The War Report: Ikoria Spoilers

Spoiler season has been upon us for a while, and with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in particular we’ve been spoiled with new cards, mainly because the main set was spoiled alongside the Commander 2020 precons. I’ve already gone over the precons and my thoughts on some of the cards contained therein because those spoilers wrapped up a few days ago. Ikoria was fully spoiled this week, so I have combed through the set and pulled out my highlight cards as I tend to do around here. First up, the new promo card:

Buy-A-Box Promo:

Yeah, when I first saw this card I thought it was an April fools joke. Apparently WotC made some deal with the company that owns the old school Japanese monster properties, and made cards inspired by them. If you look closely, just underneath his name (Godzilla), you see the MTG name underneath. So they aren’t actually Godzillas, but the premium art version promos are. I guess it’s kinda cool but also pretty hokey. He’s also pretty gimmicky in the type of deck build you’d want him in. Not really interested. Let’s now take a look at the spoilers from the set, in WUBRG order:

White:

I’m surprised that I’m not very excited by many of the cards in this set. I think a big factor is that the commander sets just have more cards in them I’m excited about, but there are still some good cards here, and a lot of chaff that I’m obviously not even highlighting. There are plenty of places to see all of the cards so I’ll leave that part up to you. Anyway, these three cards I highlighted are a couple really powerful cards and then a third that is part of a cycle that I’m not overly thrilled with but they will find places in some decks. Luminous Broodmoth is a pretty interesting card because it recurs creatures without flying from your graveyard when they die, then also puts a flying counter on them. People have already figured out that combined with solemnity, you have an infinite loop if you have a sac outlet. I’m tempted to build some mono-white shenanigans. The Magistrate on the other hand is a more subtle powerhouse. He’s a 1/3 for 2 CMC but packs a powerful line of text: opponents can’t play cards from anywhere besides their hands. This hoses so many value engines it’s amazing. I’ll need a few copies of this one.

Blue:

Still not a lot of cards here in blue, but I like Shark Typhoon a lot as it is a new version of Metallurgic Summoning, but can be cycled away into one big creature alternatively. It’s expensive, but fun. Escape Protocol is more cycling goodness, as it allows you to blink your artifacts and creatures each time you cycle. The last card is part of the Mythos cycle, and it’s alright.

Black:

Not much to like in black either this time around. This is probably because much of the set is multicolored. I do like this fairly cheap exile board wipe effect with Extinction Event, and I really like the new enchantment. Bastion of Remembrance is a Zulaport Cutthroat on an enchantment, so it will be slightly harder to remove than most creatures with this effect. Definitely slotting that one into my aristocrats deck. I actually like the black Mythos, as it’s modular and not too expensive to cast.

Red:

Red actually has the most cards I’m interested in of the mono colors. A new Planeswalker Lukka enters the fold, but he’s not all that interesting. Unpredictable Cyclone is a new version of Possibility Storm and it’s not bad. The Mythos is pretty bad. Flame Spill pushes design boundaries a bit in that it is the first damage spell I’ve seen that effectively has trample stapled onto it. I also really like Footfall Crater, as it’s a cheap land enchantment that can give trample and haste to a creature each turn, along with having cycling. Finally, the Rooting Moloch is interesting in the fact that it can give one of your cycling cards flashback, and that can be powerful if used correctly.

Green:

A good showing for green this time as well, with a new version of Viven, our King Kong inspired creature (that’s actually pretty good for most green beater decks) and the Mythos is one of the better ones. Colossification is just insane in the right deck, as it gives a creature +20/+20, but it taps the creature as a downside. With plenty of ways to untap said creature in Magic, I assume this will be responsible for many commander damage deaths. I know a few I have that could use it. Finally, Barrier Breach is a fantastic value for 3 mana, letting you exile up to three enchantments.

Multicolor:

When it comes to multi-colored cards, there are far too many here I wanted to highlight so I won’t go over them individually. There are a few cycles of cards present here: A cycle of creatures that are three colored and all have mutate, the ones I’ve included are those I feel are most playable in my format. There’s the cycle of Ultimatums, that follow the design of an older card Cruel Ultimatum. I really like the mardu one the best, but many of them are pretty good. There’s a cycle of 2 color legendaries, but most of them are pretty specific and not doing things I’m doing with my decks at the moment. There’s also a cycle of 3 color enchantments and I highlighted the ones I liked best. Also, Narset makes a new appearance as a Planeswalker, and she got some extra colors back. Some good stuff is here, check out the cards above.

Colorless/Lands:

When it came to lands the biggest surprise was a new set of tri-lands, each being 3 separate land types (aka fetchable). They also have cycling and I think they’ll see play in decks that aren’t as competitive. There’s a matching set of artifacts that also tap for one of 3 colors along with having cycling. We only saw one other new land that allows card draw in decks that are running big creatures. There were only a couple of other artifacts that I liked, and one colorless creature that is essentially a ramp card and worth using in decks that need an extra one.

Overall I’m not super hyped for this set but there are some supporting cards that I’ll want to get copies of. We still have a month or so to wait so I guess I’ll get to brewing in the meantime.

The War Report: Commander 2020 Deck Lists

As I mentioned recently, spoilers for the next MTG set is coming very soon. We’re also getting Commander 2020 sets a bit earlier in the year than usual. At this point we know that Ikoria’s release was pushed back to May rather than this month, so we can also assume we won’t see these decks on shelves until then either as they are set to release simultaneously. Whatever the case, we have seen the full deck lists released, plenty of new YouTube videos covering new builds and ideas, and now it’s my turn to throw down my two cents.

My first observation is that there are finally five decks again, rather than the four deck sets of the past couple of years. It’s also nice to see consistency between the precons, in that each is a three color shard, which I think is probably the sweet spot for most decks.  We also know due to others’ diligent work, that there are a total of 71 brand new cards included in these precons, which is the most new cards ever introduced with a Commander product, though that record might again be broken with the draft set later this year. Whatever the case, The Command Zone guys also broke this down further, letting us know that each of these decks have a good chunk of value in them just off of the reprints. One more important note, there’s plenty of good mana rocks included in each deck including the newish Arcane Signet that is in high demand and was limited to being printed into last year’s Brawl decks. Lastly, the deck I am the most drawn to and interested in buying first is Timeless Wisdom, aka the Cycling deck.

Face Commanders:

Because the cycling deck is my favorite of these doesn’t mean I’m not interested in others. I’m kind of over Mardu and another deck with boring humans in it doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m also sort of turned off by the Mutate themed deck, as the mechanic seems sort of pointless. The Keyword Soup Abzan deck is also sort of meh. I find the Temur deck the next most interesting, Instants matter is definitely a thing but I’m more interested in the Snake sub-general so I’ll likely buy both of these immediately. There are plenty of new cards in each though, so I assume buying them all would be the smartest bet just to get a lot of gas. Whatever the case, I love this time of year because when we get all of these new commanders out in the wild the meta changes for a while and brings new and interesting ideas to the table. I’m not going to go over any reprints besides the ones I’ve already mentioned because there are simply too many new cards that deserve to be highlighted, good or not. I should notate that because there is an identical number of new cards per color, I’ve split them up that way but these are all spread about the decks as all of the colors are represented equally between the five decks. I also arranged them so that the cycles of cards are highlighted in the middle of each gallery. Those new cycles are: 1. A free to play spell as long as you control your commander and 2. A mono colored Partners With Legendary creature. Their partners will be highlighted with the other Multicolor cards. There is a cycle of “impetus” that are auras that goad the enchanted creature while buffing it as well, but really these won’t see much play so I don’t have further comment. Let’s dive in.

New Cards:

White:

The free spell for white is Flawless Maneuver, and it is a 3 CMC spell that you can cast for free if you control your commander. This one gives your creatures indestructible until end of turn, which can help you to save blockers/blocked creatures or protect from a boardwipe (including one you might do to yourself). I think it’s a strong card for white. The Partner here isn’t as good, basically giving you tokens for attacking, but not until end of turn. Honestly the best card here is Dismantling Wave, which blows up multiple artifacts/enchantments on the cheap, but then can be cycled and is a boardwipe. I love modular cards, and in a deck that can cheat cycling costs, this is basically a free or cheap wipe. I like Cartographer’s Hawk as well because it’s ramp, but it is a bit situational. I think bird tribal people run it automatically. Otherwise, it’s sort of situational. I think mono white decks will use it.

Blue:

Wait, a FREE counterspell? Yeah, Fierce Guardianship will allow you to counter any noncreature spell (which are usually the best targets for counters) as long as you control your commander. That’s powerful, especially for higher tier decks that partially rely on their general to win. It’s going to see play for sure. The partner here is also pretty interesting as he pairs with a card that exiles opponent’s cards and then he lets you play those for any color of mana. I think they could be a powerful deck by themselves, but also fit into a number of other strategies. Probably my favorite card here otherwise is the Crystalline Resonance, because it’s an enchantment with a payoff for cycling, where you can copy other goodies on the board and use it in different ways.

Black:

Being able to exile for free is pretty damn good, especially because white is the only color that usually exiles on the cheap (with downsides). The only real downside to this card is having to pay four mana for it if you don’t control your commander. The partner is kind of boring, but card draw in black is always paid in blood, so I guess it’s on theme. With its partner it can do things but I don’t really care for it. I do really like the Netherborn Altar, especially for commanders that can get really expensive to recast (say, Vilis after he’s died a few times?). It’s functional jank. Species Specialist could be good black card draw as well, but it’s limited to one type. Ghave might like it.

Red:

The red free spell is pretty powerful as well. Control your commander, and you can cast Deflecting Seal for free, and with that you can choose new targets for a spell or ability. This is instant speed disruption that could potentially stop game winning combos. The partner here is probably one half of the two I like the best, this one is actually good in any deck that cares about discarding cards, and it will likely find a spot in a wheeling deck I’m playing on building after these cards find their way into my hands. I’m not really into the other cards, but you can see what they do above.

Green:

Green’s free spell is equivalent to a fog, which is probably less desirable than the other color’s spells, but still will find its place in certain decks. The partner here is fine for +1/+1 counter synergy, but is less appealing by himself than with his partner who would push him out of a mono green deck. He could still be functional in a mono green counters matter deck. I really like Curious Herd, as it is the next Dockside Extortionist, except for the fact that he only counts one player’s stuff in order to give you 3/3 tokens. I think populate decks will like this card. Glademuse also looks strong in draw go decks, mainly because you’re already planning on casting spells on other players turns, so you might as well draw a card. This is symmetrical though, so I guess it’s a bit of a group hug card.

Multicolored/Colorless:

Next up is the rest. The multicolored cards here are the alternate commanders for the decks, along with the dual colored Partner With creatures that pair with the mono colored ones we already covered. Of the pairings, I like the mono red that is paired with Shabraz the Skyshark. Not only is this un-set level ridiculous, it’s also a very effective pair. I don’t think it’s something I’m going to use only because its colors are off for what I want to use the mono red guy for, but it’s still cool. My secondary favorite is Ukkima, Stalking Shadow, but I ultimately don’t want to use its partner either, instead wanting to put Ukkima into my Yuriko deck because it is unblockable and can be used with ninjitsu to get more value of it’s leaves the battlefield trigger. Of the subgenerals, I’m most interested in Xyris, the Writing Storm, because it’s essentially The Locust God with the addition of green. I love my Locust God deck, but being a 6 CMC commander is sometimes hard to ramp into without green, and green would push that deck over the top. The Locust God is actually included in that precon, so apparently WotC sees the same thing I do. You’ll see that build soon, because I think my original game plan for that deck will work even better even without The Locust God in the command zone. The new artifacts are mostly blah except for the Twinning Staff, but I’ll leave that card for someone else to break. The only new land is Nesting Grounds which is actually pretty good for all of the new keyword tokens as it allows you to move those around. Overall these sets look really good and though it’s unlikely I’ll buy them all, I’m definitely grabbing at least a couple.

Up next, Spoilers for the booster set.

TWR: Thoughts on Ikoria Mechanics

The next Magic: The Gathering set is called Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and is a new plane filled with giant beasts (among other strange things). Preview season has kicked off, and that means a multitude of things. First off, there’s always a post on the Mothership about the new and/or returning mechanics of the set. You can read that over there, but I’ll be going over them individually along with adding some of my own commentary. Additionally, various YouTube content creators will also be unleashing a ton of new videos centering around these new mechanics, new card previews and discussions about the set. We’re also getting the brand new Commander 2020 sets releasing alongside of Ikoria, so even more spoilers are coming down the pipeline than usual. As was discussed in a post towards the end of last year, when we were looking forward to what 2020 had in store for the game, we’ve already known about Commander 2020, the additional Commander decks being released besides the other major set releases, and the Commander Booster Box set (that doesn’t even count how good Mystery Boxes were for Commander players) coming towards the end of the year. Needless to say it’s “the year of Commander,” and we’re in full swing. As such, I am planning on making separate posts with spoilers for the Commander 2020 precons along with the main set, but I do want to just focus on mechanics for this post. One caveat to keep in mind though: despite spoiler season still rolling out on the normal time table, there has been a delay in the actual release date for these new products, pushing them back about a month to May. This is probably for the best since many players have taken hits to their income, but hopefully many of us will be back to work come that time. With all of that said, let’s get into the mechanics of Ikoria.

Returning Mechanic: Cycling

One of the more interesting past mechanics that is making a return is Cycling. Cycling is a neat ability stapled onto a variety of cards that allows you to pay a mana cost, discard that card from your hand and then draw a new card. Decks that typically want to run a lot of cards with cycling are those that care about drawing cards, so the Locust Gods and Nekusars of the world. I personally only run cycling cards in my Locust God deck, but I’ve had a building interest in turning my Doomsday Zur into an Astral Slide version that wants to cycle a lot. I have a feeling with an influx of new cycling cards coming with this set, that deck might get that much better, or perhaps there will be more options to build in other colors. We already know there’s a cycling focused precon and it already looks pretty spicy. I expect a high number of cards to have the ability itself, along with many new “cycling matters” cards like the one spoiled above. If you can cycle to get draw value but also gain other effects, it can be pretty busted.

New Mechanic: Keyword Counters

Counters have been a thing in Magic for a long time, the most common form being +1/+1 counters, although -1/-1, infect and loyalty counters are getting up there in frequency. Never before has a creature been granted flying via a token though, and that’s where this is a unique mechanic although only really broken in certain circumstances. So normally creatures would be allotted flying from another creature only if that creature remained on the battlefield. Giving a sense of more permanency, these counters mean that even if the originating creature giving the keyword dies, the remaining creature with the counter still gets the benefit. They’re semi-permanent enchantment auras, and that’s pretty cool. But what if you can move counters from one creature to another, or perhaps even remove these types of counters to draw cards or something else exploitative. They’ve already said these counters won’t stack, so proliferating them isn’t powerful — until they print a card that turns this ability up to ten. Whatever the case, a combo has already been discovered with a creature that gives returns a creature without a counter on it who dies to the battlefield with a flying counter on it, but if you have Solemnity on the board that basically reads: if a creature you control dies return it to the battlefield. Pretty cool stuff.

New Mechanic: Mutate

Mutate seems to be WotC’s way of trying to revive the meld mechanic from Innistrad while simultaneously bringing the mashed up creatures of Unstable to standard play. You’re essentially putting two creatures together to get a mash up of keywords, and sometimes when mutating a creature you’ll get additional effects upon doing so. The main consideration when thinking about mutating creatures is what that extra ability might be, and how you’d like to stack the creatures, as you’ll only get the power/toughness of one of them, dependent on which you put on top. In the example above you’ll see what I mean, in that you either get a 5/4 with the additional Vigilance keyword, or you’ll get a 2/4 that gains reach and the mutate ability. However, you can only mutate creatures that have the mutate alternate casting cost, so the Cloudpiercer above is needed to make the meld. It’s an interesting idea but sort of gimmicky and even though I know one of the commander precons will attempt to build a deck around this concept, I think it will fall flat sort of like the morph deck did last year. It’s just kind of silly when you only have to Swords one target to kill two creatures.

New Mechanic: Companion

Companion is another new mechanic being introduced, and it’s already produced waves in the community. There is a partial cycle (known to this point at least) of these cards in color pairings of hybrid mana. They each have a stipulation built into them to allow you to use them in your decks, but they don’t count towards your deck’s card limit. This means you can essentially build 101 card Commander decks with these, and it’s an extra spell in your command zone (almost as if WotC decided to try some Oathbreaker design space). However, before the set has even been released, the Izzet companion card has been banned in commander. The rules committee apparently agreed that the other companions weren’t too broken but this one was. I’m not going to go further into it than that, but it’s still a crazy idea in the first place. The Spike Feeders put up a video where they discussed these in-depth and I thought I’d share that next:

While giving us a new way to include more cards (virtual sideboard, or Oathbreaker style spells in the Command zone) into our decks is a design space I’d like to see more of, these cards are pretty restrictive in their deck building requirements so it’s not quite there yet for me. I feel like I could embrace this more if there were a larger number of companions or cards that use this outside of the game wording to where we could have a virtual sideboard and could then utilize wish style spells effectively. But that’s skirting rules that have been a part of EDH for a long time, so perhaps no one will want to push that boundary. I for one would love sideboards and the ability to use wish effects to target those cards. Anyway, as I said I plan to make posts to preview the main set along with the precons so stay tuned for that!

TWR: Throne of Eldraine Spoilers & The Next Year of MTG

We’ve known about the next Magic: The Gathering expansion, Throne of Eldraine for a little while now, but as is customary in the month leading up to a set’s release, we’re entering into spoiler season for it. I saw a few whispers about a Twitch stream that certain community members were given access to, and shortly thereafter we were learning that Wizards of the Coast would be attempting again to push the Brawl format. Most people, myself included, had already written it off as dead, but with the additions to Arena, they have been pushing the format again between paper and digital. I’m not sure if there will be Planeswalker decks, or if these are going to be more comparable to the Guild Kits from the Ravnica block, but whatever the case, a new product is launching with Throne of Eldraine and we’ll see Brawl preconstructed decks for the first time. Here are the face commanders for these sets:

Brawl Commanders:

If you are unfamiliar, Brawl is a Commander variant in that it follows the same color identity and singleton rules, but instead of being 100 card decks they are only 60 cards. They also have a rotation that matches standard, meaning you can only play with standard legal cards. So no putting your Commander deck cards into your Brawl decks. I think it’s a silly limitation and part of the reason I stopped playing standard is because rotation can be expensive. In EDH, you can wait for a set to rotate out and get a good deal on singles you want. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same game. And when it comes down to it, I’m not overly impressed with any of these commanders enough to warrant building a new EDH deck around it. I think the Bant and Esper creatures are more interesting than the others, but I’m sure people playing knights are excited to access to a new color with a new general. Friends of mine seem to be most interested in Korvold, and I’ve seen what sorts of shenanigans you can pull with him but I find it uninteresting. Deck lists were already released for these, though I don’t believe all of the cards have been spoiled just yet. They don’t really seem worth the time, but I’ve heard they are going for $20 a piece so not a lot to invest if you want to build around one.

New Mechanics:

Throne of Eldraine is adding a couple of new mechanics, and though they are kind of interesting and their take on fairy tales aren’t bad, I just haven’t really seen much yet that I’m excited for in the set. I don’t think I’m burnt out on the game because I’m still always brewing, building, writing and thinking about the game. One problem is that I don’t really play much, but even with all of that on my plate I still don’t find much to be excited for. So the new mechanics are Adventure, Adamant and Food Tokens. Various cards from the set reference food and creating food tokens. Some, like the Goose above, will allow you to create food but also to sac food to the goose itself to get a different effect. Otherwise, Food tokens are much like Clues or Treasures before them, but instead of drawing you cards or giving you mana, instead you gain life. I guess Oloro players rejoice, but it just seems like a tacky limited-only thing. The same really goes for Adamant. It’s great for mono colored decks I suppose, because it typically requires you to cast the spell with only one color of mana in order to get a bonus effect. That’s pretty meh, and I haven’t seen one that seems worth it yet. Of course, spoilers have only just begun. Lastly, with Adventures you get the new card frame at top right above. There is a spell side and a creature side to these cards. You can cast the creature normally for its CMC and be done with it, or you can cast the adventure spell (which can be either instant or sorcery) which is then exiled rather than going to your graveyard. You may then cast the creature half of the card from exile for it’s normal cost. I can see ways this could be really good, but the creatures spoiled that have adventures on them haven’t been great.

New Planeswalkers:

A couple of Planeswalkers have been spoiled so far, including the return of Garruk. Apparently Will and Rowan from the Battlebond set are supposed to be around as well, but we haven’t seen them just yet. Garruk looks ok, but I’m not sold; older versions are better. A brand new walker in Oko has appeared as well, and he references those damn food tokens too. I’m not into this guy either. As a matter of fact, I think I still have a hangover from War of the Spark.

In other news, we were treated with the schedule of releases for the next year of Magic: The Gathering. I first saw this information over on Hipsters of the Coast.

 

So, we know that beginning in quarter one of 2020, we’ll be returning to an older plane with Theros: Beyond Death. I’m pretty excited for this one as I wasn’t playing when the original Theros set released but I have purchased many cards from the block. I’m curious to see what sorts of new Gods them might come up with. In quarter two, we’ll be heading to another brand new plane, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Apparently there’s something about building monsters in this set, but I’m not sure if that will be like the fusing of creatures in Unstable, or if it will be more like the meld cards. Whatever the case, the new planes tend to be more exciting than the old. Core Set 2021 will likely have some gems, but overall core sets are dull. Finally, in quarter four we’ll see another old favorite in Zendikar Rising. I didn’t play during either of the Zendikar blocks, though the latter was still standard legal when I came back to the game in 2016. As such, I own a ton of cards from these sets, but I’m disappointed that we won’t get more Eldrazi.

Whatever the case, 2020 looks like a good year for MTG. I’m looking forward to new things to come!