In Part II of my M13 Pre-release report, it’s time to dive into the set itself. That’s right, I’m actually going to talk about cards! Woo cards!
I was completely dominated in my two sealed events, going 1-4 and 2-3 on Friday night and Saturday, respectively. I’m really hoping to gain back some pride (since I permanently lost all respect eons ago) this weekend at some release events. I definitely be posting on my Twitter page (@badmagicplayer) as things develop, so be sure to become one of my ‘followers.’ But I still really enjoyed M13 on the first go, and see quite a lot of potential as far as limited goes, especially compared to past “M” core sets.
On the outset I just want to say how deeply upset I am that there are no owls in the entire set (unless I missed one in the background). Welkin Tern is NOT an owl, no matter how much you tell me how “close” it looks like one. I like owls..alot, and it’s a core set…just give us a damn owl. Just sayin’. Any-whoo, let’s get on with it, shall we?
M13 Set First Impressions
I am a huge fan of creature-on-creature action, with less of that hoity-toity cast spells and skip combat phase and still win strategy (read: mill and lock-downs). Play creatures, turn sideways, grunt victoriously. M13 is great in that mind set. It has quite a bit less straight- up removal than previous core sets, so you really have to rely on letting your creatures do the talking. Sure, there’s still other win condition strategies when you luck-sack a Jace, Memory Adept and two Mind Sculpt, and counter/control spells like Essence Scatter and Encrust can still be insane plays. But the real strategy of m13 is in choosing what creatures to attack and block.
Creatures appear quite balanced, with 3 power/toughness being an average body, a 4 power/toughness being great, and a 5 power/toughness being an absolute bomb. In sealed, formerly boring cards like Phyrexian Hulk have become surprisingly hard to deal with (especially in non-green colors) without trading two creatures, but it’s not unbeatable. At the same time a squad of Centaur Courser and/or Primal Huntbeast can just get there. There aren’t many 1 power/toughness creatures, and those that do exist don’t care how big an opponent’s blockers are (like Tormented Soul) or have an awesome ability that overrides any thoughts of attacking with it (like Courtly Provocateur or Intrepid Hero).
Because of the loss of splashable and common removal like Doom Blade and Fireball in favor of spells requiring double mana like Volcanic Geyser and Murder (which I personally think is just awesome flavor-wise; surprised it took so long to have this be a card name), and the shift to more sorcery-based “heavy” burn spells like Turn to Slag, Flames of the Firebrand, and Chandra’s Fury, combat tricks are extremely relevant and vital to your success. There aren’t many instant tricks in each color, but most pools will have at least one Titantic Growth or Kindled Fury effect to make sure its creatures come out alive or at least make a trade. Remember, no matter how much you want it to be, Essence Drain is not an instant. I planned a whole attack phase around that mistake (which obviously didn’t end well), and had two different opponents try it against me.
2. Exalted is almost as good as it was in Shards of Alara
Exalted adds a huge level of strategy, as it did during Shards of Alara block when it first premiered; but it can also quickly create one-sided games for players with multiple instances of it. Not only does it allow you to attack with a towering beast that would otherwise be a lowly 2 or 3 power creature, your other creatures get to stay home and hold down the fort to make it difficult for your opponent to swing back with equal force. This is especially true of white exalted, where players who open multiples of the common Guardians of Akrasa will have excellent defense and offense at the same time. White has plenty of good aggressive common cards, like Ajani’s Sunstriker, that when sitting next to a Guardian or two will put you well beyond any harm from your opponent without some serious nut removal draws.
On the flip side, black, which usually has plenty of high power creatures, abuses exalted like never before. Like white’s Guardians of Akrasa, black has a solid exalted wall in a one-drop: Duty-Bound Dead. Except this 0/2 doesn’t have defender, and it can regenerate. You can attack for 1 on turn 2 (or more if you drop another exalted guy or Cathedral of War), and just let it sit there long-term stalling up the board as you keep 4 mana open to prevent its departure. It looks like a mediocre card on its face, but exalted is extremely powerful, and having near-permanent exalted (regen) is invaluable. Trust me, when played right, this guy is really, really hard to kill.
The two exalted knights – Knight of Infamy and Knight of Glory, the new versions of Black Knight” and White Knight are insane as well. Forget about the similar creatures of the past and their first strike, that’s pretty much irrelevant when you can just make the creature bigger than blockers. Of course having protection from a good color like white or black will just sometimes win you the game on its own, but, again, it’s the ability to pump up another solid creature that makes these guys just as good as the old knights. And don’t overlook the fact that these knights only require 1 colored-mana instead of the old style double-color. You don’t have to go deep into either color to play them, adding more synergy to other aspects of your deck and certainly more overall playability.
Exalted in general is a strong mechanic, especially when abused by creatures with evasion and lifelink (I’m looking at you, Vampire Nighthawk). I still haven’t decided if exalted is stronger than bloodthirst from M12. Bloodthirst had a much more direct impact on the gameplay, as it made people consider bad blocking decisions to avoid bloodthirst triggers. Exalted certainly seems more fair in the fact that it only affects a creature when it attacks alone, where bloodthirst gave you giant creatures all the time (granted if bloodthirst didn’t trigger you generally had a terrible creature for its mana cost). If anything, making an exalted-themed draft deck will mean getting to pair two enemy colors as opposed to the friendly red-black (and sometimes green) combo of bloodthirst. Both mechanics add strategy and fun to the core set limited metagame, but exalted I think adds a unique strategy that involves more reserved attacker choices and less about attacking with an unfair giant creature (ex. having a few bloodthirsty Vampire Outcasts made it pretty easy to win without much thought)
3. Enchantments are playable
For many blocks, “buffing” enchantments (auras like Dark Favor) were pretty much unplayable cards. Players feared getting 2-for-1’d for generally a little reward if the enchantment stuck. There was a short time in Shadowmoor/Eventide sealed where the on-color auras like Steel of the Godhead were playable, but only if you had a deck with mainly creatures of those colors. Occasionally a solid enchantment would be printed that would persuade players in certain situations to include the better enchantments, such as Armored Ascension in a mostly white deck, or the good totem armor auras in Rise of the Eldrazi. And then of course there are the busted awesome enchantments that you only find in rare or mythic slots, like Angelic Destiny. But when was the last time you saw someone happily play Unholy Strength?
With the reduction in removal in m13 and the increase of a few solid buff auras, enchantments are good and playable again. Granted, the Tormented Soul + Dark Favor combo was already a thing in M12, but it goes beyond just that. You just want to find any decent target for Mark of the Vampire, which can turn around a game even on something plain like a Canyon Minotaur. Remember, with such little good removal available in the set, there is nothing more fun than watching your opponent sadface when he has to waste Murder on your enchanted minotaur instead of your bomb rare that will ultimately win you the game. Tricks of the Trade is another awesome aura that will turn any of your creatures into a giant Tormented Soul. Sure, you may technically get 2-for-1’d by some removal, but consider that these auras will make any creature into a must-kill bomb, and typically you will win the game if it is allowed to live.
There’s also that Rancor card making a return, but that’s just bad and totally unplayable, so you should pass them all to me in a draft and I’ll dispose of them for you….
4. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it
Yep, a Beyonce reference. C’mon, as soon as you saw rings in the set you should have seen this coming.
The cycle of ring equipment is absolutely batshit insane. Look at them as two different equipment. First, you get the bonus of an evergreen ability for the low price of 2 to play and 1 to equip. So trample, haste, 2:hexproof, 2:regen, or vigilance for basically 1 mana. Sure, flying would have been nicer, but still, we’re talking a solid ability for dirt cheap. That makes some of the rings playable in any deck, even if the second ability has no impact on your game. The regen ring is especially an auto-include in any of my decks. As I said before, this is a game of bloodsport, and regeneration can shut down your opponent’s plans all day long, and it requires colorless mana to activate.
The second ability on the rings speak for itself. On-color creatures get bigger every turn. Think of how busted that could be on a solid common or uncommon, let alone a bomb rare. That little Welkin Tern, while beating you down for 2 on the first turn it’s equipped, beats for 3, then 4, then 5, getting harder to deal with every turn. Watching your opponent put the black ring on a Vampire Nighthawk will seriously make you want to quit at life. Again, that regen part isn’t so good for you in the first place, but realistically, unless you have Pacifism, Encrust, Murder or a huge pile of mana and Volcanic Geyser, you’re probably dying soon. Turn to Slag does help in staving off some of the abuse from these rings, but it’s double red to cast, so you’re probably not playing any unless you’re all-in for red, which has other artifact removal like Smelt anyway. These rings make me want to play maindeck artifact removal just to have it ready for when one comes down.
5. There is still plenty of room to make mistakes
Finally, I want you all to know that even with all these great cards in M13, there is plenty of room for me to punt, throw away, and hand over games to my opponents. One such case was in the Saturday event with my green-black fatty deck against a mono-black player. I was running short on lands, having only 4 in play on turn 6 with several 5+ cost creatures in my hand, including a Duskdale Wurm. My opponent played a Ravenous Rats. I looked through my hand, figured I’d definitely draw one land soon but probably would be awhile before I drew a second or third land, so I pitched the Wurm. I immediately facepalmed, knowing what was to come next. A turn earlier, my opponent, after playing his 5th swamp, looked over at my graveyard and asked “have any creatures in the bin?” That was an obvious tell.
As soon as I pitched the Wurm into the yard, my opponent, with a smile on his face, played Rise from the Grave, targeting the Duskdale Wurm. I was then pummeled by my own creature. I knew better than to give away a fatty creature like that, but I ignored the signs, forgot about Rise and made the foolish play anyway. That’s how I roll I guess!
I hope this quick review of M13 sealed was insightful, and I wish everyone luck in their release events! Let me know in the comments if you found any other little tricks for sealed, or even to give some insight on draft if you’ve already had a chance with the set. I’ll be drafting on Friday, so look for Twitter updates or updates in the comments below if I discover anything cool.
As always, watch those misplays, and don’t be a BadMagicPlayer!