ability to stack the bottom of your library with the cards that your Ancestral Vision will be drawing. After all, it bottoms up to four cards and given that Vision draws 3 you can ostensibly stack your deck. Pretty nifty eh?
For those of you concerned that I'm living in Magical Christmas Land rest assured that Yidris doesn't just outright lose if he dies to removal. The deck can still play any number of Doomsday combo kills since you're going to be playing free draw spells, recursion and fast mana regardless (think Lion's Eye Diamond, Gitaxian Probe, Yawgmoth's Will and Gush). It can also play Ad Nauseam to all-but ensure its win on the following turn and barring that it can always default to Wheels + recursion to generate the Storm count required to Death Star the table down. The idea here is that the deck always wins when Yidris connect but the backup plan of "play a broken Storm deck" is equally impressive. Don't let the threat of a Plow dissuade you from giving him a go because I can guarantee you that he's going to be a competitive powerhouse. This, again, even extends to players who aren’t looking to do anything degenerate because absolutely every archetype can take advantage of free cards and mana.
Artifact and Land
This is an obvious example of a both a niche and sideboard card given that it's not something that you should field going into an unknown metagame unless you've met some very specific deckbuilding criteria. I'll once again reiterate the fact that I use term "sideboard" card loosely given that I'm not actually suggesting that players go out and construct a literal sideboard for multiplayer purposes. The idea here is that this card is either an F or a C+ depending on the composition of your deck and/or what your adversaries are fielding and so it's pointless to analyze it in a vacuum. If everyone and their mother is packing powerful Equipment then it's a reasonable midrange threat but otherwise it's virtually unplayable. While it obviously works with your own Equipment too that alone isn't nearly good enough to push this card beyond the F+ or D- range unless your deck is literally all-in on the Equipment subtheme. For example, decks that could reasonably employ this type of threat include Stoneforge Mystic-based Midrange decks for Constructed and Kemba, Kha Regent/Nahiri, the Lithomancer/Voltron Equipment-based builds for EDH. That being said you shouldn’t start him simply because your deck has 2-3 pieces of Equipment and some tutors in it. After all, it's not as though you start the game with Umezawa's Jitte, Sword of Fire and Ice and Argentum Armor in play and so unless you're all-in on the Equipment subtheme then he's not going to pass muster. You virtually have to be piggy-backing hard off of the efforts of your adversaries because otherwise a Gray Ogre isn't going to take you very far.
Grade: C+ Cubeworthy
Boom baby! This is legitimately one of the most interesting cards to come out of C16 and it's one that has more potential than people seem to give credit for. After all, we've literally never seen a card that could immediately wipe the entire board for only 4 mana and it's even colorless to boot. The kicker is obviously that it's a purely random (RNG) effect which means that it's going to be a "peaks and valleys" card with very high-highs and extremely low-lows. That being said what a lot of people seem to be forgetting is that multiplayer is a very different beast when it comes to math because you can't assume a baseline win % of 50%. Rather, it's 1/N% where N is the number of players. To put this in perspective imagine a 0 mana card that started in your opening hand that read "This spell can only be cast at the start of the game. Roll a 20 sided dice. You win on numbers <= 6 and lose on all others." This card wouldn't make any strategic sense to field in a duel given you'd only win 30% of the time which is an atrocious overall match win % to boast. However, you could easily justify fielding it in 4+ player FFAs given that 30% > 25%. That's clearly an extreme example but it still highlights the fact why you can't inherently dismiss unreliable-yet-powerful cards in multiplayer. A real world example would be a card like Fiery Gambit that ostensibly wins the game 12.5% of the time which is actually reasonable if you're playing in large FFA matches. Even at 6 players I wouldn't fault anyone for playing it because worst-case scenario you're down a card and 3 mana and best-case scenario you cast a ritual that drew 9 cards and incinerated your adversaries for 30 damage.
Boompile, while powerful, can’t be lauded as a competitive staple. There's plenty of simple math that I could employ to calculate the probability of having it fail to trigger after X activations but none of those figures would accurately portray its strengths and weaknesses. The primary reason why it's not strictly better (I use the term loosely, I'm not looking to start an argument about the term "strictly better") than alternatives such as Nevinyrral's Disk is because you can't reliably control the effect. I'm clearly not denying the fact that 75% of the time it'll trigger within 1 turn of being cast (at which point it's basically strictly better than Nevinyrral's Disk) but the fact that it's a purely RNG effect is way more problematic than you probably think. After all, if an opponent goes EOT Pestermite untap Splinter Twin then you need to be able to wipe the board no questions asked. There's also the psychological aspect of RNG that's difficult to shake even at the highest levels of play. Winning and/or losing games to literal coin flips can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when you know that there are plenty of reasonable alternatives that always do their jobs. I obviously recognize the fact that there's plenty of inherent RNG in Magic but losing games because you called heads and it came tails is just about the worst possible way to go.
That being said Boompile is still a relatively powerful card. Again, we've never seen such a fast and devastating nonland board clear before and that's extremely relevant for colors such as Blue, Red and Black that struggle to remove resolved Enchantments and other oppressive nonsense. Moreover, the unreliability is significantly less of a concern if you elect to treat it as a "carpet bomb" as opposed to a targeted missile. Rather than baiting people into overextending and/or using it to dissuade people from committing additional threats to the board you can simply activate it each and every turn until it pops. After all, 50% of the time it's going to be one of the most powerful nonland board clears ever printed and 75% it's going to be a "strictly better" Nevinyrral's Disk. It's obviously possible to lose the flip 5 times in a row but it's not very likely.
In the interest of completion it's also worth noting that, as with Nevinyrral's Disk, Boompile boasts immense synergy with Darksteel Forge and other indestructible enablers. You can even toss in Mycosynth Lattice for the full blown Obliterate effect which is typically good enough to elicit the concession from the rest of the table. That being said it doesn't combo nearly as well with recurring bounce engines such as Capsize given that you'll routinely waste ludicrous sums of mana trying to wipe the board with it. Otherwise it pairs reasonably well with resilient recursion engines such as Academy Ruins but at that point you're typically better off running one of the more reliable alternatives.
This card is going to be a multi-format multiplayer staple and there's no two ways about it. You can basically ignore the pump effect since it's largely irrelevant although I'm sure that it'll occasionally be useful in certain 3+ color builds (especially in EDH). The primary reason why this card will see endless quantities of competitive play is for the build-your-own Grand Abolisher effect. Multiplayer formats tend to be "go big or go home" spheres that prominently feature degenerate sequences/combos and/or overpowered Battlecruisers. As such it often makes sense to field cheap interaction and/or permission such as Counterspell since you're never going to beat that Cabal Coffersed Exsanguinate nor that Entwined Tooth and Nail (for Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion) otherwise. This is where defensive engines such as Grand Abolisher, Defense Grid and City of Solitude shine and rest assured that Conqueror's Flail is going to make the cut in many creature-based builds as a result. Obviously it's not a perfect card by any means and any seasoned veteran can easily rattle off the various reasons why it's less than ideal. It's an artifact (i.e. it's vulnerable to certain forms of hate such as Null Rod and Stony Silence), it can only be equipped at sorcery speed, it requires that you have a creature on the battlefield, it's only active on your turn, it costs 4 mana total, etc. As such this isn't some be-all-end-all defensive bastion or anything. That being said none of this changes the fact that creature-based decks can employ this to reliably resolve their key spells and effects without having to fear meddling interference from their opposition.
Before moving on I'd like to touch on the fact that these kinds of cards aren't for everyone. Some metas are relatively devoid of instant speed interaction (namely permission) at which point this style of defensive engine offers next-to-no value. That's totally fine. If the card is weak for you and your meta then you can safely ignore it and move on with your life. Good cards don't have to be good for everyone and this is a perfect example of that phenomenon. Most of you should know your meta better than I do and by no means am I arguing that everyone needs to acquire and maindeck this type of spell. The reason why I consider this card to be a competitive staple is because it's a cheap, colorless answer to both interaction and permission that can be slotted into any creature-based deck. Artifacts/Equipment are also relatively easy to tutor for using spells such as Steelshaper's Gift, Stoneforge Mystic, Relic Seeker and Fabricate and the fact that it survives creature removal (whereas cards like Vexing Shusher don't) are all relevant advantages as well. In that sense it's an extremely effective answer for players who desperately need one and that's all that matters.
What is it about printing Crystalline Crawler alongside Prismatic Geoscope that makes my skin crawl? It’s crystal clear to me that the former is almost strictly worse and so I’m struggling to wrap my head around this one. That being said I suppose that the card merits consideration in certain 3+ color ramp builds and so we shouldn’t discount it entirely. After all, assuming that you manage to hit your colors and untap with this thing it can enable some extremely degenerate turn 4-5 plays. Obviously the ideal use-case involves casting it for 4 colors, untapping, playing a land, tapping it to add a counter to itself and then removing all 5 in order to generate 9-10 mana on turn 4-5. That's Omniscience territory my friends. Unfortunately the card downgrades into little more than a glorified Manalith from then on out which clearly isn't ideal for a 4 CMC creature that dies to removal. Obviously you can elect to slowly build up counters over time but the reality of the situation is that it's basically a one-and-done deal. As such I wouldn't recommend fielding it outside of dedicated +1/+1 counter archetypes that can legitimately abuse every aspect of the card. Otherwise there's no compelling reason to treat it as a generic ramp spell given its conditional and volatile nature. Hardened Scales, Forgotten Ancient, Doubling Season, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Contagion Engine and more are all examples of cards that provide you with meaningful incentive to field this type of threat and so that’s where it'll shine. Even then it still doesn't strike as being especially noteworthy unless your meta happens to be relatively removal-light. Too many stars have to align for this type of threat to yield a significant return on investment if it's merely going to die for no value a reasonably high % of the time.
Grade: C+ Cubeworthy
One of the primary reasons why Gilded Lotus is lauded as a competitive staple in formats such as Cube and EDH is because of its net cost of only 2 mana. After all, the fact that it immediately taps for 3 virtually reduces its cost by an equivalent amount given that it'll routinely enable you to cast additional spells on the same turn/circuit. Moreover, it boasts immense synergy with mass land destruction spells and effects such as Armageddon, Upheaval and Wildfire given that the mana production is completely unconditional. These are both monumental advantage relative to ETB + conditional alternatives and clearly demonstrates why Prismatic Geoscope et al. will never supplant it. They're an order of magnitude weaker and this is true even when you're reliably assembling all 5 basic land types early on. That being said Prismatic Geoscope is still a relatively powerful Magic card in the context of a 4-5 color build. In many ways it's similar to things like Extraplanar lens and Gauntlet of Power which see immense quantities of play in formats such as EDH. Jumping from 5 to 10 mana is a gargantuan leap and most decks shouldn't need much more mana than that to operate at maximum capacity. It's an extremely formidable ramp engine in that sense and so by no means should players discount it. Insofar as you're playing a 4+ color ramp deck with some reasonable land fetching (think Cultivate and Explosive Vegetation) this is an imposing 5 drop that will set you up to dominate the mid-to-lategame with an insurmountable mana advantage.
While this is easily one the cleanest card designs that we've seen in some time unfortunately it's not very powerful. After all, it's ostensibly another version of Evolving Wilds which isn't a land that sees any competitive play outside of low-powered formats such as Standard and Pauper. While it's not strictly better or worse than Terramorphic Expanse et al. it'll rarely make any strategic sense to field it in in 3+ color decks. After all, its primary advantage lies in the fact that that you can elect to play it as a colorless land that enters the battlefield untapped when needed. This can obviously help to smooth your curve once you've already met your color requirements which is why Ash Barrens will be reasonable in 2 color decks with relatively loose color requirements. Evolving Wilds et al. have the advantage of being free shuffle effects (relevant for things like Sensei's Divining Top and Scroll Rack) and boasting immense synergy with recursion effects such as Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds. They also trigger landfall twice for things like Lotus Cobra, Titania, Protector of Argoth and Avenger of Zendikar which can certainly be relevant at times. The idea here is that Ash Barrens is basically strictly better in a vacuum whereas the fetchlands tend to win out if you're building with synergy in mind. That being said neither are particularly noteworthy and they’re typically only employed as budget-minded alternatives to the actual competitive staples. It'll obviously see play in EDH builds with The Gitrog Monster at the helm and/or as budget-minded fixing but it's not exciting by any means.
As per usual Wizards did an amazing job with the Commanders themselves and I fully expect all of these to see an immense quantity of competitive play. I'm ecstatic to see that most of the 4 color Commanders are compelling build-around-mes that compete favorably with 5 color alternatives such as Child of Alara and Scion of the Ur-Dragon. My primary fear coming into C16 was that they wouldn't be powerful enough to justify losing an entire color but luckily for us those concerns were vanquished almost immediately. Otherwise the Simic Commanders are utterly absurd given that they lend themselves well to degenerate, noninteractive combo kills while still enabling you to play 4 color decks. Moreover, given that Blue, Black and Green are significantly more competitive EDH colors than Red and White the fact that both of them comprise two of the "Big 3 Colors" provides you with significantly more leeway with respect to choosing your Black/X Partner. Lastly, Tymna the Weaver is a stellar value engine that I fully expect to see played both inside and outside of the Command Zone. After all, her worst-case scenario is ostensibly Phyrexian Arena and best-case she nets an extra N-1 cards per circuit where N is the number of players. You can't realistically expect for much more than that from your 3 CMC threats which is why I consider her to be one of the staple cards from the set regardless of the format.
Holy Blue Batman! While the Commanders themselves proved to be extremely exciting the generic playables fell a bit flat for my tastes. Blue emerged as the clear-cut winner from C16 but unfortunately the other nonred colors didn't receive much in the way of noteworthy playables. The strongest overall card in the set is likely Divergent Transformations given that it's essentially a 4 mana Mass Polymorph for noninteractive combo kills such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Zealous Conscripts and/or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed + Triskelion. Like it or not combos consistently win multiplayer games of Magic and so I can't in good conscience ignore such quick and clean kill off of any cheap token producer. Otherwise I value cheap colorless cards highly given their inherent flexibility which is why I have Conqueror's Flail at number 2. While I'm sure that many players will disagree with that rating I want to stress that there aren't many cheap + colorless ways to protect your key spells and/or combos from interaction such as permission and instant speed spot removal. The rest of the list more-or-less speaks for itself but I wouldn't fault anyone for shifting some of the numbers around. The key take-away here is these are going to be the major role players coming out of C16 so please don't lose sleep over their final rankings because it's largely irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. After all, it's nonsensical to pit apples against oranges and so as long as you're aware of which cards are powerful and why then that's all that matters.
Always look forward to these reviews. Sad they couldn't push the Partner mechanic more because otherwise I'm sure that'd be broken for commander. Regardless, I pretty much agree with your assessment. I feel like we were spoiled by Kaladesh and CN2
In the case of Cruel Entertainment I'd like to point out that you can ask the table "who would really like to mess up X's position?" and probably get some takers, especially people who are in a position that is resilient to mindslavering. And then there won't be a ceasefire. So maybe you can't mess up two players, but you can probably still mess up one. Still better to cast actual Mindslaver or Worst Fears (or none of the above), I guess.
There's plenty of ways that you could conceivably play the card but the only question worth answering is whether or not that it's good. As far I can tell its average use-case is around a D level and so I'm overly concerned with carefully considering every possible permutation.
The partner commanders do basically give you a 9-card opening hand, even if 1-2 of those 9 aren't the best ever. For some reason, the enemy color pairs all got two partners, so if any one of those strikes your fancy as a commander on his/her/its/xer own, you get a 9th card for free. You don't need to partner up to four colors. You could partner Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix with Thrasios, Triton Hero and get your infinite mana finisher for free.
I considered that but dismissed the idea almost immediately after fleshing out the decks. Playing 4 colors makes them substantially more competitive.
Once again thanks for the set review. I'd be more excited about this one if I played in bigger games, so not much for my cube here.
And just a heads up: we can't see all the set reviews in your signature since it doesn't scroll.
I kind of like Vial Smasher the Fierce as a generic playable for cube but maybe I'm wrong. The Rakdos section of my cube has always seemed a bit weak, but it might be because the archetype isn't focused enough, or just because my playgroup doesn't doesn't gravitate toward that color combination. But in 20-life formats, blasting a few random people for 4-5 HP each turn until the board is cleared, while also fending off any any early aggression, seems decent. And the random nature of the burn means no one feels singled out. It's certainly a bad topdeck late game though, so that could be a problem. Did anyone else read the card the first time and think it sounded kind of cool?
Ha ha. Yeah look at that LOL
What I meant was, wait until it's not flavour of the month.
I assume it'll drop from it's current price, seeing as it won't see play in modern or standard and it's very unlikely to find decks in the eternal formats.