The entire set for Born of the Gods has been spoiled: Here’s the full image gallery.
From a competitive Spike/monetary perspective, I’m not impressed with the set as a whole. We have our obvious chase mythics in Brimaz, Kiora, and Xenagos, but to me, the vast majority of the set seems to have fallen short. Maybe I’m just looking at it from the wrong perspective, I haven’t tried to be creative/inventive with magic in years, and I’m a little sad about that. So today, I’m going to try to take a different look at the set and see what cards pop out that we could build on, and try to find bad cards that might just turn out to be hidden gems.
White/Blue Heroic Auras:
Theros introduced us to enchantment creatures (unless you count Lucid Liminid from Future Sight) and the heroic mechanic, both of which combined for powerful effect in limited, and I expect Born of the Gods will hold up that tradition. Heroic hasn’t transfer to constructed formats very well, but I think that’s due to not having a critical mass of playable cards; Born of the Gods may solve this problem and allow players to branch out more with their favorite limited mechanics. Here’s a handful of cards that might allow us to do just that.
First there’s Eidolon of Countless Battles, with awesome art maybe he can bring this deck concept to the main stream. What sets him apart from the rest of his bestowing brethren is how close his bestow cost and his normal casting cost are, giving him sudo-haste for only an extra colorless. He also pairs well with the premiere aggro aura: Ethereal Armor, giving an aura deck a second growing enchantment.
Second we have Hero of Iroas, who smashes giants and cyclops all morning then goes out for a cup of tea around noon. He’s well costed, and has the standard heroic ability, but what makes him shine is the ability to reduce the cost of aura spells. While this doesn’t really help Ethereal Armor directly, it does help all its friends. Suddenly all bestow costs are cheaper (Eidolon of Countless Battles actually costs the same to cast or bestow). Did I mention that his ability stacks? And that he isn’t legendary? For each Hero of Iroas you have in play, your bestow costs (or just normal enchantments) get cheaper and cheaper.
One of the main issues with playing an aura’s deck is that we lose card advantage to removal spells. Aura decks that have performed well in the past used hexproof creatures to enchant on to, so the opponent’s couldn’t Doom Blade their 15/16 trample, first strike, lifelink, flying Squire, and force you to lose the four Auras and your unassuming 1/2. Sadly, we don’t currently have hexproof guys as strong as Geist of Saint Traft anymore in standard (our best one can’t even attack), so we’ll have to take a different route to generate card advantage: How about just drawing cards? Even hexproof decks can get blown out by mass removal, but they can’t Supreme Verdict our hand away.
Ephara, God of the Polis gives us quite a bit to work with for blue/white enchantments. First, she fits perfectly with the colors, and since we’re playing mostly enchantments and creatures (both of which are permanents) she can manifest into a creature rather quickly. She also counts as an enchantment herself when Ethereal Armor checks how big its pump effect is, and while it’s not hexproof, indestructible does keep her from dying to supreme verdict. And best of all, she can draw us cards! She checks at the beginning of each upkeep if we had a creature enter the battlefield last turn, so this works for normal creature spells, or putting creature tokens in to play (Heliod, I’m looking at you). The problem with Ephara is that she’s on the more expensive side for our usual enchantment/auras deck, which means we could play more of a midrange/control variant of enchantments with her, using cards like Heliod, Detention Sphere, Blind Obedience, and Sphere of Safety, and even playing Supreme Verdict ourselves (when our two main creatures are indestructible, why not?)
If we want a more aggressive plan, then I think we need a different card advantage engine. Here I think I found one of the hidden gems of the set, Meletis Astronomer. Presuming we enchant him, he allows us to continually chain auras, or use our Ethereal armor to grab a Spear of Heliod, so with a plethora of cheap auras, we could go from having a 1/3 on turn two, to beating down with a giant creature turn 3, and never really losing card advantage as each aura we cast on him can grab another enchantment.
The New Green:
Each color got a new “based on devotion” card: Acolyte’s Reward for white; Thassa’s Rebuff for blue; Sanguimancy for black; Thunderous Might for red; and finally Aspect of Hydra for green. Thassa’s Rebuff is currently the strongest looking in terms of a current Mono blue/Mono black meta (as the black one falls very short, which is a good thing given black’s current power level), and may even make mono blue the de facto deck to beat in the up coming standard, but I think the other three are all going to be sleeper cards.
Acolyte’s Reward would be much stronger if it could prevent damage to a player, so that an opponent’s lethal swing, actually caused their defeat. Sadly it just prevents damage that would be dealt to a creature. This may still be enough against big green creatures that don’t have trample (Arbor Colossus, Polukranos, and Mistcutter Hydra come to mind), but if you’re playing a red burn deck against a white creature deck, make sure to play around the Acolyte’s Rewards that they bring in out of the sideboard. Thunderous Might “might” just end up being the second copy of Fanatic of Mogis the deck was looking for in terms of win conditions, however it’s weaker to spot removal than the fanatic is. That being said, anyone who’s played with cards like Blanchwood Armor and Cranial Plating, know how powerful this effect is. Don’t be too surprised to see a red based aura’s deck with Thunderous Might and Madcap Skills at your next FNM.
The card I really want to talk about is Aspect of Hydra. Mono Black and Mono Blue are the current top 2 decks, but neither of them can fully utilize Nykthos nearly as abusively as the “Mono” Green (usually splashing red or blue) decks can. Burning-Tree Emissary and Voyaging Satyr create such impressive mana amounts very quickly with Nykthos, and running cards like Polukranos and Mistcutter Hydra allow the deck to use all of the excess mana they generate, with Garruk and Domri to keep filling up their hands. The problem the deck usually has (besides Supreme Verdict if it hasn’t stuck a planeswalker) is its bomb creatures dying, and the deck just being left with a field of mana dorks and nothing to do with the 20+ mana it can generate in a turn. Aspect of Hydra turns any mana dork into a killer for a single green. Giant Growth is always just on the edge of constructed playable, and Aspect of Hydra can double or even triple the buff that giant growth gives for the same amount of mana. It also plays exceptionally well with two other cards found in Born of the Gods: Xenagos, God of Revels (pump a guy with Aspect of Hydra during your first main phase, then use Xenagos to double it’s already buffed stats and give it haste, just beware of spot removal like Doom Blade), and Springleaf Drum, which allows any creature you control to tap (even if the creature is summoning sick) for that one green you need to cast Aspect of Hydra.
If you’re not into the splash red side of the green deck, the blue splash (usually utilizing Prophet of Kruphix and/or Master Biomancer) also picked up a handful of new cards. Kiora’s Follower is a strictly better version of voyaging satyr; Kiora herself allows you to ramp and draw while giving some needed protection by bubbling their largest threat (also who doesn’t enjoy unleashing a 9/9 Kraken every turn?); Courser of Kruphix also plays very well with Kiora, coming down a turn sooner to set up a 4 toughness wall that also helps you find your land cards when you use Kiora to Explore (the life gain isn’t bad either).
While pumping creatures isn’t usually my thing (I’m commonly the guy on the other side of the table grinning and casting doom blade), there are two other pump spells in Born of the Gods worth consideration. The first is Hunter’s Prowess. Not well-known, but Green is actually the 2nd best color at drawing cards (obviously blue is the first by a large margin, but most people think black is the 2nd, where it’s actually the 3rd), and the reason for this is, that green gets card draw based off of creatures. Hunter’s Prowess follows this tradition (unlike Harmonize… I miss “Harmonize“), but adds some lethality to it. This is a great card for creature mirror matches, where players aren’t throwing doom blades and Hero’s Downfalls every which way, and if resolved, will likely end up winning you the game. The other pump spell is Mischief and Mayhem, seemingly a limited bomb, but cards that add +8 power (that’s 2/5ths of someone’s life total alone) to a board shouldn’t be overlooked.
In the unforgettable words of Admiral Ackbar: “Who ate my sandwich!?”
Ok, but seriously, Tribute is a “Trap” mechanic (sometimes referenced as a “Punisher” mechanic, where you get punished for playing it). It looks like you get something great out of a deal: Yes I’d take a 12/12 for 6 mana, or a 6/6 that gets to fight when it hits the battlefield. The real issue is, you don’t get what you want. Your opponent gets what they want, when you cast Nessian Wilds Ravager, your opponent gets to decide if they want you to have a 12/12 that they can chump block indefinitely (or doom blade), or a 6/6 that can fight their empty field (and then doom blade).
Can punisher cards be good: Yes. Can they win you the game: Also yes. However, both halves of the card have to be good at the same time for a tribute card to be good. Take Nessian Wilds Ravager again. If you can give your 12/12 trample (say using Nylea, and they don’t have a doom blade), and your opponent has a creature they can’t afford to lose (that your 6/6 would take down in a fight), then yes, Nessian Wilds Ravager will be good, and it might even win you the game! Just remember, both scenario’s have to be bad for your opponent, since they get to choose what card you just played.
As an aside, there is a place where I think tribute actually has a chance to shine: Commander. Commander is a commonly a multiplayer format designed around politics and diplomacy to keep people from wanting to take you out of the game. Tribute says you choose an opponent, and that player decides if they want to pay tribute (the +1/+1 counters) or let you have the enter the battlefield ability. Let’s say you (Cory) have Warp World in hand, but haven’t hit that magical 8 mana yet to be able to cast it. One of your opponents (Josh) has of course gotten out of hand and is threatening to combo off and win the very next turn, and everyone else at the table (or at least one other person, let’s say John) knows it. So you (Cory) cast Oracle of Bones and ask John if he wants to pay tribute, John knows shenanigans are about to go down, so he chooses not to pay tribute, and you get a free Warp World to reset the battlefield. Tribute shines when you no longer let an opponent decide what version of a card you cast, but instead let an “ally” decide.
Even in sets that aren’t “worth it” from a monetary stand point, they still can affect a format a great deal, and hopefully we see Born of the Gods shake up the current standard format in a big way. My suggestion would be to look over the whole set and see what pops out at you. Pick a god and build around it (all of them are playable, even if not quite as blatantly powerful as Xenagos), build an aura’s deck, or prove me wrong and make Tribute a playable mechanic.
I don’t know about you, but I really want to see someone make Phenax work in standard.