Back at It Again

It’s been a while! As far as I can tell, the last time I wrote an article for ManaDeprived was in October 2015. I helped out a bit on the Grim Flayer preview article, but I haven’t really written anything other than that in 2016. What happened?

Well, to put it simply, Magic wasn’t as much fun for me while #mtgfinance was ruling the daily Magical news cycle, and the rising cost coincided poorly with my trying to save for various other things in life. Then, I started working fulltime at White Wizard Games (known for Star Realms and to a lesser extent Epic Card Game – although most readers here would probably enjoy that game even more than they would Star Realms), and most of my free time was spent either playing games we designed, or decidedly *not* gaming.

So, I mostly stopped playing Magic, only attending bigger events and eventually even skipping prereleases, which I had attended in some capacity without missing a beat since… (*checks planeswalker point history*) Alara Reborn? I seemingly missed Conflux after getting back into the game with Lorwyn. Man, that’s a couple years back.

Anyhow, my travels recently found me actually free on a weekend, and there was an SCG IQ at a store I frequented up until last year. A friend could lend me a mostly complete deck: BG Delirium without Grim Flayers, but as Seth Manfield can attest (much to his chagrin, I’m sure), a random card-slinger doesn’t need those to win an event. I decided it might be fun to play competitively again, so I decided to go, not expecting too much.

I was told the list I was handed beat the earlier mentioned Mr. Manfield in the finals of a GP, and while upon inspection I liked the look of Seth’s list better, I only managed to borrow 2 Grim Flayers, so I showed up with an awesomely awkward list with 3 Sylvan Advocates, 2 Grim Flayers, and 3 Lilianas (those are expensive!).

I proceeded to play UW Flash I believe 4 times during the tournament, and since I’m a quick learner, I only had to get lucky the first time to make up for mistakes made due to inexperience and suffering from a severe cause of brain flatulence. I won a mirror, beat a Mardu midrange brew that just seemed like a worse midrange deck than what I was playing, and eventually found myself in the finals, taking home all the money and making my opponent happy with the invite after a pretty swell split.

Magic sure is sweet when you’re winning!

So I made some time to dip my toes in at the LGS a couple more times, joined everyone in complaining about how completely inelegant vehicles are, how pushed Copter is, how dumb [card]Mindslaver[/card] on a 13/13 unkillable flyer is, and how nobody can remember the full text on Avacyn because somebody kept slapping on extra text to make SURE she was good enough; and so on and so forth. You know, the usual Magic stuff. Is Legacy dead yet? Yeah, I’m sure you died to [card]Blood Moon[/card] on turn 2 in Modern. And you had the turn two kill with Infect too?! Just had to be on the play to win that one… Blowouts!

… and now I’m at the point where I’m actively reading the spoiler for the new set. That’s right, you’ve finally gotten to the meat of this article: we’re talking spoilers, baby! This new set, while it still has, also has a bunch of really awesome cards. I particularly like that the theme of the set seems to be cheating costs, as that’s never gone wrong before. It’s exciting!

Revolt Cards

First I want to look at some Revolt cards that cheat on mana, as they play well with something I like to do in Magic: sacrificing humans and other species for value. Let’s take a look at one of the sweet Revolt uncommons, Renegade Rallier:

This card looks very good in Limited to me if you can reliably trade off two drops. From what I’ve heard, Kaladesh Limited is pretty aggressive (because of Trains, apparently. Welcome to 2016 Magic everyone), so this could happen pretty regularly. Once you manage to trade your two drop with your opponent’s, following up with this to suddenly have 2 creatures on the board to your opponent’s zero will be a massive tempo swing–especially since it didn’t cost you an extra card from your hand. The big downside here is probably that the Rallier likely trades down in converted mana cost due to only having 2 toughness, but that might not matter too much after you just got a free two drop back.

In Constructed, I’m not quite sure what this’ll do in Standard, as I see less two drops trading there, and creatures dying will likely be the major source of triggering Revolt early on. In Modern and Legacy (and Frontier!) however, we have fetchlands that can easily trigger Revolt. That turns Rallier into a very flexible card, capable of getting back a fetchland and effectively ramping you up, or getting back a creature you might have lost either through combat, or maybe earlier to something like a Fatal Push (yes, that card is bonkers, and no, I won’t be talking about it in this article. If you need help understanding why that card is good: go calculate what percentage of creatures played in Modern and Legacy it hits. Go ahead, it won’t take too long. Spoiler: it’s about 90.almostallofthem%). In many ways, it feels like an [card]Eternal Witness[/card] type card that could see play in a couple of decks, which is really all you can ask from a card printed in a Standard legal set.

Another Revolt card I think at least deserves a second look is Hidden Herbalists:

So, this is [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] redone. It’s a mono green version that only works if something left the field, which in the one deck BTE is played in (Modern Bushwacker Zoo), is not too hard. Your one drops will die regularly, and you can play plenty of fetches to support this card. I already thought the Zoo deck was fine in certain metagames, and with up to 8 BTEs your nut draw just became a bit more likely. It’s possible you don’t want the full 4 depending on how reliably you think you can save a fetch for the second turn (you do not want to get stuck with multiple [card]Grizzly Bears[/card] in your hand in Modern), but having a Grizzly Bear to play off a BTE might not be the absolute worst.

In Standard, we do have Reckless Bushwacker helping fuel some crazy starts, although this will likely have to happen on turn 3. The Herbalist, unlike BTE, does not provide red mana, so you’ll need to cast the Bushwacker partly with something else.

Now, for something that supports Revolt, we get a new repeatable sacrifice outlet:

This card I’m not really sure about. Generally, being able to sacrifice cards at will comes with a sizable bonus, and I’m not sure becoming indestructible is quite worth it on a 2/2 body? Basically with indestructible you are hoping to either trade your sacrificed creature with a removal spell or with another creature that can die to Yahenni in combat. But as a 2/2, how often will the opponent be forced to trade with it? They might be able to ignore the card. However, if you can get Yahenni’s triggered ability off once or twice, suddenly we’re talking a whole different ballgame. 4/4s are really hard to ignore, and 3/3s can already kill a lot of cards. So, depending on how the format shapes up, this might go from fun FNM legend to solid performer in the right deck.

Showing off Expertise

When I said that this set was all about cheating costs, this was an obvious cycle I had in mind. At the time of writing this, all but the red Expertise spell has been revealed, which, judging by previous cycles in Kaladesh, probably sucks (I’m looking at you, Combustible Gearhulk).

So far I have heard that the black one will be great in Modern Grixis because it casts [card]Ancestral Vision[/card]s, the blue one is the worst one, and the white one will be good in Frontier [card]Jeskai Ascendancy[/card]. Nobody cares about green cards. While all of those statements are interesting, they don’t tell you very much that’s useful. In general, when it comes to new cards, it’s probably more helpful to think about in what scenarios cards are good, and in what scenarios they aren’t, and then see which scenarios are most likely to occur in any given format.

The big draw to Expertises is obviously the “free spell” that’s tacked on, as the effects without them are slightly overcosted (although not by much). The way these work, they’re not going to be broken by using lands that tap for more than one mana like the Urza block free spells, they are more comparable to Cascade spells. And what was good about Cascade spells? Often the best was the tempo swing. Suddenly putting two creatures on the board, or removing a creature and putting a creature on the board. The rest of the cascade spells saw play as combo pieces, but not much else. So, you are going to want to play something that puts you ahead on the board to get the maximum effect from the tempo you gain. If you don’t affect the board in a progressive way, then what do you gain by playing your spell a turn earlier? Especially if you’re going to run out of cards by playing your spell now, you might not be gaining all that much.

For example, for Yahenni’s Expertise, I’m not sure people will be “living the dream” a lot. If you’re casting this on turn 4, when did you draw that [card]Ancestral Vision[/card]s that it’s still in your hand? When did you draw the Yahenni’s Expertise? Current builds of Grixis control don’t really have a lot that they can play off the Expertise that positively affects the board, so you’re mostly just looking at spending your “tempo boost” on gaining card advantage, which only matters if you were in danger of not being able to play the spell later (which is a real concern in Modern, with how fast it is). I will be interested to see how often this card is as bonkers as some have claimed it will be.

One good use a friend of mine alerted me to (thanks Ryan!), is using the Expertises to cast split cards sooner, or even better, to cast both halves of a Fuse split spell. If you cast a split card with Fuse from your hand without paying its mana cost, you can choose to use its fuse ability and cast both halves without paying their mana costs. For example, using Yahenni’s Expertise to wipe the board and casting [card]Breaking // Entering[/card] might be pretty good in Modern. [card]Breaking // Entering[/card] itself isn’t even that bad in a Grixis reanimator deck since it can fill your own yard to help you find [card]Griselbrand[/card].

Sram’s Expertise is fairly interesting to me, because it affects the board itself, and the extra free spell can help you push the advantage you might create. One concern for me is whether or not the 1/1s will be relevant enough in a format full of Thraben Inspectors and few 1 toughness creatures that the tokens can tussle with. If they’re not, then paying 4 mana for them is a bit much in a world where you could be paying 4 mana for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Perhaps putting an Oath of Ajani into play off of this does something though? 3 2/2s to hold the fort while we prep for the big cat to come down on turn 5? That seems like a solid play, as well as using it to cast [card]Beck // Call[/card] in Modern.

Baral’s Expertise is actually my favorite so far for Standard, since in the matchups where this is good, this seems devastating. It also supports a tempo plan, making it much easier to gain full value out of the tempo boost of getting to cast a free spell. Bounce all your relevant permanents, keep mine, plus add one? How is your opponent supposed to come back?

The green one isn’t really a way to push a tempo advantage, it’s more a way to recoup the lost tempo of spending your turn restocking your hand. It does require you to have a creature already in play, and it’s the most expensive one, which means you can save the most mana on the spell you get for free, but it also means if you don’t happen to have a four or five cost card in your hand, you might not be getting great value. Since this is a six drop, it’s likely you could have cast four or five drops earlier, and the chances of drawing one might not be great depending on how your deck is built.

Other Mana Cheats

After looking at Baral’s Expertise, I was happy to see that the wizard himself doesn’t disappoint either, and continues the theme of casting spells for cheaper than they are supposed to:

My first reaction to this card was “wow, this’ll be great in my cube”. That’s likely not the only place this will be great though, as the card is a [card]Goblin Electromancer[/card] with an extra ability stapled on, and specifically one that makes it better in a wider range of decks. This is important, because there is no Storm deck in Standard. With this ability allowing you to filter away dead cards, I could see this card being played in various control shells, depending on how well the size of the creature matches up against the aggressive creatures in the format. This is why being a 1/3 is also relevant, because the type of decks that play a ton of spells aren’t often the ones that are attacking, so the loss of a point of power is likely negligible when compared to gaining a point of toughness.

Normally we don’t see control deck play a lot of creatures unless they replace themselves, and while filtering isn’t card advantage, it is a way to get better card quality, which in decks that draw a lot of cards to begin with is close to just as good. Heck, if you manage to get some value out of discarding cards (Madness?), it becomes even better.

To make Baral really worth the effort, you will want some good counterspells. Disallow is very solid (and turns into Counterspell+ with Baral out), but the recently spoiled Metallic Rebuke might be even more exciting:

While there is some straining here on how many artifacts you can play in your spell heavy deck, you might not need that many: one expendable one turns this into [card]Mana Leak[/card], and Baral turns it into a roided-up [card]Force Spike[/card] at that point.

I particularly like this card in the current UW Flash deck, as you already have incidental artifacts lying around in clue tokens and Copters that don’t always get crewed, turning this into a split card between a better Revolutionary Rebuff and a slightly weaker Spell Shrivel – I’ll take it!

Improvise in general is an ability to look for while scanning for playable Constructed cards. As a cost-reducing mechanic, a couple of cards could be more powerful than they look. It’s always hard to gauge how much you can get off during game play without actually testing, so I would advise to try more than you might normally would. I would especially be on the lookout for instants or creatures with Flash, as those are the types of cards that can surprise your opponent the most when they’re only looking at your lands to surmise what you might be capable of. It’s too bad you can’t shave off the colored mana symbols, so Metallic Rebuke won’t ever be a free counterspell, but that’s probably safer.

The last card I want to look at is another “free mana!” card, and it’s a bit of a throwback to a card that’s currently banned in Modern:

It’s not quite [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], despite the textbox having a significant number of words that overlap. However, it is an artifact, which likely has value in this set, and it also means that it doesn’t cost any colored mana – anyone can play this. If most of the removal that gets played is of the killing (not exiling) kind, then this might not be a bad card to board in against control decks out of your aggro deck. It obviously depends a bit on your plan, because this card won’t exactly help you get under a control deck, but if your plan is to weaken them with the early assault, and then grind out those last few points, I could imagine worse cards to have in my deck.

At the very least, this card will be *very* solid in Limited, and I am happy to see these types of cards at uncommon. Not every potentially playable card has to be a rare for power level!

Until Whenever

While I didn’t get close to going over every card in this set I think has a shot of seeing play, I hope you liked thinking along with me about the few I did decide to highlight. There’s a couple that are obviously great, like Fatal Push, or Spire of Industry (a second very playable rainbow land in Standard? When was the last time we had that?), but you don’t need me to point those out. You probably didn’t need me to point out the ones above either, but if I did make you think of something you hadn’t considered yet–I’m happy to have contributed.

Happy New Year everyone!

Jay Lansdaal
@iLansdaal on Twitter

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