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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 29 2018 12:00pm
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The Flashback train returns with a relatively recent format: Khans of Tarkir. This isn’t actually the first time the clans have come back, as it was a last-minute replacement format last year that I couldn’t cover. As such, while there’s a ton to talk about here, I’ll start with a top-level overview of the format.

 

Mechanics:

Morph:

One of the largest paradoxes of Magic mechanics: a keyword that’s way too complex for common, yet needs to be at common for the mystery factor to mean much. However, WotC made a big move in reducing the skill floor with the “five-mana rule” for Morphs. That means that every single Morph either unmorphs into a creature with power less than two and/or toughness less than three or costs five or more mana to unmorph. This reduces the chance of you getting blown out when Morphs battle Morphs, and puts the Morphs you need to memorize into two categories.

 

Speaking of memorization, if you want to get into the top tier in this format you need to know what Morphs your opponents could have. Each color has two common Morphs (one above and one below five mana Morph cost), and each clan has a common Morph as well, while green and blue each have an extra. The uncommon “reveal a card” cycle is also important, as they’re the only free Morphs in the set. In general all on-color Morphs are at least playable and most are good, though they generally don’t fit in the themes of the set (other than Simic of course)

 

Outlast:

The Abzan mechanic was a constructed flame-out for the most part, but in Limited Outlast is pretty good, mostly since you aren’t paying much for the ability in terms of stats. However, the real power of the Outlast creatures comes with their static abilities that boost other creatures with +1/+1 counters, as it not only makes the Outlast creatures work together, it helps all the other cards that use counters in the set.

 

Prowess:

Oh Prowess, your journey from block mechanic to near-immediate evergreen promotion, to now basically not being evergreen (at least exactly) is worthy of an article itself. Until then, Prowess works to tie together the “noncreature spells” theme of the Jeskai. The colors have plenty of good spells we’ll get into, and Prowess is great against a player who isn’t experienced with playing around with it, which would normally be good in a Flashback format, except for the mechanic being evergreen-ish.

 

Delve:

Delve may be the mechanic that plays the most differently in Limited as opposed to Constructed, as while Constructed decks get cards in their graveyards for free, you actually have to ration your Delve spells in Limited. Yes, there are some things to help you with self-mill like Bitter Revelation and Scout the Borders, but most of your graveyard will be dead creatures and spells you’ve cast. This means you either will only discount your spells by two or three mana on average (which is about what Delve costs on a card) or get a single spell in the late game for only a couple mana (which you probably don’t need). Delve is still good, especially since most of the Delve spells (especially the creatures like Hooting Mandrills and Sultai Scavenger) are reasonable for full price and any deck and play one or two Delve cards and expect to be able to fuel them, but think again if you want a deck full of Delve spells.

 

Raid:

Hey look, another mechanic we saw only six months ago. Other than the mechanic being in Mardu rather than Grixis, not much is different than its appearance in Ixalan. It is easier to get Raid in Mardu since there are more expendable tokens in this clan from cards like Ponyback Brigade, Hordeling Outburst, and Mardu Hordechief, but otherwise you should play around it like you did in Ixalan: watch for chump attacks and don’t be afraid to throw away a bad creature to get a good Raid trigger.

 

Ferocious:

Ferocious is in a strange place, as while it’s supposed to be the main centerpiece of the Temur clan with support cards like Mardu Blazebringer and Alpine Grizzly, Ferocious doesn’t really affect most of the cards’ playability. The best cards like Heir of the Wilds and Savage Punch are still reasonable without the rider and become great with it, while you shouldn’t be playing cards like Roar of Challenge and Stubborn Denial, with Force Away being the only card that is noticeably impacted by the mechanic. Yes, you should try to get four-power creatures if you have Ferocious spells, but you’ll do that naturally thanks to being in green and having lots of Morph, especially in GU, so it’s not something you build around like Prowess or Outlast.

 

Archetypes:

As a gold set (in some sense; the only gold commons are the clan Morph cycle), Khans of Tarkir has a different lineup of archetypes than the average set. The idea is that you’ll generally start in an enemy color combination (each with two signpost uncommons), and you can either branch out to one of that color’s two clans or stick with the enemy pair, resulting in ten archetypes (five wedges and five enemy color pairs). You can play the allied color pairs as well, but don’t expect to play them other than maybe as a clan that splashes the common enemy.

 

White/Black: Warrior Tribal

When the signpost uncommons are as blatant as Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale, it’s pretty easy to determine what the archetype is, but thankfully Warriors is one of the best aggressive archetypes. There are eight common Warriors and four uncommon ones in Orzhov (counting Take Up Arms) and four non-rare tribal payoffs, and other than maybe Sage-Eye Harrier, none of them are truly bad. On the contrary, the lords are efficient, cards like Mardu Hordechief and Sultai Scavenger are efficient, and everything works with the swarm strategy well. When you add the good removal in the color pair and the general slowness of a tri-color format, WB Warriors is one of the best decks in the format.

 

Blue/Red: Card Advantage Prowess

Both Master the Way and Winterflame are decent removal spells that have other upside, leading to a theme of a slower Prowess deck. The problem is that cards like Bloodfire Expert and Jeskai Windscout aren’t the kind of cards that work well in a slower deck, and slower decks aren’t great here regardless. Part of the problem is that the pair of build-arounds Quiet Contemplation and Goblinslide aren’t great, as you can’t afford to play that many non-creature spells, especially since there aren’t that many token-making instants and sorceries in the set. I’d prefer to flex this color pair into one of the clans.

 

Black/Green: Toughness Matters

(Death's Frenzy) may just be an expensive Infest, but Kin-Tree Invocation works well as a signpost for a Golgari stalwart. Kheru Bloodsucker and Sultai Flayer are also nice support, and Disowned Ancestor is the surprising standout. Overall this is an underrated color pair, as most of the creatures that work best are just big and efficient.

 

Red/White: Hyper Aggro

Nothing says you want to be attacking like Ride Down, and being the color pair of both Raid and Prowess helps that. One problem is that there aren’t many cards that only this deck wants, unless you want lower-quality low-drops like Leaping Master and Valley Dasher. The benefit of playing this instead of Mardu is that your mana is much better, and that might be good enough, though a splash in either direction would give the deck a much better late game.

 

Green/Blue: Morph Matters

Secret Plans is another of the obvious signpost uncommons, but the efficiency of Icefeather Aven makes it the better card overall. Otherwise there are a lot of good Morphs, especially in green, so other than a Secret Plans or two you aren’t giving up much when you focus on Morph.

 

Abzan (White/Green/Black): Counters Matter

Each clan has two signpost uncommons, and both Abzan Charm and Armament Corps both share the same ability of distributing +1/+1 counters. Even the Morph Abzan Guide works well since Lifelink appreciates the buff (and it’s even a Warrior for WB synergies). The multitude of +1/+1 counters also work well with the toughness-matters theme in BG. The deck also works well with the natural bumps in a curve you can expect in a three-color deck due to Outlast being a mana sink. Overall, this deck synergizes well as a good midrange deck.

 

Jeskai (Blue/White/Red): Prowess

Jeskai doesn’t work quite as well since the RW and UR sides of the deck are trying to do different things: RW is fast and UR is slow. The signpost uncommons are also split, as Warden of the Eye wants to grind people out, while Jeskai Charm is a great aggro card in all of its modes. Overall there’s more aggro cards than control cards, but a three-color deck tends to be slower. As I mentioned in the RW section, Jeskai works best as a RW deck that’s splashing a couple blue cards, rather than straight three colors.

 

Sultai (Black/Blue/Green): Hyper-Delve

Sultai Charm may be just a good card, but Sultai Soothsayer oozes the value you can expect from the clan excluding the two aggro colors, and Abomination of Gudul also gives both card advantage and graveyard fuel. This is the only deck where you can reliably cast multiple Delve spells for cheap, and also the only one that should try to cast the most expensive ones like Dead Drop and Shambling Attendants. The question is how you balance Delve spells, enablers like Scout the Borders, and the cards that are normally good like Morphs and removal spells. This deck can definitely work, but I wouldn’t start here if you’re new to the format.

 

Mardu (Red/Black/White): Raid Aggro

Mardu Charm and Mardu Roughrider may be the official signpost uncommons, but Ponyback Brigade is a clearer sign of what Mardu wants to do: attack with a lot of creatures and get Raid. The deck works since there are so many good aggro cards in this color pair that all can get through, though the inherent problems with a three-color aggro deck remain. Again, this is best as a RW or BW deck that splashes the third color, and when something like Ponyback Brigade is your main splash alongside a powerful rare like Butcher of the Horde, that is an easy splash to make with relatively few fixers.

 

Temur (Green/Red/Blue): Ramp/High-Power Matters

Temur is hurt the most by its relatively bad gold cards: Snowhorn Rider and (Bear’s Companion are just big bodies, while Temur Charm is by far the most conditional of the charms. The pair of Morph and slow Prowess also doesn’t work that well either, and as I mentioned before Ferocious isn’t really something to build around. Instead, I like Temur as a Ramp deck that can splash some cards thanks to perpetually underrated Embodiment of Spring. The biggest problem is that you’re probably going to get overrun by the aggro decks, but that’s what the 0/3 is for as well. Honestly, unless you get broken rares, I’d stay away from Temur, unless you’re just a Morph deck that’s splashing for other Morphs.

 

Other Important Cards:

Any gold set needs to start with the color fixing, and Khans of Tarkir has plenty of it: all ten gainlands Tranquil Cove at common, five Banners Abzan Banner at common, and five trilands Nomad Outpost at uncommon. Obviously the trilands are the best (and play them only if you’re only two of the colors), but the gainlands are great as well. The Banners aren’t quite as good, but they’re okay if you need the ramp, and they also trigger Prowess if you really need it. The other commons aren’t great, though don’t be afraid to play Witness of the Ages. The other colored cards aren’t that notable either: removal and decent creatures are good, but keep in mind there are going to be a lot of random 2/2’s around (so 2/3’s are much better than 3/2’s).

 

Conclusion:

Khans is one of the best formats in recent memory, so it’s a good choice to bring back as a Flashback format. It’s also appropriate, as a certain take on (Ugin’s Nexus) has dominated the news cycle for the last couple of weeks. Yes, (Nexus of Fate) may have caused a more visible controversy in paper Magic, but it also touched on my domain as the card’s Treasure Chest frequency jumped from 20 to a massive 400 before settling to 50, which is still higher than any other card in Treasure Chests. I’m not going to comment on the distribution method as MTGO players have been dealing with that for years, but instead I want to talk about some “inside baseball” topics no one else has mentioned.

 

First of all, the timing is interesting, as the announcement came on Wednesday night, and while everyone assumed SaffronOlive pointing out that you literally couldn’t buy any was the catalyst, I’m wondering if it was a reaction to the Pro Tour decklists being submitted, and what that means overall—if the Guilds of Ravnica Buy-a-Box promo is good enough for Standard and WotC increases the drop rate of it prior to the Pro Tour, is that deck’s cover blown? Second, I’m glad that WotC has the mobility to make those fast changes in the first place—remember when Aetherworks Marvel was on the curated list after it was banned and WotC offered to give you a new Treasure Chest if you opened it because they couldn’t remove it until the new update? Finally, what does the Guilds of Ravnica Buy-a-Box promo’s drop rate start at, and does WotC remove Nexus of Fate like it did with Firesong and Sunspeaker?

 

Of course, that leads into my next article, which will almost certainly be Guilds of Ravnica. I am hoping we get the news about the next Masters set (which will probably be in March) soon, as I want to get working on another design sometime. Until then though, I’ll just keep doing Limited analyses.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter

 

3 Comments

Didn't like this set by IYankemDDS at Wed, 08/29/2018 - 19:01
IYankemDDS's picture

Two different articles have identified this as great set to draft, and one of the best in recent years. I personally did not like it much at all. So much so, it got me out of limited Magic for several years. I can't put my finger on why... I didn't really care for Morph, and maybe it was a little too soon after Return to Ravnica block for another multi-color set. I know I am not alone, because I recently saw a Facebook thread asking about worst limited formats and this one came up a couple of times.

I get why some people like it, but it was just not for me.

It's normal. There will be by stsung at Thu, 08/30/2018 - 04:40
stsung's picture

It's normal. There will be many other people that didn't enjoy KTK, the same way there are people that do not like RGD or ZEN or any other of the favorite formats. There will even be people that liked XLN. That's normal.

Experienced players generally by Cheater Hater at Thu, 08/30/2018 - 16:28
Cheater Hater's picture

Experienced players generally like Morph and gold sets since there's more room to outplay/build your opponents, and they set the trend of what's good (and what's brought back on MTGO, since that's mainly experienced players).