Ah, the final core set.
I have to admit that the thought of never getting another one after Magic Origins makes me feel a little bit nostalgic because somehow they’ve always been there. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have them, so this is definitely a deep cut.
However, I’m actually a bit confused about my own feelings here. Why? Because I never liked core sets to begin with! Until Wizards started to print new cards even in the core sets, there wasn’t a real reason for me to get excited about the release of a new one. And even when they did, the new cards were mostly uninteresting. Yeah, Baneslayer Angel, the Titans – I know. So what? They were still only creatures with mainly combat-based abilities. Powerful but hardly original.
So why am I growing nostalgic all of a sudden? Believe it or not, the only reason I can come up with is that I’m a person who doesn’t exactly like change. My girlfriend would probably say that I’m THE typical Taurus – stubborn and overly fond of stability.
Be that as it may, from Wizards’ perspective though, changing the structure of set releases is a smart move and will very probably serve them well in the future. Especially since the core sets weren’t all that great in the first place. So here’s to the market analysts at Wizards who realized that things needed to change! If you are interested in why they did it, Metamorphosis by Mark Rosewater is an excellent article in which he explains Wizards’ motives and solutions for the new release structure.
But what does this mean for us, the Magic players at the kitchen tables all over the world? In short, we’ll get two blocks per year that consist of only two sets, AND the core sets will be discontinued. If you ask me and despite my nostalgia, that’s a good thing as it basically means that every year sees another exciting set instead of a boring core set. Cool!
With that out of the way, let’s finally focus on Magic Origins, yes? Today, I’m going to talk about the mechanics of Magic Origins and take a look at a few choice cards in white and green. The next article will then deal with blue and black, and a third one shall take care of red, gold, artifacts and lands.
As usual, whatever I say here is my own personal opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. Believe it or not, you’re actually entitled to your own thoughts and ideas about the new cards!
Okay, without further ado, here we go!
The Mechanics of Magic Origins
Renown: This ability grants a creature a certain number of +1/+1 counters whenever it deals combat damage to a player for the very first time. That creature then also becomes renowned. These are two different aspects of the ability as the creature remains renowned even if it loses all its counters. This means that the ability cannot trigger again after it has triggered for the first time. So, is renown any good? Well, that totally depends on the creature and the board state. It may end up completely useless or put a ton of pressure on your opponents as the counters make your attackers beefier than their blockers. In general, I’d say that renown seems to be a nice thing to have but isn’t a must. It’s helpful but nothing that’s absolutely necessary.
Spell mastery: This is an ability that grants extra effects to your spells if you have a certain number of instants and/or sorceries in your graveyard whenever you cast something that has spell mastery. So if your deck is extremely creature-heavy, it might get a bit difficult to get the bonuses. However, a good multiplayer deck should always pack a few removal spells, and most cards with spell mastery don’t require a large amount of instants and/or sorceries in any case, so it should be fairly easy to achieve. I like it.
Menace: A new keyword for something that has actually been with us for some time now. Menace basically means that a creature that has it cannot be blocked by less than two creatures. The name fits the ability perfectly as it describes how the defenders have to flock together to overcome their fear of a particularly mean and brutal looking attacker. I really like the flavor here! However, I’m already looking forward to the numerous occasions where a lone Darksteel Colossus hilariously cowers in fear before the onslaught of an evil Boggart Brute…
Prowess: Ah, the Jeskai signature ability. Having been an obvious flavor and gameplay hit in Khans of Tarkir, prowess has returned to become an evergreen keyword. Basically, a creature with prowess gets a temporal power and toughness boost whenever its controller casts a noncreature spell. It allows for a few surprising tricks and has the potential to turn a game around even though the bonus granted isn’t all that great. A neat design.
Scry: Seriously, as good as scry is, it always seems like an afterthought when it’s added to a set. It makes every card it appears on that much better but unfortunately, most of them appear to be kind of weak – a fact that hasn’t changed over the years. There has been only a small number of really good scry cards, and Magic Origins is not going to change that. Sad.
Alright, enough about that. How about some cards? Let’s dive right in!
Akroan Jailer – Considering that his ability is so expensive, one might wonder how the Akroans actually manage to keep prisoners imprisoned…
Archangel of Tithes – At first glance, she seems ultra-defensive. Rather cheap mana cost for great toughness? Check. Prevents opposing creatures from attacking you? Check. Prevents opposing creatures from attacking planeswalkers you control? Check. Then you read her last ability and realize that she can also help you take out players. Wow, just wow.
Blessed Spirits – This card has been the focal point of a discussion for some time now because there are people who argue that it’s the second coming of the first iteration of Triumph of Ferocity. You don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, let’s just say that the first visual depiction of the fight between Garruk and Liliana was … uhm … rather unfortunate and has since been remedied by Wizards. However, Blessed Spirits is nowhere near that card’s potential for misrepresentation. Yes, it shows the spirits of dead children and therefore enters into difficult territory, but it does so by making those children appear happy and actually proud. The artwork is stunning in its emotional depth, and combined with the masterful flavor text, it managed to bring a sad smile to my face, making me want to protect these children as they might have protected someone else. Or why else would they be called heroes? This card is not the blatant instrumentalization of our young ones that some people want it to be but rather the acknowledgment of the ambiguity that even the little members of our society can perform outstanding acts of charity but still need to be protected at all costs. Kudos to Anna Steinbauer for this extraordinary piece of work. Magnificient.
Celestial Flare – How often do you get attacked by a single large beater? Especially control decks prefer finishers that can take large chunks out of your life total that are very hard to remove. Celestial Flare can get around that because it does not target the creature but its controller. Darksteel Colossus? Gone. Empyrial Archangel? Gone. Simic Sky Swallower? Gone. Iridescent Angel? Exactly.
Kytheon, Hero of Akros / Gideon, Battle-Forged – And here he is, the first one of the new batch of planeswalkers that serve as the foundation of Magic Origins. In general, let me say that I think that using the transform mechanic to represent the ignition of a planeswalker’s spark was a very clever idea. In fact, it captures this significant moment so perfectly that every other choice would have paled in comparison. Now, it’s hard to evaluate something that hasn’t existed before, so let’s go slowly. Kytheon is a 2/1 and should therefore be rather useless in multiplayer games. Noone plays Savannah Lions either, right? However, in contrast to the lions, Kytheon also has value if you draw him in the late game. If you have enough mana, he can block forever if you want him to, or he can transform into his planeswalker self one turn later. You should easily have enough creatures to flip him.
The problems arise as soon as you transform him into Gideon, Battle-Forged though. Why? Because you just used three creatures for the transformation, and unless those creatures had vigilance, you might be out of blockers to protect Gideon. Last time I looked, leaving planeswalkers unprotected in a multiplayer match, any multiplayer match, was a surefire way to get them killed. Gideon himself helps you out a bit if you control at least one other untapped creature by possibly making it indestructible but it could be dangerous. Especially if your opponents realize that since your fresh and new planeswalker is now unprotected, you should be as well…
So, is Gideon worth the effort? In a duel, I’d immediately say yes because he influences combat almost as well as his older self did. In multiplayer though, I’d probably say no. None of his abilities are extremely powerful there, although his positive abilities allow for a certain degree of politics.
The package Kytheon/Gideon is certainly interesting enough to try him out. Whether he’s worth it remains to be seen.
Gideon’s Phalanx – Seven mana for eight power at instant speed sounds okayish, I guess, but bear with me for a moment. This card has the potential to be so much more. Imagine what happens if one of your opponents sends her whole team your way when you have seven mana open and two instants and/or sorceries in your graveyard. You get four additional blockers and your whole army becomes indestructible. You’ll likely suffer no damage at all (therefore probably preventing you from losing the game) and will be able to return the favor next turn for at least 8 damage, sometimes a lot more. Does that still sound only okayish for you? Then again, seven mana is quite a lot, especially if you’d rather do something with it. So Gideon’s Phalanx can win you games but it can also rot in your hand.
Hixus, Prison Warden – He looks cool, granted. But oh, the risks! First, he exiles only monsters that damaged you, so you need to take damage to get rid of things. Any player who has ever tried to make Retaliate work can tell you that this is not a good starting point. And then, everything just comes back when Hixus leaves the battlefield? Guess who has just become a magnet for removal… Sorry, Hixus, I’ll pass.
Knight of the White Orchid – Welcome back, my friend! You were sorely missed.
Kytheon’s Irregulars – Remember Akroan Jailer? He just got fired. If you are playing monowhite, these dudes here are a nightmare for your opponents as they don’t need to tap for their ability to work. This means that you can actually use them against multiple opponents which is something not many of their ilk have been able to do so far. Just be aware that you need to tap down creatures before they have been declared as attackers.
Relic Seeker – The fixed Stoneforge Mystic? Not really. He can’t put the equipment onto the battlefield for a lousy two mana, so he’s clearly worse than the mystic. Also, he doesn’t search up equipment upon entering the battlefield but upon becoming renowned. This might be possible in the early game when at least one other player shouldn’t have any blockers yet. Later though, it’s going to be rather difficult so you’ll have to jump through some hoops to get the reward. I’m not a fan.
Starfield of Nyx – March of the Machines has been a brutal kill spell for quite some time now, and here’s finally the enchantment version of it, only better. You see, there is this first sentence that lets you get back any of your enchantments your opponents manage to destroy. And if you control four or more other enchantments, ‘enchantment’ is actually spelled ‘creature’. Nice!
Tragic Arrogance – Back in the days, Cataclysm was so powerful because it also hit lands and therefore closed the game for you as nobody was able to do anything against the board position you carefully planned and set up. Tragic Arrogance does nothing of the sort and doesn’t guarantee a better board position either, especially not in multiplayer games, because it depends too much on what is already on the board. Even though you are the one who chooses what stays and what gets binned, sometimes you don’t have a choice at all. It might lead the others to form an alliance against you, though, because you probably played it when it was advantageous for you. Not a good spot to be in if you just destroyed things of your own, even if what’s left on your side is better than everybody else’s stuff. It might turn a game around and it certainly sounds interesting enough to give a shot, but I expect to keep playing other forms of mass removal, such as Austere Command or Akroma’s Vengeance.
Vryn Wingmare – Yep, let’s hate the storm deck out of the room!
Animist’s Awakening – Be careful! This is not a ramp spell for every deck! If you need your mana early on, this is not the card for you because it is completely possible to find no lands among the cards you reveal. This means that Animist’s Awakening becomes better the more mana you invest into it. And when do you have a lot of mana? Right, in the later game. So it’s rather a Gilded Lotus than a Rampant Growth, rather a Boundless Realms than a Cultivate. Keeping this in mind, the card is more suited to formats with higher life totals. Yes, I’m looking at you, Commander!
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen – With ears like that, I wouldn’t be complaining about others poisoning the beauty of my land… Ah, never mind. As far as elven lords go, Dwynen is kind of expensive mana-wise and a bit bigger than is normal. Her problem is that she doesn’t really know where she wants to go. She’s an inherently defensive card because she has reach (a purely defensive ability) and her toughness is greater than her power. Also, many people dislike attacking with lords because they fear losing them. So why does her last ability force her to attack? Also, the lifegain gets better the more elves attack, possibly leading you to overextend and opening you up for other players. She’s certainly not bad but there are better elven lords for multiplayer Magic.
Dwynen’s Elite – Blade Splicer was a great card, and Dwynen’s Elite works similarly. However, you need another elf for that and the outcome is weaker. Then again, this one is an uncommon where the splicer was a rare. In general, this is a good creature to start amassing your elven horde and makes your fifth turn Overrun that much more dangerous.
Elemental Bond – What a great card! It doesn’t care about a creature being a token or not and this opens the way for easily refilling your hand just by casting spells. Giantbaiting, Broodmate Dragon, Spitting Image – they should all draw you at least two cards now. This enchantment is the green Phyrexian Arena and I’m going to play the crap out of it!
Evolutionary Leap – Holy shit! If I was extremely happy about Elemental Bond, I’m downright excited now! I’ve always loved Greater Good and Survival of the Fittest and this one here looks great as well. Barring Take Possession, noone is going to steal your fatties anymore since you can just sacrifice them in response. Oh, and the best thing? Combine Evolutionary Leap with cards that can produce several tokens or come back for another go, such as Sliver Queen, Ant Queen, Hornet Queen (It seems female leaders like a little bit of evolutionary development, ha!), Mobilization, Orochi Hatchery, Reassembling Skeleton, Strangleroot Geist etc. So many options!
Herald of the Pantheon – Another auto include for your enchantment decks.
Honored Hierarch – This card requires closer examination because even though it looks really good at first glance, it just isn’t. If you cast it on turn 1, there should be no problem to trigger renown as there should always be a player who cannot defend themselves on turn 2. In that case, you just got a 2/2 that can produce one mana of any color. Unfortunately, not before turn 3, so using the hierarch like Birds of Paradise is not possible. So unless he gets haste somehow, it takes you two full turns before you can make him produce mana. And this is the best case scenario. Now, let’s see what happens if you draw him later during a game. How probable is it to get renown triggered if everybody had the chance to develop their board position? Why, that’s almost impossible! Not to mention the question whether it’s worth it to go through all that trouble just for one more mana… As you can see, this is a ramper you can easily do without.
Joraga Invocation – Six mana for an Overrun effect? Sounds a bit harsh. However, this actually isn’t an Overrun at all. This is more like green mass removal against one other player, and this, dear readers, is actually something green has been missing for years. Try it out – it should be better than you think. Just don’t forget to leave a few creatures back for blocking if you don’t want the other opponents to take advantage of the situation and kick you out of the game.
Managorger Hydra – Taurean Mauler has been a multiplayer powerhouse for years, and barring tribal decks (Hello, Sarkhan the Mad!), this hydra is actually better! The mauler’s biggest downside has always been its lack of evasion. It just didn’t matter whether it got to 1,000/1,000 if your opponents controlled some lowly Drudge Skeletons, or worse, a Stuffy Doll. Managorger Hydra solves this problem by having trample and is therefore more than a glorified wall. It can grow quickly and start putting immense pressure on your opponents. Love it!
Nissa, Vastwood Seer / Nissa, Sage Animist – Nissa’s creature form is a Civic Wayfinder that can only search for basic Forests. Not great but hardly bad either. Definitely playable, I’d say. Getting her to transform into a planeswalker requires a lot of land, though, meaning that it will take some time. In the later game, however, you should be able to flip her immediately the turn she comes into play. Nissa’s planeswalker form is good but limits itself in a few ways. First, her first ability forces you to reveal the card, meaning that your opponents know every second card of your hand after a few turns. Second, as the token is legendary, she can only use her second ability once unless Ashaya, the World Awoken dies somehow.
Third, her ultimate is powerful but bears high risk. An instant-speed Rout, for example, is exactly that. Then again, getting 36 power on the board should probably be worth it, don’t you think? In general, I like the newest iteration of Nissa and will definitely try her out. Especially monogreen decks might be happy about including her. I know my Kamahl, Fist of Krosa Commander deck certainly will!
Nissa’s Revelation – Even if you reveal a creature that’s only 4/4, you’re already in Sphinx’s Revelation territory. Anything bigger sounds like a win. Whiffing though, that sounds horrible for a hefty seven mana… Oh, and I really like the artwork and the story it tells.
Outland Colossus – Boring. Next.
Skysnare Spider – Just how many legs does this thing have? Twelve? Fourteen? In all seriousness, I can’t get a clear count. Frustrating!
The Great Aurora – A green Warp World for one mana more and without the fun? Not exactly. It works more like a game reset that could massively favor those who had much before it was cast. Ha, sounds like capitalism in card form!
Valeron Wardens – Don’t let yourselves get fooled. Renown is far too unreliable an ability for this to draw you many cards. And without the card draw, this card is rather lackluster.
Woodland Bellower – If something lets you search your library for something other than basic lands, it’s immediately interesting. This dude needs to prove his mettle but definitely looks good in theory. At worst, you’ll get a second creature for combat purposes, at best you’ll search up something that lets you win the game. I’m not yet sure about the bellower’s potential but it’s not a mythic without reason. For example, Woodland Bellower into Eternal Witness to return something from your graveyard to your hand makes for a strong play. Or how about getting Kitchen Finks for defensive purposes, Scavenging Ooze to shut down graveyard shenanigans, or Reclamation Sage to take out that pesky Trading Post on the other side of the table? And Fauna Shaman can even continue the tutoring after Woodland Bellower picked her up. All in all, Woodland Bellower seems really good and versatile.
To Be Continued…
Alright, people, this was it for today. All in all, I’m quite happy how Magic Origins has been shaping up. It’s definitely an improvement over the core sets of old and, in my opinion, also over the more recent ones. What do you think about our final core set? And are you sad to see them go or was it about time? Let me know in the comments!
And don’t forget to join me next time when I’ll take a gander at blue and black.
Until then, may you be as excited about Magic Origins as I am!