I’m not the first writer to say that Magic 2015 looks to be one of the best core set sin ages. It is dipping with flavor and value. Congrats to everyone who worked on the set, from employees to artists to the fifteen outsourced designers.
Some people might have been a bit leery, but I lot the creativity of these fifteen cards. The problem with having the same people designing a set over and over again, with the same rules in place, is that things can become a bit . . . predictable. Some of my least favorite sets are exactly that. (Saviors of Kamigawa is particularly unthrilling.)
A perfect example . . .
. . . is Xathrid Slyblade. This black 2/1 for 3 mana has hexproof, to represent the assassin hiding in the shadows. Then, you can spend some mana to have it jump out of the shadows and gain deathtouch and first strike (poisoned blade and such). But it loses hexproof for that—it leaps out of the shadows for a moment to stab that enemy, which exposes the assassin. It’s perfect flavor for an assassin. Yet, we’ve never walked down that path before.
I think most any player would be a good card designer for five to ten cards. We all have unique and individual takes on Magic that would make good cards that fill a niches and hit something differently. We all have great voices that could make some fun cards.
So, if Wizards were to e-mail writers and ask for them to make cards for M16 or M17 or something, what would I submit? I’ve mentioned this card once before in a GM article. In multiplayer, people like to run mana creatures as accelerants, but they have issues because they die, inadvertently, to stuff like Earthquake, Mutilate, or Wrath of God. So, I’d fix that need.
Creature – Elf Druid
: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.
It’s simple, and it helps in multiplayer. I’d heavily consider sending in that card. That’s my perspective, from kitchen tables and from what I’ve seen and experienced firsthand over the years.
Great stuff, Wizards; great stuff!
Now, what ten cards from M15 most pique my curiosity? What do I think are the best cards from the set? Let’s take a gander!
Karn Liberated is. His exiling is a better form of either removal or discard. He plays very well with any color, too. We've had some great versions of Garruk (Garruk, Caller of Beasts is my favorite), and we've had some strong variants of the guy. And the Apex Predator is a bit quiet. It destroys another Planeswalker! But Karn exiles it, and Vraska the Unseen can destroy one, too. (And they have the flexibility to take out other stuff.) Garruk, Apex Predator can also destroy a creature, and you'll gain life. And that's good, but again, check out Karn and Vraska for ways of doing it in this color combination. And I'd rather exile it (Karn) or do it for 5 mana (Vraska) than gain a bit of life from it.
But wait; Garruk has two more abilities! He has a multiplayer-friendly ultimate, and he can spit out a 3/3 deathtouch token each turn as a +1 ability. The ultimate is adequate—not enough, but it works. However, the 3/3 token-making is where he has my interest. Sure, I like blowing up other 'Walkers or creatures—that seems like fun—but making a 3/3 deathtouch each turn while building up loyalty—that's cool. He seems weaker than some 6-mana 'Walkers (I prefer both Caller of Beasts and Elspeth, Sun's Champion to him), but he's interesting, and he doesn't suck. So, let's play with him and see what he can do!
9 – Reclamation Sage
Sometimes, the best card from a new set isn't a big beater or an amazingly awesome utility card that has never before existed (such as Restore). Often, it's just a card like this that hits all of the cylinders. The Sage is perfect. We've had 3-mana enters-the-battlefield critters that will blow out artifacts in green since Visions (Uktabi Orangutan). Before that, we had Scavenger Folk from The Dark that combined creatures with artifact removal. And we've have stuff like Indrik Stomphowler that can destroy either an artifact or an enchantment. What makes the Sage so good is that it has the versatility of Stomphowler tacked to a 3-mana, 2-power body for Orangutan. Our good Elf Shaman will slide into a metric ton of decks at the kitchen table because of just how useful that is, along with the right tribal fit to make Elf aficionados ecstatic. Pick up bunches!
8 – Act on Impulse
Take a look at Three Wishes. Act on Impulse is essentially a red, cleaned up, weakened version of Three Wishes. In blue, a color heavy with card-draw, this was a weak ability. In red, where it competes with things like Browbeat, this will be a great choice for card-draw. Yes, you still have to pay the mana for the card (if any). Sure, you may hit and miss if you exile over more than one land. But you can do a lot of damage with a nice little utility card like this. Play with it, and see if this isn’t red’s version of Harmonize.
7 – Hushwing Gryff
I like Aven Mindcensor. You can play it as a surprise to shut down whole strategies and archetypes. The Gryff does the same thing. As a Torpor Orb on legs, with flash to boot, you can bring out a nasty shock to someone who is relying on cards such as Mulldrifter, Stoneforge Mystic, or Rune-Scarred Demon. You are able to shut down a lot of fun stuff. Now, a lot of people may dislike not being able to have fun with their Solemn Simulacrums or Wood Elves. And a ton of commanders actually have enters-the-battlefield abilities (such as Godo, Bandit Warlord, Bladewing the Risen, Prime Speaker Zegana, or Venser, Shaper Savant). Players of those commanders have an even bigger reason to get huffy and kill your Hippogriff. But it still has a lot of value as mobile, flash Torpor Orb that can swing, block, grab some Equipment, and otherwise impact the board beyond its ability to shut down stuff.
People often forget just how good white is at reanimation. But ever since Resurrection, white has dipped its toes into strong reanimation. From Reveillark to Karmic Guide, we've seen powerful, white-oriented reanimation effects that have made impact at kitchen tables around the world. We also have unheralded cards such as Do or Die. So, Return to the Ranks in no surprise. And it’s good, too! It can bring back a whole team to the table for another round on the battlefield. However your early creatures died, you can bring them back for another go. And, if you are running utility creatures such as Sakura-Tribe Elder or cyclers like Keeneye Aven, you can stock that 'yard for a giant Return to bring back your strong players.
I love little enablers like this that can really push a strategy to the next level. There are a ton of great decks out there that this Servant can aid. For example, play it early, and sacrifice it to bring out your commander two turns earlier and with haste. It works to accelerate cheaper, big beaters, such Scourge of the Throne. You can also break out the beats—a third-turn creature accelerated with just Generator Servant would be a 5-drop such as Baneslayer Angel. Add in one more accelerant, like Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, or—heaven forbid—Sol Ring, and your hasted beater swells.
Look, not every Soul can make the Top 10 list. At the casual table, some are just 6/6 dorks with minor activation abilities. This is not. Its ability is an Ancestral Recall of Raise Deads. Assuming you have a graveyard-inspired deck (which is pretty common with this color in Casual Land), this has a lot of power. For example, you could have a deck with Jarad's Orders and/or Buried Alive, and you could stock up to either pull stuff out of your 'yard with the Soul or to put the Soul there to yank out its friends. It slides along nicely with everything from dredge to reanimation.
I like this more than I like most of the other Titans . . . er . . . Souls from M15. First of all, it's slipperier than you might imagine at first: Too many great blockers simply can't block it at all, such as Commander Eesha, Silklash Spider, Wall of Denial, Will-o'-the-Wisp, Fog Bank, Mogg Maniac, Typhoid Rats, and many other great bodies. We often will drop anything from a roadblock like Black Cat to a rattlesnake like Baleful Strix to help keep things from hitting us. This guy can dodge past a lot of that. And then, at the end, you have a death trigger for 6 damage to someone's face, which can be a bit of a deterrent. "Oh, Bob, you killed my Doom Engine with your dorky, flashed-back Shattering Pulse? So take 6!"
In the history of Magic, we have had few ways of protecting an entire team against mass removal. The swing that a not-so-humble Wrath of God can bring to the table is considerable. Kitchen tables around the world have been savaged by Damnation and Day of Judgment alike. A few ways emerged, such as Cauldron of Souls and Ghostway, but for the most part, your stuff would die. Lately, we've seen indestructible being lent to your team via Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Rootborn Defenses. This is one of the first colorless ways we've seen to rock indestructible for your team and keep them alive against a Nevinyrral's Disk. Plus, in addition to keeping your stuff rocking the roost, we have a 6/6 beater for 6 mana, and the ability lingers in your graveyard like a one-shot espresso to keep the team awake for another hour.
1 – Perilous Vault
I suspect we are seeing this exiling variant of Oblivion Stone right after Theros block as one final colorless answer to any indestructible Gods that remain problematic. There were many exiling removal cards that saw print in the last two sets as ways to deal with out-of-control deities, such as Godsend, Silence the Believers, Deicide, Gild, and Revoke Existence. I suspect that the exiling stuff will fade as indestructible bodies also do. Assuming that, Perilous Vault is going to be an unusual card for the casual table because future cards like this will probably continue to just destroy, not exile. As an answer, Perilous Vault is perfect. Everything goes. If it's in play, it's gone. (See the aforementioned Ghostway for ideas of other ways to keep people safe.) The only issue I have (other than a mana investment) is that it's harder to build around with things like Darksteel Forge or Bloodghast (tricks you could use with an Oblivion Stone to make things unfair). Don't worry; there are a few cards here and there (consider Teferi's Veil) to harness. I intend to pick up quite a few of these and never to trade them off—they will always have a strong play value for me!
While there are a lot of fun, new cards in M15, we also have a trio of artifacts hitting my top three, and that’s odd. Feels a bit Mirrodin-esque!
See you next week,