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Casual Overview of Dark Ascension

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Hello, Nation! New cards from new sets always bring out the same thing from us. We hunger and salivate for new cards. We devour them with decks and ideas weeks before a set is actually released, and this time was no exception.

Today, I want to look at the casual potential of these cards in a variety of formats, including Commander, general multiplayer, Pauper, and more! What cards appeal to my sense of what is interesting?

We’ll start with white and move all along the color wheel until I’ve looked at the cards that start my juices flowing. Note that many card reviews discuss every single card in the set. If you are a Limited writer or reader, that makes sense. However, do I really need to have an evaluation of Hollowhenge Beast or Forge Devil? They have obvious uses, so we’ll skip those and look at the good and bad stuff. Plus, I included a three-paragraph rant in the middle of the article, so there’s that, too! I’ve also included deck ideas for most of these cards, so you have a starting point for your own deck if you want.

Let’s begin with the reviews!!!

White

Gather the TownsfolkThe instant-ness of Raise the Alarm has always enabled it to be played reactively. You can change combat math by adding blockers to kill an attacker that was thought to be safe or make two attackers at the end of the turn that your foe did not account for and deal some extra damage the following turn. Removing instant-ness and giving it the potential for massive token generation later in the game changes the card. I can see a lot of decks wanting this to add to their white token-makers alongside cards like Honor of the Pure, Glorious Anthem, or even Angelic Voices.

Hollowhenge SpiritI really like the concept of this card. A ghost that scares something out of combat is new and fun. This is yet another tool for your white decks that protect you from dying through the red zone. You can add it alongside things such as Rebuke, Soul Snare, Commander Eesha, Wall of Omens, and Trap Runner. I definitely see this making the cut in a lot of decks.

Increasing DevotionAnother of the powerful token makers from Dark Ascension, Increasing Devotion has value early or late. It always gives you at least as many 1/1 dorks as mana spent, so at any level, it’s a good investment. It’s probably for slower decks and metagames (such as multiplayer). The last time I played multiplayer, I opened with Progenitus in my hand and hard-cast it around turn twelve or thirteen. That happens in multiplayer sometimes. I really like this in a deck that establishes control and uses this as a pseudo-Blaze to win the game.

Lingering SoulsWhen I saw this card spoiled, the very first thing I thought was that WotC must be trying really hard to make a Sorin archetype for Standard. It’s so good it doesn’t need a spoiler article—this thing sells itself. Compare it to something like Timely Reinforcements. You are guaranteed to make creatures no matter the board state, you have two flyers instead of three gropos (ground pounders), and there’s no chance of life-gain, but you can flash it back for 2 mana and two more flying dudes. This is a powerful tool for deck-builders in tournament decks and casual tables alike. This will dominate W/B tokens.

Loyal CatharI like a cheap creature that can survive a Wrath of God. I’d prefer it to survive many, but I’ll take just one if the card is good enough. (It is.) You can find other uses, but that’d be my primary choice for it. See also: All of the undying cards. Surviving removal or combat and growing is nifty. Feel free to include your own removal.

Silverclaw GriffinThe facts that you have a picture of it on a tombstone and included by-the-numbers quote do not explain why there is a Griffin in my gothic horror set. I thought we’d have just one of these annoying guys in Abbey Griffin, but apparently not.

Skillful LungeIs it just me, or have they massively increased the number of non-green Giant Growth effects in the last few years?

Sudden DisappearanceThis does exactly what you think it does. You can Flicker your whole board and then replay triggers for creatures, artifacts, enchantments, or what else you have. Feel free to reload a planeswalker or reuse more enters-the-battlefield triggers for things. You can set up for mass removal or just untap your stuff to block. On the other hand, you can send away someone’s whole board for long enough to attack unscathed, and it’s rare that white gets Falter effects. It’s a bit expensive, so I don’t project it being played in a lot of decks, but when it does make an appearance, you’ll know.

Thraben DoomsayerI like cards that give me a token dude every turn for no mana investment. This costs just as much as Squirrel Nest, but it’s a 2/2 dude and can pump your whole team when under massive pressure. Of course, Squirrel Nest is better in a Wrath-style deck or with combos like Earthcraft. To be fair, you can roll with things like Seedborn Muse or Quest for Renewal for the Doomsayer as well, and this fits into more decks.

Blue

Beguiler of WillsWhat’s cool about this Wizard is that as you steal more and more creatures, the ability becomes more powerful. That’s awesome. As a 5-mana 1/1 creature with just a tap ability, this is very fragile. It screams for removal, and even minor stuff like Geistflame has its name. You have to really protect her. Despite the great abilities, I’m saying now that she sucks hugely. Follow me on this . . . What deck can protect her? A control deck, right? What control deck wants enough creatures running around on turn six to begin stealing creatures? By that time, you’ve countered, killed, stolen, or neutralized most creatures, and the Beguiler doesn’t do much at all. Besides, how many 1- or 2-power creatures are running around by that time that you want to steal? It doesn’t work at all.

Bone to AshI have two quick comments. First: How is the name “Bone to Ash” a blue counter and not a black or red removal spell? And second: Wow, they really made a suck version of Exclude.

CounterlashThis is the Desertion, Draining Whelk, or Spelljack of the set. You counter something for a ton of mana, but you end up with a really nice bonus. Due to the randomness of what you counter and what you can (and want to) play from your hand, I’d recommend you look at other choices. This certainly isn’t bad, but I feel that the only time you’ll find real value is when you have a great creature in your hand. Otherwise, it’s too random to be good to use, so grab good late-game creatures such as Inkwell Leviathan, and use this to cheat them out.

DivinationDoes anyone grok the art in this and how it’s a representation of our gothic world? All I’m seeing is someone throwing shurikens at a robe. Was this reject art from Kamigawa block?

Dungeon GeistsIt’s been a long time since we’ve seen a blue card that locks down a creature for a while—such as Sand Squid or Somnophore. Let me just say: Welcome back! It’s a great ability and one I adore! Achieving it on an enters-the-battlefield ability for a 4-mana 3/3 flyer is even better—so tasty and perfectiony. No, your Akroma or Shivan Dragon does not untap, sorry. Take some Phantom Monster–style damage. This is among my favorite cards from the set—it works either in aggro decks to lock down a blocker or in control decks to lock down a threat.

Mystic RetrievalThis is just another of the many cards in this block that I feel have a real Izzet sense to them. I do like this a lot, because cards like Déjà Vu, Call to Mind, Relearn, and more have always been in my tool chest for various decks. Netting two uses in the right deck (with the right mana of course) is even sexier. Mystic Retrieval is a great tool for decks, and I expect to horde at least ten (A playset of cards for me is six—I have to have one for Abedraft (a box we draft out of with a copy of every card in the game), one for Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy (a multiplayer Highlander deck with more than twenty-five hundred cards), and then a set of four for decks.)

Saving GraspIt’s not like Unsummon rocked the tables anyway. Now you see a card with half of Unsummon’s value but the ability to be flashed back. Is it worth running? In Constructed formats, I don’t like Unsummon because there are always cards that do a better job for a bit more mana or different mechanics. For example, if I just want to protect my creatures from removal, why not use Confound or Stave Off? If I want to bounce an opposing creature, since that’s card disadvantage, I can rock Repulse, Recoil, Jilt, or Capsize. What deck does a flashback-only, bounce-my-stuff requiring two colors to use card effectively fit into? I just don’t see much outside of a narrow niche for it.

Soul SeizerThe flavor here is grand. The idea of possession is perfectly wedded to the basic Control Magic mechanic. I attack, hit you, and steal a creature—permanently. Since my Spirit now possesses it, it leaves play. Perfect. Actually, this inspires me. You know what would be cool? Imagine this:

3uu

Ghastly Possession

Uncommon

Enchantment – Aura

You control enchanted creature.

2uu

Master of Geists

Rare

Creature – Spirit

Whenever Master of Geists deals combat damage to an opponent, search your library for a card named Ghastly Possession and put it onto the battlefield enchanting target creature. Then shuffle your library.

2/2

That’d be awesome similar flavor, too. It’s totally inspired by Soul Seizer’s rocktasticness. (Yay for made up words!) This card really wants to be unblockable, and things such as Whispersilk Cloak and Cloak of Mists can make sure you get in that hit and steal a creature.

Black

Black CatIn terms of basic flavor, this is a 9 out of 10. Good job! It definitely suits the black cat trope very well. What I would have done to push the trope to a 10 would be to remove Zombie and replace it with Familiar. Unfortunately, Familiar is not a creature type (sad face), and being a Zombie probably allows it to see print in Dark Ascension. Despite that, this is a clear winner of the flavor sweepstakes. A sacrifice outlet such as Infernal Tribute or Skirsdag Cultist can cause the trigger, and those cards are great places to start building a deck.

Chosen of MarkovI think the mechanics of this card are quite good, so yay. However, the art just irks something inside me. Whenever we artistically try to evoke a sense of nostalgia about things from long ago, we have to try to not perpetrate the ethical errors of the day. For example, if I wanted to paint a picture in the style of Boris Vallejo, maybe I should do it today without drawing a naked chick on it. If I am drawing a picture of a family being served by slaves in the American South circa 1830, perhaps I shouldn’t exaggerate the features of the African face like they did back then.

There have been many issues of sexism in art and culture in America for a long time. The issue is that horror tropes have several of these at the top level. Is it possible to disconnect these from a set that revels in the glory of gothic horror? I would hope so. Now, take a look at Chosen of Markov’s pictures. In the first, we have a human female who—despite already turning toward evil—is still portrayed as a goodly human, prim and proper. Then, when she becomes a Vampire, she becomes an overly sexual creature with a top that shows more than some swimwear.

Now, you could definitely argue that Vampires are sexual beings and that horror has long had a stereotype of goodly human women being chaste and properly attired while the evil women are sensually sinful and lurid. Since this is a stereotype already in horror, why not add it to Magic in this set? I hear those arguments, and yet, it just feels out of place. When comics stopped being written largely for children, we saw the dimensions of female characters being taken totally out of proportion from an already oversized place. Why not do the same with this card? After all, we have Liliana, who just recently started vamping around Innistrad doing her best Bettie Page impersonation. Apparently, when we remember horror, we remember Elvira more than anything else. Still, this overtly sexual change in our art on this character just seems like too much. It’s feels sexist to me. For a long time, women had to overcome a view of them not allowed to be sexual beings, and this just seems to mock the progress they made. I’m not saying it’s the biggest faux pas ever; I’m just saying that it feels off to me, and that’s all.

Fiend of the ShadowsOur next entry is this interesting little card. It’s never going to have a high value—a 5-mana 3/3 flyer just isn’t sexy enough for our tournament friends. In Casual Land, its ability is neat, and people likely still have goodies in their hand on turn six when this is swinging. Then, you sneak some damage through with a chance to steal a useful card. If all you procure is a few lands before everyone drops their powerful cards, this is still amazing. Fiend of the Shadows is Fiend of the Highly Playable. This is another card that would benefit from Whispersilk Cloak . . . or perhaps Dauthi Embrace.

Geralf's MessengerWhat can I write about this card that hasn’t already been said? I could discuss the very high value it has in one specific deck type (mono-black) and that’s it, which limits its value as a card to acquire. That’s probably been said, though. I could mention it’s strong in several roles and could fill a similar role as Vampire Nighthawk in these decks. I suspect that’s been discussed as well. There’s not much left. Ah, well.

GravecrawlerHello, awesome card! How you doin’? You can fit into so many awesome decks. From Johnny combos to Spiketastic tournament decks, there will always be a place for you somewhere. The combination of cheap cost, high power, and an easy-to-abuse recursion ability makes this a fun and powerful card. Get some. I really like it as a sacrificial lamb that can come back for 1 mana and be sacrificed again. You’ll want a cheap and reusable sacrifice outlet, such as Goblin Bombardment or Altar of Dementia. As long as you have any Zombie in play, this is powerful.

Harrowing JourneyIs it just me, or do a lot of cards in this set feel like they cost more mana than they should? Let’s take a look:

I’m surprised that the Repel reprint Griptide doesn’t cost 5. There’s also a lot of cards with similar costs but powered down—the obvious one is Briarhorn versus Briarpack Alpha (although Briarhorn dominated Lorwyn Draft, so I understand that.) All of these things give the set a watered-down feel to me.

Increasing AmbitionAnother solid entry for tutoring needs at the kitchen table. It’s better than many other options, since the initial casting costs just 1 more mana than Diabolic Tutor, and you have the promise of two more cards later. I can see several decks and strategies that would really want this, such as a combo deck that needs more than one piece with its tutors.

Undying EvilI like the flavor of this black card becoming your typical 1-mana save-my-guy spell, such as Withstand Death or Blessed Breath. It won’t work on creatures that already have +1/+1 counters, but it will work wonders with a lot of guys.

Zombie ApocalypseKilling all Humans and bringing back all Zombies is a fun way to show your typical zombie film. I think the mechanics and card are great! I do feel the name is a bit obvious, since Zombie Apocalypse is often the name of the genre and concept. I think we would have gotten the point with a different name. Still—great card that works in lots of decks. This is the perfect card in any Zombie deck as your own Patriarch's Bidding that doesn’t help anyone else.

Red

Blood FeudThe obvious casting-cost different between the simple Prey Upon and this card is shocking. I hope we don’t see them both side-by-side in Magic 2013. That would feel weird.

Curse of BloodlettingI just wanted to say that I really like how they flavored your typical Furnace of Rath ability for Innistrad.

Faithless LootingA flashbackable Careful Study is just daisies on a cold day. Careful Study is such a powerful tool that it costs a buck and a half to find them. This ability is played in many decks: madness, threshold, reanimation, dredge, self-mill for Innistrad cards, and more. (I’m not sure what general word is used for decks that mill to flashback for Burning Vengeance or to play Spider Spawning and Boneyard Wurm). The fact that this is just like Careful Study (which doesn’t seem that careful, to be honest)—but with a flashback cost—just amps up the power. Toss these into any of the above decks that run red. In fact, I see some of these decks playing red just so they have access to this card. It’s a powerful tool for the rest of Magic, so make sure you have a ton in the deck-stock box.

HellriderAs I think about how many times a creature will attack over the course of a game, Hellrider looks pretty good. It’s a 3/3 for 4 mana, so you aren’t losing the power-and-toughness war. Play it and swing with your creatures. Deal a few extra. Keep it up, and over a few turns, you may have dealt an extra 5 or 6 damage to someone. Note that this is not multiplayer-friendly (sad face) because the damage must be done to the defending player and not to target opponent. Attacking one player and Hellridering another would have been awesome. All you need is a deck with a lot of cheap creatures (which is easy to do in red), and this is a potent 4-drop.

Moonveil DragonOnce again, we have a creature that essentially says that Shivan Dragon is too weak and we’ve printed someone better. Just like Innistrad’s entry, I’m still not comfortable with Dragons in my horror world. It feels like they were forced in just because people like Dragons in fantasy. The ability is great in some circumstances. If you have more than one creature attacking, you are good to go. By the time the seventh turn hits, that should be easy to ensure. Unlike Hellrider, this is a bit more multiplayer-friendly—you can split attacks and pump everything on both fronts. Also, a tapped Moonveil Dragon that swung for just 5 in the air and left your mana untapped makes your Walls and defensive creatures suddenly look like a dangerous trap, discouraging opponents from attacking into you. It plays offense and defense at the same time, and that’s a powerful Dragon. It’s a strong card.

Russet WolvesDo you remember when WotC mentioned that one of the main reasons that Grizzly Bears were removed from the core set was that they had a plural name, and that caused issues? I was just seeing if you remembered . . .

Shattered PerceptionI think there are a lot of potential uses for this card. It’s like an amped up Faithless Looting, only you don’t choose what to discard. Considering the massive draw potential from it, I think it’s strong. It’s basically a one-sided Windfall, and that’s a lot of power under the hood. Despite a flashback cost that’s obscene, having that option is nice. In this block, this card slides right in without it, so I like the flashback option. In fact, this is also among my favorite cards from the set. It feels like old-school red card-drawing (such as Wheel of Fortune or Winds of Change), but with a modern mechanic and in the right set. Good stuff! (You might use it in a deck that needs certain cards to win, or perhaps in a deck that plays a lot of cheap cards and wants to slide into a new hand from all of these lands, and so forth).

Wrack with MadnessThe printing of this card leads me to a point and a question. For a long time, Repentance was among the best three or four removal spells in white, and you considered it. In a color loaded with removal, it doesn’t feel like much. (Even a reprinted Repentance wouldn’t be much with all of the great removal in white these days). Is this ability now in red permanently, or is this a temporary appearance? I like it here. I think a lot of things could be color-shifted and be fine. For example, I’ve always wanted to see an uncommon Control Magic in all of the other colors. I came up with the flavor and mechanics of it:

Conversion of the Unworthy – 3ww “Enchant nonwhite creature. You control enchanted creature.” I imagine white trying to appeal to the principled nature of someone.

Turn to Thrall – 3bb “Enchant creature. You control enchanted creature. It gets-1/-1.” I imagine black just blasting away the resistance of the creature and not worrying about collateral damage. (My joke title for this card is Enthralled.)

Savagery Unleashed – 3gg “Enchant creature. You control enchanted creature. It loses all abilities and gains trample.” I imagine green finding that primal part in each of us and just turning it loose.

Persuasion3uuI imagine blue manipulating you and finding your weak spot and using that to entice you to join its team. Do you want a position of power? Gold? Magic knowledge? Whatever it is, here’s a big giant pile. Come join our cause.

Politics of a Big Stick – 3rr “Enchant creature. You control enchanted creature. It can’t block and attacks each turn if able.” Red just ignores all of the highbrow spells and manipulations and grabs a pokey thing and threatens someone with it (which is why Threaten was such a great card name for a red card).

Anyway, my point with this admittedly significant digression is to talk about abilities moving to new colors and Wrack with Madness rocking the block. If red now has this ability, I’d love to see a new Wave of Reckoning or a creature with an enters-the-battlefield ability and so forth. Or how about a 4/4 creature for 5 mana that taps to do it? This space was never really mined before, and it can be!

Green

Crushing VinesIf you want to succeed at the casual table, you need to be prepared for a much wider range of potential decks than with a tournament deck. The way you handle these various decks is to have versatile cards. I like Plummet and play it regularly—not anymore! Now I have a card that compares to the versatility of Putrefy or Mortify in just one color. It’s still an instant, which is great. Adding a Shatter option makes this an amazing card. Note that the generic title means we might see this card again in future sets. Like Cancel or Lightning Bolt, this is a tool to fit into many decks without usually building a deck around it.

Dawntreader ElkFor 2 mana, you make a creature that is on-curve with a 2/2 body. When it is about to die, just spend 1 mana to sacrifice it for a land and put it right onto the table. That’s nice. You can also sacrifice it to smooth your mana at any time—if that’s more important. Either way, you end up with something valuable. It’s twice the size of Sakura-Tribe Elder, but it requires g to use. I see this being a very ubiquitous entry into the land-searching sweepstakes. It compares favorably to existing standards, and it is another great tool.

GhoultreeThe question Spike is wondering is whether this can reliably be played on turn three or four. A 10/10 on turn four can be worth it. If you can do it earlier, that’s a major deck right there. There are cards that can do it (For example, play Hermit Druid on turn two, activate it on turn three, and mill a lot of cards with just a few basics in the deck, and perhaps the other 2 mana can cast your 10/10 tree). With the potential of this deck being crazy-high, this will be experimented on more than Barry Bonds. (The old jokes are still good ones.)

Grim FloweringThe one bad thing about Nature's Resurgence is the fact that everyone draws cards. Like many symmetrical cards, since you know it’s in your deck, you can build around it to abuse it. Still, you don’t want to run into situations in which you hesitate to play it because of the cards others would draw. For 2 more mana, you can just run this. In many decks, this is worth it. The kitchen table tends to be a little slower than Table 13 at the local PTQ. This can give you all of the power of Nature's Resurgence without the disadvantage of a higher casting cost or symmetry. I’ve been an apologist of Nature's Resurgence for years and years, playing them and discussing them frequently. You can imagine how happy this card makes me! Just play it along the many Innistrad or Dark Ascension cards that run off a stocked graveyard, such as Faithless Looting, Curse of the Bloody Tome, or Armored Skaab.

Lost in the WoodsI feel that we’ve recently seen a growth of cards that just do something brand new. Whether you are looking at Mirror-Mad Phantasm or this, it’s clear we have a lot of unmined design space for the next fifty years of Magic. If you attack me, I reveal a card, and if it’s a Forest, your dude loses himself. It just doesn’t have its damaged prevented as with a Fog. It’s not exiled for a while as with Mystifying Maze. Your creature is lost and eaten by the trees and woods—and it is removed from combat. Can you imagine a mono-green Commander deck with it out? I would hesitate to attack into a two-colored deck as well. I adore cards that protect you from being attacked, and this does it so perfectly. You can also set up the Forest with cards like Sensei's Divining Top, Sylvan Library, or Mirri's Guile. This is a perfect card to represent flavor . . . with an ability that changes the game.

Tracker's InstinctsThis is a great card in a lot of decks—unlike Commune with Nature, you fill your graveyard, and it has the potential to be card advantage with flashback. It can work in more decks, and it brings some additional power if you have u available. (Birds of Paradise and similar cards are all over green, and you could easily have flashback even without actually playing blue or hurting your lands). Unlike a lot of these great flashback cards, the flashback on this is just 1 more mana and could be easily added to a normal turn without committing your whole turn to just flashing it back. You just need a lot of creatures in your deck to ensure you find one when you cast it.

Wolfbitten CaptiveIf you played during Odyssey block, I want you to think back. One of the most played cards from the era was Basking Rootwalla. How many times did you see it really change the game even when it wasn’t played with madness? For me, it was a ton of times. The card was good on its own. Now imagine that we are in 2012. You have a rare Basking Rootwalla (why it’s not an uncommon, I don’t know). It doesn’t have madness, but it’s just like Basking Rootwalla in every way. Having 2 available mana threatens a cheap 1/1, and people have to block and attack with that in mind. It’s rough. Now, imagine that this card has the Werewolf trigger into a 2/2 creature. As soon as someone doesn’t play anything in a turn, it will transform into a 2/2. That may take a few turns in a duel, but it will happen. Once it does, you can spend 4 mana to give it +4/+4 instead. Consider the threat this card represents. Again, it’s just a 1-drop, and just like Basking Rootwalla, except you trade a cheating way of casting it for a much more powerful mode of operation. Is this playable? I think so! Without playing with it, it seems a bit too powerful, but we’ll see. I know I’m going to play the crap out of it.

Multicolored, Artifacts, and Lands

Diregraf Captain, Drogskol Captain, Immerwolf, Stromkirk CaptainDespite the double-colored nature of these lords, having cheap-to-acquire lords for four tribes in this set is really nice for budget-oriented players. Immerwolf helps a tribe that lacks lords, so it seems the most useful. Vampires lack a lot of leaders, so you’ve got a new addition there. Sprit lords have tended to look and feel very different, so a raw Spirit lord is new and interesting. The Zombie tribe is an old standby option with a ton of various lords, so it’s fighting for space. If you are already playing both colors, it fits right in. I wouldn’t feel inclined to push blue for it since you already have a cornucopia of choices, but if you have the right situation, these can be very damaging.

Drogskol ReaverOnce this thing is on the table, it looks to be a powerhouse. All I know is that this Spirit combos with every life-gaining card in white. The clear combo is with something like Soul's Attendant. With so many combos out there to gain life and draw cards, this is powerful. In multiplayer, when one person jumps ahead on card-drawing, he is under onslaught immediately. Since your card-drawing is linked to life-gaining, you are innately harder to kill, both in card advantage terms and in real life terms. That makes this guy a lot more powerful than it appears at first. Due to its cost, you’ll need to support it in order to bring it out. Since you are playing life-gain for the combo, you should be able to manage, but make sure you note cards like Azorius Herald. Just run life-gain versions of normal cards such as Chastise for creature removal and Terashi's Grasp for artifact and enchantment removal to really break the Reaver open.

Huntmaster of the FellsOne of the issues of the Werewolf cards is that their transform mechanic is really annoying in multiplayer. You have to transform these things two or four times before you’ve taken your next turn, and it’s annoying to keep track of spells played and to keep flipping. You never know which side will end face-up on your turn, and that’s just way too crazy and random. Taking advantage of this is your Huntmaster. Every time it transforms, you either make a 2/2 Wolf and 2 life or deal 2 damage to a player and one of his dudes. Since you are transforming all over the place, this has an immediate and powerful impact at the table. Our good Huntmaster is either going to be auto-killed or will stymie opponents’ spell-casting (which is a good thing). This is a combo with itself!

Sorin, Lord of InnistradIt is very rare that I buy into the hype of a planeswalker. First of all, I am looking at things from a different perspective: casual versus tournament. Second, I rarely think the ’walkers are as valuable as people think. A lot of people try to catch the Jace, the Mind Sculptor bandwagon before it takes off. Liliana of the Veil looked adequate at best, with her first ability being rather weak and minor in Casual Land outside of decks designed to self-discard. Her Edict was good, but using it immediately gave her 1 loyalty and likely imminent death. She’s not a reliable source of Edicts turn after turn. I was a voice of reason for her and many others. For Sorin, my reason joins the chorus that expects powerful things. Sorin has several potent abilities. He can play an emblem immediately, and that is the only thing that doesn’t get offed by removal. He’s among many ’walkers that make an army, and we know how good that can be. Normally, playing a planeswalker is like gaining life—enemies will attack it a few times to take it out, and those are hits you don’t take. Having lifelink on the army he makes is even more of a life bump than normal. Sorin makes dudes to protect himself, and he can pump them permanently as well. His ultimate ability is very keen and very flavorful. If you remove 6 counters, it’s devastating. I would love to see him kill other ’walkers. One trick I want to pull off is to use up another planeswalker, leaving it at a low loyalty, and then use Sorins ultimate to destroy and steal two opposing creatures and my own ’walker so it comes back with full counters. Then, use the returned planeswalker again to abuse the crap out of Sorin. He packs a nice wallop and works with many strategies.

Chalice of LifeYou’ll note that this card was cleverly designed around alternate formats that have a life total different than 20. Even if you are playing with Vanguard cards or Commander, this will scale. I’m not as fond of it as others, but it’s still solid.

Elbrus, the Binding BladeI am disappointed in all of you. This is the easiest way to drop a giant creature since Vampire Hexmage met Dark Depths. There are a ton of ways to tutor for Equipment and a ton of ways to put it into play on the cheap. Just cheat it into play, pay the mighty equip cost of 1 mana, swing and hit someone, and you have a gigantic Demon of death and destruction on turn three or four. The obviously broken companion is the overused Stoneforge Mystic. Play any turn-one creature, play the Mystic on turn two, and tutor up Elbrus. On turn three, tap the Mystic and pay 2 mana to play Elbrus, equip for 1 on the first-turn beater, and swing for what is essentially game. Even without the powerful Mystic, this is amazing with anything from Stonehewer Giant to Tinker. This card is broken, and it won’t take a while to find out.

Grafdigger's CageIt’s rare that a card is printed that so obviously is made to hose Vintage, Legacy, and Modern formats. Since casual games often play these older enemies, the Cage has value for shutting down anything from Dredge to Bazaar of Baghdad to a humble Bladewing's Thrall. This is a huge silver bullet for a lot of popular strategies at the kitchen table. (Note that this article was written before Zac Hill wrote that it was intended in part as an enemy to things like Birthing Pod. Even reading that, this card still looks like a blatantly designed card for Eternal formats.) You might want one in a deck that can tutor for artifacts or runs Trinket Mage in case an opponent is going crazy with the decks the Cage hoses.

HelvaultJoin us next week when this set’s newest Predator, Flagship will be joining us to talk about its role in dominating casual tables. Along with the newest entry of Helvault, we’ll be highlighting other Flagships that have seen print. From Legacy Weapon to Altar of Shadows, expect us to discuss the ancestors of Helvault and the role it is expected to have for casual players everywhere!

Grim BackwoodsOf all of these activated-ability lands out there, this is my favorite so far. Lands that provide card advantage are rare. In the colors of Golgari, I’m sure you can find a lot of reasons to sacrifice a creature for a triggered ability—or perhaps token creatures for fodder. Whether it’s abusing Falkenrath Noble or sacrificing a chump-blocker for a card, this is a great way to squeeze a little extra gas from your deck.

Vault of the ArchangelAll of these lands are quite playable, and this is no different. Lifelink is great, and deathtouch is always useful. Adding both to your creatures will massively change combat math in your favor. When you can make the numbers work for you, the likelihood of winning increases. When that happens, you look back and thank Vault of the Archangel for being your BFF. Obviously, the more creatures you have, the better the Vault becomes. I think a certain W/B Lingering Souls deck might benefit.

 


 

Whew! Today, we looked at fifty-four cards from Dark Ascension. While you will certainly see every card from this set eventually, I wanted to review and discuss the ones that tweaked my casual radar. I hope that you enjoyed this look at DA, and we’ll see you next week when the next ten decks from my 100 Combo Decks in 20 Weeks project come to light.

See You Next Week,

Abe Sargent

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