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 15+ 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 Magic's latest set 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 a spectrum as opposed to a binary set of data points but the key thing that I wanted to stress is that these terms have absolutely no bearing on a person’s worth nor morality. That is, no one is inherently better or worse than anyone else for thinking about a game in a different way. The only reason why I’m going to focus entirely on "what wins" is because every other variable is too subjective to make any definitive, sweeping claims about.
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 Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Humility, Consecrated Sphinx, Sylvan Primordial, Purphoros, God of the Forge. 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, Tendershoot Dryad. 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 Fleshbag Marauder, Clever Impersonator, Scab-Clan Berserker, 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, Oath of Druids. 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, Ruination. +/-: Used to denote a better or worse N. That is, a B+ represents a strong B whereas C- implies a weak C.
This card is awesome in the context of Soul Sister decks (Soul Warden, Soul's Attendant, Authority of the Consuls, etc.) which can pump it to unreasonable sizes extremely quickly. This is especially true if you have a card like Genesis Chamber floating around at which point it will almost be large enough to threaten a OHKO. Granted, it'll churn out a ton of chump blockers, but assuming that you can grant him evasion then you can immediately start picking players off.
I trust that this goes without saying but mass removal is stellar in multiplayer given that it's interaction which scales positively with the number of players. Whereas Swords to Plowshares will only exile a single threat from a single adversary Cleansing Nova will either Wrath or Purify the entire board. It's true that White already has access to a slew of powerful 4-6 CMC mass removal spells but another one never hurts. It's comparable to Austere Command in the sense that you gain speed but lose flexibility making it a decent option overall. I still prefer alternatives such as Tragic Arrogance and Hour of Revelation but it fits the bill.
Grade: Niche D+
Much like Hero of Bladehold this is a passble threat for token decks and/or ones that require a critical mass of resources to operate. It only takes a single open adversary to generate multiple bodies per turn in order to trigger things like Impact Tremors and Purphoros, God of the Forge. It's also a lifegain-focused Cat which is relevant for carious tribal decks, especially if you're leaning on Felidar Sovereign to seal the deal. None of this is great mind you but there's going on here to at least considering fielding the guy in certain archetypes.
Grade: Niche C+
Niche card is niche but man does this card ever feel busted when he works. He only excels in decks packed with small critters but there's so many ways to make him feel degenerate. For starters there's token generators and/or multi-bodied threats such as Squadron Hawk and Spectral Procession which have very obvious applications. Cats dudes are draw cards; not complicated There's also generic playables such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Stoneforge Mystic and Oreskos Explorer which are small enough to trigger and powerful enough to justify deck slots. That being said the best card to pair with him (IMO) is Oketra's Monument. Not only are you getting double triggers but the reduced cost comes up huge. He's also decent with Kor Skyfisher (infinite "3 mana: draw a card" activations) but the combo starts to feels absurd if you have Oketra's Monument as well. At that you point you can create as manay 1/1s or draw as many cards as you want and believe me when I say that it feels good. To be clear, Kor Skyfisher + Oketra's Monument lets you cast + bounce the Skyfisher for 1 mana to net a 1/1. So you can pay 1 to create the 1/1 and 2 to draw the 2 cards from the 2/3 and the 1/1 entering the battlefield. Then you can rinse and repeat and/or stick to generating 1/1s once you have enough cards. Moving on, you can also do neat thing with Militia Bugler. After all, he's great at chaining into numerous Mentors/other Buglers/Skyfishers/etc. and with Skyfisher you can pick him up to get a ton of triggers. 1 from the Bugler, 1 from the card that it finds, 1 from the Skyfisher, etc. It's even better if you have Oketra's Monument in play (more cards, less mana) but it's not required. Eventually you can find a Mirror Entity or whatever to clear the table out in one fell swoop. What I will say is that I've only scratched the surface here and so there's tons of other ways to build around this fiend. Once you reach a critical mass of hits nothing else matters so focus on that as opposed to the small of synergies that I've listed here.
Speaking of 2-power creatures, here's a fantastic way to find your Mentor of the Meeks! This card isn't fantastic by any means but it's playable as an inexpensive curve-filled that replaces itself. Think Phyrexian Rager. This can be useful for things like Rally the Ancestors and Living Death that require a critical-mass of "stuff" and that boast immense synergy with ETB triggers that generate card advantage. After all, if you open with Thraben Inspector, Wall of Omens and Militia Bugler then you don't care if you eat a Wrath of God and your follow-up "Rallies" are going to be bonkers. It's also playable in decks like these that abuse tribal synergies and whatnot.
Grade: Sideboard D
Much like Selfless Spirit this is a solid hate spell that ticks all of the right boxes for White's recursion. After all, most of it cares about power or CMC (think Reveillark and Sun Titan) and 2/Xs for 2 work with all of them. This makes them fantastic sideboard cards when you need to hate out specific cards/strategies since they tend to board immense synergy with all of the cards that you're already going to be playing.
Grade: Niche D
Unfortunately, even though she says "each end step" there's no functional way to abuse the trigger every turn. Moreover, while the turn 1 Serra Ascendant, turn 2 Martyr of Sands, turn 3 Resplendent Angel curve is sweet it's far too inconsistent to rely on. This card is still playable if you have some consistent forms of mass lifegain but ultimately she's not in the same league as cards like Crested Sunmare which are significantly easier to abuse by comparison.
Grade: Sideboard D
The primary use for this card (in my mind) is to hate on Experience Counter Commanders such as Ezuri, Claw of Progress. Even then he's hard to find and dies to removal so I wouldn't even bother fielding one. Resetting their counters is cool and all but it's not a game winning play by any means. I get that he also functions as a "Flametongue Kavus" against +1/+1 counter creatures (think Walking Ballista) but that seems like a terrible use of your time and resources. All-in-all this is something that you can take pass on unless you're struggling immensely against your buddy's Mizzix of the Izmagnus list.
This card is interesting since it actually has 2 modes;
1. Downgrade a good creature,
2. Upgrade a bad creature.
That is, you can either use it to neutralize an opposing threat or bolster one of your own. After all, there's almost always going to be something worthless on the board to ensure that even the mightiest Eldrazi will become a lowly Sea Gate Oracle. This is especially true in EDH given that it effectively becomes a hard removal spell against anyone who has their Commander in play. it also bypasses things like Indestructible, dies and reshuffle clauses that would otherwise make the creatures difficult to profitably interact with. Beyond that it can also function as a Polymorph of sorts by transforming your marginal dorks into might Primeval Titans. This ensures that your value threats will stay relevant even as the game progresses. Note, it's the combination of 1 + 2 that make this card legitimately playable. I wouldn't even bother discussing it if it only did one or the other, but it's the fact that it does both that pushes it over-the-top.
Grade: Niche C
While I would never start a list with these as a generic Clone (too niche) it's a stellar addition to decks that field things like Heartless Summoning and Sun Titan style effects. Needless to say I'm a huge fan of casting Rune-Scarred Demon and tutoring up a 1 CMC 5/5 flier that Demonic Tutors when it ETB and then ending the chain with a Sun Titan to ensure that even if my board gets nuked that everything is coming back the following turn. After all, you can recur Mirror Image, copy Sun Titan and repeat ad nauseam until you run out of targets. There's clearly going to be other ways to "break" this card as well, I'm not suggesting that these are the only 2, my point is mostly that you shouldn't play with it unless you're specifically abusing the cheap cost.
Grade: Sideboard D
Marginal hate spell for a throng of different "cheat" effects. From Animate Dead to Tooth and Nail it stops a plethora of unfair interactions.
Grade: Sideboard D
This is a cheap blocker who scales into a reasonable mana sink that triples as an infinite mana outlet (think Dramatic Reversal + Isochron Scepter). The primary reason to field her would be if your meta is extremely aggressive and you require a critical mass of 2 CMC blockers who don't immediately lose all of their value past the 4th turn of the game. Just ignore her if your meta is filled with Ramp/Control/Combo/Stax/etc. because there's vastly superior options.
This is one the strongest 1-card win conditions ever printed. While the 10 CMC is steep it can be easily bypassed by (for example) Flashing in an Academy Rector and/or by Show and Telling one onto the battlefield. Winning is trivially easy from there and tends to incorporate cards like Enter the Infinite and Laboratory Maniac to ultimately seal the deal. You can also just chain draw spells and tutors to assemble combos or even hardcast Eldrazi such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The world is your oyster when your spells don't cost mana.
Assuming a 60 card deck with 24 lands this mills an average of 1.2 lands per circuit. Those numbers are comparable at 18/40 and 40/100 so it's just as bad in Cube and EDH as well. Given that most people aren't even running Tidings (which is vastly superior I might add) you can bet that my patience is nonexistent for this steaming pile of trash.
Sai is absolutely bonkers in Artifact-heavy builds. After all, not only is he a payoff spell that rewards you for fielding a critical mass Artifacts but he's also an engine who fuels your other "Artifacts matter" spells and effects. I especially love him in decks that abuse fast mana, cantrips, chap card draw and degenerate finishers to seize control of the game. The idea here is to load up your deck with cards like Ichor Wellspring, Alchemist's Vial and Prophetic Prism so that you can spend your opening turns flooding them onto the board. These are ideal support spells for Sai given that they don't cost anything other than mana which ensures a steady stream of Thopters as the game progresses. From there you can lean on busted mana + card draw engines such as Paradoxical Outcome and Paradox Engine to rip through your library at an obscene pace while churning thopters onto the battlefield. For anyone who's even seen the deck played in Vintage think of him as your monoblue Monastery Mentor. I love the fact that Sai doubles as a card engine when things go awry (binning Ichor Wellspring is no joke early on) and I also like he quickly assembles a flying army large enough to win games against multiple adversaries. That isn't to sat that he OTKs the table with any consistency, but once you have 10+ thopters it doesn't take especially long to beat the table down.
The newest Tezz is a fairly run-of-the-mill 'Walker with abilities that we've seen countless times before. His +1 is extremely marginal all things considered but given that his ultimate is a "you win the game" Emblem I'm not surprised that Wizards played it safe. You can argue that it fuels "Artifacts matter" spells and effects (think Thoughtcast) but realistically you're only going to tick him up if you're trying for the Emblem. Speaking of which, his Emblem is fantastic! The fact that you can immediately cheat out cards like Enter the Infinite and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is absurd. Granted, a 9 loyalty it's not the easiest thing to obtain but you've basically won the game if you can get there. That being said his real power lies in his 0 ability. It may as well read "draw 2 cards" in a dedicated Artifact build. That alone is already great, but the fact that you transition him into a legitimate win condition is what pushes him over-the-top. It's also what truly separates him from alternatives such as Fact or Fiction and Tidings. He may not be the strongest draw engine of all time, but the fact that he can pivot into a "game winning" spell gives him an edge that can't be overlooked.
This card is broken. Legitimately broken. This is literally a 7 mana Time Stretch with upside. UPSIDE! No, I'm not joking or being hyperbolic either. For people who don't understand why, stop and think about how this spell will be played. People will not be casting this at Sorcery speed. Rather, players will sit on this spell until EOT, cast it, and then proceed to take 2 turns in a row with all of their mana untapped. Like I said, Time Stretch. I don't care if it doesn't literally say "take 2 turns." The fact that it's instant means that you get 2 full turns, no interruption, no mana loss. That's BONKERS. That's OBSCENE. What can't you do with 2 full turns to use 7+ mana in Blue? Oh, did I also forget to mention that it doubles as a Beacon of Tomorrows? Because why not; let's just toss that in there too. Lord know that Blue needed another Laboratory Maniac-esque win condition. Moreover, unlike the alternatives this one has the upside of being a free "pitch" spell to things like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. You don't need a 7 drop on turn 3 but you also don't want to lose your inevitability. No sweat! You can bin the card at your leisure because it shuffle back regardless of how it's binned. Fun times!
Since I'm sure that some of you still aren't convinced, maybe this will help a bit. Treat this card like Cyclonic Rift and you'll start to see why I'm ecstatic about it. You're going to sit there, do nothing (represent permission etc.) and then suddenly you're going to cast this at EOT once you get to the later stages of the game. The table will groan, the spell will resolve and you'll win shortly after. Why? Because you suddenly have free reign to whatever you want. All of those weak/risky/marginal lines will now become surefire bets since your adversaries won't be able to interact with you. You can go "Revel in Riches, Damnation, pass, win" and there's no counter-play. You can cast Enter the Infinite, untap, cast Nexus of Fate and there's no counter-play. You can cast Blue Sun's Zenith for 12, draw whatever you want, untap and combo off. No counter-play. The card is utterly ridonkulous and is a "must-have" as far as I'm concerned. It's going in 100% of my Cube/EDH decks and you damn well better believe that I'll be jamming it in Constructed as well.
It goes without saying that this card would stellar if it nuked lands but close only counts in horseshoes and grenades. As it sits I can't think of a deck that would actively want this type of effect over something like The Eldest Reborn or Capital Punishment. Not to say that it's strictly better than either but it fills a similar role. The best use case that I can envision for this spell is as a 5 mana 10 damage nuke spell for Control decks that also helps to control the board. From there you can quickly seal the deal with global drain such as Exsanguinate and Cut // Ribbons even in scenarios where you don't have access to a ton of mana.
Grade: Sideboard D
I wouldn't play Isareth in a Ramp/Combo/Control/Stax meta but she's perfect in ones plagued with aggro. After all, she's a relevant body who scales reasonably well as the game progresses. I especially enjoy her synergy with removal-based creatures such as Fleshbag Marauder which can clear the way as she attacks. I realize that it's not an infinite loop, but it's still fantastic value. Again, I only like her in decks that desperately need access to cheap blockers but I'd definitely field her if that's what I needed.
Grade: Niche D+
The newest iteration of Lili has some marginal applications that could potentially earn her a couple of slots in your dedicated Zombie lists. I'd never field her as a 4-of or anything but 1-2 seems fine. Her +1 is decent at fueling "graveyard matters" spells and effects such as Gravecrawler, Relentless Dead, Tombstone Stairwell, Patriarch's Bidding, etc. and the lifeloss is also relevant for Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Turn 4 Lili, turn 5 Gray Merchant of Asphodel already deals 8 damage to each opponent assuming no other plays/permanents/damage. Her -2 is relatively unexciting but it still fits the bill in a pinch. Zombie-based removal is typically untargeted in nature so having something that's point-and-click definitely helps at times. It's not insanely reliable but it's nice to have access to interaction that still supports your tribal gameplan. Finally, her -3 can be utterly game-winning under the right circumstances even if it's incredibly weak in the early and midgame. The primary card that breaks it is Rooftop Storm because at that point you literally get to cast your entire Graveyard. Moreover, assuming that you have a card like Carrion Feeder you can infinitely sac + recur Fleshbag Marauder or trigger Plague Belcher enough to clear the table. That being said it's also a fantastic way to blow Crypt of Agadeem/Cabal Stronghold/Cabal Coffers/Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx mana so by no means is Rooftop Storm required. This is especially true if you're fielding cost reduction spells such as Jet Medallion, Urza's Incubator and Undead Warchief. At that point you're only gated by your colored mana which Black is already adept at producing in obscene quantities. She's still not an amazing card by any means but certainly playable in dedicated Zombie brews.
Grade: Niche D
While you could technically play this in any Black deck as a draw spell I consider it to be a Niche card due to the fact that it's "strictly worse" than alternatives such as Necrologia and Promise of Power which draw more cards for the same quantity of mana. I'm not going to get into the "4 is sometimes better than 5" debate because on-average you'd rather draw more cards than fewer which is why the go-to spell for this slot is Necrologia. As it turns out "you must cast this at EOT" is a price that you're more than willing to pay when you're drawing 10-15 cards :).
This card is a bit too clunky for my tastes but it's still reasonable Wrath protection for dedicated creature decks. It also boasts immense synergy with recursive threats, especially in lists that have access to dedicated sac outlets. Pay 2 mana to Scry 1 and put a 2/2 into play is no joke and will quickly overwhelm the rest of the table. It also quickly starts to spiral out of control once you add things like Contamination and Grave Pact into the mix at which point your adversaries lose their ability to even play Magic.
Don't let the grade fool you; this is Black's most powerful and interesting new addition to its roster by a country mile. It may not be an "I win the game" spell on its own but it's an obscene turn 1 play in decks that actively want access to this type of effect. What separates it from a sea of other self-mill spells and effects is that it's A) only 1 mana B) on a creature and C) mills 6 cards + itself when all's said and done. The first point is fairly self-explanatory but I'll briefly touch on the others. Being a creature is insanely relevant for Black (and/or Green) since that's basically the only card type that it can consistently interact with. I won't list everything but consider the following cards:
1x Tortured Existence
1x Viscera Seer
1x Culling the Weak
1x Diabolic Intent
1x Animate Dead
1x Dance of the Dead
1x Zulaport Cutthroat
1x Recurring Nightmare
1x Evolutionary Leap
1x Eldritch Evolution
1x Journey to Eternity
1x Birthing Pod
1x Living Death
I could go on and on but you get the idea. The idea here is that these are the cards that make up the backbone of many Black and/or Green decks and they showcase why it's crucial to have access to cheap bodies that have a relevant impact on the game. After all, if you can curve turn 1 Stitcher's Supplier into turn 2 Diabolic Intent you've just cast a Demonic Tutor in a game where you already have at least 7 cards in your graveyard. Assuming that you binned a fatty you can immediately grab a card like Animate Dead to Reanimate it but even if you haven't you can probably nab an Oversold Cemetery to start drawing an additional card every turn. Otherwise you can also snag a Crypt of Agadeem to start generating some massive quantities of mana. You also do crazy things like turn 1 Supplier, turn 2 Culling the Weak into Living Death which can potentially end the game outright. You may want to spend a turn or two cycling some Street Wraiths, Horror or the Broken Lands and/or Archfiend of Ifnirs but you get the idea. As much as I want to keep going I'll leave it at that for now but suffice it to say there's going to be a throng of turn 1 Stitcher's Supplier, turn 2 Satyr Wayfinder decks in my future. Like this for example!
Grade: Niche D
This card is marginally playable in dedicated aggro/drain builds that feature things like Throne of the God-Pharaoh, Sanctum Seeker and Malakir Bloodwitch. After all, an 0/3 tends to be a legitimately good attacker in MP given that there's typically a Blue mage who doesn't have much in the way of meaningful blockers. They may have walls or small dorks but neither prevent an 0/3 from attacking in order to trigger things like Throne and Seekers. You can also activate him in order to sneak the last few points through blockers/defense because this still enables you to trigger your Throne. Feel free to check out my thread here for further discussion and developments.
I like this card as a 1-2 of for ramp decks, especially if they feature rituals such as Mana Geyser. Hitting 10 isn't especially difficult in multiplayer and there's always things like Cloudpost to do the heavy-lifting for you. After all, a "free" draw 7 goes a long way to securing victory and by the time that you're casting it you can already jam most of the other spells in your list. That being said it doesn't have any synergy with further copies of itself ("from your hand") and the fact that the effect only lasts until EOT renders it lackluster at best. I still think that it's playable in big mana archetypes but it's too risky to field more than a couple of copies.
Grade: Niche D
While I'd never field this in Green or Black decks (which have access to vastly superior sac outlets) it strikes me as a reasonable 1-2 of for Red and/or White-based token shells. It's many orders of magnitude weaker than a card like Evolutionary Leap that's unconditional, good against removal, always card advantage, etc. but there's plenty of scenarios where I'd rather have Dark-Dweller Oracle over a card like Goblin Bombardment. After all, the ability to convert Mogg War Marshal (or whatever) into 3 "real" cards scales wildly out of control as the game progresses. It's also "play" so it works with lands which means that you're not going to miss on the effect very often. I still think that this card is unimpressive (don't field more than 1-2) but the first copy seems fine.
Grade: Sideboard D
While I don't think that this card has any place in experienced multiplayer metas it strikes me as a reasonable playable in metas plagued with aggro/midrange. It comes down early, has a relevant body, dissuades aggression and accrues value as the game progresses. None of that is stellar by any means but the combination of all 3 makes it a passable inclusion when people are trying to beat you down. I do want to stress that it's utterly worthless if your adversaries are curving Fellwar Stones into Fact or Fictions but it's a cheap body if you need to get on the board.
Goblin decks typically play 1x Tuktuk Scrapper as an answer to Artifacts and this will easily supplant it going forward. Not only is it a lord with a bigger body but it's also nuts with things like Mogg War Marshal.
Sarkhan is a fiery new addition to Red-based Dragon decks and brings some much needed flexibility to the ramp slot. Ideally he comes down on turn 2-3 and loots into/out of lands as needed to ensure that you'll be ready to explode next-turn onward. It's also worth noting that looting is especially relevant in decks that feature recursion such as Animate Dead and Bladewing the Risen and/or in lists fielding 25-26 lands. The threat of flood is real given that Red doesn't have much in the way of card draw so anything that converts lands into spells comes at a premium. From there he acts as Worn Powerstone for Dragons and begins powering out 6 drops out on turn 4. He even adds colored mana which can assist with your splashes. Anyway, assuming that your turn 2 play was a Dragon Tempest this can often mean curving Hellkite Tyrant into Balefire Dragon in order to generate massive board-state swings early on. Finally, he slowly builds towards a game-winning ultimate that quickly seizes control of the game if left unchecked. This is especially relevant for Wildfire decks that employ mass land destruction to lock their adversaries out of casting spells. It doesn't Sarkhan long to reach his ultimate and 20 flying power is more than enough to clear the field once that occurs. I'll also note that Dragons such as Hellkite Tyrant (steals Artifact-based ramp) and Skyline Despot (draws cards) are already fantastic in Wildfire decks so you can clearly see the synergies at work here.
Grade: Niche B
I want to start by saying that this is by far and away the most compelling Red card in the set. Not only the effect extremely powerful but it's also broad enough to make the spell a legitimately interesting build-around-me. After all, it doesn't care about how much the creature costs nor its size once it hits the battlefield. Rather, it only cares about the power at the time that the spell was cast. This enables for some relatively degenerate applications, especially once you start fielding creatures such as Death's Shadow, Phyrexian Dreadnought and Hunted Horror. A 1 CMC Mizzium Mortars that hits face is busted and it only gets worse if you have some sort of Stifle effect to keep your beater around. It's also bonkers in self-mill decks that feature "Mortivore" such as Boneyard Wurm, Lord of Extinction and Ghoultree given that most of your beaters will be consistently triggering the 7+ mode. I've already posted numerous builds in this thread so feel free to check it out if you're looking for some fully-fleshed lists.
For a "purposely bad" card this isn't awful. His +2 is a global effect that affects the board and it only takes him 3 turns to cast an ultimate which (should) win the game on the spot. It's obviously not a fantastic card by any means but a 6 mana 1 card win condition is no joke. I wouldn't fault someone for playing him in their Dragon Tribal list as a "get lucky" gamble.
Grade: Sideboard B
This is interesting, powerful and flavorful way to bring looting to Green and I'm glad that Wizards is deciding to explore this design space more thoroughly. Assuming a 60 card deck with 24 lands that will hit 40% of the time and that number only increases as you field things like Sylvan Library and Vizier of the Menagerie. At 1/3 the body is also significantly more relevant early on given that it blanks many early-game threats. This is only going to be relevant plagued with aggro/midrange strategies but it's still something to consider. What I will say is that I tend to dislike these kinds of cards in general since I'd rather open my games with ramp instead. Nature's Lore won't generate any card advantage as the game progresses but I'd rather start powering out spells that "matter" as opposed to jamming a looter. In that sense I prefer these kinds of threats in metas where the body is relevant and tend to shy away from them otherwise. It's still a reasonable inclusion but it's never going to blow you away with sheer explosive power or anything along those lines.
Grade: Niche D+
While I dislike marginal lords in Elf decks I appreciate the fact that this one is relevant at every stage of the game. At 2 CMC it's the cheapest lord as your disposal and the activated ability is no joke once your mana engines come online. Clearly this isn't the best way to sink 6 mana in an Elf-based list but it's essentially free upside and that shouldn't be overlooked. I'd still rather ramp out a Craterhoof Behemoth than waste my time with dorky lords but assuming that you're looking for something cheap that scales well as the game progresses then she's your woman.
While I was initially fairly hyper for this behemoth through my testing I've come to realize that she's basically a strictly worse version of Frontier Siege. Obviously she can attack + block and provides Trample to your other fatties so it's not a landslide victory but in practice I've always preferred the Siege. In practice you'll rarely find yourself consistently casting more than 2 spells per turn, your cards won't always be creatures, your creatures won't always have 4+ power and you won't always have the colorless mana to cast everything. That isn't to say that there aren't draws where you curve turn 2 Emerald Medallion into turn 3 Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma into turn 4 Wayward Swordtooth, Rhonas the Indomitable, Nylea, God of the Hunt and Wickerbough Elder (+ mana to activate) but those games are going to be few and far between. Still, she's fantastic in removal-light metas if you make a concerted effort to build around her effect so I wouldn't discount the card entirely. That being said I'm personally going to stick to durable alternatives (such as Fontier Siege) that don't get caught-up in sweepers.
I don't think that this Res Sage needs much of an introduction but I did want to highlight the fact that I've basically stopped playing with this card outside of niche builds. More often than not I'd rather have additional copies of cards like Beast Within or Bane of Progress that have a significantly higher impact on the game. That isn't to say that the card is unplayable or anything, it's a reasonable 1-of in any Green-based build, but I've been consistently underwhelmed with the thing in practice to the point where I don't consider it to be a strong contender for my lists. It's always going to find a relevant target and it's always going to pull its weigh but it's never going to go above-and-beyond the call of duty.
Grade: C+/Sideboard A
Now this is a card that's more my speed. Not only is a cheap source of card advantage but it's also attached to an enormous blocker that you'll routinely be jamming on turn 2. From there it's primed to draw a slew of cards while your adversaries crack their fetches and activate the abilities of their creatures and/or lands. Sac Outlets, Looters, Pingers and more are often commonly played and this type of effect exploits the ever-living heck out of them. It's not Rhystic Study levels of good or anything but it's absolutely bonkers in some matchups and extremely annoying in others. There are reasonable ways to play around the effect but not without making some extreme sacrifices in speed and efficiency. I don't expect it to become a staple in every Green moving forward but I do think that it's one of the better bodies to be blindly jamming on turn 3 in a multiplayer setting. The upside is insanely high and even when the card isn't reliably triggering it's still a giant blocker who'll buy time for your Battlecruisers to be deployed.
Grade: Niche B+
This is one of the more powerful 1-2 card win conditions in the game that also happens to have a slew of relevant "fair" applications as well. I'll start with the obvious which is its ability to tutor up a throng of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles and Mountains in order to clear the table out in one fell swoop. In multiplayer this will often require the support of Prismatic Omen but even then it's not always required. With an Omen in play you can 'Shift any 6 lands into 4 Valakuts + 2 Mountains to ping the table for 54 damage. Assuming a 4 player that's 18 damage per opponent which will usually be good enough to seal the deal. Every additional Mountain from there is another 9 damage so you can pick a couple of players off and finish the strangler as needed. Moving on, it's also a fantastic way to grab something like 4x Cloupost and 1x Eye of Ugin (add additional Glimmerposts and such as needed) which is essentially a game win in the context of fair, grindy, value decks. No one is going to be able to topple your endless army of Eldrazi (or any other large, colorless finishers) which should all-but ensure your victory. Clearly it can grab any combination of "good lands" + "good mana sinks" though so feel free to pair it with things like Tron, Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Sea Gate Wreckage, Arch of Orazca, on and on and on. Otherwise it can also nab land-based combos such as Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage which is another reasonable way to try and close games out. Finally, it's a fantastic enabler for anything that cares about Landfall or lands in graveyard. I won't sit here and list everything but a handful of the most relevant options includes Life from the Loam, Lotus Cobra, Tireless Tracker, Ramunap Excavators, World Shaper, Splendid Reclamation, Titania, Protector of Argoth, Avenger of Zendikar and many more. All-in-all it's an extremely versatile and powerful inclusion in any deck that's poised to abuse it and that makes it an extremely relevant acquisition in the long-run.
Nicol Bolas never fails to disappoint as he once again makes a triumphant return as the strongest card in an otherwise anemic cycle. The base card is a souped-up Liliana's Specter that boasts an immense body by comparison. This makes him ideal in lists the feature things like Waste Not and Dark Intimations since discard tends to work better the more that you stack it. That isn't to say that you must have other forms of discard and/or discard abuse but it certainly doesn't hurt. Otherwise he's a lategame powerhouse because once he flips into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen he can quickly seize control of the game. All of his modes are going to feel relevant given that he's everything from card advantage, to removal, to removal to a 1-card win condition. All-in-all he's a solid place to be on turn 4, especially if you've curving him into Dark Intimations on 5 to overload his ability to tax resources.
As someone who absolutely adores Zulaport Cutthroat I'm never unhappy to see redundant copies of the effect. These types of threats are ideal finishers for sacrifice-based combos given their ability to nuke the entire down through protection/prevention/etc. These combos can either be infinite or finite at times but either way this is the ideal way to capitalize on them. Moreover, the fact that PTA triggers off of any other creature dying renders it significantly more potent in decks that feature mass removal. Turn 4 PTA turn 5 Crux of Fate can potentially end the game on the spot and there's also plenty of busted things that you can do with cards like Living Death to combo the table out. Otherwise he's a fine blocker who threatens to trade with anything and even if we put all combos and synergies aside that's still always going to be a beast of a trigger in the context of long, grindy multiplayer matches.
Grade: Niche D-
This card is a marginal playable in Soul Sister decks given its ability to reliable trigger each turn assuming that your meta is creature-based. It's worth noting that these types of triggers are especially brutal in Soul Sister decks given that they proc additional Soul's Attendant activations which, in-turn, render your payoff spells that much more potent. It's still expensive and weak relative to a card like Crested Sunmare but it fits the bill in a pinch.
Vaevictis has a couple of modes in the sense that he's both mass removal and a Polymorph engine on a stick. That is, not only can be used to remove key threats from your adversaries but he can also convert anemic dorks/tokens into actual threats once the game progress. This can either be implemented through sheer luck or, ideally, through the use of library manipulation such as Sylvan Library. This will feel especially relevant in sacrifice-based decks that feature Viscera Seer alongside a slew of tokens to fuel the trigger. Otherwise, it's relevant to note that much like Chaos Warp and Beast Within he can target any permanent from any player. This makes him an extremely flexible (albeit unreliable) removal engine that deal with any problematic permanent under the sun. I'll stress that while he doesn't fill any single role particularly it's the combination of both that makes him somewhat appealing. I still think that the card is extremely weak on the whole (6 mana, no immediate impact, unpredictable value, etc.) but it's certainly interesting to speculate his potential applications.
Artifact + Land
Grade: Sideboard F
This card isn't playable. Any Storm deck worth it's salt can just bounce it and/or kill you with cards like Aetherflux Reservoir instead. Beyond that it's not a practical solution to token decks because most of them are pumping them as opposed to beating down with a slew of 1/1s. The only compelling reason to field would be if it was a hard answer to someone's entire gameplan, such as a player building around Earthcraft + Squirrel Nest or something along those lines. Even then it only works if they literally have no answers to permanents which seems unlikely.
This is one of the more interesting cards in the set since it's an extremely unique and (potentially) powerful take on a Jayemdae Tome. After all, not only does it "draw a card" for 4 mana but it also (virtually) generates mana since you're immediately casting the spell at no cost. Even if you're hitting 1-2 CMC that's still a reasonable ROI since it's not like you're going down on cards in the process. Moreover, this effect is especially relevant in multiplayer for a host of reasons. First, multiplayer spheres tend to be slower and more casual than duels which allows for more time and breathing room to field these types of spells. Moreover, there's typically going to be something relevant in play so casting it while a spell is on the stack is almost never a disaster. If you hit a Counterspell then you can deny it but even if you hit a removal spell, no big deal, you'll still have relevant targets. Moving on, decks that field Chaos Wand are typically going to be slow and full of powerful cards which makes hitting ramp (such as Rampant Growth) relevant even in the later stages of the game. Things like mass removal and card draw are almost always going to be useful regardless but the point that I'm trying to emphasize is that most of what makes this card (potentially) weak in duels vanishes once you're facing numerous adversaries.
What I will say is that in practice I've found this card to be extremely lackluster. My sample size in gigantic but I play in a relatively competitive meta (even our casual decks are packed with brutally powerful spells) and was surprised at how consistently bad it seemed. X spells are straight misses and there's a large quantity of conditional permission that doesn't hit everything. Moreover, many spells are significantly more time-sensitive than we like to think and casting them randomly doesn't yield significant results. Whiffing clearly isn't the end of the world, it's not like you're down on cards or anything, but it's not as though you have infinite time to spin your wheels in multiplayer. I noticed that as people played with the card more and more that it go activated less and less because there was simply better (and more reliable) ways of using mana. I'll stress that I can only speak for myself and what I can see, but I've been less than impressed thus far. I suspect that I'll start getting pulled from our lists in the near future because even though it was fun and worthwhile to try it doesn't seem like it's a strong contender to maintain deckslots.
Now this is a card that I'm glad to finally see it back in action! Crucible is an all-star in virtually any Stax-based strategy, particularly ones that employ mass land destruction. After all, it's trivially easy to win games in which your adversaries are unable to cast spells which is what makes Smokestack locks (and the like) so brutally effective. Even in scenarios where you fail to establish a hard lock it's still obscenely difficult to recover from spells like Death Cloud and Armageddon when you don't have access to this type of effect. It's also bonkers in decks that have a critical mass of Fetchlands at which point it becomes a fantastic form of long-term card advantage. Granted, you're only drawing an additional land every turn (as opposed to a mix of lands and spells) but it's still an efficient way to ensure that you're never falling behind on resources. Beyond that it can also be paired with "spell lands" such as Strip Mine and Mouth of Ronom for additional value which is all the more reason to invest in this behemoth of a card.
This is a solid inclusion for any dragon-based tribal deck. Early on it functions as both ramp and color fixing at which point it converts into a Phyrexian Arena to ensure that you'll continue to draw into action as the game progresses. Moreover, unlike traditional Mind Stone alternatives you're not required to sacrifice your ramp in order to draw into new cards which is massive when you're acquiring multiple cards per turn. It's clearly less explosive than alternatives such as Urza's Incubator and Worn Powerstone so it's mostly a question of speed vs sustainability.
Now, the only question worth asking at this point is "which is better?" After all, the card mostly speaks for itself and you don't need me to recite the text for you. The answer, as far I'm concerned, is still "Worn Powerstone et al." and there's a couple of reasons why. First, Worn Powerstones reduce the number of non-games where you lose with 4-5 mana in play and a slew of 6-8 drops in hand. Generating twice the mana makes the card more than twice as good even if it's less flexible in the later stages of the game. Moreover, your engines are often so powerful that speed vastly outweighs card advantage. Think about a sample curve of Scourge of Valkas into Lathliss, Dragon Queen into Skyline Despot into Utvara Hellkite. In this scenario you couldn't cars less about card advantage because your cards and synergies are so powerful that they vastly overshadow everything else. Rather, you're significantly more concerned with the speed at which you can deploy your threats to maximize the efficacy of your various engines. I still believe that Dragon's Hoard is a perfectly serviceable 3 drop, I wouldn't fault anyone for fielding it, but I'm going to stick to Worn Powerstones if my goal is to maximize my overall win %.
Grade: Sideboard D
As much as I hate on lifegain in general this is one the most reasonable ways to add it to your lists. Assuming a turn 1 Fountain it can easily gain 10 life in a multiplayer match and the fact that it cycles means that it's never a dead draw in the lategame. This makes it a decent sideboard card for aggressive metas in which your life total is a precious resource. It's also serviceable in any "lifegain matters" deck so there's no shame in curving it into cards like Karlov of the Ghost Council or Necrologia to generate some obscene value as the game progresses/
Grade: Niche D
I've played with this card extensively in EDH in "Artifacts matter" decks primarily because it's synergy with Contagion Engine. To be clear, I realize that that's not a Voltaic Key + Time Vault combo or anything, but I've never lost a game in which I was able to set that up. You're typically already doing busted things with Coretapper, Tangle Wire, Smokestack, Darksteel Reactor, Daretti, Scrap Savant, etc. and once you start double proliferating then it's all over but the crying. The card isn't playable otherwise but it definitely has a home in that specific archetype.
This card is better than it looks and I expect it to be commonly played in Black and Red decks for years to come. After all, neither color has access to reasonable forms of Enchantment removal and Black isn't adept at dealing with Artifacts either. That being said both colors are fantastic at recurring Creatures/Artifacts (think Goblin Welder, Animate Dead and Daretti, Scrap Savant) which makes this an ideal form of interaction. Clearly it's not a busted card by any means, 7 mana to remove a permanent is an extremely steep investment, but it gets the job done and it's attached to a relevant card type. I definitely recommend grabbing a copy because I can guarantee that it'll get played more often than you think. For example, I value it much higher than alternatives such as Duplicant and Steel Hellkite and would gladly field this over either. Not because it's strictly better or anything, but because it's more versatile and reliable.
While you could reasonably field this in any deck of any color I see it as a Green card moreso than anything else. It's a decent way to bring repeatable removal to your builds and the 2/4s are never going to matter when you're ramping out big, dumb, Green fatties. It's not the cheapest form of interaction and it doesn't help against instant-speed combo kills but it still nukes 3 creatures no questions asked which is certainly relevant in multiplayer spheres. I'd still rather field Beast Within but I also wouldn't fault anyone for fielding a copy. You definitely don't want to be running 4 of these or anything, we're talking 0-2 copies tops, but assuming that you're not going HAM then it's a decent way to keep problematic critters in check.
Grade: Sideboard C
If Hexproof is common in your meta then this is a stellar way to improve your probability of winning given that it carries next-to-no opportunity cost. After all, it's still a land that ETBU and taps for mana so it's nearly impossible for drawing one to be a complete disaster.
This is one of my all-time favorite lands and it's the best way to get "unlimited hand size" in your deck by an order of magnitude. As we just saw with Detection Tower there's virtually no opportunity cost since it's still a land that ETBU and that taps for mana. This means that even when its bad, no big deal, it's still a land that helps you cast your spells. That being said when it's good it's great because it usually means that you're going off with cards like Mystic Remora, Compost, Rhystic Study, Necrologia, Recurring Insight, etc. Keeping a grip of 20 cards is bonkers and even if it's a bit win-more there's no better feeling than being able to hang on to all of them. Much like Bojuka Bog and Cavern of Souls it's the perfect way to get way out of your lands than you deserve because the effect is so good it's tough to believe that it's attached to something that's free, uncounterable, untouchable and that doesn't cost a card.
This is a decent color fixer for budget-minded 3-5 color decks. Turn 1 tapped land, turn 2 Spire means that you can typically start casting most of your spells from turn 3 and onward so you're essentially trading speed for reliability. While that's not an exchange that you're happy to make (ideally you'd rather have both) it still fits the bill when you're lacking access to reasonable alternatives that fit your budget. It's very much a card that you'll play out of necessity (as opposed to desire) in that sense so you can safely ignore it assuming that you're already capable of building decent manabases. If not, no problem, there's no shame in jamming 4 of these alongside some Exotic Orchards to ensure that you're consistently meeting your color requirements.
My overall impression of M19 is that the set is relatively weak and won't have a major impact on multiplayer in general. The 3 cards that I expect to see the most long-term play are Sai, Master Thopterist, Poison-Tip Archer and Stitcher's Supplier. All 3 are going to be fantastic in lists designed to abuse them but they're also not so niche that you need to be building entirely around them. They're playable in wide swaths of archetypes which is what I look for in true staples. Moving on, while I think that Runic Armasaur will be fantastic in some metas it's going to be a stone blank in others making it more of a meta card than anything else. The other cards in the list are all decent but a touch too weak/niche to be considered generic playables. All-in-all I wasn't blown away by any of the cards other than Sai making it a forgettable set in the end. I'm still looking forward to jamming more games with cards like Chaos Wand and Sarkhan's Unsealing but I also don't envision a world in which they become mainstays.
I laughed when I read this because I literally had a blurb about Skullclamp that I removed because I felt that it was out of place. The TL;DR is that you should always play 4x Clamp if it's legal and there's no compelling reason to waste time/energy on cards like Mentor if it's an option. I wouldn't even bother with a Mentor as a 5th copy either. I'd much rather have something like Steelshaper's Gift. That being said my general assumption is that Clamp is banned because otherwise it tends to warp the meta entirely around it.
Do you remember that 14-18 land Bonus Round deck that I previously posted? Think decks like that. Low land count, high spell count, tons of cards like Ruby Medallion and Primal Amulet. I get that those are "misses" but your deck is literally 14 lands, 8 rocks and 38 spells at times.
I thought about Spit Flame but it doesn't seem like a card that would ever make my decks. I'd rather have things like Earthquake and Wildfire since the offer significantly more value in general. I'm not saying that you're wrong, that engine seems great in smaller metas for example, but it's not something that struck a chord with me.
With two of my more recent decks tearing up my kitchen table meta being developed partly from reading the Kaladesh and Amonkhet set reviews to find some gems, I’ve actually started to regularly peruse your releases. Something I’ve been seeing as a trend has me a bit stumped. While organized play and Commander seem to be very supported in the WotC set designs, it seems the grades you give to sets indicate a lack of design consideration to casual multiplayer.
What’s your take on MP design support? Do you see a problem?
I have seen some modern combo decklists featuring sai, and you already described a vintage one... Those both sound good. Do you think he is worth it in a "fair" deck as a value engine?
Yes. As long as your deck has a critical mass of Artifacts he's a beater, blocker, engine (creates Artifacts to fuel your "Artifacts matter" cards) and card draw machine. He's also a sac outlet for things like Chromatic Star so you can play your Star, get a token and then sac some fodder to draw multiple cards (1 from Sai, 1 frm Star trigger). I have nothing but great things to say about Sai.
Great write up. I do think that the elvish clancaller perhaps got underrated a bit. I admit reading it is a bit underhwelming but recently modern tournaments have shown it is quite powerful in an elvish deck. I'm not saying it's an A card but personally I think higher than a D.