Welcome back to my set review! If you missed the previous installments, check them out:
Here’s the ratings system I’ll be using:
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. Azorius Charm.
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%)
One-drops get a lot more latitude than 2-drops, and for good reason. A 2/1 with no abilities is above the baseline, and Akroan Crusader has the potential to exceed that. In combination with Young Pyromancer, we now have two engine cards that reward you for playing cheap spells, and I’m sure there’s something sweet we can do with a bunch of tokens. The onus is on the enablers at this point, because Akroan Crusader is cheap enough and powerful enough to be worth building around.
It’ll take more than a couple spells before I want to go on a crusade, just because a 1/1 by itself is so marginal. Akroan Crusader strikes me as the kind of card that’s either great or unplayable, which isn’t that bad a place to be.
Anger of the Gods
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to cast Firespout, and I’ll gladly trade the chance to be selective for the exiling clause. In Standard, killing Voice of Resurgence dead is the biggest priority, though there are plenty of other small-to-medium creatures worth killing. Red receiving a very legitimate Wrath leads to a whole host of interesting decks, and makes red as a main color appealing in a non-aggro capacity for the first time in a long time.
Anger of the Gods impacts Modern as well, mainly due to how good it is against Melira Pod. Getting rid of both Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence forever is huge, and gives Jund another powerful tool in the fight for Modern domination.
I like that this is cheap enough that it’s not exceedingly obvious when you are trying to set it up, and that you can play 4-toughness creatures without fear. There are matchups where 3 damage won’t be enough to make a huge impact, but you should still be able to get a couple cards out of this the first time around. Even if the opponent knows about it, getting a 1-for-1 is not a difficult quest.
Firefist Striker has some competition, or possibly a new compatriot. If all the heroes need a ton of support, hitting battalion might be tough, but these cards are trying to accomplish the same thing in roughly the same manner. Creatures are easier to find than targeted spells, so Arena Athlete’s best bet involves hitching a ride to the Akroan Crusader train.
With cards like this, RW heroic is looking mighty aggressive. Even though it’s soft to removal, I might be able to get behind jamming as many heroes and Ordeals into your deck as possible. If your opponent doesn’t have an early removal spell, they just die, and if they come prepared for a slower format that might happen quite often.
I want to call this Borderline Minotaur, but it’s nowhere even close to the border of playability.
This very card has enjoyed a long history of being perfectly acceptable draft material, dating all the way back to the venerable Lowland Giant.
Bonfire may have been a bit much, but was this really necessary?
I suppose I’ve played worse at this cost. Eight mana is a ton, and not recommended for the faint of heart, so do some preparation before going all the way to eight. Maybe draft a seven-drop or two, and a couple of sixes. Only once you’ve mastered the art of durdling are you truly ready to try and cast extremely mediocre eight-drops with any hope of success.
If this is what heroic decks are counting on, good luck. It’s not completely inconceivable, since the incentives are there, it’s just incredibly horrendous-looking.
Blowouts don’t come much cheaper than this. I do think that people will be very cautious when it comes to multiple-creature combats because of this cycle, so it won’t be as easy as it might otherwise have been. Still, it’s just one mana, and is perfectly acceptable to play as just a 1-for-1, so between that and triggering heroic this does a lot of work for a very small amount of mana.
This needed to be one mana cheaper if it wanted to horn in on Kird Ape's share of the market.
In most red/black decks, Deathbellow Raider does a good thing at a low price. Some decks aren’t all that aggressive, though, so feel free to bench him if that’s the case. In non-black decks, he’s more of a liability than he’s worth, and won’t likely be very good unless you are very focused on beatdown.
The art’s much sweeter, but we can tell that this is still Demolish under that fake mustache and pair of glasses.
The normal caveats regarding unbeatable artifacts and sideboarding apply.
Even heroes need clothing, and Dragon Mantle provides some at the lowest possible cost. One mana and zero cards is a tough deal to beat, with firebreathing being a relevant bonus on top. This is the heroic enabler I like best in red, even if it looks like a middle of the road Limited card.
And middle of the road it is. If you want to trigger heroic, Dragon Mantle has you covered. It’s a fine card to play if you have nine or more Mountains as well, even if you are short on heroes.
Talk about kicking someone while they’re down. Ember Swallower is a good-sized body with a brutal ability attached, and is exceedingly efficient at punishing opponents with slow draws or mana troubles. It’s a bit larger than most good red cards, but the power is there if you can build a deck around it.
HAUMPH. This bashes for a ton of damage, is undercosted to begin with, and has a monstrosity ability that can put the game out of reach for the opponent. If you win the race to monstrosity you can be pretty sure that your opponent will never be able to catch up.
Fanatic of Mogis
I feel like I’ve heard this name before, perhaps with the words in a different order. Either way, this could be an interesting way to top out a curve of RR creatures, if a tad vulnerable to cards such decks already have trouble with (Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods come to mind).
I don’t mind trading a point of toughness for a couple points of pinging damage, and Fanatic of Mogis ranges from annoying to deadly depending on the stage of the game. Just having cards like this in your deck gives you a significant amount of depth, and paths to victory that are hard for your opponent to block.
How many 1-drops does it take before the aggro players of the world are satyrsfied? Granted, Firedrinker Satyr is a bit more painful than most, but it’s still a beating. Red has access to a whole slew of viable one-mana guys, and now it’s just a question of finding out which ones match up best against the world as a whole. Playing this could be a bit rough if you expect to fight Loxodon Smiters all the time, though the firebreathing lets you trade up or hit control players for a few extra points.
I don’t love the idea of my 1-drop hitting me for 2 when I trade it off, and not being able to chump block with this later is fairly annoying. Still, it does hit for 3 on turn two sometimes, and can trade for a 3/3 or 4/4 for a few points of life and mana, so it’s still a fine card.
Young Pyromancer this is not. The Flamespeaker may be adept at hitting for a ton of damage, but that makes opposing removal spells great, and requiring scry instead of just spells makes it much harder to trigger this.
If you can trigger this once per game, it’s probably worth running (assuming that trigger comes as an instant). Even the threat of becoming a 4/3 first striker is often enough to scare the opponent off blocking, which lets Flamespeaker Adept pick up some extra value regardless of whether you have the scry spell.
Hammer of Purphoros
It really is Hammer time. Global haste means that every creature you draw at least has the opportunity to attack before dying, and puts a ton of pressure on your opponent. That half of the card is at its best when you have a lot of good creatures to cast, which combines quite nicely with the second half of the card. The ability to crank out Golems (which also have haste) means that even if you do get flooded, you can start chucking lands at your opponent until they die. The two halves combine to make an incredibly powerful card, and one that has a huge impact no matter what your draw looks like. Not being good in multiples is the only thing holding this back, and that’s minor enough that I’d still play two or three in the decks that want it.
All of the same applies in Limited, though the Golems are even stronger here. Creating a bunch of 3/3s is much stronger when they have to fight random commons instead of Loxodon Smiters and Kalonian Hydras, not that the Hammer needed much help.
If I was just a glorified Hill Giant, I’d be mad too.
This is a solid midrange option with the ability to upgrade to the deluxe model later. That works, even if neither half is amazing.
The Champ’s here, he just costs one too many mana. A potential source of recurring damage is powerful enough to warrant consideration, but is unlikely to see much play. If you are sure they can’t kill this, which is not a given in most matchups, it can do good work. Relying on four-mana creatures is not always the wisest though, and the heroic decks seem aggressive enough to not want this. Maybe it’s good enough for heroic to side in against aggro without removal, if such a thing exists?
Shock on a stick is worth jumping through hoops for (or running through mazes, to stay thematically appropriate). This is one of the better build-arounds in the set.
As usual, this effect is solid. The loss of Snapcaster hurts, but Searing Spear is never going to be in the unemployment line.
Zzzzt. Take this, play it, and be happy. Even in a monster-filled format, this is too efficient not to be great.
It may seem strange to have both this and Lightning Strike around, but I like it. The super aggressive decks get to choose the more damaging option and the midrange or control decks get to choose the one that matches up best against the creatures they want to kill. It’s obviously much better to Jet a 2/2 than Strike it, but having a Jet in hand against a 3/3 is miserable. Magma Jet is the more powerful of the two card, so I’d lean towards it to begin with.
The difference between 2 and 3 is big enough that you should look at the rest of your deck when choosing between this and Lightning Strike. If they aren’t in the same pack, just slam the Jet and move on.
I have a message for all would-be heroes out there: look elsewhere for your performance-enhancing drugs.
There are good ways to trigger heroic and there are bad ways, and I think you can guess which this is.
Just because Josh played Viashino Firstblade in his Boros deck at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze doesn’t mean that Minotaur Skullcleaver should be getting any cleaver ideas.
Unless your deck has no interest in attacking, you should take this reasonably early and be happy to have it. Hitting for four immediately is powerful and gives you so many more live draws in close games.
Ordeal of Purphoros
I’ve slightly come around to this one. Red has some mighty heroic-looking creatures, and getting +3/+3 and a Lightning Strike out of the deal is worth some amount of inconsistency.
Of all the Ordeals, this seems like the one with the most relevant trigger. Bolting a creature is good at any point in the game, unlike the rest of the cycle.
Cryoclasm was always a huge beating, and what this lacks in flexibility it makes up for in explosive power. It’s also a pretty clear answer to Chained to the Rocks, and that card is strong enough that Peak Eruption is going to see some real play.
Not only is this strictly a sideboard card, it’s not even a great one at that. It requires a fairly aggressive deck and a slow deck to face off, which isn’t the most common scenario in the red vs red matchup.
Portent of Betrayal
As long as Act of Treason and Traitorous Instinct are available, this isn’t going to see a ton of play. Scrying is just worse than +2/+0 on this sort of effect, and saving a mana is better than either.
Not every deck wants Threatens, though the presence of auras and monstrosity increases that number somewhat. When you have a reasonably high expectation of taking an 8/8, it becomes much more worth it.
Priest of Iroas
If you have white mana available, there are better and more efficient ways to get this effect.
A 1/1 isn’t strong enough to warrant playing on its own, so this not spectacular even in RW (and very unplayable outside of it). It’s a decent sideboard card, and not the worst filler card if you are short a couple.
Purphoros, God of the Forge
When Purphoros says it’s hammer time, it’s hammer time. He certainly outshines the other gods, and even has the best weapon to boot. Making every creature you play a Shock to your opponent’s face represents a ton of unstoppable damage, and that’s exactly what mono-red is looking for. Even if he never stirs from his mountaintop, Purphoros will easily deal 6-10 damage over the course of the game, and that’s not even taking into account activating his pump ability, which will happen from time to time. Add in his Hammer and you have a recipe for a dead opponent. Supreme Verdict just got a whole lot less good against mono-red, and that was really its biggest weakness. Purphoros gives mono-red (and even multi-color red decks) the tools needed to legitimately go late.
Once Purphoros comes down, your opponent is one a pretty strict clock. All you have to do is not die, and you will eventually Shock them to death, assuming you remembered to put a bunch of creatures into your deck. Not needing Purphoros to be active goes a long way in making him insane, since if he ever does animate, I have to imagine that you are crushing the opponent.
While the arbiters of Constructed may have accepted Purphoros and his Hammer with open arms, I’m afraid it sent back his Emissary with its head in a box.
Madcap Skills is a little less effective when it costs seven mana, but getting the choice of multiple modes and a hard to block Hill Giant more than makes up for that.
Rage of Purphoros
Five mana spells have to be truly outrageous to see Constructed play, and this is just rageous.
Killing most things and getting a free scry is a decent deal for five mana. Sorcery speed is not as exciting as instant speed, so I think I prefer to crack the whip if they are both up for grabs.
I invested it all in Didgeridoos, and this is what I get for a Minotaur Lord? I’m ruined.
This quickly hooves up in the rankings if you have a couple other Minotaurs, but by itself it’s not the most impressive.
I could ramble on for hours about how many 2/1’s for two we have in Constructed, and how this isn’t even close, but I think you get the idea.
A 2/1 with trample may look odd, but I think it’s mostly the goat legs. Throw an enchantment on this guy and he goes to town, nothing odd about that.
I like the progression of Spark Jolt into Magma Jet into Lightning Strike, and think there might be enough going on here to make it playable. It triggers heroic very nicely, kills all sorts of x/1’s at a slight advantage, and fits an underutilized spot in the curve.
As with most ping effects, it gets worse in multiples, but the first is still very good.
I don’t know what an Oread is, but more to the point, I know it’s not good enough for Constructed. It’s been a long time since Kitsune Blademaster was Constructed playable, and even that was debatable (though it did Top 8 Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2005).
Back in my day, you used to have to put up with a drawback if you wanted a 2/2 first strike for 3 (see: Goblin Brawler). Of course, those days are long gone, and instead you get a nice 3-drop and a powerful 6-drop, all in one card.
Shockingly, this is not the stones in Constructed.
It’s pretty sick in Limited, though, as a 5/4 for five is a fine deal to begin with. Add in the ability to become a 8/7 that Falters and you have a giant beating.
I predicted big things for this dragon in my preview article, and I stand by those predictions. Stormbreath Dragon attacks for a good chunk of damage and threatens even more, all while dodging white creatures and spells with ease (would you buy it if I recommended you Detention Sphere this one too?).
One of the best uses of the Dragon is munching on Planeswalkers, and it might be right to hold the Dragon if you expect your opponent to play one. Playing the Dragon after the Elspeth is certainly much better than the other way around.
As an Air Rorix of the highest caliber, Stormbreath Dragon promises a quick game and delivers on said promise. You don’t even need to monstrify this to kill the opponent, though it can speed things up by a turn or two.
Titan of Eternal Fire
Prometheus is sure a lot uglier than I thought, though he’s still fairly powerful. It might be asking too much to cast this and have a bunch of red mana left over to use it, but I like the idea of turning all of your Humans into flamethrowers. At the very worst, it gets the BenS Flavor Judge seal of approval.
With a paltry one Human in play this is awesome, and it isn’t hard to make sure you have more than that on hand. A six-mana 5/6 isn’t even below the curve, so you are barely paying for the ability here.
Rolling that giant boulder looks suitably heroic, and if Titan’s Strength sees Constructed play, heroic will be the reason. It’s worth a scry at the very least, so why not?
The first Titan’s Strength is a lot stronger than subsequent ones, just because the exact combat that needs to happen isn’t going to happen over and over again. It’s also fairly easy to play around, so having multiples exposes you to that as well. It is a one-mana trick, so I still like it, but be aware of the diminishing returns.
Bad doggie, both of you.
Without pump spells, this is a hard to cast 2/2, so don’t just look at double strike and slam it. If you do have a couple ways to make it a big dog, its value goes up dramatically, as a simple +2/+2 aura makes it into beast.
Artifacts are scarce, so unless you are in need of a 5/3 for five, let this celebrate its time in the sideboard.
Top 5 Red Commons
As usual, red has a couple great commons and falls off very rapidly after that. There's nothing wrong with Ill-Tempered Cyclops or Titan's Strength (or Borderland Minotaur and Spark Jolt, which barely missed), but they aren't very exciting early picks. The cards here also don't change in value all that often, so this is usually the order they'll be taken in. Sometimes you take a 2-drop over a 4-drop because of curve considerations, but Lightning Strike is always going to be number one.
Top 5 Red Constructed Cards
Red got a pretty hot selection of cards here. Between Purphoros, his Hammer, multiple good removal spells, and Stormbreath Dragon, there are toys for all sorts of red decks to play with. Aggro made out the best, but midrange and control got plenty of help too. Red may have been the biggest beneficiary of Theros, and Purphoros has a lot to do with that.
Next up is green, where I'll spend most of my time trying to figure out how Bow of Nylea works.