Core Blimey!

It’s new-set time, and there are big doings in Casual Land. Here is some new tech for the casual tribe to watch out for as well as some old favorites. Next week, I’m going to take an in-depth look at how black is positioned for the coming year, so for today, it’s just the other four colors plus artifacts and whatnot. I hope it helps you to put things in perspective and spend/trade wisely to acquire the best cards.

Reprints

First up, as the resident old-timer, let me highlight some of the cards that have already proven themselves.

Planar Cleansing
  • Planar Cleansing The ultimate price-cutter—everything must go!
  • Serra Avenger – Cheap beater is cheap. Check Flores’ discussion from the first time around.
  • Serra Avatar – Huzzah!! A white card I can totally get behind!
  • Battle of Wits – The Johnniest card in the multiverse is back in Standard. FYI, last time Battle of Wits was in Standard, it led to a totally playable deck.1
  • Clone – Budget multiplayer staple unlike Phantasmal Image and a powerhouse in Commander.
  • Rewind – One of the most multiplayer-friendly counterspells of all time.
  • Duress – Despise can kiss my ass.
  • Mutilate – More on this awesomeness next week.
  • Shimian Specter – Lobotomy Specter—’Nuff said!
  • Arms Dealer – I’ve always wanted one of these. If only there was a way to make Goblin tokens in the set!
  • Hamletback Goliath – Fling not included.
  • Mogg Flunkies – The original Watchwolf.
  • Ground Seal – Fuck you! I’m sorry; I know that’s not very professional, but if they’re going to cling to this silly restriction on enchantment removal in the color pie, they have to stop putting broad-based black hosers on enchantments.
Silklash Spider
  • Quirion Dryad It must be Ravnica o’clock!
  • Silklash Spider Controlling the skies and killing angels of wrath since Onslaught; this card is amazing.
  • Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker Hail Bolas, Lord of the Multiverse! One of the strongest and funnest cards in the game. Also: There’s no reason it can't be playable in Standard, so someone get on that right away.
  • Akroma’s Memorial Responsible for more successful alpha strikes than anything this side of Insurrection.
  • Gilded Lotus Dreamstone Hedron for multicolored decks—only much, much pricier.
  • Stuffy Doll According to Alongi, one of the best cards in multiplayer, and my experience supports that.
  • Magic 2010 Lands – Great cards and awesome for anyone building on a budget, but such a let-down for those of us expecting allied shock lands.

 

Man, even the reprints are mouth-watering! How awesome is the new stuff going to be?

Up-and-Coming Rookies

Faith’s Reward

Faith's Reward
Starting strong, this is a white card that impressed even me. I mean, how over-the-top, game-alteringly-one-sided can a card be? Faith's Reward, a.k.a. “Touch of the Eternal’s only friend,” is at least a one-of in every white deck from now until the end of time. Beware the white mage with 4 mana untapped, and save your Tormod's Crypt for that player rather than the poor, innocent black mage. Counter: Gather Specimens.

Archaeomancer

Archaeomancer
Anarchist was the first card with this ability, and it is still totally playable. Izzet Chronarch and Mnemonic Wall are the more recent versions, and they are practically auto-includes in decks of their respective colors, but Archaeomancer is best of breed. Cutting 1 off the mana cost makes it a hell of a lot easier to cast whatever you regrow on the same turn, which significantly increases playability—whether you’re bringing back a Ponder or an Ultimatum. Nobody is relying on any of these critters to stay on the battlefield for long, so the fact that Archaeomancer is even more pale and indoorsy than the rest of the Anarchist variants isn’t a huge drawback.

Spelltwine

Spelltwine
You get a Wrexial! You get a Wrexial! You get a Wrexial!

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how awesome this can be in a target-rich multiplayer environment. Suffice to say that this Johnnytastic game-changer is going to decide the outcome of at least one of your games before Return to Ravnica comes out.

For abusing a reanimation deck such as The Mimeoplasm, it’s best to use milling to put targets in the graveyard because people are careful about discarding huge friggin’ guys. But nobody ever worries about discarding a Decree of Pain, Tooth and Nail, or Beacon of Tomorrows, and it’s your job to take advantage of that vulnerability, and Spelltwine is just the card for the job! Syphon Mind, Dire Undercurrents, and Warped Devotion are great ways to make folks discard cards for your benefit. Don’t forget your Geth's Grimoire.

Ideal targets for your half of Spelltwine include Glimpse the Unthinkable, Sanity Grinding, and . . . drum roll please . . . Knowledge Exploitation! Pay the prowl cost on turn four, cast an opponent’s best spell, and then cast Spelltwine on turn six and do it again. If you’re completely devoid of conscience, you can bridge the fourth and sixth turns with a Time Warp, which can then also be copied with the Spelltwine.

Deck ideas for Spelltwine abound. You can begin with some of the older U/R Pyromancer Ascension decklists from Zendikar-era Standard; or go rogue:

Another option is to abuse an old favorite of mine: Spellweaver Helix. Imprinting Spelltwine gets around the exiling, giving you more options to abuse it. The trick to making Helix work is the spell you weave it with. A dredge spell such as Life from the Loam is ideal for filling up graveyards, but blue has all those great filtering effects perfect for drawing the spells you need and dumping them. Cards with retrace—such as Oona's Grace—or buyback—such as Capsize or Mystic Speculation—are perfect for weaving with Spelltwine in the Helix.

Void Stalker

Void Stalker
Sigh.

About this time last year, I warned that the number of tuck effects in the game was going to increase to the point that commanders would become unplayable in certain metagames. Unfortunately, this cut-throat little rattlesnake proves that we’re well on our way to that point already.

Void Stalker is going to sit on the table and force you to send your best cards—and especially your commander—at someone else, offering potentially superb value to the blue mage who brings it out early. This might be a good time for your playgroup to have The Talk—the one about whether you're going to use house rules to stop tucking from growing out of hand.

Magmaquake

Magmaquake
This is only second card in Magic’s history that references each (non-flying) creature and “each planeswalker;” what is the other one?

At first, I assumed that this mechanic damaged both planeswalker cards and players (because we’re supposed to be planeswalkers, too), but it seems I was wrong; like Mount Keralia from Planechase 2012, Magmaquake says creature with a lowercase C—meaning a card type—and planeswalker, also with a lowercase P— presumably meaning a card type.
This is an interesting but probably suboptimal option for red decks. The ability to damage every player is a huge part of why red wins in multiplayer, and so a ’Quake variant that only hits planeswalkers is unlikely to make the cut. I strongly suggest Fault Line or Molten Disaster instead of this—you have been warned!

Mindclaw Shaman

Mindclaw Shaman
For the record, there is a precedent for this effect, in Reversal of Fortune from Fifth Dawn. Not only is the awesomely named Mindclaw Shaman cheaper than Reversal of Fortune, but he can also swing a Sword if necessary, meaning that it is never a completely wasted spell.

Obviously, Mindclaw Shaman is more abusable than Reversal of Fortune because you can reanimate him repeatedly. More than anything else, though, this gives you the option of instant-speed shenaniganery. Flash him in during combat with a Cauldron Dance and use an opponent’s Damnation or Fog to swing things in your favor. Or for grand irony, respond to the white player’s attack by stealing his Condemn or Wing Shards. Hilarity will ensue.

Notice also that Mindclaw Shaman costs 1 less than Spelltwine and puts an instant or sorcery into your opponent’s graveyard for future use. Of course, you’ll need to have a spell in your own graveyard to use with Spelltwine; I recommend Head Games to ensure that your next Mindclaw Shaman has a lot of juicy targets.

My Thraximundar list is pretty tight, but I can guarantee that I will find room for Mindclaw Shaman. It will probably also end up in most of my red decks, and I might have to make a new deck to abuse its synergies with the Advocate cycle of white and green creatures from Judgment. Fill up opponents’ graveyards, return the choicest delicacies to their hands, and then cast them for myself? I can't imagine a more funn way to win—especially if I’m sacrificing Mindclaw Shaman to Altar of Dementia and then regrowing him with Pulsemage Advocate!

It’s unusual to have a shard-colored deck without any colored spells in it, but the whole point of the deck is to fill up graveyards and replay Mindclaw Shaman until the mere sight of the card makes your entire playgroup throw up, and for various reasons, artifacts are the best way to do that. And yes, this is a deck that makes Twinning Glass playable!

Worldfire

Worldfire
I just have one point to make about this card: It’s not as bad as you think. The worst thing about previous Worldfire effects, most notably Obliterate, is that they forced games to go longer in so many cases because they set the game back to square one. Worldfire, on the other hand, puts the game right on the finish line; even if you are wiped out by some silly combo, it will be over quickly. That may still turn out to be bad, but it won’t be as bad as most people seem to think.

Wow, I’ve talked about three red cards, but only one gets an actual recommendation. I hope Magic 2013 has more to offer the pyromancers than just these . . .

Thundermaw Hellkite

Thundermaw Hellkite
This is the card that Thundermare wants to be when it grows up. There's nothing wrong with obsoleting an old card like that—which hardly ever was played because it basically didn’t work—and I’m sure that the name of this new beasty is an homage to the horsey from hell.

Let’s be honest: Thundermaw Hellkite was pushed in development to the point that it is Spike’s toy for now, currently preordering for $20. The Casual Tribe may have to wait for it to rotate before we get a chance to play with it, but when we do, I think we’ll find it to be among the best cards ever printed for Dragon-themed decks, and red decks in general.

First, Thundermaw Hellkite is cheap like a budgie, which is huge for a tribe that doesn’t usually start becoming interesting until you hit 6 or 7 mana. As you can see, before Magic 2013 there were only twenty Dragons that cost less than 6, and Thundermaw is unambiguously better than about fifteen of them. Only Hunted Dragon competes with Thundermaw in a straight-up, mono-red aggro role.

Secondly, TMH fills an important role in red in terms of forcing through damage against large critters. Red’s huge X spells can often be used to kill large blockers, but there’s a huge opportunity cost because those spells are at their best when used against opponents’ faces. TMH should be able to push almost anything out of the way (other than Spiders) so that the fiery, scaly hordes can put the game away.

Last, let’s consider what this means for multiplayer. Tapping all flying beasties allows you to hang a large “Welcome!” sign around the neck of an opponent with a ton of flying defenders. As Bruce said last week, where you sit can be hugely important. Depending on where your opponent with the flying hordes is sitting—and how many attack steps he has to endure before he gets to untap—TMH can serve him up on a platter for the rest of your table. If they kill him for you, that’s great, and even if they don’t, the damage that he sustains should make him play a little more cautiously.

Boundless Realms

Boundless Realms
Not only a great card to cast for free with a Mindclaw Shaman, but a pretty good card to main-deck. If your casual games don’t let you make it to 7 mana, you might be doing something wrong, and if you do get to cast this, everything else in your game is going to become easier. There’s very little that you can't cast with 7 mana, but there’s nothing2 you can't cast with 14. More importantly, you are going to be drawing a lot more action from here on out, Even in a Commander deck, going from thirty-three to twenty-six lands remaining in your deck is going to significantly impact your chances of drawing lands.

Also, a card like this one means that landfall is due for a comeback. Grazing Gladehart for 14 life; 21 points of damage from an obscenely large Ob Nixilis, the Fallen; 28 points of power from Rampaging Baloths. Boundless Realms does enough to make even Adventuring Gear a solid card.



Ranger's Path
While we’re on the subject of acceleration, I’m also thrilled to see Ranger's Path. Skyshroud Claim is strictly better than this card. I own several copies of Skyshroud Claim. Therefore, I am thrilled that they printed this card.

Wait, what? Do I need to double-check my ergos there? No. Ranger's Path is still awesome because strictly worse than the best is still pretty goddamn good, and at common in a core set, even the casualest of casual players won’t have any trouble getting their hands on as many of these as they want, instead of paying a buck apiece for old gold like Kodama's Reach, Explosive Vegetation, and the aforementioned Claim. And turn-four Ranger's Path into turn-five Boundless Realms for seven lands is going to make for boundless opportunities for the rest of the game.

Mwonvuli Beast Tracker

Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
This card made my jaw drop more than anything else in this set except Worldfire. Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is flat-out, no-holds-barred, instant-classic, awesome.

Really, Daryl?

Yes, really!

Eternal Witness is among the best cards in multiplayer—probably one of my personal top ten, but I leave the lists to Abe—and it’s a Regrowth on legs, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that Eternal Witness is to Regrowth as Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is to Demonic Freaking Tutor! If you’re running green, most of your answers are creatures, and this finds almost anything you need. Just from my Molimo Commander deck, the list of targets for this tutor makes me drool, and that’s without building around her in the slightest. Anything you need, MBT will track it:

MBT is going to be in demand for almost every green Commander deck from now until the end of time, and it will start to impact our card choices going forward. For instance, Acidic Slime is a little better than Indrik Stomphowler, but with the addition of the Tracker, it moves to a league of its own. You want to trade for Mwonvuli Beast Tracker aggressively and buy any foils you can get your hands on because they will never lose their value.

Gem of Becoming

Gem of Becoming
This is a more expensive Armillary Sphere, which means it won’t see a ton of play, but it will be a must-have in any deck in Grixis colors—as well as four- and five-colored decks. Commander players, remember that there is a chance of Nephilim-colored legends in this fall’s Return to Ravnica set, in which case this will be fantastic for W/U/B/R and U/B/R/G decks.

Also, I should mention for newer players (because it hasn’t been relevant since the last time we visited Ravnica) that cards like Gem of Becoming, Farseek, and Ranger's Path that reference a particular land type can find nonbasic lands of that land type. For example, you could use Gem of Becoming to fetch white and green mana if the Swamp card you reveal is a Bayou and the Mountain is a Sacred Foundry.

Trading Post

Trading Post
Another instant classic, I expect Trading Post to be in high demand with casual players the world over. There’s a lot going on here, and in general terms, it is an engine card, meaning that it converts one resource into another. It doesn’t give you something for nothing, but there are times in any game when you would rather have, say, an extra 4 life than an excess land or removal spell, or an extra chump-blocker rather than a single point of life. With a reasonable casting cost and a nice cheap activation cost, Trading Post is going to be useful in any situation for any deck.

What really sets it apart, though, is that third ability:

Return target artifact card from your graveyard to your hand.

Wow, there just aren’t many cards that do that—Academy Ruins is the only thing that springs to mind, and that’s a little too expensive for most casual players. Plus, this is colorless!

Reuse that Oblivion Stone or bring back your Caged Sun, Birthing Pod, or Helm of Possession—the sky’s the limit! A sac outlet that lets you bring back some of your favorite toys when they hit the grumper and is generally useful when there’s nothing to retrieve sounds like a winner to me.

Phew!

And that’s a wrap! The flavor seems a little off to me sometimes, but Magic 2013 is a great set in terms of power and playability, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Join me next week when I look at the State of Black in more detail.

 


 

1 My sole claim to MTG Hall of Fame fame is that I am the first person Jon Finkel ever beat with Battle of Wits. I was at Worlds in Yokohama during Kamigawa/Ravnica Standard, hanging around the gunslinging table because none of the Japanese players seemed interested, and I couldn't imagine anything more fun than playing with Hip-Hop, MaRo, and Skaff Elias. Aaron Forsythe talked Finkel into gunslinging, gave him his BoW deck, and the rest is extremely unimportant history!

2 Okay, there are a handful of cards that you can't cast with 14 mana, but even then, you’re much closer to casting them than you otherwise would have been.