Welcome to my Dragon's Maze set review! Because of the odd nature of the set, I'm splitting each day up into a color plus two guilds of that color, with today being White/Azorius/Orzhov. As before, here is the ratings scale:
5.0: Multi-format All-Star (and undoubtedly worth too much money). [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card].
4.0: Format staple. [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]. [card]Thragtusk[/card].
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes, but not a format staple. [card]Avacyn's Pilgrim[/card]. [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].
3.0: Archetype staple. [card]Farseek[/card]. [card]Gravecrawler[/card].
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. [card]Think Twice[/card]. [card]Curse of Death's Hold[/card].
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. [card]Naturalize[/card]. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation is obviously important.)
1.0: It has seen play once. [card]One with Nothing[/card]. (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%)
This is an underdog to [card]Nearheath Pilgrim[/card] in the battle for the 2-drop lifelink spot. Doing work to get a 2/2 lifelinker for two is not really what Constructed is about; I can barely believe that I played the vastly superior [card]Knight of Meadowgrain[/card] in a Pro Tour.
As we’ve already seen, a 2/2 for 2 is a valuable card in the Boros deck, and adding a positive ability, however minor, is a nice bonus. If this format is much slower than Gatecrash (one can only hope), 2-drops like this are likely closer to a 2.5 rating.
Haazda Snare Squad
[draft]Haazda Snare Squad[/draft]
If this cost W for a 1/1 with the same text, people might be in a frenzy to play it, but as a 1/4 for three, it’s just not competitive.
Not only is this relatively hard to kill, either with removal or in combat, but it makes effective blocking extremely difficult for the opponent. As a 1/4, it can even play defense when needed, making this an excellent card in any deck.
I hereby decree this unplayable.
In order for this to be good, you have to both be insanely aggressive and have no removal or bounce of any kind. Trading a card for such a temporary advantage is just not something most decks are interested in.
It would take a pretty amazing ability to make a 6-mana 3/6 playable, and vigilance isn’t it (even if that vigilance applies to your whole team).
This isn’t really worth six by itself, and giving other creatures vigilance doesn’t go a long way toward making it better. If you really need a high-end card, I guess this could work, but I wouldn’t get excited about it.
Renounce the Guilds
[draft]Renounce the Guilds[/draft]
It looks like [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]’s days are numbered. Between Geist, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], and [card]Dreg Mangler[/card], this already answers a ton of cards (plus plenty I didn’t list). Add to that all of the sick new multicolor cards (Sire of Insanity, anyone?), and you have a piece of premium removal. It does have the drawback of affecting both sides, but that’s an easy restriction to work around. This reminds me of [card]Innocent Blood[/card], and Innocent Blood was insane.
I’d assume that most decks will have a number of targets for this, and unlike most Edicts, this will basically always hit a high-quality card. Once again, it does affect you, but maneuvering the board so that this just banishes one of their good cards without a drawback shouldn’t be that hard.
At three mana, it’s not the cheapest Fog, but if the TurboFog deck really wants more Fogs, this one can potentially buy you multiple turns via life gain.
This gives you the possibility of ambushing their squad, letting you pick off their weakest attackers while ignoring the rest, which is still not enough to make it awesome.
Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
[draft]Scion of Vitu-Ghazi[/draft]
Awkward phrasing aside (which is meant to keep it from going infinite with something like [card]Cackling Counterpart[/card]), this card seems pretty good. This gives you a 4/4 plus two 1/1s at worst, and the second 1/1 can often be replaced by a much larger token in the decks that want this. Even though this isn’t as consistent as [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] (and only works when cast), it can potentially have a much greater upside. I’m not a token sciontist, but I like this card.
There's really no fail state here. Either you get a squad of two Birds and a 4/4, or you get one Bird, a 4/4, and something more awesome than a Bird. Powerful and relatively cheap cards that are awesome even when you are behind are basically the dream in Limited.
Five is just too steeple a cost to justify paying for a 3/1.
It goes without saying that 5+ casting cost cards have severely diminishing returns, so with that caveat I give this a 2.5. It dies easily, but in the games where it doesn’t it will usually stop their attacks immediately and start cracking for 3 a turn. 3 points of first strike is hard to get around, particularly in the air.
[draft]Opal Lake Gatekeepers
Ubul Sar Gatekeepers[/draft]
Thanks to [card]Maze's End[/card] I don’t think that it’s inconceivable a deck with Gates sees play, but I’d expect the reward to be slightly higher than what this cycle offers. If everything goes right, you get such hits as a 2/4 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] that doesn’t gain you life and can’t flip, an extra card, a [card]Threaten[/card], 7 life, and a [card]Disfigure[/card]. Of those, gaining 7 seems like the most promising, but still not at a rate that keeps me interested.
A 2/4 for 4 isn’t the worst to begin with (I’ve never met a [card]Pillarfield Ox[/card] I didn’t like), and it does not sound unrealistic at all to trigger these, given that there are almost 3 Guildgates per player in the draft (shocklands reduce the number a bit). I think this whole cycle is pretty solid, and expect them all to be good and often splashed. The number of off-color Guildgates I’m going to run is not small, since once I have 2 or more Gatekeepers, it definitely becomes worth it.
Wake the Reflections
[draft]Wake the Reflections[/draft]
I can imagine this being way too annoying for Limited as an instant, but that really would have gone a long way in Constructed. This is just too inconsistent. For every time you save a few mana (getting a 3/3 or 5/5 for one mana), this will be stuck in your hand with no way to enable it. It also gets wrecked pretty hard by removal, as them killing your token can be a huge blowout. After much reflection, I must recommend against playing this.
This is likely worse than most of the RtR populate cards, because it doesn’t do anything neat in addition to populating. That being said, in the deck that really wants this, it’s probably the best possible populate card. If you happen to be in that deck (4+ ways to make Centaurs/Wurms, including the good ones like [card]Call of the Conclave[/card] or [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card]), good news: nobody else is going to be taking your [card]Wake the Reflections[/card]!
I can stomach some amount of [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] nonsense, but if this gets played in the aura deck, I’m gonna lose it. Luckily, four means it won’t be laying down the law in Constructed anytime soon, which is just fine with me.
A 3-power flier you can tap out for with no fear is already good (and a 3/2 flier for four has always been solid in its own right), so adding the ability to wear auras with impunity only makes things better. If you see this after you’ve picked up a few pairs of pants to slap on it ([card]Armadillo Cloak[/card] being the main one), I wouldn’t fault you for just taking it 1st-3rd and not looking back.
Beck // Call
The effect here is too powerful not to see some amount of play, though I’d imagine it’s biased towards older formats. It’s not that easy to abuse [card]Glimpse of Nature[/card] without [card]Heritage Druid[/card] or [card]Memnite[/card], but both of those are conveniently legal in Modern. This has some other cool interactions, the most exciting being [card]Forbidden Orchard[/card], since it doesn’t matter on which side the creatures enter the battlefield.
There are two things you need to do in order to make a sick Beck // Call deck:
1) A mana-efficient way to dump a million creatures into play. This can either be something like the [card]Heritage Druid[/card] engine or just a mass of 0-cost guys ([card]Memnite[/card], Kobolds, [card]Shield Sphere[/card]s, [card]Frogmite[/card], etc). Bonus points if you can end up ahead on mana, like you do with the Elf combo.
2) A way to convert your horde into a win, ideally on the same turn. Storm spells or [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] both spring to mind as potential finishers, though Craterhoof certainly costs more than [card]Grapeshot[/card].
Neither of these things sound very achievable in Standard, but Modern, Legacy, and Vintage are all up for grabs. It’s also pretty awesome that Call gives you a bonus kicker when you are flooded, a fact which is certainly going to be relevant from time to time.
Matt Nass wrote about potentially updating Elves, and you can take a look here.
In a sudden and likely predictable reversal, it’s now Call that’s making this a good card. I’d play this regardless of whether I could cast Beck, and wouldn’t expect to do so all that often unless I was also casting Call. Six mana for four 1/1 fliers is a good deal, and will almost always get you at least a 2-for-1.
Council of the Absolute
[draft]Council of the Absolute[/draft]
This seems absolutely busted in [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] mirrors, where you pay more for your [card]Meddling Mage[/card] in exchange for not only getting to cast the named spell, but cast it cheaper. It’s also important to note that when I say “spell,” I really mean it—this specifically cannot name creatures. Even if you aren’t running the spell in question, turning off Liliana, [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], or the like against Jund could be solid, and a 2/4 is large enough to survive most removal. This is bad enough against something like Naya Blitz that I imagine it’ll be a sideboard card, and a potent one at that. Dodging [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and turning off [card]Unburial Rites[/card] seems fairly exciting, at the very least.
What we have here is [card]Slaughter Games[/card] done right for Limited. In game one, you can either guess something they might have or just name an expensive spell you want to cast on the cheap, and either way end up with a 2/4 that actually does something in combat. After game one, you have a ton more info, and can name accordingly. If you have multiples of a spell that costs 4+, this seems sweet, and even if you don’t, it’s going to be solid in almost every matchup. I wouldn’t call it a bomb rare, but it’s still a good early pick.
Deputy of Acquittals
[draft]Deputy of Acquittals[/draft]
[card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] is a combination of [card]Saving Grasp[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card], though unfortunately closer to Grasp on that spectrum. Letting you reuse ETB effects and save your guys from removal, Deputy offers an interesting bit of utility on a 2/2 flash. The effect being optional is nice too, letting you ambush careless opponents from time to time. I suspect that the value you are getting here isn’t quite high enough to see play in most decks, but every now and then it might show up. It is kind of funny that it “goes infinite” with [card]Restoration Angel[/card], giving you a perpetual blocking machine.
In the average deck, this will get you a 2-for-1 most of the time, with the extra card being a [card]Grizzly Bear[/card]. That’s reasonable, especially given that this can just be cast on turn two (albeit with a little difficulty), and it also gets to surprise block as well. This gets vastly better once you’ve picked up a few good interactions, and it already starts out on good footing.
That Sphinx looks pretty happy. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s Jelenn.
A 1/5 flier with vigilance is already exciting, if you’re like me and love to block. Add a [card]Glorious Anthem[/card] (while attacking) to the mix, and you have the makings of an excellent card. It’s very hard to kill this in combat, and it does a ton of work both offensively and defensively.
Lavinia of the Tenth
[draft]Lavinia of the Tenth[/draft]
I like the idea here (pro red, detain all small red creatures), but I think there’s a flaw in the plan:
Even setting aside how badly Hellkite destroys Lavinia, do you realize how quickly [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] and [card]Lightning Mauler[/card] and [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] get you dead? Even if Lavinia is a straight-up unkillable [card]Time Walk[/card], how often is it going to be substantially better than something like [card]Thragtusk[/card]? Five mana is a high bar these days, and I’m not sure Lavinia passes it. Protection is a powerful ability, so there’s room for this to see play, mostly in some niche matchups.
Detaining most of the opponent’s creatures is justiciar what the doctor ordered, with protection from red randomly hosing a good number of your opponents as well. With most decks being at least 2.5 colors, odds are good that protection is relevant, and it’s hard for it to be relevant without it being very good.
Protect // Serve
This set review serves you best if I protect you from playing this in Constructed.
Two solid combat tricks stapled together makes for a very good card, and one I’d always run. It is hard to get the actual 2-for-1 out of this, especially once your opponent has seen it, but getting a 1-for-1 should be very easy.
Not having to worry about bait spells is a fairly significant upside. Whatever your opponent leads with, you just snap it off and they are done. It’s kind of cool how [card]Dissipate[/card], [card]Render Silent[/card], and [card]Counterflux[/card] all have their merits, and reward those who assess the metagame properly. None of those three options is far enough ahead of the rest that it’s always going to be the choice, though [card]Render Silent[/card] looks like the frontrunner to me. It’s the most powerful overall, with Dissipate fighting flashback/reanimator and Counterflux fighting other counters, both of which are a little more niche. Right now I’d lean toward Render Silent, but that could easily change week to week.
This also does stop storm in its tracks, which likely won’t be too relevant now that [card]Seething Song[/card] is banned in Modern (Legacy has better options).
A [card]Cancel[/card] is still a Cancel, even one that stops them from any sort of followup. Three-mana counters tend to range from 1.5-3.0 in Limited, depending on the format speed, and this should be no exception.
Restore the Peace
[draft]Restore the Peace[/draft]
How about instead of Restoring the Peace I cast a [card]Restoration Angel[/card]? Less peaceful, and incredibly more effective.
This is basically a terrible version of [card]Aetherize[/card], where you save a mana at the cost of a ton of life. There are likely tricky things you can do with this, but they don’t seem very relevant to me.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
[draft]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/draft]
You get some bloody good value for your mana here. Lifelink is the main draw, and protection from both white and black goes a long way toward making sure this sticks around and actually gains you that life. The Baron even turns into (more of) a monster when you are crushing your opponent, which is likely going to be relevant a good amount of the time. They have to chump earlier or be denied the opportunity to do so, making things better for you even if they do peel a removal spell later.
There are a ton of good options at 5+ mana in Standard, and as usual, the metagame will heavily determine which are the best. Blood Baron shines when it has a reasonable expectation of living and winning creature battles, both of which are contingent on what colors are being played. Also, like always, the metagame will adjust to the influential cards, making Baron’s effectiveness wax and wane as the removal spells of choice go from black and white to other colors.
It really doesn’t get much better than this. A few lucky opponents might have large enough red or green creatures and be able to hold the Baron at bay, but most of your foes will not be able to remove or fight the Baron effectively. It’s incredibly hard to race, and doesn’t even have that harsh of color requirements.
Debt to the Deathless
[draft]Debt to the Deathless[/draft]
Unless Two-Headed Giant Constructed becomes a thing, the less of this you try and play, the better.
At seven mana, this is acceptable, and at eight or more it starts getting pretty good. Not affecting the board is its main drawback, making it just a finisher. It’s at its best in a deck looking to race, since it does gain you a good amount of life as well. Given the double-double casting cost, it is mostly limited to heavy Orzhov, and I’m not sure what the average Orzhov deck looks like yet.
Maw of the Obzedat
[draft]Maw of the Obzedat[/draft]
Instead of subjecting you to maw puns, I’ll just leave this flavor discussion here:
Having this in play makes any kind of combat a nightmare for your opponents. As long as you have three or more creatures out, the permutations when it comes to attacking and blocking get complex, and each additional creatures greatly increases it. Having control gives you a huge edge, since they have to figure out what could happen with all the potential attacks and blocks, where you just have to figure out what you want to do once combat is declared. It makes pump spells and removal much less relevant, since you can just sacrifice doomed creatures and make all the other matchups better. If you manage to pick up a Maw, creatures become a much higher priority, since all you want to do is make the board as complex as possible.
This offers a fairly unique effect, and as such it could potentially be very powerful. In Standard, the most exciting target is [card]Omniscience[/card], which coincidentally pairs well with other absurdly expensive cards like [card]Griselbrand[/card] or BORBORYGMOS. As long as you are getting full value from Obzedat’s Aid, it can open up more possibilities than [card]Unburial Rites[/card], despite still reanimating creatures a good portion of the time. This is also the kind of card that might not find a home for a while, but then spawn an entire archetype once it does. For more, check out a brew from Travis Woo’s article, or Owen's Spoiler Spotlight.
In order for this to be worth it, you need to not only draw a big permanent and cast it, but have it die. That’s a little situational for my taste, so unless you have a couple insane bombs, I’d hesitate to take this early. It’s a decent playable for slow matchups, but where it really costs you is when you draw it and have no targets. It has to reanimate some high-quality cards to make up for the times it misses.
Profit // Loss
Unless you find profit in a loss, I’d avoid this in Constructed. Paying five mana for [card]Zealous Persecution[/card] is not a great idea...
—unless you are playing Limited. Even if this isn’t the most efficient spell, the possibility of blowouts is high enough that you should always run it if you can cast both halves, and some of the time even if you can only cast Loss.
Ready // Willing
This might be just sweet enough to see play, most likely as a sideboard card. Ready can stop Wraths at a reasonable cost, and Willing is sick in creature-heavy matchups. With both halves having use, and combining quite well in the lategame, I’d be willing to try this in midrange decks.
At three, this offers a couple interesting combat tricks, and at six, it can lead to a complete blowout. As long as creatures are bashing into each other reasonably often, there will be a situation in which this is good. A 1-for-1 is almost a given, and it shouldn’t be that hard to pick up a 2-for-1 (or more) if you can maneuver well.
In the age of 40-creature decks, this might not be as disgusting as it would have been in the past, but it’s still pretty sick. You are going to hit way more often than not, collecting a ton of value in the process, and even when you miss it isn’t the end of the world. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] has got a ton of enemies in this set, and this is certainly one of them.
This is a little bit hit-or-miss in Limited, because some decks just don’t have many targets, making it more a solid playable than anything else. Still, hitting even half the time isn’t something to complain about, even if that will vary wildly by matchup.
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
[draft]Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts[/draft]
I want to say that this doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of seeing play, but there might be a very specific matchup where this does exactly what you want. She has no mercy for creatures that hit you, so if you find the creature-heavy deck that can’t remove her, all you have to do is survive until you can play a 7-drop.
When I play seven mana, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for. Big enough to survive most removal spells, almost impossible to beat via creatures, and even a very fast clock to boot.
Is extort enough to take [card]Child of Night[/card] from Limited to Constructed? My guess is yes, given that extort makes Tithe Drinker good early and decent late, at least in matchups where you want the life gain. I love little value cards like this, and hope this really is good enough.
It looks like Orzhov is continuing with the theme of “all extort cards are good,” and Tithe Drinker is even better than most. It won’t actually brawl all that often, but if the lifelink forces your opponents to stay back and let you drain them out, that’s a pretty big win.
Because of the strange nature of this set, instead of doing Top 5 Constructed cards and Limited commons, I’ll do the top 3 from each guild, and best from each color, with normal top 5 lists at the end.
Top White Cards
Constructed: Renounce the Guilds
Standard seems pretty starved for premium removal these days, and [card]Renounce the[/card] Guilds is a serious contender for some of those slots. It might be a victim of its own success, but the fact that it can potentially hit [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] makes me quite interested.
Limited: Haazda Snare Squad
This beats [card]Sunspire Gatekeepers[/card] and [card]Steeple Roc[/card] due to its use on both offense and defense, and good stats to boot.
Top Azorius Cards
3. [card]Council of the Absolute[/card]
2. [card]Render Silent[/card]
1. [card]Beck // Call[/card]
Beck // Call may not be strictly Azorius, or even good because of its Azorius half, but it is technically Azorius, which makes it fully Azorius in spirit. It’s the most exciting Azorius card, and could lead to the most new decks. Council and Render Silent both seem pretty good in Standard, and should see a fair amount of play, though they don’t shake up any formats to the same degree as Beck // Call.
Because of Cluestones and the number of guilds, there aren’t really enough commons per guild to compare within the guild. Instead, the best non-rare of each guild (which will usually be uncommon):
This isn’t a hard choice, with [card]Ascended Lawmage[/card] a reasonably distant 2nd. Jelenn Sphinx is just too good at both defense and offense, which is apparently white’s theme.
Top Orzhov Cards
3. [card]Ready // Willing[/card]
2. [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card]
1. [card]Sin Collector[/card]
Orzhov got some nice ones here, with a good utility/disruption creature, a Baneslayer-esque finisher, and a potentially awesome sideboard card. The range is impressive, and ensures that [card]Godless Shrine[/card] will continue to collect tithes throughout the next two years.
Limited: [card]Tithe Drinker[/card]
This may not be the flashiest card, but the value you get for just two mana is something no Orzhov player will pass up. A two-drop that's good early and good late is a rare beast indeed.
Tomorrow I’ll be moving on with blue, Dimir, and Izzet!