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The letter S!o, in honor of Magic 2011 I decided to do some top eleven lists; specifically, one for each of Magic's five colors.


Plus, in addition to the eleven best from each color for Constructed, I am adding some additional discussion around some cards that just seem interesting, promising, or provocative ... anybody can like Primeval Titan; but talk about Frost Titan? That takes a real mage.

A real M11 mage!

White

Before I forget, these lists are in alphabetical order. I don't actually think that Ajani Goldmane (almost typed "Vengeant" there!) is the best white card in M11; remember back when Ajani Goldmane was the consensus best planeswalker? When a fourth turn Ajani Goldmane was practically a death knell after a second turn Bitterblossom and third turn Spectral Procession? Yowza! Well ... Ajani Goldmane isn't right now what he once was, but he should always have a special place in the hearts of White Weenie players (and token-slingers, and so on). Just last year at the World Championships Ajani Goldmane was still good enough for the Top 8. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the "White Lion."

Probably the best white card in the set. Not surprising as it is probably the best large creature ever printed. Mama Baneslayer has been all over the world and winning in every format (and by "every" format, I mean both Standard and Extended Pro Tour Top 8 victories), and been a part of successes as disparate as Naya versus Bant versus White-Blue. It's a sideboard card amongst planeswalkers, and a teammate to—believe it or not—both Malakir Bloodwitch and Abyssal Persecutor. In sum, everything you could ask for from a girl, let alone a flying five-drop.

This card will remain as relevant as ever with the addition of M11; in fact, I think that it will get a little bit better! I have loved Celestial Purge for its ability to wipe that smug look of the face of an attacking—and pumping—Putrid Leech, the doubly satisfying tempo "get out of jail free card" it gives you over Sprouting Thrinax, and the way it makes your lips curl up at the sides when you tap two lands in response to Manabarbs. Celestial Purge is like the jack-of-all-trades of sideboard cards, equally at home dealing with a pesky Goblin Guide (after he has provided some new building materials, of course) or that Sorin Markov that threatens to take over the game. Just so good. Just so cheap. Celestial Purge may have its role expanded as players reevaluate whether they want Kor Firewalker on two in a format with Leyline of Punishment. Ho hum ... Celestial Purge kills dat.

I think Standard is going to be really exciting with this old favorite back in the mix. Just as we have Leyline of Punishment complicating white's ability to interact with red, Condemn comes along and gives white an additional angle of attack against Goblin Guide on turn one, or a variety of other threatening quick drops (in particular the lightning striking Putrid Leech or the normally depressing Sprouting Thrinax). One of the things that control decks sometimes want for is a way to interact with the opponent's Celestial Colonnades or Gideon Juras. "Sign me up," says Condemn.

 Wrath of God lite? Sure. Still. Maybe always? That doesn't stop Day of Judgment's being the light at the end of the tunnel for many a mage. When you're behind a Lotus Cobra, there is often nothing better than peeling this sorcery. I like the fact that it can mop up Martial Coup tokens, above and beyond its beatdown suppression capabilities.

What has 2 power and costs one mana? This Cat Soldier!

A fine Crusade; not much to say here that you haven't already read.

This card, on the other hand, could spawn volumes! There is an old story about Bob Maher winning a Grand Prix in Seattle on the way to cementing his Player of the Year run. In the Top 8 Bob was in a heated conflict with Grand Prix master Alex Shvartsman playing the Red Deck. Bob had Alex locked under Ivory Mask—and a good thing, too ... he would have been in trouble—but was unable to cast his own Gaea's Blessing to get the true lockdown. Bob eventually won, but his path would have been a lot easier with Leyline of Sanctity over Ivory Mask. I mean the cards are quite similar but Leyline of Sanctity gives a player "troll shroud" instead of regular old shroud (Obviously superior. In games that don't matter, the distinction doesn't matter either—it's not like you will typically blast yourself), but when things do matter? You'll be recurring your Gaea's Blessing like a champ! Also, there is that whole thing about Leyline of Sanctity paying a visit for free if it is in your opening hand. At least red decks got a good opening, too.

What an inspiring squadron this little, ahem, squadron is going to make for! On the dependencies side, Squadron Hawk is a mite restrictive for a white two drop (you basically have to play all four); on balance, it does more—and in more places—than most others at this most competitive of costs. Squadron Hawk is a great combination with Jace, the Mind Sculptor; cast Squadron Hawk to grow your hand and you have tons of cards to Brainstorm with using Jace; moreover you can always cast another Squadron Hawk to get the remaining two (or whatever) back. Of course Squadron Hawk is also a one-card Vengevine re-buy. Did you have enough to cast the Vengevine? Great! You probably have enough to cast a pair of Squadron Hawks in its service.

I was all set to re-acquire Arid Mesa with this ("Look Mom, I'm going green!") until I saw Primeval Titan. Well, Sun Titan is going to have to settle for Courier's Capsule, Armillary Sphere, and recovering little guys. A comforting source of incremental card advantage, the efficient power and simultaneous defense transcend any suspicions of off-color The Rook seepage, and make Sun Titan worth tapping out for (probably).

This creature is just unreal. Kami of the Ancient Law was good enough for Craig Jones's $16,000 Lightning Helix ... War Priest of Thune is basically better. Better than Ronom Unicorn. Better than Monk Realist. What a two drop! The superficial analysis probably has the War Priest on Oblivion Ring duty out of the sideboard, but remember—this is going to have quite an effect on Leyline of Punishment. Annoyed at the reduced relevance of Kor Firewalker? Well here is a different two drop to block Goblin Guide for you. Don't despair, Firewalker lovers! War Priest of Thune also squishes a Manabarbs.

As promised, here is some discussion around white spells that didn't quite make the initial cut to eleven:

I love almost everything about this card—other than the fact that when you are playing it, you are playing a Knights theme deck. Knight of the White Orchid? Good. Knight of the Reliquary? Great! All Knights, all the time? I'm going to have to be convinced; open, but not convinced yet.

Not sure on this one yet. Certainly Serra Ascendant is brimming with potential. The problem? There is no natural "Kimota!" that "SHAZAMs" mild mannered Scute Mob into, you know, much less mild mannered Scute Mob. I just don't see the average opponent letting you crack in ten times so you can level up (not level up per se, of course) your Serra Ascendant. Moreover, if your life-gain theme deck can get to 30 life easily, that means something is going for you that might be a little more profound than a one-time 1/1. Again, I am willing to see this become awesome. Again, I am apprehensive.

Is it in on the battlefield? I love it. Well, I kind of love it, provided I have at least some untapped mana. Do I have, say, three untapped mana? I love it. Love it, Love It, LOVE IT. I mean this card basically puts away the game on its own once you have it online; but what did you expect for seven (and I mean ten or so) mana? Pros—If they let you keep it, they are probably going to lose. Cons—No inherent durability beyond sheer size; no inherent card advantage. Is it good enough? In fact it will be a great sideboard card for some match ups. It remains to be seen if Vengeful Archon's target decks are relevant enough to warrant serious consideration.

Blue

I have a lot riding on Æther Adept. A lot of nostalgia, anyway. Some mages say that creatures have gotten so good that a Man-o'-War (especially a slightly more cost prohibitive Man-o'-War) isn't going to be gas enough. I say those are probably the same people who were counting out Randy Couture before he came back to win the heavyweight strap ... north of forty. I remember how good Man-o'-War was. No, we didn't have these newfangled Bloodbraid Elves back in 1997, but we did have Necropotence. We did have Winter Orb. Man-o'-War managed. Did the jellyfish sometimes brawl with a White Knight? Unfortunately. It also stole turns, set opponents up by tapping them out, and attracted the admiration of many a mage. I'm not counting Æther Adept out before it has had a game under its belt. You know where I am going. Bounce Bloodbraid Elf? Hopefully not. Rumble with Bloodbraid Elf? Maybe after a while; could be a fine trade!

The only thing that pains me more than including Cancel in this list is the fact that I have personally played a sanctioned event that included not just Cancel but main deck Cancel in the last two months. And by "only", I clearly forgot that the Cancel was actually good much of the time. A hard counter in hand when your opponent is in top-deck mode, or when you seem otherwise even, makes you feel invincible. Is Cancel particularly good at answering threats? Not really. How about protecting combinations or key permanents? Even worse, actually. But it persists as a corner case Counterspell option. And yet? The card is all right. Mostly, anyway.

Kinda scraping on this one, actually. Very corner case. Very.

Half Waterspout Djinn, half Thieving Magpie; both of those parents were good. Will Conundrum Sphinx be good? To me, the main question is how played Flame Slash will be. You don't really want a fight between your four mana threat and the opponent's one mana, no downside, removal spell ... just not the fight you want to be in. Otherwise? Conundrum Sphinx should be more than servicable.

A fine option, as always. Flashfreeze may once again see some main deck play in Standard, but I doubt that now that Mana Leak is available.

Actually better than ever, I think. I basically play one copy in almost all my decks that want Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Decks with four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor almost always see improvement by moving to three big Jace + one of these. You want to lower your curve a bit so that on the draw, you can pre-empt the opponent's curve and steal Jace advantage. Force your opponent to throw away his or her Jace (and fourth turn!) on what amounts to a three mana distraction. Lots of players have started running two or even more copies of Jace Beleren in their sideboards for just this opportunity.

Arguably the most important new addition in M11, Mana Leak is just awful for big creatures like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (especially against other control decks). What might be interesting to see is Mana Leak as a false sense of security. What happens when Mind Sludge just waits until he or she is on eight mana? It's not like most Mana Leak decks are built to win foot races. Good? Maybe the best M11 card ... certainly one of them!

Not much too see unless you are the 'folk.

A little expensive, but proven to be a good enough sideboard card, more than once.

Kind of in the Cancel bucket. Negate has largely fallen out of main deck favor, but it still sees a lot of play as a "side me in" lineup for opposing Ajani Vengeant or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Negate might be at its best in the Mythic sideboard as a counterstrike against Day of Judgment.

This might be the second best blue card in the set after Mana Leak. It will be fun to see just what you can get for one mana these days.

Additionally ...

The weakest Titan; I have experimented with this card in decks with Destructive Force ... It's big enough to survive, and can lock down one of the few lands the opponent still has!

I hate over-paying, so I am a bit apprehensive so far. Yes, instant speed is good; I don't know if it is worth paying a full additional mana to be part of something.

The big question mark! Some players have this as a key chase card for blue; I am not one of them—I remember Diminishing Returns! Few players ran Diminishing Returns; it was a full mana cheaper than Time Reversal. Is it possible that now that the threats have become better and more efficient, we have Lightning Bolt (back), and there are not planeswalkers to contend with we can spend more mana on our doodads, whistles, or bells? It's possible; but I'm not buying on this one. Not at five. At least not yet.

Black

I have renewed respect for this card; a week or two ago a Vampires player sided it in against me and ran by all my Wall of Omens and generally showed me both the palm to the cheek and the backhand to the other cheek before dispatching me summarily. Black Knight was a once-upon-a-time threat of some renown. The little guy apparently still has some juice in that armor.

Yee haw! Can't wait to be Corrupting people again. There might be some curve issues (I mean how many different strategies can play this card, and Mind Sludge, and probably Tendrils of—you know—Corruption ... and probably Nantuko Shade), but those cards all lace together wonderfully in a mana framework that is different and set apart from everybody else. They have great impact as a unit. I am crossing my fingers that the Swamps matter brigade can bring some good old-fashioned monotony to the colorful and diverse shores of Standard. If black can contend with Jund, it should be a fun exploration.

I actually think this card gets overplayed somewhat. Is it good? Very good ... very good at what it is supposed to do, in fact. In particular, Deathmark is a deflater of dreams and stealer of souls when applied to a freshly cast five mana Baneslayer Angel ("Hi, I cost one!"). However given the tenor of the current Standard and the limited space that tight deck design allows for, I don't know that you get much value, incrementally, with this specialized removal relative to, say, a Doom Blade.

Specifically, Doom Blade's instant-ness makes it particularly attractive in the context of a format where Sovereigns of Lost Alara is such a potent force.

People keep forgetting about this one. They try to get all fancy, but really, if you want to force something through in Standard, Duress is a fine one mana pillar onto which you can prop your multi-turn bomb resolution plan. Combo breaker. Planer of planeswalkers. No-no to permission, certainly. All things to all mages almost. Ironically, a fine way to set up that Mind Sludge.

Six mana, ten power; and by ten I mean fourteen, spread across multiple bodies. If nothing else, this card seems like it can shut down a Vengevine just fine while racing on the ground. That's a big "if nothing else," though because Grave Titan seems like a threat of the first tier. It's the kind of card that rumbles with other Dragons, Titans, huge whatevers ... and leaves you with something to remember it by.

Shhh ... don't tell anyone. I am pretty sure this is awesome again. Vengevines, Extractor Demons, just decks that want to draw active cards. Too mid-range? I don't know ... if you hit Haunting Echoes in the right spot, it could be Osaka era black all over again. Haunting Echoes really seems like a card poised to hit its spot in Standard again. Get ready to ruin that Sky Ruin.

The oddball old Leyline amidst the new Leyline cycle also happens to be the all-time most relevant Leyline. With Vengevines and so on where they are, this onetime Dredge-dasher might have reappeared just in time to save the soul of Standard from an ever-deepening graveyard. Playable? Certainly. Actually played? Remains to be seen. Remember—the graveyard super decks thrive on failure to prepare. Just sayin'.

It's on.

I don't think that this card is going to be an A+ while opponents can Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse, but I have an itching feeling that the right combination of awesome artifacts and not-Maelstrom Pulses is going to intersect in the not-too-distant future, spelling very nice things for this brilliantly illustrated flagship-to-be. Every time I look at Phylactery Lich I am reminded of Kai Budde's World Championship win mounted on the broad back of a Covetous Dragon. Covetous Dragon cost more mana than Phylactery Lich, was barely bigger, and not nearly so indestructible, remember.

I was playing earlier tonight and started to wonder why Jund stopped playing this card. Was it too awesome? Is Jund just so awesome they don't need to draw two cards for two mana any more? How about just killing a bloke for two, crappy Lightning Bolt-style? Seemed like a good Jund tool last year; still a go-to for Mono-Black decks (let's see if that starts mattering again).

Plus:

This card seems awesome to me. Yes, I think it might be prohibitively good if the Skeleton Warrior entered the battlefield untapped. No, I am not sure what to do with it seeing as a 1/1 tapped creature has relatively little incremental value. As Billy Moreno once said, this card offers what it offers, but whenever you want, and at very little cost; it deserves consideration for that if nothing else. Plus, it's just so cool.

Red

 Act of Treason suffers from the "if I were actually playing another color I probably wouldn't be playing Act of Treason" rule; but the fact remains, sometimes you aren't playing another color, but you still have to figure out a way to get past that Baneslayer Angel. Act of Treason steps up and sometimes—oftentimes when you are tight, really—it gets the Angel out of the way in the most humiliating, ten-point-swinging, way. It walks around pretending to be the best burn spell, because, really ... it was just some kind of hulked-out Lightning Helix just now, wasn't it? There have been elaborate sideboard plans against beatdown decks that would have wilted had an opposing Red Deck Wins / Gruul / Barely Boros / whatever deck merely realized five minutes before the tournament started that the core defensive strategy in the room involved mono-tapping-out-for-fatties and that taking one of the said fatties and braining the opponent on his critical turn might equate—one-to-one—with victories. As a player liable to tap out for fatties defensively, I hope that none of those Red Deck Wins / Gruul / Barely Boros / whatever deck from the beatdown side of the family read this paragraph just now.

One, two, three ... "Baneslayer Angel!" There, I said it—we both said it, together. It goes without saying, really. Awesome, of course.

If Cyclops Gladiator had a Facebook Fan Page, I'd "Like" it. Just saying. I would. It brawls, it laughs off chumping tiny creatures, it is hella-aggressively costed for a red beatdown creature. Seems almost green, in fact. I wonder how the conversations producing this card started. "Hey, do you think we could make, I dunno, a mid-range, aggressively-costed, combat-oriented, red Royal Assassin ... but one that, you know, still brained the opponent instead of just killing one of his guys?" Facebook. Fan. Page.

This is one of my favorites from M11. Great shades of Wildfire, of course. How much will the jump to seven from six matter? Wildfire was at times the #1 overall card in Standard. It was played in decks ranging from Annex-based mana control to straight red Ponza to Gifts Ungiven green decks playing amidst the daisies of Sakura-Tribe Elder + Ravnica Block dual lands. But the jump to seven—for practical purposes—is a jump of like six more mana when you are under pressure. So despite the increased output, that increase is not trivial. There were two basic ways to break a Wildfire, back in the day. One way was to drive down the opponent's mana so that the Wildfire would lock them. The other way was to accelerate your own mana so that you would hit six while the opponent's mana was (still) low enough that the Wildfire would be crippling. I think that given the cost increase we see with Destructive Force, the latter will be the more common route. Look for this card to team up with Primeval Titan (one of the relatively few creatures in Standard that can live through Destructive Force) as soon as these cards are legal next to one another.

It's like a Goblin Legionnaire that can actually kill a Black Knight!

Maximum excitement here. Between getting additional value out of creatures like Ball Lightning, to putting the screws to an opponent after boning him with Sarkhan Vol or Act of TreasonFling seems like it can break some hearts. Will someone Fling Emrakul this summer?

I actually like this Titan more than a lot of people seem to. It is easy to jump on the Primeval Titan bandwagon. But "Arc Lightning Titan" also seems awesome. You can't really block it. If you leave a little creature back, Inferno Titan is just going to split some Arc Lightning between your x/1 and your face; then Firebreathing its way up your life total. If you are somehow successfully blocking it, it is still getting in with its Arc Lightning-ness. That Firebreathing bit might seem like a throwaway, but have you seen this returning card Fling?

This might be the most significant new card for red. The core anti-red strategies in Standard typically revolve around some combination of Kor Firewalker, Celestial Purge, and Baneslayer Angel. Leyline of Punishment completely out-classes Kor Firewalker—red's biggest enemy—at zero mana. Most of Baneslayer Angel's upside is gone, too. I see this as a very high impact sideboard card. Granted it will never be apart from Celestial Purge or War Priest of Thune—but when the opponent doesn't have those cards? Not a fair fight.

Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

Just a nice upgrade for red. Obviously its biggest enemy will be Dragon's Claw, but there is probably other good work to be done ... Equipment-smashing and so forth. If this effect was good enough for green ("the creature color") to be so happy with for years, red should be more than gracious with the gifting.

It's been quiet on the Pyroclasm front for some time; that won't last forever. Awful lot of Birds / Elves / Hierarchs / Cobras to be killed, after all.

Who is returning but ...

I would love to see this creature back in the Red Deck lineup as a secondary one drop. Most of you probably don't remember Goblin Balloon Brigade as one of the cornerstone one drops of the classic Sligh deck; but there was a time this would have been considered well above the curve power-wise. The only thing more ticklish than seeing Goblin Balloon Brigade return would be to see someone actually gaming with it. But hey, if Goblin Arsonist can win a Standard PTQ ...

Green

Not really a top shelf creature relative to the Mythic or Vengevine-based strategies, but annoying as all get-out in the context of a land destruction deck. Fine utility as a sideboard overload against control, as well.

I'm waiting to see how awesome this proves. Seems like it should be awesome, and the price is right.

Best one drop of all time? No one really needs to read about Birds of Paradise this many core sets into a core set.

Lots of options with this new look at Kodama's Reach. I suppose that's what happens when you reprint a card that marries getting whatever lands you want with a bit of card advantage and acceleration. The only thing I am unsure of is which green deck will want to play it seeing as most of them get their acceleration from creatures like Llanowar Elves. Turboland maybe?

Heavily played in its niche; I don't see that changing, or likely expanding.

It's not a question of whether it will be awesome, but how awesome.

Basically the same treatment as Birds of Paradise; this card has been around Magic longer than I have, unwaveringly. Not much needs to be said about a perennial staple such as Llanowar Elves.

What is this? 12 power, progressively, for five mana? I think it might be awesome with Greater Gargadon. How about on its own? Mitotic Slime is an extremely strong blocker if you can afford the five mana down payment (under pressure).

Probably the best of the new crop. This card might put the final nail in the coffin of the onetime best card in Standard, Blightning. Between Obstinate Baloth and Vengevine, green has a lot confidence in its ability to contend with, you know, (red) damage and discard.

Easily the most exciting of the Titan cycle, Primeval Titan can do literally everything. The most mundane game-winning idea I had was to set up two Smoldering Spires. You can go even bigger (I mean you are already in the "big" zone once you've resolved a six) with Eldrazi Temples, or you can bring the hammer down with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Everything. Plus a 6/6 for six body that will not be blocked. That's right: trample.

Thoroughly unproven at present; nice lineage between Sakura-Tribe Elder and Borderland Ranger / Civic Wayfinder.

More Green Cards to Think About ...

I just keep seeing Spirit of the Night here; I want to play this in Fauna Shaman after the first set of Vengevines has been answered.

I always give this planeswalker a bit of the short straw treatment. Slightly overplayed, but good where he is good.

Bonus: Non-Colors

It's easy to latch onto Dragon's Claw (probably the best and most relevant of the M11 artifacts), or ponder—almost literally—Crystal Ball. But I am going to talk about Elixir of Immortality.

Basically, I love it. Issues:

  1. Probably a sideboard All-Star; highly unlikely to be played main deck under normal conditions.
  2. Gaining 5 life actually puts it ahead of most single-card packets of red damage. That is a kind of card advantage regardless of what happens to your graveyard when you use it.
  3. That said, I would be comfortable with a legitimate card advantage engine of some kind. Even with the 5 life acting as a kind of card advantage (specifically against red) you want to be able to actually get ahead ... so you can hit / keep hitting your land drops.

This one is already pushing 5,000 words, so I think I'll stop now.

I'm guessing you can see how interesting I think M11 is going to be; I hope you share that enthusiasm and enjoy playing what looks to be the most significant core set in years as much as I do.



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