Welcome to my Khans of Tarkir set review! I’m going to break things up by 3-color clan, but still evaluate the mono-colored cards all at the same time. Today I’m looking at all the Mardu (RWB) cards, plus all the mono-white cards, even though the mono-white cards can belong to Abzan or Jeskai as well. That lets me compare the mono-white cards against each other, while still looking at all the gold cards in a way that makes sense. Eventually, everything gets reviewed anyway, and this seems like as logical a way to break it up as any.
I also am reviewing the gold cards under the assumption that most decks are three colors. They aren’t necessarily three straight colors, but from my experience with Shards of Alara (the last three-color set, albeit with worse manafixing), you have to try pretty hard not to be three colors. That means my ratings on the gold cards are going to be a little higher than they would if I weren’t taking the colored mana symbols into account, which doesn’t mean you should ignore mana-fixing and assume everything will work out. In Shards, tri-lands were solid first picks, and I doubt that has changed here.
As usual, here is the ratings system I’ll be using:
With that, let’s take a look at the ratings scale and get into the cards!
For this, and pretty much all of the Mardu cards, I’m going to assume you want to be beating down. I don’t think you have to be a full-on beatdown deck if you draft Mardu, but it certainly helps. A lot of the power of Mardu cards comes from the raid mechanic, and if your deck is naturally attacking it helps power those cards up a reasonable amount. It’s fine to play Raid cards in a control deck, but there you end up either missing the trigger or having to make attacks you don’t really want to make, and beatdown decks are a lot less likely to have to worry about either of those.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to Ankle Shanker. Despite the low stats-to-cost ratio (and ridiculous name), this is a very real threat. It turns all non-first strikers on your opponent’s side into chump blockers, and is exactly what you want to turn a threatening board into a lethal one. The biggest drawback here is that it doesn’t do much by itself, so if you don’t have much of a squad before this comes out it won’t change things a whole lot. Still, there are going to be games where this absolutely crushes your opponent, and is exactly the kind of card that utterly wrecks stalemates.
Butcher of the Horde
You barely need the second ability for this to be good, and the second ability is very strong. A giant flier that is almost impossible to race is worth the three-color mana cost, and you don’t need to build your deck around this in any way (even if it does get better if you have some sacrificial fodder laying around).
Chief of the Edge/Chief of the Scale
I don’t quite have the sense of how many Warriors you end up with on average in a deck that has black and white mana (and I know these aren’t both technically Mardu, but they seem close enough), so these ratings are predicated on having just a few. Assuming BW on turn two isn’t a huge stretch, both these Chiefs are well-costed by themselves, and picking up the odd bonus if you have another Warrior is exactly that. In a Warrior-heavy deck, these get pretty good, and I don’t think you will ever be unhappy to play them.
This is an awesome upgrade on a normal edict effect, as the highest-power clause forces the opponent to sacrifice a real creature to it. Normally edicts are doomed to eat the smallest and weakest of the opponent’s forces, but not this, and the extra 2 damage isn’t irrelevant either.
Giving all your creatures a free Raging Goblin to run alongside them is pretty sweet, and the second ability goes a long way in making big attacks more profitable. This is one of the cards that becomes the most dead when you aren’t consistently attacking, so keep that in mind when evaluating it.
Any charm that starts with “deal 4 damage to target creature” is going to be good, because just having one-rock solid mode makes the other two modes a complete freeroll. As it turns out, you will use the other two modes, though I’d estimate the usages of Mardu Charm to break down something like 60/30/10. Making two 1/1s to ambush something for free is pretty nice, but killing a big threat is usually going to take precedence. There are a few sacrifice cards that want 1/1s as well, and sometimes you just need some creatures to go on a raid, all of which make the Raise the Alarm part a bit better. The only time I can really see casting Duress on the opponent is if you are decisively winning and need to cement that, because otherwise it’s usually better to just save the Charm to nuke one of their creatures. It is reasonable to Duress them end of turn (or draw step) and untap and make a big play, but you need actual reasons to cast Duress, moreso than the other two modes. Regardless, this is one of the better Charms in Limited, and really showcases how powerful flexibility is.
It is very difficult to contain this guy, and trying to do so with blockers is going to be pretty rough for your opponent. Spells do the trick fairly well, and the Roughrider is a bit slow, but there’s not an easy way to stop this with creatures. Any time your opponent leaves two big creatures back because of this and you have a removal spell, it’s a huge blowout, making the best way to fight this to just attack into it.
I love how absurd the Goblins are in this set. This particular Goblin happens to be comical and comically good, if a bit slow. A common that makes four creatures is kind of exceptional, and having morph really helps you hedge your bets. Normally, the price of six-drops is that they can get stuck in your hand, and easily cost you the game as a result. Getting to run this out on turn three is a huge bonus, and once again goes back to flexibility being powerful. It also can trap your opponent quite nicely, giving you a whole raiding party out of nowhere to block with (or attack with, if you are unmorphing this at end of turn).
While this isn’t the kind of removal spell that will save you when you are behind (which, to be fair, is one of the primary uses of removal spells), Ride Down is one of the most efficient ways to blow through huge blockers. There’s no way to get 2-for-1’d here, unlike normal combat tricks, and you even get some bonus damage out of the deal. In decks that want it, it’s a higher pick than the rating would indicate, but the requirement that you are constantly attacking means that picking this early might end up not working out (especially since it’s a 2-color card, and you could end up as a more controlling Jeskai deck).
I’d be utterly surprised if this didn’t just kill creatures almost every time, but even then it’s still a great first-pick. It’s also just two colors, which is less restrictive than most gold cards, and that actually goes a long way when you don’t know which clan you will end up supporting.
At the very least, Zurgo is going to pick up 7 damage or a creature, whichever your opponent feels is best. That’s a pretty good minimum result, and some decks will have no good answers to getting smashed. -X/-X and exile effects do get rid of Zurgo, but it isn’t like you invested a million mana in him, and haste means it’s pretty hard not to get something out of the deal. He does not block very well, but these colors don’t block (or something like that). I suppose you can play Zurgo in your second main phase if you really need to, but bear in mind that he’s much more destructible at that point.
Abzan Battle Priest
All the outlast creatures seem pretty solid, especially the ones that give themselves and fellow survivors keywords. They don’t quite have the keyword intrinsically, and often will have to skip a turn of attacking or blocking to gain it, but on the flip side they do combine well. Sometimes playing this will immediately give one or more of your other creatures lifelink, which can be quite a swing. Because this is a 3/2 for four at worst, and because it has a lot of different upsides (it grows, it gets lifelink, it gives others lifelink), I don’t think you are ever leaving it out. You can’t even get that blown out if this dies midcombat, unless you needed the life you would gain to survive (which is definitely possible, but less likely to be a blowout than if this gave flying or first strike).
Speaking of flying, the Falconer has arrived. A 2/3 for three is even better than a 3/2 for four, though it comes with a greater risk. Attacking with this as a flier is pretty safe, but sending in another outlast creature and having the Falconer get shot down can lead to a bad situation. Just keep that in mind, I’m not saying you should ever leave Falconer out of your deck.
As with the other outlast creatures, this is a solid deal. None of these have been mind-blowing, but all of them are giving you outlast at a very low price. It’s kind of funny that outlast creatures don’t combo with each other insofar as you can’t afford to pay mana and tap all your creatures, but obviously do combo with each other because they often share abilities. Overall they do promote a very grindy deck, which I’m sure is intentional, and I obviously am a fan of that.
A 2/3 flier for four is at the border of respectability, and vigilance pushes it slightly above that. If you have other 4s, you could easily leave this out, but you will ride it into battle more often than not.
Brave the Sands
This doesn’t sand great to me, and I doubt I’m brave enough to try running it. It not giving your creatures stat boosts of any kind (and not really working all that well with outlast) makes me very suspicious, and cards like this have not historically been good.
Dazzling Ramparts is aggressively defensive, which I can get behind (I think that’s the whole idea with Walls to begin with). It’s big enough to block most things, and if they have something it can’t block, it can go ahead and tap it down anyway. My like for expensive defense aside, this isn’t really that efficient, which is why most decks aren’t going to be interested.
Defiant Strike costs very little to include in your deck, but as a result it actually doesn’t do a ton itself. It’s a good vehicle to trigger prowess, making it much stronger in the Jeskai deck, but given enough 2/3s and whatnot it can do some work in any deck. I like cantrips, so I’m generally on board, but it’s not like any deck really needs this, barring a very dedicated prowess draft.
I’ve said many times how I’m not the biggest fan of wraths in Limited, especially once the casting cost starts creeping up, but five is still reasonable. It makes up for a slow start, can destroy an opponent who overcommits, and really deals with any bestow cards your opponents have managed to sneak in after the draft. Five is low enough that it’s not too suspicious when you don’t do much, especially if you are playing taplands and Banners, but it loses a lot of value once your opponent knows about it. Aggressive decks should probably not run this, but any midrange or control deck will be glad to have it.
This is strictly sideboard material, and is more of a Constructed plant than something that’s crucial for Limited.
Feat of Resistance
I like multi-use tricks, and that this saves your creatures from combat or removal alike is pretty nice. It’s also hard to resist a trick that makes your creature permanently better, and all around this is a good spell to have. It does use the non-creature non-removal space up, and most decks don’t have much of that, but this seems like the best of the bunch so far.
Paying a lot of mana so my 1-drop can trade for their 2-drop isn’t exactly what I have in mind when I add a card to my deck, so unless you are in desperate need of creatures this should probably hoof it to the sideboard where it belongs.
Herald of Anafenza
I like the inherent synergy here, as the tokens keep you from getting too behind on board while your herald grows into a mighty warrior (not to be confused with an actual Warrior though, since there are Warrior lords in the set). Ridiculous-looking horn thing aside, this is a pretty sweet card, and gives you a good mana sink at all points in the game, all while only costing one mana to begin with.
High Sentinels of Arashin
It’s pretty hard to go wrong when the baseline is a 3/4 flier for four, and the other abilities here are nothing to crow at. This can grow any of your other guys at instant speed, and grows itself as a reward for being so generous. I have trouble seeing myself not taking this when I have the opportunity.
I’m a pretty big fan of 1/3s for two, and Jeskai Student fills that role while also threatening to win any combat he gets into. Prowess is an interesting mechanic, in that it does a lot of work while doing nothing, which does sound like a kind of martial arts philosophy right there. Your opponents will often have to respect the potential of prowess when you have mana up, and they will make different plays than they otherwise would, all while not knowing if you even have anything. That being said, this does only attack for 1, so it’s the defensive aspect that concerns me. Prowess is worse on defense, just because leaving mana up is more of a cost, which is why this isn’t an auto-include.
I don’t hate a good defensive card (I actually hate not having a good defensive card), and three mana is getting to a spot where it’s cheap enough to leave up and not be completely obvious. It is a little awkward with outlast creatures—imagine not using outlast with a creature you can’t block with, which completely telegraphs this. This is also a card that rewards you for being defensive, so even though it’s costed pretty well there are some decks that just won’t play it (and some that will kill for it).
As much as I hate wasting mana, this is still efficient enough that I’ll usually run it. It can attack without fear into most boards, and it’s not a huge burden to leave up a mana if you think you may want to block with this. Sometimes you just need a card you can play before turn four, and this definitely fits the bill.
I have trouble envisioning a deck that will leave this in the sideboard. Even a generally defensive deck that doesn’t have a ton of creatures doesn’t mind playing a 2/3 for 3, and one that will often come with a helper (both happen to be Warriors, too). I suppose if you are really creature-light, like seven creatures or something, then I could see it, but that feels like an outlier more than anything else.
Master of Pearls
Even if your opponent knows you have this (or suspects), it’s pretty hard to play around such a powerful effect. If you are attacking and your opponent is low, they are just going to get wrathed, which is a good spot to be in. Add to that the ability to just cast this on turn two if you really need to, and you have yourself a gem of a card.
Rush of Battle
You really have to be the Warrior deck before this starts to shine, given that it’s a sorcery and all that. Sanctified Charge may have spoiled us, but this is one of the least powerful Overruns we’ve seen in a while. The prospect of mass lifelink is pretty appealing, so if you can set up a 10- or 15-point life swing this can be good, but I wouldn’t worry about picking it up in the draft. If you end up wanting it, it’s unlikely anyone else will.
A morph that also defends the skies is a fine addition to any deck, but not one that any deck will prioritize. Having random medium-power morphs can help disguise and protect your good ones, but game one it doesn’t matter much, so overall I’m not going to concern myself with overdrafting morphs because of that.
Salt Road Patrol
The trend of not paying for outlast continues, as this is a perfectly serviceable card without it. I like the toughness here, and this is an example of a nice defensive card that can stop an early rush and deliver a late-game beating.
Seeker of the Way
A bear that grows and gets lifelink is pretty appealing, and this is exactly the type of card that pays you for building a good prowess deck. You can even run this in for the life gain in a race, and it isn’t hard to get a few good hits in if you have enough tricks.
If Pillarfield Ox isn’t enough, now you can build your own! Auras aren’t a good deal in general, and this one isn’t strong enough to warrant the risk.
Smite the Monstrous
It’s hard to gauge exactly how much you need this kind of effect without playing a bunch. The card itself is not particularly efficient, especially for a spell that can miss some percentage of the time. Still, if killing big creatures is necessary and a common problem, then you just have to have one or two cards like this, and it smite as well be this one. Normally I’d say this is about a 2.5, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up closer to 3.5, given the interactions between this, ferocious, outlast, and prowess.
This is a very bizarre card. I get that Journey to Nowhere is too good, and I’m not arguing that the power level is too low here, because it really is fine. It is just strange to go immediately from counting 4 or greater power for Smite (and ferocious) to counting 3 or more toughness, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people mess up as a result. That oddity aside, this is cheaper and hits more creatures, so it’s a very good removal spell. Hurray!
Take up Arms
Re-Raise the Alarm is both a great name and a solid effect, though I suspect you want a reason to play this in most decks. Reasons can range from noble (caring about Warriors) to mystical (caring about prowess) to the truly sinister (wanting sacrificial fodder). Regardless, this isn’t great on its face but there is enough going on that I think a few people at the table will want this and will take it reasonably early. It also is the sort of card that you need to remember when deciding whether to alpha strike for the win or not, as it can definitely stop an attack in its tracks.
The rating for this obviously fluctuates depending on how many 2s you end up with, and the high end can be quite high. It’s awesome that you will sometimes have a free attack, where if they block and kill your attacker you can just run this out and get it back. I might even go so far as to call this the new Bloodbraid Elf (despite that being a gross exaggeration).
Apparently if you want a 5-power flier at uncommon, you will be paying for it. Some decks may need a finisher badly enough to do so, but I think I’d rather depend on expensive morphs and creatures with outlast instead.
Speaking of which, War Behemoth delivers the solid stats and versatile cost that I’m looking for. Having this fill your 3-drop spot is very valuable, and it’s hard to overload on cards like this, despite the relatively unimpressive collection of numbers on the card. Even though none of the casting cost, morph cost, or power/toughness are super impressive, overall this is flexible enough that it’s good.
Watcher of the Roost
Nothing going on here is too fancy, but all of it is good. A 3-mana 2/1 flier is good, morphs are generally pretty good, and gaining a free 2 life while taking to the skies isn’t bad either. I like the idea of morphs that flip up with non-mana conditions, but it’ll be more fun when they have more exciting outputs than “gain 2 life.”
Debates on intrinsic mythic-ness aside, this is an incredible card in Limited. If you cast this with raid on turn five, I fail to see how you are losing, and that’s without even counting the extra life it’s going to gain. Cards that are powerful, help you make a comeback, and crush the opponent while you are ahead are exactly what you want when you think of bombs.
Top 5 White Commons
The commons for white aren’t super impressive, though I do like the only common Mardu gold card (Ponyback Brigade). I am fully aware that I may be overrating Kill Shot, but having an answer to your opponent’s giant gold creature seems desirable. I really like the Bond-Kin, and Hordechief does a good job promoting both beatdown and defense. All the colors are going to be somewhat conflicted, as the different clans have different play styles, and that’s reflected in the white commons. How well those play styles mix (Raid and prowess play nicely together, but outlast seems like the odd one out) will determine how flexible each color is, and how much you have to commit in order to be fully rewarded. Figuring that out sounds fun, and will be part of the trick of mastering this Limited format!
Tomorrow I’ll be looking at Temur, which may be the most powerful clan (in the literal sense).