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By: Psychobabble, PB
Jan 26 2015 1:00pm
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In last week's portion of the set review I looked over all of the white, blue and black cards that I thought would be relevant to the new KTK block constructed format. This week I'm going to be looking over the rest of the cards in the set (ie. red, green, multi-coloured and colourless), but first need to revisit some of the cards in the colours that I looked over last week. I push hard to get my set reviews up as quickly as possible after the full spoiler is up and in doing so I'm generally doing these reviews before reading or listening to set reviews on other sites and podcasts. Subsequent to the posting of last week's article it's become obvious to me that I overlooked two potentially very relevant cards, so I'll go over them first before diving into the new colours.

White, black

Valorous Stance

For some reason I processed this as a worse Feat of Resistance on reading over the spoiler. That couldn't be much further from the truth, this is one of the more flexible and versatile instants in the set so far. It's somewhat comparable to Abzan Charm - that drew you into more threats when you needed threats and was removal when you needed removal, while this protects your existing threats while also removing many relevant opposing creatures for the cheap, cheap price of 1W. There are cards that this misses which Abzan Charm hits - a single-prowessed Seeker of the Way, Ashcloud Phoenix, Mantis Rider, 3-power warriors in the BWr deck, but the flexibility is awesome and I can see this being a staple in Jeskai and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Abzan decks going forward.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Both LSV and Chapin have declared this the strongest card in the set for constructed, so it seems fairly clear I whiffed on this one. My thoughts were that the activated ability is really expensive and quite uncertain, as well as the fact that it's going to require a bit of delve setup to be really good while only giving you a moderately good body as a payoff. I was much more excited by Soulflayer, which has insanely higher upside (while requiring more setup), and I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that Conley Woods also agrees with that assessment. With all that in mind, though, I was wrong. The thing that's becoming clear about this card is that it's such little risk reward and while the payoff isn't "win the game on the spot", it's just an incredibly strong, value card which will also take over the game if left alone. The cheap delve enablers in block are significantly worse than in standard - Taigam's Scheming is no Satyr Wayfinder - but there are things you can do like Scout the Borders or just fetchlands and cheap instants to get Tasigur out earlier, at which point he's one of the largest creatures on the board and can start setting up your long game. My guess is that you may not want to be playing 4x of this, given that it's probably going to be a bit slower to get down in block than it will be in standard, but it still seems likely to be a pretty big player.

Red

 

Red cards are often split between aggro/burn on the one hand and "big red" on the other. That's again the case here, some of the cards that look likely to be powerful are easily home in an aggressive red deck, while a couple such as the red siege and Shaman of the Great Hunt are more at home in a midrange shell.

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

This card has two possible "modes". One is playing her to try and cheat out some large creature that happens to have power two or less. In standard that's Hornet Queen, but in block the best we possibly have is Ankle Shanker. The prospect of reanimating that card is markedly less exciting by the fact that it won't immediately trigger his ability, as it requires you to declare him as an attacker to work. So that isn't why you'll use Alesha. Why you would, if at all, is because she's a repeatable source of card advantage in a weenie aggro deck that's lost its early creatures to removal, wraths or just combat. There's all sorts of sweet cards to get back with her, from raid triggerers like Mardu Skullhunter and Mardu Hordechief (both of which immediately trigger) or just solid creatures like Chief of the Scale, any number of 2-powered 1-drops or the new black 2-drop beater Battle Brawler. In this latter mode she seems quite strong and I could imagine playing at least a couple of copies at the top of a more aggressively tuned version of the Mardu aggro deck.

Flamewake Phoenix

This seems like it should slot right into the Temur tempo/aggro decks. Right now, those decks play up to a full set of Heir of the Wilds, which is a decent defensive creature that can sometimes attack, but not the most exciting card for that style of deck. This slots in much more nicely. In between Savage Knuckleblade, Ashcloud Phoenix, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Sagu Mauler/Surrak Dragonclaw Temur has no plenty of ways to turn on Ferocious, and this is a strong, proactive way to take advantage of that. There's no cheap flyers in the format to punish the "must attack" clause here and doing 4-6 damage in the early game is very relevant in a deck that likes to win with a late game Crater's Claws.

Outpost Siege

Some of these sieges, if they see play, may present a decision between the Khans and Dragons mode. That seems much less likely with Outpost Siege, which will almost certainly be played exclusively for "Khans". (Chandra Pyromaster)'s +0 effect is powerful enough for her to see fairly regular and some modern play, it should easily be good enough for block. Enchantment hate other than Utter End, even in sideboards, is quite rare in the format at the moment and this is the most reliable source of repeatable card advantage in the format bar none. Exiling the card is definitely worse than simply drawing a card, but it's pretty close especially if you build your deck to be more pro-than re-active. It's a mana more expensive than something like Temur Ascendancy, but so much more reliable that I can definitely see it being considered for Temur as well as any other deck running red that isn't just all-in aggressive.

Shaman of the Great Hunt

This card is probably the scariest of all the new red cards. On the one hand, if the card discussed next Wild Slash sees any amount of play this could be pretty bad. On the other hand it has the potential to push the Temur deck completely over the top, potentially replacing some of the slower cards like Ashcloud Phoenix, Temur Ascendancy and Sagu Mauler. On an empty board it's simply insane, hitting hard, growing your team and threatening massive amounts of card draw. It's virtually the perfect way for the Temur deck to follow up a wrath. But even on a more clogged up board, it's an excellent way to turn your Flamewake Phoenix into a bigger threat while drawing you closer to your killing blow on subsequent turns. This can also see play outside of the Temur deck, it's probably a better haste option than Sarkhan in Jeskai aggro (hello Monastery Mentor tokens) and could even top the curve of an aggressive red "go wide" tokens deck. I really like Shaman and expect it to be a very strong player in block, albeit with the above caveat about the amount of play Wild Slash may see.

Wild Slash

There's something about adding ferocious to staple burn spells. The ferocious ability turned Crater's Claws into the best single-target fireball printed, while this is a strictly better shock. It's not massively better to be fair - the most common damage prevention comes in the form of Feat of Resistance which will still be effective at stopping this - but shock itself is pretty nice. In the format, this kills all the 2-drops (Heir of the Wilds, Seeker of the Way, Rakshasa Deathdealer, Rattleclaw Mystic, almost the whole Mardu warriors package) as well as a decent number of more expensive cards including both Phoenixes (temporarily at least), Shaman of the Great Hunt and morphed Sagu Mauler's. Unlike our hilariously overpriced Flame Slash "variant" (Bathed in Dragonfire), this is likely to be a staple card in the format.

Green

I often seem to be underwhelmed by the mono green creatures in these set reviews, this time I'm a little more optimistic. There are a couple of these that sit more on the "interesting"; end of the spectrum, but others that are pretty obvious constructed powerhouses. Unfortunately most of those are mythic, which seems to be the case for a lot of this set, but hey.

Frontier Siege

This is already breaking into standard decks, of either the mono-green or GB constellation variety. The major draw for this in standard is that it ramps you from four to seven, which is Hornet Queen mana. Probably-not-coincidently, the flying insect also happens to be the only green creature that you might conceivably want to combine the otherwise bizarre "dragons" mode of this card with. Anyway, all of that is obviously not relevant for block, so what do we have? There's not very much at seven mana in the block which you want to get to in a hurry. Duneblast doesn't really count, Atarka, World Render seems ambitious and.... 10/10 reach dude? Yeah, probably not. The only real reason you'd play this is if you want to play with Ugin (spoiler: you do) and think that you can't reliably get there any other way. I don't think that's the case, some combination of Rattleclaw Mystic, Whisperer of the Wilds and "lots of removal" seem like better options to me. Still, ramping two from one card, as well as a bit of awkward-to-use extra mana isn't nothing and it wouldn't shock me if this sees play.

Shamanic Revelation

The attempted nod to Sphinx's Revelation seems slightly depressing, but if we keep it firmly in mind that this isn't a card to play 4 copies, build your deck around and win the game with it, then we can start to see what it is - a decent sideboard option for grindy creature mirrors that end up in board stalls. Typically those happen in a format when two mono green, or green white decks meet up. That isn't the case in this format though, because the green white decks in this format are actually Abzan decks and so have a plethora of removal. While the Abzan mirror is quite grindy, it doesn't often devolve into piles of creatures staring at each other across the table, it's graveyards not battlefields that tend to fill up. If there is a matchup where that kind of stall develops though, then this could be a sideboard card to keep in mind as the power level is there if you can trigger it for 4 or more with maybe a couple of ferocious triggers as gravy.

Temur Sabretooth

Block your Knuckleblade, bounce my Siege Rhino? If the rhino wasn't the only ETB effect of note floating around, I'd be much more interested in this. As it is, it locks up the ground pretty well if you have mana and time to spare, while also giving you the chance to rebuy your Rhino triggers. I doubt that's enough, but the card does have a pretty high intrinsic power level.

Warden of the First Tree

Well, WoTC is certainly trying to push a bunch of constructed staples at mythic in this set. This looks set to be somewhat better in block that it is in standard, simply because this can't get past the omni-present Courser of Kruphix without "going ultimate". In addition, standard Abzan already has a perfectly excellent 3/3 for 2 mana with a late game mana sink, Fleecemane Lion, but block doesn’t so the competition here is less. As many have noted, there's a huge tension between playing a 3-colour deck with a bunch of taplands and playing this on turn 1 to attack for 3 on turn 2, but this seems good enough in block that I would be fairly surprised if it doesn't get there in some manner. The lifelink ability is very relevant in the format, against both Mardu warriors and late game Temur burn, and it's not unreasonable to think that you might turn this into a 3/3 trample lifelink. It's also worth noting that at "level 2" and above it's a warrior - some have already experimented with an Abzan warrior deck, perhaps this gives the deck the push it needs, as it certainly wants to be in a more aggressive shell than most of the Abzan decks in the format at the moment.

Whisperwood Elemental

I mentioned last week that Manifest was a really tough ability to analyse, and it's cards like this that are going to put the mechanic to the test. I don't think this is good enough to see a massive amount of play if "all" you get are effectively bears out of the deal, but manifest is almost inevitably better than that and so it will probably get there. I'm not sure whether you go so far as to play cards like Hooded Hydra for the super-manifest synergy, or whether just occasionally flipping up a Siege Rhino is good enough, either way this is going to be a card that demands and answer and then promptly renders one of the cleanest answers (a wrath) markedly less useful. Seems strong.

Yasova Dragonclaw

Another possibility for the Temur deck, it's even possible that between this, Flamewake Phoenix and Shaman of the Great Hunt that deck can cut out all of its expensive cards and maybe even reduce or eliminate the Rattleclaw Mystic count, becoming lower-curved and even more aggressive. You're playing this as a 4/2 trample that turns on ferocious, the ability is interesting gravy to use when the situation is right and you don't need to develop your board more (steal your Wingmate Roc and gain a bunch of life?) that will come up against some decks more than others but I don't expect you'll be going out of your way to play pump spells so that she can steal larger creatures or anything. This is another expensive card that dies to Wild Slash, but she also turns on Stubborn Denial in the Temur deck so that might be acceptable.

Multi-coloured/colourless

In contrast to KTK, this is not a wedge-coloured set - all of the multi-coloured cards have only two colours. This doesn't mean that they aren't associated with a particular Khan though, for example there's a cycle of ally-coloured dragons all of which share their two colours with only one of the Khans. A note on those - while most seem quite (potentially) strong, I'm discounting the possibility of any non-completely insane creature with a CMC >5 from seeing constructed play which disqualifies a couple unfortunately.

Dromoka, the Eternal

This is one of the multi-colour dragons which come in at under 6-mana, and it's going to push the limits on the playability of a 5-mana "dies to doom blade with no ETB ability" creature. The upside if they don't have removal is there. On an empty board it attacks for 7, and if you have other creatures out it has good potential to turn cards which otherwise would be unable to attack into having good attacks. There's also an interesting synergy with Crux of Fate if you want to try and build a more controlling Abzan deck with lots of spot removal, wraths and this as your main finisher. You probably want some number of Siege Rhino in that deck to give your opponent other targets for their removal, but it's an interesting idea that might be worth exploring.

Harsh Sustenance

There are two things which defeat the Warriors deck. One is a bunch of removal and wraths. If that's what is happening, then this card is awful. The other, though, is bigger and better creatures. Regenerating Deathdealers, massive Anafenza and Rhinos, annoying Rocs. If that's what is going on, then Harsh Sustenance is amazing and provides the deck with massive inevitability. Its somewhat situational nature may mean that it's relegated to sideboard duty, but I wouldn't be shocked to see one or two copies in maindecks.

Kolaghan the Storm's Fury

This is the other sub-5 mana multi-colour dragon in the set, and I'm significantly more optimistic on its chances of seeing play. Being a "Thundermaw Hellkite with bonus anthem" on the turn it's raided would almost be enough to sell me on the card. With any sort of board presence and aggressive start, that ends the game very quickly and the "return to hand" thing is clearly a mana downside, but has the upside of protecting you from various wraths and Suspension Fields floating around. Don't forget that if you dash this and your opponent has instant-speed removal then the mana-disadvantage drawback of dash is eliminated; it's effectively the same as if you had hard-cast it on this card. Anyway, this having another mode of decently-well costed non-hasty beater is pure upside on top of what, I think, would already be a possibly playable card if it could only be dashed. While I thought Dromoka was pushing it as a 5-mana creature with no etb value or protection, which is what Kolaghan is if you don't raid it, the fact that Kholagan has the potential to kill your opponent on the spot if they tap out, or only have sorcery-speed removal, gives this a whole 'nother angle which gives it a pretty good shot of seeing play I think.

Silumgar, the Drifting Death

I said I was going to ignore the >5 cost dragons, but Hexproof is a truly abusive keyword, particularly on a 3/7 (!!). There's nothing close to a UB control deck in block at the moment, which is the sort of deck that would normally like a card like this. Instead, the card I want to pair this with is Soulflayer and a bunch of green/Sultai self-mill. This is a sweet, sweet card to exile with Soulflayer as you net yourself a 4/4 flying hexproof beater. With enough self-mill, you don't need to run too many copies of this to have a reasonable chance of having it in your yard as a delve target, so if that's a deck then this is one of the cards you likely want in it.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Big daddy himself and I have no idea how to rate him for block constructed. The question in my mind is, is it more or less playable in block than it is in older formats? If you go to eternal formats then you are facing far faster decks, but on the other hand you have better fast/broken mana enablers (eg. Tron) to cast Ugin. And then in standard you have a format which is a little slower than those formats, but still has some pretty decent enablers such as Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Nissa, Worldwaker. In standard Ugin seems somewhere between fringe playable and quite good depending on how real the mono green/GB constellation ramp deck is. In block, the format's about a turn slower again than standard, but lacks any good enablers outside of Frontier Siege. Ugh, I really don't know. At the very least, I feel like this might be playable in Abzan's sideboard as a way to go over the top in mirror matches, which can degenerate into slow grindfests fairly easily. Simply hardcasting this on an empty board doesn't seem completely unlikely in those matchups and makes it fairly tough to lose the game after that (although Sorin does a similar thing, in that it can +1 twice in that spot, ultimate, and then effectively win you the game). More speculatively, maybe this is the payoff a big mana Frontier Siege deck needs to go all out. Turn 3 Rattleclaw Mystic, turn 4 Frontier Siege, turn 5 flip mystic cast Ugin? Could happen. You might even play Whisperwood Elemental in that deck, and the manifest creatures made by him (it?) don't die to Ugin's -X ability which is a nice interaction, and you can even turn any extra creatures lying around into more manifest creatures with Whisperwood's sacrifice ability. It's hard to speculate on completely new deck types, but this is the just kind of card which might inspire them.

Conclusion

And that brings us to the end of this set review. Hope you're looking forward to the new set, there's absolutely no way that it won't shake the format up significantly. Join me in the coming weeks for more speculation, brewing and analysis of the new format as it emerges.