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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 09 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Nothing new here—the new details on Treasure Chests (and the supplemental set cards presumably) should come out around the time this is published, and I’ll have an analysis article shortly thereafter.
We’re going back in time a bit to Magic 2012, which was a bigger transformation than Magic 2011 (especially now that Scry is evergreen). The new terminology of “dies” and Hexproof were introduced, and the guest mechanic Bloodthirst was given a bigger role than Scry in Magic 2011. The Lorwyn 5 Planeswalkers were also shaken up, swapping in Gideon and Sorin while giving Jace, Chandra, and Garruk new cards (and giving them a common and rare instead of a common and uncommon). It also feels like there’s more turnover, with over 50% of the non-rares (87/161) being new to an “M#” core set. Either way, let’s go over the mechanics:
Technically this isn’t new, but it takes a prominent role appearing on three commons. While the creatures aren’t great (Aven Fleetwing being the best), it makes Auras much more interesting. In particular, Trollhide, Dark Favor, and Spirit Mantle are surprisingly powerful before Hexproof, and get better when the risk of being two-for-one’d is removed. This is a general trend as we proceed in this era of development: Auras that provide a tangible benefit (meaningful power and toughness and/or evasion) are better now (especially when removal gets worse—this is the last year of the common A-tier removal spell, and Doom Blade is the last splashable one).
This is the guest mechanic from Guildpact, and while it was Gruul’s mechanic (RG) back in Guildpact, here it’s primarily in red and black, with only two green cards. The philosophy was also different, as while Guildpact’s Bloodthirst cards were slightly tricky (often scaling based on power, like Skarrgan Pit-Skulk or Rabble-Rouser), the raw power of a Blood Ogre, Gorehorn Minotaurs, or Vampire Outcasts makes the M12 Bloodthirst cards relevant. As a simple example, Bloodrage Vampire is a colorshifted Bloodscale Prowler, but while Bloodscale Prowler was a fine creature, Bloodrage Vampire is probably the worst Bloodthirst creature in M12. The other big difference is the enablers, as while Ravnica block only had normal combat and Scorched Rusalka to enable Bloodthirst, Goblin Fireslinger and Tormented Soul are unconditional ways at common to start the Bloodthirst train.
While I mentioned there’s a lot of turnover at the top earlier, white unfortunately hasn’t changed: cards like Pacifism, Serra Angel, and Stormfront Pegasus haven’t changed in value that much. Griffin Rider is an interesting build-around; there are only three Griffins in the set, but all three are common and reasonable cards. Stonehorn Dignitary is strange, as it doesn’t seem common, though it isn’t great. Stave Off is also important, as unlike most effects like this it can target an opponent’s creature (mostly meaning it can knock off Auras). Up at uncommon, Alabaster Mage kicks off the Mage cycle, which are all great mana sinks for little cost.
Blue’s main sub-theme in this set is Illusions, and while the downside is real, it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks: with the exception of activated abilities like Gideon’s Lawkeeper your opponent is still spending a card to kill your Phantasmal Dragon, and it isn’t a big deal if it’s a Stave Off, Goblin War Paint, or Doom Blade. Of course, you’ll want to side it out against activated abilities, but there actually aren’t that many—the Mages are all “creature you control” for this reason, and Gideon’s Lawkeeper is the only common (and it’s only joined by Crown of Empires, Alluring Siren, and Goblin Bangchuckers at uncommon, none of which is that great). Otherwise you have the usual contingent of fliers (including the return of limited all-star Belltower Sphinx) and the last core set appearances of Merfolk Looter and Mind Control, but nothing else really stands out.
The main thing that stands out in black is that it has a lot of evasion. The bottom is held by Tormented Soul (which is meant to enable Bloodthirst, but carries a Dark Favor as well as anyone), midrange brings us Devouring Swarm and Drifting Shade, and the top end has the return of Sengir Vampire to uncommon, with Onyx Mage helping to fill in the gaps. The increased evasion threshold helps the overall aggressive feel of black, combining with Bloodthirst as well as creatures like Blood Seeker. The removal is fine as always, though Wring Flesh is much better than it looks (power shrinkage makes it a good combat trick, and it kills Illusions and utility creatures like Mages, Goblin Fireslinger and Gideon’s Lawkeeper).
Lightning Bolt’s reign of terror is over, but that’s actually a good thing for red, as replacing it with both Shock and Incinerate gives red more good cards (and Shock isn’t nearly as good of a splash). In addition, red has finally turned a corner in terms of creature quality thanks to Bloodthirst—you won’t realize just how above the curve Blood Ogre and Gorehorn Minotaurs until you play with them (there’s a reason the Modern Masters 2015 RB theme was basically a port of all the M12 cards). Volcanic Dragon is the rare non-Masters set rarity downshift (though M12 surprisingly has a lot of them for some reason), and the “generic” Dragon fits the finisher role well to go along with Fireball. Wizards even made the land destruction spell (Tectonic Rift) useful by stapling a Falter to it! Red is suddenly good in a core set—this is the end times people!
While we’re experiencing a changing of the guard in red, green is ready to go in the opposite direction: this is the last core set for Llanowar Elves, Rampant Growth, and Overrun, and while they’ll get replacements (some better than others), this is the end of an era. Other than those stars there isn’t much special in green, as there are a lot of generic big creatures (there isn’t much difference between a Stampeding Rhino, Greater Basilisk, and Vastwood Gorger) and more blanks than the average color. Arachnus Web is probably the most interesting common for how much of a color pie bleed it is: it’s an Arrest for small creatures while being a “can’t block” effect if necessary. Uncommon has a lot of bombs to make up for the average commons though: everyone knows Overrun’s power, but Stingerfling Spider’s power is massive (as the body is very relevant in addition to the Plummet, and Jade Mage is the best Mage by a decent margin. Hunter’s Insight is a sad case though, as it was supposed to be a great card (and interesting color pie space), but became a risky win-more after people played with it.
While people were sad about all those good cards leaving, I’m sure almost no one was that upset about this being the last year of the “lucky charm” lifegain artifacts wasting five uncommon slots in every core set. Sadly, there isn’t much else that’s interesting in the colorless section: Thran Golem is an interesting rarity downshift, Crumbling Colossus is fine (especially if you can afford to play a Buried Ruin, and while the Equipment isn’t great (both Greatsword and Kite Shield are strictly weaker than Butcher’s Cleaver and Accorder’s Shield respectively), they’re fine if necessary. The Empire cycle is also interesting, as while Throne of Empires is rare, both Crown of Empires and Scepter of Empires are reasonable playables on their own (though Scepter of Empires is mostly an average Bloodthirst enabler).
Limited Archetypes:
White/Blue: Fliers
There isn’t much new here, though the ground stallers like Pride Guardian and Stonehorn Dignitary are at their best here.
Blue/Black: Control
There’s actually a decent amount of mill here if you can slow things down enough: Merfolk Mesmerist is a decent repeatable source of mill (even if the body isn’t nearly as relevant as Vedalken Entrancer), while Jace’s Erasure is better here where both Divination and Ponder are commons.
Black/Red: Bloodthirst Aggro
The clearest archetype here is the Bloodthirst deck, but the Act of Treason/Devouring Swarm combo is still here as well, along with the density of removal you would expect.
Red/Green: Bloodthirst/Ramp?
I don’t think this deck really works: the ramp aspects of green don’t synergize at all with red’s powerful Bloodthirst cards, and Lurking Crocodile isn’t the best payoff if you go full-aggro (though Garruk’s Companion would work well in these decks). Maybe if you’re ramping out early Volcanic Dragons it can work, but I’d stay away if possible.
Green/White: Good Cards?
This has even less of a direction than RG. I guess you’re ramping out the midrange fliers like Peregrine Griffin? I feel like green just isn’t that interesting this set.
White/Black: Fliers/Bloodthirst
This is where all that evasion in black comes back; you can easily build a full curve out of good evasive creatures, and a Stormfront Pegasus is often just as good as a Tormented Soul for enabling a turn 4 Bloodthirsted Vampire Outcasts.
Blue/Red: Tempo?
Another color pair where the direction isn’t obvious, but I see pieces I like: Chasm Drake getting through my Lightning Elemental, Unsummon letting Bloodthirst trigger, burn and Aether Adepts letting a Gorehorn Minotaurs get through. I just don’t know if it’s a cohesive whole or not.
Black/Green: Grindy Control?
Recurring big creatures seems fine, but your only real way to do that here is Gravedigger—otherwise there isn’t much else to see here other than the generically-good cards.
Red/White: Fliers/Bloodthirst?
This is similar to WB, though you’re leaning a bit less on the evasion and a bit more on the powerful Bloodthirst cards. I don’t think it’s quite as good as WB, but it should still be fine.
Green/Blue: Ramp/Tempo?
Alternatively I should just put a frowning face there. These are the Hexproof colors, but there aren’t many good Auras to put on them—after Trollhide (which admittedly is great on an Aven Fleetwing), the only other beneficial Auras are Flight and Lure. Chasm Drake lifting up those big green creatures seems good as well, but that’s multiple 5+ drops, which isn’t great even in a ramp deck.
One more core set down, only two more left in the series. Unfortunately, next time is something worse as we finish off the Innistrad block with Avacyn Restored.

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