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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jul 04 2019 12:00pm
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It’s been five minutes since Modern Horizons released, so that means it’s time to move onto a set on the opposite side of the complexity spectrum. Then again, this set has all kinds of strange choices, whether it’s the return of Protection and color hate (alongside “Hexproof from” for some reason), the large number of tribal cards, or the minor wedge theme. Of course, that last point is the most relevant for limited, as while this isn’t Khans of Tarkir or anything (and each color pair still has a signpost), it means the allied pairs are focused heavily on a theme while the enemy pairs are less specific. As such I’ll be going through the allied pairs first, then the enemy pairs.

 

Allied Pairs:

White/Blue: Fliers

Empyrean Eagle is the first of our obvious signposts, and the fliers theme extends through the color pair with Winged Words, Warden of Evos Isle, Herald of the Sun, Aerial Assault, and more. The standard fliers are also good, including Cloudkin Seer, Griffin Protector, Spectral Sailor, Air Elemental, and many more. The question is why the incentives for building around fliers need to be so heavy, considering fliers are already good in core set Limited? It’s also not like the Azorius have their typical weaknesses either, as Pacifism, Sleep Paralysis, and Aerial Assault are all common. In fact, I feel this could support two distinct styles: a typical UW Fliers deck and a more swarm-style that goes all-in on Faerie Miscreants and the like. This feels like a good place to start in the format.

 

Blue/Black: ETB Effects

Tomebound Lich is the opposite of Empyrean Eagle: a good card that doesn’t have an obvious place. There’s a bit of self-bounce synergy with Portal of Sanctuary, Yarok's Wavecrasher, and Blood for Bones (notice it doesn’t target so it can be “blink + Raise Dead”), but they’re mostly at uncommon. Similarly, while there are a lot of ETB effects, they’re all minor card advantage effects instead of powerhouses like Ravenous Chupacabra. I’d stay away.

 

Black/Red: Aggro Removal Control

The Rakdos being an aggro deck makes sense (especially when you add white), but Ogre Siegebreaker doesn’t point towards that at all—it’s not that efficient, and trading off creatures is a control card. In fact, not much is aggro, with Audacious Thief being the most notable aggro card. Instead, you should focus on the removal, as both Murder and Chandra's Outrage are strong common removal cards that aren’t splashable.

 

Red/Green: Elemental Tribal

Creeping Trailblazer brings us back to the obvious signposts, and there’s a lot of support for Elementals in Gruul, as each color has four commons (though each has an awful one-drop) and there are five good uncommons (counting Mask of Immolation). There is also a lot of tribal beyond the signpost, highlighted by Chandra, Novice Pyromancer (because an uncommon Planeswalker is exactly what a core set needs). The creatures are big as well, which is nice. I wonder if a “big creatures” deck can do well in a format with good removal, but it’s set up well.

 

Green/White: Go-Wide

Now this is an aggro deck, as Woodland Champion and Ironroot Warlord are very powerful creature payoffs to go alongside Overcome and smaller effects like Inspiring Captain and Griffin Protector. There are also a lot of enablers, including Raise the Alarm, Ferocious Pup, and Howling Giant. This seems like a decent deck, but it’s more “A + B” than the other decks which could be a problem. It also has the least removal (mostly just Pacifism, Rabid Bite, and Aerial Assault) which doesn’t seem great.

 

Enemy Pairs:

White/Black: Aggro Tokens

Corpse Knight is a very powerful aggro card, and also works best in a tokens strategy, but it also doesn’t really point in any direction. Then again, you get the best of all the non-Elemental synergies in the set, with fliers, ETB effects, and tokens all supported along with a lot of removal. There are also some life gain synergies, including the powerful fliers Bloodthirsty Aerialists and Angel of Vitality. This is a nice place to be.

 

Blue/Red: Aggro Elementals

As efficient as Lightning Stormkin is, it’s still just a french vanilla creature that you can’t really build around. It checks the fliers and elemental boxes for good synergy, but there isn’t much synergy in blue and red otherwise. I don’t like this deck in what appears to be a high-powered format.

 

Black/Green: Death Value

Contrary to the other enemy signposts so far, Moldervine Reclamation is a clear build-around. However, it’s also a five-mana enchantment that doesn’t so much on its own. The obvious “combo” is to follow it up with a Bone Splinters on six mana, but other than that and Bloodsoaked Altar (another build-around I don’t want to be anywhere near unless this format is a lot slower than I expect) there’s no Nantuko Husk below rare in these colors to combo with it. I’m sure you could make some kind of grindy Rock-style deck here, but I don’t know if those decks want five-mana enchantments that require more support, and otherwise there isn’t enough synergy to make me want to go here.

 

Red/White: Hyper-Aggro Fliers

Skyknight Vanguard seems so bad, but people underestimated Aerial Swooper and this is mostly better, especially if you’re in an aggro deck. The aggro cards are good here, and you get the flier synergies as well, particularly Flame Sweep. This seems fine, but I’m not sure if fliers give you enough reach to finish people off in a hyper-aggro deck.

 

Green/Blue: Ramp Elementals

Risen Reef turns all your elementals into Coiling Oracle, and it’s amazing how much better that is than Moldervine Reclamation since your floor is so high. You also get Leafkin Druid and the best things to ramp into are Air Elemental, Howling Giant, Silverback Shaman, and Brightwood Tracker’s activated ability. I don’t know how elemental focused you want be though—Vorstclaw seems bad in a format with lots of tokens, but Thicket Crasher makes it decent. This seems good, but I’m worried about the RG deck fighting with you for Elementals. You do get some good blue ones like Frost Lynx and Cloudkin Seer to make up for the green ones you’re fighting for at least, and maybe you can splash a couple red support cards like Chandra.

 

Other Important Cards:

The first topic I want to talk about is the return of color hate, with a cycle of hate spells (mostly removal) and an almost-cycle of creatures with protection (as the green one was pushed and moved to rare). Obviously these are great sideboard cards, but what do you do in best-of-one? The uncommon protection creatures aren’t that great if you can’t take advantage of protection, but their floor of cards like Apostle of Purifying Light and Unchained Berserker aren’t awful (Cerulean Drake and Blightbeetle not so much). However, Noxious Grasp and Devout Decree are much more powerful but are likely to do nothing. There’s a decent amount of looting/rummaging in this format which helps, but I’m worried which color hate to play will end up as a function of which decks are most popular (have good cards taken less by the Arena bots). However, on a related note, flying hate (Reckless Air Strike and Plummet) seems very maindeckable in this format, as all the fliers are very powerful and you only really miss against RG Elementals, and even then red has a decent number of fliers (and the Shatter half of Reckless Air Strike is better since both red and green have proto-Living Weapon Equipment).

 

Next is the color-fixing, and while the “dual lands replacing the basic land occasionally” returns from M19, Evolving Wilds has been added to the pool and the tap lands have been upgraded to gain lands, which makes aggro worse and splashes better. It still isn’t that big of an impact if the rate is the same as M19 (which means everyone averages 1-2 gainlands) and it isn’t worth playing a single-color gainland, but if a 3+ color deck gets 4+ it does become meaningful for the hyper aggro decks. Other than the lands, Prismite is as mediocre as in War of the Spark, while Scuttlemutt is probably the best non-rare first-pick as it fixes, ramps, turns on your color hate, and turns off your opponent’s color hate.

 

Finally let’s go over other notables I missed in the archetype roundup. In white, Gods Willing is still great and Steadfast Sentry seems like a surprisingly high rate. Sage's Row Denizen seems better than average in blue since so many creatures cantrip and there aren’t many non-black ways to take advantage of your graveyard and Brineborn Cutthroat seems better than you would expect as there are a lot of instants. Vengeful Warchief seems good for black even if you don’t synergize with it (which you can easily do), and the other lifegain cards are just efficient. Daggersail Aeronaut seems like something big for red (which almost never gets common fliers on par with Snapping Drake) and Infuriate is very scary. Don’t forget Pulse of Murasa is good in green, but Sedge Scorpion seems worse than average in a format with so many fliers and small creatures. Finally Pattern Matcher seems like it could be great especially with the collect-me cycle (other than Battalion Foot Soldier of course), and Retributive Wand might make it running a Disenchant effect maindeck worth it, and Rod of Ruin doesn’t seem awful in this format.

 

Conclusion:

There are so many strange decisions Wizards made for this core set, but it ends up in an interesting set. Part of the problem is that every set needs to stand out in some way, and the core set has drastically limited its options, so you’re left with power creep and powerful themes. We’re also still transitioning to the higher-powered world, and we don’t have a clear picture of what that looks like—Chandra's Outrage and Murder aren’t foreign to core sets, and the creatures don’t hold a candle to all the uncommon planeswalkers, but they weren’t expected to. We’ll have to wait for the fall set (which we know nothing about other than the obvious hints from M20, though the apparently the glowing neon “Theros 2/enchantment Mirrodin” isn’t the fall set.

 

However, despite not knowing the fall set yet I still have a lot of possibilities due to a full Flashback schedule for the first time in a while. I don’t care about most of the cubes (though that Legacy Cube smells like it’ll be used as practice for a special paper event—is that GenCon week?), and Dominaria is too soon to be a “flashback” (it’ll only just have rotated out of a regular Arena rotation), but there are some interesting things I might write about. Battle of the Planes is always a favorite, though I don’t know how much will have changed from the previous run. The Khans cube sounds like it could basically be Khans Remastered more than a cube, and that I would write about (though not if it’s still singleton). Finally the flashback vote is neat, though I wish there was more lead-up, both for content purposes and making sure it works, and I’ll cover it if I have enough material left and I have time. That last point is the biggest one: I almost skipped this article since I’m getting a little burned out on content creation between these articles (and sets coming out every minute) and my other content creation at SIFTD. We’ll see what I feel like doing, and you’ll see me during Archery, if not before.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter