The Durdlewad Ultimate Set Review Extravaganza

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

PV has it correct that this is the best of the colorless monstrosities, and there’s a reason that it shows up in the sideboard of both of the big mana decks from my last Spoiler Spotlight.

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre only got to hit one permanent. Sure, it had annihilator 4, but decking for 20 cards will end the game after a few attacks as well, and 10 mana is a big upgrade from 11.

Just remember that 10 mana is still a lot.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

This card is going to show up in everything from aggro to midrange to control.

Control loves the awaken mechanic, and can end up with a reasonable number of bodies in this format.

Everyone agrees that the Ally of Zendikar is great, and the only disagreement I’ve seen is over how many copies to start. On the one hand, the bodies and anthem aren’t much stronger than the original Sorin’s, and that card had Lingering Souls to support, which is an argument for starting Gideon as more of a 2-of. On the other hand, Sorin couldn’t turn into a crazy indestructable 5/5 murder-your-face monster, and that’s a persuasive reason to go higher.

The push for the Ally tribe is kind of neat.

Planar Outburst

On the one hand, it’s not like Phyrexian Rebirth saw a ton of play. On the other hand, 6 mana is a lot more than 5, which is closer to the average cost of competitive sweepers. If we were already fine paying 5 mana to destroy the world, then getting incidental value in the late game is worth a lot.

Planar Outburst won’t replace Crux of Fate in Esper Dragons, but it says something that I’d even think it needs to be pointed out.

Quarantine Field

4 mana to Oblivion Ring something is a lot, so the payoff needs to be worth it. In general, I think it is, but since it’s so costly it’ll rarely be more than a 1-of in certain lists.

The first thing I thought of when I saw Quarantine Field was Travis Woo’s devotion to white deck in Modern. There, the double-white both enables Nykthos and the XX serves as a mana sink.

Unified Front

4 mana for four 1/1s is exciting, and if you end up with a 4-color Ally deck this one is definitely making the cut. 4 mana for three 1/1s is a bit more borderline, but still worth it to trigger the various Ally abilities.

Part the Waterveil

On the one hand, 6 mana is just too much for Time Warp, which is a fair-costed card.

On the other hand, you’ll need to be pretty far behind to lose after paying the awaken cost. Taking an extra turn and getting a 6/6? Now that’s worth.

Scatter to the Winds

Cancel isn’t good enough, and a 6-mana Mystic Snake isn’t good enough, but as a split card it works. I’ll be playing at least 2 of these, and probably 3 or 4, in every control list for a while.

Blue control will miss having “scry 1” on every card, which was a good filtering ability that helped hit land drops or slide through clumps, but with better mana we’re more interested in getting value in the late game, which this does.

Ob Nixilis Reignited

I wish this one started with 6 loyalty and had a more expensive ultimate. Jace, Memory Adept shares a similar (yet better) +1 ability, but that card could straight-up murder you with a few turns of its 0.

I guess the thought is that we have a downtick that’s similar to Vraska the Unseen’s, but the +1 does more in the meantime if you need to build loyalty or don’t have anything to kill. Still, part of Vraska’s appeal is that it can pop troublesome noncreature permanents too, which always made up for the fact that she’s very much visible. Vraska, if you’re reading this, we can see you. You’re not even trying to hide! You’re standing in a giant beam of light.

As for Ob Nixilis, I’m sure I’ll play it. I’ll draft it in Cube, and I’ll win with it in Constructed. Heck, I like the art. It still doesn’t excite me.

Ruinous Path

You might be noticing a trend where, every time I see a piece of disruption with awaken, I fall over myself talking about how it’s the best thing ever and how it’ll be played in every control deck.

This card is the best thing ever, and it’ll be played in every control deck. Hero’s Downfall held that role for its entire run in Standard, and while the downgrade from instant to sorcery doesn’t let you hold up countermagic and draw spells as easily, for the most part that doesn’t matter.

Oh, and value, manland, yadda yadda.

Akoum Firebird

All these receive their birth from other things,
But from himself the Phoenix only springs.
Self-born, begotten by the parent flame
In which he burned, another and the same.
-Ovid

There is an even earlier account of the Phoenix than Ovid’s. According to Herodotus, often regarded as the father of history, the Egyptian’s Phoenix was exceedingly rare, and only came around every 500 years to bury its dead parent in the Temple of the Sun. No flames, no rebirth, just a rare bird that showed up every once in a while to get rid of a body.

Strangely, scarcity is the one quality that seems to be lost in the translation to Magic, and it’s almost like Phoenix tribal is a thing.

The Phoenix is constantly brought back as a midsized red flyer that shows off a set mechanic while rehashing the same tired theme. While the rarity symbol might disagree with me, it feels like a flavor fail when you can jam 12 of these things into a Standard deck.

There are exceptions. Pang Tong, “Young Phoenix” stands out from the bunch by not being a Bird or on fire. Ashcloud Phoenix allows some counterplay while also giving reach, which leads to some refreshingly tense gameplay. Joaquin Phoenix is wholly original and a real treat.

I digress. At first, I underestimated Akoum Firebird, but the landfall ability is basically the same cost as Ashcloud Phoenix‘s morph, and with extra land drops it actually brings the card back from the graveyard, meaning that it won’t permanently die to two removal spells like Ashcloud often did. A 3/3 haste is better than a 4/1, even if it can’t stay back to block (you can block the first turn if you play it on your second main).

Ashcloud still dominates, of course. If you stall on 4 mana, it still gives you a value 2/2. It also enables another set mechanic in ferocity, which matters a lot with Crater’s Claws. When you pay the price to flip it, you get a whopping 6 damage in a single turn. Overall, Ashcloud is a true rarity in a sea of flaming Birds all trying to do the same thing, and it’ll take something special to measure up.

Barrage Tyrant

Bosh, Iron Golem saw play because it was Goblin Weld-able and could sacrifice itself. Barrage Tyrant has neither of those qualities, but it’s more castable to partially compensate. If it generated some Siege-Gang Commander-style value when it came into play, it would’ve been a Standard all-star, but as is it’ll probably only play a niche role in a very specific deck, if anything.

Radiant Flames

Another good’un. Not quite as powerful as Anger of the Gods, but much more castable, and you could even play it off of a splash. While it’ll only deal 2 damage sometimes, at least it hits flyers.

Serpentine Spike

7 mana is a lot, but it should cost a lot to Plague Wind. I’m thinking this card is better than it looks, but the omnipresence of Siege Rhino and Hangarback Walker should hinder its playability for a time.

Blisterpod

Of all the cards in the set, this is the one I’m most certain will see Modern play, as it’s a strict upgrade to the Tukatongue Thallid that pops up in some versions of Abzan Collected Company.

Doomed Traveler-esque value threats always seem to find play somehow, and I wouldn’t be too embarrassed to play this one in Standard if I found the right deck and sacrifice outlet.

Brood Monitor

I just want to lock in my pick for best Limited uncommon in the set. Emrakul’s Hatcher was stupid good, and while costing 6 is a lot more than 5, 6 power is a lot more than 3.

I’m never passing this thing, unless it’s for:

Greenwarden of Murasa

Unnnnf. At 6 mana, it’s unlikely that Greenwarden has as strong of an impact as Eternal Witness or Den Protector. Then again, those are two of the most dominant green cards of all time, and this is double the value.

I’m just going to say that again, but with some nonsensical punctuation for emphasis. Double. The. Value.

Imagine Tooth and Nailing for this in Cube, and getting back Tooth and Nail. This comes up sometimes with Eternal Witness, but it’s almost a waste of time since the 2/1 body doesn’t matter much. A 5/4 almost always matters.

Natural Connection

A toast to all my ramp-playing brothers and sisters. It was a good run while it lasted.

In my spotlight for Hedron Archive, I showcased a Naya Dragons list with Leaf Gilder as a placeholder for whatever better ramp spell was printed in this set. Fortunately for Leaf Gilder, it gets to keep its job.

Undergrowth Champion

I’ve seen a few people talking hopefully about this card, comparing it to other resilient threats like Deathmist Raptor. The thing is, as a 3-mana 2/2 it’s too weak when it first comes down. Note that preventing damage is less likely to matter the more counters you get on it, creating a redundancy within its abilities.

Remember Vinelasher Kudzu? It was a neat card once it got rolling, but it was weak off the top, soft to sweepers and black removal, and suffered from being infinitely chumpable. Undergrowth Champion shares these faults.

Bring to Light

Ali Antrazi will win some tournament with 4 of these in his deck.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of toolboxes develop around Bring to Light, especially since it’s pushing you towards multiple colors and you get to cast the spell for free. In current Standard, it can tutor up a Siege Rhino or Languish in a 4-color mana base (not a bad split card, even for 5 mana), and that’s just the tip of things.

Brutal Expulsion

I thought this card was worse than Jilt until it was explained to me that you can remand a spell, not just bounce something, and then it became much more interesting. If it could shock players, it’d probably be Modern playable as a fill-in for decks that can’t afford the UUU of Cryptic Command.

As is, I’d like the explosion to be a bit more brutal and thus relevant to planeswalkers (maybe 3 damage), but it’s probably playable as is just because value is so good.

Catacomb Sifter

I know a lot of these valuedrazi look alike, but hear me out on this one.

  • It’s 3 power and 4 toughness for three mana, which is solid.
  • It’s value (two bodies).
  • The filtering ability is static, but it comes with a one-shot way of triggering it and will probably fit in a deck with other ways of triggering it.

Fathom Feeder

I spoiler-talked a bit with Ryan Hipp recently, and he sold me on this one.

2 mana for a 1/1 deathtouch is not bad for base stats, and means the card can act as removal against aggro decks and has a sort of built-in evasion against decks that only play “good” creatures. After that, it has two ways of enabling the “use the opponent’s exiled cards” theme of the set. One with ingest (oh no I have to attack) and one with a sweet activated ability that draws cards.

Sign me the heck up.

Herald of Kozilek

This one Ryan didn’t manage to sell me on. If it sees play, it’ll be because 3 mana for a 2/4 body is reasonable. When you construct a mana base with a ramp spell in mind, you kind of need that ramp spell to stick around and do its job. Herald of Kozilek will be strong in matchups where you want a Horned Turtle, and it’ll be a liability against control.

Kiora, Master of the Depths

I like this card. It does vaguely green, vaguely fishy things, and the ultimate is both powerful and delightfully strange. I love the art, too. Kiora has a fittingly regal pose about her, but then she’s riding that giant tentacle that curls around the background. It both frames her and adds some dynamism to an otherwise static image.

On a power level, Kiora has a similar downtick to Jace, Architect of Thought and a similar uptick to Garruk Wildspeaker (assuming you’re untapping a mana dork), but unlike both of those cards it has no way to protect itself. Maybe Jace Architect’s and old Kiora’s upticks weren’t much fun to play against, but they’re a large part of what made those cards playable.

March from the Tomb

Patriarch’s Bidding for Allys was too good, eh? You just know that someone in R&D broke Allies in half with a more powerful version of this card.

Skyrider Elf

I already locked in a top uncommon for Limited, didn’t I? While merely OK in a 2-color deck, Skyrider Elf is a more flexible (and thus better) Skyreach Manta and should be picked accordingly.

Sire of Stagnation

Unlike Consecrated Sphinx, which just won the game on the spot, Sire of Stagnation has a nice bit of tension and counterplay to it, especially in a “big mana” mirror match.

Sire won’t see nearly as much play, but then again it’s a much more balanced card.

Ally Encampment

A neat little enabler for the 4-5 color Ally decks. I like how the activated ability has synergy with the Ally 187 abilities, too.

Blighted Cataract

With lands like these, who needs spells? I think the cost is about right, since we’re nearing the flashback on Forbidden Alchemy and that’s a slightly better effect. In general, I think it’s sweet that blue draw-go decks get to draw cards just by cashing in lands.

Blighted Fen

This ability is almost as good as the card + redundant land drop that Blighted Cataract draws you into—which probably means it’s the better card since it costs one less to activate and has an impact on the board. Chainer’s Edict is in no way a balanced Magic card, and that costs a whopping 7 mana to flash back.

The one thing holding this one back is the omnipresence of Hangarback Walker.

Blighted Woodland

A land that sacks to ramp, not just fix, is overpowered, and cracking a couple of them + some normal fetchlands has a significant thinning effect on your deck.

Since the mana in Standard is so good now, playing a few of these seems like a freeroll to get to Dragonlord Atarka or Dragonlord Dromoka mana.

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