I'll be grading cards on the following unscientific and arbitrary scale relative to their usefulness in a Riku deck:
5: Format Staple- We are playing this card.
4: Very good- There is a strong case for playing this card.
3: OK- We might have a use for this. Solid role player or budget choice.
2: Questionable- A stretch at best, or perhaps a pet card.
1: Unplayable- Why are we talking about this card?
Before I get going, let's talk mechanics for the set (for once) and explain how they can help us.
Heroic: Target creatures with spells for cool stuff. Unfortunately there are almost no Riku variants that care about this with the exception of the extremely gimmicky Riku Voltron deck which may have been built by 3 people ever. Not very useful.
Tribute: Gives your opponent a choice at how strong a particular creature is. Almost always, they are going to make the worst choice for you, so only overpowered versions of these are going to be worthy of discussion. There are corner cases though where you can choose an opponent to be your ally and he will give you the better effects just to help take down a stronger player... just some food for muliplayer thought.
Inspired: Untap your creatures to do cool stuff. Unfortunately Riku has no immediate synergy wth tapping or untapping creatures so don't expect too much here.
Devotion: Back from the previous set. If you have a lot of colored permanents, you get a bonus. Unfortunately in three colored decks those colors are split up an awful lot...
Overall not too much to get excited about so far...
Arbiter of the Ideal: EVERYONE likes free stuff on the battlefield because Riku can make two of them. Otherwise it's kind of slow but think of it as a cheaper Intet the Dreamer. A really fun card but probably not too competitive or anything. 2.5
Archetype of Imagination: It's kind of like a creature-based overrun. You cast it and your tokens all fly overhead for the win. It definitely has its uses but 6 mana, no use copied and no power boost make it inferior to the likes of Craterhoof, Overwhelming Stampede, etc. 2
Fated Infatuation: This is a worse version of Cackling Counterpart. The mana is really tough to copy it as well. It can definitely be playable though if your creature base is strong enough that you'd be happy copying at least half your deck. Still, I'd run Cackling Counterpart first because flashback >>> scry. 3
Perplexing Chimera: This is the most hilarious card I've seen in quite some time! It combos well with any repeatable steal abilty such as that of Vedalken Shackles, so if you're a fan of that sort of thing then hop on board. It's not particularly useful for Riku but I would laugh at a double-copied one and watch as you threaten to steal the next two spells. This guy may make me build my Intet deck again. 1.5
Retraction Helix: I love the design of this card. It's a cheaper bounce spell (and inspired enabler!), but you have to have a creature worth tapping to pull it off. Also it's a one-mana instant which has a special place in my heart. I feel like somewhere there's a combo that bounces everyone else's stuff but then I remembered they printed Cyclonic Rift :D. Ultimately pretty weak in Riku decks but I just wanted to talk about it I guess. 1.5
Tromokratis: Giant, generic blue fattie incoming! This one has the luxury of being immune to sorcery-speed spot removal but honestly it's not much consolation. I guess one neat thing about it is that if you copy it and attack the same player with both, one cannot be blocked. I'd almost always prefer some other giant beater in this spot but it seems like a fun card if nothing else. 2
Vortex Elemental: The third in a line of "get shuffled" creatures including Gomazoa and that void dude from M13. I actually LOVE that this is a 1-drop. It discourages early aggro from chumps like Rafiq, it can be suited up with a power increase to bait out a block from an opponent, and you can pay 6 later on to forcefully remove that Blood Artist or other annoying creature... all while starting a Birthing Pod chain from a 0 cmc token. I think this card is a lot more interesting than others like it and though I still prefer Ulvenwald Tracker as the 1-drop of choice I still like what this guy does with a pile of leftover mana. 2.5
Whelming Wave: Sea creature tribal? With that quest from Zen block? lol jk 1
Archetype of Aggression: Gives all your big dudes trample (if they don't already have it), takes it from everyone else, all for the low cost of three mana? This seems like it could actually be really good. Most creature-based victories in Commander come off the back of flying or trample and this card nearly shuts down their big, beefy guys for just 1RR, half the cost of the blue one. I don't know how good this card is yet (and nearly all enchantment creatures by extension since green has no problem blowing up enchantments) but I imagine it's actually quite playable. 3
Fated Conflagration: Quite a step back from Chaos Warp or Beast Within but if you have to kill planeswalkers or 5 toughness generals you could do worse. Not a bad copy target either with double-scry 2 getting you down as far as four cards if you need to. Aftershock is still more favorable but at least this one doesnt kill you for copying it. 3
Fellhide Spiritbinder: As much as I love copying things this guy is just not going to get to untap that often, realistically. 4 toughness is quite easy to overcome buy turn 5. If you want to get nuts and combo off with Intruder Alarm that's you're prerogative but you're better off playing Kiki-Jiki if you can get your hands on one. 2
Flame-Wreathed Phoenix: This is a standard card, which is a shame because it's kinda cool for a Tribute card. 1
Forgestoker Dragon: Too much mana for too little damage, no point in copying one either. No luck with dragons this set, guys. 1
Oracle of Bones: In this format you have to be stupid or dead not to pay the tribute. Which is a shame because the phrase "cast an instant or sorcery card [...] without paying its mana cost" is exactly how you'd otherwise get my attention. 1
Satyr Firedancer: Probably my favorite card in this set for non-Commander play. Doubling up on all your face burn for such a stupidly cheap price just seems SO much fun. If this guy was legendary we could finally see a Commander burn deck. Unforunately, he's not, and as a one-of in the 99 he really has nothing going for him except for the ability to give you more value in your damaging spells, of which you should be playing precious few that aren't Comet Storm. 1
Archetype of Endurance: That is a LOT of mana. Great effect but its hard to say if it's worth the price. 8 mana in this format buys you Craterhoof Behemoth and wins you the game. It buys you Avenger of Zendikar and wins you the game. It nearly buys you Eldrazi if you are so inclined. I wouldn't laugh at anyone for playing this but the fact that 8 mana on your doubled-down investment is undone by a simple wrath leads me to believe this card is win more for that insane cost. I think I'd probably play Spellskite/Academy Ruins before this. 2.5
Courser of Kruphix: If [c]Oracle of Mul Daya[c/] has taught us anything, it's that playing lands off the top of your deck is GOOD. It's not so bad that he can't play two, because he costs one less mana and gains you life doing it. Beefy 4 toughness at 1GG is really a nice bonus too. I expect this card to be played in green decks across the format, especially alongside Sensei's Divining Top, and I think he fits in here rather nicely alongside Yavimaya Elder and friends. 3.5
Fated Intervention: Generally inferior to Rite of Replication but this is a nice way for instant and sorcery decks to get a little bit of board presence without having to sell out and play creatures. Otherwise it's kind of a questionable play considering it's just a couple 3/3s. 2.5
Hunter's Prowess: This has the potential to draw a LOT of cards but the sorcery-speed on it makes it extremely easy to play around. Considering all the other card draw available (since you're not really playing this for the pump), I think it's probably an inferior way to get your cards but it does have some nice upside if you're rocking a lot of high-power creatures like Wolfir Silverheart. 2.5
Nessian Wilds Ravager: Speaking of high power... this a card whose tribute is not going to get paid often (because its tribute ability is REALLY good). So if your deck has room for a 6 mana 12/12 because of some kind of "power matters" theme... well here you go. Otherwise, pretty bland and easy to block. 2
Satyr Wayfinder: I nearly missed this unassuming 1/1 in my first review of the set. A doofy little 1/1 for 2 but almost certainly cantrips for a land WHILE stuffing your yard with goodies. This mana dork should actually end up being quite popular in creature decks and I would consider running it in place or alongside Coiling Oracle (note this 1G is much easier on T2 than UG). I don't think it's as good as Sakura-Tribe Elder since it can't actually ramp you but it's a very solid 2-drop. 3.5
Scourge of Skola Vale: This is a neat little sac outlet that happens to get big. It doesn't really have a way to protect itself so I wouldn't really rely on this thing for damages but being able to sac your creatures for benefit is always nice. I expect this guy to find a home in BG and Naya decks, and less so here where higher power doesn't amount to as much without building around it with stuff like Greater Good and such. Actually it's not a bad idea for a deck at all! 2.5
Unravel the Aether: Functional reprint of Deglamer and a fine little utility card. Tucking these things is usually better than destroying them since Academy Ruins and other recursion are generally worse problems for you than making your opponent cast a tutor to go find it. Very good against a combo meta and a solid role-player. 3
Kiora, the Crashing Wave: A fine planeswalker for standard. In multiplayer? Her +1 is going to do fairly little to protect her. So if you're ok paying 4 mana for Explore and a fog, then go for it. Personally, I feel she falls quite a bit short in multipayer. 2.5
Xenagos, God of Revels: I'm not totally sure where I am on actually playing this guy. Haste is awesome. Free power is awesome. But for 5 mana? And the devotion is not guaranteed either (although remember that tokens created from Riku's copy ability DO copy mana costs so they will count towards the devotion count). Once again another "power matters" card where IMO Riku decks want to be grinding out card advantage, not just big guys. The haste ability is so exceptional though that I'd say I'd like to see how he performs before he gets a pass from me, especially sharing a mana cost with Riku... since at that point you have to ask yourself if he'd be the better commander for the job. 3.5
Astral Cornucopia: The love child of Everflowing Chalice and Gilded Lotus, neither of which should be played in Riku decks IMO seeing as how they can't be copied for profit (as opposed to creatures like Farhaven Elf). A great card nonetheless, just not in here. 2.5
Not a particularly inspiring haul (see what I did there) but there's some solid role players in there and a few intriguing picks for future evaulation. I'd say the top five for most Riku decks would be:
- Archetype of Aggression
- Fated Conflagration
- Courser of Kruphix
- Satyr Wayfinder
- Xenagos, God of Revels
If you've got questions about any of the new cards or anything in general, post em on in here and we'll try to get them addressed. Enjoy your local prereleases!