Welcome back to my Magic 2014 set review! As before, I’ll take a look at each red card and analyze it for both Constructed and Limited, and for good measure, I’ll occasionally throw in an extremely clever joke.
Here are my other Magic 2014 reviews, for reference:
Here’s the ratings system I’ll be using:
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Naturalize. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation is obviously important.)
1.0: It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was tech vs. Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)
5.0: I will always play this card. Period.
4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.
4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.
3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card’s color.
3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)
2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)
2.0: If I’m playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)
1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)
1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)
0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I’ll never start it. (10%)
0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)
It’s fairly academic; you can’t pay three mana for a 1/1 with a marginal ability and expect things to go well.
Moving Looters into red is interesting, and opens up cardflow to more colors. This happens to ping for one a turn in addition, which adds up to a substantial amount of value for one card.
Act of Treason
As I’ve said many times, there are always a bunch of Threaten variants floating around, and they all act as good sideboard cards depending on the circumstances.
I bring up Act mainly because there looks to be enough support for the Act-sacrifice deck, with Blood Bairns, Gnawing Zombies, Barrage of Expendables, and Tenacious Dead. That’s different than the last couple Core Sets, so keep an eye out for Act of Treason if it looks like the deck is open.
Awaken the Ancient
As a one or two-of in mono-red, Awaken the Ancient could be a giant beating. It hits for a ton of damage, and is very resistant to damage-based removal, which potentially implies awesome sideboard potential. I also do like that it gives haste, just because of how much it improves the user experience when playing it on Magic Online.
The casting cost is the obvious issue here, as the power level of the card is unquestionably high. It’s also a problem that you can only enchant Mountains (though a flavor win), because that makes a two-color deck that much less likely to take advantage of the haste part. If you can cast this reliably, it’s amazing, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case very often.
Barrage of Expendables
It looks like we are getting bombarded with reprints, even if they don’t do the exact same thing as their predecessors. The activation cost catapults this from marginal to virtually unplayable, though Lingering Souls has a way to make otherwise unlikely things happen.
The sacrifice outlets keep piling up, though this one is fairly bad outside of a dedicated sacrifice deck. Having to keep mana up is the real killer, and will make it much harder to get full value over the course of the game.
At five mana, this doesn’t even have a sliver of hope when it comes to Constructed. Too many cards are battling for too few spots.
A five-mana 5/3 is somewhat below the curve, putting this more in the “needs more Slivers” camp. It’s passable on its own, but not desirable, so look to use this as an engine more than a value card.
The line between this and Fires of Yavimaya is blurred. Fires gave all your guys haste and one of them +2/+2, while this guy gives all your guys haste and is a 2/2.
The base rate here is decent, and even the possibility of giving a few other creatures haste is enough to justify playing this.
I don’t see how this isn’t awesome. The average manabase has 20+ nonbasics, making this a one-sided Manabarbs in the decks that most wanted Barbs to begin with. Granted, just the printing of this will change how other decks are built, but that still plays into mono-red’s hands by destabilizing manabases. There will be much ebb and flow with this, but its presence will be felt one way or another.
It’s hard to get an actual 0, but this manages.
I'm just waiting until the critical mass of Minotaurs is reached and the Didgeridoo deck begins to dominate Legacy.
I have never been happy to have random Hill Giants in my deck, but they do their job well enough. If you get to the point where you are cutting Canyon Minotaurs, you are in a very good spot.
This is easily the best Chandra yet, though that speaks more to the competition than this particular Chandra. Starting at 4 loyalty and costing 4 mana is already decent, and the +1 will often let you pick up a free card or two. Plus, nuking a blocker when you have a board presence is huge, leaving your opponent down a bunch of life and facing a 5-loyalty planeswalker plus whatever you already had.
Once you’ve untapped with Chandra in play, which isn’t very hard, she starts drawing you extra cards, though you do have to use them right away. Finally, the ultimate comes out very quickly, and is generally good for a ton of damage or a bunch of extra cards, depending on what flavor of spells you have included in your deck.
The biggest win for Chandra is if there are a lot of one-toughness creatures running around, but even if there aren’t, she does a lot of work for aggro and is still solid in midrange and control.
Chandra heavily promotes offense, but like most planeswalkers, naturally rewards good defense as well. That means she fits well into almost any style of deck, providing a lot of power at a very low cost. She might not get you out of a highly-unfavorable board state, but in any close game she is going to be excellent.
This is an outrage!
Excellent removal, Barbed Lightning, outrageously good etc (did I cover everything?).
Red is in a tough spot right now: it has too many good cards. The Phoenix is by no means bad, it just faces some pretty stiff competition, and I don’t know how playable it actually is. Recurring damage is nice and all, it just needs to be a little faster than this.
I’d play this even if it didn’t come back, and if you manage to recur it once you are way ahead of the game. This is the most aggressive Phoenix we’ve seen in a while; perhaps this is what the Phoenix tribe needed to rise from the ashes and be viable again.
I keep my eye on new cards, but a 3/4 for 6 is not exactly what I’d call intimidating.
I’d prefer that my six-mana creatures don’t have drawbacks, or at least have more than three power if they do. Cracking for 3 a turn makes up for that somewhat, but I’m still not excited about playing this.
From my Magic 2011 Set Review:
It doesn't seem too overpowered to reprint Pillage, since Demolish sure isn't making any waves.
Demolish is definitely worse than Naturalize, but you still want one for your sideboard if possible. Being able to kill some broken [artifact] is crucial, and every now and then you can demolish their ability to cast spells if they are land-shy.
Another unplayable Constructed card to go over. Easy 1.
If your opponent isn’t planning on attacking on the ground, this doesn’t do a whole lot. Most decks do attack on the ground, so the Egg is a fine playable, but prepared to sideboard it out. It’s also a decent thing to sacrifice to various different cards, which is worth keeping in mind.
From my Magic 2013 Set Review:
Before you hatch any plans involving this, remember that it’s a zero-power creature for two mana. Spending your turns to hit them for four or five is not likely to yield the results you desire.
This being a two-drop is deceptive. The ability is powerful, as it’s a flying Fireball for however many Mountains you have, but I can’t imagine you will be pumping it in the first five or six turns of the game. I wouldn’t want multiples, and would need at least 10 Mountains, but I would consider it.
Flames of the Firebrand
Just like last Core Set, Flames is a very strong sideboard card, and a decent maindeck option. Its value fluctuates dramatically based on how many 1-toughness creatures are running around, so keeping an eye on that could pay off.
I can also verify that this is still awesome in Limited. You won’t always get a 2 for 1, but when you do on turn 3, it’s incredibly hard for your opponent to come back.
All I can think of when I see this card is orange juice with extra pulp, which is not the most pleasant connection to make when you read the full name of the Giant. The fact that I’m thinking about that instead of Constructed implications might also clue you in to how likely it is that this sees Constructed play.
Missing with this is so bad, leaving with nothing for your trouble (and seven mana) but a 4/4. Even when you hit, unless you are killing a flier or a utility guy, you probably didn’t come out insanely ahead. The card is fine, but a far cry from good.
Farting in their general direction might actually be a good strategy. Making Augurs of Bolas or Huntmasters attack could clear the path for your army of red minions, and paying two mana for a 2/1 isn’t a terrible deal.
Besides the very playable base stats, Goblin Diplomats impacts the board significantly. While this is in play, you threaten to eat all of their small creatures with their large ones, and even when you are behind on the board it can make it so you get to alpha strike past all their tapped creatures. This fits well into both aggro and control, making it just a strong card despite the ridiculous art.
Competition for the 2-drop slot is heavy in Constructed, so we might as well toss another candidate into the mix. Firefist Striker is certainly more powerful, but nothing says we can’t play both this and the Striker, the combo of which makes it very difficult for your opponent to block effectively. Burning-Tree Emissary does reward you for having as many 2’s as possible, so once you’ve start goblin them up, you might might as well get ‘em all in the deck.
Goblin Shortcutter won’t be as insane as it was in Zendikar draft, but it will still be quite good (at least I assume that M14 allows you to draft non-aggro decks some of the time, unlike Zendikar).
From my Magic 2011 Set Review:
Sometimes I axe myself if I make too many puns, but the truth is that I lava them too much.
This clearly helps an aggressive deck, though I don't hate it as much as you might expect. 5 damage is a lot, especially if they don't know that it's coming. It isn't a great card in most midrange decks, but you could do worse. Stealing games is pretty fun, and Lava Axe does that quite well.
There’s not much to say about this for Constructed, but luckily I’m talonted enough to figure out something clever, and lightning fast at that.
As with most auras, this is very high variance. Sometimes it’s amazing (and I’m sure many people will be glad to recount stories of this), but you have to balance those times with the times where your opponent has the bounce or removal spell. Even when it is good, they do have the option to chump, unlike with Madcap Skills, so I’m not sold on this being awesome. It’s fine in aggressive decks, but that’s about it. There are matchups where it can shine, so picking up a few to side in against removal-light decks can be good.
The good news is that this won’t have to attack each turn. The better news is that it’s because it will never be in play.
If you give me a 5/3 for four, you better believe I’m attacking. Having an Advocate to prevent that is upside, but it’s rarely going to be that big a deal. The stats here are more than acceptable, and I’d be happy to play this in any deck.
Don’t mind if I do! This bashes for three, wins most creature fights, and punishes blue decks very effectively. It does die to a wide range of removal spells, including Supreme Verdict, but it least it punishes them for casting it. Mindsparker brawls well enough that I’d be comfortable maindecking it in the right metagame, and it looks to be a solid pick out of the sideboard even when it doesn’t make the main.
The color hoser part of the card is not nearly as important as the rest, and the rest does not disappoint. Very few creatures can fight this and survive, making it a strong card with a randomly good upside against blue and white decks.
As much as I like flipping coins, this might not even be worth it if you won every flip.
Seeing as how I’ll always get 2 tokens and Shahar will get an unbounded amount, the value of this card is dynamic. For most people, it’s still a fine deal, getting you slightly below what you want if you miss and potentially very far above if you hit once or twice. If you can make use of tokens (in say, the sacrifice deck), all the better.
Let’s add another card to the “When Hellrider Rotates” list. The ability here is very strong, though the requirement that you play your creatures after your 4-drop is certainly worse than curving into your 4-drop. This might even be used in decks other than just mono-red, since granting haste has all sorts of possibilities.
Sitting back on this and sending in 4/2s for 2 seems like a pretty good deal, and if the way is clear, you might as well battle with the Driver. In a creature-light deck, this doesn’t do a ton, but if you draft the Ogre early you can assemble enough troops to take advantage of him.
I’m not pitching the use of this for Constructed, but it’s worth mentioning for Limited.
Pitchburn Devils is already a strong card, and there is some strong circumstantial evidence that suggests that the sacrifice deck is back in full force. If that’s the case, this gets even stronger.
A vanilla 4/1 doesn’t get me fired up, even if it only costs three.
The stats here are enough to make this pretty close to an auto-play, with the 1 toughness being the main drawback. There are a number of cards that pick on 1-toughness guys, and sometimes you will leave the Cat in the bag to get around them.
Scourge of Valkas
Ah, the Dragon version of Sparkmage Apprentice. The numbers on this are good enough to justify playing it, but I find it kind of silly that it just pings for 1 the vast majority of the time. It just seems a little strange for a mythic Dragon to come in and plink something. When you play a second one, you get to go off, which is cool at least. Thundermaw Hellkite leaves some large footprints to fill, and Scourge does not quite get there in that regard.
This is cheaper than most Dragons, and most Dragons are already great in Limited.
It’s probably not earth-shattering news, but this is bad in Constructed.
Not only am I going to call this a Falter, but it actually is a Falter! Sure, it isn’t an instant, but that part was kind of strange anyway. The super fast red decks will want this, but nobody else will, so you will be able to pick this up fairly late. Also, even though this could easily be the key card for that archetype, the low rating more reflects how likely it is that you play it, not the power level when you do play it.
Embrace the puns, you know you want to.
If you can’t get a real Dragon, this is the next best thing. It turns any creature into a firebreathing monstrosity, and unless answered quickly, just ends the game. It’s a good card to slowroll too, because playing this as the last threat will often let you steal games you had no business winning.
I wish I could give this a higher rating, because who doesn’t love Shivan Dragon? But it’s been a long time since this was a Constructed staple. Some would argue that it was playable at PT Hollywood in 2008, but that’s more JVL’s wheelhouse than mine.
Shockingly, Shivan Dragon is a good card in Limited.
Zzzzt. This is about as good as Disfigure was in Zendikar block, which is to say it’s awesome.
I always like picking up this type of card when I can, because you never know when you need to side one in.
At first glance, this doesn’t strike me as good enough for Constructed, even if there is a Sliver deck. At second glance, that remains true.
If you aren’t the Sliver deck, this is a strikeout. It’s not big enough to justify itself, so you really need to be Slivering to make it worth your while.
The ability here is good, but the casting cost is not. Paying five mana for this is not a very reasonable thing to do.
You need a couple other Slivers to make this work, but not all that many, and when it’s in a dedicated Sliver deck it’s ridiculous. If the Sliver deck is worth going for, this is one of the cards you could open that would incentivize you to try it.
From my Magic 2011 Set Review:
Pumping creatures is the first strike, only doing extra damage it the second, and giving an almost useless ability is the third. On second thought, maybe giving first strike should be the first strike, since that's more poetic.
Any deck with a normal creature count won't mind one of these, and maybe even two. [...]this isn't really worse than a normal Giant Growth, and with low toughness creatures it will often be better.
From my Magic 2013 Set Review:
I actually find that people overrate X-spells[...] The most likely output for this card is paying six mana to kill a 4/4, or something along those lines. I get that you can kill them, and with an X-spell in your deck you are almost always drawing live to just win the game once it goes late[...]
Assuming that double-red isn’t a huge problem, I don’t see why you wouldn’t[...] run this. It smooths things out lategame, digs for your bombs, and lets you justify horrible keeps.
The stories that this creates are certainly wild, and every now and then there is a deck that plays the right kind of expensive spell to make this a legitimate counter. Unfortunately, Sphinx’s Revelation doesn’t target, so you are just Reverberating it instead of stealing it. The time probably isn’t right for this, but it’s such a beating when it works that I still have hope.
This costs enough mana that I’d recommend against maindecking it, but it’s an awesome sideboard card. If you have a couple cheap spells you can consider playing it main.
Finally, something to really get fired up about! Young Pyromancer is one of the most powerful engine cards printed recently, with an exciting mana cost of just two. The Pyromancer provides value even in decks that aren’t all-in, and a potential kill condition in decks that are. The number of archetypes this will either create or fit into is not a low number, and I can already see the Modern implications. I’d be shocked if this wasn’t a centerpiece of a variety of different high-tier decks across a few different formats.
You don’t need many spells to make this a strong addition, and it threatens so much value that I’d play it even if I had zero. Your opponent can’t know that, so they will use kill spells on it if they have them, which makes it even better than a random 2/1 for 2 (which is already playable).
Top 5 Red Commons
Red, as usual, is primarily an aggressive color, and its best commons reflect that. Still, there is depth here, with the sacrifice/Act of Treason deck and R/x control decks both looking viable. If you do find yourself drafting the Act deck, I’d normally move Act to right below Shock in the pick order. Shock and Chandra’s Outrage are just too consistently good at killing their creatures to pass up.
Top 5 Constructed Cards
Red’s alight with value here, offering good options to combo, control, and aggro alike. The lone combo and control representatives are Young Pyromancer and Chandra, respectively, but picking up this many powerful cards in a Core Set is not to be underestimated.
I wrap up the colors tomorrow with green, in all of its hexproof glory.
* - Updated Ranking