M13 is a super-cycle set, which I love.
There are the highlighted cycles:
- The five Legendary creatures (Odric, Master Tactician, Talrand, Sky Summoner, Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, Krenko, Mob Boss & Yeva’s Forcemage): These are all very nicely design, although the perfection of the cycle is a little disrupted because Nefarox is 6CMC, while the four others are 4CMC. However is effect is such that the greater casting cost is a absolute requirement – he would of been a crazy Abyss on a stick at 4CMC. Odric is the most underrated but an absolute killer in Limited. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t show up somewhere in constructed, probably as a replacement for Hero of Bladehold. Talrand is good, but not great, in Limited, as it’s harder to craft a great deck around him. Krenko is an absolute monster, especially with the high availability of Krenko’s Command. Yeva’s Forcemage is the least exciting in Limited, although it does allow for some nice combat tricks and to play around countermagic, which is a real thing in M13 Limited. I think that generally the 4CMC cost of these cards is the perfect model for a Legendary cycle in core set, and they are so much less oppresive than the Titans that they feel like a breath of fresh air.
- The five rings (Ring of Evos Isle, Ring of Kalonia, Ring of Thune, Ring of Valkas & Ring of Xathrid). The rings are generally all good, though the red one which grants haste is certainly the weakest, and I’m not sure red even wants it over another creature. The best is probably the Black, followed nicely by the Green. I’ve had boards completely stall out in the face of a deathtouch creature with a black ring on it, and all you can do is wait until they have a 10/10 that then starts beating in on you, refusing to die. The white one is merely ok, and the blue is annoying at best, although the fact these two often go on fliers is their key advantage. But who wants to give their Aven Squire vigilance? Overall the CMC, equip costs and activation costs feel right on each of the rings.
- The five off-colour activiation creatures (Harbor Bandit, Prized Elephant, Crimson Muckwader, Flinthoof Boar, Arctic Aven): These are all really neat in design. The one that scares me the most is Flinthoof Boar because a 3/3 on turn 2, followed by a hasty 3/3 on turn 3 is no joke. The Harbour Bandit is the best at taking down board stalls, especially because black can usually find a couple of Duty-Bound Dead to help pump it up while holding down the fort. Crimson Muckwader doesn’t excite me much, nor does the Prized Elephant, though I believe them to be fine cards.
- The five dual lands (Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacomb, Glacial Fortress, Rootbound Crag, Sunpetal Grove): I’m really happy these keep getting reprinted. They work nicely in this set with the activation creatures and they help newer players build better manabases for cheap. I don’t pick them highly in limited unless I know I’m going to splash a colour, or my deck is firmly in the two colours represented and I’m not missing another pick.
What’s more interesting are the cylces (and mini-cycles) of cards that do similar things in different ways that give the format a level of consistency and redundency that make drafting a very interesting exercise.
- The five Legendary-creature flavour spells (Crusader of Odric, Talrand’s Invocation, Servant of Nefarox, Krenko’s Command, Yeva’s Forcemage): Clearly Talrand has someone at WotC on the payroll, because he certainly got the best deal. 2 x 2/2 flyers for 2UU is fantastic and it kills me whenever I see this card go anything less than second pick. Crusader is actually very good, and it’s interesting to see how far Scion of the Wild has fallen in power level (if it ever was that powerful). Krenko’s Command is a fine card, especially in multiples, and is infinitely better with Arms Dealer and Krenko himself. Weirdly, Crusader of Odric is only marginally better with Ordic, because Ordric still needs two more critters to work properly. Yeva’s Forcemage is no Trusted Forcemage, and I can take it or leave it. Usually leave it.
- The five key common removal spells (Pacifism, Murder, Prey Upon, Searing Spear, Unsummon): The two new cards here are Murder (which I honestly expected to be printed at BB) and Searing Spear, the slightly nerfed Incinerate. You could argue Encrust should be there in place of Unsummon, but I think Unsummon is more key to Blue in M13, due to the high levels of countermagic around. They’re all good, solid cards, and they’re all around the right power level for core set removal. However, the lack of truly great removal (eg Path to Exile, Doom Blade, Lightning BOlt) has me a little worrierd about the upcoming Standard environment when Scars rotates, but I’m sure WotC will have substitutes in Return to Ravnica.
- The five overrun effects (Predatory Rampage, Cleaver Riot, Sleep, Safe Passage, Public Execution): It’s funny that Overrun was pushed to rare in Green, but all the other colours got Overruns (albiet worse Overruns) in common and uncommon. Cleaver Riot is a face-smashing machine that, while missing the trample, can cause amazing amounts of damage. Sleep simply removes all blockers for a turn and a half, allowing you to push the damage through. Safe Passage is the closest white gets to Overrun, but with a little effort can be just as effective offensively as defensively. Public Exeuction is the new card for Black and it is a monster. Done right you can effectively wipe their board, and usually at the worst it’s a 2-for-1. And at instant. Ka-blam!
- The five enchantment damage-pushers (Tricks of the Trade, Mark of the Vampire, Rancor, Volcanic Strength, Angelic Benediction): Ok, it’s a super-loose cycle and probably only one in my head, but these cards are all effectively doing the same thing; pushing through damage. Mark, Tricks and Rancor (oh Rancor) are the ones that get all the discussion, largely because Volcanic Strength is relatively mediocre and Angelic Benediction is a sometimes do-nothing. I never cast any of them in M13, which says a lot about who I am (I would happily cast Rancor, but I’ve never been able to take it in draft).
- The four token sweepers (Cower in Fear, Chandra’s Fury
, Rain of Blades, Downpour): Sure, Downpour is the loosest card in this mini-cycle, but it’s great that four of the colours has access to this kind of effect. The casting costs feel about right, and you can get other value out of them as well: Cower in Fear as an Overrun effect; Chandra’s Fury as a straight burn spell; Rain of Blades as Aven Squire removal; Downpour as a tempo play. Incidentally Stuffy Doll, who is indestructible, can Cower in Fear and die. Flavour fail!
- The four token makers (Fungal Sprouting, Krenko’s Command, Captain’s Call, Talrand’s Invocation): I’ve mentioned most of these above, but there is a nice little mini-cycle of sorceries here. Talrand’s got the best of it, but Captain’s Call is a fine card for anyone with either Odric or Captain of the Watch. I’ve not played with Fungal Sprouting and I’ve luckily always had the Cower in Fear against those that have, but one day it’s going to get me, and that’s fine. I still won’t play it.
- The three mass removal spells (Planar Cleansing, Magmaquake, Mutilate): No Upheaval, blue? Regardless, the best of these is Mutilate, followed closely by Magmaquake, which is a house in the UR deck as it skips all your fliers. I’ve hit the finals with Mutilate, and lost in the finals because I misplayed Mutilate, oh it’s a fickel mistress. I’ve never seen Planar Cleansing played in any Limited format it’s been legal in, or constructed format it’s been legal in. Not even Commander.
The great thing about the design of M13 is that each of the colours generally has access to play through, around, and against their opponent’s threats. Removal, inevitability, one-shot game enders and control effects are all available, which means no matter what your native play style, you can still open a pack and have a direction to head, even if your natural colour affinity is missing. This makes for a great format, and one I’m really enjoying, both design-wise and play-wise. Well done WotC, this set is a home run.