Greetings, readers, and welcome to my last article centered on the content of Magic’s latest set, Dragon’s Maze. Today we’ll be looking at the set as a whole, taking a look at cards that both succeeded and failed in the set, mostly from an EDH standpoint. Keep in mind, this is purely my opinion – if you have a strong opinion about a certain card, leave a comment down below.
So let’s begin with the misses, the cards that could have been. Whether it be mana cost, function or bad design, some of the cards in this set just had so much potential that didn’t quite translate to decks in either Standard or especially for EDH.
#10 – Wear // Tear
Wear//Tear is the best example of the Fuse mechanic’s downfall – not being able to cast the card fused from anywhere but your hand. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why this mechanic was worded the way it was – but to design an entire mechanic with a single card in mind is narrow thinking, if you ask me – this is easily the cheapest Fuse card, and a sideboard option at best, so why would anyone want to cast a fused spell off Snapcaster Mage when they can cast Sphinx’s Revelation instead? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Why is this one of the top ten biggest misses of Dragon’s Maze, you ask? It’s simple. A card like this has a lot of flexibility as a powerful 2-for-1 option. But you know what decks that would run this also typically run?
You know what you can’t do with this spell when you cast it using Sunforger?
I’ll let you figure it out. I’m just rather bitter that one card completely destroyed what would have been otherwise flawless design.
#9 – Reap Intellect
I honestly don’t understand why this card is even necessary when Slaughter Games is in the same block. My guess is that they pitched two ideas for Dimir’s flashy X spell, and that guy from R&D was just like “omg cranial all the things lol so random yolo xD” and decided to tack it in.
This card really doesn’t excite me for any format, and is a waste of a mythic slot, imo. At 6, you’re getting two cards. I mean, I guess in Sphinx’s Revelation mirrors in Standard, this card has a purpose?
I suppose it’s an EDH bias thing. Cranial Extraction is a necessary evil, yes, but two in one block is overkill, and one at mythic is just completely unnecessary.
#8 – Rot Farm Skeleton
I don’t know why Wizards appears to be so scared of printing another decently useful variation of the recursive black creature, but ever since Reassembling Skeleton they’ve just been so…tame about it. “Yeah, you can Skullclamp until you’re blue in the face, but we’re gonna make it cost 5 mana.”
I’m not going to lie, this is a much more interesting option than Veilborn Ghoul, because it works well in a strategy intent on milling itself (Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord comes to mind), but really, if you need a third Skullclamp target, just play Nether Traitor.
#7 – Trait Doctoring
I know a lot of people want to pass this one off as “oh, this is just a bad card, yeah I get why it’s one of the top 10 misses“, but really, it’s more than that. Trait Doctoring really had a lot of potential to be something.
For example, let’s say the effect didn’t wear out until end of turn, and it read “target permanent you control”. Glamerdye has fringe use in certain combo / pillowfort strategies, and honestly, had they not tried so hard to make it universal and had it do what it was supposed to do, which was let blue do the oft-forgotten “rewrite” effect it gets every couple of years, then the card would have been useful. Repeatably being able to alter your manabase and protections is very useful, and at one mana it’s certainly not the most difficult card to splash for.
Also, obligatory argument that Dimir got completely hosed this set. (Spoiler alert: Not so much. More on that later.)
#6 – Blood Baron of Vizkopa
In doing so, however, they’ve ruined what was otherwise an incredibly powerful finisher for EDH. Whereas protection from white and black is very useful in 60-card formats, in EDH, that doesn’t exactly translate. While I understand that cards like Swords to Plowshares, Putrefy and Dreadbore are all powerful spot removal spells that most EDH decks that can support them will want to run, it dodges zero sweepers, and unless you drop Sorin Markov to follow this, the Baron won’t be doing much for you. 10 or less life is actually quite a chore to accomplish, believe it or not, at least, in my experience. Keeping your life total above 30 while this thing is out is that much more difficult. Overall, a splashy Standard mythic this is, but a potent EDH finisher this is not.
#5 – Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
Covered in my first Choose Your Champion article (link at the end of this article), I mentioned that Teysa was a rather disappointing addition to an incredibly dull color combination. Now, while most EDH players have caught on that she actually isn’t the worst card in the set by a large margin, my disappointment over her overall presentation still lingers. At 7 mana, casting this any more than once from the command zone is just going to be a pain, unless you seriously have some sort of plan that involves double striking, 11-power crippled old hags (which really isn’t difficult when all of that is readily available in white)
At the same time, having vigilance and protection from creatures is something you can’t ignore no matter how little damage is actually being dealt. She’s a surprisingly fast clock, and some decks are focused on creatures that she can literally kill entire strategies with no hope of counterattack. (Notably, you can’t Shriekmaw Teysa.)
Still, 7 mana is a whole lot to ask for, and I think that 6 wouldn’t have been that bad. Like I said, 5 mana for just a 2/2 No Mercy would have been embraced, WotC. Sigh…
#4 – Blaze Commando
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with Blaze Commando. I think the whole reason I put him so high on this list of the biggest flops of Dragon’s Maze is simply because he isn’t legendary. A R/W legend with that ability would have been absolutely golden – Flame Jab exists, you know!
It’s not even my gripe with bad design or it being overcosted – I just feel Blaze Commando could have been put in another set, given legendary status, and I would have definitely enjoyed running him as a RW general.
Excuse me while I begrudgingly research the Pauper EDH format…
#3 – Flesh // Blood
I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be looking at with this card. I know it has very narrow applications (Mike Clark mentioned its inclusion in his Kresh the Bloodbraided deck), but I think my biggest gripe with this card is the rarity – I really just don’t see it.
Effects like this have both been printed at common, and combining them hardly seems worth a rare slot. Paying 7 mana to do 10 or so damage to someone never feels like it’s worth the inclusion. In any deck that wants to play this for the sole purpose of doming someone with a massive Lord of Extinction or whatnot should cut the crap and just run Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and actually just kill everyone. Unlike Flesh // Blood, Jarad is easily tutorable and doesn’t get massively out-tempoed by a removal spell.
#2 – Boros Battleshaper
This thing has a Teysa syndrome – why does it cost seven mana? It doesn’t curve well with anything, can often sit in your hand entire games without doing anything because other 7-drops you draw into actually win you the game outright, and honestly, it feels altogether far too slow.
This has to be my biggest example of warped bias, however – I understand completely how utterly absurd this card can be in certain board states. Opponents’ utility creatures are forced to run into each other. Entire boards can disappear in the blink of an eye under this thing’s watch.
But honestly, what general will want to run this? It doesn’t have enough of a body to outperform Sylvan Primordial in combat, any aggressive general would cut this from the 99 for being too slow – altogether, it’s really hard to make a case for the Battleshaper when he’s a 7-mana 5/5 in colors that want to mindlessly turn their creatures sideways.
#1 – Emmara Tandris
And in news that surprises absolutely no one, the absolute worst of the worst, the legendary last-minute swap that killed the viability of an otherwise perfect card, we stand at the end of the short bus with Emmara. I spoke a bit about her in my last article, so I want to keep this brief – she’s just not a creature anyone can really justify running.
She does absolutely nothing to protect herself, she costs 7 mana, and has no manner of evasion or impact on the board. She requires tokens to even justify casting, in a format filled to the brim with sweepers. Rhys the Redeemed and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice both vastly outclass her in power and utility. Taking a good look at her, it’s really hard not to think of her as an uncommon from Legends block.
Her effect is better emulated with effects that are not only better for the curve, but have superior utility. Frontline Medic replicates the feeling of attacking with indestructible tokens far better than Emmara does, and being 3 mana, is an easy recursion target for both Sun Titan and Order of Whiteclay. The same concept applies to Dauntless Escort, who is an easy recursion target, but can also shield your tokens from sweepers, something Emmara can’t do.
In summation, WotC really tried to jump the gun and had a mixup of flavor vs. design, and because of that, we’re left with Emmara, who will be a bad taste in our mouths for years to come.
Now that we’ve gotten through the worst of the set, let’s take a look at cards that did come through and are going to be cards (or generals) you will see in your EDH matchups for a long time.
#10 – Gaze of Granite
Pernicious Deed this is not, but what Gaze of Granite does do that most sweepers don’t is hit everything, which really helps GoG’s case. If your curve supports it, you can sometimes cast it as a Plague Wind that also hits their noncreature threats as well, making Gaze of Granite an incredibly powerful sweeper.
One problem GoG has is its inability to prevent regeneration, which can be a big problem for players who can’t invest in or find a Damnation. At the same time, it’s a worthy tradeoff for being able to hit planeswalkers, something a lot of sweepers don’t actually do (given that most of the better sweepers were printed early in the game, long before planeswalkers were).
#9 – Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
This is again a biased choice for me – but a lot of people who’ve played EDH with me know that, no matter how bad the decks I make for them tend to be, I love the combination of red and green. Ruric Thar is my sixth deck utilizing both colors (succeeding Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, Radha, Heir to Keld, Maelstrom Wanderer, Rosheen Meanderer and Scion of the Ur-Dragon), and I feel that Ruric Thar will be better than my other two attempts at a RG aggro shell. Punishing players who try to Wrath you out or counter your spells is pretty big game, especially when your game plan is already to punch your opponents in the face for Tons of Damage (TM).
Overall, Ruric Thar is powerful enough that he’s usurped the helm from Stonebrow, but to those who want to play him – just make sure to be political about attacking with him. If you can’t deal with Ruric Thar getting removed, don’t attack a player who can remove him.
#8 – Master of Cruelties
And Timmies all over rejoiced.
This card is beautiful. Elegant design, hilarious exploitability with Ninjutsu or Kaalia of the Vast, in the right tribe for my Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck…in general, this guy can beat the tar out of an unsuspecting player, and is downright terrifying to stare down post-Wrath.
His BFF is undoubtedly Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni – assuming your opponent doesn’t block, allow his trigger to resolve during declare blockers, then as soon as it does, before combat damage happens, Ninjutsu in Ink-Eyes. Success!
#7 – Deadbridge Chant
Deadbridge Chant is an effect I’ve wanted to see for an extremely long time – repeatable, unrestricted Regrowth. Every line of text of the Chant synergizes extremely well with practically any deck that is in the colors to run it, and the Chant not only grants you insane incrementals if you untap more than once with it, but it fuels those incrementals while doing so by milling you for 10.
Reanimator strategies all over will love having this – despite the randomness of the effect, an enchantment version of Reya Dawnbringer is much more difficult to remove than another creature version of it.
#6 – Voice of Resurgence
For the two people in the Magic community who haven’t yet been clued in – of Resurgence is absolutely insane. Its value is more so appreciated in a format of instant-speed removal where you can run 4 Voices, but I digress. Voice of Resurgence is probably one of the absolute best cards we’ve seen in years, similar to Snapcaster Mage and Sphinx’s Revelation in terms of pure power level.
In multiplayer EDH, Voice of Resurgence is less of a ridiculously absurd MVP, and more of a one-sided City of Solitude. However, he is in the colors that best take advantage of the fact that your city is one that attacks for 2, which is where VoR really shines.
In 1v1 EDH, it’s just about as insane as in any 60-card Constructed format – entire board states warp around it, and it’s aggressively costed enough that it doesn’t hurt your curve or make your turns any less explosive. Against control, this thing is an absolutely absurd beating, as it makes every creature you play after their Wrath that much more powerful.
You’ve heard it from the pros, now you’ll hear it from the kitchen table veterans – Voice. Is. Busted.
#5 – Plasm Capture
Plasm Capture is the reimagining of a broken card done right. In no way, shape or form is Mana Drain ever considered “fair“. (which is probably why it commands such a ridiculous price tag) However, Plasm Capture tacks two green onto the cost to let you do something even better with your Mana Drain – get any color of mana you want from it!
Imagine being the last of four to play, plopping down your land, and passing the turn. Your opponent untaps and slams his 5-drop. You Plasm Capture it, untap and cast Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. How’s that for a beating?
Plasm Capture is the perfect balance of a card that’s equal parts incredibly powerful and incredibly restrictive – but neither end of the spectrum is harsh enough that you’d want to exclude this from a deck; the ability to accelerate your mana out of control incredibly quickly is what makes this card such a hit in my eyes.
#4 – Varolz, the Scar-Striped
I gave a brief mention to Varolz in my last article, but I’ll elaborate. Varolz has a number of unique strategies he can offer to both 60- and 100-card formats.
His options in 60-card are slightly less unique – you scavenge Death’s Shadow onto something. What gives the strategy variance is the fact that the formats the Shadow is legal in, Inkmoth Nexus is also legal in. Aside from the Nexus, most time you just create a titanic beater that threatens massive damage from very early on.
The concept applies just as well to EDH, but with a twist – unlike most aggro strategies, Varolz can pack a powerful punch at all stages of the game. Early game, he relies on the aforementioned Death’s Shadow, as well as cheap, powerful creatures like Phyrexian Dreadnought, Hunted Horror and Force of Savagery, putting massive amount of counters on him very quickly to apply pressure. With a god hand, you can turn 1 Sol Ring, turn 2 Varolz and kill off Phyrexian Dreadnought, turn 3 cast Death’s Shadow, scavenge both of your creatures, and attack for a whopping 27 general damage on the third turn. With Entomb, Corpsejack Menace or Buried Alive, this line of play doesn’t seem like such a Magical Christmasland type of happening, does it?
Mid-lategame is where Varolz can actually get work done. Barring Relic of Progenitus (which a well-timed Pithing Needle can snuff out, anyway), Varolz can begin to scavenge monstrous threats such as Lord of Extinction, Mortivore or Lhurgoyf and become a must-answer threat. Backed by Rogue’s Passage, Lightning Greaves and Bloodghast, Varolz becomes nightmarishly large extremely quickly, and it’s because of his relevance throughout a game that puts him so high on the list. You can’t even tuck him when he’s in the best colors to tutor himself!
And, again, I mentioned it lightly with Inkmoth Nexus and I’ll mention it here – Infect is a thing that exists. Just saying.
#3 – Melek, Izzet Paragon
What can I mention about Melek that I haven’t already said? Melek is everything an Izzet general should be – relates to instant or sorcery spells in some form or fashion, creates card advantage, and does something flashy by giving you a second copy of the spell you cast off the top of your library.
Casting counterspells obviously has the least value, but at the same time, it has its merit in control mirrors. If the player is hellbent on their spell resolving, they have to fight two counterspells aimed at their spell. That’s some pretty good tempo game, if you ask me.
Casting draw spells is where the gravy train rolls in. Everything from Uncovered Clues to Prophetic Bolt to Fact or Fiction just gets so much insane value off being copied for free, netting you incredible amounts of card advantage for such low amounts of mana.
And the obvious cross-block synergy with Epic Experiment shows. Resolving an Experiment off the top will more often than not win you the game outright with all of the business you’re bound to flip off of it.
Melek is just everything an Izzet player could want, and unlike Teysa, is an invigorating and refreshing addition to the repitoire of blue/red generals we have at our disposal.
#2 – Progenitor Mimic
Because putting what has been touted by just about everyone as the poster EDH card of the set at #1 is just far too predictable, Progenitor Mimic takes second place!
That being said, Progenitor Mimic has its reputation for a reason. ETB’s are absolutely everywhere right now, and the Mimic is in both the colors and the environment to make it just about an auto-include in nearly every deck in the color combination (though I’ll admit, Edric, Spymaster of Trest players, like myself, can make an argument for not playing it). Given that green has no lack of insane ETB’s (Sylvan Primordial, Terastodon, Regal Force, etc.), the Mimic can get absolutely disgusting if you’re ever allowed to untap with it. Not to mention, most decks that will run this will also run Deadeye Navigator in tandem, allowing you to simply reset your Clone factory on legs on whatever silly ETB you want to go crazy with.
#1 – Notion Thief
This may come as a surprise to people who don’t quite understand just how stupidly powerful this card is. Plagiarize is not a card most players would universally agree is good, but when your opponent can never attempt shenanigans that would draw them a massive amount of cards while this persists…it keeps so many decks honest, well, except for you, of course. And that’s where the subtleties pile up and suddenly the Thief sits on a mountain of what was once subtle incrementals.
Maybe it’s a metagame call, where I play against multiple strategies that slam Rhystic Study on turn 3 and Consecrated Sphinx on turn 6. Maybe it’s because I enjoy being able to reap the benefits of my opponent’s investments, turning certain cards in their deck into complete blanks. Regardless of what your meta is, everyone draws cards outside of their draw step at one point, and when you can afford to, Notion Thief should be there to tell them, “You stop that!”
Ever cast a Jace’s Archivist or Teferi’s Puzzle Box alongside this and watched a 4-person table dive headlong into stopping you from untapping? The amount of value this card gets from Windfall or Wheel of Fortune effects is just absolutely unfair. The fact that you can build your own Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur on the cheap is just absolutely ridiculous, and impossible to ignore. What’s worse is how hard-pressed your opponents will be to stop it once you begin to abuse its value. Ever stolen a Sphinx’s Revelation for 13? I have. It’s glorious.
Notion Thief does absolutely disgusting things to certain board states (nice Sylvan Library, bro.), and in my eyes is far and away the most powerful card in the set. You could have taken Flash away from the card, and I probably would have kept it at #2 at the very least. The effect of getting Plagiarize permanently is just far too powerful to ignore. You do not just sit back and let Notion Thief sit there. You answer it, or you let it destroy your hand while you sit back, unable to really dig for answers. May Jason Bennett bless your topdecks, you’re going to need them.
Well, that’s my take on the best and the worst of this set. Dragon’s Maze hit some of its designs out of the ball park, whereas it fell flat in some other areas. It’s a set whose overall design I’m enjoying so far, though I still wish they could have ignored Limited and made the Fuse spells cheaper. That’s just selfish thinking, though, and I understand that they could have spun the set completely out of control if that had happened.
Anyway, that wraps up my Dragon’s Maze-focused content. Next week, I’ll be writing my second Let’s Build segment, focusing on one of my more favored creations. Until then!
Check out my previous articles here:
Adapting to EDH Metagames:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1177
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1252
Part 3 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1317
Part 4 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1370
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1454
Building on a Budget:
Dragon’s Maze Prerelease Weekend:
Part 1 – Melek, Izzet Paragon - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?