Looking for the Limited Reviews? You can find all 6 here.
Welcome to the Constructed portion of my set review. I’ll be doing things in the right order this time, and pairing white with Abzan, but other than that things will proceed as normal. I’ll muse about all the cards I think may become relevant for at least one Constructed format, and provide plenty of ammo for the people who seem to love looking back at my reviews months later and pointing out the things I got wrong. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, far be it from my to criticize what anyone finds fun, and I have to admit, it is funny when I call a card unplayable and end up with it in my deck at Nationals a month later (*cough* Azure Mage *cough*).
There are a lot of cards that look awesome in this set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I give out a lot of speculative “this looks powerful” type of ratings. Multicolor sets tend to promise the world, and that’s part of the fun of all of it. Instead of trying to fuel devotion with Nightveil Specter, the new challenge is to figure out which of the powerful spells you can get in the same deck, and how you are going to cast them. That, and the best Treasure Cruise deck, which is obviously my first priority.
Here’s the rating system I’ll be using, though I won’t be reviewing “1s” today.
5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage. Judge’s Familar)
4.0: Format staple. (Sphinx’s Revelation. Supreme Verdict. Thoughtseize. Pack Rat)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Geist of Saint Traft. Nightveil Specter)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Underworld Connections. Thassa, God of the Sea)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Rapid Hybridization. Divination)
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.)
Not only do both sides of this provide a powerful effect, they also fit right into the same gameplan of the decks that will be able to use this best. As an additional bonus, this stacks extremely well with itself. You play the first one, get a few counters, and eventually get a bunch of fliers. Play the second and all of a sudden those fliers are bigger, and you are getting two for every creature, which sets up the third and so forth. The combination of immediate effect and long-term benefit makes me excited to try this, and even though Spirit Bonds didn’t work out for the last Pro Tour, Abzan Ascendancy might be the card I was looking for (and it even works with Spirit Bonds in a very creature-heavy deck).
I love how this Charm plays in Constructed. It answers problems, draws cards, and even has a blowout third mode, which is almost gratuitous given how it would see play based on the first two modes alone. One of the biggest risks when adding removal to your deck is what happens when you face a deck with few good targets, and this turns into a great spell even in those matchups. Cards like this are exactly what I’m looking for, as they have the right combination of flexibility and power to give you good options in any game you draw them (barring you getting beaten down by a bunch of 2/2s, I suppose). Costing three does take up valuable space, so I can buy that some decks may only play 2-3, but my initial reaction is to just jam 4 in any deck that can reasonably cast it.
Anafenza, the Foremost
Anafenza is not the foremost when it comes to stats vs. cost, but she’s definitely up there. Growing your other creatures makes her pretty close to a 5/5, which is approaching high-tier Constructed quality, and hosing graveyard-based decks ranges from a nice bonus to a huge upside. She also can give your other creatures counters even if they aren’t attacking, so your mana Elves can grow without being exposed to danger. All together, her abilities and stats seem to combine into a very strong card, though how much play she actually sees will fluctuate based on how good the second ability is. She is in the tough spot of having 4-toughness, which is a bit of a liability these days. Courser of Kruphix is public enemy number one, and cards that kill Courser are going to be prevalent, most of which will also take out Anafenza. Of course, if she shows up in a deck with Courser, which is highly probable, you may just be able to overload their answers.
Seven mana might doom this, but I hope not. I know that I’d have a blast getting to kill all my opponent’s creatures and keeping my best one, which makes this the odd sweeper that actually works in a creature-based deck. That’s good, given that most green decks are going to lean on creatures pretty heavily, and even if this does blow up your mana dorks, getting to keep and attack with a Polukranos or whatever is a huge upside. Seven is a lot, but the effect here makes me think it might at least see some sideboard play in slower matchups. It is also heavily influenced by how many super fast beatdown decks and super slow control decks there are. If you mostly are facing midrange mirrors, this sounds excellent, but it’s not going to pull its weight against decks that try and kill you by turn four or decks that play no creatures and want the game to last a million turns.
I include this only because the stats are large enough that there might be room for it in some kind of midrange deck. It isn’t super impressive, but if it dodges enough removal and lines up well against other creatures in the format, it could see some fringe play.
This feels akin to some kind of strange combo piece, as I’m sure there are ways to play a huge Spirit Warrior on turn 3, but the risk vs. reward probably doesn’t line up right. If there’s a way to have a ludicrous toughness on a creature at no cost, maybe, just maybe, you might see the need for this.
Now this is a Loxodon Hierarch I can get behind, or at least ride on top of! I’ve played so many weaker versions of this card, and even though creatures have gotten better over time, this still looks incredibly strong. It’s huge, provides a very relevant life swing when played, and even has trample to crush any small chump blockers on the way. Abzan has a ton of insane Constructed cards, and this is definitely one of them. I can see this fitting well into aggro, midrange, or control, as it provides what all of those decks want by playing offense or defense at a very competitive rate.
The most plausible way this sees play is as a sideboard card to make your team fly over their team, which would require a deck with a lot of +1/+1 counters and a lot of enemy decks that can’t kill things but can clog the board. That isn’t impossible, though I’d need a birds-eye view of the format before trying something as wild as this.
2/1s for 2 with no abilities have seen play in Constructed before, albeit many years ago. The ability here is not irrelevant, and being able to grow itself while making your other creatures with counters better is a real one. I am not very optimistic that this sees play, but if there’s a deck with enough counter-based creatures, this could be a way to gain an edge in board stalls.
I guess here’s where we are when it comes to wraths. I wouldn’t give this a 3 in any world where better alternatives exist, as we’ve had the 4-mana wrath in Standard for years, but I don’t mind seeing what the format looks like without it. I do find it funny that there are all these cards (this and Silence the Believers mainly) that just hose bestow, as I thought the whole point of bestow was to not be vulnerable to removal, but maybe testing indicated that bestow was too oppressive otherwise. I am a little skeptical on that front, but I’ll still cast End Hostilities anyway, and think that it’s a plausible place to start if you want to make a more traditional control deck. It might end up being unplayable or mediocre, but I see no reason to dismiss the only true wrath in the format (even if I like the idea of Duneblast better).
Purely sideboard material, but good sideboard material nonetheless. If enchantments are prevalent enough to warrant this, it’s incredibly efficient, and that’s one way to make it into Constructed play.
Feat of Resistance
This is no Brave the Elements (sorry, Pat Cox), but it’s hard to resist at least looking at good ways to protect your creatures. A permanent +1/+1 is not insignificant, and there’s a chance there is a deck that wants a couple of these for some specific matchups.
Herald of Anafenza
A 1-drop that provides a decent incremental advantage is worth considering, even if it’s at a slightly high cost. This looks like it might herald a new wave of Glorious Anthem-based white decks, as it’s a 1-drop when you curve out and a source of 2/2s or 3/3s when you have a bunch of team-boosting effects around. Knowing when to use this and when to cast more spells is going to be an interesting test, and this gives you a solid way to play around mass removal. Paying three mana for +1/+1 and a 1/1 isn’t bad to begin with, and decks that can utilize this will often be getting a 2/2 or 3/3 instead.
High Sentinels of Arashin
I never would have pegged this for Constructed (and it’s still probably not there), but after playing with it this weekend, I have new respect for how impossible it makes combat for your opponent. If you look at this as a 4/5 or 5/6 for 4 that can pump your team, it starts looking pretty good. If there are enough creatures running around with counters, this could actually make the cut. Half the time you don’t even need to use the ability, as your opponent will have to not block for fear of it.
Prowess seems like more of a Constructed mechanic than a Limited one, but I still don’t think this is necessarily the creature you want to hang your hopes and dreams on. I do like the 3-toughness, so if there’s a prowess deck, this might be the second or third prowess creature you go to (after the Jeskai Elder, Seeker of the Way, and Monastery Swiftspear).
With an Anthem in play this is a 3/4 + a 2/2, which isn’t bad, until you realize that Brimaz is basically that without an Anthem, and even better with. I only mention this because it looks almost good enough, which means that with enough things breaking the right way it could see a little play.
Master of Pearls
In Limited, you basically always play this face-down, as the ability is just game-breaking. If this sees play in Constructed it will be more as a 2-drop with an expensive optional ability, but the two halves combined do sound plausible. In a deck with a ton of creatures, having a 2-drop that doubles as an Overrun is pretty cool— cool enough that I’d be willing to overlook the absurdity of a guy throwing a bunch of pearls at you.
Seeker of the Way
This has the same rating as Jeskai Student, but that more reflects the chances of a dedicated prowess deck being good. If such a thing happens to be true, I think this will be much better, as it provides way more of a payoff. Hitting for 4-5 points of lifelink a turn is a huge reward, and might be the way to go with this deck. It requires a lot of cheap card draw, some ways to protect its creatures, and removal, but given the lifelink on Seeker, you can go a little lighter on removal than you’d otherwise have to.
Journey to Nowhere is apparently serving a suspension, which is understandable. It would be awesome in this format, and Suspension Field might actually be fine too. The main reason to play this is if you are playing mono-white and don’t want to splash for any off-color removal options, as this does kill Courser, Brimaz, Polukranos, Anafenza, Siege Rhino, Black Knight, and Stormbreath Dragon (or some number of those, at least). Killing anything big enough to block your 2-drop might be good enough to put up with this being sorcery speed and unable to kill Elvish Mystic, though it’s annoying that these decks might actually be quite vulnerable to enchantment removal now.
You get so much for four mana in Constructed these days that I’m not banking on this seeing play, but this is basically Bloodbraid Elf in the right circumstances. A 3/2 for four that gets back a good 2-drop is at least approaching a real thing, and much like many of the white creatures in this set, works very well with Anthems.
Broodmate Dragon is back, and it traded a point of power for a lower mana cost. The drawback of having to attack does make this a lot less effective in the pure control decks that used to play Broodmate, but the stats you get for the cost are more than worth it. This is a great threat against Elspeth, as she can’t touch either Bird and just dies immediately to them, which is huge when you are looking at 4+ cost threats in this format. The life gain is nice, but feels tacked on to justify this being Mythic, which may or may not have been successful. Wraths are good against this, as having raid means you will likely be overextending, but this looks like an excellent card as the top of the curve in a white weenie deck or somewhere in the middle of the pack in a GW/x midrange deck of some kind. Knowing when to roc this even if you don’t have raid is going to be another decision you will face constantly, which I kind of like.
Top 5 White/Abzan Cards
I wasn’t sure whether to group these two categories together, but doing a Top 5 of each wouldn’t make sense, and a Top 3 of each seemed less good than just comparing them. Both white and Abzan ended up getting a lot of insane stuff here, and I see the seeds for at least 3 distinct archetypes. There’s definitely a white aggro deck of some kind, perhaps even mono-white, and it will lean on Anthems and multi-creature spells to pressure the opponent. There are a multitude of ways to build midrange decks, and those will be anywhere on the spectrum from Anafenza beatdown to Duneblast control, and many of the decks will be a couple cards off in either direction, making them truly midrange. Lastly, End Hostilities at least seems to promise the hope of a traditional control deck, though I don’t know if the support is quite there. Either way, it’s a good day to play Plains, and between this and Lifebane Zombie leaving, Standard looks promising.