Hey everybody, welcome to another article from the realm of multiplayer goodness!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ll know that a new set has just been released. Fate Reforged continues Sarkhan Vol’s quest to unearth the secrets of Tarkir’s past and thus learn more about his own mental state. You see, Sarkhan has been hearing voices (or rather a voice) in his head for some time, leading him to question his own sanity. And after all the trouble caused by his being a serf to Nicol Bolas, he could surely use a bit of clarification regarding his own situation now. To this end, he actually travels back in time to right an ancient wrong and to bring dragons back to Tarkir. Pah, if only it were so easy…
A new set always means new cards, of course, so let’s jump right into it. I know why you’re here, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Today, I’m going explain the new mechanics of Fate Reforged and offer my personal opinion on some of the white, green and blue cards of the set. The next article will then deal with the rest.
Okay, let’s take a gander at the new mechanics.
Bolster: This new keyword ability basically lets you pump one of your creatures. Unfortunately, you’re not free to choose but must always bolster the creature with the least toughness. If there’s a tie, you may decide which one gets the bonus. This is kind of a bummer as you’ll never be able to make your largest attacker even more dangerous unless it’s your only creature. Then again, if you manage to bolster a few times (say by employing the services of Dromoka, the Eternal), it might actually improve your own board position a lot. One-shot bolster spells like Honor’s Reward or Map the Wastes usually aren’t all that great though.
One thing of note is that bolster doesn’t target, so even if an opponent kills a creature in response to some bolster action, you can just put the +1/+1 counter(s) onto another creature, provided you have one.
Dash: Dash is an ability that allows you to cast a creature for its dash cost instead of its mana cost. If you do, the creature gets haste but is also returned to its owner’s hand at the end of turn. In general, everything that gives a creature haste is worth a second look as haste is an underrated mechanic that can provide problems for your opponents out of nowhere. In the case of dash though, I’m not really impressed. However, the problematic part is not about granting a creature haste, of course, but lies in the mandatory return-to-hand trigger if you use dash. In most multiplayer games, improving your own board position and making yourself hard to attack is a large step towards winning. Casting a creature for its dash cost usually leaves nothing behind that can defend you (with the exception of Mardu Strike Leader) and is more similar to casting a non-creature spell. It might come in handy in certain situations, sure, but in general, you should opt away from it. Dash is more suited for duels, in multiplayer it will probably only Dash Hopes.
Manifest: We all know how morph works, and manifest is similar. To manifest a card, just put it onto the battlefield face-down. The spell which makes you manifest a card always tells you where to take that card from, be it from the top of your library (i.e. Fierce Invocation), a graveyard (Ghastly Conscription), or wherever. A manifested card is a 2/2 colorless creature with no name, no abilities and no creature types. You can always turn it face up whenever you have priority by paying its mana cost (or its morph cost if it has one) but only if the manifested card is a creature card. Manifested non-creature cards cannot be turned face up.
Manifest is a very interesting ability. It seems similar to producing tokens in most cases but adds an element of surprise to the whole thing because you might make one of those “tokens” a lot more dangerous at a later point in the game by turning it face up. Most manifest cards try to be random, for example by manifesting the top card(s) of your library, but a clever deck builder should easily find numerous ways to make it less random than it appears at first glance. Sensei’s Divining Top and friends say hi and help you not to manifest any non-creature key cards.
Alright, enough of that. On to some actual cards!
Abzan Advantage – Not exactly a good card, but it’s worth mentioning that it gets around indestructibility. Seems like the Abzan don’t like the gods of Theros…
Citadel Siege – Both modes are interesting for multiplayer. Your army can quickly grow out of proportions if you use Khans, and don’t forget that you don’t need to attack after one of your beaters received the +1/+1 counters. You can just pump a creature and then keep it back for defensive purposes if you like. If you use Dragons, please note that the card says “each opponent’s turn”. This is both good and bad for you. It’s good because it defends you against all of your opponents, not only one (unlike Martial Law, for example). It’s bad because there’s no “may” to be found in the rules text, meaning that you absolutely have to tap a creature, even if you don’t want to. So you also limit your opponents’ capability of attacking each other. Meh. And then there is also the aspect of annoying EVERYBODY at the table… However, the Dragon mode is really good in Two-Headed Giant as it taps a creature for every person on the opposing team.
Jeskai Barricade – Awesome card! ETB decks just got a new cool toy. The little “may” in the rules text is the icing on the cake as it allows you to cast Jeskai Barricade even if you don’t control any other creatures. To top it off, the art looks really cool.
Lotus-Eye Mystics – This is an efficient card for enchantment decks and seems well-costed for what it does. I like it.
Mardu Woe-Reaper – Does anybody else remember when Savannah Lions was the most powerful one-drop you could play? Nowadays, being a vanilla 2/1 for one mana isn’t enough anymore. This guy here is an aggressive little bugger that might actually have some relevance in the late game thanks to his ability. Sadly though, he’s not a soldier.
Mastery of the Unseen – Basically, this is a token producer with the option of surprising your opponents later on. Not bad but maybe a bit expensive and therefore slow. It’s definitely better in formats with more life and more mana, like Commander. I’m probably going to include it in a few decks as a one-of.
Monastery Mentor – Wow. Just wow. This dude is one of the best token producers in all of Magic and I’m not surprised at seeing his price going through the roof. The bad thing about that is that I’ll probably never own a copy as there are enough cheaper alternatives that are a bit weaker but fulfill a similar function.
Rally the Ancestors – Mass recursion in white? Cool! And it’s really cheap as the number of creatures doesn’t matter, only their converted mana costs. Awesome! I’ll just return all of my dudes at the end of your turn and… Wait. They disappear during my upkeep? So they can never attack unless I somehow give them haste? Yeah, it sounded too good to be true. Then again, there’s Urabrask the Hidden and Flame-Kin Zealot…
Soulfire Grand Master – Is this the card that finally makes burn a viable strategy in multiplayer? I’m not sure but it’s certainly an interesting design. Her last ability is a bit expensive at four mana as it means that your instants or sorceries shouldn’t cost too much if you want to get them back. However, getting a second use (or even third or fourth) out of every removal spell is a very good thing, so that’s probably just me picking nits.
Valorous Stance – Protection or removal, depending on the board situation. Flexible and cheap equals good. I’d be surprised of this didn’t get some love.
Wandering Champion – An aggressive beater that can also provide a bit of card selection. She can dish out some damage if left alone but also dies to everything. My guess is that she looks better than she actually is but I hope I’m wrong.
Abzan Beastmaster – This is a really nice design. Considering that green is the “creature color”, it shouldn’t pose too many difficulties to control the creature with the greatest toughness. But even if Abzan Beastmaster only draws you two cards, that’s already okay. I would totally play a creature that costs three mana, has 2/1 and lets me draw two cards upon entering the battlefield. The Beastmaster may be slower but has the ability to draw you a lot more than that.
Ainok Guide – This, on the other hand, is just pure crap. If you need a 2/2 for two mana, you have many different options that are faaaaaaaaaaar better. Kavu Titan, Dawntreader Elk, Heir of the Wilds, Fauna Shaman or even Ashcoat Bear, just to name a few. And if you need the ramp, even a boring Sylvan Ranger is better than this dude. He’s Limited fodder, pure and simple.
Ambush Krotiq – This thing isn’t any good either, and I only mention it here because I think that it deserves the award for the worst-suited name in the set. Seriously, how is that thing supposed to ambush anyone? It doesn’t have flash and even forces you weaken your own board position. And all that for a hefty six mana! Yeah, it’s only a common, but still.
Cached Defenses – Ah yes, bolster. This card is the perfect example of why bolster is inherently flawed. Cached Defenses isn’t even all that bad, it’s just that there are other cards that can do the same job but better, for example Elephant Guide, Vow of Wildness or Boar Umbra. Okay, but you want the +1/+1 counters, I guess. How about Incremental Growth then? Or Hunger of the Howlpack? Hunting Triad anyone? All of the cards I listed leave it up to you which creature you pump. Bolster always forces you to pump the creatures with the least toughness, whether you like it or not. It doesn’t sound like much of a disadvantage but believe me, this can lose you games.
Destructor Dragon – Taking a gander at the art, I’d never expect a lowly 4/4. Look at how big that dragon is! Also, this card is the perfect example of the difference between rare and uncommon. At rare, we have the powerful Archon of Justice, at uncommon we have this – a higher mana cost and a weaker ability. This guy is not bad though, especially since green doesn’t get all that many fliers, and it works very well with the next card on this list. Its name, however, hints at a more proactive ability and doesn’t really fit the card.
Frontier Siege – Now we’re talking! Frontier Siege basically provides you with an extra four (!) mana per turn if you choose Khans, albeit distributed into two instances. In Dragon mode, you’d better branch out into other colors due to green’s lack of high-quality fliers (Hornet Queen not withstanding). But if you have a deck with a critical mass of flying beaters, this enchantment becomes repeatable spot removal. I’m currently in the process of building a deck around it where I try to use both modes to their fullest potential. Let’s hope it works out! I’m definitely excited about this one.
Return to the Earth – A rather versatile piece of cardboard. Four mana is certainly a bit expensive, but the flexibility of this instant more than makes up for it. Nice!
Ruthless Instincts – Green really gets a boost in versatility in Fate Reforged. This card is either conditional spot removal or allows you to push through the last points of damage you needed to kill an opposing player. And don’t forget that the second mode can also let you kill a creature.
Shamanic Revelation – In a normal multiplayer game, this should net you somewhere around three to five cards and eight to twelve life quite easily, with more being anything but impossible (depending on your deck of course). Is that good? You betcha. Ha, take that, Sphinx’s Revelation!
Temur War Shaman – So this is basically a 6/7 for six mana with the potential option to kill another creature? Doesn’t sound too shabby. Put it into the right deck and you might have a clear winner. I like how face-down creatures have finally received enough support for us to try to build a morph / manifest deck.
Warden of the First Tree – Admit it, when you first saw this card, you thought of Figure of Destiny. And why wouldn’t you? They are very similar cards. There are three important differences though. First, Warden of the First Tree‘s abilities require different mana (white or black) than its mana cost (green). Second, its second ability doesn’t increase its power and toughness. And finally, its last ability can be activated multiple times if you want to. Is it good? Probably, but I’m not impressed. Especially since the wording of the second ability means that you have paid a total of five mana for a 3/3 with lifelink and trample. That’s kind of weak if you ask me. Then again, I was never a fan of Figure of Destiny in multiplayer either, and that one was once considered the best creature in Standard for some time.
Whisperer of the Wilds – That’s a really efficient mana dork. Just saying.
Whisperwood Elemental – Free creatures and reassurance against board wipes in a single card. Yes, this one is highly playable.
Yasova Dragonclaw – Yasova is very aggressive. It seems rather strong to take a defender away and add it to your attacking force. However, her toughness is only two, so in a normal multiplayer game, don’t expect her to survive more than two attacks at most. Then again, she really likes gearing up, so equip her with Champion’s Helm, Obsidian Battle-Axe, Hero’s Blade, Magebane Armor etc. You get the picture. Fitted out, she can really bring the pain and put a lot of pressure on another player.
Jeskai Infiltrator – This dude tries to be be sneaky and clever, and with a bit of luck, he might actually pull it off. Well, at least one time… All the text makes him seem kind of powerful while he actually isn’t all that good. Imagine how much mana you’ll have to pay even if your opponents never manage to block Jeskai Infiltrator so that he can continue his cute trick. Then again, the worst case is that you get two 2/2s and 2 damage to an opponent’s face for three mana, and from that perspective, he’s actually pretty decent, don’t you think?
Marang River Prowler – We all know the situations when games have become stuck, when nothing is really happening to bring them to a conclusion. Those are situations where Marang River Prowler really shines. An unblockable creature that can return itself from your graveyard to the battlefield is nothing to sneeze at, and even though this guy here is only a 2/1, that shouldn’t pose too much a problem. I’m already looking forward to combining him with Wolfir Silverheart, Ana Sanctuary, Garruk, Apex Predator, or even Narcissism. Any kind of equipment wouldn’t be bad either. And don’t forget all the sacrifice outlets that love recurring creatures. Ah, so many options!
Monastery Siege – All of the Sieges are useful cards to have, but they aren’t equally good. Some require you to build around them, others can just go into any of your decks. Monastery Siege falls into the second category, because even in worst case, it’s card selection every turn. Its modes are very versatile and actually allow it to go into aggro decks, too. Just choose Dragons for the first Siege you draw to support your assault and prevent your beaters from dying too early, then choose Khans with the next one to prevent you from drawing cards you don’t need and to keep pressure on the other players. This is a very playable enchantment, folks. Get yours while they are still cheap.
Reality Shift – And there it is, another permanent blue spot removal spell. When I reviewed Curse of the Swine a few months ago, I said that I didn’t like this kind of removal in blue, and I stand by that opinion. Blue is already a strong color, and I feel that it already has enough strengths and shouldn’t be able to kill things for good. However, that doesn’t mean that Reality Shift is a bad card. It clearly isn’t, even though it could create a problem bigger than the one it just solved. But if you’re facing a monster that definitely has to go now, you don’t care about a puny 2/2 that might actually turn out to be Akroma, Angel of Fury in disguise.
Renowned Weaponsmith – Hm. This one requires closer inspection. Why? Because it has two very different abilities, and one of them sticks out even though it is the bad one. So first, lets see what his first ability does. It provides 2 colorless mana that you may only use to cast artifacts or activate abilities of artifacts. That’s actually pretty neat in the right deck. Okay, what about that second ability then? Well, it sucks. At least for now, because Heart-Piercer Bow is not a good card and clearly worth a slot in your deck. And Vial of Dragonfire doesn’t even exist yet. So he tutors for two cards, with one of them being crappy and the other one being … uhm … not there yet? Yeah, good job, you who designed that card. The art is kind of nice though. If you take a closer look, you can actually see both the vial and the bow.
Shifting Loyalties – If only this was one or two mana cheaper…
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest – Shu Yun can bring the hurt, and his granting a creature double strike is not restricted to creatures you control, so you can really mess with combat even if you’re not actively involved in it. Also, that artwork is amazing, with him standing between a monk who’s studying and one who’s performing some martial arts moves. Silent Tempest indeed!
Temporal Trespass – Yes, there will be times when this costs only three mana. But compare that to the times when it will be sitting in your hand accomplishing nothing because it costs a freakin’ eleven (!) mana. Even if you delve for six cards, it’s only on par with Time Warp. Also, please understand that extra turns are less powerful in multiplayer games than most people seem to think. Unless you are playing a combo deck that absolutely needs that extra turn right now in order to go off, you’ll rarely be able to score a win just because you got an extra turn. Instead, you’ll have drawn attention to yourself, which is never a good spot to be in. You’d better think twice about playing Temporal Trespass and whether it’s worth the cost. I know I won’t.
Torrent Elemental – Holy moly! Can Torrent Elemental speak? If so, it will be screaming “You die! You die! YOU DIE!!!” at your opponents like no other blue creature ever did. And its last ability proves surprisingly relevant, at least in my playgroup where removal of the exiling kind (Swords to Plowshares, Unmake, etc.) is running rampant. Awesome! This is a mythic worthy of its rarity.
… will be red, black, gold, lands and artifacts. Oh, and Ugin, of course. He obviously deserves his very own category!
Until then, may you think about something to write in the comments.