Here’s the rating system I’ll be using, though you won’t see any “1s” today.
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.)
If you’re looking for my Limited reviews, I did those separately:
I’m not going to spout off a bunch of nonsense about how this card is great or anything, but it is a more powerful version of Aetherize, which I have seen cast in Constructed before. Blue doesn’t often get Wraths, and if you aren’t paired with white, sometimes you have to look at alternative ways to deal with large quantities of creatures.
Having three different versions of Ajani legal all at once is kind of funny, though all three cards do fit into different decks. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is the most beatdown, sending a Precinct Captain or Fleecemane Lion into the skies, perhaps with a little help from Ghor-Clan Rampager. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, is the most midrange, rewarding you for playing a longer game, and is definitely not very aggressive. Ajani Steadfast, on the other hand, rewards you for steadily building up an entire board of creatures, not just one monstrous one, and even has the (slightly optimistic) dream of comboing with other planeswalkers. It is cool that you can ultimate Kiora or Elspeth a turn earlier than it looks like you will, thanks to Ajani, so if there’s a deck that can fit both the right number of creatures and a few other planeswalkers, Ajani could be an important part of it. This is more a support card than a driving force, but lifelink on the +1 and massive counter distribution on the -2 both give you enough of an incentive to at least try Ajani.
It’s unlikely that this pushes Precinct Captain out of the 2-drop slot in most decks, but Ajani’s Pridemate was never meant for most decks anyway. Whenever there are cheap ways to gain life, Pridemate is at the very least worth considering (though let me warn you: Soulmender is not the Soul Warden you are looking for).
Avacyn, Guardian Angel
Five-mana creatures that die to Doom Blade without providing any value are a tough sell, but Arbor Colossus demonstrates that there is some wiggle room. Avacyn being vulnerable to Warleader’s Helix does worry me, so maybe she’s very far from seeing play, but she does make combat nearly impossible for your opponent, and does have 5 flying power for just five mana.
The only reason I mention Boonweaver Giant is the Gift of Immortality combo. You can play Giant, get Gift, sacrifice Giant to some sac outlet, get the Gift out of the graveyard, and repeat. The problem is finding a good sac outlet and having it survive long enough to play a seven-mana spell afterwards. It doesn’t sound great to me, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least bring it up.
I suspect that this just takes a little too long to get rolling. It’s a shame, because the card is very cool, but if it gets killed within a turn or two of being cast it really doesn’t provide much value. What you need to find is a matchup where the opponent will not only have trouble killing this but also be vulnerable to getting attacked by it. Perhaps it can serve like Nightveil Specter does in the control mirror? It’s vulnerable to Detention Sphere, but past that it can provide a decent amount of value if it’s killed by anything else.
I’m really hoping there is a way to engineer an awesome artifact deck in Standard. Between Chief Engineer, Master of Waves, and sweet artifacts, something has to be good, right? Turboing out a Soul of New Phyrexia might actually make the Soul good, and even if there isn’t an immediate home for Chief Engineer, any card that can provide a ton of mana out of nowhere has to be looked at. Moving to Modern, we have the justification for the 2.5 rating, because Modern has a ton of interesting artifacts and ways to play enough fast creatures to fuel them. I don’t think jamming this in to Affinity is the way, but building an entirely new deck could work, something like Grand Architect decks of formats past.
This actually puts up quite the barrier against red beatdown decks; what does a deck full of 1/1’s and 2/1’s do about a 1/1 and a 1/3 all in one? It’s sideboard material more than anything else, but definitely is worth keeping in mind.
Dauntless River Marshal
A two-mana 3/2 with a relevant ability is certainly good, even if it requires Islands in order to achieve its full potential. This whole cycle of creatures is very powerful, and I’d advise you to play them while you can. Once the Ravnica Shocklands rotate out, the value on these drops dramatically, but right now it’s open season. Dauntless River Marshall has the stats and power level to see play, even if it’s in a nearly mono-white deck that plays the ~6-8 Islands I’d want to power this up.
A potentially free way to kill giant monsters is interesting, though it is unfortunate that this won’t stop you from getting devoured by Stormbreath Dragon.
Unless Souls and/or graveyard-based decks become incredibly prevalent, this is going to take a backseat to Dissolve. It’s still a nice option to have, but is likely going to be exiled until the format shifts dramatically.
Divination has seen play many times over the last year, usually in straight UW control decks. I imagine that will continue to be the case, as the card shifts in and out of playability, depending on what else is going on. It’s great at letting you hit land drops, and if you have cards like Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere, you can afford to take the turn off it requires. It’s also bolstered by Quicken, which is the kind of two-card combo I can really appreciate.
Combos are the heart and soul of Magic for some people, so I can’t blame them for wanting to combine this and Darksteel Citadel to make an indestructible killing machine. Unfortunately, there are too many removal spells that get around indestructible for this to be great right now. It’s a powerful effect, and I like having cards available that attack in unexpected ways, so I wanted to at least mention this.
White really has a ton of options for protecting its creatures these days. Brave the Elements is the most powerful of them, but Gods Willing isn’t far behind, and now we have Ephemeral Shields in the mix. What this does that the other two I just mentioned don’t is stop Supreme Verdict from killing your best creature, all for the low cost of zero mana if you have some untapped creatures. Between this being free and stopping Wrath, there’s more than just an ephemeral advantage to be gained, even if this is vastly less powerful than Boros Charm, the current best anti-Wrath card. Adding another option, and one that requires no access to red mana, can’t be bad for those who want to beat down with Precinct Captains and Brimazes and the like.
My first response is to say that this isn’t good enough, but I still think it’s worth a token mention. Four mana is probably the death knell, as this ability is a powerful one, just one that needs to get started earlier to really be worth it.
I’m not going to call this Trinket Mage, but it is at least a little similar. All I want to do is go grab Domestication with Heliod’s Pilgrim, but I doubt my team will let me. In fact, they seemed strangely ok with me sharing my initial impressions of the set, even with the Pro Tour around the corner…
Standard may not be the home for this, but Modern offers a nice place to nest. Hushwing Gryff will impact how Melira Pod plays postboard games, and what answers they end up sideboarding, and for that alone it is a very real card for Constructed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a great anti-Twin card; they will just ignore it until they Lightning Bolt it and win the game.
You are really only saving one mana here, so you can’t go too far out of your way to enable this, but I think it’d be sweet if there was some kind of Ornithopter / Illusory Angel affinity-style deck in Standard. There isn’t, but I can dream, right? Playing a one-mana spell into Angel isn’t that bad either, but it has to be a one-mana spell that you actually want to play; wasting a card to cast this is not the way. If there’s a deck that has enough cheap spells that it can play the Angel without much extra hassle, that could be where this fits.
Jace, the Living Guildpact
I fear that Jace is the architect of his own demise, at least for another couple months, though Mutavault plays a big role here too. It’s hard to compete on the card advantage front with Jace, Architect of Thought, so most control decks will just default to playing AoT. That leaves more tempo-ish decks for new Jace, but like I mentioned, Mutavault puts a big damper on any plans Jace might have. Playing this to bounce a 4-drop sounds awesome, until you realize that Mutavault will often step in and finish off Jace.
That being said, Jace is still a very powerful card, and I think it’s unrealistic to assume that he will see no play until Khans of Tarkir (though I do expect his market share to rise drastically when Khans does come out). A few things are at play here:
1) Jace has historically been underrated. Jace Beleren was underplayed almost the entire time he was in Standard, Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn’t recognized for being as absurd as he clearly was until much later than he should have been, and even Jace, Architect of Thought was initially underestimated. This Jace may look like he’s not quite as insane as his past versions, but I still think people are undervaluing him.
2) He has a ton of loyalty, and his ultimate is very attainable. Against decks that can’t kill him except via damage, Jace is a very fast clock when he builds straight up to the Timetwister/Mind Twist hybrid that is his ultimate.
3) Bouncing expensive cards leads to a real advantage. Bounce isn’t as good as outright destruction, but enough bounce in a fast game and they may as well be the same thing.
I think Jace is going to start as a fringe/roleplayer, but transition into something much closer to a format staple once Mutavault is gone.
While Opportunity and Sphinx’s Revelation are both legal, there’s not much room for this, as ingenious as Jace may be. It’s still a card worth thinking about, and I would like to revisit this once those cards rotate.
Jalira, Master Polymorphist
Every time a Polymorph effect gets printed, there is the obligatory look at how you can make a token Polymorph deck and cheat out some unstoppable threat. That deck is unlikely to be great, but it will exist, and like sheep, we will look for it.
Jorubai Murk Lurker
I dream of sitting behind a wall of Marsh Lurkers and casting card draw spells. So what if my dream isn’t the most realistic? It’s my review, and I can give this whatever rating I want to. A 2/4 for three is a very respectable deal, especially in colors that don’t usually get good creatures, and lifelink is exactly what UB needs to stabilize with. Good or not, I will be trying this.
Master of Predicaments
This card did leave me with a predicament: I don’t think it’s quite good enough for Constructed play, despite the possibility of a free Black Lotus when it hits them, but I like David Sirlin’s work and think the card is pretty sweet. I solved that predicament by mentioning how cool this card is without claiming it to be great in Constructed. We all win!
The intelligent thing to do is compare this with Thassa’s Bident, as they both accomplish a very similar thing and require a very similar deck to function. The main advantage that Military Intelligence has is its casting cost, which clocks in at half of Bident. It is limited by how many it cards it draws (1 per turn, max) and how many creatures it takes to trigger (2), both of which act to make it harder to get going and keep going. Still, a 50% discount is tempting, and I think this is worth trying at the very least.
Negate is a great spell to have around, and it feels like we always do. It’s classic sideboard material, and every now and then sneaks into a maindeck.
Looking at the preeminent soldiers in Standard, this will mostly save you one or two mana, unless you want to go really deep and drop a Foundry Champion or Lavinia of the Tenth on your opponent. The possibility of getting free soldiers (with haste) might be enough to overpay for a 2/2 by a mana, though the competition at three in white aggressive decks is already very fierce.
I want to try this in Modern faeries with Spellstutter Sprite, Vendilion Clique, Scion of Oona, though I’m sure I’ll find out quickly if that’s good. In Standard, I don’t think any deck cares about the flying body or the effect quite enough to pay for both, though this is a pretty sweet card.
Raise the Alarm
I don’t know if the time is right for a tokens deck, but between this, Ajani Steadfast, Spear of Heliod, and Hall of Triumph, there are some of the pieces. I also thought about Triplicate Spirits, but think it’s a little too overcosted to make it (consider this my explanation as to why it’s not here). Raise the Alarm, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable, since if you can combine it with any Anthem effect, you are getting four power for two mana.
I don’t like seven drops as a rule, but this one seems like it buys you enough time to make it worth it. Gaining 10-15 life is an impressive amount, and if you can survive until seven (which is definitely not trivial), this lets you survive for quite a bit past that. All that does mean this is in a strange spot, but the power level intrigues me.
Return to the Ranks
Combo enablers are generally worth looking at, even though I don’t immediately see a home for this one. Aggro decks can’t overload on two-drops, there aren’t any combinations of 2-drops that just win the game, and 2-drops themselves aren’t powerful enough to completely build your deck around.
Soul of Ravnica
Repeatable card draw on a giant flier is interesting, and even more so when you realize that you get a couple cards even if they kill or counter the Soul. I like the Soul cycle, and think all of them are at least borderline viable, with a couple of them (like this one) being quite good.
Soul of Theros
The only thing holding Soul of Theros back from being the six-drop of choice for midrange/creature decks is Elspeth. Even with that fierce competition, Soul of Theros seems amazing. You can’t race it, it’s incredibly large, and even if it dies you get a turn of making your team unstoppable. One solid Soul hit (either via the Soul itself or the flashback) and most decks aren’t going to be able to kill you for a very long while.
While I’m contractually obligated to review cards that go in hexproof decks, I don’t have to like it. What is cool about this is that it provides enough intrinsic protection that it doesn’t have to go into a hexproof deck, though it does work well with Ethereal Armor and Unflinching Courage. Dropping this on a 4/4 in a midrange matchup seems like it could just end the game, and if you have a GW deck that is trying to beat other green decks, this has to be in contention.
This card is absurdly powerful, though it is a bit tricky to use. The application that makes the most sense to me is out of a midrange deck against black devotion, but 1/1 fliers are good enough blockers that I could see it working against other creature decks as well. Spirit Bonds is slow, and mana intensive, so I don’t think it’s the best threat against control, but I like it in a bunch of other matchups (though making your guys indestructible does fight Supreme Verdict pretty well). The tricky part I mentioned is that you need a lot of creatures, especially since it requires a lot of mana to use as well, which heavily restricts which decks can play it.
Top 5 White and Blue cards
3. Spirit Bonds
Like I mentioned, Jace will return come Khans. The cards of the moment that I’m most excited about are the Souls, Spirit Bonds, and the Kird Ape-type dudes. They all present interesting deckbuilding decisions, are powerful, and look pretty fun to play. White and Blue got some nice toys, and I can’t wait to try them out.
Next up is Black and Red, followed as usual by Green (and the rest).