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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Feb 06 2014 11:14am
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> summary <

 Born of the Gods is fully spoiled, and for once I'm on it immediately, rather than one month later like in some of my past evaluations (now conveniently collected at the bottom).

 All right, can we say that the Theros block mechanics so far have been really underwhelming? Except for devotion, which creates what's possibly the ultimate linear building, they are all mechanically clumsy or casual but not in a casual-fun way. For instance, in Born of the Gods we have inspired, that does stuff when you untap your creatures (and why are they all creature-based mechanics, anyway?). Which mostly means during the untap phase. And what's so exciting in untapping stuff during the untap phase? It's not like with the untap symbol from Shadowmoor, which was intriguing because you actually had the option to untap a creature for double profit if you found a way to safely tap it; whereas inspired doesn't call for much choices or skill (you attack now, you'll get a possible reward later), and in average it's too painfully slow for competitive environments. A few of these cards could lead to some Johnny elucubrations, but you have to find consistent ways to both tap and untap them at will, on top of paying for the often overcosted activation fee.

 And as already observed in the first set, the "enchantments matter" theme isn't really there in the end. It's more like, "here's a few things that are also enchantments, which might matter elsewhere in the game" (so far, only Thassa kind of does). There's not a single mechanical interaction with the enchantments, except for a few basic graveyard recursions into hand and not much else. All in all, I'm pretty unimpressed. It's all great flavor, but after a while, if you keep getting flavorful cards that don't deliver in the actual game, and especially in Constructed formats, the flavor alone won't be enough to sustain their existence.

Yeah, listen to this and take your next step, Journey Into Nyx. And make it a step UP.

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new creatures and their tribes. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a list by number of new additions at the end.

 Born of the Gods Infodump

  • Cards: 165
  • New cards: 160
  • New creatures: 97
  • Reprinted cards: 5
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 45

Archon: +2


> summary <

 Archon is a word with a Greek etymology (ἄρχων, for the fans) and the Archontes of most fantasy settings are derived from the namesakes of the Gnosticism (where they are what angels and demons are in other religion systems), so they're a perfect fit for Theros. And just like in the first set of the block, we get a couple of new ones, raising the total number of tribal members to 10. Last time around, Ashen Rider was the big star, even if its applications are somehow limited by its inherent splashiness. This time we have two less larger-than-life specimens, but interesting nonetheless.

 Ornitharch features the dreaded tribute mechanic. Now, "punisher" mechanics are never the favorite of competitive players, because they give the opponent the option to always choose what it's best of them. You need to have two equally fearful alternatives to make it work (like, say, a turn-one 4-3 vs. 4 damage to the dome in a burn deck). Ornitharch's alternatives are between a team of 3 smaller flyers or a 5/5 one, both of which are fairly good for 5 mana. Granted, it's nothing groundbreaking, and if you have Elesh Norn on the battlefield, you already know what the opponent with a Dismember in hand will choose (the lack of strategic control is what usually spoils the punisher mechanics). But it's pretty decent for an uncommon, especially within a tribe where this is one of the least mana intensive options.

 As for Silent Sentinel, at first it might look like poor man's Sun Titan: it costs more, it has a worse body (albeit evasive), it brings back only one type of card... Until you realize that it brings back Debtors' Knell. And Exclusion Ritual. And Decree of Silence. (Plus, you know, any God.) And when I say "brings back", I actually means "cheats into play after you resolved Gifts Ungiven". I'm not saying it's a super combo enabler or anything, as we're still talking of a 7-mana creature after all, which would require some reanimating of its own. But it's an interesting, unique ability for a creature.

Badger: +1

 Behold the fourth Badger in existence! Theros block is really committed to bring back (if not outright create) the weirdest tribes. At least this time it's a Mustelid that actually lives in Greece. So now the Badger tribe will be playable in Tribal Apocalypse, with a line-up made up of this tiny trampler, Giant Badger, and Rock Badger (Rysorian Badger, alas, isn't online, despite being the most interesting one). Plus, of course, the two best Badgers ever printed: Chameleon Colossus and Taurean Mauler.

Beast: +1

 See, this is why tribute doesn't really work beyond some overall cuteness. If there's a noncreature permanent that needs killing, of course the opponent won't let you. You'll just get a 6/6 vanilla for 5. Most of the times, you'll get a 3/3 vanilla and kill a land. Neither of these options are terrible (it shows that they were trying to make the mechanic worthy), but don't justify playing this 5-drop over Acidic Slime or, in-tribe, Indrik Stomphowler. (Oh sure, this one kills planeswalkers, too. Like if it will EVER happen).

Boar: +1

 I can certainly use a universal hexproof granter in Commander, with the added bonus of hosing my enemies' hexproof (not shroud, though, which is a bit awkward). I really do want it in my green decks, so I welcome this new opportunity provided by the green member of the Archetype cycle. I have two questions, though. The first is: why making it (and the cycle) uncommon? This is a unique effect (so far); it seems like it would fit better on a mythic, one with a casting cost a bit less gargantuan perhaps (but that might have been the whole point, trying not to give it applications outside of Commander? Lucky for you, Bogle).

 And the other question is: why a Boar? What is it in a boar even a god-touched one, that makes you say, "It protects its allies"? Even the flavor text talks about the boar stalking back its hunters, not helping to hide other hunted creatures that, I don't know, pretend to be part of the boar's family? I can't really picture Vorinclex doing that.

Cat: +3


 Are there humanoid Cats in Greek mythology? Maybe there are, even if I can't remember any of them off the top of my head. Anyway, Theros gave us the non-humanoid Fleecemane Lion, that I thought was a pretty strong monstrosity creature, but didn't find a deck just yet. I raise my bet with Brimaz, King of Oreskos (I read people saying that this is actually a reference to The Lion King, given Hasbro and Disney's historical partnership). His strength is right there in the text, and especially in the casting cost: This has to be the new sensation of white aggro decks. And he's a Soldier that swarms the board with other attacking or blocking Soldiers (those "dynamic" tokens have been a strong trend lately), while at the same time providing an insane amount of defense, without losing any of his explosiveness. A mythic that really deserves its rarity.

 The two companions to his majesty aren't that bad, either. Oreskos Sun Guide is yet another strictly better Grizzly Bears that gives you 2 life per turn (this is what I mean when I say that inspired is pretty moot as a mechanic: this card would have worked in the same exact way 99% of the times if it just said, "At the beginning of your upkeep, you gain 2 life" – I'm pretty sure that Johnny will have better things to do than finding ways to tap and untap this guy at will). And Vanguard of Brimaz tries to do a miniature version of what his fearsome leader does; it requires heroic triggers, though, and those aren't really a thing outside of Limited. Both these guys would do fine enough in any white weenie deck, but the competition for 2-drops in those builds is probably too harsh in most formats.

Centaur: +5


 Centaurs (and Satyrs) are the Elves of Theros, so here it comes a fresh batch of horse-people from Born of the Gods, including a couple that are just Limited fillers. Most of the others are used to showcase the new mechanics: Fanatic of Xenagos does a decent job at giving tribute a shot, being either a permanent 4/4 trampler for 3, or a 4/4 trampler for 3 that swings against you immediately, then goes back to be a 3/3. I'm sure it'll make for a high pick in drafts, and might even have some use in those Gruul super-aggro builds in Standard, if they will still be a thing. Entirely relegated to the world of Limited is the inspired one (it sounds like a joke, doesn't it?), a big, acceptable vanilla dork that slowly populates your board with other vanilla dorks if you don't have nothing else to use that mana for (and it's worth noting how inspired forces you to commit to those upkeep costs before even knowing what you'll draw for that turn).

 But the most notable card here is clearly Courser of Kruphix, a new take on ramp fan favorite Oracle of Mul Daya. On one hand, it costs 1 mana less, and the difference between 3-drops and 4-drops in green can be pretty huge, since with one mana-producer in turn 1 you can have the Courser online as early as turn 2. On the other hand, the main strength of the Oracle was giving you an additional land drop. Early on, the Courser will cause you to choose between the land you see on the top of your deck and the lands you still have in hand. Resulting in almost the same card advantage as the Oracle, but less acceleration potential. In exchange, the Courser gives you some lifegaining, which is never a bad thing. And let's talk about that body! For 3 mana you get body 6 with toughness 4! That's pretty resilient (something that the Oracle definitely wasn't).

 All in all, it's a strong card that will see play, certainly in Commander, possibly as the herald of a new ramp archetype in Standard, perhaps even in Modern. And of course in Centaur tribal, which after everything will be said and done with Theros block might shape up to be something really different than what it was going in, much like what already happened with the Satyrs.

Chimera: +1

 Now, this is a strange, fascinating card. The Donate routine has been a small but popular one throughout the history of Magic, and it's always cool to see some versions of it.

 So what happens if you have this Chimera on the battlefield? The opponent wouldn't play anything serious until they get rid of it, I imagine. This is more than a counterspell, it's a Spelljack. Casting cost aside, Gilded Drake is still a stronger card because you choose when to make the exchange; with the Chimera, it's up to the opponent (so, in some ways, it's another, subtler case of a punisher mechanic). But the Chimera is a nasty presence on the board. You keep developing your side, the opponent can't risk to cast their Wurmcoil Engine and get a 3/3 vanilla for their troubles. Of course, once the exchange is made, they'll get to perform the same trick against you. It's up to your skills to maneuver the board so that at that point you'll be fine not casting nothing of relevance anymore. And they can't hose your counterspells, can they? They cast something, you counter, they take control of your counter via Chimera, but either they cast something else or the only eligible target will be the original spell.

 Against some archetypes, like fast aggro, the Chimera won't do much, as they would probably welcome a 3/3 that hoses you in exchange of their umpteenth small beater. And it doesn't come earlier enough to make a difference, anyway. But all in all, it looks like a fun card. What would you do if they cast a Lightning Bolt at your Chimera, with no boltable creatures on their side? You can either give them the Chimera and bolt their face, or let the Chimera die. In the latter case, I'd still make the exchange then bolt it myself. It's what the Chimera would want.

Cleric: +1

 Aerie Worshippers is part of a cycle of uncommon creatures that generate same-color enchantment creature tokens via a 3-mana inspired trigger. It's a weirdly unbalanced cycle that deserves a comparison table:

Card Color Type CMC P/T Abilities Token Token Abilities
God-Favored General White Human Soldier 2 1/1   1/1 Soldier  
Aerie Worshippers Blue Human Cleric 4 2/4   2/2 Bird Flying
Forlorn Pseudamma Black Zombie 4 2/1 Intimidate 2/2 Zombie  
Satyr Nyx-Smith Red Satyr Shaman 3 2/1 Haste 3/1 Elemental Haste
Pheres-Band Raiders Green Centaur Warrior 6 5/5   3/3 Centaur  

 So, let's see, the white one is a small guy that creates small guys, so it's cheap. The blue one is bigger and creates flyers, so of course it has double the casting cost. Then why does the black one, that has half the body of the blue one and whose tokens are just vanilla, cost the same? Just because it's a 2-powered intimidate creature? C'mon. Is it because Zombies are scarier? (No pun intended.)

 And how come that the red one, which is a haste creature that creates 3-powered haste creatures, costs even less?!

Cyclops: +2


 The highly thematic Cyclops tribe keeps growing: two new ones in Theros, two new ones in Born of the Gods (number 16 and 17 in the tribe's roster). And they are... both garbage, I'm afraid. (Boy, the more I see the tribute mechanic, the more bored I get by it.)

Demon: +2


 The Theros setting has no Angels, but it has Demons. Eater of Hope is the last in a long line of sacrifice-hungry Demons: he doesn't actually ASK for them, but he likes them. More than we like him, I dare to say, because those are really expensive abilities for a 7-mana fattie. When you compare what this guy requires in order to kill a creature to, say, the same effect achieved by Visara the Dreadful, you'll really lose hope. So the flavor is on point, I guess.

 More intriguing appears to be Herald of Torment. First of all, it's a Demon that costs less than 4 mana, which is a pretty rare occurrence (in fact, there's only other 4 of them, according to the Demonpedia). Of course, for 1 mana more you'll get Grinning Demon, which has double the body – if for double the upkeep cost. But the Herald is a flyer, so those 3 damage will get through, to counterbalance the loss of life that you'll suffer because of him. And 3 mana is freaking 3 mana. It's just a Dark Ritual. The Herald seems extremely playable, both in a Demon tribal decks, and in general as an early evasive threat, with 2 devotion symbols to boot. The bestow option doesn't seem highly relevant, but it's decently costed. Plus, if being an enchantment makes him more fragile, it also gives him the chance to be fetched by Zur, as he's in one of the Enchanter's colors and (not coincidentally?) at the right casting cost.

Dragon: +1

 If you're familiar with the Obligatory Dragon concept, this is it. A 6-mana flyer that does something or other when attacking. In this case, pings and negates blocking. Could be better, could be worse.

Elemental: +1

 So, Elementals borrowed a classic Jellyfish mechanic. It's a good thing they now have a defensive 1-drop in blue, I guess (the only other one is Nivmagus Elemental, which is not that defensive). With some efforts, it also doubles as sort of quasi-actual removal. And it works in attack, too, although I don't see that being a factor most of the times, unless you really manage to beef up your 0/1. The flavor is nice, but isn't that just a sea vortex in the end? It doesn't need to be alive/sentient to do its job.

Elk: +1

 The Elk tribe has now 7 members. That's the entirety of what one could say about this dude. That and, "Man, that's really a long flavor text."

Giant: +2


 A couple of fairly unimpressive Giants, but the use of devotion to reduce the mana cost can lead to interesting developments in the next set. That is, if they'll use it on creatures you actually want to pay less, because Marshmist Titan's Myr Enforcer impression doesn't really cut it.

God: +5



 The God cycle continues in their epitome set, with the first five of the dual-colored ones. They're purposely of a lesser power level compared to the mono-colored ones from the previous set (and it's not that they really felt god-like cards to begin with, did they? Most planeswalkers feel more awe-inducing). For one, the dual-colored Gods only have one ability. And they require devotion 7 to turn into creatures (hybrid mana only counts once, kids), also on account of the fact that it's easier to build towards it. They all deserve a modicum of respect, being potentially indestructible beaters with body 11 or more. But if we look at their abilities, this whole lot is sort of a mixed bag.

 Ephara, the Azorius One: If you put one or more creatures onto the battlefield, you'll get one card in the opponent's upkeep. Not bad a deal, and she's a 6/5 for 4. Playable. If you use flash creatures you may also end up getting two cards per turn, sometimes.

 Karametra, the Selesnya One: Each creature you cast makes you fetch a Forest or Plains card (which means Savannah, Taiga, Hallowed Fountain, Murmuring Bosk, and so on). That's a big deal in Commander for sure. In other formats, it doesn't seem that relevant, since it's a slow, situational ramp that starts after you've already hit 5 mana.

 Mogis, the Rakdos One: Well, I guess he does 2 damage per turn to the opponent. It's a bit meh, isn't it?

 Phenax, the Dimir One: And he mills. And then mills and mills. Is that strong enough to build a milling deck with a lot of Walls? Time will tell. In the meantime, Phenax doesn't provide much flexibility: it's either milling, or a comparably underwhelming 4-powered beater for 5 mana.

 Xenagos, the Gruul One: So Xenagos did it: he attained divinity! I'm happy for him (I've also just realized that Xenagos is supposed to be Dionysus. That's cool). Probably in virtue of his status as protagonist, he's by far the strongest member of this group. Heck, he gives your latest creature haste and a non-lethal Berserk! Or you can withdraw the haste part and just give the Berserk boost to your best creature, instead. He's a 5-drop, which is the highest CMC for a God so far, but that effect surely hits hard. Of course he can't use it on himself, but just think of all the midrange beaters with 4 power or more that red and green have available in any format. And the new Xenagos doesn't even conflict with his planeswalker self!

Golem: +1

 I only feature this pretty forgettable Golem (although it is one of the cheapest to cast) to amend for a mistake I made in my Theros evaluation about Colossus of Akros. Back then I didn't realize the very important factor that its monstrosity trigger makes it into an overwhelming 20/20 indestructible trampler. You need a grand total of 18 mana to get there, but you can pay it across two different turns, and its initial defensive impact is achieved at 8 CMC, which is 3 mana faster than Darksteel Colossus. Blightsteel Colossus is still the superior finisher because poison counters are more inescapable, but in a Golem tribal deck with a Cloudpost base, Colossus of Akros has probably become the first pick.

Gorgon: +1

 The Archetype cycle are five mono-colored creatures of different tribes that give all your team a keyword ability while entirely negating the access to it to your opponents. In the case of this Gorgon, the ability in question is deathtouch. Now, having a whole bunch of deathtouching blockers is sweet and a pain for the guy (or guys) sitting at the other side of the table. On the other hand, it's not that you happen to face deathtouch on opponent creatures that often, so removing it is hardly relevant. But the real problem is that we're talking of a 6-mana creature here. With a meager 2/3 body (with deathtouch herself, sure, but somehow I doubt you'll want to chump-block with her). Plus, Whip of Erebos does exist, even if it doesn't work defensively. And let's not even mention the fact that in Gorgon tribal, she'll be giving deathtouch to the other Gorgons. Just take a moment to fully contemplate the stupidity of that notion.

Griffin: +1

 Oh look, a common Griffin designed for Limited. How very unusual. Well, at least this one has an ability, and a strategic one at that. It does brings back Gods and stuff. In general, I'd still rather pay 2 mana less for Auramancer, but nice try, Griffins.

Hag: +1

 Massive card draw leading to massive punishment is a strategy with its fair share of aficionados, born with Underworld Dreams and last seen as recently as the Molten Psyche/Runeflare Trap combo deck and Psychosis Crawler. This Hag, the 9th overall of her tribe (the 7th online), is a basic enabler of the trick, able to start dealing a little bit of drawing damage right away, and with a nice defensive body to sustain the general control setup of the deck you would put her in. Which should obviously feature blue. After all, she's been made highly splashable for a reason.

Harpy: +1

 In Theros, the flavorful Harpy tribe (that desperately needs a boost) didn't really impress. In Born of the Gods we're getting an extra one, still not particularly appealing, but almost decent. If you manage to cast her when the edict effect will matter, you'll get a 4/4 flyer for 5, which is bland but kind of a big deal in a tribe where everyone else has power 2. If there are no targets you'll have to keep her in hand, but that's true of cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir as well. The real issue comes when the opponent will have something negligible to sacrifice, leaving you with a frighteningly terrible 2/2 for 5.

Human: +20


 BNG tribal math for everyone's favorite super-tribe: 1 Cleric, 2 Shamans, 8 Soldiers, 3 Warriors, and 6 Wizards.

Hydra: +2


 The Hydras are on a roll recently, and being one of Theros signature tribes (thanks to their Lernaean ancestry) certainly helps. Two new rares are added to our multi-headed monstrosities: and if Nessian Wilds Ravager is yet another tribute dork (either a 6/6 vanilla for 6 when there's no serious target on the board, or a not much better 12/12 vanilla in all the other cases), Scourge of Skola Vale is more interesting in that at 3 CMC it's the cheapest Hydra in existence after the clunker Molten Hydra (and not counting the sad cases where you force yourself to pay X = 1 for the customizable Hydras). It starts small, of course, but can grow quickly enough. And that's where the really interesting part resides: it's an instant-speed sacrifice outlet that only requires tapping. Granted, the presence of that tap symbol is already bad news, first because you'll have to wait for the summoning sickness to wear off, then because you'll be pushed to keep the Hydra behind, ready to cannibalize whatever on your board is met with a removal. It's sort of a restricted Spellskite, and also sort of a reverse modular, but in a better, more versatile way than Vastwood Hydra. And the Scourge is cheap and manageable enough that you might want to add it to a deck where sending your own things to the graveyard equals profit.

Kraken: +2


 In honor of Kiora's favorite pets (this time around, at least: I'm pretty sure she's just getting in a Clash of the Titans mood for the occasion), the BNG Krakens are... kind of decent? The Kraken tribe has always played second fiddle to the more effective Leviathan tribe. But if Kraken of the Straits doesn't represent much of an improvement over Tidal Kraken (it costs one mana less but isn't always unblockable), Tromokratis is, well, peculiar. It's a quasi-untargetable, quasi-unblockable big body. It has essentially protection from sorcery-speed targeted removal, and if you try to get rid of it through combat, you'll end up losing quite a lot of stuff, on account of that 8 written inside the power/toughness frame. Unless, of course, you happen to have a single deathtouch creature on the battlefield. Or, you know, a Doom Blade in hand. But it's still resilient enough and inevitable/destructive enough to feel... well, cute enough. Which is a good accomplishment for a Kraken.

Manticore: +1

 Small sets usually have 10 mythics ("usually" is a loose term here, since the last few years have seen a lot of exceptions to the established block and set composition). Born of the Gods had to account for the 5-God cycle, plus one mythic per color. But Kiora somehow counts towards both the blue and green allowance, so to round up the number we get this odd penta-colored thing. Which, even more oddly, is the 5th Manticore ever printed, probably only because MaRo really liked that pun in the name (I would have gone with "Chrominion"). It's a super-bestow creature, capable of turning any critter into an Akroma-worthy list of keyword abilities. As a creature on its own isn't beefy enough to justify all the trouble of procuring those 5 different mana; as an aura it's surely strong, with some added amount of resilience due to its bestow nature, but it's not as explosive as Eldrazi Conscription. Still, it might be a prime target for enchantment reanimation/fetching into play strategies (like the very same Sovereigns of Lost Alara by whom the Conscription used to be fetched), mostly on account of the combination of vigilance and lifelink on a big body, the lack of any kind of protection being the main let-down here.

Merfolk: +3


 After Master of Waves in Theros (and True-Name Nemesis in C13), the Merfolks take a bit of a vacation here. They earned it.

Minotaur: +6



 In absence of the Goblins, the Minotaurs keep holding the fort for red tribal, with some Rakdos flirtations. They also keep adding tribal members at the lowest end of the curve (in sort of an opposition with Didgeridoo; then again that's only playable in Legacy Tribal Wars). For instance, with the mono-black Fellhide Brawler, while Ragemonger is another interesting mana accelerator. The supposedly high-profile cards here are Oracle of Bones, a midrange beater that deceives you into thinking it's sort of a cascade guy, when most of the times it will just be a not-too-impressive 5/3 haste for 4 (not to mention how truly awful is when you draw into it in topdeck mode); and Fellhide Spiritbinder, who really wants to be the new Kiki-Jiki, but he's just not. The reduced CMC and extreme splashability, plus the ability to target legendary creatures don't even start to make up for the slow start, the activation cost, and the general contortions required to make the most out of him. Johnny is free to prove me wrong.

Phoenix: +1

 The classic symbol of rebirth is the choice for the red mythic in Born of the Gods (thus sparing us another mythic Dragon, at least). Except, why is this thing even mythic? It's a 5/5 flyer for 4. Which is a good deal, and will see play, but once again, the tribute mechanic is tricking you into thinking that this could be anything different from that. This particular case is really rich: why in the hell should I opt to give my opponent an immortal 3/3 haste (therefore also giving them tempo advantage in the race) over a 5/5 that I have to deal with only once? Just do the math: in the next 3 turns, a 3/3 haste would hit you for 9, while a 5/5 would hit you for 10. Just 1 damage more to be evaluated against the fact that the 3/3 haste will be back unless I exile it. And if I do have an exiler in hand, then it doesn't really matter if I pay the tribute or not (Swords to Plowshares notwithstanding). These designs are seriously misguided.

Satyr: +6



 Curiously, the Satyrs are playing the role of both Elves and Goblins in Theros. An obscure tribe that only had 2 very old members going into the block, Satyr has now reached 15, and counting. Some of these are just serviceable members, like Nyxborn Rollicker, a.k.a. the smallest bestow dude (also one that reinforces the necessary flavor that the Satyrs do like having fun). Satyr Nyx-Smith is the strongest member of the 3-mana tribute cycle, which isn't to say that it's impressive, but it's already something. Satyr Firedancer is a nice complement to burn strategies, although not a primary one: you want to burn the opponent as fast as possible, whereas killing their creatures in the meantime is just gravy; and this guy takes one slot that could be more profitably devoted to more burn (it makes for a good sideboard card, though). All in all, I think my favorite here is the common Satyr Wayfinder, as a semi-Mulch on a stick. The Satyrs really are versatile.

Serpent: +1

 Could this common Serpent have combo applications with enchantments you want to abuse? Maybe? I'm veering towards "not enough", though. Or at least, "none that couldn't be handled in a less clumsy way". But yay for another sea monster in the set!

Shaman: +7


 Shamans in Theros are mostly Minotaurs and one Satyr, except for these two mono-red Humans. Akroan Conscriptor is the heroic mechanic trying to create a repeatable Zealous Conscripts. And of course failing, in virtue of being the heroic mechanic to begin with. Stormcaller of Keranos is more intriguing as a scry provider which is also a reasonable haste beater. Nothing groundbreaking, but that unlimited scry activation calls attention on itself more than the shaman's attire.

Siren: +3


 The Siren tribe starts populating its ranks, and after the M10 and Theros ones, has now reached the 5-member quota. There's nothing particularly good here, and a general sense that they're used as a replacement for blue Limited filler like Drakes (they sport the three mechanics of the set at common and uncommon), but baby steps, right? Plus Siren of the Silent Song is definitely annoying to face (and she's undead, for some reason). While Siren of the Fanged Coast is, once again, tribute being dumb, as it's an Air Elemental that sometimes (when the opponent has no legal target for the stealing effect) will be a disastrous 5-mana Flying Men. But good job on digging deeper into the Siren mythology and thus giving them bird-like features and wings, to better justify why they're not just Merfolk. (Now they're crossing a bit into Harpy territory, but oh well).

Skeleton: +1

 How can something be so cool and so disappointing at the same time? The set's black mythic, this Skeleton was so close to become a staple of reanimator decks across the formats, but everything he does is so damn expensive and clunky. His Goblin Welder trick with creatures asks for 5 mana plus tapping, on top of being on a 6-mana dude. And could his resurrection ability be any more requesting? You need 7 mana to launch it, then you'll lose a draw, then you'll have to cast him again, then it'll be again unable to do anything until the following turn, and it would cost his regular 5 mana anyway. Compare that with Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord or the old Eternal Dragon. In order to try and balance the honestly scary prospect of a mass Recurring Nightmare, they made him almost entirely unplayable. Even casual decks will have trouble getting any satisfaction out of him. He'll be very hard to crack.

Soldier: +10



 The BNG Soldiers that aren't Cats are mostly Limited filler of the white weenie variety. The only ones worth mentioning are the member of the Archetype cycle, dealing with a not-too-essential first strike, but for just 3 mana, which makes it very appealing; and the member of the 3-mana inspired cycle, which is also cheap enough and in-tribe, so it might see play. Hero of Iroas reduces the cost of the auras, instead; I guess that was bound to happen sooner or later with all this heroic stuff going around.

Sphinx: +1

 Well, now, that's an inspired trigger I can get behind. The latest Sphinx gives the tribe a whole new edge by cheating stuff into play, in what at the end of the day is something quite similar to the kinship mechanic from Morningtide, but with more versatility and implications, since that's a case where you really want to find a way to trigger the ability before the regular untap phase. In combination with some library manipulation, of course, but blue should be fully able to give a hand with that (and green, too, so yay for Simic interactions!). And hey, did you get what you're actually doing? You're manifesting Platonic ideas of the cards! How cool is that?

Spirit: +6



 The Spirit tribe is represented almost entirely in the form of bestow-granting Eidolons (the most interesting of which is Eidolon of Countless Battles, for the neat linear approach and mostly because the ones at lower rarities have really excessive bestow costs). The only exception is Spirit of the Labyrinth, which is a useful hoser of card-drawing, and as such will be particularly relevant in the broadest eternal formats. But it's also a very aggressive 3/1 for 2, so I won't be surprised to see this guy around more often than not.

Warrior: +10


 The Warrior tribe in BNG is mostly represented by Centaurs and Minotaurs, plus one Satyr and that damn Skeleton. The Human ones are: the Archetype that grants trample (which isn't a primary ability in red, but first strike was already taken by white, and we've seen universal haste too many times already); a mana-dumping hero; and an overcosted aura-killer with great art. And that's it.

Wizard: +7



 Aside from one Merfolk, the Wizards in the set are all Humans. There's the blue Archetype that gives flying, and that's a strong ability to give your whole team while making sure nobody has it on the other side of the battlefield (reach will still exist, though), but on the other hand it's a 6-mana 3/2, which makes the whole enterprise too fragile for my tastes. Then we have a few heroic Wizards, of which Meletis Astronomer is the cutest with his ability that digs for enchantments; it's still a heroic trigger, so it's not going to happen very often, but it's nice that he seeks for the very auras that could fuel it again. Whereas Mindreaver is a very belabored way to counter something, I get mental fatigue just by trying to imagine a successful scenario for that ability.

 Most importantly, we have Pain Seer, a.k.a. Theros' Dark Confidant. Except not really, as everybody is bound to find out once they realize that in order to get your extra card, you'll have to attack with the Seer every turn, which sometimes (I gonna say often in Standard) won't just be possible. It's still a powerful enough effect to guarantee that he will see play where Dark Confidant isn't allowed, but he's certainly not playing in the same league as Bob. Unless of course I'm missing some obvious tap/untap manipulation (we have that one Merfolk, don't we?), or if some specific enabler will be printed in Journey Into Nyx.

Zombie: +7



 All right, no Gray Merchant of Asphodel this time, I'm afraid. One of the BNG Zombies is a Siren (and another, weirdly defensive one is a Treefolk). Forlorn Pseudamma is an underwhelming member of the 3-mana inspired cycle with a sad, disturbing flavor. Odunos River Trawler is an Orzhov card that's all about bringing back two enchantment creatures, and as such it might have its uses. I think the best of the bunch here is actually Spiteful Returned, which is an aggressive early drop that reminds me of Pulse Tracker. Zombies have reached a critical mass of 1- and 2-drops by now, so they might well go for that lightning-fast aggro strategy.


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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here. The BNG quantities will be added only after the set will be released online.




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 At long last, she's here! Since when Brad Rigney included her in his WotC-sanctioned planeswalker pantheon (given that she was one of the characters in Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012, along with Ral Zarek), people kept wondering when we would finally get her actual card. We knew she was going to be Simic, which was a dual-color combination still missing a walker (now the only remaining orphan is Selesnya). And we knew that she was a Merfolk, and a sea monster enthusiast (then again, who isn't?). Any of these things was enough to get many players pretty psyched about her, and each new set where she didn't show up was met with some degree or disappointment.

 I don't know if the resulting card is living up to such huge hype, but the first Kiora version we're getting (of hopefully a long series, since Simic is the coolest) is certainly not bad. The casting cost is decent, and the plus ability is able to shut down at least one enemy threat. I think it would have still been balanced if the ability could have been used to create a resilient blocker on your own side (it would still be subject to destruction effects, after all), but it's okay. You can picture yourself using such a way to build up loyalty often enough. The main problem with Kiora is that her starting loyalty is very low (I guess that means she's as whimsical as the sea?), and this leads to a conflict of priorities with her minus ability, which is an awesome Explore, so you want to use it as much as possible, and her ultimate, which is close enough to not feel out of reach, and alluring enough for a 5-loyalty emblem. Honestly, I would have liked better a fetching effect for actual Kraken and Leviathan cards (and maybe Octopus and Serpent, since that's the whole club, apparently), which would actually create a tribal synergy within Kiora's deck. I assume that it was considered too niche an approach, but it's a pity, because those 9/9 Krakens are just big vanilla dorks in the end. One of them per turn is a big deal, but less exciting and fun than if, say, Kiora's favorite pet was Tromokratis, much in the same way as Nissa Revane with Nissa's Chosen

 I'm not sure which role Kiora will play in the decks that'll try her out – she does a bit of everything: board control, card advantage, threat – but one thing I do know for sure is that I'm already eager to brew and pilot some of those builds!



Fun article, like these by grapplingfarang at Thu, 02/06/2014 - 16:45
grapplingfarang's picture

Fun article, like these always are. I few random thoughts and observations...

-I'm sure I've talked with you on the subject before, but the amount of strong cards and variation humans get is so huge. This shows up again with 20 more humans, and I'd imagine if it was a format with sanctioned tournaments anymore, the percentage of human decks would be ridiculously high.

-Ragemonger is a huge help at getting a playable Aggro Minotaur deck to work, looks like fun.

-Centaur got two very good Centaur, but I think Prophet is the only one I would play. I could see a Potential ramp/lifegain/devotion deck with Prophet, Nylea's Disciple, and Seton, Krosan Protector. Fanatic of Xenagos is very good, but playing that tribe to aggressive is worrying to me due to lack of quality early drops.

-If another good Satyr comes to support it in Journey to Nyx I would be on the lookout for a Dredge/Storm deck featuring Voyaging Satyr/Satyr Hedonist/Satyr Wayfinder. I could see them working together in a deck to abuse Crypt of Agadem/Songs of the damned, but right now the rest of the tribe doesn't support it enough that you need to much filler. If one more Satyr that supports this theme comes in Journey, could have a hell of a deck entering the format.

-As good as Brimaz is going to be in Standard, I think it is sadly to slow for the Tribal Cats deck. In a deck with so many super effecient one drops, those slots might be better just backing it up with burn than including Brimaz. I do think it has a lot of potential in soldiers though, especially in builds similar to those that were popping up in Legacy events last year.

-One thing I disagree with, Oreskos Sun Guide would of been vastly better if it said to gain 2 life in your upkeep, especially in limited. They would probably be the top picked common in the set. A 2 drop that can bring early beats and then gain life by just sitting there (unlike now where it must attack into bigger creatures to gain life) would be very hard to race. This is especially true when UW evasion tempo is one of the best decks in nearly every limited format.