Monday, January 21, 2013

Gatecrash EDH Set Review, Part 1: Orzhov

Well, folks, it's been awfully quiet around here the last few months, and I wish it weren't so. Alas, demands of real life continue to make free time a precious luxury which I must carefully spend, lest I run out of it.

That said, there is no way in hell I would let a new set slip by without doing a set review, so I break my silence at least for as long as it takes to complete this review of Gatecrash, the hotly anticipated follow up to last year's Return to Ravnica.

Folks, I was a big fan of the last set, but overall, I think Gatecrash is set to blow it out of the water - at least for some people. Guildpact seems largely aimed at a different audience than RtR was. Return to Ravnica certainly brought a lot of new toys to the casual and EDH crowd, but overall I felt the set would have been far more thrilling and satisfying to me were I a more competitive player. Whether Limited was your stock and trade or one of the constructed formats - Modern or Standard - I think RtR was aimed more at you, the tournament-oriented player.

Don't get me wrong, I found a lot to love in RtR, but I truly think I would have found much more still if I were able to Draft as much as I'd like to, or if I were a Standard player at even the FNM level. Gatecrash, on the other hand, seems to have far more casual appeal, more EDH-worthy stuff, and basically it just feels more "Timmy" where RtR felt more "Spike".

As an aside, "Johnny" seems to have gotten the short end of the stick yet again. I feel for the clever, creative and original deck builders out there. The "Johnny" cards these days tend to be stuff like Omniscience or Enter the Infinite - basically, they take very little creativity or cleverness to win with these cards. I feel like Wizards has bought to much into the stereotype of the Johnny player, assuming that all Johnny wants is to win with some big combo. But really, what Johnny really wants is to solve a puzzle - to figure out how to win with a big combo. It's missing the point entirely if there is no puzzle. The stupidest, most unoriginal, creatively-bankrupt player in Magic's history should have no trouble figuring out how to win with cards like Omniscience.Sure, you have to live long enough to cast the spell, yeah, but that's not good enough. If the only puzzle Johnny has to solve to win is "How do I get 10 mana to cast this?", he is not going to be satisfied one whit - not if he's a true Johnny.

Johnny wants, above all else, to kill you with cards you never see coming. To kill you with cards you had written off as unplayable jank. To win in a way that is uniquely his own. Shit like Enter the Infinite ain't going to cut it. There's probably a better selection of Johnny-ish stuff if you're solely focused on 60-card, but for the EDH-oriented Johnnies, there is not a whole lot to get excited about.

Anyway, that is more preamble than I intended, and more soapbox-y too. On with the show!

Up first is the might Orzhov Syndicate. Orzhov is my favorite guild, both in flavor and in gameplay. I love a good W/B deck, and so I indulge my personal bias today, and let my favorite take the lead.

Unfortunately none of the common Extort cards looks to be the slightest bit worthy of the average EDH deck. As one of the few uncommons I don't think this fares much better. Without the life payment cost, the activated ability might be amusing as anti-Planeswalker tech, but as-is it just seems bad.
Phenomenal. This is extremely playable. Obviously you want to have enough Swamps for it to really matter, but it should prove valuable in almost any two-color deck, especially ones running Urborg (most are). But really, you only need to be getting 2 or 3 extra mana for it to have a significant impact. The Extort ability is just gravy - he gives you extra mana, AND something to do with the spare change! I expect to see this guy quite a bit.

Awesome art, but a weak creature nonetheless. I wouldn't even play this for the Extort, even in a Lifegain-dedicated deck. It's a shame so few of the Extort cards are worth playing - it would have been a cool sub-theme in most W/B decks, but while there are a few great ones, the rest are so bad, they're not worth running even to push the Extort theme.
On the other hand, this one is absolutely playable, even without the Extort. I've seen the "hurt them" half of Urabrask be relevant - decisive, even - in countless EDH games. This will be good if your playing something like W/U prison, or if you are just playing a midrange W/B deck that needs a bit of help fighting faster aggro decks. I definitely see this getting a fair amount of play in EDH, though it's not an auto-include in every White deck, not at all. But the number of decks in which this could be a role-player is many indeed.

Reaction to this card seems to be puzzlingly positive. It has it's detractors, sure, but I really expected this one to be widely reviled. There was a time when a vanilla 6/6 for 4 mana with a wonky drawback might have proved interesting and compelling, but we are so used to getting 5/5's for 4 with all-upside abilities to boot that it no longer feels like a bargain. EDH in particular has little reason to resort to this - there are TONS of choices that are similarly-powered, yet are not near so likely to backfire on you.

I will admit that this does have some interesting political implications in multiplayer, but not ones that I personally feel are worth exploring.
 Meh. Art is fraking awesome, though.
 This is a very cool, flavorful design. I appreciate the idea and the aesthetics of it, but I don't think it's playable. Relying on a very, VERY fragile 1/1 to keep this around might be worth the risk if the reward were greater, but as the reward for successfully keeping a 1/1 in play is a boring old 5/5 Flyer, that just doesn't cut the mustard. But it's still so awesome in concept that I'm sure it'll see play here and there. Some EDH metagames are more forgiving of such creatures.
There was a time when -4/-4 or 4 damage was the minimum number for playable removal. I think today that number is 5, but it might even be 6. The only problem is, W/B is the absolute best color pair at killing things, especially creatures. For EDH purposes there are at least a dozen cards I'd play before this one became a consideration.
Sweet crackers, now THIS is a removal spell. The name is cool, the are is AMAZING and the effect... well it is both versatile and definitive. It proclaims "I want all this shit dead, and I want it to STAY dead." Also as the first card to bear the text "exile all planeswalkers" or anything even similar to that, it definitely has a "wow" factor. This should flat-out replace Austere Command in decks that can run it.

I plan to play this card a lot, and I expect it will be used against me with alarming frequency as well.
Meh. I know I was just griping above about cards not being Johnny enough, and being too easy, too obvious. The thing is, I want my "jump through hoops" cards to be win conditions or at least something more than a boring utility effect. In a format where I'm allowed to play Vindicate or even Mortify, why would I want this?
 It's in the wrong colors for the whole Aura thing to be super exciting. The problem is, that's the best mode. The removal is too draw-backy to be worthwhile in these colors, and the EXTREMELY narrow Unearth is just a dealbreaker. Possibly the worst Charm in the cycle, at least for EDH.
Pretty darn good. Not enough to make me retire Vish Kal as the general of my W/B deck, but the new GhoCo should easily find its way into the 99. Seems likely to spawn some new decks, because mechanically this is pretty wide-open. Unlike most W/B generals he doesn't push you directly into one particular archetype. W/B Tokens is no longer the only viable archetype! Yay!
 Uh, yes please? It's no Sun Titan, but he'll do in a pinch. Very cool, very playable. It will die a lot though. 4/4 is still pretty darn fragile in EDH. Stick a Sword on him, though, and he'll start to look like Sun Titan on steroids.
Faith's Fetters meets Pillory of the Sleepless? I'd consider this more seriously if it said "permanent" instead of "creature". As is, this won't see play outside of dedicated "bleeder" decks, if any such decks exist.

Would have been far more interesting with Extort instead of the current life loss wording.
I might play this for 3 mana. That would be too overpowered for competitive play, I'd imagine, but that is still what it would take for me to rate this "playable" in EDH.
This seems really good to me. I might just be biased because both abilities are on-theme and relevant to my own W/B deck, but that second ability only costing 3 mana just seems nutty to me. I will be very happy to play this, and I should think I won't be the only one...

Cute, but doesn't strike me as all that good, really. There are plenty of Auras that have higher impact than this, that rarely get played. Overall it feels like a mediocre Steel of the Godhead.
This should go without saying, but this is a BOMB. It requires a significant investment of mana, but it IS in the same colors as Coffers/Urborg and the new Crypt Ghast. At the very least, it's a vastly more interesting and exciting way to spend a ton of Cabal Coffers mana than Exsanguinate ever was. This is the one card in the Orzhov repertoire likely to see even more play than Merciless Eviction. A wonderful finishing move for the Orzhov deck.

Overall I'm quite excited by the Orzhov Syndicate here. They got one of the worst Charms, the guild mechanic Extort is woefully unplayable, save the Rares with the keyword, and the spot removal is weak. That said, they did get some very playable cards at Rare, the new Guild Leader should help to open up new avenues of deck building in the W/B colors, and their new Guildmage is one of the best. Then there's the 1-2 punch of Meciless Eviction and Immortal Servitude. Not terrible by any means.


  1. Spot-on review! Orzhov is also my favorite guild so I'm glad they got so many good EDH cards in this set. The only thing that really got me down was the new Ghost Dad. My favorite generals are ones that have some sort of built in synergy or lacking that, have a big impact on the board and Obzedat falls short in both categories. That said he's still my favorite WB general so I'll probably end up building a deck around him anyway.

    Also, are you sure you read Immortal Servitude correctly? I didn't notice this until my second read but it only revives creatures with CMC=X.

    1. You're instincts are correct. I did misread Immortal Servitude. I thought it was 'X or less' That said, most EDH decks tend to have a glut of creatures at the 5 and 6 CMC range and this should still be a pretty swingy card.

      Reading the card correctly, I definitely think it's still playable, but Merciless Eviction will be the #1 pick for Orzhov fans I think.