Last time I did a general glossing over of the latest set, Khans of Tarkir, for its viability in Commander. This time I continue where I left off and go over the Black, Red, and Green cards. Let’s dive into it.
Four mana draw twos aren’t the greatest thing around, but they aren’t the worst. Bitter Revelation is one of those odd cards in that it has no real comparison. It could be like the Black Foresee or the Black answer to Fact or Fiction. I’m just not sure because it’s not like anything we have seen really. Being a common, I will readily champion this card for people who can’t afford the more expensive draw spells that help to define Commander.
I’m not sure where I would want this, but a cheap creature with a useful ability is always good to keep an eye on. While Reassembling Skeleton is the gold standard for this style of effect, Bloodsoaked Champion also does the stupid tricks with Skullclamp and other stuff to make it at least noteworthy. Raid is not such a hard condition to trigger, especially as the Bloodsoaked Champion can trigger its own Raid before you start feeding it to Skullclamp or Ashnod’s Altar.
Empty the Pits
Empty the Pits is a cool card. It could be great for Standard and other formats but it doesn’t scale well for Commander. Meanwhile there is a card that scales much stronger for Commander called Army of the Damned. It’s not like Army of the Damned is tearing up the format so I have little faith in Empty the Pits causing much of a shakeup.
Cards that let you draw anywhere from several to many cards are usually nifty. Grim Haruspex is no different here. The problem is that Haruspex doesn’t interact with token creatures which will provide fewer opportunities for use. Now I know that there are some decks out their like Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker or Zombie tribal that will appreciate having another draw engine. The Morph ability hints at the cute functionality that it was designed to be a surprise draw effect when your opponent wipes your board. I think it will end up being more of a “Surprise, I’m drawing 10+ cards.”
There is lot of potential here, but it may not be strong enough. Being able to just destroy target creature without any drawbacks is quite strong. The problem is that 5 mana is an awful lot. Even at 3 mana, Murder and Hero’s Downfall are both better. So the question is whether you can design your deck to enable Delve early and often. If the answer is no, then the question is why Murderous Cut? The role I could see Murderous Cut filling is similar to Dismember and Snuff Out in the late game. There is usually a moment where someone is about to start a creature based combo and you can just surprise them with a cheap removal spell. Murderous Cut will probably shine in that situation, but I’m not sure it’s punching at the same power as the other options. Biggest upside is hitting black creatures, like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, so that may be enough to nudge it into your deck.
Raider’s Spoils is an interesting support card for the Warrior tribe, but not enough to jump them up above a casual favorite. While having a Phyrexian Arena/Necropotence vibe is strong, Raider’s Spoils is really just a tribe specific Bident of Thassa or Coastal Piracy.
Retribution of the Ancients
As a removal spell, I find Retribution of the Ancients less compelling than Attrition. The power of Retribution of the Ancients is in the synergy it has with Undying (Mikaeus, the Unhallowed especially) and oddball effects like Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker. You can remove all the +1/+1 counters off of your creatures to make them meet the criteria to qualify for these effects and that can be quite useful as piece of a value engine. I’m not sure it will have many broader applications, but I think there will definitely be some creative uses of Retribution of the Ancients.
The problem that Ashcloud Phoenix will face is that the cost to unmorph is pretty prohibitive. Six mana to unmorph puts it in the same expensive category as Akroma, Angel of Fury and Brine Elemental. The damage is near irrelevant, but at least it can ding Planeswalkers. The decks that most want creatures with recursive abilities like the Phoenix are those that are planning on clearing the board with cards like Obliterate and that makes trying to unmorph prohibitive.
As a creature removal spell, Burn Away is quite terrible. It’s just that 5 mana to kill a creature is quite underwhelming. What is interesting about Burn Away is that it is a form of graveyard hate for Red unlike anything else. There are very few cards that interact with the Graveyard in Red so it’s nice for its novelty if nothing else. The only problem that Burn Away faces is that while it doesn’t have competition for graveyard removal in Red, it does have plenty of competition from Artifacts. Scrabbling Claws, Phyrexian Furnace, Tormod’s Crypt, and Relic of Progenitus are the strongest option from artifacts. So while Burn Away has some novelty, I’m not sure it’s good enough to take the format by storm.
I feel like this could be a sleeper hit. There are plenty of Red based strategies that would love a repeatable source of creature tokens. Commanders like Tajic, Blade of the Legion and Purphoros, God of the Forge would love the aggressive token making that comes with it. Meanwhile, control strategies like Norin the Wary are always starved for token making schemes. Goblin Assault is a comparable card and sees some play in these strategies and I see Goblinslide working alongside it well.
Hordeling Outburst is the first time Red gets to make so many tokens without a horrific drawback or extra cost. Compare the Outburst to Kuldotha Rebirth or Thatcher’s Revolt and see that upgrade. Previous token makers in Red usually cap out around 2 tokens like Krenko’s Command, Dragon Fodder, and Mogg War Marshal. The decks that could most use Hordeling Outburst are either Goblin Tribal decks like Krenko, Mob Boss or aggressive strategies like Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer that need those bodies.
Howl of the Horde
The Raid ability isn’t too intriguing to me; it’s just a bonus. What is compelling to me is the tradeoffs this card has compared to something like Reiterate or Twincast. Fork and friends copy any spell but they can be foiled by a Counterspell on the original spell (meaning there is nothing to copy when the Fork resolves). Meanwhile, Howl of the Horde creates a delayed trigger, or two, that happens when you cast a spell and copies it then. The copy will happen even if your opponent Counterspells it. So it’s a trade off on whether you want a more versatile card or one that can dodge two for ones.
There are a few oddball combos that can be forced with Mardu Warshrieker. Nim Deathmantle + Ashnod’s Altar + a Raid triggered Mardu Warshrieker creates infinite mana. It joins Priest of Gix and Priest of Urabrask in this strategy so it could open up some possibilities for a Black, Red, and White combo deck. Having a mana cost of 4 does limit its synergy (no Enduring Renewal + Goblin Bombardment like the others), but enters the battlefield abilities that generate mana always have some potential.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
The first Planeswalker from Khans block we encounter is the plane’s native son Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Making his third appearance, after Sarkhan Vol and Sarkhan the Mad, this Sarkhan is of a different breed of Planeswalker. The +1 doesn’t provide any protection for Sarkhan which matters more when there are legions of utility creatures crawling around the battlefield like there is during Commander games. The -3 ability is quite disappointing as a removal spell and may as well be blank based upon the scale of threats. Meanwhile, the ultimate is an enhanced version of Grafted Exoskeleton. So the real question is whether Sarkhan is worth it? My verdict is no as Sarkhan is just too weak and the ultimate is too conditional for the grind of a Commander game.
If there is any card that has caused more divergent opinions in Khans of Tarkir I haven’t seen it. Some people feel it just doesn’t scale well enough compared to cards like Doubling Season and Parallel Lives. What is not brought up as much is that it costs a single mana instead of 4 or 5 mana and that can be a big difference. Not only does that represent at least one turns worth of mana, it means you can also sneak a combo onto the board easier when people aren’t expecting it. Hardened Scales also does the same about of work that Doubling Season would do in conjunction with things like Graft and Evolve. It’s also worth remember the Spikes from Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus, and Time Spiral. You can remove a counter for the Spike to add two counters to itself.
There are some Commanders that could really benefit from Hardened Scales. Skullbriar, the Walking Grave is one of the best examples. It changes the math from swinging for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then 6 for a six turn clock to 1, 3, 5, 7, and then 9 for a whole turn less. This matters even greater when you factor in trying to kill multiple opponents over the course of a game as instead of taking 3 hits to take your next opponent in two hits instead of three hits.
Marath, Will of the Wild becomes a growing monster with Hardened Scales in play as you can pay 1 mana and remove one +1/+1 counter to put two +1/+1 counters on it. Combine this interaction with Mana Echoes and you could mow down the entire table. You remove a counter to make an Elemental token, get mana, remove a counter to get two +1/+1 counters, and make another elemental token to continue the cycle. One you have more than enough mana via tokens, then you start filtering it into more +1/+1 counters and can start converting those extra counters into damage at your opponents faces. There are plenty of options for Hardened Scales and I expect it to remain a casual favorite for years.
It’s another big powerful creature for a sizable mana investment. The Morph ability is odd. It both punishes opponents who wipe your board but places a cap on the size of your hydra thus compensation Snake army. It’s yet another card that gets turned up to 11 with Doubling Season, but that’s just life in the Mythic Rare era. One of the coolest interactions with Hooded Hydra is turning it face down. If you use something like Master of the Veil to turn the Hydra face down it will still keep the +1/+1 counters currently on it and then you can unmorph it again for a fresh five +1/+1 counters. This works well with Vesuvan Shapeshifter too!
There are few obviously suboptimal cards that I will love more than Meandering Towershell. The amount of time I have devoted to finding justifications to use it is a staggering sum. It exiles itself when it attacks and that is what provides the biggest avenue of exploitation. During the window where the Towershell is in exile, you can wipe the board with something like Obliterate and Decree of Annihilation. My verdict on the Turtle is that while it may not be lighting up the competitive scene, it has enough oddball interactions that it is far from a forgettable card.
Any card with such goofy and awesome art/flavor is noteworthy. I just wish it was strong enough to be played in Commander. Come on Wizards, give us goofy cards that are also good!
Scout the Borders
What a difference a single mana can make. Commune with the Gods and Grisly Salvage are playable cards in the right deck. So while the effect of Scout the Borders is a good one at three mana you start heading into competition with Intuition, Cultivate, or Buried Alive. So the end of the day, Scout the Borders is a great effect as a bad mana cost.
See the Unwritten
There are strong parallels between See the Unwritten and Summoning Trap. The Trap has a lot more going for it with being an Instant and the Trap aspect, but it still doesn’t see a lot of play. What See the Unwritten has is more depth and that extra card could make a big difference. It can also occasionally grab an extra creature. I wouldn’t rate the card based on things going well, though, so I only see the deeper and sorcery speed version of Summoning Trap. This makes it viable in strategies like Mayael, the Anima, but I’m not sure it will show up elsewhere. One of the crazy benefits may actually be dumping 6 or 7 cards into your graveyard. It could make setting up things like Past in Flames or Yawgmoth’s Will or The Mimeoplasm easier. If sneaking out big creatures it something you like then See the Unwritten is yet another solid option for that effect, but it won’t be a Commander All-Star.
Trail of Mystery
While there have been plenty of cards with Morph there are have been few support cards for the mechanic. Trail of Mystery will be a nice addition to this mechanics support group. The ability to grab extra lands is nice as many of the better cards with Morph have higher costs to flip. I really like the pump ability for Trail of Mystery as it makes blocking Morphs even tougher as one can never really know just how large the mystery man is underneath that 2/2 shell.
So that’s it for Red, Black and Green. Join me next time as I tackle all the glittering treasures of Khans of Tarkir’s Gold cards.
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