Breaking Through: M10 Buildup and Breakdown
Please people, quit flipping out over Lightning Bolt’s return. They (Wizards) want us to focus on Lightning Bolt. Bolt is like that puppy your parents buy you right before they tell you they are getting a divorce. I’ll go ahead and say it: I am disappointed in M10. I don’t think it sucks, or is going to ruin Magic, or even that it has no gems among its cards, but given the hype surrounding it, and the massive potential for something special, I am disappointed. The set has plenty of perks, but those perks appear to be concentrated in specific spectrums rather than evenly distributed. Additionally, some “sneaky” tactics were used to market the set which I will discuss briefly. Just be careful to assess the set as a whole and not just “They’re bringing back Bolt!!!”
Quick note: As of writing this, the set still has 40 cards yet to be spoiled. Any and all information (correct or false) is courtesy of MTGSalvation.com’s unofficial spoiler. I will try to place appropriate text for cards where possible, but for the full unofficial spoiler, head there.
I would like to mention that I do not really agree with Wizards marketing in telling us there are half new and half old cards in the set only to have 15 cards spoiled thus far be functional reprints used simply create more flavor in the core set. Even this last point is debatable however. Remove Soul seems just as flavorful as Essence Scatter to me; likewise with Persuasion becoming Mind Control. Plus a card like Runeclaw Bears is being printed to replace the normalcy of Grizzly Bears, which is fine, except that Cylian Elf seems like a better replacement when they clearly are adding a tribal element to the core set. I am fine with cards being reprinted, after all that is what the core set has traditionally been, but I am not ok with marketing the core set as 50% new when that is only a technicality and the set ends up 40% new or whatever. Magic players are not stupid and it just feels wrong to treat them as such. Chevy would not market a “Brand New Car!” for consumers to only find out it is a Monte Carlo through and through just appearing in a new color. It depreciates the credibility that Wizards has established with us over the years. Please, be honest with your consumer base, only good things will come of it. We are already at 138 actual reprints and 15 functional reprints (counting the new lifelink enchantment that I realize has slightly different applications now but only because of the rules change) which is 153 cards that have been seen before in one form or another. Even if literally every other card yet to be spoiled were brand new, we would have only 38% actual brand new cards in the set. I actually like the close to functional reprints like Doom Blade and Disentomb as I feel they add some elements to the game without eating new design space, but the true functional reprints should either count as old cards, or we should have just been told up front that there were 40% new cards. It still would have been exciting, hell it still is exciting, I just feel it was gone about in the wrong way.
Note: When counting the functional reprints, the set is still only 44% new cards. Subtracting the basic lands from the mix if you would like leaves 118 reprints out of 229 which is still 52%. Granted this number is probably about what we would have expected given their announcement, but we had to jump through some hoops to get here.
Before I begin speaking about any specific cards I would like to talk about some interesting trends and developments with M10. Lets discuss the direction of control that M10 seems to be ushering in. Unfortunately, it appears as though the new standard will be dominated by aggro decks at least until Zendikar comes out where we presumably will receive some more help for control.
I say this because aggro decks have already began to take charge in standard, albeit in a somewhat slower form than traditional mono red aggro or whatever. With the loss of 10th edition, it appears as though we will be losing Wrath of God, Mind Stone, and to lesser extents, Razormane Masticore, Story Circle, Windborn Muse, and Tidings while not getting any legitimate replacements in M10 save Guardian Seraph which can perform a decent Windborn Muse impersonation (minus obvious Reveillark interactions).
Guardian Seraph 2WW
If a source an opponent controls would deal damage to you, prevent 1 of that damage
In addition, control appears to be gaining little footing as far as counterspells are concerned with Cancel, Negate, and Essence Scatter (Remove Soul) being the returners and its unconditional board sweeper jumping to 6 mana in Planar Cleansing. With only Sign in Blood being gained in the card drawing department, control really gains nothing in the traditional sense that would gravitate players towards it minus some decent, but in my opinion overhyped, finishers that I will touch on later. Earthquake would normally be a welcomed sight, but with so much diversity in Standard between flying and non-flying dorks, I do not know how good it will actually be.
Sign in Blood BB
Target player draws 2 cards and loses 2 life
Planar Cleansing 3WWW
Destroy all nonland permanents.
Aggro is not helping out any with great new additions including an uncommon Savannah Lions functional reprint in Elite Vanguard, Lightning Bolt, a new cheaper Crusade in Honor the Pure, Silence, a new improved cycle of tribal lords, Duress, Ball Lightning, and Great Stable Stag. The one card people seem to point to as the savior of control is Baneslayer Angel. Sure, this guy is definitely above the curve on power, but I think he is currently being overhyped. With no immediate effect on the board, the cheap and efficient removal in the format makes her a liability. It is generally poor to argue that a creature is bad because it dies, but in this case, I find it appropriate. Basically everything kills this, from Pulse, to Path, to Terminate and there are really no good counterspells to back her up with. In addition, unlike other control finishers, you get no value if she is removed. Keiga, Broodmate Dragon, and Archon of Justice all provided 2 for 1 effects where as this angel just dies. Oona is similar, and look at how much play she has seen lately. I don’t expect her to see much play once the initial hype has dimmed.
Baneslayer Angel 3WW
Flying, First Strike, Lifelink
Protection from dragons and demons.
Great Stable Stag is remarkable in maindecks and sideboards alike. He is akin to the Paladin En-Vec of green in being immune to a lot of commonly played removal like Terror (Doom Blade), Maelstrom Pulse, Terminate, Jund Charm etc. Additionally, he obviously wrecks a faeries player by combining the two weakness of the deck: Uncounterability and cheap evasive creatures. Unlike Chameleon Colossus, this guy can’t even be dealt with by Cryptic Command and the only real out a Fae player has is Mutavault plus Scion of Oona… not good times for Faeries. Expect this guy to see play in a lot of formats.
Great Stable Stag 1GG
Great Stable Stag cannot be countered.
Protection from black and blue.
The other deck able to suppress some of the aggro uprising, Swans, is leaving the format as there has been no word of Seismic Assault being reprinted. I presume the lack of cheap counterspells is a nod to the fact that Wizards does not want Fae to be dominant for its final 3 months in the format. Rather, look for a cheap counterspell to be printed in Zendikar if we are to get one at all. Still, the reality is that aggro should see a surge, so with control most likely taking a back seat for a while, what are aggro decks going to be gaining from M10?
Token decks of all varieties appear to be getting a shot in the arm. Captain of the Watch is a nice addition to the Cloudgoat Ranger line of creatures. He provides the same number of bodies as Cloudgoat Ranger, but they are larger and all have vigilance. In addition, he does not just give bonuses to his tokens, Cloudgoat Ranger and its tokens, Dauntless Escort, Goldmeadow Stalwart, and Ranger of Eos are some other notable soldiers that will probably be benefiting from this guy at some point. I expect him to be run as a 1-2 of to start until we really see his potential realized.
Captain of the Watch 4WW
Other soldier creatures you control get +1/+1 and Vigilance.
When Captain of the Watch enters the battlefield, put three 1/1 white soldier tokens onto the battlefield.
Honor of the Pure gives those same token decks a cheaper Glorious Anthem at the cost of not boosting Bitterblossom Tokens. Still G/W will surely use this, and B/W will probably get over the fact that Fae tokens don’t get the bonus. This card should also push Kithkin ahead of the pack in combination with other cards. Four soldier lords in the new set benefit Kithkin the most of any existing deck or perhaps a new soldier deck will emerge. The new Savannah Lions seems like it can run side by side with Goldmeadow Stalwart and Figure of Destiny if players see fit as well.
Honor of the Pure 1W
White creatures you control get +1/+1
Goblins get an excellent lord in Goblin Chieftain. This guy combines the most relevant ability on Goblin King with Goblin Warchief which is a scary thing. Goblins have always been just on the edge of playability since Lorwyn and this guy combined with the loss of Wrath may propel the deck into a winning position. Losing Mogg Fanatic hurts the deck’s speed a little, but Tattermunge Maniac still exists. This lord boosts so many cards like Murderous Redcap and Siege Gang Commander and there is still a Banneret for Goblins if the Warchief’s other ability turns out to be missed that dearly. Earwig Squad is such a powerful card that just has not been able to make it into winning lists but I expect goblins, and thus Earwig Squad, to become a real contender with M10.
Goblin Chieftain 1RR
Other Goblin creatures you control get +1/+1 and have haste.
In a similar vein is the new Elf Lord. This guy is unbelievably good and should resurrect the position of Profane Command in elves once again while also boosting the stock of Chameleon Colossus even more. Forestwalk was definitely a more relevant ability than Mountainwalk but one has to think that the Priest of Titania ability is just better. Turn 1 Llanowar Elves, turn 2 Elvish Archdruid can and will lead to some truly explosive starts including things like turn 3 Vanquisher, Vanquisher, Chameleon Colossus. That is threatening a turn 4 kill for an already consistent and persistent deck. Civic Wayfinder appears to be leaving as well which makes this guy even better as he fills the Wayfinder’s void nicely. With Lorwyn still lingering in Standard all of these new lords have to be taken seriously. The Merfolk one is the weakest, but still fine with cards like Wakethrasher.
Elvish Archdruid 1GG
Other Elf creatures you control
The new lands in the set offer a fresh take on duals. I feel as though they are better for control players than aggro as they can never come into play untapped on turn 1 which is odd considering the push of aggro with this set. Still, pain free lands are nice even if not as good as the soon rotating Filter lands or Ravnica Duals etc. Gargoyle Castle is pretty good as this era’s Stalking Stones. I like that the creature it produces dodges Lightning Bolt and Volcanic Fallout. Unfortunately there are no real decks for this to be incorporated into yet, with the possible exception of a Mono Black control deck that has some potential due to Tendrils of Corruption being reprinted. Without a true sweeper (Infest-bleh) it is hard to tell if that deck can exist but entirely possible. While on the topic of lands, it is important to note that we will be losing all of the man-land reprints from 10th which is a pretty big blow to a lot of decks and pushes Mutavault’s stock up for the next 3 months.
T: Add 1 to your mana pool
5, T, Sacrifice Gargoyle Castle: Put a 3/4 colorless gargoyle artifact creature token with flying on to the battlefield.
With the exception of the Merfolk Lord, blue has not really gotten anything worth writing home about as of yet. I know a lot of people are excited about Time Warp but I don’t think it will have the impact that many predict. Five mana is a big investment for a card that could very well just draw you a card and allow an extra land drop. If this is to see play it will most likely be accompanied by an aggressive shell, notably Merfolk. We have had to deal with 4 mana instant speed Time Walks that come on 4/4 flying bodies for the past 2 years though, which makes me think that coping with Time Warp will hardly be difficult.
Time Warp 3UU
Target player takes an extra turn after this one
Now while 5 mana Time Walks won’t be an issue, 1 mana Time Walks most definitely will be. White Weenie has the ability to wield Silence and prevent any effort a Control deck or Combo deck has at rebounding from a quick start. Granted the card is not the greatest in aggressive mirror matches, but it still acts as free turn of sorts which is only bad if your opponent already has his Putrid Leech or whatever in play. The card is really only bad against Fae currently as they can play both on their own turn as well as yours but it can still act as an instant speed Thoughtseize of sorts to draw out a counterspell. Also, if a combo deck can emerge post rotation, Silence can be a useful tool to both buy time against aggro decks and protect their combo from counterspells if any worth playing are printed.
Your opponents can’t cast spells this turn. (Spells cast before this resolves are unaffected.)
Overall I feel as though M10 gives just a tad too much to the aggressive decks while somewhat neglecting control. As for combo, it is a little too hard to foresee what players will come up with as nothing is obvious other than the loss of the only combo deck currently in standard. I do not like the consistent power creep of creatures but at the same time do not have a solution for the issue. R&D has clearly figured out how to slow or even reverse the creep of certain categories of spells (Lightning Bolt being the exception as I think that was just a marketing move) as they have convinced us to play with worse draw spells and worse counterspells over time. I am sure they have a plan and are implementing it as we speak. Thus, M10 simply seems out of place because we do not have the full amount of information that they do. Still, it is a little strange at the current time.
Nationals is sure to be a very fast and hostile format chocked full of aggro decks of every variety which should make for a very pronounced debut of the new rules as well.
As for M10 limited which will be showcased at Grand Prix Boston, white seems to stand out as the best color so far. With 2 common soldier lords and another at each uncommon and rare, it seems as though they can easily win most if not all creature on creature fights. In addition, cheap fliers and solid removal like Pacifism, Divine Verdict (Neck Snap), and Blinding Mage (Master Decoy) offer a more traditional white approach that seems better rounded than we are normally accustomed to. Plus it has some amazing uncommons including the newly renovated Serra Angel. I expect a lot of fighting to occur over who gets the white cards at each table.
I would briefly like to mention the change in Lifelink (previously Spirit Link although slightly different) so as to prevent any “Oops” moments in limited. Spirit Link is subtly different from Lifelink in that it was a triggered ability (just like old Lifelink: the ability) that gave the controller of Spirit Link the life. Lifelink (the aura) gives the creature lifelink (the ability) meaning enchanting an opposing creature with Lifelink will only make your opponent happy and do nothing defensively for you. This kind of sucks as a non-triggered version of Spirit Link would be an excellent defensive card because with a trigger, you could still lose while you were waiting to gain life from your Spirit Link. With new lifelink as a damage ability, the enchanted creature never actually deals damage to you. Just a heads up to anyone who has not noticed yet.
Enchanted creature has lifelink
(Damage dealt by the creature also causes its controller to gain that much life.)
Black seems to be the second best color with solid removal and pretty quick creatures that sport bonuses as opposed to the customary drawbacks that black has on its cheap guys. Consume Spirit and Tendrils of Corruption imply that mono black may just be the best route as both of those cards are just outstanding in 3 pack drafts as you can end up with multiples of each. In addition, going mono black increases the stock in your Doom Blades as there is a less likely chance that you will face down opposing black creatures.
Doom Blade 1B
Destroy target nonblack creature.
Red and Green both have their perks but I have a feeling that Red inches Green out for 3rd among the colors. Red has pretty excellent removal but its common creatures are all paltry. The uncommon creatures make up for that, but are obviously much harder to acquire. And as is usual with red, some ridiculous bombs will make for blow outs. Shivan Dragon, Earthquake, Fireball, and Bogardan Hellkite are just a few of the notables that you will enjoy windmill slamming. Expect red to be a support color for its removal more often than a stand-alone color as the pull of Seismic Spike alone does not really have the appeal that Tendrils of Corruption does.
Seismic Spike 2R
Seismic Spike deals damage to target creature equal to the number of mountains you control.
Green can easily shift with red if you happen to acquire any of its amazing rare or uncommon bombs. Ant Queen, Garruk, Kolonian Behemoth, Master of the Wild Hunt, Overrun, and Howl of the Night Pack can all just win games on their own. Even without them however, green has some fight in its versatile creatures. Deadly Recluse and Acidic Slime both offer options which should not be taken for granted. Still, I expect green to be a supplemental color once again, offering fat bodies, mana fixing, and pump spells.
Ant Queen 3GG
1G: Put a 1/1 green insect creature token on to the battlefield.
Last on the list is poor ole blue. Blue has some really solid cards, but they seem to fall in the uncommon slot for the most part. Air Elemental, Mind Control (Persuasion), and Wall of Frost all seem like they can turn a game around in your favor, but picking these up in a draft is hard to do. I guess the likelihood is higher due to blue’s overall weakness in the format, which means some drafters will prefer the color in hopes of being the only blue drafter at the table. Remove Soul and Unsummon are always fine at what they do, although hardly exciting. Snapping Drake and Wind Drake are cards that normally stand out, but with white being so good, and having trumps to these fliers with their own cheaper versions, or first striking versions, or bigger butted versions… well you can see where that leads. Divination (Counsel of the Soratami) and Merfolk Looter are still solid as always, but chances are you will see these cards next to some other color for actual creatures and removal. Also, there is always Jump to push you into blue! Why couldn’t they just reprint Leap, geez?
Wall of Frost 1UU
Defender (This creature can’t attack.)
Whenever Wall of Frost blocks a creature, that creature doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.
There are some solid artifacts to support the other colors mainly found in equipment. Gorgon Flail is pretty awesome especially considering that deathtouch is a very powerful ability under the new rules. Whispersilk Cloak will be as good as always, offering evasion to the big green dorks and what not. And the cycle of Dragon’s Claw artifacts are always surprisingly decent sideboard cards for the appropriate matchup especially as you will be able to pick them up extremely late.
Gorgon Flail 2
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 and has deathtouch.
Overall the format looks better for limited than the core sets of the past were which is nice. With 3 packs of it floating around, I have a feeling that the tribal synergies will be more pronounced than the scarce number of creature type matters cards would lead you to believe. It will not be of Lorwyn proportions of course, but will have an impact in some form or another at nearly every table. The format should be faster than 10th edition was, but nothing like Shards block is which should be a nice relief.
With 40, presumably new, cards yet to be spoiled there is still some room for the above to change, although I find it unlikely that anything drastic will change. Hopefully we will get a card or two to push blue at least in range of the other colors both for constructed and limited purposes. Again, while I am disappointed in the balancing of the set and some of the marketing strategies used, I trust Wizards as I am sure they have the bigger picture in mind. I do feel as though the uniqueness of the set was not fully capitalized upon, but with 40 cards still to go, that can change. Like it or not however, M10 will surely turn standard on end.
As always, any questions will be answered in the comments. Thank you to everyone for all of the support I have been receiving both in the forums and via email or facebook. You guys make this a worthy and enjoyable endeavor. Until next time, TRA LA LA, I’m out.