Highlander Set Review by Janne Öhman

 

If a card is not mentioned in this article, I don't think it is good enough to see play and I was too lazy to

make jokes about it. Or I missed the card, feel free to mock me.

 

I will gladly read any comments you might have. I really want to ignite discussion with these reviews, so if

you feel you want to say something to me or anyone else, leave a comment. I will read those and try to

reply, if I feel I have something to add (and probably reply even when I don't).

 

Since I don't believe you can give any kind of accurate rating for magic cards with numbers or letters, the

grading system I use is as follows:

 

Format Staple - Played in multiple decks and a card you will see over and over again in a HL tournament.

Usually you need to convince yourself not to play these cards if you play those colors. Examples: Lightning

Bolt, Sensei's Divining Top, Jace, the Mind Sculptor

 

Archetype Staple - See above but in a smaller scale. Probably only goes in one deck, but does some

excellent job there. Examples: Crusade, Flame Javelin

 

Niche - A card that doesn't have a deck currently, but is playable in a vacuum. Or the deck the card goes

into just isn't good enough for a serious tournament play, but the card itself is good in that deck. I usually

grade lots of cards with the "niche" rating since there are so much you can do in HL and so many different

archetypes feel like they are just a few cards from being a real deck. Examples: Glistener Elf, Invisible

Stalker

 

Unplayable - These range from hilariously horrible cards to almost making the cut. The thing is, there are a

lot of cards in the format and it's not that easy to break through a wall of established cards. If you have a

budget deck, there are a whole lot of cards in this category that actually do you some good and are able to

win games no other cards in the situation can. Examples: Most banned cards

 

Okay, so purple color is a thing now, I guess. Also, introducing something like this means that they need to

put some really powerful cards in the set just so that there are incentives to play them. This means, that we

have some sweet cards to tinker with. Are they good enough to warrant colorless sources? This is going to

be the big question we need to solve in the upcoming months.

 

 

First of all, let me ramble a little bit about the colorless mana and the new color. This applies to all

of the new cards, so I don't have to repeat myself too much.

 

Playing lands that provide colorless have always being really costly. Most decks in HL consists of

three to four colors, so having lands that contribute to exactly zero of those colors have to be

really good for the deck to even stand a chance. Now, decks with fewer colors can make the use of

these more freely. Of course, if the reason you are playing only one or two colors are to play cards

like Blood Moon and High Tide effectively, you are probably still out of luck. Though, one or two of

the new colorless basic land might still save you.

 

Now, it is practically impossible to tell what a proper mono- or twocolored deck with colorless

cards looks like without good amount of testing. Mana is all over the place, but you do get some

sweet utility lands. Blood Moon still hurts like a ton of bricks saddled onto a Godzilla, though. I

don't think running straight up Wastes is good idea most of the time, but there are reasonable

exceptions, Blood Moon being one of the better ones.

 

I also don't think the new cards are powerful enough to make completely new decks viable, but

few decks that haven't been performing as beautifully might want to try and adapt few of them.

There certainly isn’t enough building blocks in this set to form a brand new deck, but this is fine as

colorless mana production has been around since the inception of the game. This means we have

gotten huge amounts of options already.

 

There are a lot of powerful cards and a whole bunch of reasons to try them, so there is that. They

do have potential to shape the form of several already existing decks and I am all for giving more

tools for decks that aren't excessively greedy with their mana. I guess this also promotes for

greedy manabases seeing that running these cards gives you reason enough to play all the nice

utility lands you can ever dream of.

 

So, basically: If you have a deck with one or two colors, think about giving few of them a shot.

Maybe some of them are good enough to run despite the mana being certainly a small issue

sometimes. Also, do not forget to try to adapt with the manabase. Add good utility lands that

benefit the overall strategy more freely. Decks with 3+ colors, do not bother. These aren't the

cards you are looking for.

 

Also very important thing to note: I am going to grade them with the assumption you can cast

them on curve. I mean, you really do not want them in your deck if that is not happening. This

bumps up their grade significantly, so grain of salt is a good thing to keep on hand.

 

 

I guess this is a way to get Phyrexian Dreadnought onto play. Probably not good enough if that is

your only use of this. Just a thing I wanted to mention, just in case somebody wants to do that kind

of shenanigans and is willing to experiment.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Six mana big creatures are always undoubtedly getting compared to Wurmcoil Engine. Is this good

enough? I unfortunately do not think so, but that is only because it generates no advantage if

killed immediately. If you get to untap with the guy, things get interesting. Getting to draw more

cards and pinging smaller prey is big game. All things considered, I still would not run this, I feel

like there are always a better way to get ahead with six mana.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

My absolute favorite thing to do with Eldrazi are casting them off Food Chain. This is sadly not

going to happen with the new Kozilek. Shame really, as the trigger is amazing.

 

Cheating him into the battlefield is not terribly useful, you really want to cast him to get fuel for

the activated ability as you go. Omnisciencing this bad boy does seem sweet, but it isn’t better

than Emrakul. I doubt you have too many slots for otherwise uncastable cards, so I don't quite

have a decent home for him. I guess incentive to find one is there, considering the abilities are

powerful and the body is... well, it's an Eldrazi, you get the scope. Channel is always a great option,

but do you want to have inferior Emrakul just so the other part of your combo is slightly more

consistent?

 

I am going to assume it is going to be too much of a hassle to make him work, but with the card

pool we have access to, you never know if there is a nice elegant solution somewhere.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

You killed my guy? Doesn't matter, I just make a new one.

 

This little dude is very powerful. Potentially costing you no tempo and even when it does, it still

replaces itself. Reasonable costed and sized so that you can probably trade creatures long in to the

game while getting something nice for your troubles. I especially like that lands go straight into

play. Those are the most likely hits, after all. They could've easily decided that is not the direction

this card is going and it makes Matter Reshaper quite a bit better.

 

Any kind of library manipulation is also quite good with the trigger. I wouldn’t go out of my way to

setup the absolute best card to hit, as the ability is good regardless. But if you have mana to

spare and can Enlightened Tutor for a backbreaking target there are very little reason not to.

 

Verdict: Format Staple

 

 

Five mana 5/5 trample, haste and annoying to remove? That is quite the powerhouse. The biggest

problem this card faces is that there aren't that many decks that want this. Five mana is too much

for straight-up aggro and midrange might not want a creature that solely wants to attack. But, if

you are somewhere in between (which a lot a decks that want these new colorless cards might

very well be) don’t hesitate to smash someone’s reality (and face).

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Nameless Inversion is not a very good card. So preliminary ruling isn’t in the favor of the

defendant. To be fair, that is mostly due to the fact that black has so many good removal spells

already. If you are running a mono-colored deck and do not have that much removal in that color,

you might want to consider this.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

I like this set of abilities a lot more than Vendilion Clique's. Also, the body for the mana cost is

quite a bit better than what Clique has to offer. Too bad not having evasion and flash certainly

offsets the advantage we’ve accumulated. In any case, if you can cast this, you are quite okay with

running him when you are okay playing midrangeish. This isn’t a great curvetopper in aggro and

not powerful enough in control.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Quite charming. Surprisingly good removal, coupled with hard counter and an ability that isn't

great but at least always does something means that Warping Wail is rather nice tool for midrange

decks and probably slots into some control variants. Versatility is quite nice with this one. There

are a lot of good sorceries I'd like to counter and a lot of good targets to exile. Token also ramps

you if you see an opening to drop a surprise fatty or a planeswalker down.

 

Verdict: Format staple

  

 

So this is rather difficult to grade. On the other hand you want to abuse good ETBs with Eldrazi

Displacer, but the body is quite good in offense. Luckily, the ability also allows you to just go on

the offensive as the cards do return into play tapped. Plays nice defense as well being able to blink

your own blockers and is not horribly sized beast itself either.

 

Eldrazi Displacer hits the jackpot if you have some form of blink deck as you can play very good

defense while executing your main game plan, or just turn the tables and close the game few turns

faster. Too bad it is not easy to activate the ability in Pattern-Rector, but at least it doesn’t rot in

your hand and 3/3 for three is still a decent deal. Even if you can’t activate him, there is a good

incentive to kill him as he seems to possess great potential. So the card isn’t horrible even if you

don’t immediately have access to colorless. The ability is late game stuff anyway, so casting this on

curve means you are a few turns away from activating him so there is time to draw a colorless source.

I am not entirely sure Eldrazi Displacer has a home, as blink decks haven’t been a huge powerhouse

in the past, but I will try him in Pattern for sure. Blink decks probably love him as long as the

colorless provides no huge problems. I am going to end with positive feelings. Maybe too

optimistic, but I am fine with that.

 

Verdict: Archetype Staple

 

 

Well, while this doesn’t seem good, it is still the only card that does this. Unique cards tend to

have potential, no matter how weak they first seem.

 

That being said, spending your turn three to cast this and next turn to cast the planeswalker will

often leave you knee-deep with problems. I can maybe see a stax type deck that doesn’t

immediately dismiss this card. They do tend to have the acceleration and ways to deal with

creatures in order to defend the walker. Playing this and dropping the planeswalker immediately will be

quite decent. Sadly you need a lot of mana for that. Stax-style of decks usually have few really nice

options to find with Call of the Gatewatch at any given point of the game. Not that I think it is

incredibly likely that they would even be interested, but that is the first thing that springs to my

mind. For now, I am going to pass though.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Well, if allies are a playable race right now, this is one of the best cards for that archetype.

Triggering rally and finding the exact best option for the next haymaker is just what the deck

wants. Activated ability is also rather nice, shame it gives no trample, but you probably Plague

Wind them if they are able to survive the first attack, so that is nice. Cool tricks with Karakas as

well. I don’t think this is a deck still, but cards like these make me want to try at least.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Not good enough. I can't even remember the last time I saw Condemn and that is miles better

than this. White removal has gotten so good lately that we have embarrassment of riches.

Especially when it comes to defensive spells like this.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

This is some horribly timed reinforcements. Also, not too amazing. If you had a way to trigger both

of those triggers every time, you would still need to abuse her somehow to make her good

enough. Stick with Thragtusks for now.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Interesting to say the least. You want to make use of both abilities or abuse the ETB if you want

bang for your buck. Three mana for 2 1/1’s is a full mana too much for this effect, so that alone

will not carry the day. Luckily, decks that want to abuse tokens are usually packed with

planeswalkers. Planeswalkers not only make more tokens and buff them up, but in addition to that

they allow you to recover from Wrath of Gods which would otherwise be absolutely crushing. One

extra loyalty means usually that you can use the minus ability one extra time and that is usually

the one that pumps the team, so the latter ability can be reasonably relevant. Very good card in

that deck.

 

I can also see a deck that considers Oath of Gideon just as a way to ultimate some planeswalkers

one turn faster as the trigger is helpful to protect your walkers as well as your life total. I don’t

think there are too many good planeswalkers to do that with quite yet, but who knows what the

future holds.

 

Verdict: Archetype Staple

 

 

When it comes to removal, I think you'd rather have the versatility over efficiency in HL. This is just too

narrow to kill most things and being one mana is not insane as with two mana you will have loads of better

options.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Oh, look a Skullclamp. Hah, made you look.

 

While it is not anything too amazing, I’ve pondered the potential of equipment matters version of

W/X aggro. This theme seems to pop up in just about every other block so there are some decent

cards to try and we have a good chance to get more of them eventually. We probably need way

better equipment than what we currently have, or serious benefits for running some weaker ones.

This is probably good enough in that deck specifically… if that is yet a deck. I assume it is not, but

getting there slowly as there is continued support for it, so I am feeling generous with my grade.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

This sadly needs allies and I don’t think neither ally deck nor the equipment aggro wants to run

this many equipments/allies to make the ability good. Though, it is a one drop ally, so might be

useful in that deck solely because of that. Picking up equipment randomly is a slight bonus in that

scenario as well. I just don’t think that is reasonable at all, though.

 

Verdict: Unplayble

  

 

Reasonable all around. Two evasive power with flash is a pretty decent deal for blue. If you can

activate the ability it even might make it so that your opponent doesn’t go for the kill. Also messes

up topdeck tutors and the like so there are some number of tricks he possesses. Blue aggro pops

up sometimes in HL right now and Dimensional Infiltrator is a solid addition for those decks. It is

not something that every blue aggro adapts, though.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Not bad stats and the ability isn’t super expensive. Probably has no home, but I feel like Azure

Mage is almost playable. This does not have relevant power or creature types, like Azure Mage,

but it holds off 1/1’s and is cheap as crisps. So maybe there is potential? I am not going proclaim

that, hence the question mark and rating.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

One mana cantrip that allows something massive to slip by. Kiln Fiend especially loves this card. I

wish we would have a few more good infect creatures so that cards like these would get the

proper recognition. Maybe some supplementary product provides a few in the future? Here is

hoping. Also, sometimes you just want a one mana cantrip for whatever reason.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

There are a lot of three mana counters to choose from. I guess this is going in if your metagame

starts picking up Pyroblasts and Guttural Responses. If that happens there is sure to be lot of

bannings abound, so not too likely things ever escalate to that point.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Three mana instant speed draw two is above the curve… slightly. If you need to put extra work into it, I

don’t think it is spectacular enough to be worth it. On the other hand, if you are okay drawing two

with four mana, then might I suggest Deep Analysis or Foresee? Also I hear Fact or Fiction is

playable card.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

This is quite a big tempo play. You do need to surge it for it to be worth the effort, but hard cast is

fine plan B. Too bad this returns all nonlands as decks that want to play these cards are usually

running artifact acceleration and/or Oblivion Rings. I mean it is possible to get the kicker enabled

simply by casting a mana diamond, which makes it sort of like a one mana spell towards surge.

This gives an archetype like accelerated blue good number of synergies. Unfortunately, the tempo

gain from Crush of Tentacles are mitigated quite effectively if you bounce your own O-Rings and

free pretty much anything. A single 8/8 token is also rather easy to dispatch, so that is not

immensely game breaking.

 

The good news is that sometimes they just don't have anything to kill Paul with. 8/8 dude will hold

off a lot of creatures and if you have removal to follow… well, that is going to spell doom to your

opponent quickly.

 

The real problem is being able to use the surge cost. You might need keep not playing one mana

cantrips until it is time to release the kraken and if you unloaded everything and then top deck this

you are not super happy. Still, even then you get to bounce everything and maybe buy a turn so it

is far from the worst card to draw at that point.

 

I don’t think normal UWx control should run this card, but I don’t think it is horribly wrong either

(if any?). I do think there are few decks that this slips into really well, like anything with decent

amount of acceleration, if you have loads of mana you can drop the accelerants back into play as

well, so the good old Upheaval trick still works wonders. I do like this one somewhat.

 

Verdict: Archetype Staple

 

 

I hate Pongify with a passion and this is somehow even worse. I guess you can do a sick combat trick

with this since the creature is still attacking or blocking unlike when it is Rapid Hybridizationed.

Too bad that if you have a creature that takes down 3/3’s, you probably are in fine shape anyway

and should be doing something that is not a mediocre combat trick.

 

I also can see that this can sometimes save your dude, but that is only good if this does something

good for plan A and Gift of Tusks just doesn’t. Also it opens you up for some nasty 2 for 1’s. You

don’t want to be on the receiving end of that. This is one gift that can be returned after Christmas

guilt free.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

With the surge cost this is rather efficient. Two mana to freeze a guy and to draw a card is pretty

good to buy some time, even better on the offensive. Paying the full price is not good, but also not

a catastrophe either. Probably not good enough just as a defensive spell, but if you are aggroing

the tempo gain is quite powerful. I wouldn’t hate this in combo if you need a way to just delay a

big idiot for a couple of turns, but I am unsure if that is necessary. Repeal and such are quite decent

in their own right so I am unsure if you need this or not, but it is the only one that gains

reasonable tempo while cantripping with just two mana.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Three mana for 3/3 flyer is good, but it is not that easy to pull off. Also, playing something like a

two mana spell, then this is not insanely amazing. Probably not worth the effort no matter how

synergistic your deck is.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

I've played Attunement in reanimator because I can grab that with Zur the Enchanter. This is

usually better in that scenario, so I already have a home for this. Beyond that, the scry ability is

rather minor. Untapping with planeswalker is massive and scry 1, while helpful, isn't the reason to

get excited when getting a second serving from a walker. Getting scry 2 or better is basically

irrelevant, the game is yours to lose at that point.

 

The reason why Oath of Jace is interesting is the fact that this is an ETB - ability. Meaning that this

is much easier to abuse than if this were a spell that dutifully hits the graveyard. You can bounce

this, find this one with Zur, blink it... etc. It also does other minor stuff like triggering Argothian

Enchantress, count towards your devotion and so forth. Straight up powerlevel is not good enough

as we have plethora of better options (Compulsive Research and Thirst for Knowledge), but with

enough synergy this can break through.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Last Word isn’t exactly playable in HL. In order this to be a relevant upgrade, you need more mana

than the UU for your opponent's turn and need another castable card to boot. If you manage that,

you have a… hard counter. Hardly something to congratulate yourself about.

 

On your own turn this is not a horrible one to protect one of your own spells. It is always a two

mana counter in that scenario after all. Too bad that the “can't be countered” means nothing then

as your opponent can just go and counter the original spell again, if they have the means to do so.

The only deck I can see this in something like a High Tide that just wants more cards to protect

themselves on their own turn. Even then, I don’t really think it is needed, but at the very least that

makes sense. Whereas playing this anywhere else seems like strictly worse than other options.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Well, as long as the creature is attacking, this is removal. Not very good removal, but it qualifies.

Not that it matters too much as cards like Time Ebb haven’t exactly been format all-stars recently.

I feel this is a decent upgrade over the aforementioned on-top-of-the-deck removal formula as it is

an instant and will bounce stuff if your mana seems to be going to waste otherwise. I still see no

real reason to actually play this card, but if you are building on a budget or something this feels

like it is not that far off being relevant in the format.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

Seeker of the Way has been underwhelming in my testing. This being rather significant downgrade

I see no reason to play this card… unless your merfolk deck really needs another two drop (they

absolutely don’t).

 

Verdict: Unplayable

  

 

Gatekeeper of Malakir might be more mana efficient, but it also is quite difficult to cast. If you can

reasonably produce the one colorless, this isn’t too bad. Having good evasion and being unable to

block means that this is strictly for aggro decks. It’s quite decent in those decks though. Perfectly

fine as a two mana flyer as well.

 

Verdict: Archetype Staple

 

 

Drown in Sorrow competes for this slot quite heavily. Exiling stuff is really nice, killing Kitchen Finks

for good and preventing graveyard shenanigans. Scry 1 on the other hand is almost like half of a

card, so if you need exactly one this type of card, you have to figure out your local metagame. I

don’t think -2/-2 is really great in HL most of the time, but like stated, there are decks against

which this kills practically everything, so it is not strictly unplayable.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Four mana 6/6 flyer isn’t a good reward enough for this effect. You would be needing to do

something broken with the ability itself and I don’t think that is viable or worth the effort. I mean,

Paradigm Shift has been legal for nearly two decades and there hasn’t been significant advances

been done with it though.

 

In the event of that suddenly being really good, it is really nice to have a reasonable costed

alternative. By that I mean, something that is much cheaper than Morality Shift.

In any case, I don’t think this matters, but it is nigh unique effect and those always deserve a

mention. Also, Paradigm Shift feels like a card that get broken in half when they print the one card

that really combos with it.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

In theory, this can hit a ton, but the deck that can utilize this, as well as cast Kozilek’s Shrieker

reasonably are few and far between. The power is there, so relatively aggressive decks that have

access to colorless want to try this. Very narrow though as I don’t think activating this just once

every turn makes Kozilek’s Shrieker quite good enough. You really want to just fireball them every

turn if you have this in your deck.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

Another decent one mana aggressive black creature. The drawback is quite heavy though and stats

and creature types are lacking, so tread carefully. There is a chance you don't want this even

if it kind of seems like the most natural fit.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

 

I wish this was cheaper and had a smaller body. Four mana for this effect is quite a lot and the

mediocre body is not too important. As it stands, we are either overpaying to get a bunch of tokens

or we are getting expensive creature that is not good enough without very good synergies. I don’t

like either of those options.

 

This does get infinite mana if you have a sacrifice loop going, but I feel like there are better ways

to do that and this one is only for colorless. Still, if your engine is missing exactly that, he is your

guy.

 

Verdict: Unplayable

 

 

The body is okay, lifelink really being the saving grace. First ability is pretty good, getting some extra value

from your removal is undoubtedly good. Second ability is naturally rather synergistic with the first one and

it can be somewhat synergistic with the deck itself. Eating zombies is sometimes pretty valuable on its own

and the +2/+2 bonus starts to add up quite fast with the lifelink.

 

Even though Kalitas kind of plays like a battlecruiser, he doesn’t have to be all eggs in the same basket type

of guy. Too bad that most of his power comes from being exactly that. 2/2 zombies are pretty easily

outclassed by most decks and piling them on top of Kalitas will make opposing removal devastating. I

unfortunately do not like him too much. I would play him if you have those zombie synergies from other

cards as well, but him alone I do not respect quite enough to play. Still, I do not see him being completely

unplayable.

 

Verdict: Niche

 

Janne Öhman

 

Part II coming soon!