When the latest GP results started coming out, I’ll admit I was a little worried about PT Portland. Just two weeks ago, in the Top 8 of GP Chicago, there were five Mono-Black decks, a Mono-Blue Devotion, and two UW control—three decks that already existed back when the last Standard PT happened and three decks that are, frankly, extremely boring. Before now and Portland, there would only be one chance to salvage the format—M15. But, really, how much can a core set change Standard?
Well, it turns out it can change quite a lot, if they put their minds into it. M15 is looking up to be a fantastic set, with both powerful and interesting cards. Can it give us the new Standard we’ve all been waiting for? Maybe, it’s certainly going to be a good effort.
In this article I’ll talk about my first impressions on some of the more interesting cards in the set, and how I think the new (or old) cards will fit in the current formats.
I don’t think those are nearly as good as people claim they are. In fact, the only reason people are so excited about them is because they compare them to Titans, but that’s not really a great comparison. Titans had an immediate effect, and then their next effect cost zero.
These guys do nothing when they come into play, setting up for huge tempo losses if they get killed immediately. Then, they need you to pay a lot of mana for the ability, even if they do survive. Sure, you get one use if they die immediately, but you are generally getting an overcosted spell—it’s arguable whether you’d rather have “3GG: 3/3” or draw a random card, and a 6/6 for 6 that draws a card when it dies would not have been good. On top of that, the Titans were not actually that insane. Sure, they all saw play, but Primeval Titan was an outlier that shaped the format for months and that biases our perception of them. In the end, I do not think most of these guys will see much play.
The one exception is, I think, the black one—Soul of Innistrad. The reason for that is that its ability is great if you have a deck that self-mills, such as the Standard Dredge variants, and then you actually get a powerful effect if you mill it. Making a guy for 3GG? Drawing two cards for 5UU? Those are not worth the trouble to put this card in your graveyard. Bringing three guys back for 3BB, however, is actually huge in the late game and could go a long way toward beating a control deck. The next best one, I think, is Soul of Theros, since the ability is actually game-changing and worth spending your turn for, but the fact that it will have to compete with Elspeth at the 6 slot might mean it won’t see as much play as it otherwise would (though it is good with Elspeth).
This guy is very interesting. He wasn’t very powerful last time around, but it’s certainly a strong card, and the support for him seems to be a lot better now. There are many Anthems in Hall of Triumph, Spear of Heliod, Dictate of Heliod, and the new six-mana Obelisk, and there are many Soldiers with abilities that make more Soldiers. Just off the top of
my head Gatherer, a playable list of Soldiers includes Azorius Arrester, Boros Elite, Brimaz, Precinct Captain, Dryad Militant, Raise the Alarm, Loxodon Smiter, and Soldier of the Pantheon, with Hero of Iroas, Phalanx Leader and Vanguard of Brimaz coming in if you have ways to target your stuff. This does sound like a deck that would get demolished by Supreme Verdict, but it seems pretty powerful if they don’t have mass removal.
Creature – FAERIE Rogue. Just throwing that out there. Unfortunately, as interesting as comboing this with Mistbind Clique and Spellstutter Sprite is, I don’t think it’s going to happen, since it’s too fragile, does nothing when it doesn’t work, and the payoff is not good enough when it does work to make up for that.
I also want to point out that I think this is a poor choice of name because I fully expect anything to end with “ling” to pump itself both ways and have at least three other abilities.
Jace, the Living Guildpact
Jace is… unique. It’s the first planeswalker I can recall which is really all about the ultimate. If you aren’t ultimating Jace, he isn’t doing much for you; sure, he bounces one thing (even other planeswalkers!), which is not horrible, but what you really want is the one-sided Timetwister. Starting at a whooping 5 Loyalty and needing to get to 8, you might end up ultimating this on turn seven against control, which should win you the game on the spot. The issue is that, if they can attack it, it doesn’t do much, and if they can Hero’s Downfall/Detention Sphere/Banishing Light it, then what you get from him is minimal.
I think it’s all going to depend on how good his +1 ability turns out to be. I don’t think it’s insanely good—it’s certainly worse than drawing a card or scry 2—but it’s not bad either. Right now, I can’t imagine a deck that would play this Jace over Architect of Thought, but maybe we’ll see more of him once you have fewer alternatives for your four-casting-cost blue planeswalker.
This card also seems very interesting to me. It’s tempting to compare it to Compulsion, but that’s a very flawed comparison because Compulsion was good at getting rid of excess lands or cards that didn’t do anything in certain matchups, and it was good at getting rid of excess copies of itself—this does none of those things. To make use of this, you really need the secondary effect of getting Zombies.
Once you’re getting Zombies, however, then this is pretty interesting. It’s almost like a permanent Glimpse of Nature, except it turns all your creatures into instant-speed 2/2s that come into play tapped. Ok, maybe not exactly a permanent Glimpse of Nature. In any case, it keeps feeding itself, and it doesn’t seem very easy for a control deck to win if this gets going. A list of decent Zombies currently in Standard includes Gray Merchant, Lifebane Zombie, Lotleth Troll, Tymaret, and Dreg Mangler, which honestly doesn’t seem like enough to me, but if you go to Modern you start getting things like Gravecrawler and Bloodghast (which doesn’t give you a Zombie but draws you a card anyway) so you might have a deck.
I think this is significantly better than its predecessors Megrim and Liliana’s Caress, since they suffered from the problem that you would deal 8-10 damage and that wouldn’t really matter because they’d be without cards in hand and you’d have no way to deal the extra 10 (and, if you did have a way to deal 10, why isn’t that way dealing 20 instead? It’s not like they have a hand to stop you). With this card, you get permanent advantages, which is good—if you get the effect three or four times that’s already quite powerful. Interesting combo with Whispering Madness, especially if you can combo it with Notion Thief, and the fact that it casually hoses Pack Rat makes me happy.
This is the most interesting of the “designer-designed cards” to me. The effect is super powerful once you realize you can do it on their turn as well, but it’s not easy to find a home for this. For Aggressive Mining to be good, you need to either have a lot more lands than you need, or ways to cheat lands into play (something like Sakura-Tribe Scout). Getting rid of it somehow with a sacrifice effect or a Disenchant also works. In Standard, I think the best bet for this card is as a splash into Mono-Green, where you have a lot of mana but no gas, and can afford to lose some of your lands for more spells to cast, though you might not need more of that now that you have Nissa.
Crucible of Fire
There are two good Dragons in Standard—Mutavault and Stormbreath Dragon. As appealing as 5/5 Mutavaults are, I don’t think that’s enough to play a card that does absolutely nothing else. You could try to go all-in on Dragons and play things like Dragon Hatchling and Furnace Whelp, but I don’t think that’s going to work because your deck gets too bad if you don’t draw the right combination of cards.
I like Goblin Rabblemaster. On its own, it’s a 2/2 and a 1/1 haste, and, if it survives for a turn, it can attack for 6 the following turn, even if you have no other Goblins. Forcing your Goblins to attack is kind of bad, but you were probably planning on attacking anyway, and the fact that he himself doesn’t have to attack is a nice bonus. If you play turn three Rabblemaster, turn four Rabblemaster, that’s 30 damage by turn five!
Chord of Calling
I don’t get the hype about Chord of Calling. Frankly, it’s just not that great of a card. Sure, it’s good in some decks—it was decent in the Arcanis the Omnipotent deck that took LSV and Paul Cheon to the U.S. National Team in 1975, it was good in Elves, and it is good in Pod, but that’s always the card playing a very particular role that you don’t find in a lot of places. It requires a very specific deck to work. If you randomly put this card in something like Jund Monsters, it’s not going to do anything.
I don’t think Standard currently has the shell for a Chord of Calling deck, meaning I would not put it in a single deck that currently exists. If Chord is going to see play, it’s going to require a new deck of its own, with cheap creatures and interesting bullets that combo with each other. I’d bet on it seeing play in Slivers—you plan on having a lot of guys to tap anyway, and getting your cheap Bullets is actually very useful. Normally you don’t want to Chord for 1, for example, but if you’re giving all your guys flying, it might be worth it.
My second favorite of the designer-designed cards. I love this card. It’s very simple and at the same time very interesting. I could see this being played in green devotion by being a double-threat in the mid-game and a big Demonic Tutor in the late game. Keep in mind that this triggers when you cast the Hydra, not when it resolves, making the second spell uncounterable.
This card is sweet! Ordinarily it isn’t good (if you sac a 3- or 4-power creature, for example, that’s usually not actually a good deal, since you lose out on a lot of tempo by having to play the creature first), but with pump effects such as Ghor-Clan Rampager and Rubblebelt Maaka it becomes quite good.
Why, hello! Nissa is very powerful, and I think the best of the new planeswalkers in the set. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the best card in the set. The fact that she effectively costs one if you have four Forests in play is huge, because it allows you to protect her that very same turn and then next turn you have access to nine mana and can do basically whatever you want. She’s a bit like Garruk Wildspeaker in this regard, though worse at making creatures and better at making mana, so overall probably a worse card. The difference is that for two mana on turn two (which was what Garruk gave you), you couldn’t necessarily cast something—presumably, whatever 2-drop you have was already cast on turns two or three, and, even if it wasn’t, 2-drops aren’t that powerful. With Nissa, however, you get to cast a four-mana card—a real card—the turn you play her. This is subtle and I might be spewing nonsense, but I think she is a lot more “free” than Garruk was.
Her ultimate is also better than Garruk’s. Not only do you guarantee a win next turn but, if they wrath you, you know you’re never drawing a land again for the rest of the game.
Her second +1 ability is also quite good. Turning a land into a 4/4 is usually worse than making a 3/3, but effectively having haste is a very powerful effect, especially in a world where planeswalkers are so important. The creature being a land is also remarkably good at stopping the removal spells played by the UW decks—they can’t Planar Cleansing it, they can’t Detention Sphere it, and they can’t Banishing Light it, leaving Elspeth and Supreme Verdict as the only ways to deal with it (and not Elspeth if you haven’t killed Nissa, since the lands have trample and she just animates another land to kill Elspeth next turn regardless of which ability you use).
If you want to go for ultimate combos, they even printed Darksteel Citadel, in which case you get a truly immortal 4/4 trampler. Really, what kills it? Edict effects do and Chained to the Rocks does, but that’s about it. Unfortunately you can only get basics with her ultimate, but if you have Darksteel Citadel in play when you cast Nissa you’re going to be feeling pretty great. I suspect that, if a heavy green deck sees any amount of play, Nissa is going to be a key card in it.
This is a great upgrade to Harmonic Sliver in Pod. It’s not as good if you Phyrexian Metamorph it, but it’s much better in any other situation, since it’s bigger, easier to cast, and not mandatory. As for Standard, 2/1 for 3 is pretty bad as far as stats go, but the ability is relevant, so this could see play—especially if Chord of Calling does as well. I think the amount of play this sees will be a direct function of whether the control decks play Banishing Lights and Detention Spheres or Planar Cleansings. If they play enchantments, this should find targets against most decks in the format and I could see sideboarding or even maybe maindecking one or two. If they don’t, I think it’s unimpressive and will not see play outside of a Chord toolbox.
This card is also quite good if you can power it up a reasonable amount of the time. 2/2 for G is a nice starting point, and the ability could actually be game-winning if you have the deck for it. If there is a GW deck, I’d expect this to see play in it.
Garruk, Apex Predator
The new Garruk is obviously powerful, but he costs seven mana and requires two different colors. Luckily it’s green, so it’s a gentleman’s seven, but that’s still a lot. To be honest, I’m having a hard time imagining a deck that would rather cast this Garruk than Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Looking for a bunch of creatures is generally going to be better than making a 3/3 deathtouch, so you need to get use of the other abilities to justify paying one more mana. Elspeth is a concern for those decks, and he deals with her, but I think Nissa is better at dealing with Elspeth than Garruk is, since it’s so much cheaper.
This new Garruk does defend himself exceedingly well, creating a 3/3 deathtoucher and going up to 6 loyalty, and he also adds something unique with the life gain, so I wouldn’t count him out—it seems to be the kind of card you have to play with to see if it’s worth the price. My intuition, however, says “no” in most decks and “maybe one-of” in GB ramp decks.
Sliver Hivelord/Sliver Hive
How powerful these are is obviously going to depend on how good the Slivers in this set are. We probably have enough for a deck right now, but since we get five new ones coming, we should probably wait to see them. Playing a turn one Sliver, turn two mana sliver, turn three Sliver Hivelord does seem pretty powerful and something to keep in mind.
As an aside, I always thought of Slivers as living in a nest, not in a hive—I’m not sure why exactly.
Obelisk of Urd
Obelisk is potentially powerful. I see two possible homes: a WW Soldier-based deck, and a deck with Master of Waves. The issue is that, in the former it has to compete with Dictate of Heliod; in the latter it has to compete with Hall of Triumph because it won’t pump all of your guys. I think it’s not good enough, but I’m willing to try it.
The Chain Veil
I’m sorry, I don’t see it. Sure, doubling up on planeswalker activations is sweet, but it costs eight mana to do so. I think playing another planeswalker is almost always going to be better, and that’s not even counting the damage you take if you do nothing.
In fact, the “2 damage” clause is the only thing that makes this interesting to me. I can’t imagine the card started with this, so, if it was added later, I want to know why.
That’s what I’ve got for today! Maybe I’ll come up with some actual deck lists next week, once we’ve seen more of the spoiler.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this,