Looking for the New: M11
Whenever a set comes out, the inevitable rush of set reviews takes place. With every set review, I try to remind people to look for what’s new. Here are some thoughts about what’s new in M11.
The Planeswalker Signature Spells
Ajani Goldmane + Ajani’s Mantra + Ajani’s Pridemate: The old mantra goes “you don’t win games with lifegain”. But with this linear it’s easy to see why that may one day be proven wrong. The main difficulty is that both signature spells cost 1W, thereby taking up the same space in the curve, but are also pretty useless without each other, leading to performance inconsistency without the right hand. Still, there’s certainly a critical mass of lifegain about (Baneslayer, Basilisk Collar, Perimiter Captain, Feldar Sovereign) that perhaps it’s worth a try.
Jace Beleren + Jace’s Erasure + Jace’s Ingenuity: They say Mill is for kids, largely because it’s often so slow and temperamental it can’t compete competitively. I don’t see the new M11 mill cards as any different, as the last thing you want to do is fill your opponents graveyard up with Vengevines and Bloodghasts.
Liliana Vess + Liliana’s Caress + Liliana’s Specter: Discard is often a self-protection mechanism than a competitive archtype, and I can’t imagine that the signature Liliana spells will make much difference to that. However, the drop from a 2B casting cost for Megrim and 1B for Liliana’s Caress makes the archtype infinitely more viable, and improves the curve amazingly. T1 Bloodchief Ascension, T2 Caress, T3 Blightning for 2 cards, 7 damage and a Bloodchief token? Could that be the start of a competitive deck?
Chandra Nalaar + Chandra’s Outrage + Chandra’s Spitfire: It’s really sad to see Red get inefficient planeswalker spells, when Red is supposed to be fast and powerful. It’s nice that Chandra’s Outrage will often remove the blocker in the Spitfire’s way, but I can’t see this as the backbone of New Red Deck Wins once Ball Lightning, Hell’s Thunder, Hellspark Elemental and company rotate out.
Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk’s Companion, Garruk’s Packleader: I will be eternally mystified why Garruk’s Companion isn’t a 3/3 vanilla beast for GG, which would of made perfect sense given the options of Garruk’s first two abilities. However, the three cards do work great together, with both Garruk and the Companion able to trigger the Packleader, with the Companion able to protect Garruk on the same turn, and with Garruk able to power out the Packleader early. I don’t believe they’ll see constructed play together except in casual, but you never know.
The Leyline Cycle
Leyline of Sanctity: A player with Troll Shroud is a happy player indeed, but there’s nothing terribly broken about the card. Certainly an excellent sideboard option against burn and discard (should it ever be viable), but otherwise relatively ordinary. Likely a sideboard option against non-creature base decks.
Leyline of Anticipation: I just tried a search for decks with Vedalken Orrery maindeck on deckcheck.net and hit absolutely nothing. You know why Teferi was so good? Not because he gave your creatures flash, but because he locked people out of playing spells on your turn. Incidentally, for a short time only you can get the same effect by flashing in Sen’s Triplets in Standard using Leyline of Anticipation – but not for long.
Leyline of the Void: Not new. Still great against Dredge, but not new.
Leyline of Punishment: We’ve seen this type of card before, with Everlast Torment and such. It may replace Mana Barbs in just about every Red Deck sideboard, but unless Lifegain becomes a viable archtype, it won’t be played anywhere else.
Leyline of Vitality: What a terrible Leyline. However, we must think of the possibilities, not the negatives. For instance, could this give a modern Elfball deck enough resistance and life-total padding to allows critical mass to take place? Could a token/ramp deck using Spawn tokens use this as a way to outrace Jund or Red Deck wins? It’s quite possible that the Green Leyline, although unassuming, has its own special place in a sideboard somewhere.
The Titan Cycle
Sun Titan: Recursion has traditionally been one of the most broken things you can do in Magic. Sun Titan is the type of card that has easily abusable uses. Got Sun Titan and Crucible of Worlds in Play? Endlessly recur your Strip Mine. You could recur Seals of Fire to hit anything on the board for 2-4 damage (or your opponent for that matter). You could use Angelic Renewal to keep your Titan in play permanently – and triggering its ETB ability again as it does so. There are so many ways to abuse Sun Titan, I believe it’s the most underestimated Titan at the moment.
Frost Titan: Whether people like to admit it or not, a 6/6 for 4UU is still a pretty good deal for Blue, especially as it can take a blocker out of the equation. It’s not great – certainly not as attractive as the other Titans – but it can happily keep an opposing Gideon locked down all day in the Superfriends Mirror. As for the 2 mana cost for targeting it, seems to sync nicely with the return of Mana Leak.
Grave Titan: Ok, he’s definitely mana efficient, blasting out 10 power/toughness across 3 creatures for 4BB. And it only gets worse the more he attacks – and all he wants to do is attack. He’ll be the top end of creatures for Monoblack control, with Nantuko Shade, Phylactery Lich and Abyssal Persecutor filling the other slots. Black suddenly became hyper efficient when it comes to power/toughness, and I’m not sure why. Grave Titan also interacts extra nicely with Sword of Vengeance.
Inferno Titan: The lightning-bolt throwing, firebreathing titan we had to have. Of course, the Titans never had Lighting Bolts as weapons; Zeus was crafted the Lightning Bolt by the Cyclops in order to slay the Titans. I guess what goes around, comes around. Anyhoo, ‘bolt on a stick is nothing to sneeze at, and this guy smooshes in for a metric ton of damage each turn. Plays nicely with World At War.
Primeval Titan: Okay, here’s the brilliant thing about Primeval Titan that I’m sure you’ve already noticed: he can fetch up non-basic lands. How crazy good is that? Attack, grab a Mystifying Maze, and get ready to screw your opponent. Or a Serjii Steppe to give your giant Protection as necessary. Or Smoldering Spires to push the damage through. Or Teeting Peeks to hit for more. And in the meantime you’re thinning your deck and ramping your lands. That’s a whole lot of utility in just one guy.
White Mechanics & Interactions
Angelic Arbiter: We’ve seen similar ‘prison’ mechanics before in Storage Matrix, but you have to wonder how useful it will be trying to slow your opponent down with a 5WW mana creature. Stoic Angel was a lot more efficient but never saw a lot of play. A game ender? Maybe. A prison tactic? No.
Knight Exemplar: Indestructible is pretty good. First Strike is pretty good. Making your other 2/2 First Strike Knights (White Knight, Silver Knight, Knight of the White Orchid etc) Indestructible as well is pretty good. Making your Knight of the Reliquary Indestructible is insane, so it’s a pity they occupy the same spot on the curve. Mono-white weenie looked like it was heading in the direction of Soldiers, but maybe the Knights have it. Either that, or moths.
Serra Ascendant: A turn 1 Serra Ascendant is always going to be terrible (um, I ‘bolt it?). By turn 3, however, if you’ve built your deck right, it could be crazy good. Angels have been known to want to come to play late (I’m looking at you, Serra Avenger), but is that such a problem when you expect to have a +10 life buffer? Cards like Sunspring Expedition create situations where this may be possible. For me, the main thing to note is that Serra Ascendant is self perpetuating as it has lifelink. It’s the little 1/1 that could, especially in multiples.
Squadron Hawk: A 1W 1/1 flyer is terrible; one that fills your hand with more 1/1 flyers may well be playable. Certainly a hit for constructed, it’s the type of card that just burns for equipment or other boostering effects (Honor of the Pure?). It can also serve as Fauna Shaman fodder, giving you three more cards to discard.
Vengeful Archon: At 4WWW you’d expect a finisher, and unless your opponent can remove him, they are basically finished. A super-Harm’s Way on a damage-stick, unless your opponent can (a) push through more damage than you have mana available, and (b) have more life than you have mana available, the best they can do is hope to mill you. Note that Vengeful Archon doesn’t care where the damage is coming from. You can burn yourself, and use the Archon to re-direct the damage elsewhere. There’s got to be a busted application for that somewhere.
Blue Mechanics & Interactions
Conundrum Sphinx: I hate it when a card suffers from hype, and this card certainly suffers from it. But then, it truly is a great card. Efficient for its power and cost (a 2BB flyer is nothing to sniff at), it also has a mechanic that Blue loves to love. Jace the Mindsculptor loves this card. Crystal Ball loves this card. Sphinx of Jwar Isle loves this card. And all those cards love to play together. Okay, I admit it, I love this card. There. I’ve said it.
Mass Polymorph: Look, it’s the terrible Warp World we didn’t need to have. Here’s the problem; cards like Polymorph force you to be extremely targeted about what you morph into by playing single-creature decks. Mass Polymorph, however, instinctively wants you to play with more creatures, thus negating the ability to be extremely targeted. Thus it will ‘whiff’ far more often than regular, normal-old Polymorph, which kind of defeats the purpose. Still, someone will try to break it, going for the Complete Eldrazi Set off the back of a Dragon Fodder and a couple of Goblin Assaults.
Stormtide Leviathan: It’s a pity that the Island-making clause of Stormtide Leviathan adds the island type, instead of replacing the normal type. Which makes it the Leviathan more of a White Whale than anything else.
Time Reversal: You have to exile it, so it doesn’t combo. Sorry.
Black Mechanics & Interactions
Captivating Vampire: You’ll have 5 vampires on the board about as many times as you’ll have 7 druids on the board. So, good luck with that.
Dark Tutelage: Normal an overcosted Phyrxeian Arena, with Jace and the Scry mechanic this card is absolutely bonkers, because in the right deck you’ll always draw a card for free. Or imagine it in the Monoblack deck with a Crystal Ball for your Lich, able to power out Swamps or creatures as needed. Or in some sort of RB-Suicide deck. A very nice card, and certainly not one to be misunderestimated.
Phylactery Lich: An indestructible 5/5 for BBB, with one tiny drawback – at any moment it could die. Well, your opponent is far more likely to Path it than to have a sandbagged Naturalize, but you never know when it will be Maelstrom Pulsed out of existence. It Will See Play, largely because you can spread the phylactery counters around. Try placing one on your Darksteel Ingot, for example.
Red Mechanics & Interactions
Combust: Its creature removal for a deck that wants to be able to point spells at both creatures and opponents. Wildly overrated, designed entirely to kill Baneslayers.
Cyclops Gladiator: He’s an Arena on a stick. Get it?!? Ok, it’s kind of nice, but wouldn’t you prefer to run Obsidian Fireheart and have your opponent’s land continue to buuuurrrrrrnnnn?
Ember Hauler: Double the Mogg Fanatic for an extra mana. I’ll test him in Goblins, but the tribe is someone nerfed at the moment. May see play in Red Deck Wins once all the good cards rotate out.
Hoarding Dragon: One of the stranger interactions of the set, technically the card replaces itself, but with what? You don’t want an equipment for your newly-dead creature. You don’t want mana acceleration after you get your creature out anyway. Unless a ‘sacrifice this artifact; return target creature from your graveyard to play’ card turns up, it seems a meaningless mechanic. WGBWSOM*.
Reverberate: Remember how great Fork was? Well, this is that good.
Wild Evocation: An interesting card to talk about. Firstly, it’s random, so it’s going to be hard to abuse. Secondly, its triggered activation is a ‘must’, not a ‘may’, so you’re playing whatever permanent it reveals. So if you can make a deck that punished players with permanents and rewards those with instants/sorceries, then this may be for you. I’m having a hard time of what that deck looks like – possibly something with threaten effects and sacrifice outlets.
Green Mechanics & Interactions
Autumn’s Veil: It’s a slightly more narrow/more versatile Vines of Vastwood/Guttural Response mashup. I’m still uncomfortable with Green having access to pseudo counterspells, but I get the ‘temporary shroud’ justifications. Mainly here to make sure your Fauna Shaman either lands or stays alive.
Fauna Shaman: Quite possibly the most abusable card in the set. With so many utility creatures around (that kill other creatures, enchantments, equipment, draw cards, etc) and a number of return-from-the-grave creatures (Vengevine, Re-Assembling Skeleton, Bloodghast), Fauna Shaman has a lot of fodder and a lot of utility to consider. I’ve already tweeted a T3 Iona combo with the Fauna Shaman, and while that’s probably Magical Christmas Land, it does mean you should at least be thinking about this card.
Mitotic Slime: Bloodthrone Vampire. That’s all I’m saying.
Colourless & Land Mechanics and Interactions
Brittle Effigy: Colourless removal has always been great. I’ve been smarting for a return of a Moonglove Extract type card, and here it is. You can find it with a Tinker or a Trinket Mate, which is also nice.
Mystifying Maze: I’m mystified why it took this long to reprint Maze of Ith. Of course, it’s not as good as Ith, but Myth will do in a pinch.
That’s what I see as new in M11. Yes, there are some other, powerful cards (eg. Sword of Vengeance, Obstinate Baloth, Fling), but they’re not really doing anything we haven’t already seen. I’ve always believed the best way to break a set is to find what’s new and abuse it until it takes out a restraining order. I’ve told you what is new, the rest is now up to you.
* Will get better with Scars of Mirridon.