I probably could have had the opportunity to do a set review, but honestly, that doesn’t seem like my style. I would refer to myself as a skeptic, but that term doesn’t really describe how overly negative I am. I could picture the majority of my article telling you all that the new cards suck, and that doesn’t really help anyone. Someone like LSV or Jon Loucks is actually going to get excited about new cards, which in turn should help get you all excited for the new set as well.
While I’m certainly happy that a new set is legal, I don’t really feel like anything groundbreaking has happened. I’m just pleased that things won’t be exactly the same as they were the last three months. These minor changes should be outlined by someone, and I think I’m the man for the job.
Alara Reborn Gems:
Meddling Mage: Possibly the most hyped up card in the set. I’m pretty happy that Meddling Mage will be legal in Extended, but Pikula will be slightly worse in Standard and Block. The Block decks have plenty of removal spells, so while you might get lucky once in a while by naming Maelstrom Pulse while they have three in their hand, overall the Mage is just going to get burned away.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as if you name something like Martial Coup, they absolutely have to kill your Mage because they can sweep your board. At the very least they are going to HAVE to have a way to kill your Mage.
In Standard, naming things like Volcanic Fallout or Wrath of God is going to be very good, but the problem is that there isn’t really a great deck for the Mage to go into, at least not yet. A splash in WB Tokens could work, but that is pretty tough on the mana. Other decks like WU Tokens or Merfolk could benefit from the Mage, but it doesn’t solve all of those decks’ problems, namely that decks like WB Tokens and probably Faeries just tear them apart.
Meddling Mage is a great card and I’m happy that it’s back, but sadly it doesn’t have a lot of applications right now.
Maelstrom Pulse: A lot of people are comparing this card to Vindicate, but I think it’s more appropriate to compare it to Oblivion Ring. Vindicate was insane in Extended Zoo because either it killed a difficult to remove permanent, or you just stunt their growth with a Stone Rain. Sometimes a random Stone Rain is going to win you the game, and that utility is what put Vindicate over the top.
When Oblivion Ring was released, the people were saying that it was the obvious Vindicate replacement in Zoo, but that didn’t pan out, as being killable itself, and not being able to kill lands, meant it was much worse than Vindicate. The Pulse is basically the same thing, although it has its own pros and cons.
Being GB is much worse than being in one color, and that will probably mean that it’s less played than Oblivion Ring overall, even though it’s almost strictly better. Pulse is going to completely change block, as planeswalkers aren’t much of a threat, and opposing Oblivion Rings are now just going to keep your permanents safe until you decide to free them.
In Standard, this is a very solid maindeck answer to Spectral Procession and like Meddling Mage, can punish players for drawing multiples of the same spell. Maybe we should all just start running three ofs (I approve this message – LSV)!
Terminate: Blightning decks should want this card as it’s “better” than Terror, right? Probably wrong, as Terror kills Burrenton Forge-Tender, a widely played and amazing anti-Red card. Terminate is also Black, and most Blightning decks can only play 12 Black sources, as they need all their lands to tap for Red in order to support things like Figure of Destiny and Boggart Ram-Gang.
Jund Hackblade (and the various other Blades): These guys are great, although the Jund one is probably the best since there’s already a deck that it is probably great in, and there are two pretty awesome multicolored one drops that play nice with it.
Again, Borderposts might help power these guys up, even though Borderposts are basically worse than the trilands, and slightly better than the Invasion taplands. It’s worth noting that the Posts can come into play for free if you are going to miss your land drop. Having to return a basic land might be a problem for some Standard decks, but in Block, the Posts seem great if you need a fixer or multicolored permanent.
Anathemancer: As a lover of non-basic lands, this card scares the crap out of me. Seven mana sounds about right for the unearth, as this card is pretty insane. Seven mana is even still reasonable against something like 5cc, and gives red decks a boost in the late game. Sure, Runed Halo can stop this guy, but modern 5-Color Control decks don’t play a lot of White sources, and will probably have to adapt. Overall, great for Standard, and might even make the jump to Extended.
Here is basically what I was thinking:
Bituminous Blast/Bloodbraid Elf: These are going to define Block Constructed, and will definitely make a splash in Standard as well. Cascade is a sick, unfair mechanic and thankfully most of the cards they put it on don’t actually do anything.
Double Negative: This might be good enough in a deck like Swans, as it can complicate counter wars and stop both halves of a cascade spell.
Thought Hemorrhage: Cranial Extraction was a very popular card, even though it wasn’t very good. I think that this one will see slightly less play because of its prohibitive mana cost, and the fact that there aren’t really any combo decks like Tooth and Nail around. Extracting something like Cryptic Command might seem appealing, but your opponent can easily beat you with their other cards. Unless their strategy leans heavily on a single card, this card doesn’t do enough to warrant playing.
Sen Triplets: Not as good as advertised. If you untap with this in play, even playing something like 5cc, what do you plan on casting out of their hand? Some removal to kill their own guys? Well, if they have those, why couldn’t they kill your Triplets? This seems like a bad Teferi, or a very poor way to make them overextend into a sweeper.
Trace of Abundance: Fertile Ground now has a real companion. You should probably sell those textless Rampant Growths you got in the mail, if you even can, since that card is basically useless now. It’s kind of sad that this doesn’t work well with Garruk Wildspeaker, but that’s a fine sacrifice to make for how great this card is. No longer will your Fertile Grounds get harassed by Cryptic Commands!
In Block, this completely changes the dynamics of the 5cc deck. Drawing one of these in your opener is going to be insane.
Identity Crisis: Luis thinks this will replace Head Games in the WB Tokens sideboard vs. 5cc, but I’m not so sure. The extra mana cost is a bigger deal than you might imagine. Whether it’s Head Games or Identity Crisis that you’re resolving against 5cc, they are going to have to draw extremely well in the next couple of turns to beat you. Whether or not they have their seventh and eighth lands probably won’t matter.
Zealous Persecution: This card is pretty sick in WB’s sideboard for the mirror, Faeries, or other white decks.
Qasali Pridemage: A very impressive card. Great utility, and a Watchwolf on its own. Together with Dauntless Escort, a WG deck is very possible. Is all dudes and some removal really good enough though? Knight of the New Alara might play the role of Wilt-Leaf Liege in block, but in Standard, the Liege is much better.
A possible GW “Tokens” update, although obviously rough:
Mycoid Shepherd: The newest in the line of Ravenous Baloth clones, although this one is probably the worst. Generally you want to be able to gain the life instantly or on command. Aggro decks will probably do everything in their power not to kill this guy.
Shuhei built an anti RDW version of GB Elves last year, with multiple persisters and less Elves, and Putrid Leech could help that deck take a shift away from the Elves theme.
Madrush Cyclops: Fires of Yavimaya provided a similar effect, although it fit the curve better and was a difficult to remove enchantment, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if this made its way into 60 card decks.
Spellbreaker Behemoth: If only Cyclops cost three mana, this would be a great follow up. As it, it will probably have to stand on it’s own, and that doesn’t seem like it’s good enough. With no evasion, it seems very easy to just block this with tokens if the damage matters, and it dies to almost every removal spell being played.
Defiler of Souls: It has the typical Dragon stats, but with an Abyss attached. This card seems great! I’m not sure if there’s really a deck to support him, but I certainly won’t mind building one. If Alara Reborn spawns a bunch of new decks like RB or WG, obviously this guy isn’t very playable, but hopefully that isn’t the case.
Soul Manipulation: Remove Soul is playable because of its cheap cost, while three casting cost counter magic rarely sees play. However, the ability to gain card advantage, especially when you’re regrowing a card like Broodmate Dragon or Mistbind Clique probably means that this is a solid one or two of in some decks.
Drastic Revelation: Casting this in Dredge should be game over every time. Next year’s Extended will have enough acceleration between Chrome Mox and Simian Spirit Guide that this card will probably be insane.
Behemoth Sledge: Block used to be all about control decks using spot removal to buy time for their sweepers, or ground stalls in Naya mirrors, but thankfully there are enough ways to break stalls in Reborn. This card is probably better than Warhammer in the decks that can cast it in any other format as well.
Uril, the Miststalker: This is the guy that’s going to be insane against the control decks. Either they have a Wrath or they die since they don’t have any good blockers.
Jenara, Asura of War: I’m not terribly excited about this card, but it’s relevant to note that it’s great in stalls and is another great way to fight planeswalkers.
Maelstrom Nexus: As I said earlier, cascade is a pretty insane mechanic, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a deck build with the ability to take full advantage of the Nexus. It sucks that you would probably have to cut cards like Remove Soul, Negate, and Broken Ambitions, but if you are always cascading into the nuts every time, I’m sure you can live without them.
If I didn’t mention it, it’s probably because I think it sucks. Feel free to tell me otherwise in the forums!