5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage. Judge’s Familar)
4.0: Format staple. (Sphinx’s Revelation. Supreme Verdict. Thoughtseize. Pack Rat)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Geist of Saint Traft. Nightveil Specter)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Underworld Connections. Thassa, God of the Sea)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Rapid Hybridization. Divination)
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Naturalize. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation is obviously important.)
1.0: It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was tech vs. Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)
Aww, isn’t he cute and good in board stalls? I could see this being a sweet 1-of to push through blockers, though that’s made less likely by these being removal colors and Butcher of the Horde existing. It’s a powerful effect, but not all powerful effects find loving homes.
Butcher of the Horde
Restrictive mana cost aside, this is what a low-curve beatdown deck wants. It smashes for 5 points of hasty evasive damage and can make races almost impossible for your opponent if you have enough fodder to pay the butcher’s bill. This is a card worth building around, and big enough that it can enable aggro and midrange decks alike. It kills planeswalkers and opponents with ease, and the lifelink makes it a solid defensive play. The vigilance also exists, which means in a really tight race you can throw away a ton of creatures in order to guarantee you won’t die.
Chief of the Edge
Warriors seems like it’s on the edge of playability, and getting a 3/2 lord for two mana definitely nudges the scales in the right direction. Both this and Underworld Coinsmith lead WB aggro decks in different specific directions, and both seem like they might find a home here.
The combination of a good edict and a bit of burn makes this the perfect card for an aggro/burn deck and a solid card for a midrange/control deck. An instant-speed way of killing your opponent’s (presumably) best creature is valuable, and this card by itself makes Sagu Mauler a little bit less of a beating. It also kills Sarkhan, which is another test all removal spells in this format are happy to pass. It’s not quite enough damage to kill a planeswalker, but every now and then it will snipe one, which is going to feel awesome.
It does not take many Goblins before this pays for itself, and that makes this an appealing card for beatdown and tokens-based synergy. It’s clearly a combo with Butcher of the Horde, and if you can get the mana right, could be tough to beat in combination with a bunch of Anthems in a white-based aggro deck. Once this starts churning out 2/2s or 3/3s it’s a huge problem for your opponent, and the ability to counter Anger of the Gods is a nice bonus. It’s also mandatory that I mention Doran in Modern, even if I think that’s a tad ambitious.
Between Duress and Flame Slash (both at instant speed), this covers most bases. Add to that the ability to ambush X/1s or just get on the board if you have nothing better to do, and I mardu believe you have a winner. This strikes me as one of the more proactive cards, just because Duress and tokens are both better in beatdown decks, and deal 4 is effective in the early-to-midgame and falls off in the lategame. It’s still a great card in control decks, but the most effective uses are going to be in an aggro to midrange deck, especially one with a token theme.
This is a more situational Searing Blood that can kill anything, and that puts it in a pretty good spot. Having a way to attack without fear into Polukranos and Siege Rhino is very important for decks full of small creatures, and doing so at no cost to damage is a big game. You can’t even get blown out with this, as even a removal spell in response still kills the target, making this just a good removal spell for aggressive decks in these colors (and a great sideboard card at the very least).
While the effect here isn’t the utter worst, black has a ton of great removal options right now, especially at or close to this cost. Silence the Believers has a huge upside, Hero’s Downfall is a little more efficient, and Murderous Cut is narrower but much more efficient. The only reason I can really see using this is in a deck that can’t reliably get BB and wants a way to kill non-creature permanents, which still leaves a decent amount of room for this to see play.
70% of the time he deals 7 every time. Zurgo is a pretty reliable way to whack a control deck for 7, assuming they don’t have any of the cards that exile, but he does fare poorly against decks that have a lot of chump blockers. This is a powerful card, and punishes the decks he’s meant to punish, but has enough vulnerabilities that I imagine sideboards are in its future.
Act of Treason
This effect is always available, and always sees some amount of sideboard play. There are usually some fancy versions floating around, and how good or bad they are determines if the vanilla version here is the one that gets cast.
We’ve secretly had this all along in Flames of the Firebrand, and either way it’s a good card to have around. I think it will be better now than it was before, because there are less non-creature decks floating around, and there are a number of cards that incentivize small creatures. When this is good, it tends to be great, and there are enough decks that it will be great against.
The legend of the phoenix is a compelling one, as this is a 4-mana 4/1 flier that immediately casts a 2/2 when it dies. That alone is a very respectable deal, and given enough mana and time, this does a lot more. Early game this is a 2-for-1 at low cost, and late game it’s an unstoppable flying engine. It even deals 2 damage to them no matter what, given that they have to deal with it, making it the full lock against a removal deck (barring exile effects, of course). I like this as the top of the curve in aggressive decks and as a good threat in midrange decks, and it has plenty of sideboard potential as well.
Almost without fail, the X-spell with a bonus sees some amount of Constructed play, and the additional clause on this is a very good one. Being able to cast this as Shock when you have a Polukranos or Sarkhan out is a big deal, and the extra 2 damage goes a long way when you are looking to finish your opponent off. This looks like it could see play as a 1-2 of in various monsters decks.
I mostly bring this up so that I can point out how smart I was for forcing Paul Cheon to draft Goblins + Astral Slide in Vintage Masters (hey, it wasn’t my entry fee). Getting a bunch of creatures at low cost is at least interesting, even if the funny title is the most interesting part of this card.
This is no Firefist Striker, but it’s not a horrible replacement (I’ll have you know that I thought about saying “hordeble” there but I’m exercising great restraint instead). It’s still a 2-drop when you need a 2-drop and a relevant effect for zero mana when you morph it, so I wouldn’t completely write this off. One of these in a deck with Ashcloud Phoenix could have some nice ambush potential, though the random deal-1 clause just seems bizarre to me.
3 power for three mana isn’t an outstanding deal, but what really makes this burst out of mediocrity is that it’s delivered in three separate packages. Any global pump effect is tripled in efficacy, and any removal spell that isn’t a sweeper only does 1/3 of the job. That plays very well into red’s strengths, and there are plenty of ways to make this an awesome engine piece. I don’t think this sees a ton of play in decks with zero combos, but even a Goblin Rabblemaster is enough to make this a real threat.
Here’s one of the fancy Threatens of which I spoke. This costs way more mana to play and use in the same turn, but in exchange you get to beat down with it if you draw it early. Normally I’m in favor of adding flexibility to a card, and having the option of playing this as a 2-drop does just that, but I actually don’t like it here. Threaten is not a flexible card, and that’s why it’s almost strictly sideboard material. It’s meant for one specific purpose, and comes in when that purpose is exactly what you need. Given that, I’d rather play the narrower and more efficient version, because this deck slot isn’t one that needs to be flexible. One of these is going in to my 1-of red morph deck that I just thought of, though.
Burning-Tree Emissary this is not (and for that I am thankful), but it is an almost-free 3/3. It’s practically a Wild Nacatl, only on turns where Wild Nacatl is no longer good. Creatures that generate a bunch of mana when they enter the battlefield are worth keeping in mind, even if their use isn’t immediately obvious.
People are swiftly taking to this as the second coming of Goblin Guide, and while I wouldn’t go that far, it is a strong card. It has the right cost to be interesting, gives you a solid reward for playing cards you already want to play, and makes good turns possible in the late-game for decks that don’t always have good things to do at that point. Cheap haste creatures that play well with burn spells are always in high demand, and this is no exception.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Sarkhan literally delivers a dragon punch, and the recipient is either your opponent or one of their creatures. Being resistant to most removal spells (Silence the Believers, and Abzan and Jeskai Charms being notable exceptions), hitting for a ton of damage, and efficiently killing creatures and planeswalkers alike makes Sarkhan one of the most powerful cards for Constructed in the set. He can even deal 8-12 damage in the face of getting attacked, and if that weren’t enough, his ultimate is a very real threat. How your deck matches up against Sarkhan is a question everyone now has to answer in Standard, and given how good he is in all sorts of decks, it’s one that you should be able to answer in a satisfactory manner.
This is also where I like planeswalkers landing. Sarkhan is powerful, epic, and provides a permanent advantage, but he also costs five and you don’t lose if you can’t deal with him right away. Sarkhan gives us good game play and interesting situations while being effective without being oppressive.
I’m the voice that brings up all kinds of Divinations, from the red ones to the blue ones to the ones that cost two, and this one fits the bill. It’s not really what most red decks are trying to do, but it’s exactly the kind of card that a spell-based combo deck might want. When you want specific cards and don’t need a raw number of cards to win, this does the trick. It’s not a replacement for Sign in Blood in control decks, so don’t go too deep on using it like a card advantage spell.
It’s like a Gore-House Chainwalker with an upside instead of a downside, all at the low cost of needing to have attacked first. That’s not bad at all, and even casting this as a 2/1 is a fine deal. Walking right by Sylvan Caryatid regardless of size is a good ability to have, and all you need is a bunch of 1-drops to make this a perfectly fine card.
Top 5 Red and Mardu Cards
Unsurprisingly, red brings a lot of beats. It’s got a lot of very good aggressive cards even past the top 5, and has even brought some interesting cards to build around as well. Mardu cards like Butcher, Ascendancy, and Charm all offer interesting token possibilities, and Sarkhan and Ashcloud Phoenix are both solid in aggressive and midrange decks alike.
The last clan to go is Temur, and I’ll cover it tomorrow.