Compared to the rather underwhelming Battle for Zendikar, we have an absolute cornucopia of powerful cards in this set. So let’s dive right in!
Part of the story for this set is the alliance of planeswalkers to fight the Eldrazi, and our first two cards focus on that theme.
Obviously, it’s the second ability that makes the card interesting. But without the first ability, we couldn’t even consider this card. Three mana to make two non-fliers with a creature type that’s irrelevant in eternal formats isn’t all that exciting, but it keeps the card from being useless when it’s not fully enabled as a “combo” piece. In conjunction with Umezawa’s Jitte and Stoneforge Mystic, the tokens can certainly do some work. Even without equipment, if you are playing enough ‘walkers that this is part of your strategy, you probably don’t mind having a couple of blockers for them. The enchantment being legendary is irrelevant as to the first ability, because you will get the ETB trigger each time you cast it.
The “sizzle” here is, of course, the extra loyalty counter. There are two general ways this could help you. First, some planeswalkers have very good minus-abilities but not enough starting loyalty to use that ability twice in a row without having to use their plus-ability in between uses. In fact, that limitation is an extremely common design for planeswalkers, so much so that having an extra loyalty point almost feels like breaking the fundamental design of those cards. The extra point of loyalty allows two consecutive minus-abilities for the following planeswalkers who could not otherwise do so:
The second way the extra loyalty counter helps you is by enabling faster ultimates. In fact, with an extra counter, some planeswalkers can ultimate on the same turn they enter play:
Elspeth and Garruk both have synergy with Oath’s token-making function, and therefore seem the most obvious choices. Although neither Tezzeret benefits enormously from the tokens, both of their ultimates are nasty and usually game-ending. Tezzeret, the Seeker is used in Vintage to assemble Time Vault-Voltaic Key, and in Legacy to find Helm of Obedience, but doesn’t typically use the ultimate unless his combo-kill application is being shut off by Null Rod. But in the decks he belongs in, an immediate ultimate should win the game on the spot. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas could do likewise. The problem, of course, is that neither deck wants a white legendary enchantment diluting their artifact count, and both decks are usually crowded with control elements and/or lock pieces.
Oath of Gideon seems playable to me; so many ‘walkers are finely-tuned and balanced by adjusting their starting loyalty that changing that number even by one point fundamentally alters the ways they can be used. It transforms those ‘walkers to such a degree that it breaks their design, and anything that can do that with such a powerful card type has my attention.
These 3-mana tutors are the sort of card that Modern deckbuilders are often fascinated by. It’s expensive, but not egregiously so for that format. If you’re playing UW Tron (yes, I know, not a popular variant right now, but pretend it’s 2012 for a second) and your opponent absolutely can’t beat a Karn, Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, it might be worth tutoring them up if you can spare the turn to do so early on. There are plenty of sequences where you could cast this on Turn 3 on the play, having used your first two turns to set up for a Turn 4 Urzatron, and drop the 8-mana Ugin onto the field.
I can’t deny that I’m very excited about this one. This is one of the most elegantly designed cards in years, and should be quite fun for people who like their action on the stack rather than on the battlefield.
The most obvious way to set up the “surge” cost is to use this as protection for a spell you are resolving on your turn. But the fantastic part of this card’s design is that the easiest way is also the weakest. You don’t get the full benefit of the Last Word clause in that situation, because your opponent could simply use a second counterspell on the spell you were protecting. On your turn, a Dispel will do the same job for a mana cheaper. With this function alone, the card couldn’t even make the cut in Modern Twin, even though a 2-mana hard-counter is generally above the power curve in that format.
Where the card truly shines is on your opponent’s turn, as the ultimate trump in a counter war. Unless you’re trying to bait out additional counterspells, your first counter doesn’t even have to be effective to make this work — Pyroblast your opponent’s Yawgmoth’s Will then follow up with Overwhelming Denial. The reason UU counterspells aren’t popular in Legacy and Vintage (with the obvious exception of Mana Drain) is that there are so many 1-mana soft counters around to punish you for using the 2-mana spell. But that’s no problem for Overwhelming Denial! No matter how many Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm he throws at you, Denial is gonna stick. Misdirection and the occasionally-played Mindbreak Trap are the only spells that can trump it.
The major hurdle this faces is that it’s best use is defensive, and eternal formats are rather biased toward proactive game plans. The obvious synergy with Snapcaster Mage does point toward it finding a home in Miracles, and it might also fit into other control-heavy decks such as Landstill. It may actually be correct for a ton of decks to play this, but if so, I think eternal players will be slow on the uptake. The 1-mana soft counters are so strongly embedded into our playstyle and deckbuilding that this probably won’t show up as often as it should.
This was previously available as Accelerate and saw no play. It was then printed at one mana in the form of Crimson Wisps and saw play only in the Jeskai Acscendancy trick deck in Modern. I can’t see how this is much of an improvement, given that the only difference is that it doesn’t turn the creature red. So why mention it? Because a lot of red mages at your local Modern tournament are going to be opening these, probably people who don’t even know that Crimson Wisps exists. And they absolutely will try this. Having this effect printed for a new generation of players is going to cause people to reevaluate the effect. Played simply for value in an aggressive deck, rather than as a pseudo-combo piece, it seems on the surface like it’s worth quite a bit of damage. But even for a cantrip, there’s an opportunity cost to having this in your deck rather than another card that simply does direct damage. Some red players or Gruul aggro players may try this at your local Modern tournaments or in the 2-man queues online, so keep an eye out. It’s probably not correct to run this, but one of the toughest lessons to learn is that a card doesn’t have to be correct to kill you.
A quasi-colorless instant-speed Pyroclasm is eternal-playable, no questions about it. I talked about several specific applications of the devoid mechanic in creature-removal spells back in my Battle for Zendikar set review when reviewing Complete Disregard and Wasteland Strangler.
This ability in red seems even stronger than in black, as red has a history of running into troublesome creatures with protection, most notably Kor Firewalker in Modern.
In terms of general utility, sweepers are always more powerful at instant speed, since you can often zap an additional creature by waiting until the opponent’s end step. The extra mana over Pyroclasm is a problem, of course — it may come a turn too late against Empty the Warrens tokens, for example. There are a number of options for this type of effect, and your choice is always going to be highly metagame-dependent, as each offers relative strengths and weaknesses.
The interesting thing to watch will be whether the card’s second ability is strong enough to lead to the creation of a new archetype in Modern, or a major shakeup of Tron’s creature choices. The design is perfect for what a ramp deck wants. You get an early board wipe for small creatures to buy some time, then when you cast your space alien haymaker you get a second uncounterable board wipe for free. What’s more, the second wipe will clear out larger late-game threats such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler. But current RG Tron lists in Modern aren’t running enough Eldrazi to make this an upgrade over the Pyroclasms they’re already running. It might be enough that you have the Eye of Ugin plan in long games, but as a practical matter the game is typically well in hand when that point is reached. I’m sure you gain a few percentage points in those late game scenarios by turning your Kozilek into a beefed-up Thunder Dragon, but you undoubtedly lose some number of games before you reach that stage on account of the additional mana.
The obvious comparison is Nature’s Claim, a Vintage staple. Claim fell out of favor for awhile in Vintage, but is considered a stronger option now that Chalice of the Void hit the restricted list. Most decks rocking Nature’s Claim don’t care much about the 4-life drawback, and there are certainly some 4-cmc and higher artifacts that you might want to blow up in that format. There has been some early talk of this card being the preferred choice in Dredge, and there’s some logic in that, as Dredge is basically a creature aggro deck. But personally I doubt the 4 life will cost you as many games as you’ll lose by not being able to remove Leyline of the Void. All the other artifacts and enchantments Dredge needs to remove cost 3 or less, so I understand the temptation, but Leyline is extremely popular and will prove to be the Achilles’ Heel for this card. Oath of Druids players have a similar problem, in that Leyline of Sanctity and Witchbane Orb are both popular anti-Oath options at 4-cmc.
In Modern, things look a bit brighter. It hits everything in Affinity, and might merit consideration as a sideboard card for aggressive decks to bring in against them. Smash to Smithereens or Stony Silence are superior choices, but Natural State’s flexibility could win it some sideboard slots. A deck currently running Wear // Tear might prefer this as well, assuming they can make green mana as easily as red or white. Affinity itself might consider including it for just that reason.
The colorless mana mechanic is among the biggest changes in Magic history. We could have a lengthy discussion about it, and would have done so if there had been several relevant cards to use it. The mechanic could easily have been designed to play havoc with the color pie, lending itself numerous eternal applications. We might have had to rethink the entire way we construct our decks. If the game designers wanted to shake up the eternal-format foundation of fetch/dual mana bases, powerful spells using this mechanic would be one way to do it. Llanowar Wastes and Mystic Gate are now essentially tri-lands!
But, at least for now, that hypothetical environment will remain in our imaginations. Although I have to give a shout out to Matter Reshaper, a card that hits several of my sweet spots for fun design, the only one we’ll worry about for eternal play is Kozilek. And any deck looking to cast Kozilek does not need to worry about where they’re getting the colorless mana. Whether it’s Cloudpost or Urzatron, you’ve got it covered.
So what do you get for 8 colorless mana plus two… um… very colorless mana? For starters, you refill your hand upon casting him. That’s very good. That’s almost Griselbrand good, folks. Not quite, but we’re in the ballpark. On top of that, you get a reasonable form of evasion in Menace, and the opportunity to turn your new grip of 7 cards into free counterspells. Uncounterable counterspells. Opponent tries to hit Kozilek with Swords to Plowshares? Discard Candelabra of Tawnos. Both 12-Post and Modern Tron have a variety of cheap spells to match the common removal spells played in their formats. But don’t look at the ability just as something to protect Kozilek. You have an uncounterable ability to stop your opponent’s gameplan in its tracks. It can be Stifle‘d, sure, but the only decks playing Stifle are decks with little 3/2 flying insects you don’t really care about, decks that can’t do much about a 12/12 anyhow. You dump this big guy on the field, the only thing you’re worried about is your opponent either removing Kozilek or having his own combo kill.
Since the earlier 10-mana Kozilek is already seeing play in Modern Tron, this is an instant contender to see play there. In Legacy UG Cloudpost, it’s a bit tougher to predict. Right now, that deck only tends to play one Emrakul and one Ulamog — of either variety — to deal with troublesome permanents like Ensnaring Bridge. You can find some lists from a couple years ago playing the previous Kozilek alongside other Modern-esque inclusions like Ancient Stirrings. That doesn’t seem to be the preferred build. But 12-Post players obviously like casting big giant creatures and winning with them, and they tend to be utterly devoted to their deck. For paper players, spending $1000 on candlesticks probably has something to do with that, but even on Magic Online, it’s a deck that a certain kind of player just falls in love with. I think the new Kozilek will certainly make an appearance as a one-of in Legacy 12-Post lists, at least as an experiment. He’s not the finisher that Emrakul is, nor does he have Ulamog’s utility, but he’s new and exciting. People who like casting 12/12 creatures, unsurprisingly, enjoy that sort of thing.