Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Another week, another core set.
Magic 2013 was a set of change, from the addition of the first multicolored card in a core set (Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
) and a new cycle of legendary creatures, to removing core set staples like the “lucky charm” lifegain artifacts and Giant Spider
. It also continued the trend of cards related to the planeswalkers, though some are more-related in flavor rather than name (Ajani’s Sunstriker
versus Healer of the Pride
, for instance). However, the biggest change for limited is the guest mechanic Exalted.
Exalted returns from Alara block, but while there it was in the Bant shard (GWU), here it stays in white but moves to black as well, strangely continuing the trend of putting the new mechanic into black (we won’t see it this year, but in M15 Convoke gets a relatively heavy presence in black as well). While white’s Exalted cards are mostly reprints (including Angelic Benediction
for some reason, though I guess it paves the way for Cathedral of War
), black gets new cards, and there isn’t much special. The most interesting black card for Exalted is actually Tormented Soul
, which swaps roles from a Bloodthirst enabler in M12 to a great vessel for Exalted triggers here.
Wizards of the Coast’s latest attempt to influence color pairs (and hint towards Return to Ravnica) is a cycle of uncommon creatures that get +1/+1 if you control an allied basic land type and a corresponding off-color ability. All of these creatures are clearly very powerful if you’re in both colors, as would be expected from virtual-gold creatures. There is also some other multicolor influence, whether it’s the core set debut of Evolving Wilds
or the clunky but effective Gem of Becoming
White seems very powerful at common this core set, even beyond the standard Pacifism. The fliers are good, as Aven Squire
starts as a 2/2 flier for 2 while Griffin Protector
often attacks as a 3/4 flier for 4 even before you consider cards like Captain’s Call
and Attended Knight
. Speaking of Attended Knight
, that is a very solid card on the ground, and seems very pushed for a common. Going back to the fliersWar Falcon
is a version of Griffin Rider
with much less variance, as a 2/1 flier with Defender isn’t an awful card, and turning it on is much easier (there are six non-rare Knights or Soldiers plus Captain’s Call
, and the worst is probably the average Guardians of Akrasa
). Moving up to uncommon, other than the returning standouts Serra Angel
and Oblivion Ring
, there aren’t many standouts. Sure, Knight of Glory
and Crusader of Odric
are fine, but Prized Elephant
is probably the worst “Sedge” creature (though still good), and everything else is average.
Blue is finally starting to get decent creatures, even if they’re scattered between the Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
s. On the aggressive side, Welkin Tern
and Wind Drake
are traditional, but Watercourser
makes its debut here as well. On the controlling side, Vedalken Entrancer
returns, and Archaeomancer
is a pushed effect for a common. The non-creature spells aren’t quite as exciting (case in point: Index
is the successor to Ponder
), but Essence Scatter
are solid, and Mind Sculpt
is close to the level a mill spell would want to be at (though it needs to be in multiples—don’t play one just to get your Jace’s Phantasm
going). Moving to the uncommons, the creatures continue to be great: Arctic Aven
is the best of the great “Sedge” creatures, while Jace’s Phantasm
is fine if you have already-playable stuff to combo with it (Vedalken Entrancer
being the main one, though it can also work in a removal/discard-heavy black or red deck, or in any match you know will go a while). The non-creature spells are also better here, as Sleep
returns for your aggressive decks, Switcheroo
isn’t that much of a downgrade from Mind Control
if you have enough tokens, and Talrand’s Invocation
is 4 power worth of fliers for 4 mana.
It feels like M13 is where black finally turned the corner in creature quality, and nowhere is that more evident than Bloodhunter Bat
—just count the ways it’s better than former core set standard Highway Robber
, especially when Exalted makes Flying matter more. Speaking of Exalted, both Servant of Nefarox
and Duty-Bound Dead
are decent (though the former is hurt by all the good 2-power two-drops in the set, including Walking Corpse
). Liliana’s Shade
is also interesting, as while “Shade that gets more mana” is a usual trope, it normally isn’t so cheap (both in cost and rarity) and generate card advantage as well. The non-creature spells are also good, as this is one of the last sets where both Murder
and Essence Drain
can be common (and don’t forget Crippling Blight
, which is a one-mana Pacifism
in the right deck). The spells get even better at uncommon, as Vampire Nighthawk
returns to pair with its friend Giant Scorpion
, Duskmantle Prowler
and Knight of Infamy
are more good Exalted creatures, and Public Execution
can be a combat blowout in addition to a (very splashable) unconditional removal spell.
After the great highs of M12, red had to take a step back, and it does in every aspect. The downgrade of Incinerate
into Searing Spear
doesn’t really matter, but replacing Shock
and Chandra’s Outrage
with just Turn to Slag
makes the color clunkier. The creatures aren’t hurt quite as badly, but you have to do more to work for them—making a Goblin Battle Jester
work along with cards like Mogg Flunkies
isn’t impossible, and the Flunkies pairs perfectly with the token strategy in RW, supported here by Krenko’s Command
and Trumpet Blast
. We also see the start of “rummaging” in earnest with Rummaging Goblin
and Wild Guess
. Moving up to uncommon, your good spells are hiding here with Flames of the Firebrand
and Volcanic Geyser
, and Furnace Whelp
is a good flier (much better than Dragon Hatchling
). Arms Dealer
is a strange reprint, but it’s actually pretty good here: its baseline is 4 damage for 5 mana, and that can get much better with some Krenko’s Command
s and Goblin Arsonist
s. A final note is that our Act of Treason
effect this set is Mark of Mutiny
and it’s been moved up to uncommon, removing that black/red deck as a main strategy.
Green seems fine here, nothing is that exciting. Standouts Deadly Recluse
and Prey Upon
return, but the craziest card is Sentinel Spider
—yes, this was a common before Eternal Masters, and yes, “Serra Spider” is as good as you would think it is. Yeva’s Forcemage
is also an interesting card that helps clear board stalls. Other than that, there are a lot of standard effects, but a lot of the “average” cards like Spiked Baloth
or Vastwood Gorger
aren’t worth playing (or at least prioritizing) in a higher-powered core set. There is a surprising amount of ramp here with both Farseek
and Ranger’s Path
here to foreshadow the return of shocklands. Surprisingly, green’s uncommons are very combo-oriented: Garruk’s Packleader
returns to encourage big creatures along with Fungal Sprouting
(though the latter is very win-more), while Roaring Primadox
wants you to abuse enters-the-battlefield effects like Elvish Visionary
and Acidic Slime
. Of course, if you just want raw power you can go with Rancor
, now at uncommon where it belongs (and almost certainly the reason Erase
is in this set).
The biggest change is that the lucky charms are finally gone, replaced by a cycle of equipment aligned with each color. All of these are reasonable if you’re heavy in their respective color, but Ring of Evos Isle
and Ring of Xathrid
get the nod since they’re able to protect that big creature you’re building. The other important colorless card is Chronomaton
, which is a lot stronger than it looks, as it’s very low-impact but can dominate a board if your opponent doesn’t spend a card on it. Other interesting cards were a couple of old cards downgraded: Jayemdae Tome
becomes a way to win a control game (even if it’s probably too slow here, at least maindeck) and Primal Clay
seems like a weird downgrade just for memory issues—yes, both Primal Plasma
and Primal Clay
’s Masters Edition 4 appear were common, but the former was in the most complicated block ever and the latter was online-only where the memory issues aren’t important.
We have the traditional color pairings this time, and there isn’t much to differentiate them. Sure, the “Sedge” creatures slightly encourage allied pairs and some pairs have clearer plans than others, but I don’t see any imbalances at face value here.
If you looked at all the sets in Magic’s history, I wonder how many would have UW Fliers as an archetype? That’s the case here, and the card quality seems fine, so there isn’t much to talk about.
Likewise with UB Control, but there are a lot more threats here than normal, whether you’re poking away with Bloodhunter Bat
s and other fliers, breaking through a board stall with a lot of Exalted triggers, or killing enough things to turn on a Jace’s Phantasm
With the steal/sac deck from recent core sets diminished, BR is left with a generic aggro deck, but the Exalted strategy of black and the tokens strategy of red don’t mesh that well. You can still kill everything, and with both Chandra’s Fury
and Bloodhunter Bat
being more generically-playable, maybe a burn-style deck can work?
This feels like a ramp deck, but while the ramp is at common, a lot of the threats aren’t, so I think this needs a lot of uncommon support to work well. That doesn’t mean the combination is bad, just that it might not be as reliable as something that works well with mostly commons and the higher-rarity cards are a bonus.
You would think this is a tokens deck, but where are green’s tokens? Of all the allied color pairs, this feels like the least-synergistic, especially since Exalted isn’t great on already-big creatures (though Battleflight Eagle
Obviously this is the Exalted deck, and that generally means your cards have good stats. The deck is pretty on-rails, though you need the right mix of Exalted creatures and vessels (the reason Aven Squire
is so good is because it’s both).
The anti-synergy of Exalted with big green creatures returns, but here you have the simpler plan of clearing the way for your big creatures with all your removal spells. Liliana’s Shade
also works well with expensive spells in the same way a Borderland Ranger
Here is clearly your token deck, as many commons produce two or three bodies while being good cards. The one problem is that you don’t have many payoffs—sure, Trumpet Blast
is fine if you’re committed, but the falloff to Glorious Charge
Simic is always the oddball, and here is no different. If you’re able to clear the way for your big creatures, this could be good—maybe even Tricks of the Trade
could work? I’d stay away, but I’m much more willing to try this than a lot of previous “worst” color pairings (see the last set, for example).
One more core set done, and we’re in the homestretch! Just four more sets to go for this year (if they don’t send the Year of Modern Flashbacks into overtime to finish up), and while Return to Ravnica block certainly isn’t the best of the year, it’s a nice reprieve after this last batch of sets. See you next time!
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