I already made a reconnaissance on the creature types of Return to Ravnica, so now it's the turn to the next set in the block. What Gatecrash has to offer to the tribal side of things? Let's find out, pronto. Two little changes, though: first, the tribes are now listed alphabetically, then summarized at the bottom of the article in descending number of new additions; second, I'm cutting a lot of unnecessary, Limited-related crap and focusing on the cards that feel significant (even just because a small tribe got a new member.) Honestly, evaluating Limited cards in a list like this is pointless as it is ephemeral. Not to mention, what kind of meaningful commentary can you make out of something like Gutter Skulk or Ruination Wurm?
Return to Ravnica Infodump:
New creatures: 123
Reprinted creatures: 1 (Tower Drake)
Creature types: 178
New creatures: 124
Reprinted creatures: 4 (Assault Griffin, Cinder Elemental, Ember Beast, Skyknight Legionnaire)
Creature types: 196
Advisor is a tribe full of surprises, since the very nature of the political beast is ample enough to include a vast array of different effects. Down on the city-plane of Ravnica, you might think the bureaucrats and politicians would be more largely represented, especially in guilds like Orzhov or Azorious (which only had one). But they make up for quantity with quality: Obzedat, Ghost Council is the heir of a strong creature like Guildpact's Ghost Council of Orzhova (trivia: 5 of the 10 guilds — Golgari, Selesnya, Dimir, Boros, Simic — have a new leader; the other 5 have a new version of the old leader, and these are all the ones where the leader is a larger-than-life creature: a dragon, a demon, a sphinx, a cyclops, a group of ghosts.) But Obzedat managed to upgrade itself pretty neatly: it's now a 5/5 beater for 5, which double-drains an opponent when enters the battlefield, and it's totally immune to sorcery-speed removals (which means 99% of the sweepers in the game.) More so, its immunity triggers it's Drain Life for 2 ability again and again, while not hindering in the least its beatdown potential (it does hinder its blocking potential, though, but that's a minor flaw.) The result is the most chased upon card in the first days of release, and possibly the strongest creature in the set. Midrange rules!
The Orzhov advisors also feature a nice sacrifice-outlet bear, which was devised back when the Orzhov mechanics involved death triggers, but survived in the final cut. It's not a must-play card by any means, but it has all the characteristic of a good sacrifice outlet: cheap CMC, instant activation with no further costs, a semi-decent use beyond its main functionality. Something like Putrid Imp is still better mainly because it's a 1-drop involving one color only, but Cartel Aristocrat is cooler. Plus, Advisors like shenanigans, and this is a further trick in their arsenal.
We got an amazing harvest of Angels here, which makes Gatecrash the second most angelic set in the history of the game after Avacyn Restored. It's only partially surprising, because we already knew Boros guild is historically lead by an angel. The powerful Razia is no more, and now it's the turn of little sister Aurelia at the heel (fun fact: Aurelia is the name of the Roman road that runs to the north-west for hundreds of miles connecting Rome to France. And I live next to it.) The flavor has that Razia was somehow an untouchable figure, while Aurelia is more of a people's angel, willing to get her hands dirty (and they're fiery hands, so they're probably self-cleaning.) In fact, the first thing to say about Aurelia is that she's definitely playable. Razia's trick was great, but a 8-mana Angel is still something hard to pull off outside Commander. Titan mana is more like it, but what Aurelia gives us to try and compete with Inferno Titan and Sun Titan? She's basically a Lightning Angel with a twist (and no blue mana required, something which was somehow baffling about Lightning Angel.) The twist is simply that she gives you a second combat phase. Just like that. This might make up for her vulnerability with the chance of conjuring a lethal alpha attack out of nowhere, in the right deck. She might even be worth considering as a top-of-the-curve finisher in Birthing Pod builds: with, say, a Restoration Angel on the board, and the opponent expecting to be hit by 3 flying damage, you Pod your unassuming Acidic Slime into Aurelia and instantly turns that amount into 12. Good times.
Aurelia also brings her friend Firemane Avenger (where the old Ravnica had Firemane Angel). She's a 3/3 flyer for 4, which is borderline underwhelming for an Angel; but she got battalion. Now, battalion isn't going to be that easy to attain consistently in Constructed formats, not to mention in an Angel tribal deck; but if you do, then Firemane Avenger's Lightning Helix effect is definitely what you'd want to get out of it (plus, it might be a case of just using some good flying token generator, no? It's the same requirement of Windbrisk Heights, after all.)
The Orzhov guild got his own Angel, too, and it's typically interesting (the last one was the all-time high Angel of Despair). Deathpact Angel is Titan mana again, with 3 colored mana in the mix for a decent-but-not-amazing 5/5 flying body. And when she dies, a little Cleric shows up with the ability to tap to recast her from the graveyard. The process is slow (one turn you cast the Angel, then they kill her, then the Cleric has to wait for the summoning sickness to wear off, then the Angel has summoning sickness again), but it's true that killing without exiling the Angel isn't going to solve your problems if you don't have a way to kill the annoying little dude too (and once you untap with it, the sacrifice is instant speed and hard to stop). Great design, interesting finisher for Orzhov control decks. Probably not too high in the food chain of the Angel hierarchy, though.
The remaining all-white Angels are still more than filler too. Angelic Skirmisher is a bit overcosted at 6 mana for a 4/4, but her ability is flexible. You'll probably end up giving lifelink to all your creatures most of the times, but there might be the case where you want to swing and be able to block with your team, then you can give first strike or lifelink in the opponent's combat phase. The uncommon Guardian of the Gateless is less exciting, again due to an unimpressive cost/effects ratio, but she sure is a strong blocker: she's possibly the only creature in the game that's able to block and kill infinite 1/1 flying tokens, and still survive.
The Avatar type wasn't present in RTR (or M13, or AVR, or DKA; the last one was Essence of the Wild in Innistrad). And an Avatar cycle is always good news down in Fattieland, because they can be pretty much anything. The Primordial cycle in particular is a cycle of big dudes with strong ETB effects, and that's rule #2 of what a good fattie should do, right after "not being easy to kill". The "each opponent" clause clearly speaks to the Commander world, but 7-mana fatties are somehow playable in other constructed formats too, if they're worth it. So, are they? I'd say they might. Of course, it always depends on the alternative choices in the given meta. In Standard, they're probably good for Frites-style reanimator, especially the ones with removal effects. In Modern, I'd mainly think of a deck like Birthing Pod, where you use the most diverse array of creatures and can overextend the mana curve to higher levels. Are the Primordial good tools for a Pod deck, then?
Let's take Luminate Primordial. It's Swords to Plowshares on a stick, a 4-7 vigilance stick. That's the same body as Elesh Norn, for the same exact mana cost. And if you only look at the removal effects, it's kind of a good complement to her: where Elesh sweeps weenie armies, the Luminate takes care of the one big dude you want out. Elesh's continuous effect is still more effective in most cases (plus there's the whole alpha attack enhancement part), but the white Primordial still has another rival in Angel of Serenity, which is fully able to take care of THREE bad guys, then swing for 5 evasive damage.
Diluvian Primordial is possibly the most interesting here. It comes in late game, when the opponent graveyard is probably filled with useful stuff. Chances are there will be at least a removal spell, for instance. In this case, Diluvian doubles as the Luminate's effect. Plus the chance of doing much more, depending on what you find there (of course there might be the case where you don't find anything at all, but I want to discount that as unlikely in most Constructed formats). And in the end, you get a 5/5 flyer. (In these cycles, they keep giving blue flying, while green typically gets reach and white vigilance, only with bigger bodies, like that's roughly equivalent. But it's not: a non-evasive fattie is nowhere near an evasive one.)
The black Sepulchral Primordial is blue's other side, as it steals a creature from the opponent graveyard. That's again a powerful effect, if even more situational: it'd be really underwhelming to play this Primordial against Soul Sisters and end up with a useless (for you) Martyr of Sands. However, the number of strong black Avatars make this a good candidate for a Living Death tribal build fueled by Avatar of Discord. The Sepulchral body isn't excellent (and an intimidate guy isn't guaranteed evasive), but after Living Death goes off, the opponent's graveyard is surely filled, so that's a 2-for-1.
Molten Primordial is essentially a 7-mana Zealous Conscripts (only for opponent creatures, so no combo with Kiki-Jiki or the Pod). It's a big haste strike for sure, but it's where the multiplayer clause seems to be more relevant.
The same goes for Sylvan Primordial, which is going to become a real Commander staple. How often does Terastodon's trigger end up being split between the opponent around the table? With this Primordial you can do the same, minus the gift of the Elephant token, plus some ramping/deck filtering. Not bad. In 1v1 Constructed, I don't see a reason to go to 7 mana to do what Acidic Slime mostly does at 5, even if the "bonus" 6/8 reach body can make its presence felt on the board.
All in all, the cycle is nice, and as far as 7-mana creatures go, they're more playable than most, even outside multiplayer. Which doesn't mean very playable, but they could be way, way worse.
This is the 12th Bat online (two still missing). And that's pretty much it, but it's nicely playable and it has the Orzhov mechanic extort, so I felt like it was worth a mention. And a screech in the night.
Aside from some guinea pigs for evolve and bloodrush, Beasts get... even more bloodrush. But at least Slaughterhorn is truly versatile (unlike stuff like Skarrg Goliath, which is just worth a mention as the largest body in the set.) A more-or-less functional Giant Growth (for attacker only, though) that, in a pinch, can be cast as 3-powered dude for 3 mana (or vice versa, depending how you look at it.) Not bad, it might find a home in green stomper decks (in Pauper as well).
On the same lines, and possibly the best bloodrush creature so far, is Ghor-Clan Rampager. +4/+4 and trample is relevant for an attacking creature, 2 mana to cast it is cheap enough, and the optional 4/4 trampler for 4 mana is at least decent. I see it as a good option in Beast deck, and generally not too bad elsewhere. If only there weren't so many strong options at CMC 4 for aggro decks in Standard and Modern, that is. But oh well.
In other news, Gruul Ragebeast's ability is an interesting way to give creature decks some indirect removal power, but unfortunately 7 mana are definitely too much for that to be playable (plus, you probably can't cast any more Birds of Paradise afterwards, which, granted, might not be a concern if you've hit 7 mana anyway). And Alms Beast is a very fast beater (or possibly, a solid defense for control and combo decks), but I can't tell if its downside would entirely undermine its presence. My money is that it will still see play. Not a lot of money, though. Just a few.
Meet the cheapest creature that permanently gives haste to all your team. Its hindrance might become an issue for utility creatures, but you can easily play around that by activating them before the combat (it's bad news for creatures that don't have to tap to activate their abilities, though). The fact that it's a Goblin might seem more relevant than its Berserker type, but it's actually not, since Goblins are already well-equipped with plenty of tribal haste for the same cost
The rich Cleric family got some boost after the meager single member of RTR. I particularly like High Priest of Penance, as the type of early, minimal creature that can really mess with the combat phase, Perilous Myr-style. A second look makes you realize that its Vindicate effect isn't death-triggered, which is both problematic (can't sacrifice him, removals play around it), and opens new possibilities, like making him indestructible or regenerating him. It's a guy who can do you good. Of the other Orzhov clergymen, Vizkopa Confessor is just bad, you have to pay life (possibly even 7 life) to remove a card from the opponent's hand, and then you'll find you have just spent 5 mana for a 1/3. And if you really want to have some extort on the field, at least Syndic of Tithes is a honest-to-God Grizzly Bears.
Frontline Medic is in another league: a 3/3 for 3, with a strong battalion trigger, and most importantly a built-in, 0-mana counterspell for X spells. Mark Rosewater recounts how the latter ability was added in development after the set was finished to battle the power of spells like Bonfire of the Damned or Sphinx's Revelation in the current meta. The resulting card is strong, and it will see play for sure.
The same can't be said for Urbis Protector, another in the line of double-feature creatures that just cost more than the sum of their parts (see Voice of the Provinces. Still, that's a 1/1 that summons a 4/4. Proclamation of Rebirth kind of shenanigans? Long shot, I know.
Gentlemen, we have a Crab! (Mmh, that came out wrong.) It's the 12th of them all, and it's possibly the most powerful. Ok, that says a lot about the Crab power level, but Shambleshark is a pretty honest 2/1 flash for 2, which means it doubles as removal. And then, it evolves, which is especially true within a tribal or generic creature-based deck. Nice little card, good for Pauper too. And it's a fully armed hammerhead shark with arms and crab legs! (Which, somehow, is able to take you by surprise.)
All right, Crocodile isn't the most powerful tribe in the game. Indeed, this one is actually one of the best ever printed (the 12th, of which 11 are online). It stands out among stuff like Emperor Crocodile, which is scared of being alone, or Rootwater Alligator, whose main ability is to devour your own Forests. Crocanura doesn't cost much, blocks flyers, and evolve. Be grateful for that, Crocodile player. And it's also a Frog. So, the Simic crossed a fish with a crab and a crocodile with a frog? Makes sense, I guess, but it doesn't feel much creative, doesn't it?
The Cyclops tribe just went from 9 to 11 members, thanks to the return of good ol' Borborygmos. Remember good ol' Borborygmos, the unplayable Gruul fattie from Guildpact? In its new mythic, more upset incarnation, he's an improved Gruul fattie that's imperceptibly less unplayable. And that's just because its land-pitching, Seismic Assault-like ability effectively comboes with Life from the Loam (just like, you know, Seismic Assault). Of course there's the issue that a 8-mana fattie is a bit less manageable and a lot more frail than a 3-mana enchantment. But, hey, it's flavorful as hell. He's throwing lands in your face!
The other Cyclops, that stems from the Boros guild, is little more than a Limited dude (or let's just say, it's exactly that). Life's not easy for the one-eyed.
There's one new Demon in Gatecrash too, and it's the typical good-yet-not-good-enough 7-mana (or more) fattie. It doesn't impact the board immediately, and it's not protected against removals. More so, it needs to hit the player to do something. Still, when it does, the effect is impressive (cards aren't milled, are exiled, and you get one of them for free), and it still an evasive 7/7 after all. You can certainly do worse, but you'll mostly use this one in casual games.
Hellkite Tyrant feels like the Obligatory Dragon (the 6-mana red flyer that does something when it attacks or hits the opponent), but with a twist. Admittedly, a twist linked to something that's not very present in the block, or even the current Standard after the rotation of Scars of Mirrodin: artifacts. Still, it's an original wincon and an interesting idea. And with "interesting" I mean "will never, ever be played anywhere outside casual games and possibly Commander". That kind of "interesting".
Could this be a good top-of-the-curve creature for an evolve deck, fueling the final alpha strike? Maybe. Well, at least it's not just the usual Limited fodder Drake. (We have those too in the set. Of course we do.)
The Druids entirely devoted themselves to the set's mechanics. The verdict is uncertain. Gyre Sage seems something you want to include in any evolve deck (let's not consider here for a minute that an evolve deck might not actually be a thing in any format). Still, it doesn't do nothing until it has evolved at least once, and once it does, it becomes the typical high-concentration mana creature with a big target on its forehead. But surely it's noteworthy.
And Greenside Watcher untaps a Gate. It's not clear how relevant that will be come Dragon's Maze (the rumored mythic land that gives its name to the set might even end up having the Gate subtype.) Currently, it's not so relevant. But the block is still a work in progress.
Nothing too exciting on the Elemental front (it's becoming more and more a filler tribe), except maybe Spark Trooper, which is basically a Ball Lightning with lifelink for 1 mana more. That mana is white, though, so either the RDW archetype across all the formats is willing to partially relocate to the old Boros Deck Wins subtype, or this sparkling Soldier isn't going to see much play (might be good as a sideaboard card in the mirror match, though.)
Foundry Champion is unimpressive, outside of degenerate situations where it enters the battlefield after a Doubling Season-ed Avenger of Zendikar or something like that (so, Commander situations.) In all the other cases, you have to pay 6 mana to deal what might possibly amount to 1 damage, and those pumping abilities are very last decade (red to power, white to toughness? C'mon, I thought we were way past this kind of stuff.)
Rubblehulk: see above, but now it's about the number of lands. Still 6 mana, does even less. And 6 mana is the cost of Smog Elemenal too (guess they wanted to give the tribe a lot of new heavy weights), which is mostly just cute, as there are better ways to shut down the opponent's Lingering Souls than spending that much mana for a 3/3. But the flavor of a monster made of sentient smog in an urban setting is really priceless.
Aside from the Druids, the relevant Elves in Gatecrash are all Simic-related. Zameck Guildmage (which is also Rosewater's favorite guildmage) is one of the most effective of its genre (and the art is sweet!) Two mana to boost your latest creatures (which is only one more than Oran-Rief, the Vastwood after all, and it's repeatable), and two mana to draw cards out of evolve (or graft, or what-have-you) counters. Finding a place for him in a deck might not be that easy, but if you manage to do it, can be very rewarding, shenanigans-wise.
And if it's counters that you want, Master Biomancer (another great art piece!) is hard to beat on that front: a 2/4 for 4 is honest for an utility creature (defensive is good for them), and the (free) trigger is awesome, a basic two +1/+1 counters per creature entering the battlefield isn't something to sneeze at. Add a blade on it, and it's a board that needs sweeping, stat.
Finally, some more counters with Ivy Lane Denizen (part of the Denizen cycle). It's essentially a toned down version of the Biomancer (same cost, lesser toughness, lesser effect with a minor restriction), but the fact that you get to say where the counter goes is tactically relevant. Not bad for a common, might even see play in tier-2 decks in Pauper.
Oooh, fishy, fishy, fishy fish! (That went wherever I did go.)
We already saw the amazedness that is the Fish Crab named Shambleshark. But Elusive Krasis (it is a most elusive fish!) is also good enough in that a 0/4 unblockable with evolve for 3 mana is positioned to be one of the most effective Fish in the game. And not a bad creature overall, let's just say it.
Other than the haste-providing Berserker (which Goblin decks really don't need), the only new Goblin that feels relevant is Legion Loyalist, more for the fact that a 1/1 haste for 1 is going to help attain battalion, especially in Standard. The bonus abilities from its own battalion trigger don't make the attack any more lethal, but they improve the overall nastiness of the team (the token hate part is a bit weird, but can occasionally be a pain too.)
The 9th Homunculus ever doesn't do anything particularly memorable, but it's a good blocker that turns into a decent beater for 2 mana. In general, it's pretty forgettable, but within a tribe where almost everyone else is a puny 1/1, that's something.
The relevant Horrors in Gatecrash are both from the Dimir guild. Consuming Aberration is half of a Lord of Extinction (or more if you're playing multiplayer) with an added milling ability which makes him the perfect finisher/alternative wincon in a dedicated deck. Being uncommon, Dinrova Horror is overcosted instead; still, the chance to turn its ability into an out-and-out removal (in the case of an opponent with no cards in hand, or even if they're holding one crucial card) is kinda cute.
The number creep of the Human tribe is becoming overwhelming. Ravnica is getting almost the same number of new additions than Innistrad, that was a Human-based world. We really need to visit a plane where Humans don't exist at all!
Navigating the latest members leaves us with some highlights that however are all already Advisor, Cleric, Knight, Rogue, Shaman, Soldier, Warrior or Wizard (that's the thing with Human: it's essentially a supertype now.) See you there, then.
A new mythic Insect after Vorapede, Giant Adephage is the overgrown version of Spawnwrithe. And being overgrown, it costs 7 mana and does 7 trampling damage, which makes it easier for it to self-replicate, but the thing about Spawnwrithe (which is far from being an all-star creature anyway, but it's solid) was that it could come earlier enough to find an empty board, and it was unassuming enough to dribble removal until it was too late (sort of). I'm afraid the Adephage is too slow and clunky to be anything more than a casual fun card, which however is pretty good at being.
The other Insect, Rust Scarab, is nothing exceptional, but its ability is neat. Repeatable artifact and enchantment destruction is always a good thing, and the Scarab doesn't need to deal damage a la Trygon Predator, it just need for a creature to block it, which also means it'll never be killed by a non-indestructible artifact creature. And if they want to preserve their very important permanent, they'll get a 4-damage clock pending upon them. Of course, if such a permanent actually prevents the Scarab to attack, it'll be utterly useless, unlike an Acidic Slime or Wickerbough Elder. I did say it was nothing exceptional, after all.
Meet the 8th Jellyfish in the history of the game. No, it's not something you're going to remember tomorrow. A 1/4 defender for 4, evolve or not, is pretty terrible. But hey, as a Jellyfish, it's almost playable. Almost.
Look, these Knights aren't really going to be considered in any Constructed deck, including a Knight tribal deck (which is used to seriously powerful stuff.) But they're not outright bad, and they have good flavor, so let's just look at them for a moment before moving on.
I like this guy, art and all. It's simple and honest. It's hard to find X-costed creatures worth playing, even stuff like Primordial Hydra in the end feels like a huge investment of mana and/or time that just dies to any removal. But this Leviathan has flying, at least. If you invest some mana on it (especially if you're on top of a ramp deck, or are using Doubling Season), and they do NOT have a removal ready, the clock on your favor might become very fast. I think it'll be played enough in Commander. I know I'll do.
With the lore of Ravnica discovering the existence of Merfolk hidden beneath their seas or something, and they taking over the Simic guild after the Momir Vig debacle, I was expecting something more than just these two and the very terrible Merfolk of the Depths (I was also expecting Kiora Atua as one of the planeswalkers! I still hope she'll show up on Dragon's Maze, because I really want a UG planeswalker that deals with Leviathans!)
Prime Speaker Zegana is the new leader of the Simic, and she can be good, in the right situation. Not great, but good. It's sort of a new take on Regal Force: one mana less, a conditional drawing that's kinda the opposite (you don't need a lot of creatures, just a big one, Garruk, Primal Hunter-style), possibly more power. Possibly: the fact is that the worst case scenario with Regal Force, when you have to commit it to the field alone, you get a 5/5 trample and 1 card; with Zegana, you just spent 6 mana on a 1/1 vanilla that replaced itself, which sounds a lot like ritual suicide. The average case scenario, though, in a deck that plays Zegana for a reason, is, say, Thragtusk into her, resulting in a 6/6 and 6 cards. As a mean to replenish your hand, doesn't seem that hard. The thing is finding the right deck for this trick to be pulled consistently. Once again, Birthing Pod in Modern might be perfect for that, but I'm not sure using a 6-mana fetch only to draw more gas is the right thing to do in Pod, in most occasions.
Simic Fluxmage is an evolve guy who gives away its counters to be ready and evolve again. It's something the graft mechanics used to do more consistently (not to mention, the Spikes — I mean the creatures, not the psychographic profile!), and here we also have to tap and pay 2 mana for it. Not impressed, but it's a required tool in an evolve deck, I guess.
They're really trying to make Minotaur more and more relevant across the eternal formats lately (with recent strong additions like Zedruu the Greathearted or Etherium-Horn Sorcerer), and now even in Standard. Boros Reckoner is even more than just a strong member of the Minotaur family, it's one of those cards that immediately catch the attention of any Spike sweeping the spoiler list in search of the new staples. 3/3 for 3, hybrid, possible first striker, hard to block or kill through damage without immediate repercussions (which makes the use of its first strike ability highly tactical). And just think of what happens if you make him fight an opponent creature (with Ulvenwald Tracker, or Pit Fight, or, you know, this guy here.) It's already the chase rare of the set. We'll see a lot of him.
Ordruun Veteran is much less impressive, it's too frail for a 4-mana creature and only useful if you achieve battalion. It has its merits, but the inevitable comparison with the Reckoner is just merciless.
Back in the first Ravnica block, Mutant was the creature type associate with the Simic mechanic, graft. Makes sense that the few Mutants showing up here are all connected with evolve. And as far as evolve vanilla creatures go, Cloudfin Raptor (which is also the only Bird of the set) is possibly the most attractive, as a 1-drop with flying that's bound to evolve multiple times. We already talked about Elusive Krasis the Wonder Fish, another good evolve creature.
Simic Manipulator is the evolve version of Cytoplast Manipulator. The differences are interesting to analyze: both need to tap in order to activate their ability, but the old Manipulator could take control of anything with a +1/+1 counter on it, while the new version can only take creatures with power equal or inferior than its own counters, which means he can't do anything until it has evolved at least once, and to be really effective needs to evolve several times (although taking control of a Deathrite Shaman or Grim Lavamancer might be already good enough.) Cytoplast Manipulator, if left on its own device, could never take control or something that was already there when it hit the board (since the graft trigger wouldn't have worked yet. Of course, a graft deck would take care of that by having previous source of counters like, say, Llanowar Reborn.) Simic Manipulator can do that instead, albeit you'd need to draw into other creatures for this to happen. However, the main difference here, and it's not a secondary aspect of the whole thing, is that Simic Manipulator's control effect does not expire, while Cytoplast's was the classic "as long as [this] remains on the battlefield". This, together with the decreased casting cost, makes me lean towards the new version, which is a good point in favor of evolve.
It's also worth mentioning that Master Biomancer turns all the boosted creatures into Mutants. I don't know what that could mean for a Mutant tribal deck, but that he does, nonetheless.
Hey, a Rat lord! Which is an Ogre! Very flavorful, and not half bad actually, since deathtouch on the little vermins is relevant, and he can also create more Rats by himself. The other Ogre is just a midrange double striker with a bloodrush option, which is good for Ogre standards, anyway.
"I love Oozes", says Mark Rosewater. "In fact, if you trace my career, one interpretation is that I've spent all my time at Wizards carefully crafting the craziest Ooze deck you ever seen." Ok, Mark, you know what? I love Oozes too, but I love to play them in Tribal Wars-legal decks, so stuff like Ooze Flux and Miming Slime doesn't really compute. This one does, but it's just a 1-drop with evolve that can discard its counters (two of them, no less!) to regenerate, then evolve again. I think I'll keep playing Bloodhall Ooze in that spot, thank you very much. Plus, is it a freaking Human?! Ok, flavorful and all, crazy Simic experiments, but I don't want for my Oozes to be filthy Humans! Sheesh.
Things look good for the Ooze future, though, if we have to trust this other MaRo bit: "My one great failing of Gatecrash, by the way, is that I forgot to make an Ooze lord. With the Simic running rampant in the set I had both (a) and (b) [It refers to this previous line: "The trick to making a lord is to find a world where that lord makes sense. This means (a) there has to be enough creatures with the creature type to matter mechanically (although having a lot in the past also helps) and (b) it has to flavorfully fit."] Forgive me. I promise to make an Ooze lord the next world where the fates align."
This is the trample version of Sapphire Drake. It's cheaper, less lethal, maybe more playable? I don't know, it was just the only Rhino here, and kinda completed the discourse on evolve, so I thought I featured it.
Among a lot of filler bulk commons, and the Lord of the Rats, I found these two Rogues that looked vaguely worth of a mention. Bane Alley Broker, who continues the good flavor about the criminal underbelly of the city-plane, is a draw engine that works as an alternative to looting for decks that don't actually care about putting stuff into the graveyard. Of course you may lose the exiled cards forever once they kill the Broker, but there's a chance you can get them back if you need them. Plus the process of drawing is mana-free, and she's a 0/3, where the average looter is usually not that good at blocking and surviving. Undercity Informer is sacrifice outlet meets milling; not memorable, but serviceable, for a honest cost (which is strange to say of a Rogue, isn't it?)
Another "Gates matter" card in the form of your typical, pumpable Shade. This one is probably just trying to be cute, though, no further exciting developments ahead. Art is gorgeous.
It's clear at this point that I'm not a big fan of the guildmages. They feel like glorified Limited cards to me, always mana-intensive, only occasionally relevant, only a few of them got a real edge. The Gruul one here, appropriately dressed as a Shaman, gives universal trample upon activation, and essentially provides you with a man-land (and not a bad one at that.) It's still hard for me to figure out a deck that would really need this guy.
The other Shaman, Burning-Tree Emissary, is the last on a series of creatures that give back the mana used (or NOT used) to cast them (Priest of Gix, Priest of Urabrask). There's shenanigans to be done with them, so it's always good to keep their existence in mind. Plus, 2/2 for 2 mana that gives/filters 2 mana back is well-positioned to enhance your board presence for free. They're already using it in Standard to fuel a turn-2 Gyre Sage or Flinthoof Boar. Gruul ramping aggression.
The new Dimir big boss, after Szadek's termination, is this badass Shapeshifter with hexproof and Mimic Vat's ability. It's not as immediately impactful as just a Clone, but being impervious to spot removal means he can wait. Plus, he's supposed to work in combo with milling, although he's not required to. He's also the third Legendary Shapeshifter ever printed (you can look at all the 490 Legendary creatures and their types here), and a bit better as a Commander than the likes of Halfdane and Volrath the Fallen (unless you really need white or a discard outlet, I guess).
This Halloween reject might be dismissed as a bulk common at first, but it actually carries the potential for infinite recursion, which is something that's never wise to underestimate (there's other stuff like that, of course, but you know, one more in the family.) At face value, it's a recursive chump blocker, and in Pauper might even work just fine as that. But if you work out some kind of Aluren frame, even just less-than-infinite, and you find something fun to do with sacrifices... I'll let you Johnnies figure out the rest.
Besides the ones that are also Elemental, Cyclops, Minotaur, or Goblin, the notable Human Soldiers include: a pretty scary 3/2 common for 2; your basic battalion 1-drop that becomes 3/3; and a common battalion guy that's able to do 1 damage around. All Boros, all the time.
I'm not seeing this Specter being mentioned much, but it's almost Ghastlord of Fugue's ability for 3 mana. Ok, it's not, the card isn't exiled from the opponent's hand. But as a bonus you get to play it, which has a good chance to mean acceleration through enemy lands, since you'll start hitting with this thing pretty fast. I think in a Specter deck this should become a staple, even if it's not actual hand disruption.
Two very strong new Spirits in Gatecrash. We already talked about the magnificent Obzedat as an Advisor, and it's not less impressive if compared to its main tribe's fellows. Crypt Ghast is on the same lines of Swamp duplicators like Nirkana Revenant, which could mean that everybody will respect the shit out of it, yet nobody will actually play it outside of Commander; it's only 4-mana, though, and although not as incisive a presence on the battlefield, and somehow more fragile, it might work better as a ramp-enabler (getting you from 4 mana to 8 is more relevant than from 6 to 12), with extort as a (self-enabled) bonus.
Thrull is a glorious, ancient minor tribe that dates back to Fallen Empires. It was briefly reprised in Tempest block (Blood Pet, Morgue Thrull, Thrull Surgeon) and Urza's Saga (Blood Vassal), then abandoned until the original Ravnica block brought them back and past the role of little guys that you may sacrifice to get some effect. Of course, the new Ravnica block couldn't of course not bring the Thrulls back, and 4 new members here in Gatecrash is the most they ever got in a single set since they debuted almost 20 years ago.
Treasury Thrull is also the first rare Thrull we get after Derelor and Thrull Champion. Just as those, it's not really a staple, but it's surely more interesting in that it's a good extort body with a strong recursion ability (which makes it more sophisticated than most of its fellow tribesmen.) Too bad 6 mana are not really warranted for this result, that can't really compete with Sun Titan even if it wanted to. But hey, the art is great, look at how imposing that Thrull is! In an enslaved imposing poor guy sort of way (the Thrulls are a race of genetic engineered servitors or something. They switched from pure black to white/black during Ravnica, which is interesting because it highlights the similarities in approach of the two — apparently — most oppositional colors.)
We also get a simple but useful (especially in a Thrull deck) 1-drop with regeneration, and two of the best extort creatures: Thrull Parasite in particular has a second ability that might prove relevant in many ways, planeswalkers included (and even in Modern, with all those persist stuff), and Kingpin's Pet is a honest 2/2 flyer for a reasonable price, which is probably what you want to have in an extort deck once you've finished the extort creatures that do something more useful (and they're not too many.) At least, I suppose so, since I can't really tell what an extort deck looks like, which is true enough of all these new mechanics. Well, a battalion deck should look like a Boros Deck Wins build, I guess; and a bloodrush deck is just a stomper (while an evolve deck is clearer in its interactions, if not in its results; and a cipher deck just doesn't exist.) But if an extort deck will ever be a thing anywhere, I bet it'll have some Thrull in it, which is a great accomplishment for the little guys.
This Vampire has gotten a great reputation right out of the blocks, but I choose to be skeptical. Dark Confidant's ability on a bigger, evasive body that doubles as a finisher? Yes, please, you might say (and you'll do), but let's chill for a minute. Besides Standard, where this guy will be played just because the pool is what it is, why should I play something that gives the opponent the same card advantage I get? Plus, Dark Confidant is great because a) it comes turn 2, and if left unattended changes the game in your favor 90% of the times; and b) it's not something you wish his own ability wouldn't draw into, which this thing is instead. As a rule of thumb, in a Dark Zoo deck, your mana curve should stop at 3. Ok, it's not the end of the world (or the falling apart of your strategy) if you have 4 cards that cost more. But it's still counterintuitive, and mostly unnecessary, since you want to gain that kind of card advantage to exploit fast gas and fast removal; you wouldn't need that in a game that plans to win in late game. In general, this kind of mirrored effects a la Howling Mine works in favor of the deck that's built to exploit them best. Let's say this is the case of your Duskmantle Seer deck, where he's your top -of-the-curve, more-gas-for-my-late-game kind of card. In which meta your opponent wouldn't get roughly the same advantage you're getting? Again, this isn't Howling Mine, it's a 4-mana drop. The best thing I can say about it is that both the draws are executed in your upkeep, so at least it doesn't create the situation where the opponents draw into their Sphinx's Revelation for 3 life, then proceed to kill your Seer with a big smile on their face. The worst thing I can say is: in a meta where there's still Bloodgift Demon, we're seriously considering this one just because it's one mana less (yet one color more)?
Mana fixing on blue isn't something you see often; you can see it now, in a perfectly blue-flavored (and mana pie sanctioned) way, thanks to this 1-drop utility Vedalken that might have more applications than it seems. Ok, maybe not as a blue splash in a Valakut deck, but who knows.
An Elf, an Ogre, and this one Human are the only Warriors worth mentioning. It's sort of a reverse Fangren Firstborn: same cost (but in red too), same total body (but less fragile), same activation trigger. Only, all the counters go on this gal rather than being democratically distributed between all your assaulting team. Which makes this worse than the abovementioned beast in the end, and barely playable, but oh well, that's what the Human Warriors had to offer this time around.
Among their Gatecrash ranks, Wizards count several high-profile cards like Boros Reckoner, Duskmantle Seer, Master Biomancer, Prime Speaker Zegana, Realmwright, Simic Manipulator, and Zameck Guildmage. And of course, all the other guildmages too (they're all "mages" after all), except the Gruul one (who's a Shaman.)
I sound like a broken record about the guildmages, but every time I look at one of them, they all sound cool to me, but I can't see myself wanting to play one of them in Constructed (except possibly the Zameck, which happen to be the one with the best mix of tactical and strategical value, the least ephemeral reward — more cards in hand! — and the cheapest activation costs.) Give lifelink to that creature, double the damage inflicted to the bad guy across the table: all nice and good, but that's 6 free mana that you'll never happen to have open at the right time in Constructed (barring unlikely situations like you drew into the guildmage after a sweeper in late game.) Even worse is creating token creatures for 4 mana. Yeah, ok, that's something you happily do in an opponent end phase where you have free mana, but it's still a slot of your deck you devoted almost exclusively to this off chance. Now, Duskmantle Guildmage's first ability at least has a clear function: giving a mill deck an alternate win condition, and a good one at that. For 3 mana, you turn your Glimpse the Unthinkable into 10 damage, which might well be lethal. There's also a lot of milling triggers not requiring mana that might take advantage of this guildmage (who's fully capable of milling by himself, by the way, although that's definitely hard to pull off in combination with the damaging ability.)
The last two featured Wizards both comes out of the Simic Combine. Biovisionary is just a Johnny-oriented oddity, a novelty wincon for players who like this kind of challenge (I do! This isn't really that much challenging, but I embrace its existence nonetheless.) And lastly, there's the lovely Fathom Mage. A 1/1 utility creature for 4 is usually not something you want to play, but she's a card drawing engine, and you can use more than just evolve to give her counters in the right deck. Not super-playable, but worth a shot in the elusive evolve deck (or maybe an evolve/graft hyper-Simic build in Modern, with Doubling Season, Triskelion, and Spike Feeder.)
BEST IN SHOW
THE NEW (TRIBAL) SHERIFF IN TOWN
His looks and flavor are a bit unfortunate (dorky savage boy? Seriously?), but Domri Rade is serious business in creature decks. He comes fast, he provides card advantage with a plus-activation, he does removal, and his ultimate is a supreme tactical advantage with no return. In creature decks, of course. You need a fair share of critters in your deck for Domri to succeed. Now, do you know any format, or style of deckbuilding, where you always have, say, a minimum of 20 creatures and likely even 24 or 28 of them? Because I do.