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By: gwyned, gwyned
Sep 17 2014 12:00pm
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I. Introduction

It's nearly release time for Khans of Tarkir, our first glimpse of a world of ambitious warlords and cunning clans, all striving for supremacy in a plane dramatically shaped by the now absent dragons. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. This set introduces five new mechanics as well as the return of another after a long absence, so before reading this article, it might be helpful to brush up on these mechanics. For the purpose of this article, I will be limiting myself to the creatures and spells that make use of these mechanics. Then, in Part Two, I will analyze the four Common cycles before turning to the rest of the Commons in the set in Part Three.

If you've read my previous set reviews, you should be familiar with my methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead note each card as a "hit or myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. My reasoning is simple: unlike in Limited, you will never have an instance where you have to prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is not that helpful in actual practice. I also make use of a third category - borderline - for those cards that aren't great, but might see some play in the right deck. But enough explanation. On to the cards!

II. Mechanic Commons
A. Outlast

1. Ainok Bond-Kin is the poster-child for the Outlast mechanic, and part of a grand tradition of 2 Power White creatures with a new keyword ability. In this case, the ability to add a +1 / +1 counter every turn for is great long term, even with the drawback of having to tap it. However, granting this soldier First Strike with the first activation is quite the upgrade, and the possibility of sharing it among additional targets is quite strong. Still, it's a sizable investment in a fairly fragile creature, creating the potential for a devastating blow-out in combat. The reward is great, but so is the risk.

Verdict: Hit - I'm nok sure how easy it will be to protect, but if you kin, it's pretty good.  

2. Salt Road Patrol seems a little better suited for what Outlast  is trying to do, even if overall it is a weaker card than the Bond-Kin. 4 mana for a 2/4 with a relevant ability is fairly average at Common, so getting a 2/5 that you can pour excess mana into it over time is actually a fairly good bargain. The extra Toughness is particularly relevant, as it puts it out of range of nearly all burn spells, making it much easier to protect. Additionally, the Toughness will make it increasingly difficult for an opponent to trade with as it grows. The lack of evasion is a concern, but if you can protect it, eventually it will grow to a sizable threat.

Verdict: Hit - This patrol seems well worth their salt.

3. Disowned Ancestor is significantly less impressive. An 0/4 for is surprisingly defensive for Black, and even with the ability to slowly grow it each turn, it hardly seems worth the investment. While the higher Toughness means that it is much less vulnerable to removal, it also means that you will have to spend several turns adding counters before you will be able to use it, and those are turns where it will be unavailable for blocking. A dedicated Control deck might squeeze some use out of this as an early blocker that gradually transitions into an attacker, but that seems the best-case one could hope for. While the price is right, this is probably Sideboard material at best.

Verdict: Myth - I wouldn't disown you if you played this, but it certainly won't make your ancestors proud.
 
4. This is more like it! Longshot Squad is already a 3/3 for , which is fine but not impressive, particularly for Green. And like the Ainok Bond-Kin, it has a relevant ability that it grants to not only itself but any other creature with a +1 / +1 counter on it. While Reach is certainly not as powerful as First Strike, overall I would rate this slightly higher than its White cousin. Additionally, having 3 Toughness already means that one activation puts it out of range of most burn spells, making it a much less fragile investment. Finally, Green has the most other methods of generating +1 / +1 counters, giving this immediate synergy with such a strategy.

Verdict: Hit - The chances of this squad seeing play are much more than a longshot.

B. Prowess

1. Jeskai Student is an interesting hybrid of offense and defense. Cards like Oreskos Swiftclaw have led us to expect more aggressive stats on a White two-drop. However, if you have access to a steady supply of combat tricks, Jeskai Student might be   a more viable attacker, since its enhanced Toughness makes it much harder for your opponent to trade. Prowess is essentially a weaker version of Heroic that always pumps Power and Toughness, but only lasts until the end of the turn. At the end of the day though, most of the time it's just a 2/3 vanilla creature, which isn't that amazing.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm jes' gonna wait until he finishes his studies.

2. While similar to the previous card, Jeskai Windscout has evasion, and as such will probably be more effective in the long-run. At worst, it's an overcosted (Welkin Turn) without the blocking restriction; at its best, it's a decent attacker in the air that can finish off an opponent with a quick burst of damage empowered by a quick slew of other non-combat spells. Sadly, it doesn't synergize well with a Blue control archetype, given that its low Toughness makes it a pretty bad blocker, even when augmented by counterspells on your opponent's turn. This seems like it would fit best in an Azorius Heroic build, but probably isn't better than cards already in those slots.

Verdict: Borderline - My scouts tell me this is jes' blowing wind.

3. I don't think that Whirlwind Adept is as strong as it seems on first glance. For , you would hope for at least a 3/3 flyer, even one with a decent ability. Instead, you end up with a creature lacking any evasion with very low Toughness for its cost, that merely cannot be targeted by your opponent's spells. While Hexproof creatures often have the potential to be good, the 2 Toughness is a major liability. And while you can temporarily boost it thanks to Prowess, you will still be hard-pressed to get back the investment you've made. Give it any type of evasion, and you have a very solid creature. But without it, I don't even consider it playable.

Verdict: Myth - If you're at all adept at this game, you won't give this card a whirl.

 4. Bloodfire Expert seems to combine the worst elements of the other two Prowess cards. It lacks the defensive staying power of the Student, and gives up Evasion for a measly bump in Power. This will generally trade with almost any two-drop creature, making it arguably better as a blocker, where at least you can pick your opponent's most powerful attacker and get better value out of it. If this card cost a single mana less, or had Haste, it would slot well into a Red aggressive strategy, but as is, I don't think it's unreasonable to call this the worst of the Prowess cards. Still, given all the combat tricks Red has at its disposal, this certainly isn't completely unplayable.

Verdict: Myth - I'm no expert, but I'm gonna pass. Hope that doesn't leave bad blood between us.

C. Delve

1. Is Treasure Cruise the second-coming of Ancestral Recall? Probably not. Delve is probably the hardest of the new mechanics to build around, simply because it is hard to control the number of cards in your Graveyard without relying on spells that actively dump cards in there, which is typically not a good strategy . Drawing three cards is obviously an amazing effect, and even if you only get a three or four mana discount, you're getting great value. However, this isn't a card you just auto-include in any decklist running Blue, as you can quickly exhaust your Graveyard as a resource. But, in the right build, this card certainly has the potential to be quite powerful.

Verdict: Borderline - Whether it's trash or treasure depends a lot on what else you packed for the cruise.

2. Shambling Attendants is probably not what you want to be spending your resources on. You would never want to pay for a 3/5 creature, even with Deathtouch! While its high Toughness means that it is quite strong on both offense and defense, the most relevant factor is the cost. Based on similar cards in the past, I would never want to pay more than 5 mana total, which means you need to exile at least three cards in your Graveyard to come out even in value. Even then, at the end of the day, you've put a lot of resources into a 3 Power creature with only pseudo-evasion, which much of the time won't be good enough to win the game on its own.

Verdict: Borderline - I wouldn't pay this too much attention; just shamble on past it.

3. Sultai Scavenger is more like it! It is very unusual for Black to get a high Power flyer without either a significant drawback or having a prohibitive mana cost. Granted, is quite steep, but assuming you can reduce that by at least two mana, you're left with a very reasonable 3/3 flyer for 4, which would be solid even in Blue. To have a realistic chance of casting this at that price, you'll probably want to pair this with cheap removal or creatures you're happy to trade off early. Of course, even as a 3/3, it's still vulnerable to most removal. Worse, Black is the most likely to have other ways to use cards in the Graveyard. Still, this is solid enough to see play.

Verdict: Hit - It's pretty salty for a Black creature, and should easily scavenge up some wins.

4. Hooting Mandrills is probably the real deal. At Common, Green doesn't always get high Power creatures with Trample, and this is arguably almost playable even without Delve. Exile a single card, and you're essentially casting a Stampeding Rhino; anything beyond that, and you're getting a very strong Green creature at a discount price. While Green tends to not fill up its Graveyard as quickly as either Black or Blue, most of the time you will have at least one or two cards there by the time turn 5 rolls around. And if you combo this with some Green mana acceleration, you have the potential to power this out much quicker than that.

Verdict: Hit - Go ahead, put it through your drills. This man is quite the hoot!

D. Raid

1. Mardu Hordechief promises value. A 2/3 for is already decent value, and the ability to generate an additional 1/1 Warrior is quite strong. This is very close to Attended Knight, which saw plenty of play back when it was in Standard, but lacks both First Strike and the guarantee of the token. One thing to keep in mind with Raid is that you don't have to actually deal any damage to activate it; the simple act of attacking with at least one creature is enough. In any case, for all the value attached to it, the Hordechief is merely a vanilla 2/3 after it enters the battlefield, which means that its impact on the overall game won't be that high. Playable, but not impressive.

Verdict: Borderline - Hordely the chief of White creatures, but you could definitely do worse.

2. Mardu Skullhunter was one of the first Commons spoiled, but overall it's a disappointment. A 2/1 for is mediocre at best, and the fact that it enters the battlefield tapped is just adding insult to injury. Forcing your opponent to discard a card is also not the best value, since you're essentially just trading one of your cards for your opponent's worst. Put these two together, and I'm still not convinced you have a whole card's worth of value. For the same cost, most of the time you'll be better off with Black Cat, which while slightly weaker on offense is easier to force the discard and at least some of the time will nab a card your opponent actually cares about.

Verdict: Myth - Get this through your thick skull - hunt for a different playable.

3. If only Arrow Storm would allowed multiple targets like its flavor suggests, this would be quite the potent spell (and probably too good to be a Common, of course!). As is, it's essentially a slightly underpowered Lava Axe that is harder to cast but has the option of targeting either a creature or player. Now, that's actually a fairly significant upgrade, since the biggest weakness of Lava Axe is that it essentially does nothing unless you use it to actually finish off your opponent. On the other hand, an aggressive Red deck probably doesn't want to pay 5 mana for anything. So while this is certainly a nice upgrade over Lava Axe, it's still probably not good enough.

Verdict: Myth - The arrow missed. It won't take the metagame by storm.

4. Now this is value! While a vanilla 3/3 for almost never makes the cut, Mardu Warshrieker is something else entirely. Based on cards like Burning-Tree Emissary, this could easily have been Uncommon, in that it essentially costs you only a single mana and also helps fix your mana on the turn it comes into play. Combine this with Generator Servant, and Red suddenly has the ability to ramp into some sizable offense very quickly. While this card doesn't seem to fit any existing archetypes, it's powerful enough that I have no doubt players will be building around it in the upcoming metagame.

Verdict: Hit - Send this shaman off to war with a shriek!

E. Ferocious

1. Force Away is the Unsummon variant of the set, and one that has the potential for a nice bonus when it's cast. However, there are two major issues with this card. First of all, in Standard Pauper controlling a creature with Power 4 or greater is not that commonplace. Second, and even worse for this card, Voyage's End gives you nearly an identical effect, in that it bounces a creature and improves your card selection by allowing to keep or discard the top card of your deck. While not strictly worse, as far as I'm concerned there's no real reason to ever play Force Away as long as Theros block remains in the format.

Verdict: Myth - Force this card away from you and back into your virtual binder.

2. Barrage of Boulders doesn't seem like it will fare much better. Spending to deal 1 damage to all creatures at Sorcery speed is significantly worse than Electrickery; unfortunately, that card will be rotating out along with Shrivel, leaving this as the only way to deal with a horde of 1/1 weenies. Activating Ferocious will be even harder in Red, since high Power creatures aren't exactly part for the course in Red at Common. Nonetheless, given how potential power of White Weenie tokens from Magic 2015, this type of effect will probably be in demand, but should be relegated to strictly Sideboard material. At least for now, this is all we're going to have access to.

Verdict: Borderline - Despite a barrage of shortcomings, it's boulder than nothing.

3. Feed the Clan forces the question, how much Life do you have to gain to make it worth a card all by itself? The answer definitely isn't five; but how about 10? Here, you have to keep in mind that just having a 4 Power creature in Standard Pauper is asking a lot, although it's certainly easier to come by in Green. So while the cost is right (especially when compared to something like Meditation Puzzle), even if this guaranteed that you would gain 10 Life, I don't think this would be playable. Yes, there will be situations where it could make the difference between winning and losing. But most of the time, even a vanilla 2/2 creature would be better.

Verdict: Myth - Feeding this to your buddies is preferable to actually playing it.

4. Savage Punch was the card that launched the set into the minds of the Magic community, and seems to capture the flavor of Khans of Tarkir quite nicely. Sadly, it's a bit of a disappointment, even for the Fight variant of the set. While the price is right, being Sorcery speed instead of an Instant (like the rotating Pit Fight) is a big loss. Worse, if you cast it prior to combat, the creature is damaged in the process and thus much weaker in combat; but cast it after combat, and the +2 / +2 is wasted, assuming you already have a big enough creature to trigger Ferocious. Whether this is actually superior to Hunt the Weak or Time to Feed is debatable, but none of them are great.

Verdict: Myth - The card stinks, and losing to it would be a savage beating.

F. Morph

1. Sage-Eye Harrier is our first Morph in a long time, so it's worth pointing out the flexibility you get in being able to play it as a vanilla 2/2 for 3 and later flip it over at Instant speed. Generally speaking, a 1/5 for is probably not something that would see play, although the ambush value of taking out a 1 Toughness flyer is certainly worth something. The high Toughness also means this is an excellent target for Power-boosting Auras, potentially allowing it to help you survive the early game and eventually combo it into a sizable threat. Overall, while not great, there's enough utility here that this might see play in the right kind of build.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm no sage, but eye think this could harry your opponent fairly well.

2. War Behemoth is aptly named, as it is big, expensive, and quite difficult for your opponent to deal with. Like other Morphs, you get to use it early as a slightly overcosted 2/2, then later flip it into a massive side of beef. White typically is more interested in smaller, efficient, and evasive threats, which this is certainly not. Again, thinking of it as a vanilla 3/6 for is a good starting point, and generally that just isn't what White is trying to accomplish. And unlike the Sage-Eye Harrier, the lack of evasion means that even when it's pumped up with combat tricks or auras, it's easy for an opponent just to chump block. Given all this, I don't think this gets there.

Verdict: Myth - This beast ain't bred for war.

3. Glacial Stalker seems to suffer a similar fate. It trades a point of Toughness for Power, which in this case is definitely in its favor. Additionally, Blue does a better job of supporting a more late-game approach, where big cards like this can have the most impact. Nonetheless, all the same factors apply. The flexibility of being able to play it as a 2/2 for 3 is great utility, but afterwards you're left with a vanilla 4/5 for . Still, the difference between 3 and 4 Power is pretty significant, and when both players are out of gas and playing off the top of their deck, this is a pretty solid draw. For me, that's just enough for it to escape being totally unplayable.

Verdict: Borderline - When the game goes at a glacial pace, this is a decent opportunity to stake out a win.

4. Monastery Flock, while completely out of place in an aggressive build, is a very effective defensive card, allowing you to keep lower Toughness creatures back early and then cheaply morph it into a very effective blocker. An 0/5 for is quite good in a Control build, or even as a Sideboard answer against very aggressive decks. In a world of 2 and 3 Power creatures, it will easily absorb the attacks of most creatures in the format. So while it's only good in a particular type of build, it serves in that role quite well, and as such I would expect it to see plenty of play in the upcoming metagame.

Verdict: Borderline - Players don't usually flock to this kind of card, but it serves an important role.

5. Mystic of the Hidden Way is probably one of the better Morphs. A 3/2 Unblockable for is almost playable already, albeit quite a fragile one. Its Morph cost of means it can be flipped the turn after it comes into play, allowing you to immediately start swinging in for 3 unblockable damage. But the 2 Toughness is a serious liability for a card that you've invested that much mana into, especially in a format like Standard Pauper where removal is so widespread. But assuming you can keep it alive with protection or counterspells, this card could certainly present a viable threat. Time will tell.

Verdict: Borderline: You can't hide from the fact that this mystic is way too fragile.

6. Krumar Bond-Kin is similar to most of the other large Morphs, giving you the option of playing it early as a 2/2 and then flipping it into a larger threat when the opportunity presents itself. Interestingly enough, this is the only Morph at Common where the Morph cost is virtually identical to its casting cost, which doesn't work in its favor. But much worse is the fact that it's a 5 drop with only 3 Toughness, meaning that most of the time it will trade with one of your opponent's cheaper creatures. Getting 5 Power for 5 mana is certainly good, especially in Black, but it's not enough to make this card playable.

Verdict: Myth - Anyone kin see that playing this card mars your ability to win.

7. Sidhi's Pet was spoiled early, and even with the extra time to evaluate it I still find this card to be puzzling. Its cheap Morph cost means you can flip it immediately after the turn you play it as a 2/2 and potentially even have the mana to make another play that same turn. Its higher Toughness means that it can reliably block most of your opponent's two or three drop creatures, and gain you a single point of life in the exchange. This feels like it could find a home in a highly controlling Blue/Black style archetype, essentially serving as an overcosted Black Horned Turtle with Lifelink. That's a fairly narrow role, but it does elevate this card to playable.

Verdict: Borderline - This takes this city's award for strangest pet ever.

8. Ainok Tracker is our first Morph that has some real surprise value in combat the turn that it flips. A 3/3 First strike for is decent, but the real power of this card happens when your opponent blocks it as a 2/2 creature and then loses their blocker thanks to First strike. Of course, it shouldn't take long for most players to realize that blocking a Morph when your opponent has 5 or more untapped mana is a bad idea, so I'm not sure how often you will actually be able to pull this little trick off. Additionally, I expect that it's just too expensive to slot into most Red decks right now, since they tend much more towards the aggro side of the spectrum.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm nok tracking perfectly with this card, but it might see some play.

9. I don't understand why so many of the Morphs at Common have such unbalanced Power and Toughness. In the case of Canyon Lurkers, the unbalance is quite significant. You never play a 5/2 vanilla creature for , for the simple reason that it will almost always trade with a less expensive creature or any form of removal. You might be able to get in for the full 5 once if you wait until after your opponent declares blockers to flip it, but at that point it's only slightly better than a Lava Axe. Again, this suffers from the same problem as the previous card, in that it's just too expensive for what Red is usually trying to do.

Verdict: Myth - They can lurk in the canyons all they want; they aren't going into my deck.

III. Conclusion

So that's my first look at the mechanic Commons in Khans of Tarkir. In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room.