FABLES FROM KITCHEN TABLES – THE HITS AND MISSES OF M14

Hello, readers! This week I’ll be taking you through my opinion of the top 10 best and worst cards from the recently released 2014 Core Set.

Core Sets can be very difficult to evaluate sometimes because when it comes to EDH, the only reason reprinting a card would matter is to lower its price for EDH players (woo Darksteel Forge influx!), but in all honesty, there are less overall cards to evaluate when you want to look at the new kids on the block. I wanted to cut to top 5 misses and still do top 10 hits, because the set is still overall pretty fantastic; a lot of decks pick up key players, and I’m pretty sure it’s not rocket science as to what card will wind up being #1, but the lack of “bad” cards that aren’t reprints is rather sad.

Honorable mention, however, goes to Domestication, for being a reprint that I personally see as pointless. The rarity shift also doesn’t help matters. I will forever loathe opening the card. :V

Like the Dragon’s Maze review, I’ll begin by reviewing the top 10 misses of the core set. Not a lot really did fail when it comes to M14, but there’s usually something holding back what would have otherwise been good design, whether it’s mana cost, functionality or just plain not getting there.

#10 – The Staff cycle

I want to first make a point before I really delve into why they’re bad, but these effects have almost never been good. The only time this effect has been good was when mono-red was at its peak during Zendikar-era Standard (Even then, Jund was still top dog in the metagame), and any deck could plug in Dragon’s Claw to slow the bleeding. Gaining life and doing nothing else does nothing to get you out of the jaws of defeat, as a high life total won’t do anything but delay the inevitable.

This cycle took the best part of its predecessor and completely tossed it aside. The only reason this effect was ever even worth considering is because it triggered off each player. In EDH, you’re very much able to use the effect to gain a rather sizeable chunk of life due to the fact that at least one player will help trigger the effect. The Staffs not only work off you and what you’re doing specifically, cutting down a large portion of how much life you can gain, but they cost 3, effectively blanking any use they had. (For example, Pristine Talisman exists and can actually affect your board state by generating mana) Add that to the fact that they just printed 20 new multicolor EDH generals in addition to the most popular Modern dual lands, and the cards just seem stacked against this cycle’s success. If you can consistently cast spells or can ramp yourself stupid with these, by all means, but it takes a lot to actually get more than your mana’s worth of life off these, making them subpar choices overall.

#9 – Glimpse the Future

I’m really not sure what this is supposed to accomplish. It seems pushed, but in what direction other than off a cliff in true Looney Toons fashion, I’m not quite sure.

What puts this at this position on the list is not the card being subjectively bad – because it seems good for a combo strategy or whatnot – but how it stacks up when you compare it to its competition.

When you think about this card, you think “I can put things in my graveyard that I can abuse with this!” You know what color is best at abusing the graveyard? Black. You know what else you can cast for 3 in black to graveyard enable? Buried Alive. You want to draw cards while doing so? Cast Forbidden Alchemy instead. Really, it’s difficult to look at this card and not just stare it wondering why it’s not instant-speed; I don’t think it would have hurt the game any if it were. Hell, it’d probably be playable at that point even though Thirst for Knowledge and Careful Consideration exist. But at 3 at sorcery speed, I’d rather cast Divination in most decks I think of when I see this, and I don’t even cast Divination in those decks, so why would I play this?

#8 – Awaken the Ancient

I admit, the art and flavor text is pretty sweet, but there are a lot of problems this card inherently has.

The first is how restrictive it is. Triple red is a pretty big price to ask for when 99% of decks that would play this also want to play with a bunch of Forests. In fact, probably a lot more Forests than Mountains. It would also want to play Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, nearly entirely blanking the purpose of this card.

There’s always an inherent risk playing enchantments that animate your lands, and not getting the land back really hurts your options. It would have been a pretty powerful mono-red aggro option had you gotten the land back when it died. I realize it’s more aimed at Standard, but even then, Dreadbore and Putrefy exist.

#7 – Jace’s Mindseeker

I give Wizards props for making the Fish Illusion creature type, and while this card isn’t the worst, it does have a lot of issues that make it hard to play.

It’s a good option if your game plan is to mill opponents out, but the existence of Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre make justifying the archetype difficult.

It’s a good ETB, but it has a catch- while being a pretty powerful effect, you only get a spell if it’s in the top 5, and while whiffing isn’t the worst thing in the world, it neither exiles the spell nor lets you repeatedly cast it, making it a clearly inferior choice to Chancellor of the Spires. Costing 6 for a 4/4 body is also not the best in the world when Consecrated Sphinx exists. Just overall, play Diluvian Primordial or the Chancellor if you want this effect.

#6 – Chandra, Pyromaster

It’s no surprise to anyone that Chandra would end up on this list somehow. However, I don’t think Chandra comes up to par when it comes to EDH.

She’s Future Sight for red, which is always going to be great no matter what, but here’s the thing – Jace, the Mind Sculptor is universally seen as a bad card in EDH, and you know why? Because Planeswalkers have a stigma about them. Everyone fears the ultimate that inevitably may hit them, but realistically, someone will just send their flying monstrosity over to consume them with extreme prejudice before anything insane ever happens with them, making them for the most part pretty subpar. Chandra doesn’t protect herself very well, and while having access to the card advantage she provides is very nice, +1ing with her (because if you slam her on turn 4, 0 is just not an option) and getting her killed may as well have equated to Time Walking yourself.

Basically, the gist of Chandra is – you need to untap with her, and even then you’re drawing a card or two before she dies, making her worse than Jace, an already bad planeswalker in EDH. Add to that that her ultimate practically does nothing with a Fireball effect and it just doesn’t look too good for our fiery femme fatale.

#5 – Encroaching Wastes

I honestly do not at all understand the point of this. I’m of the firm belief that someone in R&D has nightmares about turn 1 Stifle on your fetch into turn 2 Wasteland into back-to-back Tarmogoyfs feasting on his seared flesh.

I understand there’s been an outcry of “Waaah, Wizards, we don’t like it when we get Sinkholed!“, but really, is this what it’s come to?

Tectonic Edge, Strip Mine and Wasteland exists. Dust Bowl exists. Hell, Rishadan Port and Ghost Quarter exist. There’s literally no reason to play this over any of those.

#4 – Thorncaster Sliver

This is a classic case of “This costs about 7 mana too much for what it does“. Honestly, while I like the innovation of turning your Slivers into Hellrider, paying 5 for this and then attacking with the 2-3 Slivers you have doesn’t seem worth the mana. It doesn’t have a good enough body to warrant the cost, it’s in general just not worth the mana you’re paying. At that point, you can cast Brood Sliver, Might Sliver, Pulmonic Sliver, or most humiliatingly Psionic Sliver. Or, you know, your commander, who is inevitably one of the five-color Sliver legends.

#3 – Bogbrew Witch

Honestly, this card is just a huge mystery to me. I understand it’s a flavor thing ala Crown of Empires, Scepter of Empires and Throne of Empires, but…really…?

I admit, I tried to think of a way to make this work. The engine was something that used both Mistveil Plains and Sun Titan, and while I was thinking of adding Order of Whiteclay to the mix, something dawned on me…

Why doesn’t she cost 3?

She’s the perfect card for a Karmic Guide / Reveillark loop. (Note: With Carnival of Souls, you go infinite.) Costing 3 would have made her a great Sun Titan target in addition to the setup loop.

In general, don’t get me wrong, it’s not the worst overly complex infinite combo I’ve ever seen, but you can go with a Blood Artist or Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo and have stronger consistency with better cards.

#2 – Devout Invocation

I understand the concept of “design space aimed for Limited play“. I really do. What I don’t understand is why they wanted to make this go as far as Mythic rarity.

Honestly, this card is useless in EDH. Luminarch Ascension is better at making Angels and unlike this card, doesn’t cost infinite mana and bends over backwards to Wrath of God. There are just a lot of things going against this card for EDH purposes, and I don’t understand why the concept of making an army of Angels is necessary. It’s entirely win-more, which is really what can trap a lot of people into thinking a card like this is insanely powerful when it really isn’t. In a vacuum, yes, it’s bananas with Sprout Swarm and it wins you the game when you cast it. But this isn’t Magical Christmasland, you cast this and you’re just begging to be swept zealously.

There’s something that bothers me when WotC designs mythics like this when there’s unexplored design space players have begged for. Nope, instead we get a 7-mana win-more button. Storm Herd actually wins you the game when you cast it, just cast that instead.

#1 – Windreader Sphinx

It’s not really easy to see on the surface why this card is by far the biggest flop of the set. There are a lot of things wrong with it.

-It costs 7. This effect is perfectly fine at 6. Consecrated Sphinx is clearly not ban-worthy, so why not make everything that can draw you infinite cards cost 6 mana?

-It may trigger off your opponent’s creatures, which is nice, but Consecrated Sphinx exists, and will swing into this if given a reason.

-It only has 3 power. I thought Sphinxes were supposed to be blue’s staple mythic creature type. Why can’t it beat an Air Elemental in combat? It can’t even beat Angel tokens. It also can’t battle Consecrated Sphinx very well. They just kinda…make out awkwardly.

-It has 7 toughness! 6-power creatures can’t kill it! I guess that’s the saving grace? Most giant fliers are 5′s, which Consecrated Sphinx can muck up just as well with its 6 toughness.

Note the recurring theme here?

I know it seems a little redundant that a majority of the set’s flops are “run X card instead and succeed“, but that’s literally it – almost every new, flashy card printed in this set has a better alternative, and that doesn’t speak very well to the EDH crowd from a set containing a hefty amount of reprints.

Basically, don’t play this over or against Consecrated Sphinx.

-

Now that we’ve gotten through that dreary mess, let’s flip the script and get to the meat and potatoes – the top 10 hits of the set. For all of the “worse than the alternative” cards the set, it’s surprising the amount of depth a select few cards in the set have. Let’s get right into it:

#10 – Scourge of Valkas

Okay, I know what you’re thinking - Liam, you’re biased, this card is terrible! What deck would run it? You’d honestly be surprised.

I understand that when the card was first spoiled, I was even more biased than I am now about the possibilities. Utvara Hellkite and this guy were made for each other.

But think about the following three cards: Dragon Broodmother, Rite of Replication and Dragonstorm. If those two don’t get the creative juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

There are honestly a lot of interesting synergies that range from frightening combat steps where you cook up a bunch of Dragons to killing people out of nowhere with either a massive Dragonstorm, a kicked Rite, or even Sarkhan the Mad‘s ultimate. The possibilities are there, and I really have a soft spot for this one. Still gunning for my foil copy!

#9 – Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk, unlike Chandra, has a spot in EDH, if you ask me. It has a lot of contention with its previous incarnation, Garruk, Primal Hunter, as one of green’s better card advantage engines,. However, being able to Lead the Stampede every turn is just way too strong to ignore. Once you’ve drawn upwards of four cards from it, the returns are significant even by blue’s standards, as you’re drawing nothing but gas and filtering out your lands (which can be a double-edged sword, I understand, but sometimes you just need the gas), and if you ever stick the emblem, it may as well be game over (which usually is not the case in EDH with most ‘Walkers).

I personally thoroughly enjoy him in my Trostani list, and I’m looking forward to getting to test him in my other green creature-heavy lists.

#8 – Goblin Diplomats

Goblin Diplomats

Love or hate Goblins, I think everyone can agree that this is one of the better pieces WotC has made. The art is unapologetically obscene and absolutely hilarious, and the flavor text is the icing on the cake.

That being said, so many times board states get thrown asunder by a deadlock of “I’ll kill your guy if you attack me“, which the Diplomats are happy to dismantle with impunity. Too often, players just opt not to attack, hoping to cruise their way through the game. Being able to force players to pressure their opponents’ life totals is fantastic, and if your opponent is running a utility general (Rhys the Redeemed, Talrand, Sky Summoner, etc.), all the better!

I, for one, look forward to hearing the stories that will come from people who’ve tapped this guy and watched chaos erupt as players swing their armies into each other.

#7 – Young Pyromancer

He’s probably one of the best 60-card contenders in the set, which is untold of for an uncommon, but in EDH, TalRed Jr. is more than happy to provide.

Blockers are always going to be fantastic to have, and the upside of being able to swing them into potentially open players will eventually stack the damage to the point where your opponents will answer you or die to an army of pyrolings.

Clearly, he’s at his best alongside a blue deck, casting Shattering Pulse and Capsize in tandem, but he has a lot of merit in other decks as well (particularly black Skullclamp or green Craterhoof Behemoth strategies). Overall, he’s great in every Constructed format, including the most casual one.

#6 – Ogre Battledriver

Ogre Battledriver

Now, I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone, but I’m a HUGE fan of balls-to-the-walls aggressive strategies, and I think the Battledriver has a place in those. I mentioned it in my previous article overlooking the spoilers of M14 that In the Web of War is all the more fantastic on legs, but he has a number of great synergies – use with Warstorm Surge for maximum value!

#5 – Dark Prophecy

Dark Prophecy

This card is the bee’s knees. The life loss can add up, making it play well with lifegain sources, but overall, the card is fantastic as a post-Wrath refresher in aggro; however, it absolutely shines in Skullclamp engines. Being able to triple up on draws and maximize the value of your creatures hitting the bin. It’s also pretty unfair with Blood Artist.

One thing to keep in mind – the trigger is not an option. Just be sure not to deck yourself with this by accident and you’ll be fine. On the flipside, if you forget to draw, just opt to correct your board state as you remember!

#4 – Primeval Bounty

Primeval Bounty

This card is excellent at fueling creature armies. This card is excellent at defending against creature armies. This card is excellent at making an absolutely colossal tiltpig. This card basically does a lot of everything, and can do some serious work in the right deck. (Did somebody say Gyre Sage?)

Garruk’s Packleader is already not only on-curve with this card, but works fantastically at refilling your hand as you cast the creatures in it.

In general, the card has a number of fantastic synergies, and has so much goddamn value it’s actually stupid. It’s the swiss army knife of green!

#3 – Rise of the Dark Realms

Rise of the Dark Realms

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a welcome addition to a staple of each color – the “I win the game” button. This will undoubtedly see some play somewhere, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

It’s actually rather simple in execution, so sadly there’s really not much to elaborate on here. It plays well with Eternal Witness and basically every ETB, but I don’t think I needed to tell you that. Being a sorcery, it also interacts well with Boseiju, who Shelters All.

#2 – Archangel of Thune

Archangel of Thune

It’s pretty obvious that this card is pretty absurd in EDH. Slap down a Soul Warden and make opponents think twice about playing a creature. Slap down a Shattered Angel and just straight up make opponents cry. It’s really not at all difficult to break this card 6 ways to Sunday.

It attacks, you gain life, your army becomes that much stronger. It works extremely well with repeatable lifegain sources; in a perfect world, Goblin Sharpshooter gets suited with a Basilisk Collar and goes to town. Overall, the card is absolutely superb; it functions well by itself, better with friends, and ridiculously when explicitly enabled.

#1 – Kalonian Hydra

Kalonian Hydra

Anyone surprised?

Anyone? Really, though?

This little hydra is the darling of the set. Standard loves it. EDH loves it that much more.

Vorel of the Hull Clade can actually consistently do general damage, which is hilarious when you think about it.

Try this with Corpsejack Menace or Doubling Season. Or, if you’re lucky enough, both. It comes in as a 16/16. It attacks for 80 on its first swing.

Oh, and did I mention Gyre Sage? How about Kavu Predator? Skullbriar, the Walking Grave? Vigor? Joraga Warcaller? Forgotten Ancient? Master Biomancer?

I mean, there are more…Jenara, Asura of War, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Fathom Mage, Cathars’ Crusade, Gavony Township, Mayael’s Aria

Seriously, the possibilities are endless. Aside from making your entire army titanic in the blink of an eye, the Hydra enables so many ridiculously busted plays it’s insane. He’s a frightening presence, and he will make a number of powerful stories in the years to come, I feel.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

So, that’s my take on the best and worst of the 2014 Core Set. Overall, I think it does a great job of making some interesting enablers, and while I’ve harped on some of the designs I’m less happy with, overall it’s really up to opinion; a lot of the cards I’ve mentioned in the top 10 misses could be summed up as “worse than X card, and if you can run multiple X cards, you should” by some, which I suppose is a really good way of looking at the quality of the set in a nutshell.

Regardless, next week will be my first entry into the Let’s Build Month article spree, where I make decks based on your submissions. Keep those coming, by the way!

Anyways, until next time,
-L

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:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1522

Choose Your Champion:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1594
Part 2 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1868

Dragon’s Maze Prerelease Weekend:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1810

Hits & Misses of Dragon’s Maze:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1870

Legen-Wait for It-Dary:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2264

Let’s Build:
Part 1 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1606
Part 2 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1595
Part 3 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2214
Part 4 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2278 

Let’s Talk M14:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2228 

Planeswalking and You:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2184 

Resource Management:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2200

Trial & Error:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2089

 

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