Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alara Reborn review

It's been (more than) a month since the release of the all-gold set Alara Reborn. I have to admit that I was one of those who never realized the preview of Ardent Plea as a sign of things to come. The first ever all-multicolored set. Unlike previous "all-x" incarnations (Legions comes to mind with the all-creatures set), Alara Reborn delivers being the third set of the gold-themed Shards of Alara block. The cards were not expected to warp the metagame but it still affected the Regionals that I participated in. Cards like Anathemancer, Zealous Persecution, and Bloodbraid Elf were seen and the reprints (Meddling Mage and Terminate) showed up as well.

I wouldn't expect much out of Alara Reborn until Lorwyn-Shadowmoor rotates out. There are more multicolor goodies from the Shadowmoor block which weakens the impact of Alara Reborn. Shadowmoor-Eventide also promotes two-color goodness only and not the three-color shard division of Shards of Alara block.

In the meantime, here are 10 cards which I think will create a dent on the current Standard format. I've done this top 10 shindigs before but I forgot the mindset that I had. I think I totally missed out on Conflux out of sheer laziness.

10. Anathemancer

5-color Magic is not happy about Anathemancer, which punishes the player with the good (and expensive) nonbasic land. This ability also puts Anathemancer at 10th place because if an opponent is not playing any nonbasic land, this card will just turn out to be a useless 3 mana 2/2. Considering all those nonbasic lands at a player's disposal, this card is still a doozy and rightfully placed at number 10.

9. Lord of Extinction

This is all Tarmogoyf's fault. The 2 mana creature is now a staple even in Vintage decks due to its ability to be big in such a short time. And it's easy to splash into any deck because of the single green requirement. Fast forward to Alara Reborn and here is Lord of Extinction - a pseudo-Tarmogoyf but lacking the speed. It's compensated by its ability to count ALL the cards in all graveyards. Is it fast enough at 5 mana (and black and green)? It can be abused. But at 5 mana, there are just too many options to choose from.

8. Slave of Bolas

I've always considered taking control of opponent's creatures as a personal favorite. Slave of Bolas does just that at a higher casting cost than the most basic "Gain control of enchanted creature" spell in Control Magic (at 4 casting cost). What it provides though is the ability to kill the creature afterward which is somewhat something new.

7. Nemesis of Reason

That weird art notwithstanding, this card is a powerhouse on its own. In Limited, it's a possible game winner in less than four turns when it is played. It's longer in Constructed but considering that it only has to attack is a huge problem. What makes it more desirable than previous "incarnations" is that it possesses a huge value for toughness which makes it difficult to blast with. Thus only a limited number of cards is able to nullify it. I say, library destruction is back in business. To note, Alara Reborn also features Mind Funeral - a card which can not as low as 4 cards or an average of 12.

6. Dauntless Escort

I feel that it's inappropriate to put Dauntless Escort here. It could be lower, it could be higher. It's difficult to tell. By itself, Dauntless Escort is a sturdy 3/3 for 3 mana. There is a question on whether there are a lot of creatures that will benefit from the indestructible ability in the turn. Nevertheless, it is useful in the late game. Being indestructible is still a great ability to have. It can be a backbreaker.

5. Spellbreaker Behemoth

Now that's one big whopping creature. Red and green mages always hate the fact that blue mages can counter those big ones. This is just the answer. Wow! And there's more. 5/5 for 4 mana is not common in these parts.

4. Maelstrom Pulse

It's the return of Putrefy. Putrefy was a great card because it could deal with a creature or an artifact (that's something a black mage couldn't handle supposedly). Maelstrom Pulse takes a better step forward by taking care of all nonland permanents (yup, that's an answer to a planeswalker) while dealing with pesky tokens, which is the norm with the current standard.

3. Sphinx of the Steel Wind

Here's another incarnation of Akroma. It's still flying. It does not have haste. But those protection from "colors" are keywords since artifacts hate these colors. That essentially lessens the cards that can hurt it. Put it all together and that's a game winner. Yowza!

2. Thought Hemorrhage

I was a huge fan of Cranial Extraction and always thought that it was the best card in Champions of Kamigawa (in my standards). Fast forward to Alara Reborn and we get another Cranial Extraction like card. It is in the same converted mana cost but with the added red mana in the mix - which probably explains the dealing of 3 damage. Still worthy of being a top card, in my opinion. It might just end up in the sideboard. My rationale is that if Meddling Mage can be a card stopper, why not this card?

1. Sen Triplets

The wonders of Mindslaver bring special memories whenever I look at Sen Triplets. In itself, it's a beautiful card. Being able to play your opponent's cards every turn is even better than the absurdity of Mindslaver. Sen Triplets gives you more than just the cards that you have in your hand. The inability to play those spells isn't a problem. The lands are available from your opponent's hand. Not only do you cripple him because he can't do anything on your turn, you might just be able to get rid of his lands in his hand. Talk about abusing power.

A few honorable mentions include Bloodbraid Elf (cascade is too random but it is a cool creature in itself), Zealous Persecution (a novelty considering that it's mostly likely used only in BW Tokens), Necromancer's Covenant, and Knotvine Paladin.

Here's the worst of Alara Reborn. I have specific reasons before choosing the said cards. First of all, they have to be really bad at their rarity level. Some common cards are bad but they are common so they don't get mentioned much here (unless it's a really bad card that warrants a question as to its printing).

Without further ado, the list for the worst cards (in no particular order):

1. Soulquake
2. Demonspine Whip
3. Cloven Casting

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