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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 26 2014 12:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

> summary <

 The Tarkir block is bound to be remembered as the last Magic block in the Mirage lineage before the Metamorphosis. Khans of Tarkir ends an era that lasted for exactly 18 years, since October 1996. 18 years, guys. 20 blocks, if you also count Ice Age being retro-fitted by Coldsnap in 2006 (but counting Lorwyn/Shadowmoor as one block). That's definitely something.

 As such, Khans of Tarkir comes with the burden of a lot of expectation on its shoulders, not last of which are the fact that Theros block, as commercially successful as it was, didn't feel equally accomplished from a creative point of view. Will Tarkir manage to do better in this department? Flavorfully, Theros has been beloved because everyone loves Ancient Greek mythos. Tarkir is also based on a specific, exotic location, more than on a concept, as it's blending together various tales and atmospheres from the entire Asian continent, unified under the dragon emblem. And since everyone loves kung fu movies and Gengis Khan and especially dragons, Tarkir is well positioned to not disappoint. Plus, it's a clever way to return to some of Kamigawa's "oriental adventures" themes without actually returning to Kamigawa (a block which isn't very popular to say the least).

 As for the mechanics, there's many of them this time around: the 5-clan structure means 5 different mechanics in the first set alone, and the following sets promise to do crazy things with an unusual storyline and time travel elements. Plus, at least Khans of Tarkir is a multicolored set (the block as a whole, due to the abovementioned unusual structure, won't) based around color triplets of enemy colors (the "wedges"), which makes it the complement to Alara block. Multicolored sets always add complexity and fascination to the mix, so that's something that plays in Khans of Tarkir's favor when it comes to potential design quality.

 All in all, though, let's not kid ourselves: the cards this first set will be most remembered for are these five little reprints...

  

 

 Of course, the return of the allied fetchland isn't just any reprint, and not even just one that'll shake the secondary market (as it already did, just look at the chart for Polluted Delta). It marks the moment when the Modern format finally becomes "complete", ready to fulfill what it was meant to be. It's as much an historical moment as it is the end of the 3-set system and the retirement of the Core Sets. In some ways, it's even more important.

 And while this article is devoted to explore creatures and tribes, a few KTK cards have been already detected that could have, or will certainly have, a big impact on Eternal formats all the way up to at least Legacy. Namely, these two (you can read Carsten Kotter's reasoning on why they're very much at risk of a quick banning, which, I might add, is akin to say that R&D made a mistake).

 

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new creatures and their tribes, as per the focus of my evaluations. We have a new tribe, which is something that seems to be happening a lot lately. In this case, let's welcome the Nagas, the snake-people inspired by various Asian lores and religions.

Art by mumuumuuu

 Overall, Khans of Tarkir involves change for 48 different tribes, with a big influx of Human (+41, which is Innistrad levels), Warrior (+29) and Monk (+13), all due to the setting. There's no Elves at all and only 3 Goblins. Among the returning tribes most notable are Orc (+7), Djinn (+5), and Efreet (+3). Tarkir block might finally transit Orc to the fully supported humanoid tribe it should be. Finally, it's worth mentioning new member for unusual tribes like Kirin (the first outside the Kamigawa cycle), Lammasu, and Yeti.

 Among the more conspicuously missing tribes, we have Dragon (so far!), Angel, Merfolk, Giant, Knight, and Druid.

 As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a list by decreasing number of new additions at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 269 (15 basic land alt art)
  • New cards: 231
  • New creatures: 121
  • Reprinted cards: 23 (5 basic lands)
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 48

Ape: +2

 

> summary <

 Sultai is the black-based clan, that actually translates into the wedge green triplet (as I noted elsewhere, these triplets aren't very intuitive), so the result is, for instance, a big trampling Ape that uses the delve mechanic. Flavorfully it's a bit obscure (why do these baboons even care about the graveyard?), but as far as mechanical illustrative commons go, a 4/4 trampler for potentially 1 is decent enough.

 Morph is also a mechanic whose flavor was never really clear (is it about suddenly turning into something else? Ambushing? Materializing out of nowhere?) , but it's a welcome return in KTK, and also featured in Sultai colors. Sidisi's Pet is no Exalted Angel for sure, but again, it's just a common.


Archer: +3

 

> summary <

 This guy is the only new Archer that's not, most notably, something else (like a humanoid Hound or a Naga). It does an adequate job at demonstrating the raid mechanics for the red-based, wedge-white Mardu clan. Those 4 mana makes him obviously overcosted for constructed purposes, but 2 non-conditional damage are sweet enough. Maybe not exactly "heart-piercing", though. Unless you're a 2/2, that is.


Assassin: +2

 

> summary <

 The other Assassin from Tarkir is an Orc, but this Human lady is surprisingly interesting for an uncommon. All the cards in the cycle with morph triggers at (essentially) cost 0 ask to be properly evaluated. In this case, you can use her as a combat trick/removal, and you even take 2 life away from the opponent in the process. All for 1 meager black mana. Of course your opponent won't fall for it if you don't have other morph creatures in your deck, but chances are, after KTK block, you will.


Bat: +1

 

> summary <

 Coming next: A double French vanilla member for the Bat tribe. You know, there are a few Bat tribal aficionados out there. Don't ask me why. This particular flying rat seems ready to make the cut. It basically screams for wearing an equipment. Yeah, bats wear equipment in the Magic universe. It is known.


Bear: +1

 

> summary <

 The last in a long, proud line of Grizzly Bears variant. This time, +1 mana, +2 power. Deal? Deal.


Beast: +3

   

> summary <

 Khans of Tarkir tried to eschew as many generic tribes as it could (see also Spirit), so Beast is under-represented for once. At the same time, Beast was big back in the last triple-colored block, starting from the Father of Them All, Godsire, and their favorite champion, Uril, the Miststalker. Sagu Mauler seems to be Tarkir's take on the latter, what with being a big dude that the opponent can't touch. It trades the aura-based boost for natural trample and morph, that in the end makes it cost the same mana, with the advantage of being able to attack the same turn you spend 5. Granted, you had to spend 3 before, but you also only need 2 colors rather than 3 (which is actually not what the set is doing as a whole, come to think of it). All in all, it seems a balanced enough finisher that might even see some constructed play. It's pretty self-sustained.

 The other two Beasts are unremarkable common fatties. Tusked Colossodon is a strictly better Craw Wurm. Not sure why in 2014 we're still doing strictly better Craw Wurms, especially considering the most notable strictly better Craw Wurm is Yavimaya Wurm, and that one has been around for 15 years and no boby ever played it.


Berserker: +4

  

> summary <

 The non-Goblin Berserkers all from the Mardu clan, are just a bunch of run-of-the-mill Limited cards, even if I can see all of them played in Limited. Even the red member of the "Reveal Morph" cycle isn't particularly good. The hasty Grizzly Bears might see play in Berserker tribal, maybe.


Bird: +8

   

   

> summary <

 For some reason, the Bird tribe gets one of the biggest boosts in KTK, if not outright the biggest ever. Birds have always been around, but have never had a specific focus on them, usually only growing by 1-2 members per set. The Tarkir ones are both humanoid and regular birds, and encompass all the five clans. They even get to host the only monowhite mythic, Wingmate Roc, the tribe's take on Broodmate Dragon. It's not a super-exciting mythic, but it's very solid, if you think it actually costs 1 mana less than Broodmate, and only requires one specific color. And the pair of flyers you get might have 1 less power, but they come with a lifegaining engine attached. There's to account for the fact that you need an attacker or you won't get the second roc; it's not a terribly demanding clause for a finisher, and the card remains good enough, if not mythic-worthy, even if you don't fulfill the requirement.

 All things considered, though, the rare High Sentinels of Arashin might be more interesting. For 4 mana you get the same flying body as the Roc, while the ability to give +1/+1 counters around at instant speed and without a tap symbol involved is definitely strong, and being a "reverse lord" for creature with counters might make it a "must kill" in dedicated builds.

 Among the other Birds we find a few mechanical showcases. The Reveal Morpher Watcher of the Roost is essentially a 2/1 flyer for 3 with a "gain 2 life" ETB trigger, but it has to be acknowledged the fact that you don't need white mana to cast it (so all the Reveal Morphers have a place in decks that use hybrid cards of their color but no direct access of its mana: it could mean something down the line). Icefeather Aven is also notable for essentially being Man-o'-War with flying and echo.

 A semi-mechanical, semi-flavor-based note: linking to the conceptual difference between Warrior and Soldier that Tarkir's flavor so deeply embraces, you have to wonder why, for instance, Sage-Eye Harrier is the former while Watcher of the Roost is the latter. They're birdmen with weapons, they even share the same stance in the art. The answer is probably in the watermark: the Jeskai clan trains martial artists, fighters able to be self-reliant at any time; the Abzan clan trains troops.


Cat: +2

 

> summary <

 The Rakshasas are vampire-like demons from the Hindu mythology. In the D&D tradition, they have tiger heads, so MTG went with it (you know, they share the same publisher now). They could have generated their own subtype, I guess, just like the Nagas, but they went with Cat and Demon instead. Oh well. The two from KTK are both rares, and I expect to see them played. Rakshasa Deathdealer, in particular, is one of those Golgari early beater a la Putrid Leech or Lotleth Troll, while Rakshasa Vizier is linked to delve, but has actually synergy with graveyard-erasing cards like Relic of Progenitus as well. Being vanilla and requiring a 3-color setup might limit its applications, though.


Cleric: +1

> summary <

 Of course, in fantasy Asia, you don't have Clerics, you have Monks. This lonely Cleric is strong enough, nonetheless. I'm not crazy about outlast as a mechanic, because it takes something a few creatures were already doing (Steel Overseer, Chronomaton) and makes it worse by giving it sorcery speed for no particular reason. This said, you can drop this guy among a lot of dudes that already have counters (Mutants, anyone?), and he'll give lifelink to all of them, which can lead to a big, big problem for the opponent.


Crocodile: +1

 

> summary <

 You know, it's cool to have a robust defender that doubles as sacrifice outlet that doubles as lifegaining. It'd fit well into various high shenanigan builds. If only didn't cost 5 freaking mana, that is.


Demon: +4

  

> summary <

 Rakshasa apart, the Demon tribe gets an excellent sacrifice outlet in Butcher of the Horde. A 5/4 flyer for 4 is already good, and this guy also gets to trade creatures that you might want to sacrifice for profit with a set of very relevant abilities, particularly lifelink. The only problem seems to be the triple color requirements, which is not what you usually prepare for in a Demon deck. The third color might be a splash, though. And I think we're going into an era of multicolored bravery anyway, in both Standard and Modern.

 Case in point: the good ol' black-colored Necropolis Fiend is less of a thrill. But maybe I'm mistaken, mislead by the apparent nombo between the delve cost and the ability. It still costs 1 mana more (i.e. 1 graveyard card more) than Tombstalker, and it gets 1 power less as a result. Is it worth a somehow clunky ability?


Djinn: +5

  

 

> summary <

 Djinn is another tribe that gets particular attention in Tarkir (5 new members translate to a +16% growth). Unfortunately, none of these new Djinns is really great. They all belong to the blue-based, wedge-red Jeskai clan, and there's a few instances of prowess and hexproof across their ranks, but nothing that really feels constructed worthy. Warden of the Eye brings planeswalkers back from the graveyard, which is something only Eternal Witness could do, but it still doesn't seem to justify that steep mana cost. Even the rare Sage of the Inward Eye does little more than providing conditional mass lifelink once in a while (is it me or there's a lot of mass lifelink in this set?).


Efreet: +3

   

> summary <

 Djinn's cousins from the fire-based branch of the Arabic folklore, the Efreets are also part of the wuxia-oriented Jeskai clan, graced with a very cool visual design (Tarkir's Djinns are visually striking, too, but these slender, alien-like Efreets are really something). And unfortunately, not much else, since they're just three commons: a prowess guy, a really expensive looter, and an overcosted, boltable morpher. For a tribe that only had 15 members so far, it still might be the beginning of a renewed interested, at least in the block.


Elemental: +6

  

  

> summary <

 The Tarkir Elementals all hail from the frosty regions inhabited by the green-based, wedge-blue Temur clan. Except for the rare one, Thousand Winds, that's from the Jeskai clan and is essentially a Mahamoti Djinn that can do a limited Kederekt Leviathan impression. Not sure what to do with it. All the others are even less remarkable, anyway. Embodiment of Spring (such a cool name!) might be useful in Elemental tribal, as a defensive 1-drop that turns into a Rampant Growth later. Maybe the best of the lot is the only green one, Pine Walker, a 5/5 for 5 that makes all your morphers untap themselves when they turn face up. I'm not exactly clear what the implications are here, beyond giving vigilance to all your morphers. You can use it to activate an additional time an ability that require tap, I guess. You know, like Disruptive Pitmage, Dwarven Blastminer, or Fledgling Mawcor. Or more likely, Rattleclaw Mystic.


Elephant: +4

    

> summary <

 Fittingly, the Tarkir Elephants are all mammoths (I was sorta expecting Asian elephants, but oh well). One of them is a Zombie, albeit it's not really clear why, considering it still has extreme toughness and no other trait. Another one, Ivorytusk Fortress, is a battle station from the white-based, wedge-black Abzan clan. And it's a bit baffling, because while a 5/7 for 5 might be decent enough, that ability doesn't even work on itself, and is nowhere close to the effect of a Seedborn Muse, let alone Prophet of Kruphix.

 And then we have a couple Loxodons (which is actually the genus of the African elephant, but oh well). Research told me that the Loxodons originated on Ravnica, where they are nearly extinct, and were later brought to Mirrodin by Memnarch. Now they show up on Tarkir as well, but here they aren't white-aligned, apparently. The two printed in KTK are both from the Temur clan. Avalanche Tusker is a cheaper Craw Wurm with some level of provoke. Could be worse.


Elk: +2

 

> summary <

 The Elk tribe is growing, guys. The cold climates of Tarkir warranted a couple new ones, both at common, so don't hold your breath for any super-moose. Highland Game is a serviceable 2-drop that will probably be happily picked in drafts. Wetland Sambar is the same thing but in blue, which means it has no ability, because I guess being blue for an Elk is already notable enough. For the records, a sambar is a Southeast Asian deer that inhabits tropical rainforests and is seldom found far from water. It still sounds more like a Simic creature than outright blue, but alright, they did their research.


Goblin: +3

  

> summary <

 Apparently, the Goblins are easier than the Elves to adapt into specific, non-Celtic settings, because they were in Kamigawa too, that had no Elves as well as Tarkir. These three new additions put the Goblin tribe 3 members ahead of the Elf tribe, which is probably cause for celebration in the Goblin world. Two of them are even rare. The funnily-named Ankle Shanker provides a powerful trigger, although for whopping 5 mana of casting cost. Jeering Instigator seems more likely to see play in Goblin or RDW decks, as a monocolored Goblin that gives you a Zealous Conscripts effect (not compatible with Birthing Pod, unfortunately). 3 mana for the unmorphed form, plus 3 mana for the morph activation might put it past the ideal Goblin curve, though, particularly considering the ability is situational. Goblin aggro builds might not bother, after all. Finally, Ponyback Brigade is just a bad Siege-Gang Commander. But the twist is that it's a common. It's not so easy in Pauper to get consistent access to 3 different colors, but nothing else in the environment can give you 4 bodies for 5 mana.


Golem: +1

 

> summary <

 I might be wrong, but I don't think Golems were exactly craving for a 4/4 vanilla morpher for 5. Nor anybody else, for that matter.


Horror: +1

 

> summary <

 There's a subset of morphers that basically want you to go, "Ah-ah! You let this one through! Look what happens now!". What happens what you let Abomination of Gudul through is that you give the opponent a round of looting. Yeah, maybe it wasn't exactly the game-winning move you were expecting. A 3/4 for 5 that draws you card is decent enough, anyway, especially at common (Pauper player can take notice). Provided you want to commit to wedge green. Sorry, I meant Sultai. We should  learn these new names asap.


Horse: +1

 

> summary <

 The green Reveal Morpher is a Horse. It's probably better as a 3/1 for 2, but there's some minor versatility in the chance to give trample to a crucial attacker at the right time.


Hound: +3

  

> summary <

 Hound is an unsuspectingly large tribe (currently 56 members), but this is the first time they get a humanoid version. The Ainok of Terkir come from the Abzan and Temur clans. And, so far, all all common. Two of them are "+1/+1 counters lords", though, which makes them close to playable, even if the abilities they give to the team aren't the most crucial.

 Semi-related: why does the Cat tribe include any feline, from actual household cats to tigers and lions, but then we have separate types for Hound and Wolf? And why Hound, anyway? Dog didn't sound martial enough? It's not that Cat doesn't also sound a bit ridiculous at times. I smell (pun inta double standard here.


Human: +41 

> summary <

 The Tarkir's Human count: 1 Archer, 1 Assassin, 3 Berserkers, 1 Cleric, 9 Monks, 1 Rogue, 1 Scout, 2 Shamans, 4 Soldiers, 16 Warriors, 2 Wizards. See you under the respective links.


Hydra: +1

 

> summary <

 I like this new Hydra enough, even if it can't really compete with the inevitability of Primordial Hydra and Kalonian Hydra. Hooded Hydra has two only things playing in its favor: it's faster, being able to attack as a 5/5 at turn 5 (or earlier with acceleration), while still giving you the chance to cast it as a regular XGG Hydra; and most importantly, it has some built-in resilience against removal, that might doubles as shenanigans if you have something like Purphoros around. However, its greatest weakness is lacking trample or any other way to connect. In fact, the tiny Snakes it generates by dying might end up being tactically superior to the Hydra itself. And unlike Kalonian Hydra, you can't reanimate this one (nor cheat it into play), therefore you can't abuse the death trigger.


Insect: +2

 

> summary <

 Two new flying InsectsHighspire Mantis gives the tribe a functional reprint of Assault Zeppelid, colorshifted into Boros, which is a combination of colors Insects don't really care for. Plus, Assault Zeppelid is solid and all, but it's hard to consider it a noteworthy card. The monoblack Swarm of Bloodflies has a more interesting setup, playing on 1/1 counters in a way that might be of interest to players already excited by Hardened Scales (such as myself). But 5 mana for a natural 2/2? C'mon.


Kirin: +1

> summary <

 The Kirin are back! Well, one Kirin, at least. But it might hint at a further expansion of the tribe down the line. So far, the Kirin were only a cycle of 5 from Saviors of Kamigawa. One for each color, all legendary. As a functional reprint of Armored GriffinAlabaster Kirin is just a common for Limited purposes, but at least it's not legendary, which is another good sign. Flavorfully, I had in mind that the Kirin of Kamigawa were more dragon-like than flying-unicorn-like (the mythology has both versions), but looking at the art, I realize they were always the latter.


Lammasu: +1

> summary <

 And this is the second Lammasu ever, after Hunted Lammasu from the original Ravnica. Hunted Lammasu used the "hunted" mechanic, giving you a 5/5 flyer for 4 in exchange of letting the opponent get a 4/4 vanilla, which might be the best deal of the cycle. Now Venerable Lammasu, that looks more like a flying sheep, tells us that the price of not giving anything to your enemy is 7 mana. Not sure we really needed the answer to that unspoken question. Or a new Lammasu, for that matter.


Leviathan: +1

> summary <

 This mythic Leviathan is sort of a bizarre design. It's an uncounterable 6/7 flash, which I guess has its theoretical uses in blue. Like, draw-go, cast this as a finisher in the opponent's end phase? Except, as a finisher it isn't really that much more scary than a Craw Wurm. It can grow a little via prowess now and then, but it's still not going to penetrate opponent's defenses that easily. I mean, it's not bad, but it was really worth a mythic slot? The only reason I can think of is that last ability. At first it seems just a pretty terrible way to dodge removal, by severely impairing your land base and then having to recast a 7-mana dude from scratch. But there might be combo applications, maybe? Or just, I don't know, tap all lands, return 3 and this guy in hand, cast Armageddon? Doesn't sound like a super-duper winning plan, but it's all I got.


Monk: +13

   

  

 

> summary <

 The Jeskai clan is all about the wuxia flavor, so of course they have kung fu fighting Monks. 13 new members (these 9 Humans plus 2 Djinns and 2 Efreets) are a lot for the tribe, which only had 42 before KTK, so it's seriously looking like we're going to see their ranks all but doubled once the block will be done. There's some truly amazing flavor in that art, but also interesting stuff, starting from the mythic, the Jeskai Khan himself, Narset, Enlightened Master, who looks like he might well star in a movie by Chang Cheh or Tsui Hark. His cost is steep for just a 3/2 first striker, but at least he has hexproof to protect him. And then he keeps going and casting free spells as long as it survives attacks. Doesn't seem all that easy to accomplish, but it sounds fun, and might be worth a devoted build. Plus, he could seriously rock in Commander.

 Among the rares, Master of Pearls is just a bear with a morph trigger that seems too expensive for white weenie, while the very stylish Dragon-Style Twins is a straightforward double striker that starts with a sizeable body for a honest price, if possibly still above the curve. Mantis Rider is a double French vanilla that puts all its value in the low CMC; it can surely have a tactical impact on the battlefield being able to evasively attack and simultaneously defend as early as turn 3.

 One of the uncommons, the monk-lady (does that make her a fighting nun?) Monastery Swiftspear, looks well-positioned to actually see play in RTW-style decks, what with being a 1-drop with haste that can swing for more than 1 in following turns, and also survive the fight with same-powered enemies.


Naga: +5

   

 

> summary <

 And this is a debut, so let's welcome our serpentine friends. They differentiate themselves from the Kamigawa snake-people by not being scaly, reptilian, bipedal humanoids; the Nagas are instead hybrid creatures with the upper half of a human (albeit with snake-like features) and the lower half of a big snake. Much cooler, if you ask me, if probably not as practical.

 The first 5 Nagas do some interesting things, although not very cohesive as a tribe. One of them is no less than the Khan of the Sultai clan, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. He's a Zombie-producer via creature self-milling, and provide the milling himself as an ETB trigger and with each attack. He could be used in a dedicated build, but there's still the matter of a demanding color requirement to fulfill. The Sultai-colored Naga, Sultai Soothsayer, plays in the same field by casting a Mulch-like spell as an ETB effect. Getting to choose any kind of card is sweet, but I'm not sure the 2/5 body he leaves behind justifies the mana investment, albeit it's nicely defensive, if possibly a bit too little, too late.

 Of the monocolored ones, the most notable is Kheru Spellsnatcher, whose morph trigger is a Spelljack. Which, cool, but 6 free mana with a facedown morpher waiting on the battlefield like a sitting duck is probably something that can only happen in Commander. And just using Spelljack still appears to be the most sensible line of action, advantages of having some colorless 2/2 at hand notwithstanding.

 Sultai Flayer actually interacts with the Temur mechanic ferocious, which is sort of bizarre. Anyway, he gives all your bigger dudes (including himself, although I would have appreciated if he didn't lose that point of power) a Ravenous Baloth death trigger, which is useful, even if they lack the self-sacrifice part of it.


Ogre: +2

  

> summary <

 News from the Ogre world: Mardu Blazebringer is not something you'll see played outside of Limited (if at all), while Savage Knuckleblade is the tribe's take on multi-function creatures a la Morphling. A cost-sensible 4/4 for 3 (with the caveat of the Mardu triplet requirement, that is), Mr. Knuckleblade can pump himself up to a 6/6, or get haste if you happen to have a spare red mana the turn you cast him. And he can dribble removal, even if bouncing back in hand for 3 free mana is really not the same as getting shroud or phasing out for 1.

 Did you notice that these two Ogres have the same stance, but one is on fire while the other is surrounded by an ice storm? Sort of a weird Easter egg, considering they don't mirror anything mechanically, and they're even from different clans.


Orc: +7

    

  

> summary <

 Orcs have always been the Cinderella of Magic: The Gathering, as one of the most prominent fantasy races that the game relentlessly refused to fully embrace the same way it did other classic types like Elves and Goblins. As a result, we only had 19 Orcs in the game to date, compared to 276 Elves and 279 Goblins. That number speaks for itself, but now things might finally change, as Khans of Tarkir alone is bringing the total up to 26. The boost is caused by the choice to make one of the five mythic Khans, Zurgo Helmsmasher of the Mardu clan, an Orc himself. He's a nice aggro glass cannon, dropping for 5 and immediately swinging as an indestructible 7-powered guy (with a Sengir Vampire ability to boot). In any opponent's turn, though, a Shock is enough to get rid of him. He might still become popular in Commander.

 Not all the Orcs hail from the Mardu clan, though, as we have 3 with the Azban watermark, although all monoblack. The sheer quantities of black Orcs also suggests they might be transiting the tribe away from the red center it currently had. Not a lot of these new Orcs are remarkable. I would just mention Mer-Ek Nightblade, the Assassin one, which is part of the series of  "+1/+1 counters lords", this time giving deathtouch to all, which is relevant enough.


Phoenix: +1

 

> summary <

 The lonely Phoenix of Khans of Tarkir is the other red mythic in the set other than Sarkhan. This one applies the usual "recurring from death" shtick of all Phoenices to the morph mechanic, resulting in a medium-sized flyer that costs you 6 mana to bring back to its flying form – and that's only if it died while already face up (if you're not sure about that, you can read it here: a face-down Phoenix won't trigger the ability, it'll just stay dead). It also deals 2 damage to all players at each morphing cycle, which isn't necessarily a perk, even if it means you can deal 6 damage with it the moment you turn it face up... which is the moment you have 6 mana to spend on your face-down morpher. Really not impressed with this.


Rhino: +1

 

> summary <

 Just like for the Elephants, Rhinos have both African and Asian versions, too, so we get one in Tarkir. And it's in the noble tradition of midrange favorites like Loxodon Hierarch (which is an Elephant, by the way) or Obstinate Baloth. Compared to the latter, Siege Rhino has several bonuses: higher toughness, trample, and the ability to deal 3 to the opponent upon arrival. Drawbacks: it gives you 1 life less, it doesn't fight disruption (which is a very situational, albeit sweet aspect of Obstinate Baloth, anyway), and more importantly, it requires white and black mana as well as green. If you're in those colors, though, you might prefer this Rhino to the great Baloth himself, especially if you have a way to recur it: I can already see those 3 life it takes from the opponent's total being a crucial factor in its career. It's also a strong addition to the Rhino family (now 26-member strong), although their colors are primarily Bant, so this one doesn't work very well with cards like Rhox War Monk or Roon of the Hidden Realm. In fact, it's the first black Rhino ever printed.


Rogue: +2

 

> summary <

 Given the settings with hordes of marauders and gangster-like warlords, I would have expected more in the way of thievery. There's just two Rogues, instead: the Goblin one, and this instantly forgettable morpher.


Scout: +3

 

> summary <

 Three creatures with the Scout type in KTK: one who's a Bird, one who's a Hound, plus this Human who just exemplifies the outlast mechanic.


Shaman: +8

 

> summary <

 Shamans have members among the Bird, Efreet, Naga (3 instances, including Sidisi), and Orc tribes. The remaining two are Humans, one of which, Smoke Teller, is a handy Grizzly Bears that lets you look at face-down morphers. Maybe not enough to want him in your deck, but still a relevant ability to have in the KTK meta.

 And the other is the instant classic Rattleclaw Mystic. Now, the question is: will Rattleclaw Mystic be the next Noble Hierarch? Let's see, for starters, it's not a 1-drop, that's the most conspicuous difference. But he gives the same amount of different colors of mana, with red replacing white. And it doubles as a beater, by being a natural 2/1, which is unusual for a mana dork. The ramp it provides comes later in the curve, with the option of casting him face-down at turn 3, then turning him up at turn 4 for 2 colorless mana, triggering its last ability and potentially ending up with 6 available mana (that is, if you dropped a fourth land too: you tap 2 lands for the morph, receive GUR in the process, then still have the chance to tap the Mystic for mana). You can easily see all of this happen earlier, if you had a 1-drop mana dork as well. All you need to know is that the Mystic's morph routine ends up giving you a 2-mana boost, plus a nice bit of filtering from colorless/whatever color you were using to the Temur colors. And the colorless part is the crucial one, because if you didn't realize it yet, this guy is available to any deck, in any color, including colorless builds. That's right, you can have a Cloudpost setup, or Urzatron, and still be able to use Rattleclaw Mystic for your colored needs. That's possibly the reason why this might very much be the next Noble Hierarch, indeed.


Shapeshifter: +1

 

> summary <

 Clever Impersonator, the second blue mythic creature and only Shapeshifter of the set, is very straightforward: it's "just" the Ultimate Clone. For the cost of a Clone (give or take a blue mana requirement more), it can copy anything Clone can copy, plus anything Phyrexian Metamorph can copy, plus anything Copy Enchantment can copy, plus any freaking planeswalker, and whatever else they might come up with in the future. There's not much else to say: maybe Phantasmal Image and the Metamorph itself are faster, but if you want to be able to copy anything, Clever Impersonator is your card.


Snake: +1

 

> summary <

 Isn't it strange that in a set with Nagas, the Snake type doesn't make any appearance if not for flavor purposes on the one Hydra with cobra heads? I take it as a way to be as much different as possible from Kamigawa, but I for one wouldn't have minded some snake companions for the snake people.


Soldier: +7

   

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 Khans of Tarkir is more about the fierce heroism and savagery suggested by the Warrior type than the organized warfare of the Soldier type. The white-based Abzan clan is still home to some military enthusiasts, including a couple humanoid Birds and one Hound. The Human side of the tribe features the Khan of Abzan, Anafenza, a very aggressively costed beater that pump one of his fellow teammate each attack (provided they don't have vigilance), and hates opponent's graveyard as a nice, relevant bonus. He will probably see more play than any other Khan.

 And while Armament Corps is just a 6/6 for (multicolored) 5, unless you have very crucial creatures to give a couple counters to (but in that case you might be better off with one of the two dozens other ways to do that), we have two strong outlast creatures in Soldier type, since outlast is the Abzan main mechanic, after all. Herald of Anafenza in particular is a 1-drop that we'll see a lot of, being able to both grow and populate your battlefield. And Abzan Falconer is a honest-priced way to give all your outlast creatures (or, I don't know, all your Spikes) the chance to stage a lethal alpha strike.


Spirit: +1

 

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 Spirit is extremely downplayed in KTK, probably to better distance the new set from Kamigawa, that was all about Spirits and the Spirit War. Still, it seems odd to have only one of them in a set devoted to Asian folklore. I like this 1-drop common in a Spirit deck that aims to move the fight to late game, though, even if it would be infinitely better if outlast were instant-speed.


Turtle: +1

 

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 This is the 7th Turtle in the game, that re-balances the tribe on its blue-green axis (they're now 4 blue, 3 green). It would also be a nice midrange beater with a great butt and a chance of evasion, if it didn't get to attack only every other  turn, starting from two turns after you dropped it on the battlefield. Eh, the flavor of the turtles being slow is accurately portrayed.


Vampire: +1

 

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 Vampires exist in Asian lores, too, so here's our resident bloodsucker, who's again a Sultai guy with an ability that seems more fitting for a Temur. But it doesn't matter, because it's terrible enough: do you really want to kill fatties in order to make your Gray Ogre better? And even as a mere sacrifice outlet he's underwhelming, because he asks for 3 mana per job. Oh well, uncommons, what you gonna do.


Wall: +2

 

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 The beauty of the Walls is that they don't really care about the setting, because every race and culture built walls at some point. Of course, the fact that these are technically considered "living" walls opens a whole other can of worms, but that's the topic for another article. These two have a similar design, both with an activated ability requiring tap and two mana. Curiously, I like the common better than the uncommon, since Dazzling Ramparts might be able to stop two creatures, but it comes too late to be really relevant, whereas Archers' Parapet is a good 2-drop that gives its small contribute to the beating. Of course, it's in the same spot as Wall of Roots, Wall of Blossoms, and many other staples, so nobody who's not doing a draft will ever play it. Maybe if it had reach, like the flavor would imply (why should these archers unable to target flyers? They're even on higher ground than regular archers!).


Warrior: +29

   

> summary <

 The Warrior tribe gets the second larger influx in the set, almost at Human levels (and we know Human is essentially a supertype now). As it turns out, in a world of warring clans and warlords, "warrior" is the most frequent job description. It goes in direct opposition to the other "fighter class" in the game, though, that is Soldier, not much represented on Tarkir so far. The resulting flavor is that these are armies of warriors, not armies of soldiers. It's the perceived difference between the Mongolian hordes and the Roman legions, I guess (which is actually a very wrong notion, but we know how perceptions go: sometimes they have a mis- in front of them).

 Anyway, 13 of these 29 Warriors have more specific tribes: Bird (x2), Elephant (x2), Goblin, Orc (x5, including Zurgo, which means that, unsurprisingly, two different Khans are Warriors), Ogre (x2), Spirit.

 Among the Human members there's some stuff that's worth a mention (and some that isn't, so I won't mention it). Let's start with the multicolored ones, first of which has to be the Temur Khan, Surrak Dragonclaw. He's a strong-enough guy, a 6/6 flash for 5, that gives all your team trample and uncounterability. It's major flaw is that while he's uncounterable himself, he doesn't get to have trample (the same way as Nylea). As a commander, he's bound to lead a good stuff deck in his colors. As a regular critter, he has some constructed chances, but it's probably bound to be outclassed by other options at 5 mana, even as a sideboard card, since you aren't really going to fight countermagic with a midrange card.

 For the rest, Bear's Companion is two bodies and 6 power for 5 mana, and Chief of the Edge/Chief of the Scale are a mirrored pair of minor lords for the Warrior tribe. I said "worth a mention", I didn't say "worth a praise".

 White Warriors get two fast guys who might or might not be just strong picks in a draft.

 

 Black is also quick to the drop, and Bloodsoaked Champion in particular is the rare of the lot, the Human Warrior's take on the mechanic of the eternally returning creature a la Bloodghast and Gravecrawler (but not an undead, this time). You have to attack and pay more than his original cost to have him back, but it's still an effect that warrants attention from Johnnies, since, like Procrastination already noted, there are several "Human matters" interaction to be considered here. Plus, it's a 2-powered 1-drop that keeps coming back. Aggro likes.

 

 The little men in red and green are both strong. War-Name Aspirant does an excellent impression of Stormblood Berserker, and the raid requirement might be even easier to fulfill than bloodthirst, since the attack didn't need to connect. Heir of the Wilds is a extremely strictly better Grizzly Bears. You can use it as a deathtouch deterrent, but then he might attack as a 3/3 later. Finally, Tuskguard Captain is the "+1/+1 counters lord" that gives trample, and his ratio between stats and cost is decent enough to be considered in a +1/+1 counters deck, whatever that might be.

  


Wizard: +7

 

> summary <

 Of the two Human Wizards in KTK (the other are three Djinns, one Naga, and one Zombie), Grim Haruspex is the only relevant one, but in a big way, because drawing card as a free death trigger is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it might be one of the most powerful effect of all KTK creatures, just like that. You don't need to go farther with imagination than to picture him in a Pod deck where his colleague Viscera Seer is killing Kitchen Finks (or anything else, in a pinch), and you get to draw exactly the card the Seer has put on top of the library. The mind feels already dizzy at the prospect.


Yeti: +1

 

> summary <

 You know, the Yeti of the actual legend is from the Himalaya, so it makes sense for Tarkir to have some. This is the 10th one we get, but it's just a filler common, the functional reprint of a long line of identical filler commons (Lowland Giant, Ogre Resister, Shatterskull Giant, Borderland Minotaur: some fan favorites, uh?), so it falls into the category of, "why did they even bother?". I also don't get the reason so many Yetis are red. What exactly about the Yeti is saying "is impulsive and follows his passions"?


Zombie: +5

 

> summary <

 Zombies of course can un-live and prosper everywhere necromancy is a thing, and the Tarkir necromancers like to raise unusual corpses, apparently, because so far we've seen reanimated Apes, Crocodiles, and Elephants. And then there's the Lich Lord from those sunny Sultai folk, which does a random unearth per turn for 3 mana, and makes his subjects flying tramplers while he's at it (which might already compensate a bit for the randomness, although you're supposed to take care of that with your graveyard manipulations, you know?). It's not very easy to make work, being a 6-mana guy who's sort of solid but doesn't do much else otherwise. Still, it's a powerful enough effect, and potentially a lot of fun.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here. The new quantities will be added only after the set will be released online.


BEST IN SHOW
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

   

  

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THE FIVE KHANS
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

  

 

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THE LORDS OF THE COUNTERS

    

  

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 Similar cards of the past: Bramblewood Paragon, Cenn's Tactician, Crowned Ceratok, Sapphire Drake.


PLANESWALKER AGGRO

 

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 Sometimes, a planeswalker is just a glorified beater. Well, sometimes is a top-notch, multi-purpose beater, like Gideon Jura. But other time is nothing more than beater, like Gideon, Champion of Justice. Or it's a beater factory, like Xenagos, the Reveler.

 Both Sarkhan and Sorin are at their third iteration. Sarkhan (who's a Tarkir native, from the Mardu clan, despite what his past colors suggested), never had a truly good card to his name. Sarkhan Vol lacked an element of consistency, while Sarkhan the Mad was just a (mostly failed) experiment. Now Sarkhan goes full red, and become essentially... a strictly worse Thundermaw Hellkite or Stormbreath Dragon. Well, that's somehow harsh. If you compare Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker with the two star Dragons, you might see another way to have a CMC 5 creature that attacks immediately. Thundermaw Hellkite deals 15 damage in his first 3 attacks, while Stormbreath Dragon, if you manage to monsterize him by the third turn he's around, can deal even more (depending on how many card the opponent has in hand at that point). Sarkhan will always deal 12. His downsides also include: being killed by attackers, exiled by white spells, and not killing hordes of Spirit tokens like the Hellkite does. On Sarkhan's side, there's the chance to cast a Flame Slash, although at a steep loyalty cost, and the inherent tactical impact of a planeswalker on the board, with the opponent all but forced to commit resources to eliminate the walker's threat, which often means deflecting attacks from you to the walker. All in all, Sarkhan 3.0 is a good card that will get a lot of attention in Standard. His ultimate is not something that you might even want to bring upon yourself, but the rest of his powers are hard to dismiss: he comes in midrange, swings for 4 each turn, if needed stops swinging for a turn and kills something. Rinse, repeat. Straightforward, honest.

 Sorin, Solemn Visitor is also straightforward. It's essentially a complementary card to Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.

 

 See? Same CMC, same loyalty costs to the abilities (but one loyalty point more for Solemn Visitor). Lord of Innistrad goes +1: create a guy, -2: boost your guys. Solemn Visitor goes: +1: boost your guys, -2: create a guy. And their ultimates are both removals, with the latest being half of Sheoldred's powers (the aggressive half). Visitor's Vampire token is possibly stronger than Lord's, although natural lifelink isn't to be discounted, but happens less often. Visitor's boosts can reverse the course of a game (as I was saying, lifelink matters), but it's also more ephemeral. I think they both go in the same deck. I probably still prefer Lord of Innistrad, but both are good cards, and the next Standard will probably find a way to incorporate Solemn Visitor somewhere.


KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

 

6 Comments

I'm a little annoyed at the by Leviathan at Fri, 09/26/2014 - 16:53
Leviathan's picture
5

I'm a little annoyed at the inclusion of Naga, when there is an already supported tribe out there that could have been used, ie. snake. You pointed out the differences between the Kamigawa snakes and these nagas, but really they look the same as Coiling Oracle to me. I don't think it would have been any sort of stretch to call the nagas here snakes, and you could have gotten use out of your old Kamigawa cards as well. Seems like a misfire to me.

On the other hand, I really like the inclusion of monks. These guys were really underdeveloped in Kamigawa and I appreciate seeing more of them. I just hope we get a few more and continue to grow this tribe. I really want them to stick around, but maybe that's just me.

Good stuff.

I suspect the choice of Naga by Paul Leicht at Fri, 09/26/2014 - 17:29
Paul Leicht's picture

I suspect the choice of Naga was a flavor choice because while the mythos isn't really Indian/Hindic it has Rakshasa (though they really goofed on the creature type there too, Cat Demon?? those guys in creative really didn't do their due diligence there.), Djinni, Efreeti, and other eastern creatures. Naga is a south eastern Asian mythological creature similar to the Lamia of the Greek legends. Unfortuately there, they could have made Coiling Oracle a Naga instead of Elf Snake and we would have good precedent.

It could also be that R&D pushed the Naga cards out of Theros block and they were reused after reflavoring. So what was initially Lamia type became Naga type. Personally I think it is about time for a new round of Universal Generic Type changes. Just to make everything a little more sensible and organized instead of the mess types have become. Especially in regards to the Humans, Elves and Goblins super types.

As I said in the article, by Kumagoro42 at Sat, 09/27/2014 - 10:32
Kumagoro42's picture

As I said in the article, they just used the D&D Rakshasas. It's sort of an internal corporate synergy. (I don't like it much, but it's what it is. It's true of other flavor choices as well. When in doubt, they go with the D&D route).

And mythological Nagas have nothing to do with Lamias. The original Lamia of the myth was a single creature (just like for Hydra, Medusa, Pegasus, and many other Greek myths where one unique creature was later turned into one of a kind in pop culture, including "pop culture" from before the 20th century). And her defining trait was the fact that she would eat her children after seducing men. She was akin to a succubus, or a vampire, and a metaphor for ancestral fears about mothers harming their children. My point being that fantasy settings use Lamias as lonely monsters, so you can't make them into a whole society of beings with males, females, social structures and so, if you want to be at least partially true to the mythological roots and not use Lamia just as a random name (which was most definitely not Theros's M.O.).

Whereas the mythological Nagas are depicted as a people, not just one monster. They're largely benevolent (if dangerous) and protect specific places, especially the bodies of water. They're like natural spirits, and often deities, which fits the Eastern philosophies within which they've been imagined, as a way to personify nature through the figure of the big snakes, that were both feared and admired for their majesty, considered sacred. The best comparison here is to faeries of the Celtic tradition, intended as a whole, elves, leprechaun, sprites, and such, creatures that represent the mysteries and whims and beauty and dangers of nature, and that humans can sometimes befriend or worship but always at their own risk. In some traditions the Nagas, or some specific subset of them, have a darker interpretation, but you can opine the same is true of the Celtic faeries, too.

End of little mythological divagation!

I do agree that a second Grand Creature Types Update is sorely needed. Some inconsistencies can't be solved, though, because they have too much mechanical impact at this point. For instance, I always find odd that there are Zombies with associated types, like Dwarf, Elf, Giant, Dragon, Plant, Crocodile and so, that tie to what the creatures were before their corpses were raised from the dead. Which is cool, but then all the other Zombies that haven't another specific type should have the Human type attached (Vampires have this issue too). Except that would make the Human type even larger, and there are too many cards that care about it now, not to mention what would mean for Tribal Wars (not that they really think about it, ever). And yet Zombie is de facto treated as an attribute in those cases, the same as Soldier or Wizard, but not in the cases where they are meant to be reanimated Humans, which makes it inconsistent, if necessarily so.

Ugh I like you Kuma but that by Paul Leicht at Sat, 09/27/2014 - 13:33
Paul Leicht's picture

Ugh I like you Kuma but that is way too argumentative for such a little commentary.

1) I am well aware of the Rahkshasa of D&D but even there if you read their entry (in the various monster manual equivalents for each edition) you will find out that in the game they are primarily considered Shapeshifters and master illusionists. Not Cats. Were-tiger happens to be the most common form.

2) The connection I made to Lamia from Naga was a physiomorphic one, though the paragraph where I made that clearer was deleted when I rewrote the post. Lamia (Ala D&D, or Feist) are essentially people with lower trunks/feet replaced with snake parts. The idea of "The Lamia" is about as useful to a card game as "The Gorgon" or "The Medusa" etc. IE: Not very. Naga (ala D&D, numerous literary sources and myth) have a similar form. The logic is not at all unreasonable if you don't get too narrow in your criteria.

As for their respective cultural gap, I suspect the Lamia directly relates to the Naga myth via cultural appropriation. The leap is not extraordinary. And in this day and age, a fantasy game can make it without blinking an eye.

But I am glad we agree on SOME things.

One might argue that the Naga by ScionOfJustice at Sat, 09/27/2014 - 02:11
ScionOfJustice's picture

One might argue that the Naga and the Snakes would view Elves, Apes and Humans to be the same, same with Imp's and Devils, Catholics and Protestants. You get the idea.

Yeah, going by logic, they by Kumagoro42 at Sat, 09/27/2014 - 10:42
Kumagoro42's picture

@Leviathan: Yeah, going by logic, they should have had at least the Snake type attached as well. I'm more annoyed by the fact that Theros established all Dryads are Nymphs (and it's correct), so Shanodin Dryads got the Nymph type (back), but all the other Dryads didn't, so now we have a few Dryads with the Nymph type and a few of them without it (and it's not even plane-based at this point, since Shanodin is from Dominaria).
Considering Lampads, Naiads and all the others subtypes of Nymphs didn't get their own type, the most sensible course of action would have been to eliminate the Dryad type entirely and make all of them just Nymphs.

By the way (answering to Paul's mention of it, too), Coiling Oracle couldn't be a Naga, because Coiling Oracle is a scientific experiment of the Simic. They literally blended an elf and a snake together. It's the work of mad science, not a race of beings.

I like Monks, too. The wuxia flavor of the Jeskai clan is really great.