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The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 26: A Comboist Review of [i]Khans of Tarkir
By Stephen Bahl
Hey, another new Magic set is out. Did you know that? Let's review it Comboist style!

Flavor and stuff

This set takes place on a new plane called Tarkir. That's where the set gets its name. Tarkir has been revealed to be the plane from which Sarkhan Vol originates. And for this set, he's come back home. Also, Sorin Markov is here too for reasons. There are also five clans, and those clans are led by khans, which is the other source of inspiration for the name of this new set. Oh, and the clans each use three colors, like the shards from Alara, only they use the other three-color combinations, which is really cool because we'd all been waiting since Apocalypse for them to finally make cards built around those color combinations. And no, that 2011 Commander product doesn't count. Since players were polite enough to start referring to the three-color combinations from Alara by their “shard” names, Wizards of the Coast is pushing for us all to do likewise with Tarkir. Some players resent that. I'm going to explain why they're wrong and also poopyheads, but first, here are all of the three-color combinations in Magic, in order from my favorite to my least favorite...

Ana
Esper
Grixis
Necra
Jund
Ceta
Dega
Bant
Naya
Raka

Oops. I copied and pasted that in from a document I made several months ago for no particular reason. I used the old Apocalypse names that can now be replaced by the clan names from Tarkir. You're not nearly cool enough to remember those names, so I'll fix it for you...

Sultai
Esper
Grixis
Abzan
Jund
Temur
Mardu
Bant
Naya
Jeskai

Still not good enough? I guess before I wrote this part, I could have introduced the clans themselves. Fine! You're so lazy. So Mardu is clan of nomadic morons that are tough and like beating things up, and they're W/B/R. Temur is a clan of other, different nomadic morons that don't like beating things up as much, but they really like bears and they live where it's cold or something, also U/R/G. Abzan is a clan of desert people that defeat their opponents by boring them to death, and they're W/B/G. Jeskai is a clan of high-altitude losers who think they're way cooler than they really are, and they are W/U/R. And Sultai is a clan of jungle snakes that will kill you, also U/B/G. Add that to the existing shard names and my favorite three-color combinations (and least favorite) are...

Sultai (UBG)
Esper (WUB)
Grixis (UBR)
Abzan (WBG)
Jund (BRG)
Temur (URG)
Mardu (WBR)
Bant (WUG)
Naya (WRG)
Jeskai (WUR)

The point is this: almost all of my excitement for Khans of Tarkir comes from the prospect of finally getting new tools for the Sultai color combination. And I'm perfectly content to call it “Sultai” rather than something else. A lot of players who weren't making any fuss about the Alara-based names for the other five combinations, nor for the Ravnica guild names of the two-color combinations, object to Wizards of the Coast making up words and daring to expect us to use those words to describe the things they were made up to describe. Yes, I know, Magic players are big crybabies. Setting that aside, I have some points of contention regarding these holdouts.

1. 80% of you are too dim-witted to keep track of the old Apocalypse terms for these color combinations. You read them already, in this article, and you forgot every single one, didn't you? So that won't work. The problem is that they're all too similar for your brain to properly differentiate them. Not so for these names.

2. Every single one of these clan names is better than “Bant.” What a stupid word. Bant? Really? And you let that one slide. The floodgates were open, so deal with it.

3. People used to call Jeskai decks “Patriot” and such, a carryover from the old “Star-Spangled Slaughter” deck featuring Lightning Angel. That makes sense, I suppose. But then Sultai, sharing only blue, became “Team America.” Sorry, but you, the players, have created a hopelessly confused situation, and both of those names are now, by extension, dubious.

4. Don't get me started on “BUG” and “RUG.” Those aren't names. Those are just letters! I mean, the letters do spell out words, but unless your deck has a creature in it that is a bug, it makes no sense to call your deck a bug deck. And what would a rug deck even be? Flying Carpet?



No. That's much sillier than made-up words. Real words being applied nonsensically is not an improvement here.

5. The community couldn't even decide on what the name is for the Mardu color combination. I mean, there's “Team Italia” and I'm sure there's no potential for confusion there, but most players don't call it that.

6. Two of these color combinations got names that were just silly rearrangements of the letters that are used to abbreviate the colors involved, and one of those along with two others has also been named after some real country. The only one that got its own name, one that stuck throughout the community and that isn't inherently problematic, is the Abzan color combination. Calling it “Junk” is very, very popular. If you're attached to that name, I'm sorry, but there are two issues here. Firstly, it's one letter off from “Jund.” That's just not a good idea. Secondly, statistically speaking, you don't have the foggiest idea of why the color combination of W/B/G would be called “Junk.” To be more specific, a whopping 99% of Magic players don't know or don't remember the origin of the term “Junk.” So stop it.

Prerelease

Oh, hey. I attended a prerelease. I didn't keep my pool together, but I guess I saved my decklist, so this is it...

1x Cancel
1x Dig Through Time
1x Mystic of the Hidden Way
1x Treasure Cruise
1x Despise
1x Dutiful Return
1x Gurmag Swiftwing
1x Krumar Bond-Kin
1x Murderous Cut
1x Rite of the Serpent
1x Sidisi's Pet
2x Dragonscale Boon
2x Hooting Mandrills
1x Naturalize
1x See the Unwritten
1x Abomination of Gudul
1x Icefeather Aven
1x Kheru Lich Lord
1x Sultai Soothsayer
2x Sultai Banner
1x Jungle Hollow
1x Opulent Palace
1x Thornwood Falls
1x Windswept Heath
4x Island
5x Swamp
4x Forest

I won't say a lot about the prerelease. But my pool seemed mediocre and I just rushed to build a Sultai deck with what I had. I thought that I'd probably do poorly, but I ended up only losing games to the guy who took first place. My first opponent built a five-color deck and lost a long first game to me, then the second game, which he was going to win, lasted so long that it was a draw. Second opponent bulldozed me with a Mardu deck in the first game, as I failed to draw lands, then lost a close game to me, and then defeated me in a close game to secure the match. Third opponent had a Jeskai deck, but had pretty bad luck and I was able to win with little trouble. And then it turned out that the tournament was only three rounds. So I got fifth place. I guess that's good? Anyway, this prerelease was weird to me because I am, in principle, opposed to seeded booster packs for sealed play, but it was nice to have here because it let me force Sultai, which I had wanted to do. So I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

Mechanics

Each clan has its own special mechanic. Mardu gets Raid, which lets its cards do things if you've attacked with a creature in that turn. It's a good mechanic for an aggressive clan and seems pretty successful. Temur gets Ferocious, which is basically a repetition of the Naya mechanic from Alara block. It was an utter failure the first time they tried it, so now Wizards of the Coast are doubling down on a bad mechanic (not everything about this set is good). Abzan gets Outlast, which players keep wanting to work at instant speed, even though it doesn't, but it's actually a very cool mechanic. Jeskai gets Prowess, which gives creatures +1/+1 until end of turn when you cast a non-creature spell. I'm a big fan of non-creature spells, but this really doesn't seem like what I want. Sultai gets Delve, which was already a mechanic in Future Sight, but 0% of Magic players can name a Delve card from that set with the stipulation that its name may not start with “Tom” and end with “bstalker.” Oh, also, Morph is back again and it's in all five clans, but Wizards of the Coast thought that it was way too fun the first time around, so all the new Morph cards are lame. Fortunately, most of the playerbase wasn't around for Morph the first time around, so they have little basis for comparison.

Relevance beyond Standard

Some. It wasn't obvious at first, and it's not too pronounced, but this block will probably beat Theros for overall power-level if the first set is any indication. Overall, this is a time travel block and it's also a multicolor theme block. The last block to focus on time travel was Time Spiral and the last block to have a multicolor theme was Alara, and those two blocks will probably make this one look bland in comparison. There are some very powerful cards, though. And I'll try to note them all.

Fetchlands

They reprinted the Onslaught fetchlands. Good. This was probably done with Modern in mind. Wizards of the Coast is trying to sweep Legacy under the rug. I even got this online survey because of the prerelease or something and it asked “What formats do you play?” Vintage was one of the choices, but Legacy wasn't. I had to check “Other” and type it in. That's not even subtle, Wizards! Anyway, fetchlands are good. I wrote an article about them already. So go read that one. This article isn't going anywhere (in more ways than one).

On with the cards already

Abzan Battle Priest: Too slow for real Magic, but probably quite good within the set.
Abzan Falconer: Still a bit too slow.
Ainok Bond-Kin: Needs to activate its ability to give itself first strike, which makes it, again, too slow.
Alabaster Kirin: Nope.
Brave the Sands: Too weak to bother with.
Dazzling Ramparts: Dazzlingly slow.
Defiant Strike: Bad.
End Hostilities: Wizards of the Coast is trying to make Standard aggro vs. control matchups less stale, and with that goal, they're weakening aggro's clock while simultaneously slowing down board sweepers (this is one mana more than Wrath of God). This means more weak cards all around and is worse for the game as a whole, but at least it accomplishes their goal.
Erase: Not the Urza's Legacy one? Oh wait, this actually is.
Feat of Resistance: Another mediocre combat trick that will make big plays in Limited formats and will fail to do much else.
Firehoof Cavalry: No.
Herald of Anafenz: Probably the best Outlast creature. While it's not amazing, it does have some potential for casual games and such. Some of the other Outlast creatures could synergize with it, too.
High Sentinels of Arashin: Another creature using +1/+1 counters that is just too slow to be viable.
Jeskai Student: Prowess sucks.
Kill Shot: Acceptable removal spell. I'd prefer Condemn over this. Or Devouring Light. Or a lot of things, really.
Mardu Hateblade: No.
Mardu Hordechief: Maybe?
Master of Pearls: Definitely not.
Rush of Battle: This set has some cards that do things with warriors. Nothing interesting, though.
Sage-Eye Harrier: Bad.
Salt Road Patrol: Very slow.
Seeker of the Way: Prowess sucks.
Siegecraft: What? No.
Smite the Monstrous: Reprint from Innistrad. Costs twice as much mana as Reprisal. Casual players, you can pick up Reprisal for dirt cheap. If you were at my house right now, I'd probably just give you a few in exchange for taking other dirt cheap cards I have too many extra copies of. You don't need this crappier version just because it's newer.
Suspension Field: I'll stick with Oblivion Ring, thanks.
Take Up Arms: Costs five mana.
Timely Hordemate: Could provide card advantage to a low-power aggro deck, but there are better options.
Venerable Lammasu: Seven mana for that? No.
War Behemoth: Bad.
Watcher of the Roost: Flips for free, so it kind of works.
Wingmate Roc: Value.

Blinding Spray: Another mediocre combat trick.
Cancel: Still worse than Counterspell, right? Just checking.
Clever Impersonator: Introducing the new Super Clone!
Crippling Chill: Reprint from Avacyn Restored, where no one seems to have used it.
Dig Through Time: One of the scary new Delve spells and easily one of the best cards in the set. Not using your graveyard? Well, people used to actually use Ancestral Memories, and that sucker costed five mana. When this thing costs two mana, it will probably be a pretty good deal.
Disdainful Stroke: Where have all the good counters gone?
Dragon's Eye Savants: But how can I kill things with a 0/6?
Embodiment of Spring: Weird, but actually kind of good compared to most of this set.
Force Away: Disappointing.
Glacial Stalker: Bad.
Icy Blast: Probably a game-winner with the Ferocious functionality in environments where one would actually use this card.
Jeskai Elder: Prowess sucks.
Jeskai Windscout: Prowess sucks.
Kheru Spellsnatcher: If that Morph cost weren't so expensive, this card would be really impressive. It's still probably not that bad, actually.
Mistfire Weaver: Bad.
Monastery Flock: Bad.
Mystic of the Hidden Way: Well, I am a sucker for unblockability, but there are better cards for it.
Pearl Lake Ancient: Opened this in a booster pack and I couldn't figure out the point. Seven mana for a creature that gets some weird utility. No one part of this card is egregious, but it all adds up to, well, definitely not enough.
Quiet Contemplation: I will not confuse this card with Quiet Speculation. I will not confuse this card with Quiet Speculation. I will not confuse this card with Quiet Speculation...
Riverwheel Aerialists: Prowess sucks.
Scaldkin: Nope.
Scion of Glaciers: Huh, it's like those old flowstone guys, only blue. Weird. But I'll still pass.
Set Adrift: Delve spells in this set tend to run a bit overcosted. This is a borderline case. It's too expensive for, say, Legacy decks. But this should be acceptable in casual games.
Singing Bell Strike: Part of the long tradition of cards that are like Paralyze. None of these cards are actually good.
Stubborn Denial: While I'll decry the state of countermagic that's being printed these days, this one isn't so offensive. It's cheap and fits the stupid Temur clan mechanic. With the Ferocious aspect, it's fine. But getting to Ferocious could take too long.
Taigan's Scheming: If it put one in your hand, it would be great. Without that, it's mediocre. Big, big difference.
Thousand Winds: There's got to be some silly combo for this thing. Ultimately overcosted crap, but still, if it worked, it could be cool.
Treasure Cruise: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Best card in the set.
Waterwhirl: Six mana? I can cast Evacuation for five, and that's a much better card along the same lines. This is way too much mana. Even if this costed five, I'd still say it was bad. Four could have been acceptable, but six? Outrageous.
Weave Fate: Worse than Inspiration. Well, not if you can't target yourself for some reason, but that's silly.
Wetland Sambar: No.
Whirlwind Adept: Prowess sucks.

Bellowing Saddlebrute: Strange use of the Raid mechanic, but it isn't bad.
Bitter Revelation: Four mana and two life? That's steep. It's not the worst, but it's kind of underwhelming. It only looks at the top four cards. I'll stick with Gifts Ungiven.
Bloodsoaked Champion: Very good. Cheap and effective. One of the better cards in this set.
Dead Drop: A Delve spell that is ruined by its exorbitant cost. Barter in Blood only costs four and gets the job done.
Debilitating Injury: Nah. Limited fodder.
Despise: Reprint from New Phyrexia. Pretty good in creature-heavy environments. I'll stick with Duress. To be fair, that dilemma is the entire reason that Thoughtseize is a good card.
Disowned Ancestor: Too slow. Really suffers from Outlast being a sorcery-speed ability.
Dutiful Return: Double your recursion. Quadruple your mana cost.
Empty the Pits: Many players desperately want this to be good, but I can't get over the mana cost. And even if you are in monoblack, this seems like it would take a lot of work to make it good.
Grim Haruspex: Sure. Cheap to cast. Has the Morph option, which doesn't amount to much, but is there. And that triggered ability is ripe with combo potential. This is the kind of card I wanted to see out of the Sultai clan.
Gurmag Swiftwing: Generic, but efficient.
Kheru Bloodsucker: Another creature with combo potential, but the potential is a bit too constrained. Too bad. Maybe one could use it in really casual games?
Kheru Dreadmaw: Nope.
Krumar Bond-Kin: Bad.
Mardu Skullhunter: Limited fodder.
Mer-Ek Nightblade: One of the Outlast creatures that is almost good. Still, these things are just too slow.
Molting Snakeskin: No.
Murderous Cut: A Delve spell that actually makes sense. As removal spells go, it's good.
Necropolis Fiend: The discord here is unbelievable. Did anyone at Wizards of the Coast actually read this card before they printed it? A creature with Delve that has an activated ability fueled by the graveyard? What a waste.
Raider's Spoils: More Warrior silliness.
Rakshasa's Secret: In a graveyard-fueled deck? Tempting. Wait, no. It's still just Mind Rot. And Mind Rot is crappy.
Retribution of the Ancients: This was put into the set to make you cry when you open it in a booster pack and see the gold expansion symbol. “This garbage is my rare?”
Rite of the Serpent: First Flesh to Dust, and now this. Oh well, at least this set gave us Murderous Cut.
Rotting Mastodon: Nope.
Ruthless Ripper: One of the best Morph cards in this set, which isn't saying much.
Shambling Attendants: In the right deck? Probably not. Well, it's still OK.
Sidisi's Pet: Did the job for me at the prerelease, but not impressive in the grand scheme of things.
Sultai Scavenger: If I were to use a black creature, with Delve, that is from this set, I think I'd go with Sultai Scavenger. But I'd prefer to save my graveyard for better Delve cards.
Swarm of Bloodflies: Really strange that it's a 0/0 instead of just being a 2/2 and forgoing that EtB triggered ability. I do see some combo potential here, but really, this is just another Sengir Vampire variant.
Throttle: Nope.
Unyielding Krumar: Mediocre

Act of Treason: This is a reprint of a core set card, but that was already a functional reprint of Threaten, which was in Onslaught. Ah, nostalgia...
Ainok Tracker: Bad.
Arc Lightning: Reprint from Urza's Saga. A real blast from the past. Oh! Also, this is a mediocre burn spell.
Arrow Storm: Overcosted.
Ashcloud Phoenix: Finally, a card in this set with an interesting use of Morph. Too mana-intensive to be practical, but I like the idea anyway.
Barrage of Boulders: Even though this isn't actually good enough to intrigue me, I notice that there's some synergy possible here between Ferocious and Raid. For gameplay within this set, or in formats that heavily emphasize this set, some of the interactions between the clan mechanics could make for really cool games, I suppose. Maybe I should play Standard? Nah.
Bloodfire Expert: Prowess sucks.
Bloodfire Mentor: Cumbersome.
Bring Low: Outlast hoser?
Burn Away: Delve hoser!
Canyon Lurkers: Bad.
Crater's Claws: A nice burn spell. Not worth a rare slot, really. But the card is fine.
Dragon Grip: Not good, but not bad either. Some fun utility with the Ferocious part.
Dragon-Style Twins: Prowess sucks.
Goblinslide: Initially, I thought, “There's combo potential!” But then I looked closer and realized how much better Young Pyromancer is than this card. Oh well.
Horde Ambusher: For this set, this is a good Morph card. Overall, this is a mediocre Morph card.
Hordeling Outburst: One mana more than Dragon Fodder, but it also makes one more token. While this is probably still mediocre, it does tempt me to build a deck with Young Pyromancer, Goblin Scouts, Goblin Rally, Mogg Alarm, Kuldotha Rebirth, Dragon Fodder, Krenko's Command, and this. Maybe throw in Mogg Infestation. Tokens everywhere.
Howl of the Horde: This could be very good. I'm not sure what deck to put it in, but the potential is definitely apparent.
Mardu Blazebringer: Uh, no? I mean, I get it. This is meant to be an easy way to trigger Raid (works for Ferocious too, albeit awkwardly), but it's still bad.
Mardu Heart-Piercer: No.
Mardu Warshrieker: Sure, why not? Tempo is good.
Monastery Swiftspear: Prowess sucks. Wait, what? This thing is actually quite efficient. One mana for a 1/2 with Haste is better than Raging Goblin by itself. Prowess may suck, but it's not negative value. I could actually see myself using this thing.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker: I really believe that this is the best red planeswalker so far. A couple versions of Chandra are good too, but this guy is really impressive.
Shatter: Reprint and there are strictly superior versions of it in several varieties. They should never print Shatter again.
Summit Prowler: Nope.
Swift Kick: Too expensive.
Tormenting Voice: Filtering, huh? Maybe if it costed one mana.
Trumpet Blast: Reprint from Urza's Destiny. Not the worst combat trick, but not great either.
Valley Dasher: Aggro would prefer Goblin Guide, but this should be acceptable.
War-Name Aspirant: Without the Raid trigger, this is lackluster. But in the right circumstances, this would be very efficient.

Alpine Grizzly: Well, some people might prefer a 4/2 over a 3/3.
Archer's Parapet: Why wouldn't the archers do damage? This is a failure on flavor grounds, and not a good card anyway.
Awaken the Bear: Well hello, card that isn't Giant Growth, but wishes it were.
Become Immense: Not the worst Delve spell in the set, but I'm skeptical of its value.
Dragonscale Boon: Nope.
Feed the Clan: Simple, one-use lifegain spell. Those usually don't end up being viable. Throw it on an Isochron Scepter, though, and that could be fun.
Hardened Scales: Obvious synergy with Outlast. And this thing would be good in multiples too.
Heir of the Wilds: Pretty good if Ferocious is active.
Highland Game: Tarpan all over again. That's to say this isn't a good card.
Hooded Hydra: I want to like it, but it just can't compete with other big green creatures.
Hooting Mandrills: One of the best cards in the set, thanks to Delve. In this case, the base cost isn't too exorbitant. I exploited these in the prerelease a lot, and hardcast them sometimes. A 4/4 trampler for 6 is mediocre, but having it as an option doesn't hurt, and Hooting Mandrills will more likely end up costing three. It could even cost just one. Basically, this is great card.
Incremental Growth: For five mana, it had better be good. By itself, this isn't really impressive. It has synergy with cards in this set that care about +1/+1 counters, so maybe it's a bit better than it looks.
Kin-Tree Warden: Bad.
Longshot Squad: Another slow Outlast creature that needs to activate at least once to give itself its own special ability. These Outlast guys, though, would be pretty crazy under Awakening or something.
Meandering Towershell: A silly creature. But I can't help wondering about combo potential here.
Naturalize: Reprint of an old standby. Naturalize is as it has always been.
Pine Walker: Bad.
Rattleclaw Mystic: Well, it's mana ramp. It's not the best mana ramp, but it is mana ramp. I could see myself using this.
Roar of Challenge: With Ferocious, and in the right environment, this could be powerful. But it probably sucks.
Sagu Archer: Bad.
Savage Punch: Well, it's way better than Hunt the Weak. The more apt comparison is probably with Prey Upon.
Scout the Borders: Nice for Delve in a format that emphasizes this set, but not really worth it in formats with broader card pools.
See the Unwritten: This worked nicely for me in the prerelease. It has Ferocious, but synergizes with Delve too. Ultimately, while digging through the top eight cards does offer a lot, this does cost six mana and there are other green spells that are more reliable for fetching creatures.
Seek the Horizon: Inferior to existing land-grabbing stuff.
Smoke Teller: Morph hoser in a set with almost no relevant Morph cards. Poor guy.
Sultai Flayer: I can't think of a good way to use this right now.
Temur Charger: Well, the free Morph should make this work, even if it's still not that great.
Trail of Mystery: This enchantment is cheap, but it's still not enough to make Morph good in this set.
Tusked Colossodon: Nope, nope, nope.
Tuskguard Captain: Another Outlast creature that is probably too slow to work.
Windstorm: I think I'd prefer Hurricane usually.
Woolly Loxodon: Bad.

Abomination of Gudul: Used it in the prerelease because I had to. Weak card, though.
Abzan Ascendancy: Definitely some synergy with the Abzan cards in this set. This isn't much good as a three-drop, but could function as a sort of late-game bomb.
Abzan Charm: Decent effects if there's a deck that would provide a home to this thing.
Abzan Guide: I'd expect more from six mana and three different colors.
Anafenza, the Foremost: Anafenza is the khan of the Abzan, and she is rather underwhelming.
Ankle Shanker: Hilarious name. Expensive, but worth it if there are other attackers joining in.
Armament Corps: These gold Abzan cards really are disappointing. Five mana, with three different colored mana requirements should buy something really good. This isn't it.
Avalance Tusker: Well, it's only a 6/4, it does cost five, and its ability is strictly combat-oriented. Nah.
Bear's Companion: As a five-drop by itself, this is questionable. This some form of recursion, Bear's Companion could really start to shine, bringing in multiple bears.
Butcher of the Horde: Yeah, this one's good.
Chief of the Edge: Nope.
Chief of the Scale: Not this one either.
Crackling Doom: Interesting multiplayer card, but overcosted for duels.
Death Frenzy: Five mana for not much.
Deflecting Palm: Isn't this basically a more color-demanding version of Eye for an Eye?
Duneblast: Well, it is seven mana. But in a creature-focused environment, if this went off uninterrupted? Living the dream.
Efreet Weaponmaster: Six mana in three different colors. I'd expect more. Again.
Flying Crane Technique: Yeah, this would be quite the bomb with a decent board of creatures, especially against opponents that can't easily deal with flying.
Highspire Mantis: Yeah, I guess that works.
Icefeather Aven: There are way more reliable bounce spells than this thing.
Ivorytusk Fortress: Now here's something that really helps all those Outlast creatures! If this creature is allowed to hit the battlefield and stick around, its friends that used Outlast abilities will all be available to block.
Jeskai Ascendancy: Not sure what to think of this one.
Jeskai Charm: These effects, while not bad, might not be worth three mana, and the general hodge-podge they present seems too unfocused. Could work nicely with Prowess, I suppose.
Kheru Lich Lord: This was the promotional card I got in the seeded pack for my prerelease. The ability reminds me of Unearth, a mechanic I never really liked. I can't deny that there's some power here, but something about this particular use of a a graveyard doesn't suit me.
Kin-Tree Invocation: Sorcery-speed kind of kills this one.
Mantis Rider: This is a ripoff of Lightning Angel, but it's an intriguing one. Only three mana? Seems good.
Mardu Ascendancy: Obnoxiously good.
Mardu Charm: Probably not. None of those options really stand out as that valuable.
Mardu Roughrider: Could be dangerous in some environments, as Mardu decks would be aggressive and this thing going in for finishing attacks can completely negate a blocker. Still costs five mana and is only a 5/4 with no other abilities.
Master the Way: If only this were cheaper! I used to use Stormseeker and Sudden Impact. This is more controllable and could be a combo finisher somehow, but being in both blue and red is awkward for that and costing five mana probably means that one could find something better to do the job.
Mindswipe: Well, Spellblast sucks. Blaze isn't particularly great and would be even worse if it could only hit players. But combining them into one card actually creates a viable product. This card is mana-intensive, but it has a lot to offer.
Narset, Enlightend Master: Narset is the khan of the Jeskai, and she has some tricks up her sleeves, but it's anyone's guess what they might be. The random element to Narset's ability makes her too unreliable to bother with.
Ponyback Brigade: Here's another one that has an EtB trigger so strong that it shouldn't be underestimated and might even have some combo potential.
Rakshasa Deathdealer: This is just plain versatile. A 2/2 for two mana that can regenerate or pump itself. Yeah, the activated abilities cost two mana each, but that's still not a bad deal.
Rakshasa Vizier: This could go crazy with Delve cards and such. I like it.
Ride Down: Heh. Surprise! Finally, this set presents a real combat trick. I mean, I don't even particularly like combat tricks, but I know a good one when I see it.
Sage of the Inward Eye: Basically more Prowess nonsense, even if it's under a different name.
Sagu Mauler: Nope.
Savage Knuckleblade: Sure. If you're in those colors and want some beatdown, why not?
Secret Plans: Another Morph-based enchantment that won't actually make the mechanic's use in this set good.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant: Sidisi is the khan of the Sultai, and her abilities are totally awesome. I mentioned on the message boards that if she'd been around earlier this year, I'd have based my Commander deck around her. I already built the deck around Karador, though.
Siege Rhino: I actually did put this thing in my Commander deck. Unlike most of the other gold creatures in this set, it's a pretty good deal for the mana invested.
Snowhorn Rider: Bad.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor: This Sorin shares his exact mana cost with the previous Sorin. As white/black planeswalkers go, it's a tossup as to which is better. I suppose that it depends on the deck. Most players seem to lean toward the older Sorin from Dark Ascension. They're probably right, but this one's no slouch.
Sultai Ascendancy: If this didn't cost three mana, then maybe we'd really have something here. The obvious comparison is to Sylvan Library, but it's worth noting that Sylvan Library, although not really popular anymore, is a very, very good card. Sultai Ascendancy isn't as good as Sylvan Library, but it could have its uses.
Sultai Charm: I prefer more reliable spells, but Sultai Charm will almost always have a viable target, and it can always be used as a card filter instead.
Sultai Soothsayer: Another case in which five mana and three colors sometimes just doesn't do much in this set.
Surrak Dragonclaw: Surrak is the khan of the Temur. Back when Wizards of the Coast printed good counters, the advent of green creatures that couldn't be countered was a big deal. And if Surrak didn't have such an intense color requirement, he'd be pretty good value. There's some use here, against slow control decks and such. A 6/6 for five mana is good. If he gave himself trample, that would help, but unfortunately he does not.
Temur Ascendancy: I suppose that if you're playing a Temur beatdown deck and have time to stop dropping threats in order to employ this thing, it could be pretty good.
Temur Charm: Three things that aren't worth three mana, but you get to choose which.
Trap Essence: In a slow-paced environment, this could work out fairly well. Speed things up by making better cards available, and it starts to look untenable.
Utter End: Well, certainly is thorough. For that cost, I'd want it to hit lands too. Probably still good though. Vindicate only costs three mana, but it destroys rather than exiling and is a sorcery. An extra generic mana makes a world of difference, but instant-speed and the power to deal with problems that mere destruction cannot solve go a long way toward making up the difference.
Villainous Wealth: It's a trap. This card relies on the contents of the tops of opponents' libraries to power itself. Controlling that is impractical. Even though it seems cool to kill people with their own goodies, this card is actually unreliable. Still, I'd love to use it when fueled by a large amount of mana. That could be glorious.
Warden of the Eye: The last in a long series of disappointing three-color five-drop creatures that this set emphasizes.
Winterflame: While this isn't really a strong card, I like the idea of what it can do. For three mana, it has the potential to be two combat tricks at once. Kill a small creature and tap a potential blocker, or use it on your opponent's turn to kill a small creature and tap a creature that was being held back for blocking. I wouldn't actually use it, but in some situations it's quite nice.
Zuro Helmsmasher: Zurgo is the khan of the Mardu. His abilities emphasize aggression, of course. Pretty good.

Abzan Banner: These banners are probably worth it for Limited formats and such, where manafixing is in demand even if it isn't great.
Altar of the Brood: This is the kind of card I'd expect to see in a low-power set like this one, but at four mana or something, and probably with some annoying drawback. Since it only costs one mana, I'm confident that there is very real combo potential here. I want to use this.
Briber's Purse: No.
Cranial Archive: Weird, but also impractical.
Dragon Throne of Tarkir: I opened this in booster packs a few times. Can't think of a good use for it. Look at those mana requirements. Four to cast, three to equip, two to activate the ability. That adds up to a big, fat, not worth it.
Ghostfire Blade: Wizards of the Coast invented this card just for that moment in which inexperienced players, puzzling over it, say, “Oh, it works on Morph creatures!”
Heart-Piercer Bow: Mediocre.
Jeskai Banner: If the banners costed two mana, then people might actually want to use them.
Lens of Clarity: This just doesn't actually do much for you.
Mardu Banner: Even in booster drafts, I'd imagine that these things aren't of much interest.
Sultai Banner: I used this one for mana-fixing in the prerelease, but there is better mana-fixing out there, especially for green.
Temur Banner: Oh, and the activation cost for that second ability is a bit much.
Ugin's Nexus: Well, it hoses infinite turns decks, so apparently Wizards of the Coast remembers that those exist? Or maybe they just got lucky. Then again, it costs five mana, so it's not too much of a hoser. If you have a sacrifice outlet for artifacts, this doubles as a Time Warp, which would actually make it good in that situation.
Witness of the Ages: The last in a long line of unremarkable Morph cards this set has to offer.

Bloodfell Caves: These life-gaining lands only exist because the set has such heavy color requirements and Limited formats were going to need more mana-fixers.
Bloodstained Mire: Fetchlands, on the other hand, are great. Using this one in my Burn deck.
Blossoming Sands: I guess, as lands of this sort go, most previous cycle have been worse.
Dismal Backwater: I mean, remember Rootwater Depths and friends? Those things were terrible. These aren't so bad in contrast to that cycle.
Flooded Strand: I really want some copies of this one.
Frontier Bivouac: Well, this cycle beats those silly guildgates, at least.
Jungle Hollow: It's still tempo loss, any way you look at it.
Mystic Monastery: Yeah, the ones that produce three different colors are tempo loss too, but three-color mana potential is harder to come by.
Nomad Outpost: So while these lands aren't the best, they really are worth using in slower formats.
Opulent Palace: I used this one in the prerelease, of course. In a faster environment, I'd probably eschew it.
Polluted Delta: The fetchland that has the highest pricetag on the secondary market, because everyone knows that blue/black is strongest.
Rugged Highlands: Strictly better than Shivan Oasis, for instance.
Sandsteppe Citadel: Hey, I'm even using this one in my Commander deck.
Scoured Barrens: I'll probably run out of things to say about this cycle, on account of there being ten of them.
Swiftwater Cliffs: Still tempo loss, but still better than most other lands at doing the job.
Thornwood Falls: I'll stick with my Tropical Islands, though.
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon: For a land with a name like that, I was expecting more. It sounds so ominous. And then oh, I guess it an gain some life.
Tranquil Cove: Not Tundra.
Wind-Scarred Crag: I give up. These are OK.
Windswept Heath: Used it in the prerelease just for the Delve synergy. I'd have put it into my Commander deck, but I was already running the original Onslaught version.
Wooded Foothills: Definitely looking to pick some of these up if I can.

Plains: Nice art. I like most of the basics in this set.
Island: The islands are a bit too pointy this time around, although still cool-looking.
Swamp: Best swamps I've seen in a while.
Mountain: Well, the Titus Lunter version looks like a mountain, at least. The others continue the bizarre Magic illustration trend of making up ridiculous, geologically dubious landforms that do not appear to be mountains at all.
Forest: Well, I see trees. Close enough.

Bonus Morph Mini-Rant

I whined about Morph in this set somewhat, so I should explain something. In the old Onslaught block, where Morph originally appeared, the mechanic was overused and rather hectic, but that did go a way toward making things fun. This set attempts to set constraining rules regarding what a Morph card can do for a certain cost. The old Morph cards were sometimes bland too, but there were some superstars in there too. Specifically, we had Exalted Angel, Mischievous Quanar, Raven Guild Master, Bane of the Living, Voidmage Prodigy, Voidmage Apprentice, Krosan Cloudscraper, Chromeshell Crab, Root Elemental, Nantuko Vigilante, Putrid Raptor, Skirk Commando, Ebonblade Reaper, and such. The mechanic seemed interesting back then. These new Morph cards already seem stale.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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