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Dragons of Tarkir Spoilers In-depth: Ojutai's Command, Kolaghan, Narset


Another day, another bunch of spoilers, and this time we have some sweet ones including the first member of a new command cycle, a new planeswalker, and of course, a metric ton of dragons. Prices, of course, are going crazy. Cards are being bought (out) and sold (short). Basically, it's spoiler season. So let's buckle up and get to the cards. 

Is Ojutai's Command Modern Playable?

I spent the better part of yesterday tracking Ojutai's Command on the SCG pre-order page. The card initially had 40 copies listed for $2.99, however this deal was only had by the fastest of clickers (some people had copies in their cart, but the card was sold out before they could submit). The new instant was then relisted for $3.99 and sold out almost as fast. This process repeated itself at $4.99 and then $7.99. I don't know exactly how many copies of Ojutai's Command SCG sold yesterday, but I have no doubt it was several hundred. As of this morning the price was still sitting at $7.99 and people who bought copies yesterday morning were already reselling their copies for double what they initially paid. Such is life during spoiler season. Despite all the hype, the question of just how good this card actually is still remains. 

In my first DTK spoiler article I talked a bit about how we use older cards to form a baseline for judging new cards, and how misevaluating can lead to cards being under-priced during pre-sales (as Sphinx's Revelation was). This can go the other direction too; we can overrate a new card because it looks vaguely like a powerful older card (see: Timetwister and Time Reversal).

The first card I, and I'm assuming many of you, think of when you see a modal blue spell with options that include "draw a card" and "counter a spell" is Cryptic Command.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

While I can't fault you for making this comparison (because it's the same one I made), when you actually break down these two cards piece-by-piece, option-by-option, it becomes clear that Ojutai's Command isn't anywhere near the power-level of its Lorwyn relative. The final option on both cards is "draw a card," so this ability is a wash, but let's take a few minutes to compare the other modes on these cards side-by-side.

Counter Target Spell versus Counter Target Creature Spell

Sometimes less is more when it comes to Magic cards. This is especially true with counterspells, where the best of them only have three words. Once you start adding in extra qualifiers, things get messy. As a result, when it comes to the countering mode, Cryptic Command is the clear winner because it doesn't contain the restriction "creature." Pretend you're playing UW Control. You sit down against an unknown opponent and draw your opening seven. Which of these card would you rather have in your hand?

Counterspell [DD2]  Remove Soul [10E] 

Dismiss [C14]  Exclude [C14]

Sure, the mana cost is a bit more restrictive on Counterspell (as it is with Cryptic Command compared to Ojutai's Command), but when your opponent casts a Hymn to Tourach or Pyromancer Ascension on turn two, you'll be glad you're not holding the Removal Soul

Tap versus Gain Life

Choking Tethers [ONS] Angel's Mercy [AVR]

This comparison is likely the one where Ojutai's Command is lacking the most. It's not so much that I'm against gaining life — incidental lifegain has proven time and time again to be extremely powerful and constructed playable. The problem is Cryptic Command usually gains you way more life than the Dragons of Tarkir command. With Ojutai's Command, the number is always four (which in counter/gain mode basically makes a card of similar power level to Offering to Asha). Cryptic Command usually reads "gain X life, where X is the total power of creatures your opponent controls." Not to mention the mono-blue command's ability to blank the annihilator trigger of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and negate the lifelink on Griselbrand. Furthermore, Ojutai's Command can only be used defensively. Cryptic Command on the other hand, can go on the offense and proactively tap down your opponent's blockers allowing you to swing with your team, presumably for the win. 

Bounce versus Reanimate

Boomerang [10E] Unearth [UL]

These are probably the two most difficult abilities to compare fairly because they don't have very much in common except for the fact they can both pull off shenanigans with Snapcaster Mage; Cryptic Command from the battlefield (bounce Snapcaster Mage, draw a card, replay Snappy targeting Cryptic) and Ojutai's Command from the graveyard (Reanimate Snapcasater Mage, draw a card, use Snappy to flashback Ojutai's Command). Even here, however, the advantage seems to rest with Cryptic Command because you can split the process across multiple turns and Ojutai's Command requires you to have eight untapped mana and do everything on the same turn. 

The other advantage for Cryptic Command is you can always find something productive to bounce (often just bouncing an opponents manland on their end step is very strong), while it takes a very specific UW Control build to have 2-CMC creatures that want to reanimate (apart from Snapcaster Mage, which we already covered). I guess you can go deep on value with Wall of Omens, or get back a Soldier of the Pantheon or something, but how often is that going to win you the game (or even be worth the four-mana investment)? 

I would argue that no matter what two modes you chose, Cryptic Command is better. Yes, I realize there are corner cases where Ojutai's Command wins the day (for instance, your mono-red burn opponent plays a Goblin Guide with a potentially lethal Lightning Bolts in hand, allowing you to counter and gain four life), but these instances seem very few and far between. At the same time, being strictly worse than the best blue card in Modern doesn't make Ojutai's Command a bad card — I actually think it could be very strong in the current Standard. 

Ojutai's Command in Standard

I should preface all of my Ojutai's Command in Standard comments by saying this is all dependent on the development of a deck that wants the card (most likely either UW, Esper, or Jeskai Control). Looking over the current Standard metagame, the only current decks that could possibly take advantage of Ojutai's Command would be Jeskai Wins/Tokens, but even here it's not an obvious auto-include. This said, I think there is an above average chance that Ojutai's Command does find a home in Standard because it seems to line up well against a lot of the cards/decks in the format (not to mention Narset Transcendent, which I'll get to in a bit). 

There are very few matchups where Ojutai's Command is going to be truly bad, which I'm pretty sure means the card is good. Having a maindeckable way to gain life that also provides utility (or at least doesn't cost a card) is pretty nice against all the burn-based Jeskai strategies, although the downside is most of that deck's threats get in under a four-mana counter. Where the counter ability really shines is against things like Siege Rhino, Whisperwood Elemental, Stormbreath Dragon, and whichever of the million dragons from Dragons of Tarkir happen to see play. Leaving up four mana is a lot, especially without a strong second ability to play on your opponents end step (draw/gain, draw/reanimate is fine, but not all that exciting), so a deck that plays Ojutai's Command is either going to want to some other strong instants/flash creatures (a Restoration Angel dragon would fit the bill) to minimize this downside, or to curve out from one through three and use Ojutai's Command as a curve topper (maybe in something like the once-popular Ephara, God of the Polis UW builds). 

The one matchup where Ojutai's Command is pretty much dead is against UB or BUG Control. Here, you basically have a four-mana Azorius Charm, which I think we can all agree isn't a playable card. 

All things considered, unless some pro manages to Top 8 Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir with a Ojutai's Command build (which could cause a short term spike into the $12 range), I think we are pretty much at the card's ceiling. Sure, it could continue to increase a bit during pre-orders from hype and the faulty Cryptic Command comparison, but like I said before, most of the people I know that bought copies for $2.99 or $3.99 are currently selling (or have already sold) them for $8. 

It takes a lot for a Standard-only, in-print rare to maintain a price of $10 or more. I'm pretty sure the only one at the moment is Goblin Rabblemaster, although both Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix managed to hang in the low-to-mid teens for quite a while. Otherwise, you're looking at multi-format cards like Thoughtseize and fetchlands. While I like Ojutai's Command, I'm not sure it will see as much play as the former group, let alone the latter. 

Dragonlord Kolaghan

Translation:

Dragonlord Kolaghan 
4RB 6/5 
Flying, Haste 
Other creatures you control have haste. 
Whenever an opponent casts a creature or planeswalker spell with the same name as a card in their graveyard, that player loses 10 life

 

First off, the fact that Dragonlord Kolaghan explicitly has Haste rubs me the wrong way. I mean, I guess I'm happy that Wizards didn't feel it necessary to include reminder text, but really, have we, the Magic playing public, lost a bunch of brain cells in the past year? I mean, look at some of the other recent creatures that give your team haste:

 

Blur Sliver [M14] Maelstrom Wanderer [CM1] Cyclops of Eternal Fury [JOU] Kragma Warcaller [THS]

Notice something? They all just say "creatures you control have haste." I mean, you don't have to be Sherlock to think, "hmm, all my creatures have haste, Dragonlord Kolaghan is a creature, thusly, Dragonlord Kolaghan must have haste." I understand this formatting in core sets (for instance, Goblin Chieftain not only has this formatting, but also reminder text), but Dragons of Tarkir is an expert level set. I feel a little bit like Wizards is suggesting I'm not smart enough to realize that a card with the type "creature" is indeed a creature, but I digress. 

Editor's Note: This is probably to enable Soulflayer, but the point about the lack of consistency remains.

In some ways Dragonlord Kolaghan falls into the "we haven't seen this before" category of spoilers. Dealing 10 damage when an opponent casts another copy of a card in their graveyard is a lot of damage, especially when you combine it with six damage from its evasive hasty body. If the ability worked on instants and sorceries, I could imagine Dragonlord Kolghan playing out a little bit like a Meddling Mage, where your opponent literally cannot cast their second Hero's Downfall to deal with your lethal dragon because one is already in the bin. Since it only affects creatures and planeswalkers, the ability just doesn't seem very good. Even if it is somehow better than it looks, Delve makes it pretty easy to manipulate the cards in your graveyard (although actually having to think about what cards you exile with Murderous Cut or Dig Through Time adds complexity to the format, which I like). 

Unlike Dragonlord Silumgar, our first Dragons of Tarkir Elder Dragon, Kolaghan is pretty miserable in Commander. While EDH finance is far from my wheelhouse, even I know that an ability that cares about multiples of cards and a 100-card singleton format don't mix. There have been many angry Rakdos Commander players on Twitter that have been quick to point out that they view Dragonlord Kolaghan's ability as a slap in the face, which I guess makes Kolaghan the rare double-slap-in-the-face. So, in trying to print a flashy legendary dragon, what R&D actually accomplished was to make two very feel different groups of Magic players feel like the the preacher in There Will Be Blood, which I'm guessing was not their goal. 

Financially, I would guess that in the long run Dragonlord Kolaghan will rank behind Dragonlord Silumgar, mostly due to the lack of EDH demand. As for Standard, I want to wait and see how things shake out. If you look at the cycle of legendary angels from Avacyn Restored, a couple were Standard playable, a couple were casual-staples, and one was just bad. I would expect the Dragons of Tarkir Elder Dragons to break down in a similar manner. There is a chance that Dragonlord Kolghan is the worst of the cycle, but we'll have to wait for the rest of the spoilers (and to see what the upcoming Standard looks like) to know for sure. 

Narset Transcendent

So Narset is the reverse Domri. Also known as THE ENEMY. #MTGDTK

— Brian Kibler (@bmkibler) March 4, 2015

We got a new planewalker, and it seems like a good one (others seem to agree, since it has sold out on SCG at $29.99, $34.99, and most recently $39.99). My first thought was that Narset Transcendent's lack of protection could be a problem, but after thinking a bit more, I'm pretty sure coming in with seven loyalty (assuming you +1) is a form of protection in and of itself. I mean, have you ever tried to kill a Gideon Jura or Karn Liberated? It's not easy. 

Narset Transcendent's +1 ability is, as Kibler suggests in his tweet, pretty much the reverse of Domri Rade. Except (all apologies to Kibler and green creatures everywhere) Narset's +1 very likely better than Domri's in older formats, where spells are much more prevalent and important than creatures. -2 for rebound is interesting; while it's not effective with counterspells, doubling up on damage from Lightning Bolts or Stoke the Flames seems to have potential. As does living my own personal dream of rebounding a Cryptic Command, preferable every turn. Her ultimate is fine and could be very potent in control mirrors, but it's also not all that exciting in a lot of matchups; it certainly isn't the reason to play the card. While my first inclination for Narset Transcendent is to build a control deck, a better Standard home might actually be a spell-heavy Jeskai build, like this one from LSV. 

With 28 non-creature, non-land spells, Narset Transcendent's +1 should hit almost half the time, which puts it in the same wheelhouse as old Domri Rade builds. There are plenty of good rebound targets ranging from Treasure Cruise to Hordeling Outburst to Stoke the Flames, so you should be able to get value from both the plus and minus abilities. I'm not sure what to cut, but I'm also sure someone better at building decks that I am will figure it out. In Modern, I think Narset Transcendent could fit well in something similar to what Jonathan Sukenik used to Top 4 the SCG Baltimore Modern Open this past weekend.  

Quick Hits

  • Shaman of Forgotten Ways seems to be popular with the EDH crowd, not some much for its ability to produce mana, but because its Formidable ability is a repeatable Biorhythm — a card that is banned in the format. Unsurprisingly, some EDH players on Twitter are already calling for its banning. 
  • I've been buying some End Hostilities for between $1 and $1.25. It's at an all-time low, and the combination of strong UW Control cards in Dragons of Tarkir and the massive influx of dragons making Crux of Fate less stable could mean End Hostilities will be the premier wrath in the format. Plus, no one is going to be opening Khans of Tarkir anymore once Dragons hits stores. If UW is the new UB (i.e. the best control deck in Standard), the five-mana wrath could jump back to the $3-$4 range. 
  • People are also buying Thunderbreak Regent. Mono-Red is the last deck I'd ever play, but I can see the card's appeal as a curve topper. Even at its worst it's a four-mana Lava Spike, so assuming your goal is to get your opponent to zero as fast as possible, playing the dragon only to see it immediately die to a Hero's Downfall the following turn isn't that bad. Also, curving Flamewake Phoenix into Thunderbreak Regent into Stormbreath Dragon seems pretty sweet in a Big Red build.
  • Dragonlord's Servant seems like a slam-dunk casual uncommon. It's on curve with Dragonspeaker Shaman, and together they let you cast a seven-drop dragon on turn four. While I'm not interested in buying now, I'll be keeping my eyes on foil prices as the set increases in supply. If the price is right, it could be a solid mid-to-long term play. 
  • Speaking of long term plays, this set seems like it will have a ton of cards that will be worth a few bucks in three years (barring reprintings, of course). If any of the mythic dragons get close to bulk prices, I'll be very interested, regardless of their abilities. Same for the rare dragons. In fact, for buying bulk rares as long-term casual holds, dragons are probably the singular best creature type to focus on. Their track-record is very, very strong. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? Just how good is Narset Transcendent? What about [[Ojutai's Command? Are you an EDH/Commander player? If so, chime in one what dragons (or other cards) you think could be good in the format. Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 


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