Alara Reborn was audacious, for the simple fact that the entire set is composed of gold cards. In retrospect, it was phenomenally risky - gold cards, like gold itself, have a cachet that comes from being numerically rare in a set. When sets have only four or five gold cards in the whole folio, opening one makes the pack more exciting. When "goldness" is reduced to a mechanic that says "you get a slight discount on these abilities," it loses a lot of its punch. Nonetheless, I think Alara Reborn was a fine set. People like to play lots of colors in their casual decks, and ARB made it possible to support three or more colors without a painfully expensive manabase. It also packed in some fantastic cards, from power uncommons to greatly efficient utility rares. Oh, and there are dragons, too!
I remember that when this card was spoiled, people knew it was good, but only Patrick Chapin was talking about how incredible it was. The elf is a Lightning Bolt, a Black Lotus, a Fog and a cantrip wrapped up in one card, depending on what you want to make of it. It formed the bedrock of the Jund deck, cascading into Lightning Bolt and Sprouting Thrinax and racking up card advantage each time. It was a prime reason that Demonfire didn't see much play - you didn't want to cascade into an X=0 spell.
Bloodbraid Elf was so strong that people looked to put it into everything. You could run it in Five Color Control and hope to rip an Esper Charm from it. You could Cascade into a Sedraxis Specter if you wanted to. Bloodbraid Elf doesn't see much play these days, but it is still a premiere spell for what you get at four mana. It's a card so powerful that the Jund strategy solidly contained Jace, the Mind Sculptor for most of its run in Standard.
And a Broodmother it is! You can have the first token eat Momma, or it can snack on a field of Saprolings. You can stock up on little Dragonlings for several turns and then let the next one eat all the rest. The ability to repeatedly make tokens, especially ones with Devour, is great. We know how strong a card like Verdant Force is; a monster spawner that can make evasive giants is even better. It's not competitively worthy, but the Broodmother remains a casual killer.
Jenara, Asura of War
I remember that when Jenara came out, people positively lost it because we all perceived it as a tournament-staple mythic rare. A 3/3 flier for 3 that can grow when you have spare mana is a solid monster - she can even come down on the second turn with a Ignoble Hierarch. I tend to think that Jenara has a yet-undiscovered spot in Modern; she's not as efficient as Tarmogoyf, but she's a fine second to the Goyf when you already have four of them in the deck. Jenara can become so big, so quickly, that you can just invest some mana in her and ride it to victory; fliers are quite rare in Modern.
Jenara is also a stellar general in Commander; she comes down cheaply and you can make her much bigger when you get into the later game.
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
Karrthus is a heck of a play in Commander. With only one other Dragon down, you can slam someone apart. He even saw play as a trump in Oath of Druids decks in Vintage - you see, Hellkite Overlord was the Oath creature at the time. A crafty opponent could take a swing from your Overlord and then Oath up Karrthus, taking the Overlord and frequently killing you in the process.
Lord of Extinction
This guy is some sort of Super-Goyf, getting above 20/20 pretty easily. Unfortunately, it cannot best the slightest blocker without evasion. I must think that I'd run a Kessig Wolf Run or four to make sure this can contact. It's a total killer on a Commander table; if you're caught without creatures, then it's goodbye. That's what drives this casual card up to a few dollars.
A Vindicate with a tradeoff; you can't kill lands, but you can evaporate a token army. You can score a two-for-one. You can unwind a dangerous board position. Maelstrom Pulse is a fantastic control card, sweeping away twin Tarmogoyfs, dual Blood Moons or marauding Memnites.
Pulse has dropped a little from its highs at $14, but it is still a power rare, with some new attention from Modern. If Jund breaks out in Modern, we could see this rise up a few dollars.
My, how the mighty mage has fallen. Meddling Mage held a legitimate place in older Standard and Extended, because there were only two or three relevant kill spells. The first Mage chanted away the Terminate and then the subsequent ones could confine game-winning spells from the opponent. These days, a 2/2 for 2 that has only a slight impact on the board is less powerful. Even in Standard, there was an incredible abundance of different kill spells. You could fight Jund's Terminates, but their Lightning Bolts and Maelstrom Pulses would still get through. UW could stop it with Path to Exile or Jace. All in all, Meddling Mage is more appropriately titled Middling Mage these days.
Mind Funeral is a heck of a milling card and it appeals to a casual player because it seemingly punishes someone for being greedy about their lands. Mind Funeral can torch fifteen cards for three mana, making it one of the more efficient milling spells around. It's a sleeper casual uncommon hit; check your junk binders and move the ones you find!
Nemesis of Reason
If there were a creature that persuasively encouraged milling, this is probably it. Every time it swings through, with that seven-toughness rear, it chomps about a fifth or more of the opponent's library. It doesn't matter if they're hiding behind a million tokens and a thousand life if they lack cards to draw. Nemesis is not a compelling creature in a non-milling deck, but it's a fine thematic pounder for an opponent who loves their Tome Scours.
This wins the award for the longest creature type line.
The Triplets are a really interesting creature for a casual deck; you get to Mindslaver an opponent in a way, or at least shut down their reactive spells. Importantly, you cannot tap their lands to pay their spells, but if you have things like Prismatic Lenses around, that's not much of a problem. My big gripe with the Triplets is that they are very fragile for the mana cost and ability. I'd love to untap with these in play, but I'd much rather sneak them out with a Quicksilver Amulet to expose them for less time.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
You can see why people call this RoboKroma. If this thing came with Haste, I'd be cramming it into every deck that I could, thanks to that lifelink. As it is, this Sphinx still bashes aggressive decks apart. It dodges all kinds of removal and skips out on Doom Blade and Go For The Throat, too. I doubt that there's a competitive format where you would pay eight mana for this, but it has seen play in Vintage as a Aeronaut Tinkerer target.
Thraximundar has really picked up in price after Innistrad. Take a look at the BLP graph and notice that it'd been as low as $2.00 last July. I picked up my copy then and I was surprised to see how high it went up. My best guess is that Thrax is a great general in Commander - he'll assassinate any solitary monster that an opponent has out and he grows bigger with every sacrifice that happens on a big table. Mostly, I think the Innistrad-timed bump happened because a lot of people, myself included, became interested in Zombie Commander decks. This is the best legendary Zombie around, and it's in the correct colors for a really slick deck.
Uril, the Miststalker
When Uril came out, people immediately pegged it as a Commander killer of epic proportions. Tack an Armadillo Cloak or a Rancor on it and just ride that general damage all the way. Since this guy is Hexproof, you can be sure that absent a sweeper, he's not going anywhere. Uril hitting the board definitely makes people treat the U/W Commander a little better!
That wraps it up for Alara Block! It's a fun and profitable set and it's highly useful for a trader. One need look only at this set review to see the piles of casual crack that a good trader can move. You can take those Lords of Extinction that a competitive grinder wants to dump and trade them off to someone who loves the giant monster in their Commander decks. Alara is full of this kind of gold, both literally and figuratively. Happy trading, and until next time,