Psychobabble's picture
By: Psychobabble, PB
Feb 06 2014 12:15pm
0
Login or register to post comments
3523 views


Last week I took a big picture look at the new set, taking into account the new lands, mana fixing and removal, before taking a more in-depth look at specific white and blue cards. This week I'll wrap up my overview of the set by looking into the remaining colours, as well as multi-coloured cards.

Before I do that, though, I wanted to highlight possibly the most depressing published daily event result ever - the THS block daily from 1/28/14. People complain about stale and non-diverse formats a lot, but having fourteen out of fourteen winning decks be the same archetype is really something else, a sad indictment on the current single set block format. Thankfully we got a couple of decent months of play in the format before it got completely solved, but I think it's pretty clear by now that WoTC messed something up. You might say that single set block formats are always going to be less diverse, but recent history has shown that they don't necessarily have to degenerate into a single dominant deck. Look back at an RTR block daily from a similar time period last year and there's four deck types represented. Clearly the power of Sphinx's Revelation did warp the format somewhat into "Revelation vs superfast aggro", but at least there were two broad deck archetypes present. Single set ISD block was an absolute home run by comparison, looking at a random ISD block daily from around this time two years ago shows seven different deck types, doing a range of interesting things from aggro to tempo to midrange to graveyard or token synergy, and no deck making up more than 30% of the field (UWR delver was the dominant deck, but not at all oppressive). Single set block formats have the potential to work, quite frankly this one ultimately hasn't and we can only hope WoTC has done a better job of balancing the block out with the release of Born of the Gods.

Black

Along with a number of new removal spells, most of which were discussed last week, black gets a bunch of unplayable expensive spells (eg. Fated Return) and Champion of Stray Souls - what a waste of a mythic slot) and some very interesting new aggressive options. These cheap aggressive cards seem likely to push black into a completely different direction in the new set, away from the mono-black Gary style and more towards a two-colour aggro/tempo deck. I'll be interested to see if this is ultimately successful, but the pieces certainly look like they're there on paper at least.

Asphyxiate

I didn't include this card in my discussion of the removal in the set, which looking over the cards again was a mistake. This is not an all-purpose removal spell, but it seems likely to fit very nicely into a black aggressive shell if one can be built. Destroying only un-tapped creatures obviously makes this a terrible card for control decks, particularly when you're facing down a threat like Stormbreath Dragon, but it's just fine in an aggressive deck when the only creatures you might care about are the ones which are untapped and trying to block you. This is cheap enough that it can fit in an aggressive shell, unlike Gild, and while Hero's Downfall is obviously superior, I could see this earning a slot as your 5-6th removal slots.

Herald of Torment

And this guy gives me reason to believe that a black aggressive deck might be able to get there. Even if it weren't for bestow, I'm pretty sure this is playable. It's better than Agent of Fates in an aggressive deck, and evasion in general is very good in this block. The bestow ability won't come up very often in an aggressive deck, but when it does it'll likely win you the game. I'm not quite sure yet what colour you want to pair black within your aggressive deck - either white for good heroic triggering spells, red for spot removal and aggressive creatures or blue for bounce and counterspells, but a 3/3 flying for three gives you serious incentive to play fairly heavy black in your aggressive deck. Note that 3-toughness is a big number on flyers in the block, because Bow of Nylea exists to punish anyone who goes too heavily into a small-flyers strategy.

Pain Seer

Here's another good reason to try and build a black aggressive deck. You'll want to back him up with plenty of pumps, or give him evasion with Aqueous Form or something, but this could easily get out of control if you build the right game state. This is also one of the best possible creatures to use with Springleaf Drum. Turn 1 drum, into Pain Seer + 1-drop would be an amazing start, and you can just keep tapping with the drum to keep the gas flowing throughout the game until your opponent uses up their removal on your bear.

Spiteful Returned

I've played plenty of 1/1s for two in this block so far, or more particularly I've cast a lot of Baleful Eidolons, and it hasn't been a particularly exciting experience. This one is on the opposite end of the aggressive spectrum though. It's fairly unassuming, but it's a two-drop that attacks for three on an empty board, and which has a pretty cheap bestow option that can get completely out of hand when you enchant something evasive. 1/1s get blanked by enough things that I think you want to play this as a 4-drop more often than not, but it's an acceptable turn 2 play if backed up with removal or pumps and the damage potential here is unusually high, especially for black. And, hey, it does damage through Sylvan Caryatid which is something few 2-drops in the format can do without help!

 

Red

Red has formed half of the dreaded GR monstrous deck in block to date, and gets another few cards which might fit in that deck. As you'd expect, it also gets some sweet burn (covered last week), and some good new aggressive creatures. Despite being the worst colour in THS limited, red has been very strong in constructed and that seems likely to continue with the release of the new set.

Archetype of Aggression

Nylea, God of the Hunt was always borderline playable in this block given how important trample is. Trample is a key way for GR decks to kill planeswalkers, it prevents your Polukranos from being chump blocked by random tokens all day and it has insane synergy if you happen to have a Bow of Nylea out on the field. The trouble with Nylea is that her body was so difficult to turn on (that didn't come out so well) in anything other than a mono green devotion deck, and she competed with so much else in your curve that it was really difficult to play her. Three mana is a much more attractive spot for this global trample effect, though. The GR deck doesn't really have any good options at 3 mana in Theros, Boon Satyr being the best of a bad bunch. Archetype may be relegated to sideboard duty for the mirror match, where his anti-trample also may be relevant things against opposing Polis Crushers, but even has a shot of seeing main deck play as a 1-2 of.

Fall of the Hammer

Hunt the Hunter and Time to Feed have both seen a lot of sideboard, and the latter has even some main deck play. This card basically gives you access to the fight mechanic without much of the inherent risk associated with it, AND you get it at instant speed for just two mana. This looks like an instant substitute for those cards once the new set is released, losing the +2/+2 upside on Hunt is far outweighed by the fact that you can hit Stormbreath Dragon and that you don't need to risk your own creature in a fight.

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

Red's flashy "made for constructed (TM)" mythic for the set is the first of the tribute cards which stands a chance of seeing play. As I mentioned last week, you have to think about these cards by asking if the worst half of them is playable because that is what your opponent will give you, assuming there isn't some relevant information in your hand that they aren't aware of and assuming that they just don't make a mistake (which is entirely possible, too). So when is a 5/5 vanilla flyer for four bad? Not too often, but Arbor Colossus and most removal spells, including sorcery-speed options like Chained to the Rocks and Gild, will all answer it. The right comparison there is probably Polukranos. The green hydra has the upside of being able to monstrous, the phoenix has the advantage of flying. In many game states, they will be comparable cards. Except the phoenix also has the downside of sometimes being a 3/3 pseudo-recurring haste flyer - and, yes, this is pure downside over being a straight 5/5 flyer for four. So when is that card bad? Stormbreath Dragon and Prognostic Sphinx are currently-played flyers which blank that creature fairly effectively, although both of them like attacking so it's not totally awful if you discourage them from doing so. I'm honestly not sure whether a 4-mana pseudo-Chandra's Phoenix is playable in block. The recursion is ridiculously mana intensive if you're trying to use it to repeatedly chump block a flying threat (and your opponent will eventually just give you the 5/5), so that card is only really going to be good when you are being aggressive and/or can threaten to kill a planeswalker like Xenagos, in which case your opponent may well just give you the 5/5 and try to deal with it on their turn. I'm really not sure where this card is going to fit in the block, my gut feel is that the gap between the two modes is too big to make it a reliably good card, but it's possible that either mode is good enough that it'll see play.

Impetuous Sunchaser

This get's a mention because it's literally the only way in block to enable your turn 1 Loyal Pegasus to attack on turn 2. That probably doesn't make this playable, but it's an interaction worth keeping in mind if you're trying to build an all-in Boros aggro deck.

Satyr Firedancer

This is a pretty sweet sideboard option for red against aggressive decks. You probably want to be an aggressive deck yourself, but if you are then letting your removal do double duty is really big game (unless your opponent responds to your burn by killing your Firedancer, in which case you are utterly miserable). This isn't maindeckable, at least initially, given how bad burn is at killing the threats in the GR deck.

Satyr Nyx-Smith

Another card which is very good against control, but very poor against midrange, where neither the 2/1 nor the 3/1 haste creatures are going to be relevant often enough. This might also be quite good against opposing aggro decks, and if you back it up with Coordinated Assault and the like it can really put a lot of pressure on your opponent. At the start of the format, this is probably only in consideration for the sideboard in relevant control or aggressive matchups, but if GR starts to die off in popularity, then I could certainly see it as a main deck option in aggressive decks.

Green

Green seems to be very thin on the ground in this set. The vast majority of green is overcosted fat or ridiculous expensive sorceries, along with some really disappointing tribute cards. If GR gets any better this set, it's unlikely to be because of anything that green contributes to it. There are a few cards which might point with green also moving in a more aggressive direction, while they don't fit in any existing archetype they could potentially support a new one.

Aspect of Hydra

Mono green devotion was a deck which jumped out of the blocks at the start of the format, but died off as people moved towards GR and ultimately Naya primarily to take advantage of Stormbreath Dragon and Xenagos/Elspeth. It's possible that the deck can make a resurgence with an increased number of cards in Born of the Gods, and if it does then Aspect of the Hydra is a pretty sweet finisher (especially combined with Nylea) and a way to break open stalled board states. The problem with having instants that care about devotion, though, is that you need lots of permanents in your devotion decks to get devotion in the first place, so this is probably better off as Reverent Hunter instead.

Courser of Kruphix

In a format with more weenie-aggro, this would be amazing. It doesn't do particularly much against, well, any of the cards in the GR deck, but gaining incremental benefit from playing lands, increasing the number of spells you draw and gaining some amount of card advantage is all inherently powerful. The downside of letting your opponent know every card you draw is very real, though, and a serious knock on this seeing constructed play. It's definitely worth considering in a mono green devotion deck though, over something like Boon Satyr. It's also worth seriously considering this for UG, letting your opponent know when you drew Dissipate is fairly awkward, but it's a reasonable fit for the deck especially when you combine it with Prognostic Sphinx's scrying.

Hero of Leina Tower

Repeatable fireball on a stick! The fact that the counters stick around is what makes this heroic creature interesting, and it could possibly even form the backbone of a new Gx (white?) aggro archetype. At any point in the game, you can get extra value out of any of your heroic enablers by dumping your excess mana into this, and the threat of activation on it makes it essentially unblockable in the mid game. It does open you up to removal pretty badly, even more so than other heroic creatures given that you may be dumping significant amounts of mana on top of your normal pump spells into it. Still, even just spending two mana for two extra +1 counters over a couple of turns is great value, and this is a one drop that can be relevant at any turn of the game. Back it up with (God's Willing) (this is probably the best god's willing target ever because you can dump as much extra mana as you like into it) and you're laughing.

Nessian Demolok / Nessian Wilds Ravager

So I guess Nessia is the home of scary green creatures on Theros or something. Or not-so-scary creatures as the case may be. Neither half of the Demolok is exciting enough to see play. A vanilla 6/6 for five simply doesn't do enough. Even Arbor Colossus, which is massively better, struggles to earn more than 1-2 main deck slots. Given that, it's not really worth talking about whether a pseudo-Acidic Slime that leaves behind a generally worse body is playable - you're only going to be given that when it's even worse than the already average alternative. At six mana, Nessian Wilds Ravager would have to do something pretty special to see play. If it were always a 6/6 that entered the battlefield and fought something, then it would certainly be in consideration. The trouble is that a 12/12 vanilla for six mana is actually pretty bad a lot of the time. Unless you grant it trample, then it's not going to do much more than eat random mana dorks, tokens and irrelevant creatures while your opponent kills you with flyers or planeswalkers - and that's assuming your opponent has no removal. If you give it trample, though, it gets a whole lot more threatening and becomes a must-answer threat pretty soon, and even gets you some value through opposing deathtouch creatures. Perhaps the mono green devotion deck can play this, along with Nylea to give it trample.

Setessan Oathsworn

If you're pairing green up with any other colour in your heroic/aggressive deck, this seems pretty awful compared to the other cool cards you could put in your 3-drop slot (Brimaz, Fabled Hero, Eidolon of Countless Battles, (Agent of Fates), Herald of Torment etc.). If Aspect of Hydra and Hero of Leina tower are pushing you towards building a heavier-green heroic deck though, the double green mana symbol here might be of interest and the effect isn't completely awful. I don't think heavy green aggro/heroic is a real deck, but this along with Hero and Swordwise Centaur (a 3/2 for GG that I won't review separately) is the only green potentially-aggressive creature that's cheap enough to even start thinking about that type of deck, so keep it in mind.

Multicolour

This article is already almost 3,000 words long so I'm going to save a detailed analysis of the new multi-colour gods for another article. I think they're all potentially playable, other than Karametra and maybe Phenax, and are likely to play a pretty big part in the new metagame. There's still plenty of other multicoloured goodies to look at...

Chromanticore

I'd just like to point out that even if you can get past the hurdle of its ridiculous colour requirements, this is never getting past the hurdle of Stormbreath Dragon unless you bestow it. So this costs seven, including one of each colour mana, and requires you to have another non-defender creature (Sylvan Caryatid isn't the most exciting target)in play. I think not, fun as this would be to play off Caryatid and Nylea's Presence.

Fanatic of Xenagos

THIS is what I want in my tribute creatures. Either half of this is close enough in power level that I don't really care which one my opponent chooses. Your opponent can also make mistakes here quite easily, giving you the aggressive 4/4 haste when you have lots of further pressure in hand and just wanted to get the quick hit in, or giving you the 4/4 blocker when your hand dictates that you are going to need to be the control deck. My guess is that you'll almost always receive the haste creature unless your opponent has removal, but if they have to use their removal on my 3-drop, I'm OK with that. This looks like an almost auto-include in GR to me.

Kiora, The Crashing Wave

I'm finding it very hard to get over the fact that this dies to Lightning Strike even if you +1 - that's not what you want in a planeswalker. The threat of that means that you're usually going to have to -1 this when it comes down, making it a 4-mana Explore that soaks up some life a lot of the time. That's not terrible, I guess, but you want to be doing something good with six mana which UG doesn't necessarily do. Even if she survives a turn after you -1 her, you're faced with a pretty hard decision as to whether to tick her down again, making her an expensive Divination with minor upside, or begin a slow process of alternating her +1/-1 to get cards. The fundamental issue with Kiora, in my opinion, is that you so rarely get a card's worth of value out of her +1 that you're incentivized to just burn her down quickly, which isn't the most exciting possibility ever and in a format with Hero's Downfall, you really want to get value out of your planeswalker on the turn they come down. Still, I've proven my ability to underestimate planeswalkers in this format before, so I wouldn't count her out yet by any means.

Kiora's Follower

Woot, an upgrade for Voyaging Satyr in your UG deck. It's a relatively marginal upgrade, but the benefits are there and all add up. You get a blue mana symbol for Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea, can give your Prognostic Sphinx vigilance and kill a Stormbreath Dragon with Bow of Nylea. If you can find an inspire card that you want to play, it also gives you the potential for gaining two activations from it per turn cycle, assuming you can find a second way to tap it (eg. Springleaf Drum and attacking).

Ragemonger

Ugh, this does not feel like the card that's going to turn minotaur tribal into a playable constructed archetype. The thing holding minotaurs back right now is that they all have pretty terrible stats for an aggressive deck and have only one good lord - Rageblood Shaman. I mean, Kragma Warcaller is ok, but it's expensive and while Ragemonger theoretically fixes that problem, that requires a lot to go right to work properly. Without any conceivably playable card advantage engine in your minotaur deck (Pain Seer is a Human Wizard and Read the Bones feels pretty bad in an aggressive deck), what does all the acceleration from Ragemonger really get you? You get to empty your hand full of 2/3s on the battlefield more quickly? The payoff just isn't here in my opinion.

Reap What is Sown

I'm beginning to see that WoTC really wants to push green-based heroic decks. It's probably optimistic to think that you'll ever be able to stick three creatures in constructed, but this is approaching Travel Preparations in power level which saw heavy play in ISD block constructed, so I wouldn't rule it out. I think it's still decent enough if you're hitting two good heroic targets with it, so it's probably similar in power level to Dauntless Onslaught given that it sometimes has additional upside and that it gives a permanent rather than temporary boost.

Siren of the Silent Song

Gogo BUG control with springleaf drum and Kiora's Follower? Please? While I would be shocked if anyone was ever milled out with this, if you've played with or against Ashiok before, you'll realise the value of messing with the top of your opponent's library in a repeatable way in a set with as much scry in it as this. The question is whether you'll be able to reliably discard two cards with this, which is what I think you'd want to make it playable. If you're just attacking with it as normal, there's a fair chance your opponent is hellbent or at least has cast all of their relevant cards by the time this untaps naturally for a second time; although that's not true if they're playing a deck with lots of Nullify and Dissolve. If you can find a way to get this tapped/untapped additional times, the value could well be there - mind rot on a stick, even if it's a relatively weak one, is pretty nice and you still get some value if all you're doing is making your opponent's scrylands worse.

Conclusion

The big, unanswered, question is a simple one - will the new set save this format, or is it going to remain one of the least diverse constructed formats we've ever seen (seriously, has anyone ever played a serious constructed format with one deck - not just one card even - making up 80-90% of the metagame)? I am cautiously optimistic. In between Nullify, Gild and Fated Conflagration, there are many more removal options to help relieve the pressure that Hero's Downfall and Dissolve are currently unable to bear. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I honestly feel that Nullify has the potential to make Stormbreath Dragon close to unplayable - five drops tend to be pretty difficult to play in a format with 2-mana counterspells. Futher, there are some solid new aggressive cards, both in traditional aggro colours and also in green and black, which could help speed the fast decks up to the point where they can compete with GR on that axis. The flip side to that optimism, though, is that the deck certainly won't stand still. It gains solid new creature removal in Fall of the Hammer, the best tribute card in the set in Fanatic of Xenagos and maybe one or two other cards. Where this all balances out (or not) remains to be seen.

4 Comments

@matthew - thanks for the by Psychobabble at Fri, 02/07/2014 - 19:56
Psychobabble's picture

@matthew - thanks for the comment. Fall of the hammer is certainly only a sideboard card (it's awful against decks with hero's downfall, basically), but it seems very close to a strict upgrade to hunt the hunter and especially time to feed, both of which are commonly in GRx sideboards right now. It's great in the mirror and against aggro.

That GW heroic list looks great. It's a shame the green ordeal is pretty awful, and I'm also not convinced you want seven protection effects - god's willing should be enough, I'd like to see that replaced with another enchantment pump I think - possibly a bestow creature like eidolon of countless battles, or even Nyxborn Shieldmate if you want to get spicy. it definitely looks like an archetype worth exploring.

@jeff, that's a really tough by Psychobabble at Sun, 02/09/2014 - 07:47
Psychobabble's picture

@jeff, that's a really tough call. I've oscillated between stormbreath dragon and elspeth. Before GR added elspeth as a splash, it was a big part of the meta but not more than 50-55%. Elspeth was what pushed it over the top so it's an obvious candidate for a ban. The problem is that if the deck evolves towards straight GR, as I'll speculate more on next week when I discuss Xenagos, then elspeth clearly isn't going to be the problem. I honestly think the deck will come down a huge notch post-BNG, but if it doesn't then the problem is probably going to be stormbreath, given how much pro-white shuts down in the format and just the inherently strong nature of the card, it's the only other likely candidate.

I trust/hope we won't get there though!

BannerHammer by IYankemDDS at Sun, 02/09/2014 - 12:04
IYankemDDS's picture

I hope you're right! I remember when there was speculation re: banning UW Delver in Standard, people were looking toward Ponder, so it seems like they often go after the enabler. What's the enabler here? I wonder if it's the fixing. Take out Nylea's Presence and it gets a lot harder to cast Elspeth and turn on Chained to the Rocks IMO. Don't know, but I hope you're right that it doesn't come to that!

I do hope to get back into Block when the new set comes in. It'll be interesting to see what (if anything) emerges.

Nylea's presence is a fringe by Psychobabble at Mon, 02/10/2014 - 00:03
Psychobabble's picture

Nylea's presence is a fringe part of the deck, many lists are down to two copies now. It's a pretty weak card. The real enabler is Sylvan Caryatid, it ramps, it fixes and it's essentially impossible to interract with in block (Anger of the Gods only kills it in a relevant amount of time when you're on the play). That's actually a really interesting possible ban target. If the deck had to rely on voyaging satyr for ramp, it becomes a lot easier to interract.

You've got me thinking there, but as I said, I hope we don't need to think about this post-BNG :).