Triple-Khans of Tarkir was one of the best Limited formats in memory. It was balanced, interesting, and fun. It had big bombs, but good enough synergy decks to compete with them. It had build-around-me uncommons (looking directly at Secret Plans). We also had decks that went tall, or wide, or controlling, or aggressive. You could play anywhere from two to five colors successfully. It really was a great format, and one I'll both miss and look forward to playing again in the future.
We learned a lot from Khans. We have a cool opportunity to transfer that knowledge directly over to our new incoming Limited format. Since the new format is going to be a mix of both Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, a lot of what we know about triple-Khans will hold true with Fate Reforged coming in as well. It's up to us to transfer that knowledge to the new set, while making sure we don't just assume that the environment will be exactly the same.
Three Things We Know
In triple-Khans there were some things that became more evident as the set played out. Let's go over a few of those here so we can be aware of what may or may not change when we finally get our hands on those shiny, glorious booster packs of Fate Reforged.
First, morphs are super important. They are the most important mechanic in the set, and they are essentially the reason a set like Khans of Tarkir can exist the way it does. Morphs are colorless creatures in all decks and come down at a time in the game (turn three) when creatures are still relevant. This meant that if you had enough morphs in your deck, you would almost always get to play Magic, even if you stumbled a bit on amount or quality of mana. They also gave you a powerful place to put your late-game mana, something that less bomb-heavy decks were always happy to have.
Bad news for morph fans: There aren't any in Fate Reforged. That's okay, though, we have plenty of sweet new mechanics to try out. How different will it be introducing a set with zero morphs into this ecosystem? Hard to say. Morphs were the glue that held Khans and all of its colors together. In the new format, we will have less of that glue. Given that we still have two packs' worth of morphs to choose from (it will be one booster of Fate Reforged and two boosters of Khans of Tarkir in Draft), the impact may be negligible.
Second, mana fixing is critical. We've all been a little spoiled by how much mana fixing there was floating around in Khans. The uncommon cycle of "tri-lands" were high picks and were almost always accompanied by a sigh of relief. I bet we've all been in that unenviable position where you are nearing the middle part of pack three and sweating the fact that you are woefully short on mana fixing. Even though Fate Reforged isn't a "wedge set" (a set designed specifically around three-color cards and decks), our friends in Wizards R&D realized that the mana fixing was still important and needed support.
The solution is an elegant one, and one they have used before. Instead of a random basic land in every booster, there will be one of the "gain lands" (the two-color lands that gain you a life when they enter the battlefield—cute name, right?) in that slot instead. Or if you are particularly lucky, the cycle of fetch lands from Khans can also occupy that slot. Thus, while Fate Reforged is a "normal set," the mana fixing will still be around without the need to take over valuable common slots in the pack. I like that.
Third, we play eighteen lands. Now, I haven't actually played a game with the new cards yet, but I am going into the Prerelease with the assumption that I still want eighteen lands. It's going to take a lot to convince me that eighteen isn't the right number. In Khans of Tarkir, you want to hit your third and fifth land drops on time virtually every game. Casting that morph and turning it face up on the fifth turn is a key sequence for the format. And now we've got all these crazy Dragons flying around that also demand a bunch of mana. Eighteen it is.
Armed with this previous knowledge, we trudge forward into battle. Let's take a dive into the world of a pair of Avens in the distant-past world of Fate Reforged.
Regular readers of this column knew this one was coming. How could I not? Instantly my favorite card in the set, Aven Surveyor blew me away when I first saw it. I can't lie; I eagerly await new sets just for the chance to get a card like this one. I've made it no secret that my favorite card ever is Man-o'-War. I simply adore that little Jellyfish. Man-o'-War was first printed way back in Visions, but cards of its ilk have been popping up ever since. My favorite relatively recent version was Mist Raven. I still get excited thinking about opening a Mist Raven in Draft. I don't think I ever passed one.
Anyhow, I digress. We have a new flying Jellyfish! Well, it's a Bird Scout but you know what I mean. The reason I (eventually) brought up Mist Raven is that this can be a Mist Raven for five mana. This effect is still good enough to play even at five mana.
But Aven Surveyor doesn't stop there, it gives you one of the best gifts a Magic card can give you: flexibility. If you find yourself in the enviable position of not needing or wanting to bounce an opposing creature, you can make this card a 3/3 with flying. Again, not an amazing deal, but it's all about flexibility.
But let's be realistic. Bouncing an opposing creature is going to happen way more often. I can't wait to draft as many of these as I can get my hands on every draft.
Aven Skirmisher is kind of interesting because of what we happen to know about Khans of Tarkir. Before we get to that, though, I feel compelled to give you a little Marshall Boiler Plate spiel on cards like this.
Cards like this aren't very good. They look fine. They look like the kind of card that would do well on the Vanilla Test and would fit into a beatdown deck just fine. And while some of that is true, the rest of the story doesn't pan out so well for our little flying friend here.
As an exercise, let's use two of the tools I've taught you to get a solid evaluation of Aven Skirmisher.
First tool: Check for B.C.S.M. Do you find yourself saying things like, "This card is fine. If I play it turn one, it will probably get in for 4 or more damage. What more could I ask for from a one-drop?"
This is classic B.C.S.M. This scenario only envisions the best case for a card like this. The best case here is one where you have this on turn one all the time. As you know, that's not how Magic works. We have revealed a possible weakness here.
Let's explore further using the Quadrant Theory.
First Quadrant: Developing. This card is okay in the developing stages of a game. It will likely get in for some damage, but it's worth noting that it doesn't block too well and can be blocked quite easily once your opponent gets a flier in the air.
Second Quadrant: Parity/Stalled Board. This card is quite bad in this scenario. Usually you are topdecking here and would love to find some big, swingy spell to put the game back in your control. This Aven is not that spell.
Third Quadrant: Ahead. As the least-important quadrant, being ahead really only asks that you draw spells and not lands in most cases. While Aven Skirmisher is a spell, it's actually one of the least impactful spells you could draw at this position. And this is the easy quadrant…
Fourth Quadrant: Behind. Easily the most important quadrant; the true measure of a card is how well it does when you are behind and desperately need to catch up. A 1/1 with flying does very little to help you catch up. In fact, it's basically miserable in this spot.
After we shed our B.C.S.M. and get this card under the proper magnification of the Quadrant Theory, we can see how poor it performs overall.
Still, I did say it was interesting at the onset. Why?
As just a 1/1 flier, this card isn't good, as we discovered above. But it's got two things going for it in this format that may change that.
First thing going for it: It's a Warrior. Turns out Birds get angry, put on armor, grab swords, and march for battle just like the rest of us. The Warrior subtheme in Khans has carried over to Fate Reforged, and it could matter that this card is an evasive Warrior threat.
Second thing going for it: Unlike the Warrior subtheme, the raid mechanic didn't make it back in time to Fate Reforged. But you'll still have a good amount of raid floating around in Khans of Tarkir, and this card is exceptionally good at triggering raid.
I still think that it will be better left in the sideboard most of the time, but it's got a puncher's chance of making the main deck some of the time thanks to its skill set.
Fate Reforged Prerelease
The Fate Reforged Prerelease is this weekend! Make sure you check out this excellent Prerelease primer written by Gavin Verhey to help address any questions or apprehensions you may have about the Prerelease.
For me? I'm taking Sultai. Have fun with the new set!
Until next week.