FABLES FROM KITCHEN TABLES – THE HITS AND MISSES OF MAGIC 2015

Greetings, readers! This week, I take my seasonal look at Magic’s newest expansion from an EDH perspective and rank the top 10 biggest flops and the top 10 biggest superstars of any given set. Through these articles, I hope I give you, the reader, some insight on potential additions to your lists, even though I will be the first to admit I’ve made some inaccurate assumptions.

Before going over each hit and miss individually, I’ll say that M15 as a whole thoroughly impressed me. While I’m sure the hype will wear off in time, there’s a lot of power in this set, something unheard of for the yearly Core Set (which is mostly just strange reprints for Standard’s sake), which is refreshing to see, since most people gloss over the Core Set, dismissing it as a miserable necessity. For once, WotC has managed to make the Core Set worth talking about.

Before I get into the review, like with M14, I won’t be discussing reprints. (Assume Chord of Calling is great, anyway. Because it is.) But what I will be discussing is new cards, starting with the misses as always. We begin with:

#10 – Avacyn, Guardian Angel

Avacyn, Guardian Angel, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Avacyn isn’t particularly a terrible card objectively; it’s subjectively where she falters. The shoes of her original incarnation, Avacyn, Angel of Hope are extremely difficult to fill, and the Guardian Angel just doesn’t get you there. Another problem Avacyn has is her inability to protect herself, making her otherwise stellar ability to be a powerful Voltron general. That’s not to say she doesn’t have merit as a defensive brick wall once you hit 7, but she still dies to commonly-played removal and can’t protect herself, which is really detrimental no matter how you look at it.

#9 – Soul of Zendikar

Soul of Zendikar, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

What I find about Soul of Zendikar is that it has an extreme best-case / worst-case scenario. Best-case, it’s a win-more beater who makes more beaters and closes out the game quickly and effectively. Worst-case, you’re Time Walking yourself as you hopelessly overextend into Wrath of God. What it comes down to at the end of the day is that Soul of Zendikar is incredibly weak–much more than its bretheren–once it’s in the graveyard. While it’s not the worst of the cycle due to its strong best-case (and all six are on here in some form or fashion), it’s by far not the best, and if you want to be doing this sort of effect, you’re likely playing Craterhoof Behemoth, so just play Ant Queen instead.

#8 – Return to the Ranks

Return to the Ranks, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Return to the Ranks seems like a cool card in theory, but like many cards that end up on the Misses side of these Hits and Misses lists, what makes the card fall flat is how poorly it stacks up against cards that do similar or better effects. If you want a mass recursion engine in white, you’re almost assuredly playing black as well, where Shirei, Death’s Caretaker, Immortal Servitude, Debtors’ Knell, Sheoldred, Whispering One and the like will serve you better. Even in mono-white, Sun Titan and Order of Whiteclay will outperform this a lot of the time. If you’re running a tribal theme or a reanimator shell, Living Death, Twilight’s Call and Patriarch’s Bidding will also outperform this. With so many better options, Return to the Ranks finds itself getting edged out quickly, making it the victim of an easy cut at the end of the day.

#7 – Soul of Ravnica

Soul of Ravnica, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Soul of Ravnica‘s biggest issue, I’ve found, is its inability to function except in extreme niche situations. What I think of when I see this card is “If you ever get to activate this card, doesn’t that just make it win-more in nature?” I understand draw engines are for the most part necessary, but I find that it relies too heavily on having other permanents in play to be effective. On its own, it’s still a 6/6 flier for 6, which is certainly powerful, but when you stack this up against Consecrated Sphinx, unless you control something like Prophet of Kruphix, Maelstrom Nexus, and 14+ lands, it just feels inferior to the Sphinx to me, and if you’re in that situation, you’re probably winning without much help from Soul of Ravnica.

#6 – Soul of Innistrad

Soul of Innistrad, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Explaining how bad Soul of Innistrad is is rather difficult, to be honest, because it’s extremely simple to see why. Stack it up against Sheoldred, Whispering One, that’s literally it. It’s a big, dumb beater who really doesn’t do anything to immediately impact the board and gives you incredibly slow card advantage. As an attacker, it’s significantly worse than Grave Titan. As recursion, it’s significantly worse than Sheoldred, Whispering One. As card advantage, it’s arguably significantly worse than Harvester of Souls. For a cycle of cards seemingly designed for EDH, I find it strange that they decided to make half of them so bad.

#5 – Indulgent Tormentor

Indulgent Tormentor, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

M15′s misses might as well just be a collection of “You could play this, or you could just play this other card that’s just better.” You can look at it in a different light, I suppose, and see it as a miniature Sheoldred, Whispering One, but honestly, it’s the fact that it only works on your upkeep, and the fact that it’s a choice, that make its effects stack up poorly. It feels strictly inferior to Bloodgift Demon, because in almost every scenario, you want to just draw the card, so you’ll hang the trigger over the head of the opponent who won’t sacrifice the creature or take 3. That’s another thing; paying 3 life seems like the go-to option in EDH, and the fact that you can’t do this to every opponent makes it incredibly sub-par.

#4 – Jace, the Living Guildpact

Jace, the Living Guildpact, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

I tried to defend Jace, I really did. I thought the fact that he played well with Doubling Season and started at essentially 6 loyalty was worth it. I was wrong. Jace does little to alleviate pressure, and while he creates decent tempo, Jace, the Mind Sculptor creates superior tempo at a much less prohibitive cost, and while the library manipulation is cute, it’s really hard to protect this Jace, as his ultimate is a strong enough threat to warrant wayward aggro. As far as Jaces go, while Jace, Memory Adept has worse overall abilities to offer, it at least does some justice by replacing itself. If you +1 this Jace and it immediately dies, all you’ll have essentially done is gain life, which is not something you want to be doing when you cast a Planeswalker.

#3 – Aggressive Mining

Aggressive Mining, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

As much as I want to like a card Markus Persson designed, I have to really say that Aggressive Mining is just a bad card. It has a great best-case; you control effects that do the work for you and put all your lands into play (Manabond, Sakura-Tribe Scout, etc.), but really, I’ve found especially recently that when you look to cut a card from a deck, the first things you look for are what are called “dependents”–cards that require other cards to do anything. I mean, if you’re a combo deck and you just need to dig (and you had best believe going there was entirely necessary), I can understand that, but there are better options for doing so, I think. Ultimately, limiting the controller to not being able to play lands killed any chance this card had at being playable.

#2 – Resolute Archangel

Resolute Archangel, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Now, I don’t think it’s a big secret to anyone that I’m no fan of lifegain effects. Cards that do nothing but essentially gain you life are not exactly cards I particularly enjoy playing. Granted, I played a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice deck for the longest time–a list which featured four Soul Warden variants–but that’s partially why I’ve grown to hate effects like this. Let me just reiterate that unless you are in a down-to-the-wire race with an opponent, gaining life is never going to be relevant. Life is the one resource in the game that only matters when you have extremely little of it. How many cards you have in your hand and how many permanents you control will always be much more relevant resources, and while this is a 4/4 flier, it costs 7 mana, and dies to a Luminarch Ascension activation. I realized there is some minor worth in a flicker list, where you can use her as a defensive brick wall to prevent your opponent from sticking combat damage, but let me remind you that general damage, and more importantly, removal, are very real things, and if you can survive and outrace anyone with something as cheesy as this, they need to reevaluate their game plan against you.

#1 – Mercurial Pretender

Mercurial Pretender, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

I recall writing up last week’s article, my Limited review for the set, and thinking to myself “Blue gets a 5-mana Sakashima the Impostor; that’s actually rather solid!”. Then I read the card and realized it only copies creatures you control, and instantly gave up all hope. Being able to only copy the creatures you control is hopelessly win-more, and while it has the ability to protect itself at the very least, it seriously loses an absurd amount of flexibility. People play Clone and its ilk to control creatures beyond the realm of the colors they’re forced to play. This just shoehorns you into having a second copy of something you already have: if you get a good target, this is win-more; if you have a bad target, this is useless. Being able to bounce it changes nothing aside from the fact that if you have a lot of mana, it’s a great blocker…for one creature.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten past the bad, we can move onto the good! Let’s get right into the hits of the set, beginning with:

#10 – Hushwing Gryff

Hushwing Gryff, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Maybe I’m being a little speculative here. (I feel like this is where I screw up the most, because I used speculation to fuel my bases for a lot of my previous reviews, and I’m trying to be a bit more careful this time around, and not giving too much to the cards I think are the best in a vaccuum.) I don’t exactly know which decks would benefit the most from having a Torpor Orb on legs, but I just see someone casting this in response to a Tooth and Nail and causing that player to tank. That sort of interactive play makes me appreciate a card like this, and while it’s hard to speculate on what kind of home a card like this can find, it has the potential to be extremely powerful, but I won’t deny it has similar potential to be entirely ignored. While Torpor Orb is a strong card, few strategies can afford to run it, with ETB’s getting better and better.

#9 – Waste Not

Waste Not, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Waste Not finds itself at the opposite end of the spectrum; while its use isn’t nearly as widespread, its power and homes are as clear as day. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf and Nekusar, the Mindrazer are two strategies that will absolutely adore having this. The sheer value of being able to turn your opponent’s cards against them is absolutely brilliant, and my hat goes off to whoever in the community pitched this idea to Wizards. The potential for combo is there with the land clause, admittedly, but it just adds so much value to discard spells that blow Megrim and Liliana’s Caress out of the water.

#8 – Perilous Vault

Perilous Vault, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Perilous Vault, like Coercive Portal before it, is a move by Wizards I enjoy; introducing more colorless sweepers to the format. Honestly, Nevinyrral’s Disk is such a miserable card to be forced to play, and while you lose the ability to access the resources you lose to this from your graveyard, your opponent does as well, and there are very few situations in which you’ll activate this and lose more resources than your opponents will, which are what give sweepers such high value. In addition, exiling gets around Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Darksteel Plate and other such shenanigans, which add to its value.

#7 – Ajani Steadfast

Ajani Steadfast, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

See, now while I’m not a fan of most lifegain cards, Ajani has something about him that makes him a lot more powerful than those; he can do something other than just gain life. While this Ajani is very much dependent on having creatures or Planeswalkers out, he does a very good job of protecting himself with just a single creature, as you’re allowed to race your opponents with your attackers and keep the best one as a blocker. If they’re not attacking Ajani, they’re attacking you, and your best creature is gaining you a bunch of life to combat that. If your army is large enough, Ajani can opt to just make them that much more powerful, and while the ability in that sense fails to evocate his original incarnation, Ajani Goldmane, where this Ajani succeeds is his emblem; much like Venser, the Sojourner or Elspeth, Knight-Errant, his emblem is impossibly difficult to break through, and Doubling Season makes it a frightening possibility. That’s not to mention just how well he plays with other Planeswalkers, being one of the first effects to place loyalty counters on other Planeswalkers specifically. Overall, Ajani brings a fair amount to the table, I find, and has merit in a few strategies as a powerful enabler and has great potential in a creature-based goodstuff list.

#6 – Soul of Theros

Soul of Theros, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Like Ajani, Soul of Theros is the type of lifegain effect I can get behind. Untapping with this is indicative of a won game, as the life you’re inevitably gaining from a single activation is astronomical in the right board state; not to mention the fact that your creatures are becoming brick walls on both offense and defense. Alongside Heliod, God of the Sun and Iroas, God of Victory, this thing just seems absurd, and I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t considered it as a top-end finisher in Marath, Will of the Wild. Tokens and any value creature, particularly deathtouch or power-matters ones, will very much enjoy a boost from Soul of Theros, and while it definitely feels win-more on the surface, it’s an absolutely fine creature on its own, as it will attack into as well as block a large portion of the format with impunity, and its activation is threatening both on-board and from the graveyard as well.

#5 – Soul of Shandalar

Soul of Shandalar, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Let me just give you one piece of information that you’ll need to evaluate this card’s worth in EDH with; this thing can beat Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite by itself. Not many creatures without the innate ability to remove a creature on its own can say that, and while Shandalar can innately remove Elesh Norn, if you can muster 21 mana to zap an Elesh Norn, something must be going wrong. This thing is an absolute nightmare to block or attack into, and is actually an extremely impressive sink, as you can activate this into a hexproof board due to its wording, and a sink that doubles as removal and pressure is always going to be useful. While its ability isn’t as relevant in a graveyard, it still has a ton of value, arguably more than most of its kin.

#4 – Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

Now, while I’m certainly the biggest fan of this card you’ll likely ever see, Birthing Pod the creature is not without its weaknesses. The first and most glaring is that summoning sickness is a mechanic in Magic that exists, and having to untap with this thing is a painfully slow process. The second is that you can’t drop this and immediately tutor something that costs 4 or more (unless you control both Doubling Season and Vorel of the Hull Clade), but as a proponent of Serra Ascendant, I’ve never really considered that to be that big of an issue. Yisan’s interactions are endless, from the manipulation of its counters with Doubling Season to untapping it with Kiora’s Follower or Thousand-Year Elixir, or controlling Seedborn Muse or Prophet of Kruphix and just getting something on everyone’s turn. I still have yet to pick up my copies, but rest assured that when I do, I’ll be continuing to sing the praises of Solid Snake Bard forever. Easily my favorite card of the set by a fairly wide margin, but I understand not every deck can simply jam it in and call it a day; you have to actually be able to interact with it to make it good, otherwise it’s slow. Even at its worst, it can still get you there eventually, though, which means it’ll never not have value if your deck gives it a little leeway.

#3 – Ob Nixilis, Unshackled

Ob Nixilis, Unshackled, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

God, do I hate this thing. I hate it so much. I hate it because it’s absurdly powerful, it’s splashy, and some jerkwad is going to jam it into their deck because it has the potential to screw people. Spoiler alert: that someone will 99.8% of the time be me, and I will hate you forever for it. Try Path to Exile on an opponent while this is out and see how they like the prospect of the price of Rampant Growthing. Or slap a Darksteel Plate on this and cast Wrath of God. Overall, whether you play him as an absurd hoser or a giant beater, he has the power to do both extremely effectively, making him one of the set’s all-star cards overall.

#2 – Sliver Hivelord

Sliver Hivelord, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

The subject of next week’s Let’s Build article, which will herald a 5 week-long string of content dedicated to the series, Sliver Hivelord is a card I vastly undervalued at first. While I correctly valued it as a cornerstone of the Sliver strategy, what I failed to understand was just how much you wanted this in play at every juncture of the game, and how powerful a general a 5-mana Avacyn, Angel of Hope actually is. In addition, Slivers aren’t exactly lacking in their ability to become evasive or threatening, given their vast array of pump and evasion effects, so not only is it possible to easily push through 21 general damage, but a mass aggro deck for the Hivelord is also extremely easy to conjure. Giving indestructibility is an ability so imperative to breaking the tribe wide open in the format (they previously had a pretty rough go against Wrath of God beforehand) that we may very well see a return of the Hive in the coming months. Time will tell, I suppose.

#1 – Soul of New Phyrexia

Soul of New Phyrexia, Magic, Magic 2015 (M15)

I don’t think the news that Soul of New Phyrexia is an absurd powerhouse in EDH is lost on most people. It’s a rather absurd creature if you ever untap with it, it has insane value even in your graveyard, and any deck can run it, so if you value specific permanents being in play or just making your creatures stick, run this and be done with it. While it’s not exactly Avacyn, Angel of Hope, it evokes her absurd power in a way where everyone gets a piece of the color pie here, and it’s actually a rather stupid card to fight against if you can’t muster an exile effect for it.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There you have it, my thoughts for the best and worst of M15! Next week will be my Let’s Build entry for the month, focusing on Sliver Hivelord, and then I’ll be going into my delayed Let’s Build month, focusing on entries from you, the readers! Stay tuned!
~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
Part 3 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2539

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

Guidance:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2548

Hits & Misses of:
Dragon’s Maze -http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1870
Innistrad - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2586

M14 –  http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2295
Theros - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2508
Born of the Gods - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2800
Journey into Nyx - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3101

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
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2303
Part 6 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2310
Part 7 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2323
Part 8 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2336
Part 9 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2341
Part 10 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2525
Part 11 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2617
Part 12 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2691
Part 13 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2822
Part 14 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2933
Part 15 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3086
Part 16 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3134
Part 17 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3153

Let’s Talk Conspiracy:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3138

Let’s Talk Journey into Nyx:
Part 1 – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3015
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3030

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

Let’s Talk M15:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3159
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3167

Let’s Talk Theros:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2362
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2378

Oh My God:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3118

Painting a Target:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2631

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

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

Stacking Up Commander 2013:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2561

The Slippery Slope:
http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2440

The Top Soldiers Of:
Azorius - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2640
Bant - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2907
Boros – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2854
Dimir - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2653
Esper - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2957
Five-Color - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3156
Golgari - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2760
Grixis – http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2984
Gruul - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2669
Izzet- http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2710
Jund - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3124
Naya - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=3146
Orzhov - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2681
Rakdos - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2663
Selesnya - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2677
Simic - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=2900

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

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