Welcome, everybody, to another article in my Multiplayer Madness series!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you might know that another set has just been released. Exactly, I’m talking about Khans of Tarkir, and since it’s still fresh, what’s more logical than all the writers publishing Khans of Tarkir reviews? Yeah, nothing, and of course I won’t be an exception to this, so here is the first part of my take on the new cards. I’ll talk about monocolor stuff now and about multicolor cards in my next article.
As always, note that I try to evaluate them from a multiplayer perspective as that is basically all I’ll use the cards for. Still, a few of them might impress me even though their application against several opponents could be questionable, but in those cases I just don’t care! If something pops up in my mind and I deem it interesting enough to jot it down here, you’ll just have to deal with it, ha!
Also, please be aware of the fact that everything I write is my own personal opinion. Yours might be completely different – and that’s cool! You think I’m wrong about something? Tell my why in the comments. Anything you’d like to add? Fire away!
Okay, right, on to Khans of Tarkir.
To start off, here are some random thoughts about what’s going on in the set. We have five clans that are constantly battling each other for supremacy. Sarkhan Vol is back and ready to kick ass. Magic finally reintroduces orcs after a long period of absence. Oh, and we have a new weird animal people, the ainok, some kind of humanoid canines. Or are they canine humanoids? Bah, whatever. I find them rather silly. I mean seriously, do Wizards have to take every animal species out there and provide them with the abilities to speak and to walk on two legs? Consider what we already have: elephants (loxodon), lions (leonin), birds (aven), rhinos (rhox), foxes (kitsune), snakes (orochi, and now the naga, too), rats (nezumi) and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment. And now there is also the dog people. So what’s next? Well, I have a few ideas. How about the terrifying lumbrics? They are fearsome Alaran earthworm bandits who dig tunnels through the earth to ambush and rob harmless people. And by the way, Kamigawa would have been perfect to introduce some kind of ninja turtles, don’t you think? That would have been creative and extremely original. Sadly, they missed that chance… Yeah, that was sarcasm.
Hm, and then we have the clan designs. Everything about this world seems to fit together when it comes to the art. Well, everything? No. Just look at the Jeskai to see what I mean. Many of their cards seem to be taken from some manga or anime to land directly in Tarkir. It’s not that I don’t like that style because I do. It just looks completely different from the rest of the set and thus breaks its overall coherence. Still, this probably sounds harsher than it’s meant. Khans looks quite cool and I’m really looking forward to playing with the shiny new things!
Alright, enough of that. Let’s talk about the important aspects of Khans of Tarkir. First off, …
The Mechanics of Khans of Tarkir
In general, giving each clan its very own clan ability makes the whole thing feel a bit like a poor imitation of Shards of Alara where every shard got its own ability, too (exalted for Bant, devour for Jund, unearth for Grixis, artifact stuff for Esper, and a “power 5 or greater” theme for Naya). So how do the new mechanics stack up? Are they any good? Here is what I think:
Delve: I have to admit that I dislike mechanics like delve. Why? Because they are usually used to make cards cost a lot more mana than they normally would just to lend them the potential to be cast for a lot less. Another culprit in this regard is convoke. Just take a look at Autochthon Wurm or Sultai Scavenger if you don’t understand what I’m talking about… So in my humble opinion, most delve cards are rather bad if not completely unplayable if you don’t want to pay a ton of mana. In addition, I love using my graveyard as a resource in the sense of being able to get my cards back, so exiling them with delve usually isn’t an option. Of course, if you are doing it right, delve can actually shape your graveyard the way you want it, meaning that it all depends on how you want to build your deck, I guess, and what you want it to do. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Ferocious: My favorite clan mechanic. Why? Because it’s so damn easy to control a creature with power 4 or greater! And that is enough to get ferocious going! It reminds me a lot of two things. First, in Invasion, they printed Kavu Lair which sadly always was a bit too symmetrical to really work. Nowadays, ferocious helps you and no one else, so that’s definitely an improvement over Kavu Lair. Secondly, there was the “power 5 or greater” theme in Shards of Alara which was similar in function but a bit more difficult to make use of due to the higher power requirement. So all in all, ferocious is shaping up nicely. My favorites are Icy Blast, Roar of Challenge and Stubborn Denial.
Morph: When it appeared in Onslaught block for the first time, morph created a lot of confusion among players. Never before had we seen an ability like that, and I remember us encountering many a situation and question during games which we had to improvise answers for until we could do some research. Nowadays, morph has largely been clarified and shouldn’t cause too many headaches. Should something still remain unclear, there is no shortage of websites explaining how it works. With regard to the cards in Khans of Tarkir, it appears similar to Onslaught – only a few cards will leave a lasting impression as most of them are just not powerful enough and are either vanilla beaters or function like spells in creature form. By the way, how much cooler are those tiny tentacle meteorite morphs than the morph spiders from Onslaught block? I really love the new design and hope they keep it for the next reappearance of morph.
Outlast: Urgh, so slow and ineffective. The only thing that saves this ability is that many of the creatures with outlast also provide boons to all creatures with at least one +1/+1 counter on them. That and the option of just outlasting a creature if you have nothing better to do with your mana. My main question is, why did they have to make it sorcery speed? Would it have been too powerful otherwise? Perhaps in comparison to the other clan abilities, yes, but in general, it feels like they missed out on outlast. Herald of Anafenza is probably the best of the bunch, if only for its ability to produce tokens, and Mer-Ek Nightblade should be decent in the right deck too.
Prowess: With regard to the color pie, prowess is awesome. It’s a creature ability related to noncreature spells, making it very blue indeed. Great! Oh, wait, it’s the ability of a three-colored clan? Never mind then. It gets better if you can cast multiple noncreature spells in a row, which reminds me of something… Ah, yes, say hello to Wee Dragonauts and Kiln Fiend. While being a lot weaker than those two, prowess now offers you a few alternative cards for your “Cheap spells make small creatures gigantic!” deck. However, with regard to multiplayer games, I’m afraid that the bonus it provides is not enough and too short-lived. Even outlast might be better here as it actually influences your board development and has a longer-lasting effect.
Raid: This ability was created as a tribute to the most aggressive creature ever printed in black, Erg Raiders.
Okay, not true of course, but it definitely favors an aggressive play style. Aggro decks tend to have difficulties in multiplayer as in theory they must be able to kill every other player. Considering that each player wants to win the game, they’ll obviously try to prevent you from winning, meaning your creatures will often become targets of removal. So everything that grants you a bonus if you attack should be welcome in any aggro deck’s book. And guess what? That’s exactly what raid does. It is a double-edged sword though, as you won’t get the bonus if you don’t attack. And there are plenty of situations in multiplayer where you either can’t or won’t want to attack. In theses cases, raid becomes a lot worse and forces you to decide whether the bonus is worth irritating another player or throwing your attacker away. My favorites? Howl of the Horde and Bloodsoaked Champion.
Okay, enough about that. How about some cards? Let’s dive right in!
Brave the Sands – A super defensive creature-based enchantment that should be right up your alley if you like playing with monsters that have a big butt, such as Doran, the Siege Tower or Molder Slug, and Wall of Denial becomes even more powerful if it can block more than one attacker. By the way, which other keyword goes well with vigilance? First strike. So Baneslayer Angel and all those 2/2 knights say hi!
End Hostilities – The perfect tool against Voltron commanders like Bruna, Light of Alabaster or Uril, the Miststalker. And how often has equipment like Lightning Greaves, Sunforger or one of the numerous Swords of X and Y annoyed the crap out of you? End Hostilities takes care of them as well. By the way, this is my candidate for the card with the most understating name in Khans of Tarkir.
Wingmate Roc – Does anyone else remember Broodmate Dragon? Man, the similarity between those names hints at a certain laziness I’d much rather not have invading our beloved game. Those two cards are even similar in how they work! Urgh. Be that as it may, getting a total power of 6 and a total toughness of 8 for only five mana is a great deal. The lifegain is just the icing on the cake. So yeah, this is a good card. Who’d have guessed?
Clever Impersonator – Like almost all other clones we’ve seen over the years, this card is very good for multiplayer games because it is extremely flexible and scales with the ongoing game. Since this one can copy not only creatures but any nonland permanent on the battlefield, it’s one of the best clone variants ever printed. Period. Clever Impersonator is one of the top multiplayer cards of the set, so get your copies. You’ll not be disappointed!
Icy Blast – One of the most boring and uninspired names I’ve ever seen on a Magic card. Still, this is one powerful instant, good on both defense and offense, and considering that I’ve always had a soft spot for cards like Turnabout and Sleep, I’m already looking forward to swing games around with it. By the way, it’s even better in team formats such as Two-Headed Giant or Archenemy as it allows the rest of your team to attack as well. However, is it just me or does having a creature-based ability on a monoblue noncreature card feel kind of weird?
Quiet Contemplation – I cannot wait to annoy the crap out of the other guys in my playgroup with this little enchantment. Is it any good? In team formats, yes. I’m not sure about free-for-all games though. There, it probably does either too little or just enough to make people sit up and take notice. In the latter case, it won’t be enough to save you, so I think Quiet Contemplation is nice but not exactly powerful. As with many other cards, it all depends on your deck though.
Singing Bell Strike – Sure, blue nowadays has Pongify and Rapid Hybridization as well as Ovinize in its arsenal to deal with troublesome creatures, but if you like playing with enchantments, you might want to take a closer look at this one as it disables attacking, blocking and activating abilities that require tapping. That’s not too shabby. It’s also another removal option for Zedruu Commander decks that you can safely hand over to your opponents.
Stubborn Denial – Controlling a creature with power 4 or greater is easily achieved in multiplayer, so this should almost always be a hard counter for noncreature spells that costs only a single mana. Say no to Wrath of God and friends!
Thousand Winds – The blue Sunblast Angel. I’m on the fence about this one. Sure, it allows for cool actions especially if you’re being attacked, but I’m fairly certain I will always prefer Curse of the Swine when I’m building a deck. Multiplayer games tend to go longer than duels, and returning something to its owner’s hand usually isn’t permanent enough. It’s even worse if the creatures you just sent back have ETB effects. Then again, it completely nullifies an attack that sees non-vigilance creatures coming your way. The verdict is still out but I’m not convinced.
Bitter Revelation – Ah, I absolutely love the mood of this card. Wizards don’t tell their stories through cards anymore like they used to, so every allusion to the plot of the current set is welcome. Play-wise, Bitter Revelation lets you dig four cards deep and fills your graveyard, so it looks tailor-made for recursion decks. It’s unspectacular but I like it.
Empty the Pits – How are your calculation skills, dear readers? Because Empty the Pits is so darn expensive that I question the intelligence of everyone who uses it. Imagine you’d like to get five zombies, then you’d have to pay a frickin’ fourteen (!) mana! Without delve, this card is unplayable in all decks that don’t ramp like crazy. And even if you use delve to make it cheaper, it still costs a ton. So if you want a scalable token-producing instant, try out White Sun’s Zenith or Entreat the Angels (which at least lets you pay less via miracle and then provides more powerful tokens) and not this crap.
Grim Haruspex – In Ancient Rome, haruspices inspected the innards of sacrificed animals to divine the future, so this card has awesome flavor. It’s also a nice creature that can allow you to draw large amounts of cards in the right deck. Say hello to sacrifice outlets and Puppeteer Clique, Bloodghast, Nether Traitor and Reassembling Skeleton. And how about persist or undying? Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Fleshbag Marauder, Shriekmaw and all the others out there send their regards. I’m sure you can up with something.
Retribution of the Ancients – It doesn’t look like much, does it? Then again, how often does a creature survive combat only because its toughness was just great enough? And don’t forget about all those tiny utility creatures running rampant everywhere. Birds of Paradise? Dead. Royal Assassin? Dead. Dwarven Blastminer? Yeah, you guessed it – dead. Combine Retribution of the Ancients with stuff like Corpsejack Menace, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Cytoplast Root-Kin, Fathom Mage etc. for maximum value. You might even convince someone to add counters to your Feral Hydra to get rid of some other player’s nasty critter!
Ashcloud Phoenix – I would never even consider playing this if its text box didn’t include the magical words of multiplayer Magic, “each player”. Then again, why couldn’t it be “each opponent”? I don’t think that would have been too strong in duels as the morph cost is pretty steep anyways. Paying six mana just to deal 2 damage to my opponent every turn? And I’d have to jump through loops to get this thing to die every turn? Doesn’t sound overpowered to me. So why weaken that card by having it damage its controller as well? We’ll never know but I’m not impressed. I could actually envision myself playing this little birdie if not for the expensive morph cost.
Burn Away – Creature and graveyard removal in a single card? In red?! Neat! It’s perfect for Commander purposes as you now don’t have to rely exclusively on artifacts anymore if you’re playing mono red. In this color, it is graveyard hate first and creature removal second. I know I’ll play it a lot as it combines two very important aspects in a single card, just like Necromancer’s Covenant does.
Goblinslide – Similar to Quiet Contemplation, Goblinslide can grant you a little extra if you cast a noncreature spell. Unlike Quiet Contemplation, the bonus helps defending yourself without annoying your opponents. However, it’s lacking the offensive component because unless you control a horde of goblins, you’re not getting through anytime soon as those critters are just too small. So obviously, these two very similar looking enchantments have very different applications. I like the slide a little bit better.
Howl of the Horde – My God! Getting two copies for only three mana?! Wow, just wow. The only caveat is that you can only copy your own stuff. But please, imagine this sequence of events: “Attack with my Scuttling Doom Engine, cast Shrapnel Blast, copy the blast twice with Howl of the Horde. You take 21 damage.” Sick. And in multiplayer Magic where you usually have more time to prepare your assault, you have even more options. Breath of Malfegor anyone? Or be mean and empty your opponents’ hands with Unnerve. Howl of the Horde is made for shenanigans, people, so be creative!
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker – Yeah, this planeswalker has been talked to death already, so you can go read about him elsewhere.
Okay, maybe a few words can’t hurt. Well, Sarkhan is obviously good. He is a ‘walker who’s quite adept at killing other ‘walkers (large hasty fliers will do that). There, that should do it.
Archers’ Parapet – Early defense that can also go on offense by tapping. Nothing extremely powerful but useful. Becomes better in team formats such as Two-Headed Giant where it has the team lose life equal to the number of team members.
Hardened Scales – Hm, it looks quite harmless until you consider that it costs only a single green mana. Cast this on turn one and follow up with creatures that have graft or evolve or enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on them for other reasons (see Triskelion, Pentavus or the next card on the list) and watch this little gem do its work. It may not look like much but consider how much incremental advantage Hardened Scales can provide over the course of a game – for a measly green mana! It’s definitely a good starting point if you build a deck with a +1/+1 counter theme.
Hooded Hydra – Creatures with a second life are always welcome in any multiplayer deck. And this hydra scales quite well. In the early stages of a game, it’s a more or less cheap attacker or blocker that transforms into a fatty for five mana. Drawn later, it’s a fatty right of the start that functions as protection against board wipes. Nice. Well, it seems like the hydra tribe has certainly gotten some love in the last year.
Meandering Towershell – What a strange creature! I really don’t get where they were going with this but it does look like some weird kind of fun, so I’ll probably give it a try. However, considering that it doesn’t have haste and disappears when you attack with it, it crashes in three turns after you’ve actually cast it! And then it disappears again next time you try to attack? Oh dear, I don’t think it’s worth the wait. Then again, the giant turtle allows for cools tricks with Wrath of God and friends. Wipe the board right before your combat step when it is still in exile and proceed to hit someone over the head with a green turtle shell!
Roar of Challenge – Amazing flavor hit! The name alone evokes images of heroic fighting and titans clashing, and the text box delivers exactly what I’d expect after reading that name. I love it! But will I also play it? You bet! This is creature removal in green that – in contrast to former cards with a similar effect, such as Bloodscent – can also protect your own dude.
See the Unwritten – Yeah, yeah, Tooth and Nail 2.0, bla bla bla. Well, it’s not. Not even close. Is it any good? That remains to be seen. It has some potential on its own as digging eight cards deep is quite a lot, but if you can stack the top of your library, it becomes so much better. Brainstorm should be extremely cool here because it can put a fatty or two from your hand on the top of your library to get them onto the battlefield via See the Unwritten. So yes, not a bad card per se but a bit too random for my tastes unless you build your deck around it. In Commander though, it’s really powerful, especially in decks that play lots of big dudes, such as Riku of Two Reflections or Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund.
Okay, this concludes part 1 of my Khans of Tarkir review. Did I miss anything? Any cards you’d like to read and/or talk about? Use the comments for your thoughts, folks!
Going forward, I’m super stoked about part 2 as I’m a big fan of multicolor cards and this set is shaping up well in that regard as far as I’ve seen. Hopefully, my expectations (which are quite high unfortunately) won’t get disappointed.
So, until next time then, may new cards make your eyes shine with joy!
(Urgh, if that wasn’t cheesy, I don’t know what is…)