Born of the Gods felt in many ways like Theros, Jr. The new mechanics—mainly inspired—never really found a place to shine, even if plenty of inspired cards saw regular play. But the biggest difference between Theros and Born of the Gods was the raw power level. Born of the Gods was significantly weaker than Theros. When we talked about analogs and how to adapt to a new set, it was clear that the Born of the Gods analogs were generally weaker than their Theros counterparts.
This didn't speak to the quality of the set in general, but it was something that Limited players had to keep in consideration as the packs flowed around the table. Now that we are at the threshold of the full block incorporating Journey into Nyx, it's time to get a feel for what the newcomer brings to the table.
Even a cursory jaunt through the Card Image Gallery will reveal some real barnburners. The strive mechanic is a creative twist on kicker, and in this block it seems poised to make a big splash. Not only are most of the strive cards powerful in their own right, but they also can trigger multiple heroic creatures at once. This gets kind of scary if even just two heroic creatures get targeted at the same time.
As you can see, not all strive cards are meant to be used in the same way. Colossal Heroics represents a traditional use for strive: pump up your team at instant speed and give some other benefit while doing it. Most strive cards will fit into this mold and will usually target just one or two creatures. But cards like Hour of Need show that not only is the power level up, but the creativity level as well.
You can use Hour of Need to upgrade your two worst creatures into 4/4 flying Sphinxes—at instant speed! Or if your opponent has a bomb that you just can't deal with, you can turn it into a Sphinx and then maybe bounce it to deal with it permanently. Or you can turn one of your creatures into a Sphinx as well and use it as a blocking deterrent. Just the fact that this card is an instant means that you will be winning games out of nowhere with it.
Imagine attacking with a couple of your creatures, they get in, and you pass the turn. Your opponent attacks with his or her two 3/3s, thinking the way is clear. You tap five mana to Hour of Need your two tapped attackers. Block. Attack for 8 in the air. Sheesh. This card is nasty.
The creatures in Journey into Nyx also have received a healthy bump in power. It feels like many of the creatures are not only quite powerful on their own, but they also bring unique things to the table compared with what we knew of the previous two sets.
Satyr Hoplite is the simplest possible heroic creature, yet it's one we all were wondering about since the beginning. Are they going to do a 1/1 with the +1/+1-counter heroic ability? We wondered that throughout Theros and then Born of the Gods, and now we have our answer. Just how good is Satyr Hoplite? It's pretty darn good. I'll be quietly thankful that we only have one pack with the uncommon Ordeal cycle in it, as I find the Ordeals kind of annoying on their own, but doubly so with cards like this Hoplite running around. Still, even with the reduction in enablers, Satyr Hoplite will get in for plenty of damage.
Supply-Line Cranes is a common that is easy to overlook.
Remember this guy?
Yeah, I don't blame you if you don't. His claim to fame is posing next to the basic land at the tail end of many booster packs during the draft. Now, for the same amount of mana, at the same rarity, we get these awesome Cranes. And if we want them to just be the same card as Silent Artisan, they can be, except they have possibly the best evergreen ability for Limited: flying.
Beyond that, they offer the flexibility of throwing that counter onto a would-be attacker, or perhaps just making a barely relevant creature suddenly more relevant. While not super flashy, I'd be the happy recipient of supplies from these cranes as often as they want to soar overhead.
Another addition that is similar (but I think better) to another card in this block is this one:
I like the versatility that Cloaked Siren offers a bit more than the occasional scry you get from a Chorus of the Tides. Cloaked Siren can dramatically swing a race if your opponent does the math assuming he or she won't be taking 3 extra damage in the air next turn. It also allows you to leave up bounce-spell mana for your Griptides and Retraction Helixes. If the coast ends up being clear, just flash in your Siren at the end step. In a pinch, you can even use Cloaked Siren as a removal spell, flashing it in to block a particularly annoying creature.
Nessian Game Warden is good enough just based on the Vanilla Test to play in some green decks. While this wouldn't be a particularly exciting inclusion, once you read the text on the card it gets a lot better. We are talking about Limited Magic here, where we routinely play fifteen to eighteen creatures. Your creature count will usually be in the range of 30–50% percent of your library. Even if you only have the requisite two Forests to cast the Warden, you have a puncher's chance at hitting a free creature. Once you get up into the three- and four-Forest range, you have a very good chance at hitting.
The fact that this card isn't embarrassing to run on its own just means that drawing extra cards off of it is firmly in the gravy territory.
Golden Hind is what I like to call a "two-way player." This is a term I got from being a devoted lover of basketball for most of my life. Two-way players in basketball are players who can play both defensively and offensively on the court. In basketball, every player must play on both ends of the court, but many specialize at one or the other. Golden Hind brings two distinct angles to the field: making mana as a solid ramp creature, or just beating down as a reasonable 2-powered two-drop. I value cards like this because their versatility always seems to reward you in the game.
Journey into Nyx has also given us some new tools in the removal/board-management category. And some of them are downright bonkers.
Let's look at this little number:
A slightly different version of our old friend, Oblivion Ring. R&D seems to have landed on uncommon for this type of card. (Oblivion Ring was a common in both Shards of Alara and Lorwyn.) And that's fine by me, as this effect is so staggeringly powerful in Limited. It's the flexibility that really matters here. Sometimes your opponent's bomb is a creature, or perhaps an enchantment (Dictate of Heliod?), or even an Equipment (Godsend??), and cards like Banishing Light just exile any of them. Three mana is a bargain for this effect, and they have long been easy first picks in the sets where they were printed.
But things may have finally changed here in the land of the gods. Since Theros is an "enchantment matters" block—which simply means that enchantments are a design theme—we seem to have been given an all-time-high number of ways to deal with enchantments. There are even more in Journey into Nyx, and those are just backing up the ones we already had from the previous two sets. Time will tell how far Banishing Light will slip down the pick order as a result of this, or if it will at all.
Banishing Light is kind of reprint-ish, but Magma Spray is just an actual reprint:
While perhaps better against red than in red, Magma Spray is still an efficient way to deal with small threats. Games in this format often come down to who has the biggest threat on the battlefield, but those threats have to start somewhere. Magma Spray does a very nice job of keeping the bottom floor of your opponent's next bestow battle cruiser from even forming.
Another big question for the format was if we were going to see a tapper. What I wouldn't have done for a Blinding Mage in triple-Theros draft. But it wasn't to be then, and while we do have a tapper now, it's no Blinding Mage. Four mana is a lot for a 2/2, but the ability to tap anything down for just one mana is too good to overlook. I'm not sure where this will land in the pick order, as it's expensive and a bit fragile, but the effect is a strong one and will change the board in a big way if this dog is allowed to stay around.
The power level seems higher in this set than the last, but it's not clear to me yet exactly what that means. Taking the time to evaluate the cards from the new set will put you significantly ahead of the competition for the short term, but it's not the whole picture. Sometimes it's more about synergy than raw power, and we won't really know how everything slots in until we get our hands on some packs and start doing some drafting.
I'm very ready to do just that and can't wait.
Until next week!