Hey folks, welcome to part 2 of my Khans of Tarkir review!
If you haven’t read part 1 yet and are interested in what I had to say about the mechanics and the monocolor cards of the set, you can find my thoughts here.
Today, I’ll talk about multicolor cards, artifacts and lands, which will conclude my review. Please note that everything I say is my personal opinion. If you don’t agree with something I wrote, you can give voice to your thoughts in the comments section below. If you agree, that’s even better. Just praise me for my intelligence and wit and be off!
Okay, on to the meat of the article! Well, actually, not yet. Because first, here’s a funny anecdote:
One member of my playgroup recently decided that he’d like to get a few fetch lands, so he bought five M15 boosters.
Yeah, you read that correctly – M15. And he only realized his mistake when we started laughing after he seemed disappointed and complained that he didn’t get any fetchies. You know, it’s already quite difficult to get the rares you want by just buying boosters. Buying boosters of the wrong set doesn’t exactly make it any more probable!
I have stopped spending money on boosters sometime during Mirrodin block when it finally dawned on me that I almost never got what I wanted (well, who’d have guessed?). So I switched to using online traders. It’s a bit of pity because c’mon, we all love cracking boosters, don’t we? The growing excitement when you rip them open and thumb through the cards, always hoping for that one extremely cool or valuable rare or even mythic rare at the end of the pack! And then –
WTF!!? I want my money back, Wizards!
Luckily, sets like Homelands or Mercadian Masques don’t happen anymore. There might be stronger or weaker sets, yes, but in general, card quality has improved a lot. Many a gem can be found among the bulk rares nowadays, so you don’t have to invest too much money to build a fun and casually competitive deck.
Ha, did you see that? The words “casual” and “competitive” in a single sentence, and not even in contrast to each other! Uhm, whatever. That whole Casual vs. Competitive debate is something for another article. Today, let’s talk about Khans of Tarkir!
Abzan Ascendancy – An interesting card to start with. I’ve tried numerous times to build the “perfect” Doubling Season deck – a deck which excels at putting counters on permanents as well as at producing tokens. So far, I think I haven’t succeeded yet. Abzan Ascendancy might be headed in the right direction but has the same problems I’ve encountered before – it doesn’t really know where it wants to go. The +1/+1 counter theme doesn’t seem to work out, mainly because the second ability is far cooler and also more powerful as you can really abuse it due to its reusability. All in all, the low mana cost and my penchant for graveyard-based decks make me like Abzan Ascendancy but it still has to prove its mettle.
Abzan Charm – Let’s be honest, the third option is more or less unnecessary. However, would I play a card that’s either removal or card draw, depending on the situation? Why, yes, I would!
Anafenza, the Foremost – Wow! This lady is one aggressive beater. Unless your opponents find some form of removal, she can easily take over the game right from the beginning. Just imagine you cast Watchwolf on turn 2 and Anafenza on turn 3. That’s two undercosted creatures right there. As if that wasn’t enough to put pressure on the other players, Anafenza now keeps pumping the Watchwolf every turn, making it even bigger and bigger with every attack. This soon forces your victim(s) to make uncomfortable decisions that could result in some very disadvantageous blocks, making it so that they can never get a reprieve. Let’s just hope that the other players stay out of it, hehe! But that’s not all, folks! Anafenza, the Foremost also puts a lid on graveyard shenanigans, at least as long as they work with creatures. This looks a bit random to me but it is powerful nonetheless. All in all, a great package!
Ankle Shanker – First strike and deathtouch are always an evil combination. Just ask my playgroup about Glissa, the Traitor. However, Ankle Shanker is a rather costly dude and only triggers on the attack, so even though I like haste a lot, he doesn’t do it for me.
Butcher of the Horde – This demon comes down early and eats a fourth of their life total with every attack. In addition, it can gain a plethora of abilities and fuel graveyard shenanigans. What’s not to like?
Crackling Doom – Ha, that one looks so cool! It has two things going for it – first, it’s an instant. And second, it’s a bomb in team formats. You kill two or more probably at least medium-sized creatures and deal at least 4 damage to the opposing team (the more players, the more damage) for only three mana! Awesome! I’m going to play the crap out of my playset as soon as I have a deck to put them in!
Death Frenzy – If you are really considering playing this, let me show you the following cards: Infest, Hideous Laughter, Decree of Pain, Drown in Sorrow. Each of those is better than Death Frenzy for different reasons. Are you playing them? No? Why then are you thinking about playing Death Frenzy?
Duneblast – This card requires some testing. It is very similar to Phyrexian Rebirth which sadly could never live up to my expectations. This isn’t a good omen for Duneblast because not only does it have a higher converted mana cost, it also needs three different colors. I haven’t decided yet but I’m pretty sure that this won’t make the cut in any of my decks. Although if you have built your deck around a specific creature, it can be nice to keep it when everything else goes to the graveyard.
Flying Crane Technique – With a few medium-sized creatures out, this spells game over for at least one opponent. Or it allows you to swing at somebody and have angry surprise blockers for someone else. Nice! Keeping up six mana might be a bit much though…
Icefeather Aven – I’ve always liked Gaea’s Skyfolk, and this birdie is clearly better because it grants you more tactical value. However, it also poses (a small) challenge: When do you cast it normally, when as a morph? In general, you should always prefer the morph variant unless it’s turn 2 as it allows for additional possibilities in the course of the game.
Jeskai Ascendancy – I can easily imagine this card being the engine of a deck revolving around tapping abilities. It untaps all your stuff and also digs into your library, so it provides two essential functions such a deck would definitely need. Any ideas, dear readers?
Jeskai Charm – This might be really good in duels. In multiplayer though, it’s one of if not the weakest charm in Khans of Tarkir. Putting something on top of its owner’s library is not effective enough while dealing 4 damage to the dome leaves a lot to be desired if you are playing against two or even more players. The last ability might be what saves Jeskai Charm as it can serve as removal and gain you a lot of life if you play it right. Still, there are better options out there.
Kheru Lich Lord – Only during your upkeep? And at random? Oh well, I guess they didn’t want to make unearth obsolete…
Kin-Tree Invocation – I’m not saying that you should play this card as it depends too much on other cards, but you should realize that for only two mana, this could be a 5/5 or a 6/6 quite easily.
Mantis Rider – Lightning Angel has always been a favorite of mine, so it’s no wonder I really like Mantis Rider. It comes down early and immediately hits for 3 while also defending you against smaller stuff. So it’s great on offense and on defense, something I keep looking for in creatures. And I cannot say it often enough: Haste is an extremely powerful keyword, not least because it means that no planeswalker should ever feel safe if they are cast onto an empty board.
Mardu Charm – Like all the charms, Mardu Charm is very versatile. It’s good against most creatures, rips everything else out of your opponent’s hand, and can even provide attackers and/or blockers. It’s a work horse – hardly spectacular but good at what it does.
Master the Way – Drawing a card and having the option to kill creatures and players isn’t all that bad. Still, I think five is just one mana too many. And what’s going on in the art? It looks like that djinn is a character from a musical, dancing down the steps singing. Weird.
Mindswipe – No, it’s not a maw with giant teeth and a rosy tongue! It’s some shaman guy (a Rattleclaw Mystic to be exact) casting a spell. I always have to look at it twice to remember that! Apart from that, I really like that card, especially in Commander where big mana and powerful spells are the norm. Countering a Blightsteel Colossus and dealing 8 or 9 damage in the process feels great! As a finisher though, it’s a bit worse than other Fireball variants as it requires your opponent to actually cast something. If they don’t, you’ll never get a target for Mindswipe and can’t kill them. However, the look on their face when they realize that casting their own spell basically is what killed them is priceless.
Narset, Enlightened Master – Usually, this lady should trigger exactly once before she dies. Will that one trigger be worth an investment of six mana? It might be but it might as well be completely irrelevant. Due to her high mana cost I’m not a fan, although I have to admit that she can be a really mean Commander. Thanks to hexproof, just put some equipment or auras on her and go to town.
Ponyback Brigade – Cards that produce a total of four creatures are rare in these colors. Just saying.
Rakshasa Vizier – Sadly, becoming gigantic just doesn’t cut it if you are easily trumped by Awakening Zone or even Reassembling Skeleton. So this card has the same problems Hamletback Goliath and Lord of Extinction have been bitching about for years. Some people seem to think that this is a nice countermeasure against graveyard hate. Well, it isn’t. If it had trample, fear or intimidate, Rakshasa Vizier could have been an asset. As it is, it will accomplish nothing without support. Weak.
Ride Down – Ah, the flavor! Whoever came up with the function and name of this card deserves a medal. I absolutely love it! It would have been better in red and green but that’s just me picking nits.
Sagu Mauler – Yes, yes, big beater with hexproof. Next.
Secret Plans – Every set seems to have a card that is supposed to work well with its signature mechanic or theme (like Rebellion of the Flamekin or Long-Forgotten Gohei). For morph, there are actually fairly many cards that allow you to exploit it, such as Aphetto Runecaster or Ixidor, Reality Sculptor. And now we also have this little enchantment which seems like a rather weak mixture of the two afore-mentioned ones. It takes a bit of the sting out of having to cast vanilla 2/2s for 3 which always seems somewhat underwhelming even if it means you gain a certain bluffing potential and options for the later game. And the card draw is always welcome. Still, it certainly fails to impress me.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant – Tyrant? Seriously? How can this creature tyrannize anybody? You’ll always only get a single zombie, no matter how many cards are put into your graveyard. And as a Commander who likes gaveyard-based decks, The Mimeoplasm is waaay more fun. Sidisi could be a nice support card though. And don’t forget that she’s basically a 5/5 for 4. Then again, if you like playing with undercosted beaters, may I introduce you to Naya? Watchwolf, Fleecemane Lion, Loxodon Smiter and Woolly Thoctar all say hello!
Siege Rhino – Why do so many people get this card wrong? You only ever gain 3 life when it enters the battlefield, no matter how many opponents you are playing against. Otherwise, it would be worded like the extort reminder text, Exsanguinate or Agent of Masks. Apart from that, I immediately ordered a playset when Khans of Tarkir was released. Now that I have played a few games with it, I can tell you the following. Siege Rhino is very good on defense as it has enough power and toughness to deter attacks in the early to middle game. The lifegain is not all that important, but the lifeloss leads to it getting cloned again and again. When I cast it for the very first time, it took only two more turns for there suddenly being three rhinos on the battlefield, with me being the only player to play the Abzan colors. So it definitely shaped the game but I’m not sure whether it’s as powerful as I thought at first. It’s certainly a very good multiplayer card though that gets even better in team formats such as Two-Headed Giant or Archenemy (if you’re the Archenemy).
Sorin, Solemn Visitor – Like I already mentioned in other articles, planeswalkers tend to have a shorter lifespan in multiplayer than in duels as there are more players who want them off the table. So they need to provide enough value to be worth their investment. The newest version of Sorin has yet to convince me. The bonus his +1 ability provides actually remains until your next turn, making attacking into your blockers more dangerous. Pumping out tokens is also a nice option, as all the Garruks, Elspeths or even Xenagos, the Reveler can attest. His ultimate is very good for multiplayer but should probably make everybody gang up on you if you manage to pull it off. It’s also Sorin’s biggest problem since usually none of the other players will want you to reach it. Still, I think he’s decent and may be exactly what your deck needs. In Commander, he’s too weak though. 2/2 tokens are never going to cut it, and the power boost is more or less irrelevant. The ultimate though would be great here as well, but unless you can land Sorin early on, he won’t live long enough to make it that far. Ghave might like him but other Commander decks should probably prefer something else in his stead.
Sultai Ascendancy – Card selection every turn after the low, low initial investment of three mana. Just build your deck accordingly and watch as it carries you to victory. In my opinion, this is the second-best Ascendancy after Temur.
Sultai Charm – Is there anything this card can’t do? Its flexibility is through the roof and I’d question everybody playing these colors who doesn’t include it in their deck. And not owning any copies is no excuse!
Surrak Dragonclaw – Erhnam Djinn was once considered an extremely powerful creature. It had an above-average power/toughness-to-cost ratio and a disadvantageous ability to offset that. Fast forward about twenty years and we get this, a five mana 6/6 with a frickin’ four positive abilities. What the hell!? For this alone he should go to jail, but then I hear he also likes punching bears? What an a**hole! In all seriousness, Surrak will often start out as a removal spell thanks to being big and having flash, then continue to annoy the crap out of people who are using counterspells, and even enable your other critters to force damage through. Sick. The only thing that mitigates his sheer ridiculousness is that he’s probably the weakest Commander in his colors. Why? Because the others all either double up on things (Riku) or provide spells at a severe discount or even for free (Animar, Intet). Still, Surrak Dragonclaw is the real deal and a huge asset for Temur-colored aggro decks.
Temur Ascendancy – Speaking of Temur aggro, here’s another extremely powerful card you should never leave out of your deck. Three mana provide haste for all of your creatures and ensure that you’ll be able to keep on laying the beats. I absolutely love this card! For me, this is the best card in the Ascendancy cycle.
Temur Charm – You don’t get all that much removal in these colors, so having one of your creatures fight to kill an opposing one is certainly possible. May I suggest Surrak Dragonclaw for the job? I hear this man definitely pulls no punches, ha! An expensive Mana Leak is also nice to have if only for versatility’s sake, but the third ability is a head scratcher. I’m not sure whether it works as an alpha strike enabler or not as it seems a bit situational. If you need to get a little bit of damage through, though, this might well do the job. It’s not bad but probably not worth the inclusion of a complete playset.
Trap Essence – There are now so many different counterspells out there that provide additional boni (yay, Latin!) that putting two +1/+1 counters on a target creature appears to be somewhat lackluster. Also, it requires you to have a creature in the first place if you want to get the counters, even though you don’t need one to cast Trap Essence. The other downside is that you can only counter creature spells. Booh! I like being able to counter any spell, not only a certain type. Since it also needs three different colors, this card is also rather hard to cast. If you were a rare, and a common that was printed in Invasion years ago was better than you almost anytime, you’d know it would be very, very difficult to earn your spot in a deck. Trap Essence has nice synergy with Animar, Soul of Elements, and that’s about it.
Villainous Wealth – This is Commander fodder, nothing else. In that format, it has the potential to win you the game. In other multiplayer formats though, it’s a very expensive card that depends too much on what other people play. Although getting a small army of three soldiers or zombies or whatever for perhaps seven mana might not be a bad move, it’s hardly impressive. Not a fan.
Winterflame – Uhm, is it just me or does this card feel kind of misplaced in a set that also has five charms in it? I wonder if this was part of a cycle before Wizards decided that the charms would be included in Khans of Tarkir.
Altar of the Brood – At first glance, this looks like an auto-include in any mill deck that plays permanents. Which every mill deck does – in the form of lands at least. However, this seems like one of the worst topdecks ever if you are in the later stages of a game. And if you think about blink effects to combine it with, think again. There are so many better things to do with Momentary Blink and friends that it’s not even a contest. It’s hard to complain though, considering that Altar of the Brood costs only a single mana. Ha, finally Trinket Mage can also fuel mill decks!
Briber’s Purse – Another flavor hit! Bribe some creature to stay out of combat and let your own men do their dirty work. Too bad if you run out of money… Brilliant and clever design! With regard to the background setting though, I think that it would have found a more fitting home in one of the Ravnica sets. Still, the idea behind this card was captured perfectly.
Dragon Throne of Tarkir – The perfect equipment for all large creatures that can produce lots of tokens, such as Ant Queen, Dragon Broodmother or Sliver Queen. First, spit out your horde, then make them huge and crash in for the win.
Ghostfire Blade – It took me ages to notice the blade that’s implied in the artwork. Story-wise, the spirit dragon Ugin definitely left his mark. What do you think, will we also see Ghostfire in one of the other sets in the Khans of Tarkir block? My guess is probably not, considering that the name should be a bit too general now that we’ve already a similarly named blade. Still, a nice allusion here.
Ugin’s Nexus – Speaking of Ugin, his nexus is a powerful tool against decks that try to gain infinite extra turns. It’s also cleverly worded to prevent its caster from getting infinite extra turns. Then again, Mirrorworks and Prototype Portal exist…
Witness of the Ages – Look, how big is this thing? Isn’t it supposed to be some really huge guy made of stone and/or metal? How come then that a stupid orc like Zurgo can easily crush it under his heel? Oh well, the inconsistencies in Magic card design…
Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills – Bla bla bla, the old fetch lands have returned, bla bla bla. Really, people, for casual games, these usually aren’t worth their investment. And I should know as I once owned quite a few of them. They are good, no question, but for the money you spend on them, you could easily get a whole bunch of other cards that are actually fun to play, meaning that lands may be important for every deck but normally only function as support cards. And even then, I can imagine many alternatives that are way more exciting than fetch lands, for example Vault of the Archangel, Emeria, the Sky Ruin or Mistveil Plains. Moving on.
Frontier Bivouac, Mystic Monastery, Nomad Outpost, Opulent Palace, Sandsteppe Citadel – These on the other hand really brought a smile to my face. If you’ve read other articles of mine, you’ll know that I love playing multicolor decks, and these little gems provide access to three different colors. The old tri-lands (Arcane Sanctum, Crumbling Necropolis, Jungle Shrine, Savage Lands, Seaside Citadel) have found their way into so many of my decks that I wouldn’t know what to do without them. So these new ones are more than welcome!
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon – Morphs are colorless. Just saying.
Okay, this is it. All in all, my favorite cards to come out of Khans of Tarkir are Clever Impersonator, Siege Rhino, Sultai Charm, Temur Ascendancy, Howl of the Horde, Icy Blast and the wedge color tri-lands.
What are your favorites? Have you already built decks around any of the new cards? I’d like to hear about them, so feel free to post them in the comments!
Until next time, may you win with cards that don’t cost a fortune!