Normally I try to only do one article on spoilers—once it’s mostly spoiled, and we’ve seen the majority of the power cards in the set. At that point you can evaluate based purely on power, and then take into account the cards’ positions in the metagame. Sure you may not always be right on these first impressions, but you can at least give some feedback that could be useful. When a rotation happens, however, it adds a bunch of variables and assumptions about what will and won’t be good, before a single game of Magic has been played. So at best we’re making educated guesses.
With that said, this is Return to Ravnica, a set that should be the best selling of all time, along with the most anticipated. After seeing the PAX spoilers I’m already sure I could write plenty of articles about them, their potential impact, and the design space they’ll be using. I am really excited for this set and I just want to jump right into spoiler season. Most people have tuned out of Standard already and the more we see of Rav, the more people will be able to put together first drafts of potential pre-rotation decks.
Azorius Charm, Izzet Charm, Selesnya Charm
The Charm cycle has started off strong with the return of a variety of modal spells now at two mana, and I see almost no bad abilities on them so far. The iconic Charm cycle from Alara was excellent, and seeing a cheaper set of them can only mean good things for the future of Standard and perhaps Modern as well. Anyone who thinks that skill is being de-emphasized in Magic can take solace in cards like the Charm cycle where you have a variety of options to choose from at a reasonable price. It’s up to the player to maximize them, both in deck construction and in-game. Cheap modal spells are especially nice if we’re moving away from cheap card manipulation. (And after Preordain and Ponder in back-to-back Standard formats, you have to imagine that’s the case.)
Izzet Charm has been the most talked about of the cycle, since Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage will still be with us, but who knows if tempo decks will still exist in any real form once they lose nearly every relevant spell. My favorite ability on here has to be Spell Pierce, which is going to make a lot of Bonfire of the Damneds, planeswalkers, and control decks very sad. The ability won’t be as important as Mana Leak was, but right now it looks like the only true main deck counterspell post-rotation, which makes it a game changer.
The other two abilities on the card mean that it’s never going to be totally dead and has early game usage, so it hits pretty much every mark. I have a feeling that the looting aspect of it will be the one ability people don’t get quite right, since timing basic card drawing spells is already something people mess up, and this card can be held against X or Y as a counterspell forever. Letting go of that is going to be tough for some, while others gleefully sculpt their hand early in the game. The power of this card comes down to format, and I believe it may be more effective in older formats if the metagame shapes up along the lines of Block.
Azorius Charm on the other hand doesn’t quite live up to that lofty standard, though it is also never dead, by virtue of cycling. Everything else on the card screams, ‘play this with Geist of Saint Traft!’ The lifelink option looks meh at first glance, but in race situations having the option can easily win you the game. Swinging with Geist gives you 6 life, so throw in another creature or two and suddenly you’re talking about gaining double-digit life and again, that’s arguably the weakest ability this card has (My vote goes toward cycling, since in reality none of them are weak).
The strongest option has got to be Aethertow at just two mana, which can build tempo, give you an unconditional defense or get the occasional blocker, and rebuy on a Snapcaster Mage. If people thought it was frustrating getting [card vapor snag]Snagged[/card] on multiple turns, this could be a much worse kind of hell for them. The possibility of losing multiple draw steps because you attacked or blocked with smaller creatures is going to be a very sobering thought. Unlike Izzet Charm, where you would at least consider it in any deck capable of supporting it, Azorius Charm seems perfect for tempo and midrange shells, control need not apply unless it really wants to judge a creature unworthy.
For Selesnya Charm, use the same logic for Azorius Charm and apply it here. You’ll only play this in aggressive or midrange strategies due to the nature of the abilities, and in those decks you rack up the value. Making a 2/2 vigilance at instant speed in a format which will likely have at least one strong token deck is going to be a barrel of laughs. It also gives an amazing answer to the Wolfir Silverheart/Titan/Consecrated Sphinx* issue of your entire deck being outclassed by a threat none of your cards can touch. Almost every sweet finisher currently legal or spoiled so far falls under the five power clause, and you can wipe it out at a discount the same turn they play it. Well I guess that may change things in green mirrors just a wee bit, don’t’cha think?
*While these rotate, there have to be some finishers—as we’ve seen most of the Rav ones spoiled seem to have Dragon-sized stats of 5/5.
Of Mortars and Miracles
Mizzium Mortars, Street Spasm
Unless white gets yet another Wrath of God variant in Ravnica , it looks like that the best colors for sweepers moves from white and black to red and black instead. With the printing of Bonfire of the Damned—and now with Magmaquake, and Mutilate seeing a reprint in M13—these two colors will enjoy time in the sun. Sure Terminus still exists, and I’m sure people will try to make miracles work, but I am curious if this repositioning of the colors will stand.
Even more interesting is that you’re given valid reasons to stay heavy red to make full use of Mizzium Mortars and Street Spasm, unlike Bonfire where anyone with a dollar or fifty can buy a lottery ticket and reap the benefits. Notably though, this removal is a callback to Flame Slash when cast at normal price, and can be set up to blow up the opponent’s side of the board. Sure that happened with Bonfire of the Damned, but when you weren’t blasting off a miracle Bonfire could be effectively raced by just playing higher toughness guys and using Gavony Township.
Using a current-day example, people will commonly tell me that Bonfire trashes Naya Pod. But when I play the games out, the number of times I lose to non-miracle Bonfire of the Damned is quite small. Usually it’s only when it blows up multiple mana producers in one fell swoop. Otherwise, my Golems, Angels, and other assorted creatures have either gained value or are too large. 4 damage across the board for six means not only does it reach up to Angel, but it also can race turns five and six activations on Township, and still wipe the board. Street Spasm may seem like the weakest of the lot, and even then, it has plenty of uses. Whenever Wolfir Silverheart is the biggest game in town, it makes all damage based sweepers take a hit, but with Spasm you can respond to soulbond. The main drawback to Spasm is the inability to interact with Lingering Souls, which is likely to be a significant player post-rotation.
The biggest takeaway with these cards is that you’re rewarded for staying heavier red and going with a slower route that normally red doesn’t excel at. If you want to be midrange, here’s extra spot removal that doubles as late-game Bonfire of the Damned. Who knows whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing, since if you look at the Block meta, it was full of creature-based decks that excelled because of all the conditional removal. With much better removal available, it may help eliminate the stranglehold Jund has on the format by letting you profitably interact with other creatures. Of course the Block metagame comparison that everyone (including myself) makes is a bit flawed, due to the lack of Lingering Souls as a factor in the metagame. You could argue that Bonfire was going to keep those decks in check, but when a top five card from the set was banned, it tends to skew everything we know.
Other Assorted Nonsense
Dreadbore is an interesting take on Terminate, giving a good answer to high loyalty planeswalkers for B/R outside of throwing burn spells at them. Being unconditional is a boon, and it seems like a fair bit of new removal is equal opportunity, like Murder. Moving away from instant speed also forces players to commit precious mana main-phase, which is a big deal with the number of pump effects available. Someone, somewhere, is very happy that they can pump with Kessig Wolf Run and not eat a Time Walk from the black player. It allows BR to move into a slower direction, since one of the best ways to beat black/X decks was to simply play and protect a planeswalker. Dreadbore gives these decks a better reason to exist now that they won’t simply lose to this line of play. Most notably—R&D is printing more and more cards specifically designed to interact with planeswalkers.
A new Jace! This fourth iteration of Jace is an interesting cross between 2.0 and 3.0, with some tweaks on the the old classic. We’ve returned to a Jace that can protect itself in some way with its +1 neutralizing swarm decks and effectively buying multiple loyalty when you activate it against an attacking strategy. Something that may be overlooked is just how obnoxious it can be to have a card that shrinks the team, gains loyalty and provides a tangible reason for you to attack Jace. Jace’s second ability is one of the only pure card advantage abilities in the entire format that we’ve seen. Anyone who played Block can tell you how difficult it was to get more value than a one-for-one outside of a very small subset of cards, and Jace provides a great outlet to gain cards with.
The first ability makes the second ability that much scarier, because you can prevent swarm decks from killing Jace immediately, unlike Jace 3.0 which was worthless without boatloads of help. Jace being able to mini-Fact or Fiction may not quite be Brainstorm, but as far as abilities go it’s hard to be displeased with it. Either you get the best card from your top three, or you pick up a bit of value as 2/1 is the only relevant split outside of very rare corner cases. So how much is Divination (if you always take the two pile) or a three card Impulse worth to you? Even if you only get value twice, you can still net three cards from Jace over two turns which is better than most PW’s we’ll have available.
As usual, people are quick to claim good or bad on Jace. Without knowing exactly what will be around, there’s just no real basis for the claims. If the format is all aggro and midrange, then Jace may not make a large impact at all. But if the format is about durdly value and board control like Block was, then this Architect is going to design you a game-winning hand eventually.
You’ll note that I didn’t talk about Jace’s ultimate, and that’s because outside of the pure control mirror or a topdeck war I can’t see ever willingly sitting and adding loyalty to eventually -8. The first ability just isn’t anywhere near as strong as drawing cards or fatesealing the opponent, and the ultimate gives no guarantee of winning the game. If they have cards like [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card] or Cruel Ultimatum sure—otherwise you’ll be just grabbing the two biggest dorks (or planeswalkers) in both of your decks and hoping for the best. This ability, along with the wording in the first ability, should all appeal to Commander players with abilities tailor-made to that format.
If you want to compare him to [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card], here’s my Dr. Jack side-by-side comparison:
Immediate Impact: Tamiyo, but it’s close and metagame relevant.
Basically, both can be strong planeswalkers that take a little bit of time to find a proper home. Jace should find a home more quickly than Tamiyo did, due to better brand marketing*, and the prominently featured card-drawing ability. Jace, Architect of Thought is a fine addition to the Jace line of deck construction accessories. I think a fair section of the same people that aren’t impressed with this planeswalker were mostly the same ones who talked up Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or some of the recent planeswalkers into world beaters. After Jace, the Mind Sculptor got pushed power-wise, the last two blocks have gotten far closer to original Lorwyn PW design of solid/role-player cards that don’t necessarily force a sub-game when they hit the field.
Oh look, Sylvan Ranger came back to us! I would have loved to have this card when Birthing Pod was around, and the fact that it can now grab a dual land makes this card quite the reasonable option. Clearly the key to how much play this card sees comes down to just how much the three- and four-color decks need mana-fixing, and what they can do with the body. If they can’t get any real value out of the 0/2 you get out of the deal, then of course a fair number of decks would rather play with Farseek or something else.
Last and certainly not least is the return of shocklands! Yay, shocklands are back! Common duals are also interesting, Pauper finally gets real mana-fixing, and while in Standard I have no idea how much play they’ll actually see, the gate mechanic could change things. If there are good gate tutors similar to Gatecreeper, then they could be very viable options outside of throwing a couple into midrange or control if you really want more duals.
That’s it for this week, enjoy the Ravnica spoiler season!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom