M15: Garruk, Apex Predator

“You are a Planeswalker” the introduction to Magic: the Gathering exclaims. You’re a powerful, one-in-millions mage who has the whole multiverse at your fingertips. It would make sense there are a lot more walkers like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, who use the whole worldhopping ability for little more than science and discovery. Yet, all this space doesn’t seem enough, and most Planeswalkers seem to be at each other’s throat the whole time. Sometimes, Planeswalkers team up to help each other out against particularly large threats, like the Eldrazi, or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. But who is crazy enough to team up with Garruk, Apex Predator, who’se whole raison d’etre seems to be killing all the other Planeswalkers?


Like Karn Liberated, he’s among the most expensive Planeswalkers you can hire. But once you get him into play, you do get a lot of options. It’s the second Planeswalker after Jace, the Mind Sculptor who has four abilities. Two of those are +1 abilities, even though one of them requires another Planeswalker on the table. And that ability just outright kills other planeswalkers, no questions asked. Unless those Planeswalkers are also players, but still.


Okay, technically four abilities is less than his previous incarnation, Garruk the Relentless, which had five, but it took two sides of the card and he only had 3 active at one time, max.

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The new version is more comfortable using black mana than the just transformed Garruk the Veil-Cursed. Instead of 1/1 deaththouch Wolves, he now produces 3/3 deaththouch Beasts. This (and his relatively high starting loyalty) does help protect him against attacks.

Then there is the -3 ability. When Deathtouch animals don’t cut it, because of flying creatures, he can just kill those. And due to his altruism, you gain some life. At least Garruk can really defend himself.

At -8, the ultimate ability is killer. Someone is going to get hurt, when everything going their way gets +5/+5 and trample. Maybe even some Assassin tokens from that other ‘Walker?

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Sure, is a lot of mana, but with the new Nissa to help the ramping, it’s going to be reasonably easy to get him out, and start defending you own Planeswalkers. Together they can all form a group of somewhat villainous Superfriends. Maybe even Kiora can help and show up with some Krakens, it’ll be fun!

The new Garruk is expensive, but a potentially powerful toolbox. His succes will largely depend on how often other Planeswalkers show up. Producing an endless stream of deatthouch creatures that are a relevant threat on their own, and the ability to kill creatures and planeswalkers makes him certainly worth a look.

Posted under Commander / EDH

M15: Chief Engineer

Blue, and especially the Vedalken are good at building artifacts. Just look at Grand Architect, being able to generate lots of mana so you can make artificats. Now, with Convoke in the new Core set, there is a somewhat slimmer variant. It ramps a little less in some situations, but it’s more reliable in a way; It doesn’t need blue creatures or a lot of Islands to work.

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The way Chief Engineer works has a lot of moving parts, but it boils down to the fact that you can tap a creature to make an artifact cheaper. Ornithopter as a free way to help cast your Pentavus or Myr Battlesphere? That sounds pretty good. Then, having the tokens to tap for even bigger stuff? Great!

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He is heralded as the new Affinity by some, even if he’s more balanced. The problem with Chief Engineer may be that it doesn’t work that well in multiples. A second Engineer doesn’t do much more, except than tap for Convoke. For a Chief Engineer, he surely doesn’t make Vedalken Engineer">Vedalken Engineer much more efficient, although the pseudo-haste does help a little.

It’s an interesting card in several formats though. It’s cool for Commander, along Artifact-centric commanders like Sydri, Galvanic Genius, Muzzio, Visionary Architect, Memnarch or Sharuum the Hegemon. Not everything in Commander can be a Master Transmuter, so having some redundancy is nice.


The Chief Engineer can even be an interesting addition to a Cube, for an Artifact subtheme. It certainly makes picking up a Sentinal Dispatch more interesting, turning the little defenders into additional ramp. And in M15 drafts it makes it easier to play artifacts like Soul of Phyrexia, if you’re really lucky to somehow pull both.

The return of Affinity it’s probably not. A more splashable, more easy to curve Grand Architect, well yeah. It’s only as good as the artifacts it can help bring out, but at least it’s ramp in a color that doesn’t get much of it.

Posted under Spoilers

M15 challenge: Garruk the Slayer

Theros block has an interesting sideproduct with the Challenge decks. Face the Hydra, Battle the Horde and Defeat a God are the three decks you could battle, and the best thing is that they ran on artificial intelligence, so you could play them even when you’re alone.


It also opens the way to play a couple of games of Magic cooperatively, which is a nice change of pace. Being A.I. run, they wheren’t without problems though. The challenge deck completely relied on luck, because making a cardboard A.I. makes it difficult to be skilled. The decks had some very specific weaknesses. Furthermore, the decks seemed to be designed for being played against with only one player, and sometimes they don’t scale really well when more players team up to face the challenge.

The worst part is that Battle the Horde sometimes inexplicably blew up it’s own creatures, making a victory over the Horde not really feel earned. It’s easy to fix by replacing the card that does that with Felhide Petrifier, but it’s still weird.


M2015 finds a new way to introduce a challenge, but this time it’s not A.I. driven, or even a deck. It’s just one oversized Planeswalker card representing Garruk, on the hunt for other Planeswalkers. The player acting as Garruk only gets that card and has to win through the four abilities. Let’s take a look at that card:


• 0: Put a 2/2 green Wolf creature token onto the battlefield.

The first ability gives Garruk a Wolf token. This is impressive early on and allows Garruk to put on some pressure. Garruk really depends on these wolves, so getting out some in the early phase of the game is important. It’s a shame it really doesn’t scale when facing multiple opponents though. It would have been cool to get a wolf for each opponent, so you can use the challenge card in a multiplayer game.

• +4: Target Wolf creature gets +1/+0  and deathtouch until end of turn.

The second ability helps growing some life/loyalty points, but it only works when Garruk has wolves. The deathtouch is nice, getting some juice out of a wolf, even when they start to get outclassed later on. But is that enough? Just one wolf gets a bonus, and you don’t get to do anything else that turn. Why not a blanked buff for all your wolves? Threatening one extra damage isn’t worth it, when you can simply make another wolf to threaten for 2 damage. It also means that once you’re at 10 life, you really need to keep a wolf for a full turn to start healing up.

• -10: Destroy target creature. Put loyalty counters on Garruk the Slayer equal to that creature’s toughness.

This is a very interesting ability. I hope seeing this on a regular Planeswalker. While you have at least half your lifetotal you can start killing things, and the bigger they are, the less the total cost. I guess you’ll seldom recover the total of 10 life, or even get back on the investment, but things aren’t killing you any more, so that’s good. Since Planeswalkers only have one ability per turn, the opportunity cost is very high though. He often spends an entire turn actually getting into a worse position.

• -25: Destroy all creatures Garruk the Slayer doesn’t control.

This is a final haymaker, that can help you get through all those tiny wolves. 25 loyalty is a lot though; It means you have to use the +4 at least twice, and hope you didn’t get damaged in the meantime. Or maybe have eaten a couple of Eldrazi – which are probably indestructible so why bother?

Garruk the Slayer takes 5 turns to kill, when going completely unchallenged. Even a lone early flyer is going to give hime lots of problems though. The choice between killing it or building up an offense will be difficult. It seems easy to back Garruk in a corner, and he’ll have to spend multiple turns to get out of that situation. A Garruk without wolves, an less than 10 life isn’t really going anywhere. It would have been cool if Garruk had a way to get out of that situation and turn the tables on his opponent. But I don’t see  that happening with these abilities.


While the Challenge decks where flawed, it would have been cool to see Garruk run itself, and has his own deck, instead of being just one (oversized) card. From my experience with Planechase and Archenemy, oversized cards have an additional problem: logistics. A normal deck can be carried in a deckbox, which often can fit in a pocket, making it easilly portable. The larger cards usually don’t fit in most deckboxes, so I have the tendency to leave cards for formats that use oversized cards at home. It’s nice Wizards is looking outside the box to change things up and have new (casual) formats, and it does offer a nice distraction, but they haven’t quite succeeded yet.  But as far as a free extra goes, it’s nice to see something different.

Posted under Commander / EDH

M15: Nissa, Worldwaker

Even though she is regarded as a rather weak planeswalker, I always liked Nissa Revane. It may be because I really like tribal decks, and Nissa is a tribal-centric planeswalker. Sure, her starting loyalty of 2 is very low for a cost, and it takes her a long time to ultimate, but she is a fun addition to an elf deck.

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And even if she had an important role in the Elrazi storyline, she wasn’t heard from in quite a while. In M2015 she makes a return, and appearantly she left the Elves behind, and choose to go with Elementals instead. And somehow she has become very reminiscent of another Planeswalker, who since has taken the role of being the Big Bad of the set.


Yes, she is a lot more like the original  green Planeswalker from the ‘Lorwyn Five,’ Garruk Wildspeaker. She does cost a little more to play, but in return one of her +1 abilities untaps twice the lands that Garruk did. Well, she only does it to Forests, so there is no Gaea’s Cradle madness (or at least, it’s more difficult to pull off) but in mono-green she effectively costs 1.

Unlike Garruk, the ability to make creatures is a +1 ability, further strengthening her. It does make your land more easy to remove though, but at least you get a 4/4 trampler out of the deal, that can often attack immediatly (and sometimes gets pseudo-vigilance with Arbor Elf.) It’s not the best ability, but I guess it’s nice to have the option when you’re not using the untap ability to ramp into, say, Avenger of Zendikar.


Because, just look at that ultimate! Not only does it make an entire army of 4/4 tramplers, it does trigger a massive amount of Landfall abilities. It’s not always an immediate ‘I win’ effect, but even if your army get removed by a mass removal card like Wrath of God, you still are less likely to draw lands for the rest of the game, and use the existing mana base to draw spell after spell.

All in all, it’s nice to see Nissa return, even though she isn’t as tribal-centric as she used to be. Getting all Elves was awesome as well, but since she takes Garruk’s spot in the set as the green Walker, it’s understandable that she is a little more open-ended, while still mainting some of that Elf identity.

Posted under Spoilers

M15: Aggressive Mining

I haven’t ever played Minecraft, even though I appreciate that it’s basically a digital, infinite Lego set with exploding zombies. I just didn’t get around to delve into it, I guess. What is fun, is that Wizards decided to contact a few third parties to make some cards, and most of those cards reference the designer in some way. And so, Markus Perssons card references Minecraft. Heavilly. It has mining in the name, and the art is a riff off the block-based graphics in that game. But what does it do?


First of all, it stops you from playing lands. It’s interesting to see that most of these “Designed by” cards feature drawbacks. There is a tendency for designers to choose drawbacks, to create “tension” and make cards feel more interesting. Wizards learned to step away from using drawbacks that much, going more towards a “feelgood” type of cards, that mostly do things you want without jumping through too many hoops, but in M15 they allowed some cards to get a little crazy and sometimes do bad things. It creates a more ‘gamey’ feel for some of these cards, but then again they’re made explicitly by video game designers, so it makes sense somehow. How these design choices hold up in the larger game? Time will tell.

It’s still possible to get lands on the table; Terrain Generator still works, as do a myriad of other land-searching spells. But working around the drawback isn’t the point of Aggressive Mining.

The second part allows you to sacrifice land to draw cards. In a duel game, that means you almost get an entire new hand of 7 cards (Including your standard draw) at the cost of some lands. That’s pretty good draw, even though it’ll have lasting repercussions for your mana base going forward in the game. So, ideally, you’ll only want this on the table once there isn’t much game ahead of you.


Red is known for it’s ‘in your face, ‘ aggressive style. It has lots of burn spells, which are often very flexible sources of damage, but that strategy does have a downside: It tends to run out of steam. Trying to take the shortest route to victory also means you’re running out of cards quickly. This is especially sad when you’re just a few points of damage short of a victory. That’s when you decide you could use some Minecraft!

it seems to me that Aggressive Mining works best with cheap, preferably instant spells. The kind red is known for. Instant? Yes, that means you can tap a land on an opponents turn, before you sacrifice it, then draw and play that Lightning Bolt with that mana.

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So, what do you do when you get extra lands in hands in all the extra cards you draw? It’s not like you can trigger Valakut with those, now can you? Fortunately there are a couple of ways to get some extra mileage out of these now-unplayable lands. There is always the infamous Seismic Assault, but a Lightning Storm is a more surprising use of extra lands.

In Commander it might be a worthy inclusion for Borborygmos Enraged.  It’s a shame Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial are deemed too powerful for Commander, but what can you do? There should be enough options. Anything that draw you cards for free has the potential to be broken, no matter how many drawbacks are tacked on.

Posted under Spoilers

M15: Goblin Kaboomist

Oh, those wacky Goblins! You really can’t go wrong with those self-destructive little maniacs. They come in various levels of insanity, but when one is called Goblin Kaboomist, you know you’re in for a treat! Other Goblins may have more normal job descriptions, like Bazaar Trader or Goblin Diplomats. So, what does a Kaboomist do for a living? Just what it says in the tin!

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To be fair, it’s a lot of text and it took a couple of looks to see exactly what is going on there, with the text of the token inside the text of the creature. What it boils down to is that every upkeep, you drop a Land Mine, and then flip a coin to see if the goblin explodes. If the Kaboomist does explode, you at least get to keep the Land Mine token.

The coin flip only takes place while dropping the mines, not while using it. The damage, should you lose the flip is easilly negated though. All it needs is a Goblin lord, like Goblin Chieftain to survive, and keep dropping mines.


As for the Land Mines themselves, they’re worse versions of Seal of Fire, but at least they keep coming, and they are artifacts. That means you can always Shrapnel Blast them instead, feed them to Krark-Clan Shaman or use them with Goblin Welder. You can even forge those Land Mines into something else with Kuldotha Forgemaster. What would a Goblin make from a couple of mines? A Volatile Rig maybe?

It seems like M15 is getting rather humorous, especially on the ‘designed by’ cards. That’s probably a good thing. I also like how tokens are now branching out to do other things than just creatures. First, King Macar and his Gold tokens, and now Land Mines. The “flip a coin” part wasn’t really needed on the card, since it’s easy to circumvent and makes the card text a little hard to follow. Goblin Kaboomist isn’t the most elegant of cards, but it does look like a lot of fun!

Posted under Spoilers

Cube: Hidden Agendas and Duplicates

Cube generally seems to be a singleton format, without duplicates in the potential card pool. However, there are some Conspiracies with Hidden Agenda, which ask you to name a card, which are far less useful in a format where all cards are unique. Since I’m trying to make a cube and really like the conpiracies, I’d thought to give each color a card that actually comes in multiples.


And as a twist, for some I’m looking towards cards that are self-referential, increasing in value as you get more of them. Since I never made a cube before, I don’t know if it’s actually fun, but it’s an experiment worthy of investigation.

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The first I thought of was Squadron Hawk. The effect is similar to the conspiracy Secret Summoning, which allows you to find multiple copies of a creature as you play it.

There are some other conspiracies that work well with the Hawks, and give them haste, makes them cheaper to play and even give them some  +1/+1 counters. There is even the option with Secrets of Paradise to turn them into self-fetching Birds of Paradise.

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Since Cube is a pseudo-limited format, it’s even possible to include more than four in the total card pool. It would make them an aggressive card, though, especially as they have flying.

One of the other cards I was looking at is Flame Burst. Initially I’d thought to use the functionally similar Kindle,  but Pardic Firecat may be a reasonable inclusion as well.

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Red is a difficult colour to find interesting cards for, but a card that increases in value during a game could be a worthy inclusion. There is a lot of potential raw power behind it, especially when Double Stroke is involved.

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For other colours there are similar options as well. Adding Giant Growth may be a given for green, but going a similar route as red, but with Muscle Burst may be more interesting, as it can be made just as cheap with the right conspiracy, and make it a very potent combat trick.

Maybe each colour can have multiple duplicate cycles. According to several primers, there should be 50 – 60 cards in each colour, so there is certainly room, even though the Conspiracy cards themselves will probably take a lot of space. But will it be cool? I can imagine the Squadron Hawks may be too powerful, maybe. Or one of Blacks’s cycles will include Brain Pry to soften the blow. It’s going to be a multiplayer cube that plays similar to normal Conspiracy, so it could very well be that an early rush of birds will just draw all the hate. At other times, it’s cool to live the dream and get an endless stream of birds at your disposal.

Posted under Cube

Grenzo Combo Commander

So many commander ideas, so little time. The Conspiracy Five are very exciting -Except maybe Brago, King Eternal, even though he has some potential. Having played some Conspiracy, I found Parley to be very fun, so I can’t wait to make something around Selvala, Explorer Returned. Marchesa, The Black Rose will surely unleash some Grixis-flavored insanity, possibly leading some Innistrad vampires with Olivia Voldaren and zome other undead, like Grimgrin. Muzzio, Visionary Architect could create a large machine army, which is always cool.

It’s hard to pick what to make first. So, why not Grenzo, Dungeon Warden?

ur_wk22_302_cardart_grenzodungeonwardenA Grenzo deck can go many directions. Focus on large creatures? Creatures with low power, who enter the battlefield with counters, like Ignition Team? Both? Or is there a cool way to combo out and get lots of cheap creatures, possibly all of the cheap creatures? Goblins: They generally don’t need much finetuning to work, since the plan is simple – attack with all of them. That’s all the planning they need.

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That seems like an insane trick to pull off. Just stick to a Goblin theme, get those echoes out, and it shouldn’t take long to gain some critical mass and put the majority of your deck on the table, with mana to spare. Just Siege-Gang Commander alone should propel the mana production from Mana Echoes through the roof.

But what is all that mana going to be used for? It shouldn’t be hard to simply give all the Goblins haste and attack with ‘m. It doesn’t need more than a Goblin Chieftan, Goblin Warchief or  Hellraiser Goblin, right? You probably get all three of them anyway.

The only problem is finding Mana Echoes from your 99 cards. Just kidding, you have black, so there are Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Diabolic Intent… All the tutors!

So many Goblins, so little time… At least the deck practically constructs itself.

Posted under Commander / EDH