Here Be Dragons
Dragons of Tarkir is shaping up to be a nice set to spice up my Battle Boxes. It doesn't have a standout Battle Box mechanic like manifest, but there are plenty of solid cards to choose from.
Dragons. The quintessential fantasy monsters. Every human culture knows some version of these mythical flying reptiles. They are hardwired into our primal instincts. In short, we love them! It should come as no surprise then that they are the most popular creature type in the game of Magic (by a big margin, according to Mark Rosewater). It surprises me they took this long to dedicate a full set to them. Anyway, Dragons of Tarkir is finally here, and dragon lovers will not be disappointed. Although Shivan Dragon is a big reason why I was intrigued by Magic when I first started and I do keep a dragon tribal Commander deck on hand, I look at this set with mixed feelings. It's almost as if I'm experiencing dragon overload looking through all the cards to update my decks with. I'm hoping that feeling will pass, because I do think there are some great additions for my Battle Boxes in the set. As usual, I'll go through the updates for each project, listing the cards I added and the cards I removed, with a short explanation of why.
The Battle Box: Cards InI added the following cards to my Battle Box:
The card fits well with the morph/manifest theme that is already in the Box, and adding an Eternal Witness effect on top makes this card pretty sweet. In fact, having seen its performance at the Pro Tour last weekend, it might just be a little too sweet. It will go in for now, but it will be on the watchlist.
Another card that works well with other morphs. Its ability might actually be a better fit for the Commander Box, but I felt its stats would just not hold up to the average power level of the Commander Box. In the standard Battle Box, it will not have that many targets, which might actually make its power level more acceptable.
And with this we get to the first dragon we're going to add. Five mana for a 4/3 flyer is reasonable for the Battle Box, and being able to tap down one creature is a cool additional ability that does not seem overly powerful.
I'm curious to see how red's new one-shot card draw is going to work out. The effect has been on cards before, but they always seemed a bit too powerful for the Battle Box. It looks like the shaman offers a nice benefit but with enough variance that it should be OK.
Various people have predicted this card will have Modern and Legacy potential. While that may be true, it seems it would need a very focused deck built around it. A focused deck the Battle Box is not, so I think this will be a fun card. It dodges mass removal, and will grow every now and again. It may even be a bit of a trap, luring players to invest large amounts of mana into growing it, only for it to be removed by a Qasali Pridemage or Mortify.
Press the Advantage
Spells with two targets are always tricky. You might be stuck on one creature holding on to this until you can get enough value out of it. Or you might just pump two big fatties and trample all over your opponent's defenses. Not a great card, but some blowout potential.
Dragon #2. I think the ability to add 6 mana is actually very respectable, and you will be able to connect a good amount of the time. The fact that the mana is always green and red certainly lowers its power considerably, but I still think it will create some useful value.
I hope I'm not overdoing it with the morph theme, but I will add one more megamorph card. I love on-the-board counterspells for the tension they create in games where players are aware they're a possibility. It has the potential to give any player that controls a morph a reasonable counterspell bluff if they hold up two mana.
The third and final dragon I am adding to the Box. There are certainly many more interesting dragons in the set, but they either rely too much on synergy with other dragons or are just way too powerful to fit into the Box. The ability to put a cheap creature onto the battlefield from (ideally) your graveyard should be relevant enough of the time to make this a nice draw.
All in all, I added 4 megamorphs and 3 dragons. Go Go Power Rangers of Tarkir! Like I said, the morph theme might be getting a bit too heavy with all these additions. If this turns out to be the case, I will eliminate some as needed in the next Box update. I'm not too worried about the low number of (elder) dragons, I'm sure they'll turn up somewhere...
The Battle Box: Cards OutTo make room for all these changes, I took the following cards out of the Battle Box:
Breath of Malfegor
This card has a very boring play pattern. Unless your hand is really forced you will just hold on to this until one or more of your opponents are at 5 or less life, then pull the trigger on it. The fact that there is so little choice involved makes this a poor Battle Box card.
Haste is a nice ability to grant a creature, and the Box certainly has a few ways to do this. However, putting it on a 2/1 body makes the effect far too fragile. In practice this meant that the ability was hardly if ever used.
This was a little too effective for the Box. Most of the time you would have an Air Elemental the turn you play this, after which it would only get bigger. Anything bigger than a 5/5 flyer is problematic as it will just end the game too quickly.
I don't think I would include a 4/4 vanilla creature for three colored mana in the Box if one came up. Unless you can find some equipment or other growth effects (which is hard to do in the randomness of the Battle Box), that is exactly what this amounts to. There are places where small double strike creatures can really shine, but unfortunately the Battle Box is not among them.
I am gradually eliminating all cards that require heavy mana investments once they are on the battlefield. Sure, the Vindicator and Tuskcaller's ultimate abilities are very nice, but the mana investment required to get there is just too steep. In an average Box game, it just takes too long to run out of meaningful options before these become the best investment of your mana.
I really like the effect, but six mana is just too risky, as the creature you play this on might be destroyed or bounced. On top of that, the Box doesn't contain enough cards to take additional advantage of the saproling army you are creating.
The Commander Box: Commander Pool ChangesI made two changes to the Commander Pool. I took out Brion Stoutarm and Vorosh, the Hunter because they were hardly ever picked. I added Dragonlord Silumgar and Kresh the Bloodbraided. Now, obviously Kresh is not really a Dragons of Tarkir card, but the timing of his addition is no accident. Dragons of Tarkir made me decide to change my Jund commander deck from a Kresh deck to Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. This freed up Kresh to go into my Commander Box. I decided to add Dragonlord Silumgar even though his ability is sort of similar to Yasova Dragonclaw. However, I like to have a straight up control effect available in my Commander Pool, and that's not what Yasova provides.
The Commander Box: Cards InI added the following cards to my Commander Box:
Rage Reflection has always been a fun and powerful card in the Commander Box, and having the ability only affect attacking creatures for one less mana makes Berserkers' Onslaught even more interesting, because it creates more meaningful decisions. If I ever need to cut one or the other because two is just too much, I think the Onslaught has a good chance of staying.
Having another Wrath-on-a-stick is nice for the Commander Box. I think you'll have a good chance to have a 5/6 flyer on an empty battlefield. I haven't taken out another wrath effect in this update, so it may be that this is one too many. If so, this will be corrected during the next update.
I didn't want to add another seven mana Commander to the pool, but as a regular card in the Box I think it will be outstanding. It is impactful, scary and vulnerable, which makes for a nicely balanced Box card.
Ojutai is pretty efficient, and hard to get rid of. On the other hand, getting his card advantage ability to work means making him vulnerable to spot removal, which gives it a nice tension. Overall a nice card with some interesting choices.
The second and third modes really work best with instants, which make up less than 10% of the Box. The first ability is fine with any spell, and the third ability at least saves the Exemplars if you would play a wrath effect yourself. Let's see how this works out, I'm hoping it's not disappointing.
Obviously the big drawback to this card is its cost. However, by the time this is useful (you should have two permanents you're willing to pay seven mana for in your graveyard), seven mana is actually not that much at all. I think this may turn out to be surprisingly popular.
Sight of the Scalelords
Giving all your creatures +2/+2 for five mana is only an average power level. Let's hope adding vigilance to the mix will be worth the extra toughness requirement. Mind you, vigilance is a very underrated ability in multiplayer Magic.
Any permanent that gives you something every time your opponent casts a spell is going to be great in a multiplayer game. Having flying and a reasonable cost will only make this better.
An interesting effect to give to red, as straight up getting cards out of the graveyard is not normally red's cup of tea. That's actually of no consequence for the Commander Box, because I could put in Call to Mind and have the same result. It's the second part I'm interested in seeing. Having a one-sided wrath effect that you need to jump through some serious hoops for is exactly the sort of effect that could be fun in the Commander Box.
Pact of Negation
After having played with the Box quite a lot over the last few months, it was clear that it lacked some cheap countermagic. Exclusively playing expensive proactive spells is only fun up to a point. Running the risk of having your major plays countered adds a layer of strategy and tension to the game that was missing. I realize Gather Specimens is not technically a counterspell, but it plays like one and is a nice blowout against a Commander like Prossh.
Somehow I missed this in my big manifest update last time. At the same time, Rise of the Dark Realms actually does something similar, but just tends to win games on the spot too often. I try to avoid that kind of card if I can, so swapping these two out seemed like a reasonable step to take.
The Commander Box: Cards OutTo make room for all these changes, I took the following cards out of the Commander Box:
Assemble the Legion
Although these cards are fun in a vacuum, they are either too weak or too slow to really work in the Battle Box, where cards need to have an impact straight away or at least be very powerful.
Archangel of Thune
Although the Archangel has internal synergies, what really makes it shine is having a deck full of lifegain effects. Because those synergies are hard to set up in the Box, it was just generally disappointing.
Certainly a great planeswalker, but its abilities just don't match too well with the format. Drawing and discarding are powerful but generally not preferable in a Battle Box, and stealing artifacts is nice if your opponent has gotten a nice sword on the table, but unfortunately less than useful too much of the time.
This card just tended to sit in my hand unplayed in most games I drew it. It's not so much that it's difficult to keep the mana up, the fact that it only prevents damage from one source makes it feel like it's not worth playing against most attacks or damage effects. Needless to say, cards that sit in your hand for an entire game are not fun.
Although I do like the effect, this card is just way too confusing. My friends would read it three or four times, ask me about how it worked and then still didn't really get it. Stealing stuff from one opponent to block another's attack is a fun concept, but unfortunately the wording doesn't really communicate that concept very well to less experienced players.
The effect is kind of cool, but it is just not strong enough to compete with the other cards in the Box. Drawing this was always a small disappointment.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
His abilities are just not impactful enough. Making a 1/1 lifelinker is weak in an environment with huge fatties around every corner. And giving your creatures +1/+0 is also less than amazing. Of course, his ultimate can be very cool, but you should never play a planeswalker just for his ultimate ability, and the Commander Box is no exception.
Rise of the Dark Realms
As already mentioned above, this card just won the game on the spot a little too often. I don't like cards like that, which is why I don't include cards like Insurrection or Overwhelming Forces in the Box.
Demon of Wailing Agonies
These cards were actually fine for the Box, but something had to go to make room for the new stuff. I tried to keep the colors in balance as much as I could, which meant these cards ended up on the cutting room floor.
That's all the updates for now. I think Dragons of Tarkir has added some interesting cards to both boxes, I just wish the Dragons could have been just a little bit more amazing than they are. You can always find the fully updated project lists here (including any updates done after this article was published).