Two other sets have already gone by, so this article is way overdue. I didn’t do a full set analysis of TBD, but I commented on some possible constructed and limited applications for a few cards that stood out to me. I got things right, and plenty wrong, so I’ll go through each of the cards I discussed here and talk about that.
Elspeth Conquers Death
I was originally pretty excited for this card, but that excitement has waned. Now that this card has become ubiquitous, I can’t stand it anymore. However, I do think that it’s a good card for the meta that is also fair. It gives competitive decks the ability to respond to things that are indestructible. It also punishes opponents for killing whatever you have be it creatures or planeswalkers, although leaving them alive may be a punishment in and of itself. I just think it’s a little too competitive. It’s gotten to the point where players will exile each others’ ECDs. In spite of my prediction, I think that it’s actually turned out to be way more powerful than The Eldest Reborn ever was (and I called it “far inferior” to that card), and that’s mainly because of its I which has the flexibility to remove any threat at all. Getting things back from your own graveyard is usually what you want to be doing anyway. The 3 mana target CMC limitation doesn’t matter in most matchups, although there are a lot of competitive Lurrus decks running around, but hey, one card can’t be good in every situation (except Teferi, Time Raveler).
My final analysis was that the card would be too inefficient as removal and too slow for recursion. Boy was I wrong… control decks would run 10 of these if it were allowed. It was good in limited too. It turns out that 5 mana to exile basically anything is more than just reasonable… it’s really good. It doesn’t even have to do anything else to be good, but not only does it do something else, it does something very powerful, and it turns out that starting Teferi, Time Raveler at 5 loyalty instead of 4 is a bigger deal that it would appear at first too… and that’s just one example of what it’s capable of.
This also doesn’t need to be in reanimator decks like I first though… as I said, its removal effect is so powerful that it doesn’t even matter if you can’t reanimate something by its III, but that’s unlikely anyway. There actually aren’t many better turn 5 plays… Nissa, Who Shakes the World comes to mind, although that’s usually found in a different style of deck anyway.
I was way off about this card, except I’m more annoyed by it than excited.
Kiora Bests the Sea God
As much as I underestimated the power level of the ECD Saga, I overestimated the power level of Kiora Bests the Sea God, at least in constructed. It’s still arguably the best card in Theros limited earning nicknames like Kiora Bests Your Opponent, but when it comes to Sagas, the I for ECD is much more powerful than I anticipated, and the I for Kiora Bests is much less powerful than I thought, for the most part. The 8/8 Kraken for 7 mana isn’t all that great against most competitive decks, and that’s assuming you can even get to 7 mana in the first place. Even if you did, you’d probably want the Saga’s most powerful effect to happen first which you could have already done with Agent of Treachery before it was banned. Couple that with the fact that this saga can be bounced, removed, or even exiled by ECD itself, and it’s just too much of a liability to really be competitive. It turns out that my comparison of this being close to Agent was off as well … they’re not that close because you don’t get the agent effect until 2 turns later, and there are better and easier ways to cheat out Agent as well, so much so that it finally got banned after the Ikoria tools.
All that being said, I still underestimated it as being an A- in limited. It’s just an A+ bomb that you should build your deck around, and probably the best card in the format all things considered. I can’t count it out completely in constructed what with Agent being gone and there not being another way to steal permanents, but the 7 mana and 2 additional turn cycles needed for the powerful steal effect still hold it back, and it’s not worth including cards that would otherwise not really do anything like Mirrormade or cards that just proliferate. I’ve still had fun playing it in some non-competitive constructed decks, though.
I think that overall this has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. It just has a bad baseline as a 3 mana 2/3. A 3 mana 3/4 is so-so, but it’s still not great since it lacks any kind of evasion or other effects that make it worth than one card. The problem is that you have to invest mana into it in order to keep it growing. There are other cards including some new ones printed in Core Set 2021 that get counters for free when you draw a card that aren’t strong enough to see constructed play. The fact that you get a 1/1 tentacle for that additional mana too isn’t enough to justify the cost. If you’re not using all your mana every turn until at least turn 6 or so, so there’s never really a good opportunity to invest mana into this even if you’re drawing extra cards for it.
It was still a bomb in limited, although I’ve definitely lost with it a few times and beaten it a few times. In limited, being able to use all your mana every turn is much less common, and the additional 2/2 worth of stats for 1 mana is actually worth it in limited too.
I did say it would probably find a home somewhere in constructed, but I don’t think it ever really did. I didn’t end up building around it during the format. It didn’t end up making waves in standard like I had predicted.
Thryx, the Sudden Storm
I was correct about this card for Limited since it was generally a 2-for-1 that was also a win condition. I don’t think that its other abilities ever came up for me, but big flyers are just good in limited in general.
I thought that he could work in control decks in standard, but he never really did. I think that he was competing mainly with Cavalier of Gales, but that card was never really played anyway except in Fires of Invention decks. In fact, those decks are probably a small part of the reason why Thryx never took off since if you were playing Fires you couldn’t take advantage of the fact that he had Flash nor did the discount really matter. He was too expensive for Simic Flash decks which became unpopular anyway, and there are just better 5 mana plays in general like ECD and Nissa. His ramp ability was inconsequential in a deck that was ramping anyway.
Sorry, Thryx… you just weren’t as powerful as I first thought. You are probably one of the most annoying Brawl commanders out there though.
Purphoros really didn’t need Fires to get going… he could pop out a hasty Drakuseth which was usually enough to win. I’ve never gotten that sort of deck to work, although I have seen it work for other people quite a few times which was frustrating.
Fires also didn’t need Purphoros to get going either. Cavalier of Flames is a much better enabler and also provides haste to all your creatures with less of a cost. I do think that I was still right about how bad he was in limited. The gods in general were disappointing and were really difficult to turn on, and Purphoros probably had the worst static abilities combined with the most expensive casting cost, so at least I was right about that. I was never sure whether Purphoros would actually work competitively in constructed, but I was wrong about where he would potentially see play in general.
Once Theros Beyond Death came out, people stopped playing Simic Flash for some reason, so Destiny Spinner’s static ability really didn’t matter that much. A 2 mana 2/3 is efficient, but that’s basically all she is, and that’s not a card for constructed. There are much better things to be doing on turn 2. If Simic Flash had continued to be played as frequently as it was, I think that Destiny Spinner might have seen a bit more play than it did, but Nessian Wanderer is probably what you’re after for a green 2 drop from TBD, especially if you’re ramping.
At the very least, she was quite good in limited as an efficient creature with some real late game potential. There were enough enchantments around to easily turn a land into a 4/4 or 5/5 trampler which could break open stalls.
I don’t want to say she wasn’t played, at least in sideboards, and Simic Flash seems to be having a bit of a resurgence, so maybe some players will start dusting her off.
I think that this card has remained the curiosity that I presented it as initially, but it really hasn’t been anything more than that. It was unplayable in limited, so I was right about that. That I know of, it hasn’t found its way into any competitive constructed deck in any format, but people have played it here and there for fun including in formats like Brawl. I haven’t built a deck around it myself, but I have copied one an opponent played with Mirrormade to great effect which was quite fun. Mainly because it costs 7 mana, I don’t think it can ever really see much play even in janky decks, but from time to time I’ll see if I can build some crazy big mana strategy centered around it.
I was probably most wrong about this card in terms of how much fun I would expect to have with it. I played Setessan Champion in a ton of decks, and it’s always been a lot of fun. I think the largest I’ve ever gotten one is a 9/10, but I’ve seen larger ones played that were buffed with things like All That Glitters. This never rose to a competitive level, but it was still played more than enough in Tier-2 decks, mainly those focusing around auras or enchantments like Season of Growth. I’ve enjoyed it in Simic, Abzan, and Sultai builds too.
I don’t think she was quite at the bomb level in limited, but she was definitely a lot better than I first presented her in the original article. She was a powerful and consistent card draw engine… there were just so many enchantments available.
Allure of the Unknown
I was wrong about opponents not being able to cast any spell they could choose with Allure of the Unknown. This severely lowered its potential power level, but ultimately, it wasn’t that strong to begin with.
I tried to make this work in all kinds of decks… I really did, including decks that ran a lot of counter and X spells or decks that ran Brazen Borrower to bounce what the opponent played back to your hand among other strategies. In spite of all of that, the limitations you have to put on your deck to play this card restrict the potential card advantage severely. It is a draw 5, but a few of those are going to be lands anyway. That’s not awful, but it’s 1 mana more than something like Drawn from Dreams which actually lets you look at more cards and can probably get you what you need more efficiently and more safely.
I don’t think I ever drafted it, so I honestly can’t say how it performed in limited, but I don’t recall ever hearing about it, so I can conclude that it didn’t do well there. Overall, it’s just too much of a downside giving your opponent a free spell no matter what it is and no matter how many ways there are to mitigate against it.
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
I think that everyone was kind of excited about Ashiok at first, and he/she was played more than she/he should have been in constructed, but it’s still not the worst 5 mana planeswalker ever. It did slot nicely into Grixis superfriends decks that didn’t have a ton of other options for 5 drops anyway, but those decks have never been super competitive, although they are strong. I don’t really see this card played anymore. It’s sort of the same story with Liliana… the meta has just shifted to the point where their creature tokens and removal just aren’t effective for their cost, even if you have the possibility to do both things over a couple of turns. There are just stronger things to be doing. His/her ultimate is also not that easy to get to anyway, and forcing opponents to discard doesn’t do a ton what with all of the powerful card advantage engines available in standard.
In limited, Ashiok was definitely a bomb, and probably more powerful than the A- I gave her/him at first. As I had said, Planeswalkers are just always good in limited more or less no matter what they do. 5 mana for a 2/3 in limited is bad, but if you’re desparate, it will do, and bouncing something for 5 mana is not unheard of either.
Overall, I think that I was mostly right about Ashiok as a powerful limited card and a niche constructed card that people were curious about, but that couldn’t quite take the decks he/she was played in to the next level.
This is probably the card that I was most right about in my predictions. This was arguably the most powerful individual card in TBD limited: a creature with evasion that created a 10 point life swing when attacking that was also a card draw engine that you could also protect from spot removal by discarding cards… a resource that it is an engine for to begin with. It’s a bit of a moot point about whether it’s better than Kiora Bests the Sea God since they are both rare cards that could go in the same deck. I think that ultimately Dream Trawler is stronger since it costs a bit less, it can save you with its lifelink, and it draws you additional cards, but it’s close. It’s more dependent on the game state as to which one is better.
By the end of the limited format, I think that people had discovered ways to overcome Dream Trawler, though, and it wasn’t quite the auto scoop that it was at the beginning of the format. I lost after playing Dream Trawler more times than I lost after playing Kiora Bests, but I also played the former a lot more overall too. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was in the top 2 cards of the limited format, though.
Dream Trawler has definitely been strong enough to see play in Tier 1 constructed decks as well. I loved this card at first… I really liked the art as well as the gameplay, but since this card got super popular and was played in a lot of powerful decks, I honestly got a bit sick of it, and I didn’t end up playing it all that much even in limited. I pointed out that I didn’t think the card would be a game changer… I think that I was right about that too. Yes, it was played as a powerful win condition in at least Tier 2 (often Tier 1) decks, (and it wasn’t played in Jeskai Fires), but it didn’t singlehandedly alter the play style or deck composition of other competitive decks in the way that Teferi, Time Raveler has, for example.
I did get to pull off the turn 2 Niv-Mizzet Reborn combo a couple of times. It was a lot of fun, but other than having a 6/6 flyer out on turn 2, it doesn’t help you a ton since your hand is already full anyway. I don’t think that it ended up being very good in limited, although there were occasionally some decks that pulled it off. I never built around it myself. For constructed, it was definitely held back to the jank tier too. I haven’t seen it played in quite a while, so I think that people had their fun with it and then dropped it into their bulk rare box.
Gallia of the Endless Dance
When I first started playing the format, I was worried that Gallia was not as awesome as I wanted her to be, but I think that she ultimately did become one of the funnest cards for me to play. Just the expression on her face and the fact that she has haste makes it hard not to get excited when you cast her.
For a time, I couldn’t really get her to work in constructed. She was played a bit when Gruul was still seeing competitive play as a 2-of in some decks, but I don’t think she ever really caught on. I also tried building saytr decks to play with her, but most of the other satyrs are bad in constructed except maybe Nessian Wanderer who is not an aggressive card.
However, I’ve probably had the most fun playing with her in Brawl. She’s an awesome Brawl commander, and casting her for 4 mana isn’t a huge problem either. Since Brawl is a more open format, it’s easier to justify running more satyrs as well, and that can all represent big damage alongside her.
I think that she turned out to be fine in limited, but I don’t think I ever actually triggered her ability there. However, I have triggered it plenty of times in Brawl and standard, usually to great effect. I still haven’t managed to draw and cast an Embercleave with her ability … I did draw it once, but I didn’t have the mana to cast it (as I recall, I did ultimately win that game, though). Gallia has carried countless Embercleaves on my behalf at this point, though.
Towards the end of the Ikoria format, I rolled up my sleaves and built a Gruul deck centered around Gallia. It’s not competitive, but it has actually been a ton of fun, so I think that I ultimately did get the joy I was expecting out of playing her in standard… might be nice that I waited so long to write this article after all. The fact that she’s a fun Brawl commander was a nice surprise too. We didn’t get any satyrs in Core Set 2021 either, so I don’t think Gallia is going to be competitive at any point, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s still the funnest card on this list.
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Uro has turned out to be as ubiquitous as the ramp strategy itself. Uro definitely ended up being a limited bomb. Filling up your graveyard was not hard, and the additional ramp and life that Uro gave you allowed you to keep recurring him. I think that I escaped him four times in a single game once. I never decked myself because of Uro, but I did come close in one or two games. I think that he probably ended up being an A in spite of my initial B rating, even though he couldn’t win you the game on the spot like some other bombs in the format.
He has indeed seen a ton of play in Tier-1 competitive Simic and Bant ramp decks. He even sees play in what is arguably the most powerful deck right now: Temur Reclamation. I think that I underestimated just how powerful he would be, but Cavalier of Thorns enables him so easily too.
I don’t have a ton to say about this one… I’ve never actually played with it. It’s unplayable in limited, so I never drafted it, and I just never got around to building a constructed deck around it. I think that ultimately there was only one good strategy for it: mono blue self mill, and that strategy never became competitive. I was excited about the potential for this card at first, but to be honest, it kind of fell flat. I think that people have just forgotten about it now, and it’ll gather dust alongside Enigmatic Incarnation.
I think that Shadowspear took some time to find its footing. While I predicted that it would see play immediately mainly because of its activated ability, I don’t think it’s ever actually used for that. Instead, it’s being used in low-to-the-ground decks that like to play things like Lurrus. Aggressive strategies like the additional reach and evasion it provides. I don’t think that it’s really reached Tier-1 status yet, but it’s teetering. The Equip 2 does hold it back after all.
I think I was wrong when I said, “this isn’t a bomb or anything,” because it pretty much is. That’s pretty shocking for something that’s 1 mana. It turns out that a +1/+1 boost to a lot of creatures is much more significant than it first appears. It provides evasion, and lifelink is much more impactful in limited than in constructed. It was definitely worth picking up, but where I was wrong is that it is indeed incredible in limited, and not just a very good card.