Welcome to the Fourth and Final installment of my Khans of Tarkir review. We stopped part way through the Multicolored cards. This time we will finish that section up, cover the lands and artifacts, and then wrap this whole set up. Let’s go!
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Planeswalkers are always dicey in Commander as they want a large upfront cost in exchange for future value. This usually leads to them either being immediate and impactful threats (Karn Liberated, Elspeth, Knight-Errant) or window dressing waiting to do something useful (Liliana of the Dark Realms, Chandra Ablaze). It’s rare for a Planeswalker to be useful in all stages of the game. Sorin, Solemn Visitor may be a useful Planeswalker because it can press an advantage well, but it offers little opportunity for a turnaround. Some of the better Planeswalkers of the format can help turn the tide like Tezzeret the Seeker (sets up combo or grabs Ensnaring Bridge) or Garruk, Primal Hunter (drawing cards is good).
The Ultimate of Sorin, Solemn Visitor is sure to excite many as it fits people idea for control schemes and is gifted with a reasonable loyalty cost. Making your opponents sacrifice creatures not only will excite Stax junkies but also those who wish to punish players taking extra turns. While making a token is not irrelevant, the 2 loyalty makes this ability less attractive than other creatures making abilities on Planeswalkers like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or Garruk Wildspeaker. It also puts a lot of extra distance from the reason people will flock to Sorin, the ultimate, and thus I expect it to be rarely used in Commander. The +1 takes us into new territory with a temporary boost that lasts for an entire turn cycle and may end up being the reason that this Sorin stands out. Sorin is the type of Planeswalker you wish to protect so that it reaches its ultimate and pumping your creatures while they are on defense is definitely strong. The lifelink is also relevant as BW decks tend to have lots of synergy with life gain like Serra Ascendant and Sanguine Bond. Overall, I’m a fan of Sorin, Solemn Visitor in more controlling decks, but unless your deck is token heavy the pump effect and removal won’t be effective enough in aggressive strategies.
It’s a glorified version of Think Tank. The extra colored mana to dig deeper doesn’t mean much in my opinion. If people are searching for ways to fill up their graveyards then there are better options like Fact or Fiction or Buried Alive or Forbidden Alchemy. At the same converted mana cost you could also get Rhystic Study, a card with more card advantage potential.
Stapling Ultimate Price, Naturalize, and Catalog together makes for a versatile card. Of those effects only Naturalize is even considered for some Commander decks. The real judge will be how many instant speed spells the BUG deck wants. Phyrexian Arena, Rhystic Study, Thirst for Knowledge, and Necropotence provide much better card advantage options and a variety of options. So my instincts say that Sultai Charm is unlikely to be an all-star, but could see some use in instant heavy strategies where versatility is supreme.
Now this is the RUG Legend that people have been waiting for. Most of the RUG Wedge’s options for Commanders begged to facilitate creature based combo decks. Surrak Dragonclaw only wishes for the beatdown. It is aggressively costed, helps break through permission (counterspell) based strategies while also beefing up your other creatures with trample and uncounterability of their own. The biggest problem for Surrak is that he is too much of a regular guy for a format that is increasingly becoming dominated by card advantage machines like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and Maelstrom Wanderer. I still have faith in Surrak Dragonclaw, though, as Flash is just enough trickiness that he could definitely enable some beatdown.
There are better ways to give your creatures haste: Anger in the graveyard, less color intensive enchantments like Fires of Yavimaya and Fervor, powerful artifacts like Lightning Greaves and Akroma’s Memorial, and even creatures like Urabrask or Maelstrom Wanderer. The wrinkle is how relevant will the draw ability be. My problem with Temur Ascendancy is that it doesn’t reliably draw cards and that the color intensive mana cost is prohibitive. Cards like Rhystic Study and Jace Beleren just provide much more reliable card drawing. Sometimes it is better to use more specialized cards than trying to have less powerful cards that provide a little bit of everything.
Charms are dicey in Commander as either all 3 abilities must be desirable on some level or at least one of the abilities must be extraordinary. Temur Charm fails on both accounts. Fighting is fine, but hardly the stuff of dreams. Mana Leak is an okay effect, but requiring 3 different colored mana makes it unwieldy. A poor blocking trick doesn’t help things any so Termur Charm ends up being a real disappointment. I’m sure people will play it, but it hard to justify it when something like Izzet Charm or Simic Charm can outclass it.
This card is the trap. Adding a mana for a slight upgrade on Essence Scatter is just not strong enough for Commander. Trap Essence will rarely even be stronger than Exclude. I would stay away from it if you value being able to reliably cast your spells.
Exiling a permanent is one of the most effective way to eliminate a permanent. While it may not be as good at handling Commanders as “tuck” effects like Chaos Warp and Oblation, Utter End has no upside for the impacted player. While it may cost 4 mana compared to similar cards like Vindicate and Oblation’s 3, it is an instant and has no upside for the opponent. Even at 4 mana Utter End is nifty as an option to pull out of your deck with Sun Forger. I expect many players to enjoy Utter End, especially the full art version from Game Day.
The easy comparisons are the likes of Epic Experiment and Genesis Wave. However, Villainous Wealth is its own beast as it more difficult to control the experience. With cards like Genesis Wave and Epic Experiment you can make an informed decision regarding how large one must be to be effective based on knowing the contents of your deck. With Villainous Wealth all you have is semi blind deductions barring an effect to search your opponent’s library. It also calls into question strategy not usually seen at Commander tables where you must choose which opponent to target for a variety of things including how valuable (or quality) their deck is, how good of a deck builder they are (and thus the options they have), and which colors they play. The colors is the tricky one as do you hit your Blue opponent to dig for Time Warp and other extra turns even if you may just reveal many Counterspells? Or do you target the less exciting White player to scrounge for a board wipe. It is definitely an interesting card that will see some play, but I’m not sold on its power. I have a feeling Villainous Wealth will veer more towards Epic Experiment in quality than Genesis Wave, but it could be quite strong in metagames where people use many extra turn cards.
Warden of the Eye
It’s a more versatile variant of Izzet Chronarch, Nucklavee, and Razor Hippogriff. While it may not be the most impressive or flexible to cast, it does offer the chance to return Planeswalkers, Artifacts, Sorceries, and Instants. It’s this variety that will make Warden of the Eye the go to choice for this style of effect in this Wedge. It won’t find as much promise in Five-Color decks as Eternal Witness is just that much better.
The new BWR General on the Block has a lot of room to grow. The only really good option for this Wedge previous was Kaalia of the Vast. While Zurgo Helmsmasher is a blunt instrument of combat, he is quite good at that as he is hasty, indestructible on offense, and grows with chump blocks. The biggest issue for Zurgo is the lack of evasion but Tenza, Godo’s Maul and Gift of Orzhova can remedy that easily. Nemesis Mask is another interesting card for Zurgo as you can just have him start to pick off your opponent’s armies with relative ease. There are plenty of ways to suit up Zurgo and I’m sure he will be smashing face for a long time.
The strategy that intrigues me the most for Zurgo is combining his indestructible nature with cards like Obliterate, Jokulahups, and Devastation. Why bother giving more toys to Zurgo when you can just take away everyone else’s tools? Meanwhile, Zurgo can eliminate an opponent in just 3 hits when unaided. While I’m normally the first to add in Infect to any strategy, I think Zurgo decks will find more success with cards like Hatred and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion.
Azban Banner, Jeskai Banner, Mardu Banner, Sultai Banner, and Temur Banner
The first comparison to these that will come up in most people’s minds will either be of the Cluestones (Dimir Cluestone) from Dragon’s Maze or the Obelisks (Obelisk of Grixis) from Shards of Alara. The first thing to point out is that the Cluestones are a bad comparison as there are more options for flexible mana fixing in color pairs than in the Shards and Wedges (3 colored combinations). This competition in the form of various cycles like the Signets (Boros Signet) and Talismans (Talisman of Progress) is fierce as they are an entire mana less. At 3 mana the Banners are really competing with Coalition Relic, Darksteel Ingot, and Chromatic Lantern and sadly the Banners are completely outclassed. However, the Banners will probably costs a $.25 or less and thus will definitely see play.
Altar of the Brood
Altar of the Brood is an interesting card. On one hand it is possible to “mill” out entire tables when used with Deadeye Navigator and Palinchron. The question becomes whether trying to mill someone out is even a worthwhile endeavor in a format where graveyard based strategies are only becoming more common and cards like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth prevent people from getting milled to death. It’s possible to build decks to gain a lot of triggers for Altar of the Brood with cards like Boundless Realms and Avenger of Zendikar, but to what end? You may want to have another strategy in addition to just putting cards in the opponents (like The Mimeoplasm) as trying to mill people just may not be enough anymore.
Cranial Archive comes from a long line of decks shufflers like Feldon’s Cane and Thran Foundry. By adding a mana you can draw a card. Drawing cards is always nice, but there are better ways of both graveyard hate (when using on an opponent) and graveyard reuse. So Elixir of Immortality is much better when you are trying to reuse your deck as the life gain is sort of relevant and the Elixir can be used many times. As graveyard hate, it’s rare that you want your opponents to draw those great cards again so things like Relic of Progenitus and Tormod’s Crypt are more effective. Cranial Archive is just a clever blend of two effects so there is some potential, but I think the real deal breaker is that 4 mana is just too much.
Dragon Throne of Tarkir
This is a pretty odd card as it essentially turns one of your creatures into a walking Overwhelming Stampede. The biggest issue I have is that it takes so much mana to get set up, but it also is reusable. This is where the power of the Dragon Throne lies as you can stomp through multiple opponents. I expect this card to be more popular amongst casual players, but too slow for competitive tables.
Lens of Clarity
The ability to look at Morphs isn’t that useful, but the real value is glimpsing at the top of your library. This matters most as there can be lots of reasons to shuffle your library, especially with Green land fetching. While I normally abhor saying that Card X is a good budget option for Card Y, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to build around Card X to make it more relevant in a specific deck than Card Y. in this case, I think Lens of Clarity could have a few applications where it works comparably to Sensei’s Divining Top and Mirri’s Guile. It’s definitely not a great card, but it might have more applications than appear at first glance. It can let you make education plays with effects like Clash or library shuffling so I’m interested in how it ends up performing.
There are some playgroups where players that are taking additional turns are a scourge. Ugin’s Nexus joins Stranglehold as one of a few effects that can eliminate that extra turn issue. The Nexus doesn’t stop there as it has a replacement effect that when it would go into a graveyard you exile it instead to take another turn. That’s some power and gets around most forms of removal (doesn’t deal with bounce). It also opens up an opportunity for some odd infinite turn combos. The funny thing is that Ugin’s Nexus actually has an odd infinite turn combo. Imprint the Nexus on Prototype Protal. Use the Portal to make a copy of Ugin’s Nexus. Then sacrifice the Nexus copy to something like Phyrexia’s Core. The leaves play replacement effects means you get another turn. Yet another goofy infinite turn combo which is something that I can always appreciate.
Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
The only land in Khans of Tarkir that is outside of a cycle, Tomb of the Spirit Dragon is very unique. Having no color identity is quite useful as it will be yet another land for the Colorless Commander decks led by Karn, Silver Golem and the Legendary Eldrazi. The life gain element is hard to judge as I believe it would be most relevant in decks featuring large amounts of Eldrazi Spawn or the various artifact creature tokens like Golems and Myr. It’s also worth noting that the Tomb works quite well with any deck playing tons of Morphs.
The Fetch Lands
Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills
The Fetch Lands are amongst the most powerful lands in the history of Magic. This group of Allied pairs of Fetch lands originated in Onslaught and hadn’t had a reprint since a set of Judge Foils. It was hard to find a Polluted Delta or a Flooded Strand for less than a $100 before the announcement of a reprint. Now you can find fetch lands for half of their previous prices the new frame Fetches going for 25% or less of the previous price points on these lands.
While Dual Lands (Volcanic Island, Savannah, and the like) get all the hype, I think that Fetch Lands are even more useful in Commander. Fetch lands provide more opportunities for synergy with cards like Crucible of Worlds, Life from the Loam, and Sensei’s Divining Top (shuffling is good). While the mana fixing potential of the Fetch Lands hits it optimal power level when paired with the Dual Lands, they also work with the Shock Lands well. The most effective review of Fetch Lands I can provide is to buy as many as you can/will and enjoy them. Having multiple copies is rarely bad as they fit in almost every deck.
The Wedge Tri-Lands
Frontline Bivouac, Mystic Monastery, Nomad Outpost, Opulent Palace, Sandsteppe Citadel
The Shard Tri-Lands from Shards of Alara made a solid impact on mana bases. These lands will provide the same experience to the Wedges. Not much strategy to be had here, but It’s not a bad idea to get foils (they will only get harder to get with time) if you have a favorite Wedge.
Ten New “Refuges”
Bloodfell Cliffs, Blossoming Sands, Dismal Backwater, Jungle Hollow, Rugged Highlands, Scoured Barrens, Swiftwater Cliffs, Thornwood Falls, Tranquil Cove, Wind-Scarred Crag
Mana fixing at Common is always welcome for many players, especially those on a budget. These lands are upgrades to the Guildgates from Return to Ravnica and essentially more versions of the Refuges (Akoum Refuge) from Zendikar. Amongst allied tap lands, this style is nearly superior to all except occasionally the Coldsnap “Snow Lands” (Boreal Shelf). These will be played and will be just as good as the Refuges.
So that’s it! Khans of Tarkir is a pretty impressive set in a lot of aspects. It treads some new ground, delivers some new twists, and will be filled with solid role players that we will see for years to come.
alextobriner at gmail dot com
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