I haven’t been playing much constructed Magic lately, so I won’t fake my way through an analysis of M13 for competitive play. Instead, here are ten cards from the set, both new ones and reprints, that I think are particularly interesting. It might be because they’re a sleeper draft pick, a surprising reprint, a fun design or a great Commander card. Or all of the above.
1. Elvish Archdruid. I love tribal decks, and ran a pretty fun elf deck in Standard for a while. Archdruid is perhaps not as good as Imperious Perfect, but it’s still a clutch card in an elf deck. With Return to Ravnica coming, we’ll find plenty of elves in the Selesnya guild. The problem is that there weren’t any elves in Innistrad, so it might be hard to find the critical mass of good elf cards necessary for this deck to shine.
2. Slumbering Dragon. Great example of top-down design. Let’s make a card that mimics a sleeping dragon that gets really dangerous once awakened. This is terrible against decks that put out one big threat (ie most control decks), but it’s great in an aggro mirror match. This may find a place in constructed sideboards against swarm decks, who will activate your 8/8 flying dragon in 2 or 3 turns.
3. Thundermaw Hellkite. This is one aggressive dragon. The average decent Magic dragon comes in at 6 mana, which is too expensive for fast decks. This, on the other hand, is reasonable at five — while still above the curve of a fast red deck, it does give you a solid late game play, a 5/5 that clears his own path for a kill shot, and presents a serious threat that sticks around if he isn’t able to end the game right away. Clearing away spirit tokens is nice too.
4. Downpour. This one might get overlooked in M13 draft, so you can grab some late in packs. It works as a limited Fog effect, but has the added versatility of clearing a path for your own attackers. If you run two of these and an Archaeomancer, things could get very frustrating for your opponent.
5. Rancor. This card is so broken that Wizards has admitted that the casting cost is an outright error. They didn’t print a “fixed” version of it, though. They just straight up reprinted Rancor. For this one card alone, expect to see a lot of Gx aggro decks at FNM this year.
6. Thragtusk. Speaking of Wizards working really hard to make green good, this thing gives green a ton of card advantage. A 5/3 that gains you 5 life for 5 mana is a fairly solid deal, but it also replaces itself with a 3/3 when it leaves play? Note that it doesn’t just trigger when it dies, so the many blink effects in Avacyn Restored can make this thing go crazy. Play Thragtusk, then blink it with Cloudshift? I just gained ten life and 8 power worth of creatures for 6 mana.
7. Flinthoof Boar. The Kird Ape variants in M13 are pretty interesting, and this one is the most aggressive. They’re all solid limited creatures that might push you toward a certain color combo (which will be interesting once the guilds return). Flinthoof is probably good enough to make some Standard aggro lists. Living the dream: T1 forest, Birds of Paradise. T2 mountain, Boar, give it haste, swing for 3. That’s not quite as powerful as a T1 Goblin Guide, but there’s also no drawback.
8. Drowned Catacomb. This card isn’t interesting by itself, but the whole cycle of M10 dual lands has stuck around for a really long time. That means that building an allied color mana base for a two-color deck is really cheap and easy these days, because there are tons of these cards floating around. That’s awesome, but WIzards could avoid having to put unexciting cards like these in the rare slot by making decent dual lands uncommons. In any case, there’s a lot of expectation that the Ravnica shock lands (example, Overgrown Tomb) will be reprinted this year, which should bring the prices on those staples down as well.
9. Ajani, Caller of the Pride. So far, the 2 and 3-mana Planeswalkers have suffered from one serious drawback: their plus ability was basically treading water. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded accomplished very little, and Liliana of the Veil hurt both you and your opponent (although it’s an amazing ability in certain matchups and is amazing in reanimator decks). Ajani, though, does an awesome, tangible thing that’s still reasonable at 3 mana. Note the “up to” clause. That means Ajani isn’t dead in the water if you have no creatures. You can still +1 him. And the second ability will flat out win you games. Of course, the ultimate is bonkers. You’ll never get to it though.
10. Liliana of the Dark Realms. The other new M13 Planeswalker is a black control player’s dream come true. Her +1 thins the land out of your deck and ensures you hit every drop. Her ultimate is a feasible game ender if you’ve got a Consume Spirit in hand, but it’s not really the main attraction. That -3 ability will kill many of your opponent’s creatures, and occasionally let you juice up one of your own. The incremental advantage Liliana can generate is great — if only the -3 ability was a -2.
Bonus. Vampire Nighthawk and Vampire Nocturnus. Vampire Nighthawk is one of the most efficient creature cards ever printed, so bringing it back to Standard is inherently interesting. Vampire Nocturnus is kind of a silly card, but even when Zendikar vampire decks were a bit of a joke, he could pull off some unexpected wins. Consider how packed with vampires Innistrad is. Consider that there’s another vampire lord running around right now, Bloodline Keeper. Factor in Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and you have the potential for a sick, sick tribal deck.