New cards face a high bar for eternal play, and three-color sets have a harder time than most in this regard. A multicolor block is often a good place to find new playables. Multicolor cards are allowed to be a bit more powerful than other spells at the same converted mana cost, because the developers view the multicolor mana cost as a bigger hurdle for Standard players — and new sets are balanced for Standard play to the exclusion of almost anything else.
But Khans isn’t your ordinary multicolor set; it’s a set focused on the tricolor “wedges”. Casting a spell of three different colors is not an easy task in any format. In Vintage, these spells are often difficult to cast from the format’s artifact mana sources, which push the format toward less color-intensive spells. In Legacy, the recent dominance of Delver variants packing sets of Wasteland, along with Daze and Spell Pierce, make it especially troublesome to resolve a color-intensive 3-mana spell. This is such a high bar, that three-color spells almost never see eternal play. Even in Modern, where greedy manabases abound and there’s no Wasteland to keep you honest, these spells still see very little play.
With that in mind, I did not expect to find too much in Khans. But there are actually several cards worth a look. While there’s only one for which I have an immediate home, there are some with interesting applications that could become relevant depending on the metagame, and I believe some of these are being overlooked. So let’s dive in and check them out, starting with the mythics!
The definite leader of the pack in my view, Anafenza fits nicely into the Vintage Human Tribal decks with which I experimented over the summer. Compared to other dredge-hate, she is a solid maindeckable beatstick capable of winning the game in very short order. Cast on Turn 2 off a Deathrite Shaman, you would need only three attack steps to win with just those two and no additional attackers (attacking for 6 the first time, then 7, then 8). This gives the dredge opponent only a very short window to find an answer. He will not have very many answers, if any, for a 4/4 creature that isn’t also an artifact or enchantment, so the odds are quite in your favor of killing him before that point. If he digs desperately with Bazaar, no problem, after a couple of activations he won’t have the resources to protect his answer or to deal with any further hate.
The most recent dredge lists to have success on MTGO contain nothing maindeck or sideboard that can remove a resolved Anafenza — but of course, that tells us very little. Those decks do not currently need to remove a 4/4 creature. If Anafenza catches on, Dredge pilots could easily turn to Chain of Vapor or Dismember, both reasonable cards that can be played in Dredge. This is where it pays to be coming at the format from a different angle than the top decks. The Dredge pilot’s most reasonable course of action is to prepare for the hate cards he’s most likely to encounter from the most popular decks in the metagame. If the creatures being played against him most often are Yixlid Jailer and Deathrite Shaman, then Darkblast is still the best option. The existence of Anafenza has to be considered, but if Hatebears decks are only a small fraction of the metagame — and Anafenza is very unlikely to appear outside the Cavern of Souls + manadorks archetype — then maybe the percentages don’t favor Dredge making an adjustment, meaning the Hatebears player can freeroll wins off Anafenza.
To see play in Vintage, a 3-mana creature needs to be disruptive. Raw combat power alone doesn’t get there, or else Markov Blademaster — which kills in 3 turns unaided — would be a format staple. So Anafenza’s fate in the format relies on Dredge continuing to be popular enough that it isn’t a bad maindeck inclusion. I suspect that will continue to be the case, but time will tell.
Clone effects do not see much play in constructed Magic these days. Phyrexian Metamorph saw play as a way to kill legendary creatures, but a rules change has made that obsolete. The card can still make the cut occasionally in Vintage thanks to Mishra’s Workshop, but that’s basically the alpha and omega of clones in eternal formats right now. If this could clone a land, there would be a new Dark Depths combo to discuss, but alas it seems they saw that coming and excluded the possibility.
So is there anything we can do with this? Certainly there are nice juicy targets for cloning, but most of them are creatures. If your opponent drops an Emrakul or Griselbrand off Show and Tell would you rather copy it with this or just outright steal it with Sower of Temptation? Clearly the latter. But what if your opponent cheaty-faces some non-creature into play? Currently the only thing like that seeing play is Omniscience. Unless you are a burn deck with a fistful of instants in hand, I doubt you will be able to win on your opponent’s turn by making your own copy of the enchantment. So while I have to rule this one out at the present time, it’s worth remembering if there’s ever a shift towards the use of non-creatures in cheaty-face style decks.
In Standard, there’s a legitimate debate as to whether this or Stormbreath Dragon is the superior 5-drop. In Legacy, there’s no question that Stormbreath is better right now. For that small subset of decks able to cast a 5-mana red spell, protecting such a huge investment from Swords to Plowshares should be priority #1. If I’m trying to resolve a 5-mana spell of any kind, I’d much prefer it be a creature to avoid Spell Pierce. As somebody who has actually played a bit of Dragon Stompy, I would suggest sticking to Koth of the Hammer if you want a ‘walker for that deck. However, if the future metagame shifts away from Spell Pierce and toward midrange decks, Sarkhan’s ability to act as a superpowered Flametongue Kavu may make it more playable than it is now.
It wouldn’t be an eternal set review without the obligatory, “Hey, could that stupidly-expensive artifact be playable in Shops?” discussion. So, could this stupidly-expensive artifact be playable in Shops?
This card does two things. One, it shuts off an opponent’s Vault-Key combo proactively. The most popular Shops variant, the Terra Nova deck, runs Null Rod already. Yes, BUG Control can Abrupt Decay that, but it’s hardly a reason to run a more expensive and narrower card that only hits one of BUG’s win conditions.
What about Metalworker Shops? The dream scenario would be untapping with Kuldotha Forgemaster, slamming this, saccing it to fetch up Blightsteel Colossus, and swinging for the win on the extra turn. That might be appealing, if not for the fact that those decks can already run Lightning Greaves to swing with BSC that turn. With the Greaves in play, you may not even need to untap with Forgemaster, you can combo off right then and there. That makes a 5-mana investment in something like this more unattractive. I don’t expect to see this card 4-0 a daily next month, but the fact that it is castable and has at least one fairly powerful play associated with it means that I wouldn’t totally write it off with 100% certainty either.
I bet it’s great in EDH though… oh, sorry EDH players, I’m sure you are as sick of hearing that about every expensive card as Shops players are!
I don’t see any potential in the other mythics, unfortunately. Moving down to rare, the first card with some potential is….
Crackling Doom is an Edict with a few upsides. Lets ignore the 2 damage and the multiplayer application for our purposes. The important things are that it forces the opponent to sacrifice their biggest guy, and that it does not target the player. So where might this be useful?
Let’s start by looking at decks that cheat big creatures into play. In Vintage, that is Oath of Druids. Since you are casting a RWB instant, let us assume this is not the mirror match. So your Oath opponent probably doesn’t have any other creatures in play aside from what he Oath’ed into. If he Oath’ed into Griselbrand, maybe you’d prefer this over Swords to Plowshares, as StP basically lets them freeroll one more Griselbrand activation thanks to the lifegain. But if that’s a big deal to you, Diabolic Edict would do the job just as well. I doubt an Oath player would bring in Leyline of Sanctity against a RWB player, though I suppose if you showed him heavy discard elements in Game 1 it’s conceivable. But if that was happening to you a lot, you’d rather have Path to Exile and just not worry about needing to target the opponent.
In Legacy, there may be a few cases where this has legitimate applications. The most obvious would be against Natural Order decks. Those decks always tend to leave some manadorks hanging around, so a simple edict effect wouldn’t do the job. Progenitus in particular has no good answer apart from board sweepers, so Crackling Doom would be a solution if Progenitus were running rampant. Right now the only Natural Order deck is Elves, and there are more efficient ways to answer a Craterhoof Behemoth, but it’s worth remembering this is out there if Proggie makes a comeback.
The most likely use for this card would be to deal with an equipped True-Name Nemesis. The RWB wedge already has some answers to TNN, such as Zealous Persecution. But the spell is live against both Sneak and Show and aggro/midrange decks, so perhaps that versatility is worth something. The main thing holding it back — apart from Spell Pierce which I need to mention for about the twentieth time today — is that nobody really likes to play RWB in Legacy.
Affinity doesn’t run Bonesplitter, but does run some really marginal cheap artifacts, so I think it’s worth wondering if a strict upgrade to Bonesplitter could make the cut. After all, Bonesplitter itself is considered above the curve for equipment these days — for reference, see Darksteel Axe. Ghostfire Blade is no Cranial Plating, but if you want a couple more cheap equipment this is the best you’ll get at 1 to play, 1 to equip. One of the problems Affinity had was punching through with Cranial Plating, because the fragile creatures would trade with basically anything that could block them, including Lingering Souls tokens. So a toughness pump is far from irrelevant.
The biggest problem for Affinity in Legacy, and I suspect the reason it has basically fallen off the map entirely in the past couple of years, is Terminus. A new piece of equipment isn’t going to turn that tide. But at the least, any equipment on the table is going to survive the sweeper, so it beats having some other low-power card like Frogmite, as long as you can keep a manland or two out of combat to survive and suit up next turn.
Delve is supposed to be powerful because you get a good effect below the usual mana cost. But in eternal formats, there are tons of hyper-efficient ways to do anything you could want to do, so raw efficiency basically has nothing to do with the mechanic’s popularity. Tombstalker was a powerful card in Legacy because of the enormous popularity of Counterbalance decks back in 2008-2010. Having a card with a wacky mana cost that dodged CounterTop was a huge deal — there was no Abrupt Decay in those days to fight the lock.
The CounterTop decks of that era used Tarmogoyf as a win condition. Murderous Cut would have been a decent answer. The contemporary Miracles deck uses Jace and Entreat the Angels, against which spot removal is largely irrelevant, so I don’t think this card fills a huge deckbuilding gap at the moment.
However, this card actually is a very good removal spell by Legacy standards, so long as you are paying exactly one mana for it. So I can easily see a single copy finding its way into a BUG control deck of some sort in that format. Ghastly Demise or Innocent Blood are better early, as they can kill a utility creature in the early turns, but a single Murderous Cut may be a fine draw later in the game.
At instant speed, this kills most of what Maelstrom Pulse can kill. It can’t knock off a planeswalker — it shares Abrupt Decay’s weakness to Jace, unfortunately — but apart from that it’s extremely versatile. Best of all, you can essentially double-cycle with it at need. Keeping in mind all the cautions I issued earlier about tri-color spells in eternal formats, this is powerful enough to have a shot. Vintage is more likely than Legacy, as the second ability will be more relevant in the format of artifact mana and Oath of Druids.
I don’t see an immediate need for this card anywhere, but if Affinity decks are ever in the market for a way to race other creature decks, this could be in the conversation. Having this kind of effect stapled to a land is much more powerful than it looks at first glance.
Skeletal Scrying was played many years ago as a one-of, something to refill your hand in a long game. I could imagine a single copy of one of these card-drawing delve spells filling a similar role in such a deck. The problem with finding them a home is that the decks you could imagine wanting such a thing also tend to play Dark Confidant, and probably don’t appreciate getting domed for 8 out of nowhere. Dig Through Time would seem more at home in a control deck that perhaps had a combo kill that it didn’t want to execute until very late, whereas Treasure Cruise is just nice raw card advantage in the late game. Getting three cards out of Treasure Cruise will at least be a realistic objective, as opposed toVisions of Beyond which was just a trap card.
So, that’s Khans of Tarkir. Apart from Anafenza, I’m not greatly enamored of this set, but there are enough things here that I wouldn’t be stunned if the set produced a surprise hit or two. I’ll be adjusting my Human Tribal decklist to try Anafenza out once the set comes online, and I’ll be sure to show it off here.
If you think I missed anything with potential, even if it’s a very niche application, please let me know in the comments, and I may post a short follow up during my next article.