Magic 2015 is coming to stores near us and it appears as if the set will be yet another bounty of casual goodness. While new sets tend to excite many, it doesn’t ensure that the set will resonate with Commander players for years to come. I think that M15 will prove to be a very innovative set that managed to invoke the feel of Magic from the past 20 years better than any previous core sets.
For this review I’m going to split it up into two parts. This first section will cover the 15 mythic rares. The subsequent article will deal with the other notable rares, uncommons, and commons from M15.
The Soul Cycle
While this cycle is evocative of the Titan cycle of M11 and M12, the power level appears to be scaled back. It’s important to remember that while the Titans may have aged, they still stack up as being some of the more powerful creatures ever printed. So when Wizards unleashes another cycle of Mythic rare creatures with 6 power and toughness from a Core set, it’s worth keeping an eye open.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Avatar cycle is going to be less bombastic for Commander than their predecessors. While they certainly have their uses and the graveyard ability is a nice twist, the Avatars don’t have the same immediate impact that made the Titans so dominating. The flip side is that given enough mana, these Avatars should be able to take over and dominate games in ways the Titans could never dream about.
Most of the Avatars have similar strategies available to make them much more effective. The most potent of effects are Illusionist’s Bracers and Rings of Brighthearth. Then there are things like Training Ground and Heartstone to reduce their activation costs. Pretty much any effect that lets you earn more activations from your Avatars is going to have a large impact on their power for you.
From first blush I’m thinking that this will be the most powerful of the cycle for Commander. While life gain is not overly important, having it tacked onto large creatures that turn random tokens into serious damage sources is strategically relevant. While it certainly won’t set any speed records, it’s not absurd to think that 3 or 4 other creatures and Soul of Theros is enough board presence to make your opponents worried. That means you can hold back additional resources while trying to set up a large gap in the life totals. This is also probably on the more powerful of the abilities from the graveyard as it can give your opponents fits as they try to play around it whether you are attacking or blocking. I’m most interested in trying Soul of Theros out in decks similar to Darien, King of Kjeldor that are known to absorb a lot of damage and/or create a lot tokens.
Any time a giant creature has an ability to draw multiple cards in a single activation I take notice. Unfortunately all I notice about Soul of Ravnica is how overpriced the draw ability is. The card is relatively unplayable in one and two colored decks and won’t necessarily shine in three colored decks. That leaves 5 Color as the most probably home which is challenging as it has to compete against the best effects in every color. The biggest upside for Soul of Ravnica is being a 6/6 Flier, but the draw ability is nearly invisible. I have no plans to play this card, but I suppose it could be intriguing in some base blue Reaper King deck.
This big guy is the trickiest to judge. While it is possible that its ability is just too expensive, it provides better card advantage than Soul of Ravnica. And as Grave Titan has shown, being a 6/6 Deathtouch is not without merit. The biggest wild card is whether slower decks with graveyard shenanigans need this type of effect. Some decks want things in their graveyard as that’s where they are ripe for abuse and may not want to evict them. The other issue is getting enough creatures into your graveyard to get maximum value for all the mana you are spending to get those creatures back to your hand. I figure that it could be possible to have enough utility creatures like Shriekmaw, Ingot Chewer, Avalanche Riders, Fulminator Mage, and/or Bone Shredder that end up in your grave to have enough value to make Soul of Innistrad’s ability worthwhile.
It’s definitely a step up compared to some of the other souls, but the mana cost on the ability feels a little too high. I wouldn’t dismiss this one out of hand as I know that some decks can generation absurd amounts of mana with cards like Gauntlet of Might, Gauntlet of Power, and Caged Sun. That said the reason Inferno Titan is so strong is the free nature of his damage ability and 11 mana for the first set of damage is quite a cost. However, Inferno Titan doesn’t have First Strike and that ability is more relevant than fire breathing when you have big creatures smashing in to each other. While it’s not setting my world on fire, I think Soul of Shandalar has some potential. I see the ability to control the board of smaller creatures and Planeswalkers when I look at Soul of Shandalar and that’s the promise I see in it. I am most looking forward towards sticking one in my Starke of Rath deck as it plays a lot of the ability copiers and a lot of artifact mana, the things that make Soul of Shandalar go nuts.
Green has the best big creatures and I’m sure there are better options than making tokens for 5 mana. I don’t have too many nice things to say about a creature so bland, but I could see how protecting Planeswalkers and developing your board without committing additional non-mana resources are good things. It’s definitely the least exciting of the Souls even if it isn’t the least powerful (barely).
I predict that this is going to be the most played Soul simply because it is colorless and quite effective at deterring board wipes. People rightfully fear board wipes and this card will frustrate many a Wrath of God and Damnation user. This card may cause more people to stop using those cards. I personally have switched to using Hallowed Burial, Terminus, Cyclonic Rift, and Evacuation more as Indestructible became a more common mechanic. The easiest strategy with this card will be interactions with effects like Survival of the Fittest being able to “surprise” people by dumping it to your graveyard and being able to save your board. I would expect the Soul of New Phyrexia to excel in decks that wish to overextend their board like many of the Mayael the Anima, Maelstrom Wanderer and big Mono Green decks.
The most intriguing “combo” with Soul of New Phyrexia is activating the ability to make your permanents indestructible and then casting Obliterate or Jokulhaups. This strategy gained some traction after the printing of Avacyn, Angel of Hope so it wouldn’t shock me if there was resurgence in this concept. Would probably work out well with mana ramp from green and fit nicely in Mayael the Anima led Naya deck.
M15 brings a new batch of Planeswalkers and they are a doozy. This set has 6 Planeswalkers with 4 of them being brand new additions. While Chandra, Pyromaster is returning is not a shock, Garruk, Caller of Beasts taking a break after a single printing does break a pattern. For those paying attention to M15’s marketing it was telegraphed. The bigger news on Garruk is that he is Multicolored and thus means we have 6 planeswalkers in a set for the first time since M13. It also means we have 4 new Planeswalkers in M15, the most since Shards of Alara (also 4). Let’s see how this crop shapes up.
Liliana Vess is a solid Planeswalker and shows up often in Commander decks. It’s been a few years since her last printing so I expect to see an uptick in her use corresponding to her increased circulation. Mixing hand control with tutor power is nice and the ultimate is still one of the stronger and more flavorful ones.
Once again Chandra, Pyromaster shows up as a card advantage engine for Red. It’s a spot that Red is sorely lacking in so I’m sure there will be renewed interest in her as her price dips lower. While the Pyromaster doesn’t cause a lot of excitement it can be a good role filler for many a Red Commander deck so it nice to have another opportunity to get some.
This is the first of new Planeswalkers that M15 has to offer and it seems to be another varying degree of power. The first ability is sort of standard fare and is likely to be appreciated by various white Voltron decks like Rafiq of the Many and Doran, the Siege Tower. The Lifelink is quite important for some decks, while others just appreciate the First Strike making gang blocks less attractive.
The -2 ability is where this Ajani goes from just another creature enhancer to potentially something special. Being able to help jump up your other Planeswalkers towards their Ultimates is quite interesting. Outside a few of the proliferate cards, there aren’t many effects that can do that and fewer make the cut in many Commander decks. This ability seems destined to please those players who love mashing many Planeswalkers in the same deck with Doubling Season and board wipes. This ability is where Ajani Steadfast starts to compare unfavorably with Ajani Goldmane. Outside of the implications with Planeswalker, Ajani Steadfast’s -2 is much weaker than Ajani Goldmane’s -1. If your deck was playing Ajani Goldmane for -1, Ajani Steadfast may not be what you want.
The ultimate is also strong for the types of decks that like to flood the battlefield with Planeswalkers. I’m sure this is the type of ultimate that people who enjoy using Doubling Season + Planeswalkers to immediately ultimate will chase after. The biggest issue is that those Doubling Season + Planeswalker decks to skimp on the creatures so this Ajani’s +1 ability may be unexciting here. This Ajani seems to be a welcome addition for the decks that love Planeswalkers, maybe some Voltron decks, and probably some token decks too. Ajani Steadfast is a very solid Planeswalker and he has some exciting capabilities.
It’s easy to look at Jace and say mean things. None of the abilities are necessarily game winning. It stacks up as clearly inferior to every previous version of Jace when it comes to both power and excitement. The question is what good can this Jace do? The first notable thing is the high loyalty. With Five loyalty it means that you can immediately Ultimate when Doubling Season is involved. A Timetwister where only you draw the cards is nothing to sneeze at even if I would rather draw 20 cards (Jace, Memory Adept), play spells out of people’s decks (Jace, Architect of Thought), or exile someone’s library (Jace, the Mind Sculptor). Its graveyard hate and hand control in one, two things that blue doesn’t have a lot of and can help win games. So while that’s impressive, the rest of this Jace seems to be lacking. The +1 ability to look at the top two cards of your library and ditch a card is too slow to be effective either as graveyard filling or deck sculpting. The -3 to return a permanent is a solid ability, but compares to Vraska the Unseen’s -3 and Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s -1 quite unfavorably. In the end, I think this Jace will be played by people want to abuse Doubling Season and those with few other options. In the absence of better choices, Jace, the Living Guildpact can accomplish some things. It’s just that when the history of Magic is at your fingertips then Jace fails to measure up.
Nissa is a challenging card. It’s sort of like 3 separate cards in one. The first card wants to be surrounded by effects like Oblivion Stone and Planar Cleansing to clear the way for all the 4/4s it made of its lands. This card is even resilient to the feared Cyclonic Rift. The second card wants you to have lots of Forests in play and lots of big effects to spend mana on. This second card doesn’t even care if those lands are Forest, Snow-Covered Forest, Murmuring Bosk, Dryad Arbor, Breeding Pool or Tropical Island. Any Forest will do. The third card wants your deck to have as many Basic lands in your deck as possible. Whether Forests or Islands, it doesn’t care. It just wants lands to search out from your deck and put onto the battlefield and animate into a giant formidable army.
In Commander, I suspect the most common call for Nissa, Worldwaker will be in Mono Green decks that are heavy on the Big Guys. Imagine this scenario. Turn 1 Forest into Mana Accelerant (Sol Ring, Elvish Mystic, etc). Turn 2 Forest into Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, or any of the other power accelerators Green is known for. Turn 3 Forest into Nissa into untapping 4 Forest and playing whatever you may wish (such as your Commander, perhaps Omnath, Locus of Mana). This can lead into a big plays the following turn such as Terastodon, an entwined Tooth and Nail, or even another Forest + Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. A deck like that can make Nissa look even more impressive than Gilded Lotus or Thran Dynamo, two of the premier mana ramp spells in the format. Keep in mind that’s even before mentioning the amount of mana Nissa can create in conjunction with cards like Vernal Bloom and Caged Sun.
Nissa’s Ultimate has a lot of questions to deal with. With effects like Armageddon and Wrath of God lurking around the format, putting an excessive amount of Land Creatures onto the battlefield is just begging for the opponent to come up with an answer. The big problem is that these lands have summoning sickness so not only can they not attack but they can’t produce mana either on that first turn. Thankfully tools such as Lightning Greaves, Eldrazi Monument, and Akroma’s Memorial can address some of the various concerns. It’s clear to me that this Nissa is going to be a much loved commander card even if it does beg to be played alongside an excessive amount of Forests.
This Garruk is quite a monster. With the ability to kill both Planeswalkers and creatures, it almost rivals Karn Liberated and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker for versatility. It even makes a very useful token. The most innovative part of the Apex Predator is the ultimate that curses an opponent with an emblem. The flavor and game function is all there and I expect Garruk to lead many a Golgari deck.
But all of its abilities are great for the battles of powerful creatures and Planeswalkers emblematic of the last few years of Magic. It’s designed to fight against cards like Baneslayer Angel and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. It’s not going to interact well against the likes of Reset and Ad Nauseam. Garruk, Apex Predator can’t even handle irksome things like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or Future Sight. Karn Liberated and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker could handle most anything once they hit the battlefield. That’s why they were worth those giant costs. But even they still occasionally miss out on showing up in decks because those decks can’t reliably hit that much mana. Garruk, being Green, may avoid the mana issue but he will certainly still be compared to the other super heavyweight Planeswalker.
Despite his deficiencies, Garruk will have his time in the sun. Planeswalkers with get destroyed and players will get emblems and games will be won because of it. It’s just that Garruk, Apex Predator apparently has not met Karn Liberated yet…
The Other Mythics
It’s nice to have yet another Legendary Sliver. While everyone has their preferences, I find that all of the Sliver Legends have a different flavor to offer. Sliver Queen offers raw combo power as an outlet for infinite mana, a gig she plays even for non-tribal 5 color decks. Sliver Overlord is card advantage and tutor power on a stick and can win the Sliver mirror given time. Sliver Legion is the big dumb beatstick of the group able to turn even a small army into a large killing machine. So where does Hivelord fit into these dynamics? The Hivelord offers a level of durability rarely found for any tribe. There is only one other card that is both indestructible and makes other cards indestructible and we all know how strong Avacyn, Angel of Hope can be (answer is very if you don’t know). The real test is how does Sliver Hivelord led Sliver decks differentiate themselves from the other options. I think the best way to abuse Sliver Hivelord is by running cards that would destroy creatures like Damnation to clear the way for your own attacks. This strategy would let your Slivers reign over the Battlefield unimpeded. If your board wipe happened to be Obliterate then your opponents may really have a problem.
This is the next step of Oblivion Stone apparently. It makes sense to have yet another board wipe that deals with Indestructible permanents as both Soul of Phyrexia and Sliver Hivelord are going to spread that mechanic. The biggest downside to Perilous Vault is the lack of reuse potential. While Oblivion Stone can do tricks with Sun Titan or Academy Ruins, there is not much of that for Perilous Vault. It’s most notable as a way for Red and Black to handle Gods and other enchantments. The Vault is a solid, if not inspired, card that I expect to see a decent amount of.
The Chain Veil is a challenge more than anything else. It’s asking to be broken, to be taken to extremes. The first activation requires 8 mana (4 to play, 4 to activate) so the question is how many extra uses of Planeswalkers make it worth it? One? Two? Three? It really has to do with which Planeswalkers are involved. A Tezzeret the Seeker and an Everflowing Chalice with 4 or more counters can combine with The Chain Veil to set off an infinite loop of Tezzeret’s +1 . Add in another Planeswalker and you should be able to win the game without any real issue. The permutations are so great and so many that it’s nearly a lock that The Chain Veil will be a powerful favorite in Commander. I suggest looking towards the Planeswalkers that produce mana like Xenagos, the Reveler or Nissa, Worldwaker as The Chain Veil does happen to be mana hungry.
So that’s it for the Mythics of Magic 2015. Join me next time for the rest of the set.
alextobriner @ gmail dot com
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