With 22 years of cards at our disposal in the eternal formats, it’s really quite surprising how often we get new tools from a new set release. After the bounty that was Khans of Tarkir, giving us a chunk of eternal-playables unrivaled since Return to Ravnica, it is natural that Fate Reforged would prove to be a letdown for the most part. Monastery Mentor has been completely absent from top-placing Legacy decks, though it has appeared in a number of successful Vintage lists in modest-sized events. Other than that, the set has mostly been a bust. How will Dragons of Tarkir shape up? Let’s dive in and take a look!
Once upon a time, Quirion Dryad was among the best creatures in Vintage. Drop it, protect it with free countermagic, cast a bunch of cheap/free spells, and smash face. But, as we discussed just a couple months ago with regard to Monastery Mentor, Dryad has been eclipsed by other threats that do a similar job in ways that are easier to protect and/or that involve much less work. Myth Realized is very similar to Dryad. It can actually grow a bit faster, since artifact-mana wouldn’t give Dryad a counter. In some formats, the ability to have it hide out as an enchantment until you want to activate it would make it safer. In Vintage, being an enchantment actually makes it more vulnerable. There are fewer creature removal spells floating around, and it won’t fall prey to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but commonly-played enchantment removal like Nature’s Claim and Trygon Predator are going to have their way with it. On top of that, it’s vulnerable to Abrupt Decay. This is why the innovation of Young Pyromancer was such a big deal; by growing horizontally it creates additional threats that can’t be dealt with by a single removal spell or held off by a single blocker.
That being said, this card is so cheap and efficient that it isn’t impossible to imagine it winds up seeing play somewhere. While Legacy’s aggro-control decks weren’t in a rush to incorporate the 3-drop Monastery Mentor, perhaps they could use an additional 1-drop. Alternatively, this might fit into some sort of Enchantress build. It’s a cheaper win condition than Sigil of the Empty Throne, and will provide a cheap draw-trigger early in the game, but with no evasion you can’t be sure it will do the job.
I suspect that Myth Realized is not quite good enough compared to the alternatives, but the power level is strong enough at such a cheap cost that I can’t call it unplayable either.
Rending Volley provides an uncounterable answer to Delver of Secrets or Stoneforge Mystic at a cost cheaper than that of Sudden Shock. It is not, however, a strict upgrade on Sudden Shock. The spell can still be “countered” by game rules, so Mother of Runes will still be able to protect the targeted creature (including herself) from Rending Volley – and Death and Taxes is about the only place you will see a larger white creature that you would want spot removal against. Rending Volley does, unlike Sudden Shock, get through a Counterbalance no matter what’s on the top of their library. UW Miracles plays Stoneforge Mystic, so this is a relevant ability. Still, I feel this is a bit too narrow, and going after SFM is pretty low on my priority list against Miracles if I’m bringing in a sideboard card against it. This card is Legacy-playable, but not the right tool for the current environment.
We’ve certainly come a long way since Jackal Pup! In the pantheon of 2-power red 1-drops, Zurgo likely clocks in at #2 behind only Goblin Guide. The dash ability allows you to get in damage with Zurgo right away should you topdeck him late, and this easily puts him ahead of other contenders such as Rakdos Cackler. Of course, when compared to all other red 1-drops across the board, it becomes harder to justify his inclusion. Monastery Swiftspear is likely to punch through far more damage than Zurgo could, and Grim Lavamancer can close out a game even when he’s outclassed by larger creatures on the board. The most recent mono-red Sligh deck to place in a major tournament was running 4 Goblin Guide, 4 Swiftspear and 2 Lavamancer as its suite of 1-drops, to accompany a set of Eidolon of the Great Revel. You would likely have to be running a much more creature-heavy variant, closer to the old 20/20/20 Sligh decks, before considering Zurgo.
As an aside, I must say that it seems the tribesmen of Tarkir were much better off before the Dragons came back. Zurgo goes from a powerful helm-smasher to a dinky bell-striker, Anafenza is murdered for her religious beliefs, and even Surrak is weaker than before. Only Narset seems to have improved her lot in this new timeline. What horrible thing happened when they went back in time, did Sarkhan give Marty McFly’s 2015 sports almanac to Narset?
Choosing the first two modes gives you the equivalent of Skullcrack, which we know is at least sideboard-playable in Legacy. The problem is that, at least for now, there are no Zoo or RG Goyf-Sligh decks in the top tiers of Legacy, and the ability to play 8 Skullcracks isn’t what those decks have been missing. The ramp ability seems completely incongruous with the rest of the card, and isn’t much help.
I can’t fathom the point of giving your guys reach, but pumping the team plus the 3 damage to their face could give you quite a bit of damage for 2 mana, and that certainly makes this stronger than Skullcrack in any deck with both burn and creatures. Ideally, you want your 2-mana spells to do at least 4 damage to match the output of Flame Rift. Splashing a color is fairly easy in Burn, since it commonly plays 8-10 fetchlands. The green splash also offers sideboard flexibility and cards such as Destructive Revelry. While not enough on its own to justify the second color, perhaps Atarka’s Command offers enough in conjunction with green’s other strengths to warrant some re-exploration of Goyf Sligh.
I do not play combo decks very often, so I may not be the best to judge this card. There has been some discussion of it being viable in Legacy ritual decks with storm kills. The double-red requirement could be difficult in some builds, but would be fairly easy in the builds using all penta-lands and Lotus Petals. If you’re going to cast this for 3 or more, you might cast Past in Flames instead to essentially “draw” all the instants/sorceries in your graveyard. But this is an instant and you could consider casting it on your opponent’s end step, forcing them to decide whether to spend a counterspell and tap down mana or allow you to have more fuel to go off on your turn. Most of my experience with Storm is playing against it, which does give me some idea of how it operates, but not enough to render a confident verdict on this card’s applications there – still, I thought I would be remiss not to mention it.
This is the command I like the best out of the entire cycle. A Legacy deck able to cast this spell is likely going to be Maverick or some sort of hatebears strategy. So let’s see what each mode has to offer for such a deck.
The first mode allows you to save a guy from damage-based removal such as the ubiquitous Lightning Bolt, and in a best-case scenario can save your entire team from a Pyroclasm or Firespout. Pyroclasm often appears in UWR Miracles, or in combo decks such as Storm or Sneak & Show where it both buys them time and clears the board of hatebears that would prevent their combo from going off. Those are both troublesome matchups for nonblue decks, so this mode seems pretty strong. There are other cards that could give you this effect, but none are as flexible as this.
The second mode is a bit strangely-worded. Why an edict-effect for enchantments? If your opponent has any enchantments with shroud, they almost certainly have at least a Sterling Grove in play and will be able to sacrifice that. The most likely target of this card is the Gods of Theros Block, and this mode is intended to help deal with them in Standard. In Legacy, this mode is still reasonable, but will probably be the rarest one to use if the card does wind up seeing play. A GW deck might want to nuke an Engineered Plague naming Humans, but the card hitting the table in the first place may have wiped out half your board. It could knock off an occasional Counterbalance, which is quite nice. You could remove Omniscience if you held up the mana to do so, which likely won’t happen all too often, but if they are bringing in red sweepers that turn on the first mode then the second mode is just gravy. If you were just worried about enchantment removal, obviously you’d rather have a Qasali Pridemage, but the flexibility of this spell is what makes it a consideration, even if there are cards that do a better job singularly at performing each mode.
The third mode, adding a counter to one of your creatures, would be used either in conjunction with the fourth mode, or as the default secondary mode to select when you use the spell to nuke an enchantment or stave off removal from creature-light decks. The final mode acts as removal for utility creatures, or can let your Tarmogoyfs knock off opposing Goyfs by using the last two modes together.
To see eternal play, a new card must be either cheaper or more flexible than existing options. Dromoka’s Command has flexibility, and relevance against much of the field, and as such it definitely merits some experimentation in GWx creature decks.
OK, if it’s not the right topping for Fruity Pebbles, perhaps it’s a nice topping for Cheerios? The Kobold storm deck is a cute, but notoriously fickle, glass-cannon which wins by casting Glimpse of Nature followed by tons of free creatures, drawing through the deck and killing with Grapeshot. If you could pay the mana up front for this enchantment before you start the combo, rather than on the back end for Grapeshot, are there any advantages? If you fizzle out a few points shy of lethal, this enchantment might let you get lucky and topdeck a few Kobolds for the win. If you have to try a second combo turn, this enchantment will still be there, you don’t need to find a second Grapeshot. Unfortunately, you do need to have this in hand before you start going off with Glimpse of Nature, which increases the chance that you will not have enough gas for the combo turn. Could you want both this and Grapeshot? I’ve played the deck before in this article series, and every card you run that isn’t a free creature waters down the deck and increases your chance to fizzle out. Although I think this card has some advantages, it can’t really replace Grapeshot, because you will typically be drawing into Grapeshot during your combo turn rather than starting out with it. Should you fizzle out, Beastmaster Ascension is the standard backup plan, and likely remains so.
And that is the most discussion of both the Cheerios deck and Impact Tremors that you will read all year.
Wrapping up our set review, we have this pair of 5-power creatures. There seems to be a subset of Legacy players, like myself, that can’t help but see any oversized creature that costs 2C and immediately start thinking “Turn 1 City of Traitors, Chrome Mox, BOOM!” I have written at length in the past about these Chalice of the Void “Stompy” decks. Usually built to be a single-color, the most successful historically has been the red variant, which has seen some recent success thanks to Goblin Rabblemaster. The other colors have their own variants that have been built around such antiquated creatures as Exalted Angel, Serendib Efreet and Sea Drake. Black has always been a bit deficient in this archetype, so the appearance of a 5-power creature at 2B with a manageable drawback is worth considering. With only 3 toughness, you likely would prefer to have Chalice out first to protect it from Lightning Bolt. Five power is a critical number, as it lets you close out the game in just 4 hits. These decks often combine Chalice with Wasteland and taxing effects. Going black with this archetype allows you to consider Nether Void, the grand-daddy of all taxing effects, which should seal the deal if you land it with the Pitiless Horde in play.
Rabblemaster will kill in 3 hits (1 the turn it’s played, then 6, 8, 10), so it remains the superior option in raw speed. The Behemoth is not as vulnerable to damage-based removal, but Rabblemaster will leave goblin tokens behind if not immediately dealt with, so Rabblemaster likely remains the best option for red.
Well that wraps it up, sad to say. None of the big, fat Dragons are any better than the big, fat monsters we are cheating into play in Legacy and Vintage already. Narset isn’t playable (see generally Jace, the Mind Sculptor). But you should enjoy her in Modern.
We have completed three weeks of Friday Night Vintage here in St. Louis, and the events have been reasonably well-attended and fun. There are a few other players in the area who are working on acquiring their Power, at least one of whom was inspired in part by MTGO Vintage and the Vintage Super League, so it’s great to see that format having a minor rebirth. I fully expect that we’ll continue to play Vintage at least once per month from here on out. If you are thinking about trying paper Vintage in your area, and already have a Legacy scene, I highly recommend floating the idea by your Legacy community. You might be surprised by the level of interest, and it can’t hurt to ask. Once they discover that Vintage is more than just Turn 1 kills, they might find that they love the format.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to review the Legacy portion of the SCG Invitational, and hopefully bring you some new videos, so see you then!