The Pros and Khans of Tarkir

I have the honor of playing on the closed MTGO Beta, meaning that I get to try new client versions and get access to new card sets in order to make sure all the interactions function properly before they get released to the general public. So I thought I’d write up a little bit about my impressions of the new set and maybe what the new standard environment will look like.

What the beta testers get to do is no different from what anyone at home can do right now, simply just take a bunch of sharpees and mock up the new cards. However, the nice thing about the beta environment is that if I and my friends run out of ideas, there’s a good chance that I might encounter something novel and new that someone else has come up with. It’s really open season with the new standard and I’ve seen lots of cool new stuff.

Deck building is an art on its own so it’s entirely possible that my experiences so far may not be indicative of what the larger competitive landscape will look like, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s still good things to be learned.

For starters:

Ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead: No more Sphinx’s Revelation, Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, Jace, Architect of Thought, Master of Waves, Thassa, or Grey Merchant! Hooray! Now I know those last three cards are still going to be in standard but they really are currently homeless. I sat down with a friend and we tried to recreate a mono-blue deck and we stopped once we realized we were seriously considering playing four copies of Welkin Tern.

Mono black aggro has 12 one-drops including; Gnarled Scarhide, Tormented Hero, and Bloodsoaked Champion (more on that card in a second). Not only that but it also has some great two and three mana creatures. Plus black has the best removal in the game at the moment so be fully prepared for mono-black aggro to be a real thing.
Temur Ascendancy

Rabble red or heroic red is still really good: I don’t know which red aggro deck will end up being better, but it’s still a thing. Heroic red got a really great addition with Monestary Swiftspear.

All the charms are excellent: This set is very reminiscent of Shards of Alara, but unlike SOA whose charms were marginally good, these charms are very, very good. I’ve yet to draw one and not had it be extremely useful. I really have to hand it to the Wizards design team, they’ve done a smashing job with them. If are running a deck with three wedge colors then you better have a very good reason not to be playing with 4.

Mana is a nightmare: Remember back in the day with Theros and Ravnica blocks how you could just grab all the dual lands you wanted and just slammed them into your deck and that was your mana base? Well now mana bases are hellish. If you want to run three colors (and Wizards has given you every reason to want that) then you are going to have to spend a lot of time working on your mana bases. Essentially it comes down to whether you want to play your deck on curve or whether you want to have a life total. If you’re planning on being a fast deck but need multiple colors then plan on starting your life total out around 10 or so. If you look at some of the deck lists that pro players are throwing out there you can see that they’re often running 12 painlands. I just saw a Mardu (deal with it) decklist from Craig Wescoe in which he had 4 Mana Confluence, 4 Cave of Koilos, and 4 Battlefield Forge. That means statistically half the time you tap mana you’re dealing yourself 1 damage.
Sultai - Sidisi

Flyers are at their peak: The format is crammed with 3 mana 4/4’s and 4 mana 5/5’s so flying creatures are really where it’s at right now. Especially now that Desecration Demon is gone you can safely play Mantis Rider and not worry about your opponent trumping it with a creature twice its size next turn.

A few words about specific cards:

Bloodsoaked Champion: This card is really, really good. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as Gravecrawler, but it is, if not better.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor: Not as good as Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. But I initially misread his +1 ability, and I’ll be a lot of other people did too. At first I saw “Creatures you control get +1/+0 and lifelink until end of turn.” But what it says is “Creatures you control get +1/+0 and Lifelink until your next turn.” The difference being that your creatures still get +1/+0 and lifelink on your opponent’s turn, which really does make a difference.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker: A solidly designed planeswalker. Though he competes with Stormbreath Dragon, I think it should be pretty clear which kind of deck would want which one.

Butcher of the Horde: This is honestly my favorite card in the new set. Pair him up with Bloodsoaked Champion and you can do some dirty things. He really wants to be in a deck with lots of tokens, Raise the Alarm, Brimaz, and Rabblemaster. I like this card a lot because of just how versatile he is, for instance: I have the Champion on board, before declaring attacks I sac Champion to give Butcher vigilance, then after declaring attacks pay 2 mana to return Champion then sac again to give it lifelink, then if the mana is available return Champion once more to be used next turn.
Mardu - Zurgo

Savage Knuckleblade: Everyone loves ‘Knuckles’, but… sadly he’s yet to find a home. His problem is that pesky blue mana symbol in his cost. The kind of deck that wants to play him wants to play aggressive creatures and put lots of pressure on. So you want to put him in a R/G aggressive shell, but what is the blue going to do for you? The Temur charm is probably the weakest of the five, so that’s no help and Kiora doesn’t seem like a great 4-drop for an aggressive deck. All the blue really does is strain your mana base. It’s sad but true.

Lastly, the new Clan names are fine, you will get used to them. Stop complaining.