For Born of the Gods, I'm trying something a little different with the set reviews. Don't worry, all the quality observations and excellent jokes will still be there, but the Constructed and Limited ratings are getting split up. This way, I can finish and publish the Limited reviews before the prerelease, and have the Constructed portion out by the time the set becomes actually legal for play. It also puts way less stress on me, because with the excitement of every new set comes many hours of reviews, and breaking it into two weeks instead of one is a huge help. With that out of the way, let's get on to the rating system and joke-delivery vehicles!
Here's the rating system I'll be using:
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%)
There are going to be a fair number of devotion cards in this set, so I might as well talk about the mechanic now. These cards clearly have a wide range, and with spells like Acolyte's Reward, that range now includes “zero.” Part of the reason that Gray Merchant of Asphodel is so awesome is that it always works for at least 2 (barring instant-speed removal, which is rare). This cycle of spells doesn't have that luxury, so there is the very real chance that they do nothing in hand. The main thing to look at with devotion cards, and really any linear mechanic in general, is how much you get paid off for meeting the requirement. If the reward is large, it's worth putting forth some effort and/or risking dead draws. If the reward is that you get a normal card's worth of value, you should look elsewhere.
Luckily for Acolyte's Reward, it in fact is rewarding enough to make it worth the devotion. Not only does this save one of your creatures from combat or a burn spell, you get to pick off one of their creatures if the numbers line up right. Even casting this for one can do some work, and once you are talking about redirecting 3+ damage, you enter the realm of large-scale blowouts.
This seems to me like a card worth gambling on early, and a very good pick later in the pack if you are already white and happen to see it. It's no Gray Merchant, but the effect it has on games is swingy enough that it's going to be one of the loudest devotion cards in the set.
It's easy to see the red activation cost and conclude that if you aren't RW, this isn't good. You have to be vigilant in order to catch yourself from making such an incorrect leap of logic, and realize that this is still a Hill Giant with an upside. If you can activate it, it's very good, and makes blocking exceedingly difficult for the opponent. The ability is good enough late game that I'd be tempted to splash a red source or two, but if we're being honest, I didn't need that much provocation.
Heroic cards have consistently over-performed in Theros, and I don't expect Born of the Gods to substantially change that. Skyguard is dorky enough without pump spells to not quite be an auto-play, but having natural evasion makes him one of the most dangerous heroic creatures to date. In a good heroic deck, Skyguard is head, shoulders, and wings above the rest.
I find it funny that first strike is more dangerous on defense than offense, especially once you are talking about your whole team gaining it. Your 2/2s still can't attack into their 3/3s, but their 3/3s are sure not going anywhere when you have a wall of first strike standing ready. Beware of the opponent killing your Archetype mid-combat, but against an opponent with no removal this makes blocks difficult and attacks very difficult.
Hail to the King! I'd be surprised if there is a better card to play turn three in this format, and it isn't like Brimaz gets much worse later. Even if by some stroke of luck your opponent deals with Brimaz, you probably accumulated a litter of Cat Soldiers to make up for your loss. The only saving grace for your enemies is that Brimaz isn't going to singlehandedly turn the tide when you are losing to fliers or are very far behind. I may have some (more) words to say about Brimaz once the Constructed review rolls around...
This is the kind of card I always want in my sideboard. Its value as a maindeck card is a bit sketchy, mainly because casting either half is mediocre, but if you can get both effects you are getting more than your mana's worth. Enchantments are ubiquitous enough that I wouldn't be too ashamed to maindeck this if you have enough targets of your own, just don't go out of your way to do so.
Despite being a very confusing read (this is an Aura creature that counts Auras and creatures!?), I don't think this literally lives up to its name. All of your bestow creatures only count once, regardless of where they are on the battlefield, and counting your non-bestow creatures shouldn't be too tough, making this more like Eidolon of Easily-Counted Battles. Once you are done with the math part of the exam, you get to the reward, which is one giant monster. If you made the normal play of bestowing this for the bargain price of four, you will be getting a second giant monster once the first dies, putting your opponent in a tough spot. Hopefully this is everything Nighthowler isn't, because I liked the look of that one as well.
A 3/1 for 3 is solid enough that you don't need much of an excuse to run it, even in decks where this is just an Average Skirmisher or even a Fairly Mediocre Skirmisher. I'm always ready to board out my 1-toughness creatures against pinging effects and small sweepers, so keep that in mind, but otherwise this is a reasonable card. You don't really even need ways to target it, due to the lack of a permanent bonus I can't imagine that you'd want to target this all that often anyway.
Ephara's Radiance is an inspiration to combo players everywhere, as the actual cost-to-effect ratio on the card itself is poor. If you have enough inspire creatures (3+) you can play this as a last-ditch way to get your machine going, but I'd normally avoid it even then. The best way to inspire is by using combat tricks or bestow cards to make your creatures survive, not set yourself up for getting 2-for-1'd by playing cards like this.
This is like the luxury model of Assassinate, with an unneeded upgrade that costs you more mana than it's worth. Still, it's removal, and it kills big creatures, so it's hard to be too choosy.
As I've said many times, expensive Wraths don't really do it for me. You can't slowplay them without being obvious, and at seven mana, you risk just dying sometimes. What I do like about Fated Retribution is that it's an instant, which is a huge upgrade from normal Wraths, and especially expensive ones. Being able to blow up the world at the end of the opponent's turn and be the first to dump your hand on the board is awesome, and you might even get to attack if you had a bestow Aura or two out before the board got wiped. I'd be surprised if the scrying part of this happened all that often, just because of how powerful the instant speed aspect is, but it's a nice option to have nonetheless.
Lightning may not strike twice, but Ghostblade Eidolon sure does. Casting the Eidolon isn't very exciting (though it does wear other Auras very well) so I'd recommend finding something evasive, large, or preferably both and strapping some blades to it. Putting this on even a 3-power creature makes a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut, and I can't even imagine what happens when it's a Vulpine Goliath.
Some formats lend themselves to this effect more than others, and based on my experiences adventuring in Theros, this format will land somewhere in the middle (but closer to the “this is good” side). Tapping your opponent's whole team is at its best when boards often become stalled, because it breaks games wide open by dealing 15 damage in one attack. It's also useful in close races, which will certainly happen here. Where you don't want tap effects is when you are in an attrition battle or when you are playing the control role.
Additionally, heroic lets you declare all your creatures as attackers, then tap your opponent's team and target your own team, which makes glimpsing the sun god a much more appealing proposition.
If your deck meets multiple of the following requirements, I'd pick Glimpse aggressively. If it meets zero to one, you might not even want to play it (cards that lose or gain a ton of value based on the rest of your deck are what make good Limited formats, by the way):
1) You are aggressive. This is by far the most important quality.
2) You have a lot of heroic creatures. Also pretty key.
3) You are very light on removal, but have good late-game threats. This is when you are desperate, but sometimes you do have a few sick bombs and no good ways to survive until you can cast them.
4) It's a flavor draft, and you have decided to theme your deck around Heliod (also known as the BenS method).
The payoff for having this survive an attack is decent, but it's hard enough to pull off that this isn't my favorite. There are some tricks/Auras that let you get in there without fear, but I'd rather just pants up a heroic creature instead. Every now and then you live the dream of having this turn two on the play, and for every time that happens you will draw this on turn 7 and end up chumping with it.
He's got hart, I'll give him that. If you need a vanilla four-drop, this certainly qualifies.
A 1/4 flier is interesting, because it blocks a whole lot of problematic attackers. I wouldn't normally want to pay five for it, so I wouldn't run this unless I had a couple enchantments to bring back, which really shouldn't be that hard to pick up.
You always need a hero in this format, given that heroes apparently make your Auras cheaper and become gigantic threats. There are very few white decks that don't have at least a couple Auras, so I wouldn't expect to see Hero of Iroas go very late at all. At the very worst, he's a bear, and his high end is high indeed. Bestowing giant things on him a turn early and getting a heroic bonus for doing so is a big game.
I'd hold off on playing this in most decks, just because of how bad toughness-only combat tricks tend to be. Even the fact that you can use it on yourself doesn't prevent it from being a filler card unless the matchup specifically demands it.
You need a fair amount of evasion to make this a workhorse, since a 2-power flier isn't a big enough reward to justify throwing away attackers. The 1 toughness makes double-blocking unappealing, though if they attack with multiple creatures you can often set up decent blocks (which is easy enough for your opponent to avoid). What I do like is the all-Loyal Pegasus deck. Just imagine stampeding your opponent with five or six of these!
This is a neat little combat trick. I don't love the +1/+1 bonus, but at one mana this is efficient enough that I'm attracted to it. Early game this trades for a creature for only one mana, gaining you a couple of life as a bonus, and late game you will often just cast it on a bestowed creature and hit for 5+ damage and a huge swing in life.
Squire has never been so enchanting. I like the cycle of vanilla bestow creatures, because they all reward good tactical play and let you pick up a solid amount of value. None of them are busted, but all of them are solid playables.
Traveling Philosopher wanders its way into enough decks that I'm not ruling this out, though as a general guide I don't love non-heroic small creatures. Gaining a couple life off this is nice, even if it's way worse than just having lifelink, and I wouldn't go too deep trying to combo off with this.
Tribute is an interesting mechanic. It's a pretty big drawback to let your opponent choose the mode of your card, but if both sides are powerful then you still end up happy most of the time. Contrast that with punisher (cards like Browbeat or Book Burning), where the two sides were often so different that it was nearly impossible to find a situation where you'd be happy with both.
Here, you get a 5/5 flier or a 3/3 flier and two 1/1 fliers, both of which are easily worth five mana in Limited. There aren't even very many cards that punish one of the modes, though I'd expect to get the 5/5 more often than not, just because one removal spell deals with it.
Paying six mana for two enchantments is way too much unless you are doing something truly busted, which is unlikely to happen in Limited. Even getting two very good cards is a net loss if you had to pay six mana upfront.
Much like the other enchantment/artifact removal in the set, maindecking one is acceptable in draft, solid in Sealed, and exciting in neither. Exiling is cute, but not really that relevant except against Gods, which aren't much of a Limited consideration. I love having these in the sideboard, though that doesn't make me prioritize them that heavily in draft. For the prerelease (or any Sealed) always be aware of how many targets your opponent has played, since getting the numbers right on how many effects like this you want post-board is very important.
I'm not blown away by this, especially given the distinct lack of X-Men in this Limited format. A very expensive flier that needs to attack to trigger and requires you have an enchantment in your bin in order to get value is just not awesome, even if the stats are solid enough to make it worth playing. If you want to play white, by all means pick it for the prerelease, but I know I won't be.
Blade of the Sixth Pride is a fine card, even if this sometimes can be a little worse. As someone who regularly plays Thassa's Bounty, I'll have to beware of getting lost in my own labyrinth, but that probably won't come up for most people. 3 power for two mana is appealing enough that this is going to be just about an auto-play, and cards that are as strong as this in Constructed (look out, Legacy) tend to seem more appealing to people in general.
I don't want to say you should never play this, because you could draft a turbo-life gain deck where it's at least playable, but I'd recommend letting this one ride off into the sunset (or your sideboard).
It is funny that WW can often be a better casting cost than 1W, though even the devotion decks probably would rather their 2-drops be easier to cast. Silent Artisan is much better than if it cost 4W, because it's a 5-drop, but the same isn't universally true among cheaper cards. Regardless, Vanguard of Brimaz is an aggressive drop and a reasonable heroic trigger, which lets you spread around your bonuses as 1/1 tokens instead of +1/+1 counters that go away if they deal with your enchanted threat. Vigilance isn't a bad ability to have on creatures that tend to get large, though it's not quite enough to make me play this in a non-heroic non-devotion white deck (if such things exist).
Top 3 White Commons
In small sets, I like looking at the top 3 commons, which already can get thin for some colors (looking at you, white). Nyxborn Shieldmate is the unconditionally best common, though that doesn't mean that it's the most powerful. In a good heroic deck, Akroan Skyguard has the highest ceiling, but early in the draft it is safest to take the Shieldmate (especially since Shieldmate is great in decks that want Skyguard as well). Skirmisher bridges the gap, being solid in heroic and non-heroic decks alike, but excellent in neither. White is an aggressive color, as was true in Theros, and heroic is still the name of the game.