The new Magic set has been born into the world and we have finally started to play with the new cards! Since the start of spoiler season, we’ve all tried to evaluate the set and pick winners and losers. Before you can hold the cards in your hands, shuffle them, relegate some to your sideboard; what else can you do? Our ability to play frozen in time, embargoed, Ancestral Vision on suspend. So we talk.

critic

Everyone has an opinion . . .

I try to keep an open mind about new cards until I see them in action. You never know quite how a limited environment will play out. Creatures tend to live, which means clunky tapping-based mechanics might actually do something. There is no Doom Blade, and so there is no Doom Blade Guy. Seven mana? We might be dead by then, or we might still be at 20-all on life. On Theros, both are quite possible.

Devotion was an interesting mechanic to evaluate during Theros previews. Most were skeptical—a card that does little unless you have a solid board presence before you cast it sounds inconsistent and weak. But what does devotion ask of us? Play creatures (or other permanents) of a specific color and keep them alive. That sounds like many, if not most, games of limited. The creatures don’t even have to be good. In fact, being mediocre might be a bonus. Is anyone ever happy to kill Felhide Minotaur with Lightning Strike? Not unless they are seriously beating face. Aren’t you delighted to see your opponent’s best removal spell in their yard when you tap out two turns later for Sentry of the Underworld?

But even with that analysis, we didn’t really know if devotion would be good. If the format encouraged trading off creatures at every opportunity, then building up devotion would be difficult. And so we tried to evaluate inspired and tribute without a feel for how games would play out in the new format. Will paying tribute be a heavy cost or have our removal options expanded sufficiently? Can we really lock the board and sit back tapping and untapping creatures for value? Inspired abilities seem quite strong, if we can afford to use them.

And so we play.

Last of Pitt

This will be a fun journey . . .

Last weekend Born of the Gods was officially released unto the world. My local gaming establishment offered up four-round sealed tournaments. Finally, a chance to play a truly random sealed environment, without the silly promo dragons flooding the tables. Yay!

Going into the events, my initial impression of the new sealed format was positive and hopeful. Born of the Gods promises to shake up sealed decks considerably. Remember—half the cards in your pool come from three Born of the Gods packs. As a small set, that means you will get a greater concentration of BNG cards and they will likely form a central part of your deck. BNG seems to add a lot of mediocre (and some good) small creatures, plus monstrosity is now reduced to half your packs. This suggests that aggressive strategies will be much more plausible in the new format. On the other hand, blue and black offer some fine durdly inspired cards, and mediocre early drops are not that difficult to slow down. The format may settle into a “solved” equilibrium but for now our options abound.

catbus

All aboard the catbus!

I’m not going into detail on the building process or the full contents of the pools. Instead I offer up two examples of archetypes you can probably expect to see at sealed events going forward.

Here’s my first foray into the new sealed format:

Gilder Born

Creatures (15)
Deepwater Hypnotist
Leafcrown Dryad
Flitterstep Eidolon
Opaline Unicorn
Nimbus Naiad
Nyxborn Wolf
Triton Fortune Hunter
Chorus of the Tides
Nylea’s Disciple
Pheres-Band Tromper
Prophet of Kruphix
Sphinx’s Disciple
Floodtide Serpent
Snake of the Golden Grove

Spells (8)
Nylea’s Presence
Karametra’s Favor
Oracle’s Insight
Nullify
Time to Feed
Artisan’s Sorrow
Gild
Fall of the Hammer
Lands (17)
Temple of Abandon
Forest
Island

Sideboard (15)
Astral Cornucopia
Colossus of Akros
Pheres-Band Centaurs
Charging Badger
Satyr Piper
Stratus Walk
Fate Foretold
Karametra’s Favor
Feral Invocation
Savage Surge
Gainsay
Skyreaping
Excoriate
Magma Jet
Lightning Volley

So how good is inspired? Quite good with Prophet of Kruphix! Karametra’s Favor does fine work with inspired creatures as well. I enchanted a Sphinx’s Disciple with Prophet on board one game, and that was a lot of fun. Make the manas, draw the cards. Sounds like Ill Mitch.

And then there’s Oracle’s Insight. Sure, your creature becomes public enemy number one after you enchant it, but most of the time you will at least get to activate it once before the removal spell resolves. And what if there is no removal spell? Often there won’t be. That’s when you win. Oracle’s Insight is also good with Prophet, in case you weren’t sure. And if you put it on a creature with a good inspired ability? Yeah. This one is risky but totally worth the risk. Just be careful not to cast it when your opponent can respond with removal or bounce.

Floodtide Serpent is sweet. I cast many Nylea’s Presences over the course of four rounds. There are plenty of two-mana cantrip auras in the format, and Serpico is going to be their best friend. The Serp also helps enable heroic. Hello Triton Fortune Hunter, rock on Wavecrash Triton. Did your bestow aura fall off? Reset it for the low low cost of attacking with a 4/4! Have fun with this one. I sure did.

PACINO

Who can trust a cop that won’t take money?

I was already planning to splash Fall of the Hammer off my Temple of Abandon and the three five-color fixers in the deck. The card isn’t insane with my suite of mostly small creatures, but I have some big things and at worst it can pick off a Voyaging Satyr or Baleful Eidolon. As I evaluated my splash, I decided I might as well throw Gild in there too, raw-dog, with no dedicated black sources. Three five-color fixers should be enough, at least for this early-format experiment, right?

And wow! Gild is insane. Exiling a creature is obviously fantastic and completely worth four mana and an awkward splash. Yet Gild also gives us a free Lotus Petal for our troubles. Over the four rounds I used my Gold token to cast Fall of the Hammer, to cast Nullify after tapping down to one land, and to cast three spells on one turn to enable a massive surprise attack for the win.

Speaking of splashing, I considered Astral Cornucopia but decided that Opaline Unicorn was better for this deck. Prophet of Kruphix doesn’t untap the Cornucopia, and I wanted more creatures I could cast early.

Overall the deck was OK power-wise and a lot of fun to play. I went 2-2 in matches, winning my first two rounds before getting crushed by an incredible green-black deck and then losing a close three games to Xenagos, God of Revels. Blue-green draw cards will be a definite archetype, but it needs a little more defense and interaction than my pool provided. Still, it’s pretty hard to lose when you are drawing three cards a turn and have some amount of evasive threats and removal spells.

On to deck two!

Bestow My Heart

Creatures (18)
Hero of Leina Tower
Sedge Scorpion
Nyxborn Shieldmate
Swordwise Centaur
Akroan Skyguard
Leafcrown Dryad
Wingsteed Rider
Lagonna-Band Elder
Elite Skirmisher
Nyxborn Wolf
Courser of Kruphix
Pheres-Band Tromper
Nylea’s Disciple
Graverobber Spider
Celestial Archon
Nessian Demolok
Vulpine Goliath

Spells (5)
Chosen by Heliod
Karametra’s Favor
Divine Verdict
Unravel the Aether
Mortal’s Resolve
Lands (17)
Temple of Silence
Forest
Plains

Sideboard (17)
Setessan Battle Priest
Pheres-Band Centaurs
Traveling Philosopher
Cavalry Pegasus
Decorated Griffin
Loyal Pegasus
Yoked Ox
Griffin Dreamfinder
Revoke Existence
Hold at Bay
Fade into Antiquity
Mischief and Mayhem
Skyreaping
Culling Mark
Flamecast Wheel
Springleaf Drum
Bronze Sable

I built this deck around the awesomeness of bestow. Thirty-seven permanents dot deck. I would like a little bit more interaction but forcing your opponent to answer threats twice is a good way to win in sealed. Seriously, every bestow card is great and you should play as many in your sealed decks as you can. I went 3-1 in matches, beating everything except Hunter’s Prowess, which drew my opponent 16 cards the two times he cast it against me. I wish I had drawn Divine Verdict in those games.

In addition to my awesome bestow cards, I went with this white-green build to test out Courser of Kruphix. What an awesome card! I love the steady lifegain from Horizon Chimera, and while Courser does not gain life as reliably, it is a much better blocker. Blocking is essentially gaining life, right? Curving Courser of Kruphix into Nylea’s Disciple is a nightmare for an agressive deck. I’m not a big fan of playing with the top of my library revealed, but in a deck with all permanents it isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s quite nice to attack your opponent with three creatures and a Wingsteed Rider revealed on top of your library. That can be demoralizing to face down. Courser of Kruphix is going to be a powerhouse in limited. And constructed.

lenna tower

Father! Hiryu is sick! Pay X to make it bigger!

My love for 16-bit Final Fantasy games notwithstanding, I was excited to try out Hero of Leina Tower. It’s a really interesting and powerful card, but it doesn’t play like most heroic creatures. Essentially, it gives all of your combat tricks, auras, and bestow spells an extra X kicker. That is really useful, but doesn’t lend itself to the normal heroic curve-out beatdown strategy. You’re still happy to slap an ordeal on this turn two, but think about all the times you wasted mana because you drew your ordeal on turn four and had to leave two lands untapped. Hero of Leina Tower lets you use that mana, and the extra counters pop the ordeal on the same turn. Or maybe you have seven mana and want to bestow a Nimbus Naiad. Sure, you could leave the mana up to represent Voyage’s End or Stymied Hopes or whatever, but why not just make your bestowed flier +2/+2 bigger? You get to make that decision! This card is going to be the best one drop to play in a heroic deck.

Elite Skirmisher is pretty good. It offers a nice way to diversify your heroic threats. Three power can beat down without help, and the tapping ability is situationally useful. How many times have you had a Favored Hoplite and Battlewise Hoplite on board together and not known which one to build up? With Elite Skirmisher, you get a wider contrast between your choices. And if it’s the only heroic creature you draw in one game, that’s fine too. Bestow it twice and you are getting way ahead.

Nyxborn Wolf and Nyxborn Shieldmate are both fantastic. The Wolf can fill out your curve as a pseudo-Nessian Courser but it really shines as three power of bestow for five mana. Wingsteed Rider and Akroan Skyguard are happy to get that kind of bonus. And they are both happy to get +1/+2 for three mana. Skyguard curves right into Nyxborn Shieldmate bestow, and Wingsteed is happy to have a white mana untapped afeter bestowing on turn four. Not that my deck has Gods Willing, but my opponents don’t know that.

third man

And that’s the end of that.

Finally, a parting gift. Here’s a sweet deck I drafted over the weekend. It could use a few more two drops, but what you gonna do?

Hero Cliques

Creatures (14)
Nyxborn Rollicker
Everflame Eidolon
Arena Athlete
Fanatic of Xenagos
Setessan Oathsworn
Spearpoint Oread
Nyxborn Wolf
Nessian Courser
Nylea’s Emissary
Nylea’s Disciple
Borderland Minotaur
Centaur Battlemaster
Arbor Colossus

Spells (9)
Ordeal of Nylea
Fall of the Hammer
Lightning Strike
Titan’s Strength
Coordinated Assault
Lands (17)
Forest
Mountain

Sideboard (11)
Dragon Mantle
Titan’s Strength
Shredding Winds
Nylea’s Presence
Karametra’s Favor
Wild Celebrants
Fade into Antiquity
Bolt of Keranos
Rise to the Challenge
Demolish
Chromanticore

This deck lost in the finals to Abe “undefeated on the weekend” Lusk, but was super fun to play. And I hate playing Gruul! That bodes well for the awesomeness of the format. Happy brewing!

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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