It's almost Christmas! We already got a huge gift with Star Wars: The Force Awakens but there's another gift for us looming in the darkness out there---one we weren't supposed to see. Someone snuck into the secret hiding spot at Wizards and looked at all our presents. We can't unsee them and we can't play with them, but we can still think and talk about them!
Magic Christmas might be a little spoiled (pun intended), but it's not ruined. Wizards is much more tight-lipped about their new products than other gaming companies. Take the Star Wars X-wing Miniatures game I play for example. We've known the initial information about the next release since August at Gen Con, and those figures still aren't out!
So while we may know most of the Oath of the Gatewatch mythics and all the Expeditions, at least it's only a couple weeks ahead of time. And there are still plenty of presents to open we don't know about yet. They might be the ones from strange relatives we don't see very often, but sometimes those gifts are cool too.
For now, let's play (theoretically) with our presents before Christmas!
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Kozilek was among the first cards spoiled, along with Mirrorpool and the new basic Wastes. I think it's interesting that after so many years, Wizards decided to change the way colorless mana works. My initial reaction is that this change adds to complexity rather than simplifying as the creators would like.
I think explaining this concept of mana symbols besides the basic five to a new player is going to be difficult. It's weird that two different mana symbols represent the same thing (colorless mana). I think the old way it worked was more logical.
That being said, now that we know Kozilek's mana requirements are much easier than our initial impression indicated, his power level definitely goes up. Most of us thought we'd have to play a new color just to support this card. Highly parasitic mechanics like that usually can't find enough support in competitive formats.
That's not the case here, and we can just slot this epic villain into any ramp strategy, as long as we jump through a few hoops that we may have satisfied naturally in the construction of our mana base.
If we look at ramp decks in Standard, we see most of the requirements are already met. Players are already utilizing Mage-Ring Network, Homarid Spawning Bed and Sanctum of Ugin. The most common colorless land is Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and that land casts Kozilek all on its own!
Now that we've discovered casting this Eldrazi titan is no problem, we need to inspect his details to see if the payoff is there. He does cost ten mana after all, so if we aren't getting a huge reward for that big of an investment, let's not waste our time.
Well, ramp players rejoice, because this is the payoff you’ve been looking for.
Early turns for a ramp deck involve using all of your available resources to increase mana production as quickly as possible. Once you do that, you're nearly always left with little to finish the game. Because of this dilemma, threats in a ramp deck must be back-breaking.
Kozilek approaches this problem from a different angle. He brings a backup plan.
Kozilek himself is a 12/12 that must be blocked by two or more creatures. This is a critical feature because it prevents your opponents from throwing some garbage creature in front of him every turn. It takes two minions to distract the Great Distortion.
In case his huge stats aren’t enough to get the job done, he summons other cards to his aid. You can use your new grip of cards to add more threats to the board or protect what's already there.
So it seems that Kozilek, the Great Distortion is the real deal. He draws cards for a deck that is hard-pressed for resources, he is a little hard to block, and he can counter spells. Wow, that’s a lot of abilities!
This titan only has one drawback and that is his ability to be killed. Unlike his reprinted friend, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, he isn’t indestructible. You should be able to counter some common removal spells, but your ability to protect Koz will be completely dependent on the mana costs of the cards he draws you.
Overall, I expect this Eldrazi to see play in lots of formats. We should see him in Standard alongside Ulamog, in Modern backing up Karn Liberated, and I could even see someone trying to bring back A-Dragon's Rage Channeler in Vintage to get him on board in the first or second turn.
Initial Price: $25-30
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
The next present we snuck a peak at was Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Not counting the Origins flip planeswalkers, Nissa is our seventh three-mana planeswalker. Take a look at the illustrious group Nissa will be joining.
With the exception of Dack Fayden, who was never legal in Standard, that cast of characters has been influential in determining the flow of Standard. Nissa is lining up to put her name in the hat for MVP as well.
Just like her Oath companion Gideon, she is the whole package. In my review of Battle for Zendikar I spoke highly of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar because he is both the army and the pump spell all in one. As Nissa harnesses the power of the forest, she summons an army of zero-power creatures, but any token maker can always be paired with spells that increase their power. Luckily for us, Nissa does both.
I’ve been hearing crazy comparisons, as is typical for new, hard-to-evaluate cards. A notable one is that Nissa makes tokens as fast as Bitterblossom (starting on turn three). The cards are quite different, but any card that makes creatures at that rate should be taken seriously. I’ve heard players theorizing about her use in Modern based on this conclusion as well. Let’s not take it quite that far today, but I do want to stress that she will be impactful in Standard.
There are a couple uses I see immediately for the Voice of Zendikar. First up, she slots right into Atarka Red's game plan of spamming the board with dorks. Cast a bunch of Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst tokens, and follow it up by ticking Nissa down or pumping your team with Atarka's Command. Atarka Red is already a tier-one deck, so it's poised to excel with a new buff.
Next up, we have the much maligned Hardened Scales deck. When you combine that innocent-looking enchantment with Nissa’s -2 ability you get a beautiful sequence that nets your team double the counters. This deck is going to generate some huge creatures rather quickly.
Finally, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is strong enough to see play in decks with much less synergy than the first two I covered. Take the Rally the Ancestors decks for example. That is a strategy with little wiggle room for new cards, but even that deck might squeeze a copy or two of this card in to make more dudes to sacrifice to Nantuko Husk or to pump your swarm.
Nissa is strong on her own, and doesn’t necessarily need a lot of synergy around her in order to make the cut. She has the makings of a very impactful card.
Initial Price: $25-30
If you had your hopes set on a new, good version of Chandra, you might have gotten burnt peaking into the bag of gifts. Like her forest companion Nissa, Chandra is joining a group, but it’s not the cool kids' table.
Chandra is headed over to the corner to hang out with the Too Expensive crew. She’s the sixth member. Take a look at her companions.
I imagine the leader of this group, Elspeth, saying, “See, guys we can make the cut.” Then Garruk would chime in, “Yeah, exactly.” But, the other people at the table would reply, “Nah, you guys just got lucky.”
We can sum it up by saying six is too many unless you're the best at what you do. The new Chandra just doesn't meet that standard, as her abilities are all a little too underwhelming.
First of all, her starting loyalty is in exactly the wrong spot. With four loyalty her -X is just short of killing Siege Rhino or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. If she had even one higher starting loyalty and could kill all the major threats in the format, then we might have something.
Secondly, why do the 3/1’s need to get exiled? Is it really too overpowered to make two 3/1’s? If that’s true, they why not make them 2/1’s that stick around? Elspeth this is not.
Finally, how about that zero ability? It’s neat that you can do it every turn to dig for whatever you want, but with no way to protect herself, I doubt she will be sticking around. In the next format, if we don’t have major threats with five toughness, she might find a home, but for now, she should end up a cheap planeswalker.
Initial Price: $8-12
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Like Drana before him, the new version of Kalitas is much more competitively priced. At four mana, we're getting a reasonable creature for the cost. Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet was a sweet card but costing seven mana is not where you want to be if you're interested in tournament play.
I think we can all agree that Kalitas provides some much needed graveyard hate. In addition to shutting down Rally the Ancestors and all those shenanigans, it also generates a zombie army for the small investment of killing your opponent’s creatures. The sacrifice ability could be relevant but I wish it cost less than three mana to activate.
This mythic seems like it will be underrated and I wouldn’t be surprised to see its starting price below my target number. If that’s the case, I think it’s a buy.
There is definitely money to be made on preorders but it’s a high stakes game so tread lightly. All the singles prices will be pushed down due to the Expeditions just like in Battle for Zendikar, so remember that throughout the next couple months.
Initial Price: $10-15
Crush of Tentacles
Flavor win on this card for certain. Who wouldn’t want to crush their opponent with tentacles? As for its competitive impact, that's the question we need to answer to determine its price trajectory.
If you see an inexpensive foil copy, I’d snag it because this is sure to be a hit in Commander. I know I’d love to cast this sweet spell in that format.
As for Standard applications, if we see a reasonable one-mana spell or two, this card could be decent. If not, we do still have Anticipate so we can cast it once we hit seven mana. Maybe the Eldrazi Ramp deck would make good use of this. They could trigger this off of something like Sylvan Scrying, and buy some time to cast an Ulamog or Kozilek.
Even if Crush of Tentacles makes it in Standard, it's likely to be more a role player than format staple. I expect this octopus attack will probably stay deep in the ocean and not let the price creep up.
Initial Price: $5-8
Is it just me or does World Breaker’s text box not live up to his epic name? Shouldn’t this Eldrazi be blowing up the world instead of one permanent? It’s neat that he has reach and that he recurs for colorless mana, but at seven mana I want my threats to do more than this.
World Breaker reminds me of Sylvan Primordial and that was a rare with a better stat line. I have desperately wanted Reclamation Sage in Standard so there's a possibility it may see play, but it’s doubtful.
Initial Price: $3-6
If Wizards was trying to give me nightmares about the return of the Eldrazi, Kozilek's Return definitely does the job. A Pyroclasm seems decent in Standard right now but it’s the back end that the nightmares come from.
We are getting a lot of cards to pair with our ramp strategy---so many that there might be room for a couple variations in the format. When Primeval Titan and his cycle were in Standard, we saw that very thing happen and history could repeat itself once the Oath is in effect.
This sweeper is 100% guaranteed to show up in G/R Tron in Modern to make the nightmare a reality. If it also sees play in Standard, we may push the top off the price into the next level. I don’t know how Modern will handle this card though. It seems excessively pushed and this might be the lighter fluid that sets Tron rocketing past the rest of the metagame.
Initial Price: $10-15
Is anyone else confused by the art work on Mirrorpool? It doesn’t look like a pool of anything, and in addition, it doesn’t even look like somewhere on Zendikar. What’s up with that? Wouldn’t this be better named something like Slow Motion Cloud? That seems way more fitting to go along with the text.
In any case, this land is powerful but the upfront cost is pretty steep. To copy a spell you need four total mana (including tapping itself), plus the mana to cast whatever we're copying! It might look like this ability is a mere three mana, but in practice it's going to be hard to pull off.
The second ability is more manageable though, and might become relevant if we can find something worth copying. Our sweetest ramp targets right now are all legendary Eldrazi, but if something else shows up, the stock of this land should increase.
And why does this land come into play tapped? There are so many questions surrounding this land, but the one we won’t be asking is why it costs so much money. Not many players will be excited for this present.
Initial Price: $4-8
Sphinx of the Final Word
…And lastly, Sphinx of the Final Word. I thought about ending my article right there just for some dry humor, but I’ll talk a little bit about this card before doing so.
Last time around on Zendikar we had the untargetable Sphinx of Jwar Isle, but this time we get to combo off without fear and cast uncounterable Counterspells. The future holds a lot of possibilities for this sphinx. He could see play in Standard in some sort of Esper Control deck or even in Eldrazi Ramp if there’s a good spell to ramp into.
Commander will give every foil copy of this card a home too. There’s even a slight chance that Scapeshift might want to sideboard it in Modern so they can force their combo through all the counters any opponent could muster.
My price point might be a little high on this one but as I outlined above, I think it will see demand from multiple angles.
Initial Price: $8-12
One more mythic to go…will it be Emrakul? Or has he/she/it fled to terrorize another plane?
Although this is the second article I've wrote about the new Oath cards, there's still more to cover just from the preemptive spoilers and I’m sure there will be some sweet ones to come in spoiler season as well. What are your thoughts on the spoiled mythics so far? What about my price predictions? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!
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