News : Second look at Magic Origins

Second look at Magic Origins

By Neil T Stacey

Last week I talked about the flippy planeswalkers along with my top ten cards from Magic Origins. With most core sets it would have been a stretch to have even that much to talk about, but with Origins, there is still plenty that needs to be discussed. Origins is an exceedingly deep set. Not only does it have a number of good cards, it’s full of interesting designs. One consequence of this is that it is also a difficult set to evaluate. Another is that some really cool cards didn’t make it onto my top ten list.

Here I’m going to take a look at some of the more interesting individual cards.


Day’s Undoing

I’ll start with one of the most hyped cards in the set. Timetwister is an immensely powerful effect; it always has been. Ending the turn on the spot dials it back a long way; you don’t get to capitalize right away, and you give your opponent the first opportunity to play out a full hand of cards. Timetwister was a symmetrical effect and as such still required a bit of work to give you an advantage. Day’s Undoing isn’t symmetrical. Instead, it explicitly gives your opponent an advantage,

Consequently, it requires a great deal more work to give you an advantage. In fact there is quite a lengthy checklist to get through before Day’s Undoing will be good for you.

You need to ensure that you end up getting far more value from drawing a fresh seven than your opponent does. Then you need to guarantee that your opponent can’t just kill you before you get to play another turn.

The first requirement just demands that you are dumping your hand much faster than your opponent is, so if you are playing the fastest deck in the format you’re okay unless you’re playing the mirror. Even then, if you’re on the play it might still work out.

The second requirement is trickier because it’s dependent on your opponent’s deck so it is often outside of your control. It’s also time-dependent. The later the game goes the more lands your opponent will have out and the more dangerous it is to play Day’s Undoing. Against Modern Burn, casting one of these any time after their second turn is suicide.

For me, the most exciting possible application for Day’s Undoing is in Modern Affinity so I went ahead and tested the deck with some proxies in. The results were interesting, to say the least. When it works out the power level is frankly absurd. The deck can frequently play Day’s Undoing on turn two after having dumped most of its hand and that’s just gross if you’re on the play.

When it doesn’t play out well, however, it is decidedly unimpressive. As a top-deck later in the game it’s pretty awful. The average power of each individual card in Affinity is comparatively low, so if your opponent the land drops in play, they often get more power out of their fresh seven cards and the extra breathing room resulting from you taking a turn off to cast this.

My conclusion from playing around 10-20 games each against regular Affinity, Burn, Abzan, and Abzan Collected Company is that Day’s Undoing drops the deck’s win percentage in all of those matchups.

Against Burn the window for casting it is just too short. Symmetrical effects are almost always bad in mirror matches. Add in the effect of the turn that you take off and the matchup against regular Affinity gets a lot worse because of Day’s Undoing. Against CoCo Abzan, casting Day’s Undoing when they have any board presence lets them untap and combo off far too often for comfort.

Against regular Abzan, Day’s Undoing is great in game one but it gets hairy post-board. The reason for this is hate cards like Stony Silence and Kataki, War’s Wage. Ordinarily, the chances of them drawing their hate cards aren’t all that high. When you factor in Day’s Undoing you are stacking the odds against yourself. The probability of them getting their hate card now includes the probability that they manage to play it before you cast Day’s Undoing and also the probability that you hand it to them with Day’s Undoing.

This is by no means a comprehensive testing gauntlet but if the card is outright bad in so many prominent matchups, I really don’t want to cut high-impact three-drops to make space for it.

There are of course plenty of other possible homes for Day’s Undoing but my feeling at this point is that it is going to be underwhelming in Modern.


Molten Vortex

The first question about Molten Vortex is whether it’s better or worse than Seismic Assault. The short answer is that if you plan to activate it more than twice then it’s probably worse. Most Seismic Assault decks aim to combo off by discarding a huge number of lands, and Molten Vortex just doesn’t work there. The main advantage to Molten Vortex is that it can get creatures off of the board in the first two turns. In Magic Christmasland you can play it on turn one and kill two creatures on turn two.

Seismic Assault is a combo card that can occasionally play a fair game. Molten Vortex isn’t much of a combo card, but it is fractionally better at playing a fair game against aggressive decks. Strict card disadvantage isn’t really what you want in a fair game, however, and that is what Molten Vortex represents. It is also a card that you never want to draw multiples of.

So that brings me to a conclusion about where to play Molten Vortex; as a one-of in decks that are prone to flooding and can get good value out of turning excess lands into Shocks.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Whirler Rogue

These are very similar cards so I’ve lumped them together here. Four mana for a 2/2 and a pair of 1/1 thopters is a reasonable rate and they both have some upside beyond that.

Chandra’s parents can generate greater long-term value against small creatures, by turning those two thopters along with any other surplus artifacts into Shocks. Against certain decks, the Nalaar couple can completely take over the board. That, combined with the ability to burn out your opponent in the late game make this the better of these two cards in most cases.

Whirler Rogue has more immediate impact, however. You can tap the two thopters the turn you cast it, to make something unblockable right away. Whirler Rogue is just as capable of pushing through the last points of damage that you need, but it can do it without a mana commitment. If there is a deck that can really leverage unblockability, this card is a legitimate consideration. A value creature that brings all sorts of evasion onto the table can be a real headache for any deck that relies on spot removal or blocking to stay alive.

Unfortunately, the printing of Languish means that we have to be sceptical of four-drops that don’t survive through it. That hurts the playability of both of these cards and I would suggest being cautious with them, particularly since they don’t match up well against Siege Rhino anyway.


Demonic Pact

It’s amusing to me that the people glossing over the “you lose the game” clause are generally the same people who pick up a planeswalker and start by reading the ultimate. I tend to evaluate cards based on their worst-case scenario and it doesn’t get much worse than “you lose the game”.

One way you can justifiably play this is if you can reliably win the game before the fourth upkeep after casting it. Unfortunately, it’s a card that is better suited to an attrition strategy than to an aggressive that closes out the game quickly. It’s also a little slow to impact the board considering that it puts you on a quick clock. It could be fine in some sort of burn heavy Black/Red deck with burn, however, where a slightly delayed Warleader’s Helix effect is perfectly acceptable. In such a deck, the two extra cards can directly assist you in closing out the game while attacking your opponent’s hand buys you time.

With Exquisite Firecraft added to the arsenal of burn spells alongside Stoke the Flames, Demonic Pact is (sort of) the third four-damage burn spell in the format, so a burn deck has a lot of the pieces it needs. However, there are more appealing colours to splash for. Atarka’s Command and Treasure Cruise spring to mind.

Regardless, I am not convinced that a burn deck will be much good, so let’s look at the other way you can play Demonic Pact. If you can get rid of it before it kills you then Demonic Pact generates ridiculous value with its first three triggers. Enchantment destruction isn’t something you always want to draw, so it’s best to look at multi-purpose removal. Banishing Light and Utter End being good examples. Sweepers like Perilous Vault or Ugin’s -2 ability also serve. Beside that, you can get more specific with Dromoka’s Command or Reclamation Sage.

There are enough options that it’s possible to build around Demonic Pact with the redundancy that you would need. However, I just don’t see a great deck for it right now and I’d feel a bit uncomfortable putting myself in a position where my opponent can outright win the game by just countering whatever I use to get rid of the Pact.

This is an excellent card but it will take a while for someone to develop a suitable deck for it.


Alhammaret’s Archive

Five-drops that don’t do anything by themselves are bad. Five-drops that don’t have an immediate impact are bad. Alhammaret’s Archive is both of those things, so it’s terrible according to our usual metrics.

However, what it does is unique and powerful so I would hesitate to dismiss it out of hand. Remember that Sphinx’s Revelation was a bulk mythic for a while. Alhammaret’s Archive isn’t the powerhouse that Revelation was. You have to jump through some hoops to get value from it and you have to tap out for it, which is a problem for the kind of deck interested in this effect.

I am reasonably confident in my assessment of this as unplayable. You obviously want this in a deck with card draw and cantrips, but the best card draw and cantrip effects in the format do nothing with Alhammaret’s Archive. Dig Through Time doesn’t have the words “draw a card” anywhere on it. Neither does Anticipate.

It’s rarely correct to play inferior cards just to enable a card that is questionable as is, so Alhammaret’s Archive will most likely be relegated to casual play. However, it goes nuts with loot effects. Jeskai Ascendancy is one example and the new Jace is another. With Jace you can cast Archive on curve and get an extra card on the same turn. A more exotic way to go is Humble Defector. Four cards is a lot.

Speaking of four cards, Magmatic Insight with Alhammaret’s Archive is kind of ridiculous. Gaining extra life can also recover some of the ground you lose by casting a five-mana brick so any deck looking to leverage Archive should try to include some incidental life-gain.

Verdict: doubtful playability but does cool stuff. Great casual card.


Magmatic Insight

One-mana cantrips with card-filtering are almost solely responsible for the idea that Blue is the strongest colour in Magic. When another colour gets that effect, it’s worth taking notice.

Of course, this is no Brainstorm. Nor is it on the level of Preordain or Ponder. That’s hardly a condemnation; Preordain regularly had 32 copies amongst Top 8s when it was in Standard.

A big part of that was that Preordain was good in just about any situation and in just about any deck that could play it. Magmatic Insight on the other hand has some obvious flaws. The first and most obvious is that it is not the cantrip you want when you are mana screwed. If you have only one land in hand, you just can’t cast it at all so it doesn’t help you out in that situation the way Preordain and company can. If you have kept a two-land hand, then you take a big risk discarding your second land to this.

The strength of card-filtering cantrips is that they’re good if you’re mana-screwed and also if you’re mana-flooded. Magmatic Insight is only good when you’re flooded. So one thing is clear; this isn’t the red Preordain. It’s something less versatile and a little more risky.

It isn’t a card that you can automatically include in red decks, although a few copies will be fine in any deck that is prone to having a bit more mana than it needs in the mid to late game. You can also run a few copies in any deck with a very low curve.

If your deck has plenty of other one-drops, then it doesn’t matter if Magmatic Insight is stuck in your hand while your land count is low. One dead card isn’t a big deal in that situation and you’ll generally be using all your mana each turn. If the game goes your way, you’ll never need to cast it. If it doesn’t, you’ll eventually get to cast it.

One big question with this card is whether or not to sandbag a land to discard to it if you draw it later. The answer to that is probably that if you can’t use all your mana each turn, you should generally be sandbagging one land anyway. If you can use all your mana each turn, then don’t sandbag. When you’re curving out it’s not worth effectively Stone Raining yourself just on the chance of drawing this card later on.

My verdict on this card is that it’s pretty meh if you don’t have any specific synergies with it. Decks that are really focused on Treasure Cruise might be marginally interested in it; not only does this fuel delve at a good pace, it also gives you a way to filter away the excess lands that Treasure Cruise tends to draw.

There are, however, decks that can make good use of it. Anything with Life From the Loam, for instance. It’s also really powerful in decks that copy spells, such as Storm with Pyromancer’s Ascension, where it draws . On that topic, it’s quite likely exceptional in that deck anyway; all the card draw in Storm means that it generally gets excess lands in hand while it’s going off anyway, so Magmatic Insight can easily act as a one-mana Divination even before Ascension comes online.


Aerial Volley

This card is definitely narrow but it has one thing going for it – efficiency. Ridiculous efficiency. I can see some sideboard utility for this in Modern, where it is quite a beating against Affinity. Just keep in mind that Signal Pest doesn’t actually have flying, so the list of targets that you can two- for three-for one in Affinity only includes Vault Skirge, Ornithopter, Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus.

I’ll be trying it out in Abzan Company. That deck is very effective at interfering with Affinity’s ground attacks so having a cheap answer to their flyers will make a huge difference in the matchup.


Despoiler of Souls

Two mana for three power is always a reasonable rate, particularly when its low toughness is offset by graveyard recursion. It can’t block, though, which means it’s only useful in aggressive decks. This is a drawback that Wizards has been putting on creatures with recursion lately, to prevent them being used to trade off resources and play an attrition game.

This is probably a good thing in this case, design-wise, because if not for that clause this card would be teaming up with Erebos’s Titan to revive old-fashioned Devotion. As it stands, however, this card is a terrible fit for a deck that aims to exchange resources as much as possible.

If you’re interested in enabling devotion with Despoiler of Souls, you’ll need to get aggressive, perhaps with Mogis’s Marauder and friends. I don’t think that will be a competitive deck, however, so Despoiler isn’t likely to make a big splash in Standard.


Pyromancer’s Goggles

This card is really cool. It’s probably not good, but I solemnly pledge to cast Epic Experiment with it in Modern at some point.

In general, though, this card just asks way too much of you before it becomes good. Turn five is quite late in the game to be playing a synergy-dependent engine card. Sure, it can cast and duplicate a cheap burn spell right away but that hardly redeems it.


That’s it for me on Magic Origins for the time being. After two articles with word count around 3000, there’s no doubt that I have still missed out a few of the gems from this set. The set is legal this Friday, just in time for Icon, so it’s time for some brewing.