A lot of the focus on Magic water cooler talk has been on Standard, lately, and for good reason. Not only is one of the most stale, boring Standards in recent memory (I haven’t done formal polling, so this is all anecdotal, but it seems like I’ve heard/read it A LOT from various player-demographic groups) about to rotate, but we recently got a number of major changes from our overlords, like more frequent rotation, and 3/4 Pro Tours per year being Standard. Standard is a big deal, these days—heck, even I’m excited for the new Standard, and I’ve only played the format in a total of three events since Innistrad left us. But there’s something I’m even more excited about, regarding Khans, and I’m sure you can make a fairly accurate guess on what that is, based on the name of this column (hint: “Hope _______”).
Now that the full set has been spoiled, we can start sifting through the chaff for potential gems that will shine in formats that permit older cards. I’m feeling a bit more of a jolt of energy to write this set review than previous set reviews for a couple reasons. First and foremost, this is the first set that feels like it’s oozing with Eternal potential in some time—and by, “some time,” let’s go with two years. Let’s think back to my last few set reviews. I seemed pretty stoked and excited for Theros, making wildly optimistic predictions due to the combination of being “twitterpated” by a new block and because most of us weren’t completely sure how to evaluate gods, yet. Then Born of the Gods hit shelves, and the main image I chose to accompany my set review was a picture of someone dumpster diving. ‘Nuff said, right? When Journey to Nyx was spoiled, I acknowledge it’s existence, but that’s about as far as I went, because talking about Dack Fayden (who we still need to break) seemed more interesting. Then I didn’t bother with the M15 review, so here, I’ll write one for you right now: combo decks will be happy to learn that they can now Burning Wish for “Chain of Vapor,” and Rabblemaster is pretty good in a deck (the Sol Land, Blood Moon, Chalice, Spirit Guide shell) that can easily win with just about any three/four-drop once the appropriate lock pieces are in place. Done! You see my point, right? The other reason I’m stoked to write this particular Eternal review is that it’s the first time I can talk about Vintage with some actual knowledge base beyond the typical non-Vintage player mentality (“It’s a broken format where you always kill or die on turn one”).
With that said, let’s get to it!
Modern: A near-miss, in my eyes. Some people are saying this is a good card for Pod, but why would Pod want this over Phyrexian Metamorph? Metamorph can be cast for one less mana, can skip blue entirely (double blue is a big cost), and copies most of the same relevant targets. You usually just want to copy a creature, or make another Pod. I guess you can copy Lily, but that doesn’t seem worth the downsides that this card brings, relative to Metamorph. The one exception might be the Tron matchup. I have zero experience with this matchup, so this might be a moot point if it’s already considered favorable for Pod, but the ability to copy Karn might make it worthwhile to get clever.
Legacy: What are you gonna do, copy a Jace? You know what this card costs? 2UU. You know what else costs 2UU? Jace. Except they don’t have to already have their’s out for you to cast yours. Metamorph already sees very little play in Legacy and does the vast majority of what this guy does, but at a lower price.
Vintage: Refer to the Metamorph argument. While Metamorph is played in Vintage Stax decks, those decks don’t typically want to have to find a way to make double blue.
Modern: Force Spike isn’t all that impressive, but I think this becomes a solid playable in blue decks that are capable of turning on the ferocious mode. It could have a home in blue decks that like to cast Tarmogoyf. If “Knife Yeti” becomes a thing in Modern, then only the most stubborn pundits will deny that this card will see play in the format.
Legacy: While one-mana counters typically set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head that I might be dealing with a Legacy-playable card, this is Force Spike, most of the time. The only two creatures that are commonly played in blue decks (excluding the Emmys and Griz-Daddies that mean you’ve already won the game) that will enable ferocious are ‘goyf and Batterskull’s germ. ‘Goyf isn’t even a sure thing! Sure, he usually will be, but that time you really need Negate, mark my words, your ‘goyf will be a 3/4 and you will see a tear fall from his eye as he says, “Sorry, boss,” and you cast Force Spike, instead. And then I will tell you to put the expensive pieces of cardboard away while using hallucinogens, because if you think your ‘goyf is crying and talking to you, you are probably on something.
Vintage: Same problem as Legacy, except, from my limited experience, it seems that ‘goyf is even less played in this format, meaning you have a much less reliable chance of hitting ferocious.
Modern: I could see it happening. I could also see Athreos Aggro become a thing. Here’s some more food for thought: if you have a free/cheap sac outlet, you can rebuy Bloodsoaked Champion multiple times in your second main; Bloodsoaked Champion is a human; there’s another champion that might benefit from this.
Legacy: Mana is so, so, so, sooooooo important in Legacy. One tiny little thing, like the difference of one mana versus two mana to bring back Gravecrawler versus this guy is what does Champion in. Part of what makes the Mardu (sometimes, splashing green) Zombie Bombardment deck of Sam Black fame so powerful is it’s ability to “machine gun,” using Gravecrawler in conjunction with Bombardment/Carrion Feeder. Bloodsoaked Champion will probably fail to really take off due to the extra mana, and the fact that decks that want this kind of ability have eight copies that they can already play, between Gravecrawler and Bloodghast. Now, I know, you’re thinking, “But Tim! Both of those creatures already exist in Modern, and you thought that Champion might be playable in that format!” and it’s true, I did say that, but the Modern deck is a different deck. The Zombie Bombardment deck has a lot of things going on, as-is, and doesn’t have room for more of these types of creatures.
Vintage: Gravecrawler doesn’t see play in Vintage, and I suspect that this card will not, either. Bloodghast does, but the only deck that plays it (Dredge) rarely actually pays mana to get it on the board.
Modern: Going verrrrry deep here, but it’s fringe playable if that Orzhov/Mardu Athreos Aggro deck becomes a thing. Unlikely, though, so don’t go writing in the comments, “God, you so dumb! No one will play this trash!”
Legacy: Nope! (there is a often gulf of power-level between these three formats, so if something is fringe playable on a lower powered format, I’m not going to go into great detail in explaining why it’s even less playable in the higher powered format)
Modern: This is another fringe pick. Goblins have far less toys to play with in Modern than the elder statesmen formats of the Eternal Club, but getting three bodies for three mana is a good rate. If recent additions, like Krenko and Rabblemaster, can breathe life into the tribe and it becomes viable, I like this card. Here’s a list of all Modern-legal Goblins if someone else feels like brainstorming on this for a bit. The rate is actually SUPER good if you have a Goblin Chieftain or King in play, but unfortunately, these lords cost three, rather than the magic number of two that most of the Merfolk lords cost.
Legacy: See above. The real question is if Legacy Goblins can be resurrected in the True-Name era, but if it can, I feel like the only thing holding this back is that WotC did away with tribal spells. How good would this be if it was a Goblin Sorcery, so you can hit it with Ringleader/Matron?
Howl of the Horde
Vintage: Yes! Yes! Yes! This is at least a one-of in all of my Pyromancer decks. The power level of Howl in a format with Time Walk/Ancestral Recall is boooooooonkers. Buy your foil copies, now! (also, I moved Vintage to the top, because this is really the format where this card becomes exciting.)
Modern: It could be a one or two-of in Jeskai control. Once the game gets late, and you’re looking for a way to blow the game open and win, imagine this sequence:
EOT: Bolt you, Snapcaster, Bolt you – 6 damage
My turn: Attack with Snapcaster, Howl, Bolt you – 11 damage (if Snapcaster got through)
If they’ve done their share of fetching and shocking, you’ve probably dealt lethal in the span of half a turn cycle.
Legacy: I don’t love this in Legacy, because you don’t have the type of insanely powered spells and cheap/free mana that you do in Vintage. Three mana is a significant cost, so your options of what you can effectively copy are limited. Modern is a little different, because the deck that I believe might want this routinely gets a ton of lands in play.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Modern: Skred Red wouldn’t mind a couple copies of Sarkhan. Probably doesn’t fit in too many decks, though; it’s hard to find room for a sorcery-speed five-drop that doesn’t end the game, immediately.
Legacy: He’s a solid finisher in the Sol Land, Blood Moon, Chalice, Spirit Guide shell. Though, to be fair, once you have someone shut out by Moon and/or Chalice, you’re free to end the game with just about anything you’d like (Chandra, Painted Stone combo, Koth, Jaya Ballard, Rabblemaster… Rakdos Pit Dragon, you get the idea).
Feed the Clan
Modern: If Rest for the Weary can be a sometimes sideboard card, I don’t see why this can’t. Seems reasonable for any green midrange deck to bring in against Burn or various aggro strategies.
Modern: I’m not really sure what we do with this, but it is a cheap and unique effect, that could add up over time. I really want to dismiss it, but at one mana, it might make an impact.
Legacy: See above, but take it with a few extra grains of salt.
Modern: Could be a player for Abzan midrange. I would bet that in most games, at least two abilities would be relevant. It gets even better if you’re playing with Finks. Note that I do NOT think that it has a spot in Melira/Angel/Abzan Pod, as it would be competing with removal spells (Decay, Pact); the existing removal suite is crucial for making the Twin matchup winnable.
Anafenza, the Foremost
Modern: Solid three-drop for Abzan Pod. Excellent stats, resets your persist critters, and crushes the mirror by turning off their persist. I think she also goes into Abzan midrange.
Vintage: Maaaaaybe Abzan Hatebears? Unless that deck really wants Wasteland.. I’m admittedly unfamiliar with it and have yet to encounter it in the MODO metagame.
Butcher of the Horde
Modern: Of all the three color combinations, I feel like Mardu has gotten the least love in Eternal formats. Now, with a wedge-focused set, Mardu is getting some interesting tools. Could Butcher represent the high-end of an Aristocrats-style deck? Black and white provide token fodder, while the entire wedge is full of sac outlets take advantage.
Modern: Best edict ever? Well.. if you can reliably cast it. But see what I said above, on Butcher about Mardu finally getting some love. If one or two of these cards came into the format, alone, I’d say, “This card is powerful, but we don’t really have any place to put it.” That might actually be part of the reason I keep talking about Zombie Bombardment in Legacy; it’s the only existing deck of those colors. I’d think that we’d have a really solid Mardu deck, in Modern, for sure, had they committed to wedge for the entire block, but because only the first set of Khans block has a wedge theme, I’m not sure if we will get critical mass in one set. I’m going to remain optimistic that the power-level on these new additions is high enough to make Mardu competitive.
Modern: While the pump + lifelink mode won’t get a whole lot of use, I think at least one of the two modes will be good in any given match. Four damage to the dome is decent, especially considering that the deck often wins in a flurry of burn spells at the end of the game, some from the hand, and some flashed back. Jeskai Charm plays nicely with that plan. It also serves as removal in the earlier stages of the game. Remember, this isn’t like Azorius Charm; the creature doesn’t have to be in combat when we bounce it, so you can use this in response to a fetchland!
Modern: This fits well with that tokens + sac outlet theme of Mardu I was discussing with regards to Butcher of the Horde. The only major strike against this is that it does absolutely nothing, by itself (okay, that might be more than just a strike.. more like death blow).
Modern: Three playable modes? Check, check, check. The Duress mode is probably the weakest, but it will be at its best against decks that have no targets for the Flame Slash mode. Now we just need a midrangey Mardu deck to throw this in.
Modern: This seems like a SWEET ability for zoo.
Modern: As soon as it was revealed that morph was a returning mechanic, my mind raced to Restoration Angel. There’s a cute little interaction in Modern, involving Resto (and Flickerwisp, too) and Akroma, Angel of Fury, where if you play Akroma face down, and then blink her, she returns face up! So naturally, I’m thinking, “Okay, where’s the fatty that I get to pair up with Resto?” Those dastardly folks at WotC were a step ahead on this interaction, though, and were careful not to give us anything too crazy. I think this is the best we’re getting in this set, but it might work. Ambushing someone with a 3/4 flyer AND a 6/6 trample, hexproof doesn’t seem like the worst thing.
Modern: I would say that our friend, Knife Yeti, can slot into a few different Modern decks of the Temur persuasion. First, I think he’s fine to try in the flex creature slot of Tarmo Twin, which has cycled through Scavenging Ooze, Thrun, and Huntmaster of the Fells. He is a flexible threat that can change roles as the game progresses, going from aggressively-costed beater, to unkillable monster. I think that’s exactly what the deck wants in that slot, as cute as it is to put Splinter Twin on a Huntmaster. Temur Delver (it doesn’t really exist, but I’ve seen some attempts) might want a copy, as well, but I think Clique better-fits what that deck is trying to do, if we even want a three-drop. The last Temur deck we might be able to slot Knucks into is that old Eternal Command list, that played Snapcasters, Eternal Witness, Cryptic Command, and Vial. The fact that you already want to keep a Vial on three for E-Witness is too perfect to not play Knife Yeti!
Modern: Another possible card for Abzan midrange. It might be a little high on the curve, but it does dodge much of the removal in the format. I’m not sure if Pod decks want this, as their four-drops all serve very specific purposes, and this is mostly a just a big dumb animal.
Legacy: Gonna tackle Legacy, first on this one. For a brief moment, I thought this card was playable in some of Legacy’s Sultai decks, but I now have my reservations, because I remembered one thing: Abrupt Decay. They both hit most of the creatures, artifacts, and enchantments in the format; four-drops are few and far between, and very few of the creatures in the format are multi-colored. So the big question is this: is it worth paying an extra mana AND losing that oh-so-format-warping uncounterability in exchange for the ability to cycle it, plus another card in your hand? Usually no, but I could see it being played sparingly. “Sparingly,” is the name of the game for any of these that actually make it to Legacy, as a three-drop has a pretty high bar to clear to be considered playable.
Modern: So, you’re probably thinking, “Well, you can play Abrupt Decay in Modern, too, so this charm probably isn’t good there, either.” The difference is, the blue card manipulation is MUCH better in Legacy than in Modern. In Modern, Catalog could actually feel pretty good in a Sultai Control deck. When things like Brainstorm are available, though, we can dispose of useless cards far more efficiently.
Modern: If there is a real Temur midrange deck, Surrak would make a nice curve topper.
Modern: Mana Leak is often going to be the only relevant mode in Twin, and if that’s the case, let’s just play the actual card, rather than making it a real bear to cast. In midrange decks, however, I think every mode is relevant.
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
Modern: Does Affinity ever want this out of the board? I’m not familiar enough with the archetype to know how often the game turns into a race, where this ability would make a difference.
Legacy: I don’t think Legacy Affinity really wants to cut artifact lands for this. I don’t really see any other existing archetypes that play enough colorless creatures where this ability would be good, especially because Tomb would often be competing for slots with lands which produce more than one mana. It’s a unique ability, but I don’t think it’s powerful enough to build around.
Altar of the Brood
Modern: It’s costed very aggressively. We might be getting close to the critical mass of (semi-)playable Mill cards where it becomes a real Modern deck!
Modern: I could easily a see a copy or two of this slotting into Affinity as additional equipment.
Modern: You’re all going to want copies of this in your board when that ALL the Time Walks deck starts running roughshod on the format!
Vintage: Possible anti-Vault tech?
Saving The Best For Last
Recent history has taught me something important, when evaluating what new abilities are most relevant for older formats. Some of the most powerful, format-warping cards are caused by abilities that allow us to somehow cheat on mana costs. New Phyrexia gave us Phyrexian mana, and spells that use that mechanic appear in every format they are legal. Cascade and Storm, two of the most busted mechanics ever, just give you additional spells for free. Miracles let you board wipe for a single mana at instant speed to boot! Cipher… nevermind on that one. But yeah.. when I heard that delve was a returning mechanic, I new this was going to be special. I knew Legacy was about to experience a shake-up, of sorts.
While initial reactions from many Legacy players on Twitter and public forums was tepid, at best, to these new delvers (not to be confused with the other Delver), I have high hopes for a few. Ever since I started seeing the types of delve cards spoiled, I started paying greater attention to my graveyard, while playing Legacy. What new delve card would I love to draw, right now? How much tension does this have with existing elements of my deck (‘goyf, threshold, Snapcaster)? How often can I realistically expect to cast these? I found from my casual observation that I can easily get away with casting two in Sultai Delver, as I used to run two ‘stalkers, and rarely ran into issues of drawing both of them at the same time and not being able to cast one, but found it the right amount of time for it to feel powerful when I had it. Let’s look over the ones that caught my eye.
The Cream Of The Crop
I see these three as the premiere delvers, and they will be superstars in Modern and Legacy, though I’m a bit more skeptical about Vintage, due to how powerful Yawgmoth’s Will is. However, I could see something like Sultai Fish or a Menendian-esque Delver list supporting a couple Treasure Cruises. I hear that drawing three is pretty good when you cast it for a single blue. What’s more, though, this version of Ancestral Recall cannot be hit by Mental Misstep, so there’s that!
As everyone on the internet has already mentioned, the mechanic is parasitic; that is, the delve cards will generally get worse, the more of them you run. For decks that can efficiently fill their graveyard as a natural part of executing their gameplan, though, this won’t be a problem.
I’m planning to try both, Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time in Jeskai Delver. Many people are talking about taking multiple cruises in Sultai, but Jeskai is the Delver variant that gives zero shits about its own graveyard. I still think it will be good in Sultai, and your ‘goyfs/Deathrites will be fine, but delve will be close to unplayable in Temur, due to Nimble Mongoose.
Dig Through Time also is an obvious inclusion in most blue-based combo decks, particularly two/three-card combo decks (as opposed to engine combo decks), where a cheap Dig can be cast by exiling the fetchlands and cantrips you’ve been using all game, and find two pieces, or a piece and protection. It seems great in Twin, if you imagine this sequence:
Turn one: fetch, Serum Visions – two cards in graveyard
Turn two: fetch, Remand on their turn – four cards in yard
Turn three: land, EOT Exarch – four cards in yard
Turn four: Twin, they use Decay – six cards in yard
Turn five: Cast Dig for TWO MEASLY MANA, get your combo back, EOT Exarch/Mite
This hardly seems like a far-fetched scenario!
Both Modern and Legacy infect could probably support one or two copies of this. Legacy could obviously get away with more like two or three, thanks to Brainstorm.
The last time we got three power in the air for one mana, it warped multiple formats. This may be a delver, but it’s no Insectile Aberration! The big difference is that it can’t come down on turn one. Still, this guy, along with some of the other cheap creatures that can be cast for a single mana, intrigues me. Their resistance to Abrupt Decay is not to be taken lightly.
Oh, right, and these things..
They’ll probably see a smidge of play, right?