Alara Reborn in Vintage
Alara Reborn has finally been released. Wonderful! Whenever a new set comes out, the masses are glued to their computer monitors in their dim rooms at home, scouring websites and constantly refreshing their internet browsers with the hope that they'll be the first to see the next best card ever printed. Sadly, in the Vintage world, there is rarely anything to legitimately be excited about whenever a new set is released; that doesn't stop people though. There's more speculation intertwined with the quarterly Banned & Restricted Announcement than with a new set's release, and rightfully so. Still, there needs to be someone to help the masses make up their mind and tell them what to think. The following is a three-tier review of Alara Reborn from a Vintage perspective.
Tier 1: Playable Cards
Lorescale Coatl: That's right. I'm saying this is playable. That's quite a compliment considering the extreme requirements to break into the format. Looking at the card itself, it would seem that Lorescale Coatl is going to fit into a blue-based aggro-control/control deck because of its casting cost. I'm leaning towards the aggro-control strategy. In order to find a home for Lorescale Coatl, we must compare it to existing cards:
1. Tarmogoyf is at its best against creature decks because it's going to be bigger than most of the opposition. It'll be a 3/4 (instant, land, creature) most of the time, and even a 4/5 when a sorcery finds its way to the graveyard. Lorescale Coatl won't be able to block as well as Tarmogoyf as soon as it's cast. It'll be on par with the average Tarmogoyf once you untap, and even larger when you start playing spells like Thirst for Knowledge. Lorescale Coatl will quickly surpass the board presence that a Tarmogoyf would have. Another downside to Coatl is that you'll almost always have to wait an additional turn to cast it compared to Tarmogoyf.
2. Quirion Dryad is quite similar to Lorescale Coatl. Both creatures grow incrementally. Whereas Quirion Dryad grows for each black, blue, red, or white spell you play, Lorescale Coatl grows for each card that you draw. Lorescale Coatl is going to grow faster on average than Quirion Dryad. The reasoning behind that is this: Growing both creatures is going to be a process that takes multiple turns. While Duress won't grow Lorescale Coatl, the draw step of your turn will and vice versa regarding Quirion Dryad. Quirion Dryad will be able to get ahead of Lorescale Coatl if you cast more non-draw spells than there are draw steps in the growing time. However, the way that you'll get more spells which would trigger Quirion Dryad and not Lorescale Coatl is by playing card-drawing spells which ultimately should favor Lorescale Coatl because you'll be drawing multiple cards with each spell. If every draw step in the deck yields a spell that grows Quirion Dryad but not Lorescale Coatl, then there is parity. The difference that tips the balance is the amount of cards that put spells into your hand without drawing them (ex. Dark Confidant, Fact or Fiction, Necropotence, etc.) versus the number of cards that draw multiple cards (ex. Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Sensei's Divining Top, Timetwister, etc.) plus lands in your deck.
3. Comparing Psychatog with Lorescale Coatl is quite interesting. They have an equivalent mana cost. Psychatog will generally be found in a more controlling Mana Drain deck with lots of card draw. Lorescale Coatl also benefits from being in a deck with lots of card draw, yet the two are quite different. Lorescale Coatl is going to be at its best when it's played early in the game whereas Psychatog is going to be good the further the game advances. An early Psychatog is still going to have some kick to it. Defensively, it's quite strong. You might have to throw away a spell or two from your hand to defend it in combat, but it's still quite resilient. Lorescale Coatl can't go through combat very well initially. A late Lorescale Coatl is going to pale in comparison to a late Psychatog. A significant amount of work would have to be done before the Coatl would become equivalent to what the Tog could be when it's played.
Lorescale Coatl is going to be better than Quirion Dryad and Tarmogoyf, but not necessarily Psychatog. In a heavy control deck, Psychatog is better. In an aggro-control deck, Lorescale Coatl is going to be better.
Tier 2: Mediocre Cards
Qasali Pridemage: One of the undercosted cards in the set. At first sight, you'd think that any aggro-control deck that could cast the Pridemage would want to play him. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with it:
1. The exalted mechanic doesn't work very well in Vintage. The main use of exalted is to force the opponent into making unfavorable trades with their creatures to the point of being able to just attack them with lots of men and overrun them. There are very few decks with a sufficient creature count to create board situations where exalted can be used to break a stalemate. Against a deck without creatures, exalted is mediocre at best. When there is only one creature in play attacking on your side, exalted is an additional damage. However, when you start playing more creatures (which is typically going to happen every game by turn two or three simply because of the way these types of decks that include utility bears like Qasali Pridemage play out), exalted doesn't do anything at all. For example, on the turn you can attack with Qasali Pridemage and Gaddock Teeg/Dark Confidant/Tarmogoyf, you're going to attack with both creatures because it'll be more damage than attacking with just one; exalted did nothing there.
2. The disenchant ability that Qasali Pridemage has isn't terribly relevant to the field. It doesn't stop Tinker very effectively because Darksteel Colossus is indestructible and Inkwell Leviathan has shroud. It doesn't stop Necropotence or Yawgmoth's Bargain very effectively. If the deck you're playing uses Chalice of the Void instead of Null Rod, then using it to blow up a Mox isn't efficient. Having a 2/2 in play seems better baring odd situations.
3. The casting cost. Costing GW with its 2/2 body makes the Pridemage fits into very few decks. It'll be restricted to GWR / GWU / GWB aggro/aggro-control decks which aren't competitive archetypes.
To be fair, there are some good uses for the disenchant ability. Oath of Druids is one of the main concerns. If you're playing a deck without Null Rod, and therefore possibly playing all five Moxes, Aether Vial, Sensei's Divining Top, and/or equipment like Sword of Fire and Ice or Umezawa's Jitte, having Pridemage to blow up an opponent's Null Rod could be a big deal. Having a Pridemage or Aether Vial in play will reduce the effectiveness of the opponent's Chalice of the Void set at two (which traditionally is a problem). The Time Vault and Voltaic Key combination is disrupted somewhat by having a Pridemage in play and mana untapped to use it.
Tier 3: Cards that are below mediocre but people will still try them
Illusory Demon: A 4/3 flyer for 1UB is nothing to scoff at. However, as much as I'd like to compare this guy to Phyrexian Negator, Skittering Horror, and Hypnotic Specter, it's simply not possible. The drawback of not being able to play spells while the Demon is in play is too much of a drawback to consider him playable. At least with the aforementioned three, you'd be able to interact beyond simply attacking to ensure that your creature kills them. For Illusory Demon to be effective, you'd need to be crushing the opponent already. You'd need them to not have much time (one or two turns) to find an answer to your board position or win the game with their cards. At that point, Illusory Demon could be anything. There are already cards suited better for that role that don't have drawbacks as severe as Illusory Demon's.
Sen Triplets: Some people have called this card the new Mindslaver. They are simply wrong for multiple reasons. Mindslaver was good because it could be used immediately and required nothing else from you beyond the four colorless mana needed to activate it. Don't be mistaken. Sen Triplets's effect is powerful. However, it is not at the same level as Mindslaver. Mindslaver completely locked the opponent out of the game and let you play your own spells without interference from the opponent whereas Sen Triplets lets you play spells from the opponent's hand as though they were in yours. However, Sen Triplets requires you to use your own mana which means that you won't be able to utilize Sen Triplets to its full potential and keep mana open to prevent the opponent from resolving spell(s) that you don't want them to. With Sen Triplets, the opponent still gets to take their turn and draw out of their unfortunate predicament. They won't leave a bunch of Moxes in their hand for you to play, so the effect won't be as epic as desired.
There are more undesirable qualities of Sen Triplets. It costs five mana which includes one white (blue and black are almost always on-color) making it hard to act as a Mana Drain sink. It also doesn't do anything spectacular in many matchups. Sen Triplets doesn't do anything against Oath of Druids or Ichorid decks. Against Mishra's Workshop and aggro decks, their hand will most often be empty or have spells that you don't want to play (Thorn of Amethyst).
The best scenario with Sen Triplets is in the Ritual combo mirror where you're able to resolve the ability and go off using both players' hands. Unfortunately, for that to happen, you'd need to resolve a 2UWB sorcery-speed spell (which doesn't affect the game at all) or Tinker it into play, survive their turn, and have them be unable to play their spells effectively so that you can play them yourself. That sequence of plays seems pretty far fetched to say the least.
Time Sieve: Taking an extra turn has always been one of the most powerful game effects. Time Sieve delivers the ability to take an extra turn, but at a monumental cost: sacrificing five artifacts. The first logical step to break this card would be to find all of the ways to continuously put artifacts into play. The list of cards is short: Diamond Kaleidoscope, Genesis Chamber, Metrognome, Myr Incubator, Myr Matrix, Nuisance Engine, Serpent Generator, Sharding Sphinx, Sliversmith, Soul Foundry, Spawning Pit, The Hive, and Urza's Factory. None of the cards available can put artifacts into play without multiple turns and considerable mana being invested which begs the question: Why bother? You'd be better off playing with real cards instead of messing around trying to get Time Sieve to work. But hey, don't let me stop your shenanigans with Squirrel Nest, Earthcraft, Mycosynth Lattice, and Time Sieve. Go nuts!
Thought Hemorrhage: Cranial Extraction, Extirpate, and Extract have a new card to keep them company. Thought Hemorrhage is the newest card to join this group of cards that is terrible. Why? They just don't do anything. Thought Hemorrhage is a four mana sorcery. It's simply too hard to resolve for too much mana for too little effect. I've never been worried about my opponent resolving Extirpate. Why would I care about Thought Hemorrhage?
Vedalken Heretic: Aggro-control decks are getting quite a bit of attention from Alara Reborn. Vedalken Heretic joins Ophidian, Dark Confidant, Ohran Viper, Cold-Eyed Selkie, and Ninja of the Deep Hours. Wizards' R&D team even gave the Heretic the ability to draw cards simply by dealing ANY kind of damage to the opponent. It's time to search for those Arcane Teachings and Viridian Longbows. There are a few problems with Vedalken Heretic. His mana cost is two on-color which means he's probably not going to come down on turn one. He will never be able to survive any kind of combat. Having a power of only one means he is terrible at being any sort of clock which is the most significant problem.
Putrid Leech: This guy suffers from similar problems that Vedalken Heretic has. Namely, the casting cost. Putrid Leech is most likely to be incorporated into a budget suicide black deck which means it's competing with Dark Confidant, Nantuko Shade, Phyrexian Negator, Hypnotic Specter, and Tarmogoyf. While Putrid Leech may edge out one of the three-drops, it's not going to get played over any of the two-drops and therefore suggests that it won't be played at all.
Vithian Renegades: Red and green have always been able to destroy artifacts quite efficiently. Unfortunately for Vithian Renegades, its predecessors are superior for the most part. At one mana, there's Gorilla Shaman, Oxidize, and Shattering Spree. At two mana, there's Tin-Street Hooligan and Ancient Grudge. At three mana, there's Rack and Ruin and Viashino Heretic. The power level of Vithian Renegades just isn't high enough to justify playing it over the aforementioned options. Even a budget RG aggro deck wouldn't run it because of Gorilla Shaman and Tin Street Hooligan.
Glassdust Hulk: That's correct. This is not a joke. For some reason, people have speculated about this card. I suppose people like to speculate about every card, but this one is especially bad. Some people would say that Glassdust Hulk is like a fireball-on-wheels. You play him and then play a bunch of artifacts in the next few turns to make him big and unblockable. There are a few problems. First of all, Glassdust Hulk is almost uncastable for Mishra's Workshop decks at 3UW. While you could cycle it and use Goblin Welder to cheat it into play, what's the point? By the time you've played Goblin Welder and cycled Glassdust Hulk for U or W mana, any Mishra's Workshop deck should have played multiple cards beforehand that actually affected the board, preventing the opponent from killing you. There are more effective robots to play than Glassdust Hulk. Triskelion, Karn, Silver Golem, Sundering Titan, and Duplicant are just a few that get the nod way before Glassdust Hulk which isn't remotely as good as any of the others.
Ten cards have been reviewed so far, but we're at the end of the article. What's up with that you say? Well, the remaining one hundred thirty-five cards just aren't very exciting. That's right. Even the powerhouse milling sensation Mind Funeral is not being discussed (I don't want to ruin my secret tech for Vintage Worlds). Meddling Mage is in the set, but isn't a new card. Coming from an all multi-color set, I'd say that Vintage got more than should have been expected. Lorescale Coatl will make some waves; Qasali Pridemage to a lesser extent. Anything else is speculation.