Alara Reborn – The Present and the Future

Well, it’s been just over a week since the official launch of Alara Reborn, and this new expansion is already starting to make waves in the Standard environment. Old favourites like Terminate and Meddling Mage are joined by newcomers like Zealous Persecution and Qasali Pridemage to make for a Standard format where more decks are viable than ever in the last few years.

With Alara Reborn being solid gold, the power level of the cards was significantly increased.  It will be interesting to see next year when Lorwyn and Shadowmoor rotate out how many heavily-multicoloured decks will remain, what with the filter lands, vivid lands, tribal lands and reflecting pool all rotating out.  However, the painlands will be replaced by a new set of duals in Magic 2010 that just might be good enough to warrant playing some of these high colour commitment cards from the latest expansion.

However, that is all in the future, and right now we have the advantage of mana bases capable of producing 1UUU, RRBBBUU, and 2GGGG, all in the same deck.  At least for now.

With an all gold set, there are bound to be mechanics that some decks wish they could play so much, that they have little choice as to whether or not to splash an extra colour or two for them.  It becomes not a question of whether or not to play these cards, but how exactly to support them.

An example of what I’m talking about is the new poster-boy for the cascade mechanic, Bloodbraid Elf.  This 4 mana creature is half green, a colour that traditional Blightning beatdown decks never played.  However, due to the highly aggressive nature of Blightning, almost every card you can cascade into will end up helping your end game plan.  Whether it’s Blightning itself, a burn spell, or even a Figure of Destiny, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a card that you really don’t want to cascade into. This is also before considering that the Elf has a 3 power, hasty body that keeps up the pressure on the opponent.

It is because of cards like the aforementioned Bloodbraid Elf that Blightning beatdown is losing its name.  Many players are now splashing green into their Blightning decks, and calling it “Jund aggro,” due to the presence of red, black, and green in the deck.  With dual-lands like Fire-lit Thicket and Karplusan Forest, the mana setback to the deck is not so terrible.

While cards like Bloodbraid Elf are adding a completely new dimension to some decks, others from Alara Reborn have simply slotted in quite nicely as into decks that already play their colours.  Soul Manipulation is a card that I quite like in a Faeries build because of its potential to re-use powerful effects like Mistbind Clique and Sower of Temptation, in addition to doing what the faerie deck already does-countering spells.  In the past, Faeries were usually only fortunate enough to resolve one or two Mistbind Cliques a game, but this new Remove Soul/Raise Dead hybrid is a great way of maintaining both control of the game, and gaining card advantage in the process.

With the release of this latest expansion, it becomes apparent just how much Magic has changed in the past few years.  Although I started playing in Ravnica-Time Spiral Standard, I remember a time when anyone who considered playing a wall was laughed at.  Nowadays, there is a large amount of legitimate debate going on regarding whether the new Wall of Denial is better than Wall of Reverence, and whether M10′s Wall of Frost will have any significant constructed impact.  There are advocates on both sides of the fence, each with very sound reasons for choosing a particular wall in a particular deck.  I personally think that Wall of Reverence is better in a vacuum, but the sheer difficulty of getting rid of Wall of Denial cannot be overlooked.  In fact, the only way to kill a Wall of Denial in standard is through a mass removal spell, a sacrifice effect, or a creature big enough to take down the 8-toughness monstrosity.

Now to finish off this article I want to present my top 5 Alara Reborn sleeper cards.  These are cards that many people will dismiss early on, but I believe that they will eventually weed their way into the Standard environment.

Sphinx of the Steel Wind

Although it is largely a variation on Akroma, Angel of Wrath, I foresee this card becoming part of a reanimation strategy somewhere in the near future.  With Makeshift Mannequin already in Standard, we could easily see this in decks come Magic 2010, if we see something akin to Zombify in the next core set.

Vedalken Heretic

This is a mechanic that has been firmly cemented in blue/green, what with the printing of Ohran Viper and Cold-Eyed Selkie in recent years.  One thing that should be noted is the fact that any damage dealt by Vedalken Heretic will nab you an extra card.  Enchant this with Power of Fire to give yourself a mini Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.  Using Mage Slayer with this card could give you as much as a one-sided Font of Mythos every turn.  Additional card draw is always welcome, and time will tell if Vedalken Heretic has what it takes to make it into the decks of the pros.

Reborn Hope

This is a card that screams variant format at me.  Whether it be Elder Dragon Highlander or DC-10, this card is sure to make an impact.  It seems less amazing in Standard, but it could still be used to bring back powerful multicoloured spells from the grave.  Many of the cascade cards make for good targets, as well as cards like Wilt-Leaf Liege and Rafiq of the Many.  Because the only stipulation to Reborn Hope is that the target be multicoloured, the card you choose can be selected to best suit the current situation.

Spellbreaker Behemoth

A four mana 5/5 is almost always good, and one that is uncounterable and makes your other fatties so is even better.  This is a smart choice for a Naya aggro deck that seems to have troubles with counterspells, as it can just keep dropping 5 power creatures until your opponent runs out of removal.  This is almost certainly the best rare in all of the Alara Reborn Intro packs, and it will surely see some play in the future.

Ethersworn Shieldmage

One of the problems with Esper decks that rely on the likes of Master Transmuter or Etherium Sculptor is that they die so quickly to Volcanic Fallout.  Ethersworn Shieldmage is a solution that not only serves to “shield” your artifact creatures from damage-based harm, but it can prove to be an effective combat trick when a large gang-block is required to take down a large enemy threat.

Well, this post is over two pages in my word processor, so I’ll wrap it up.  These are just my thought on what Alara Reborn brings to the current Standard environment, as well as what it will hopefully bring in the next year and a half that it is Standard legal.

Sean and I will be at the Wester Canada Regionals this weekend in Calgary, so if you’re planning on attending, stop by and say hi. We’ll be wearing our orange Power 9 Pro T-shirts so we should be easy to spot.

3 thoughts on “Alara Reborn – The Present and the Future”

  1. Zak, good stuff! I really enjoyed your analysis, and found myself nodding in agreement. I wish I were as up-to-speed on standard to offer such analysis. You rock. Great post.

  2. Excellent write up but I have to say I hate this set. Multi-color had already become boring with Reflecting pool and the vivid lands. Releasing this god awful set was just beating an already dead horse. Many of the cards are very good individually, but as a set, Alara Reborn is the absolute worst ever.

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