After looking at the spoiler, what are your picks for the best cards in the set? What leaps out at you? What are you chomping at the bit to open up this week when it goes on general sale?
This set has a large amount of great card stock, but it's not top-heavy. The mythics are all right, but some of the sexiest cards in the set aren't at the typical level of salaciousness. But that's all right—look at stuff like the new Typhoid Rats (Pharika's Chosen), new Rampant Growth (Font of Fertility), new Naturalize (Consign to Dust), and many other solid deck stock entries. We’ll be running Triton Shorestalker, Interpret the Signs, Agent of Erebos, and more for a while. In fact, many of the most useful cards from the set are just new versions of removal, mana, utility creatures, and more.
In my opinion, the set is missing the pure power in the top ten, but it has a ton of useful stuff later on—sort of the opposite of Born of the Gods. So, what appear to be the ten best cards for Casual Land from the set? Let’s take a look!
Chariot of Victory – The great thing here is how strong it can be with the quick, 1-mana equip. I really like cheap hasting, and I've even used Strider Harness to great effect. This is a budget version of something like Lightning Greaves, and it’s a nice backup adjunct for strategies that want hasted goodness. The first strike and trample combo is no slouch either. The result is a package that gives your newly-played creature a triad of keyword love for a single mana. (If you paid for those three abilities, it would cost at least 2 more mana per creature.) I think this is a subtle card that won't receive a lot of press but that should play a lot better than it looks. I'm excited to run it.
10. Brain Maggot – I adore this new version of Ravenous Rats. Sure, you can't force the discard of a land, and the card will eventually come back, but you are able to choose anything else from the opponent’s hand. Already, it's better because you see the opponent’s hand and can choose the good card. But then the card is exiled rather than discarded. That's huge. Our newest Maggot will have an immediate impact on kitchen tables everywhere. Exiling the card removes any tricks. Later, when your Maggots die, the opponent gains the card back, but often, cards are situational. Use this proactively to exile an opponent’s Swords to Plowshares when you have the nastiest creature, and then, after the Wrath of God inevitably kills both your major target and the Maggot, your opponent has the Swords again to use on something else, so you have pushed the table. You can play great politics with this guy.
9. Hall of Triumph – if you play janky colors like blue, black, or red, you don't have a lot of this stuff. Sure, you can unearth the occasional Bad Moon, Gauntlet of Might, or Sunken City. But all of those cards pump opposing creatures of the color. Why do that? You can just run this handy, 3-mana artifact to pump the whole team! Your mono-colored decks will rejoice at the fast Gaea's Anthem effect. You can add these to that blue Lord of the Unreal deck or your red Sligh deck with ease. I'm going to pick up a veritable cornucopia of these for my deck stock. They'll be cheap and flexible for a while.
Kruphix, God of Horizons – Kruphix is worse than the god's servants. I'd rather run Courser of Kruphix or Prophet of Kruphix. That saddens me. Half of Kruphix is just Spellbook. That's not great for 5 mana. The other half is just a weaker version of Upwelling for just you. That's not overly sexy either. But what brings everything together is the blue part. If Kruphix were just green, you'd probably be playing big stuff by saving the mana and blow through your hand—but with blue, you can run mass-card-draw spells that harness the mana and the Spellbook ability. Therefore, you can have both big green beaters and Blue Sun's Zenith. Kruphix is in the right colors to blend these two random abilities.
7. Tethmos High Priest – Whoa! I'm not someone whose been extolling the virtues of heroic triggers from on high. These decks can have some issues with long-term stuff. But instead of dorky triggers like a +1/+1 counter or gaining a keyword for a turn, this does something very intriguing. Just target our good uncommon with a spell, and you can bring a friend back to life from your graveyard as long as the creature is not overly big. The High Priest is a potent card to build around since it costs just 3 mana to drop. You can combine it with creatures that sacrifice for effects, or other fun, in order to build a great, synergetic deck. Thanks, heroic uncommon!
Godsend – I'm not sure if this is supposed to be pronounced "god's end" or "god send." My mind wants to pronounce the latter, but I suspect it’s the former. I love flavorful Equipment, and this certainly qualifies. Let’s bear down into the card. People's opinion of this card vary, from the opinion that it’s a virtual Vulshok Battlegear to the opinion that it's among the best Equipment for multiplayer ever. Well, it's really neither. Yes, you give the creature +3/+3 for 3 mana, just like the Battlegear. If your foe does not block it, that's it. So it's not good on an evasive creature—you won't see any Triton Shorestalker/Godsend decks.
In order to gain any use from it, you have to block or be blocked. That means swinging with something blockable. So, you equip your Elvish Mystic and swing. All right, now I can take 4, block and lose a creature immediately, or block with multiple creatures, lose one, and then kill the Mystic. The exiled creature can't be played—so yay. Normally, this is going to play as Whispersilk Cloak that swaps shroud for +3/+3. It's not as good as Sword of Fire and Ice and its cycle. However, where it shines is on defense. No one wants to attack into Godsend. Just imagine it on a simple Serra Angel or Darksteel Sentinel. Not only can you push in a vigilance attack, but you keep your guy back for blocking—and people won't come your way. Since the exile trigger happens before damage is dealt, Godsend is powerful on defense. Therefore, it's pretty interesting, and it's strong enough to play—no question.
Top 5 Time!
Keranos, God of Storms – Out highest-rated God is our good storm friend. Frankly, the off-color guys just don't have the cache of Born of the Gods. Born has casual all-stars like Karametra, God of Harvests, Xenagos, God of Revels, and Ephara, God of the Polis. Here, we just have Kruphix and Keranos making the chart, and frankly, Kruphix is only included due to a weak field. So Keranos is the best of the lot—what does our good Izzet God give us? Well, every turn, you'll either gain a free Lightning Bolt or a free card. However, you can't be sure which you'll gain, barring something fun like scry. You'll also be forced to reveal the card you draw each turn in order to trigger Karanos. If you just want to draw a free card a turn without jumping through any hoops, Honden of Seeing Winds might be better. Staff of Nin can shoot for 1 damage and draws you a card. You don’t have to reveal a lot of the stuff you draw and show your hand—something control is wont to do. But where Keranos shines is that the enchantment is hard to handle and that the occasional devotion can flash him into creature form, ready to swing for a lot of damage. That makes Keranos very intriguing while still giving you Bolts and cards.
4. Silence the Believers – Exile-oriented creature removal is a powerful tool in multiplayer decks, especially in Commander. You end virtually any recursion shenanigans. Barring Riftsweeper, Misthollow Griffin, or the actual commander, you can take out virtually anything. This does so at instant speed in a color that doesn't have a lot of exiling pinpoint removal. That alone is pretty useful (it’s why I run Gild in my decks). But this can also exile more creatures if you have the mana and opponents have the targets. The ability to set up two- or three-for-one trades later in the game grants powerful plays for this card from the beginning to end. That's a tool that should last the test of time.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes – Ajani does not suck; that's for sure. His first ability pumps the team with great finesse—just pump up one, two, or three dudes permanently, as needed. The Internet is rife with ideas for this ability alone, such as with Fathom Mage or Sage of Hours. I know that I want to throw 3 counters on Spike Weaver every turn. Since it's a permanent amping of your forces, Ajani can make a nasty army fairly quickly if unchecked.
Green has a lot of these little Weaver-esque tricks, so you can dig deeply and discover anything from Fertilid to Gyre Sage—you'll reach into an established bag of tricks that goes back to cards like Triskelion. So, whether you are pumping up a beater to smash through defenses or playing counter tricks, the first ability alone is quite strong. Then, you can use him to basically draw a business card (critter, 'Walker, or enchantment). And since both of those are +1 abilities, nothing is holding you back from that plus-100-life ability. In Commander, you can fight that life-gain with stuff like commander damage, but outside of that, the ultimate is even worse, and it’s one I dread encountering.
2. Mana Confluence – Sure, people can talk about the corner cases in which City of Brass might technically be better than this by putting the life-loss on the stack and playing something like a life-gain spell or a Lightning Bolt to kill your foe before you would die. I think we all know how rare those cases are. In my opinion, City of Brass is one of the best-designed cards from the sets from Arabian Nights through Antiquities. As recently as last summer's Modern Masters, it is still being published. And here, we have a version that will almost always be slightly better than City, and note that Mana Confluence has a generic name. It could easily see print in Magic 2016 or some other future set. My guess is we'll see it instead of City of Brass moving forward (just like we'll probably see Banishing Light rather than Oblivion Ring in the future). Mana Confluence will be an amazing card, from here on out, for any deck that wanted City.
Dictate of Erebos – All of the Dictates are interesting. But this one is clearly the best of the cycle. The lack of 3 black mana in the cost makes it easier in many decks at the kitchen table. Plus, you can use it as a spider, in surprise. When someone is about to kill one or more of your guys in combat or with junk like Terminate, you can flash this out to force everyone to sacrifice stuff for their impunity. Then, you have it out, protecting your stuff, doing its best Grave Pact impression. The flash ability can blow folks out because they failed to play around it. And then, you have one of the true powerhouses of black in casual Magic. There is no question that the Dictate is the most powerful addition to our casual arsenal. Great writers like Anthony Alongi named Grave Pact as one of top ten most powerful multiplayer cards of all time. I have it at #34. This is actually better in most situations. Nothing else in this set touches the hem of its cape.
Black was the winner of Journey—it has the best cards overall of any color. It has three of the cards in my top five, and I also have Thoughtrender Lamia in my #12 spot. Don't forget the aforementioned cards such as Pharika's Chosen and Agent of Erebos, and you have a solid Wrath variant (Extinguish All Hope), a spell version of Mindslaver (Worst Fears), another Nightmare variant (Squelching Leeches), and a fun commander (King Macar, the Gold-Cursed). That's a great injection of quality to decks everywhere.
Which cards are your favorite? What did you agree or disagree with on my list? Join me next week when I build a few decks around Journey into Nyx cards.
See you next week,