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Something Old, Something New, and the new Sarkhan

Is it just me or is Wizards taking this time travel theme a little too seriously? I'm fine with the Elder Dragons (although specific Elder Dragons are hit or miss), and I'm thrilled that they won't auto-die like Cognivore (and the original cycle) on my upkeep in Momir. The timeshifted cards like Marang River Prowler and Marang River Skeleton are flavorful, even if they aren't playable in constructed. Having legendary creatures become planeswalkers is always fun, although not unprecedented. All of these aspects of Dragons of Tarkir sit well with me. You might even say I like them. So, at this point, your probably wondering what part of the theme I'm having a problem with, so I'll tell you — several of the cards in Dragons of Tarkir are making me wish that I could travel back in time to play what amounts to a better version of the card printed in the past. 

Now, just to be clear, I'm not saying "those Cluestones would be way better if they were Moxen (or even just signets)," or "why isn't Treasure Cruise actual Ancestral Recall instead of a functional Ancestral Recall." The cards Dragons of Tarkir is making me long for are relatively recent, non-reserve list cards; cards that actually could be reprinted if Wizards so desired. This article isn't just about complaining; looking at some old cards along their recently spoiled Dragons of Tarkir relatives also provides a way of framing a discussion about the prices and potential future of the new Dragons of Tarkir cards. Hopefully this will not only be therapeutic, but also educational. Let's start by looking at the card that got me started down this path to the past in the first place and the card it makes me wish for:

Arashin Foremost and Silverblade Paladin

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Arashin Foremost is very similar to Silverblade Paladin. Both cost 1WW, both are 2/2's, both (basically) have double strike, and both have the ability to give another creature double strike. Much like Ojutai's Command where that pesky creature clause keeps it from being anywhere near as good as Cryptic Command, Arashin Foremost has one extra word that makes it much worse than Silverblade Paladin: Warrior. 

The power of Silverblade Paladin was that he could give anyone double strike. What's better than an Invisible Stalker with Unflinching Courage? A courageous stalker that's soulbound to Silverblade Paladin. Cards like Thragtusk and Falkenrath Aristocrat are extremely powerful, so when you throw in double strike on top of it, you end up with one of those Skullclamp/Jace, the Mind Sculptor type cards where it feels like Gob Bluth is running R&D.

Arashin Foremost, on the other hand, is drastically limited by his Warrior clause. Instead of fitting in any vaguely aggressive deck that plays white like Silverblade Paladin, Arashin Foremost only works in tribal warriors. If you take a peak at the warriors currently legal in Standard, you'll see that while there may be enough Warriors to build a deck; however, most of the playable ones are small enough that even with double strike, they still get stonewalled by Siege Rhino. It's just not that exciting. I'm pretty sure a vanilla 2/2 double strike for 1WW isn't playable in our current Standard format. If it was, Fabled Hero would be showing up in constructed. 

Financially, this is a big deal. Silverblade Paladin was $10 during its Standard heyday. Fabled Hero is basically a bulk rare. While Arashin Foremost should have slightly more demand than the Hero from FNM players building Mardu and/or BW Warriors (casual-competitive players seem to love this deck), I have a hard time seeing it very much above bulk, maybe hitting $1.50 at best. Of course, if there is a tier one warrior deck (possible, but I believe unlikely) and if that deck wants Arashin Foremost as an four-of, it could be worth a bit more. But that's a lot of "if's."  Even then it wouldn't come near the peak prices of Silverblade Paladin, which was played across multiple archetypes, usually as a three or four-of. 

Den Protector and Eternal Witness

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I'll be the first to admit that Den Protector does have some upside in comparison to Eternal Witness, mostly in its strange pseudo-evasion (although we've seen this ability before and it hasn't been all that playable.) At first glance, unmorphing into a 3/2 and swinging past Courser of Kruphix, Soulfire Grand Master, and Sylvan Wayfinder sounds fine, but when you consider this can't happen until turn four at the earliest and you're already in the land of Siege Rhinos, Tasigur, the Golden Fangs, and Polukranos, World Eaters, not being blocked by a two-drop isn't really that helpful. 

When it comes to Eternal Witness, you don't really care if she ever attacks. Her job is to get back a Chord of Calling or Cryptic Command and then throw herself in front of a Tarmogoyf (which there will be many more of shortly, with a Modern Masters 2015 reprint confirmed at PAX East). Plus the shaman is much easier to abuse with everything from Ghostway to Restoration Angel to Cryptic Command (especially combined with Aether Vial). To abuse Den Protector, you're stuck with things like Ixidron

The argument I keep hearing to justify the cost of the Dragons of Tarkir morphs is that their ability is uncounterable. This much is true, however everyone seems to forget that the creature itself can be countered. I guess you can get sneaky with Mastery of the Unseen, but then you have a lot of variance to overcome and no guarantee that you'll have the right morph when you need it. In most cases, Den Protector is a five-mana Eternal Witness (yes, you can split between two turns, but that wreaks havoc on your curve), which actually makes it more like Restock, which has been Standard-legal for 9 months now without seeing any play. 

Anticipate and Impulse

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When I started writing this article, I promised myself that I was going to avoid using the term "strictly worse" because it is surprisingly controversial in the Magic community. I almost wrote that Arashin Foremost was a strictly worse Silverblade Paladin, then I remembered the hate mail I got for calling Dragonlord Kolaghan redundant, and figure I would save myself reading 100 messages about Engineered Plague set on Knight and just skip the term all together. 

Well, it's now time to break my own rule: Anticipate is a strictly worse Impulse. This said, feel free to point out some fringe situations where you would rather have Anticipate than Impulse in the comments. I just know that every time I cast Anticipate, and I'm fairly confident that it will be cast in Standard, and maybe even Modern (Paulo says it's better than Telling Time, which is already sees (very) fringe play in the format.) So it's not so much that Anticipate is bad, it just feels bad because it's so much worse than Impulse

As a common, Anticipate isn't especially relevant financially, although I will be interested to see where foils are priced. Both the Ravnica and 10th Edition printings of Telling Time carry a $6 price tag, so if foil Anticipates are somehow priced at $2, I might be interested.

New Cards

Shorecrasher Elemental


LSV's choice to spoil this card by comparing it to Morphling is a strange one because everyone else seems to think Shorecrasher Elemental is the next Nightveil Specter; not because of how the card plays, but because it provides an easy way to make Master of Waves very good on turn four and turns on Thassa, God of the Sea. As a result, all three of these cards have been major spec targets over the past few hours on Magic Online. In the paper world, Shorecrasher Elemental pre-sales started at $4.99, sold out there and again at $7.99, before hitting $10 where it currently sits on SCG. While paper prices on Master of Waves haven't moved much yet (these things take time), they've jumped from under $5 to $7.5 on Magic Online where prices are much more fluid. Similarly, Thassa, God of the Sea has spiked from $2.5 to over $4. 

On its own, Shorecrasher Elemental isn't really all that exciting. While the pump ability is vaguely Aetherlingesque, having only three toughness adds at least a full turn to the clock, assuming it can connect at all since it doesn't have any form of evasion. Its blink ability is pretty clunky, coming back in as a 2/2 with no mana-symbols and costing five more to become a 4/4. Most times you'll cast it face up for UUU, maybe blink it once, chump with the morph, and that will be that. Once you get to seven mana (the same number as Aetherling, which might be where the comparison comes from), it does become very difficult to kill, since you can blink, unmorph, and blink again all in the same turn, but then you're using your entire turn to keep a 4/4 alive, which is probably not all that troubling from your opponent's perspective. 

All-in-all, the success of Shorecrasher Elemental seems to depend entirely on a Mono-Blue Devotion build being good again. If the deck puts up a good showing at the upcoming Pro Tour, Shorecrasher Elemental has a chance to maintain its price for a little while. This said, I expect that Shorecrasher Elemental will be a bulk mythic eventually.  The only question is if he gets a chance to shine with the Theros mythics before they rotate in the fall. 

Descent of the Dragons

I don't know what to make of this card. We really haven't seen anything quite like it before, which makes it very difficult to evaluate. It could be horrible and end up a casual-only, close-to-bulk mythic, or it could be a Standard staple. It's obviously not something you want to cast on your opponents creatures very often, although I guess you can turn an Elder Dragon into a slightly smaller dragon, so the most apparent application is to upgrade your own creatures into big evasive monsters. 

On first glance, this suggests one of two paths. The first option is to pay full price for Descent of the Dragons after flooding the board with tokens from Raise the Alarm, Dragon Fodder, Goblin Rabblemaster and the like, which is pretty sweet, but also very slow. The second is to get all wonky with Battlefield Thaumaturge.

With Battlefield Thaumaturge in play, Descent of the Dragons has potential to make a lot of dragons as early as turn four, with magical Christmas land being something like Zurgo Bellstriker into Battlefield Thaumaturge into Hordeling Outburst into Descent of the Dragons on turn four with Negate backup. Assuming your opponent doesn't put up any major resistance, you have 20 power worth of fliers attacking on turn 5.

Based on this potential, I've heard rumblings that some members of the finance community are going very deep on Battlefield Thaumaturge — it's pretty close to bulk as is and comes from Journey into Nxy, so the supply is comparatively low. Let me make it clear: I have no idea if this deck will work or if Battlefield Thaumaturge will see any play at all in Standard, but as I wrote in my article about Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, my theory on bulk level rares is you only need to pick somewhere between one and two winners out of every six to make money. While I haven't purchased any copies yet, Battlefield Thaumaturge has most of the characteristics I look for when buying bulk rares. Plus, with a unique and flavorful ability that gets better with every set printed, it's not the worst card to have sitting around for the long-haul. 

Sarkhan Unbroken


When I first saw Sarkhan Unbroken, I joked that they should have left the "un" out of his name. Being a five-mana planeswalker does somewhat limit his playability, but luckily he is in the perfect color combination to come down early with the help of Elvish Mystic, Rattleclaw Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid. Once he hits the battlefield, Sarkhan Unbroken hits all the marks of a constructed playable planeswalker. I will readily admit I have a bias towards drawing cards, but Sarkhan Unbroken's plus one ability seem to me like one of the strongest printed since Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It's pretty close to getting a free Explore every turn, which should be incredibly strong. As for the minus two ability, it not only provides protection, but it also provides a good justification for why Sarkhan Unbroken is a good card. Picture a sorcery that cost 2GUR and said "Rebound - Put a 4/4 Red Dragon token with flying onto the battlefield?" That's a fine card, right? Maybe not broken, but eight evasive power across two bodies for five-mana is a constructed playable card. This is the worst case scenario for Sarkhan Unbroken — a better Broodmate Dragon. I don't really care about the ultimate, and I would expect that you don't need to play many, or even any, dragons to make the card worthwhile. Drawing cards and creating dragon tokens should be enough to win most games, although if you want to put a Dragonlord Atarka into play, I'm not going to stop you. If I was building with Sarkhan Unbroken, I would start with one of these two decks and adjust accordingly.


Just how many copies of Sarkhan Unbroken either of these decks would want remains to be seen, but you can make the same argument about Narset Transcendant and that hasn't stopped her from hitting an unsustainable price of $50. Garruk, Primal Hunter is somewhat similar, and arguably even harder to cast, but he still managed to see heavy play in Standard. I'm not sure if Sarkhan Unbroken can reach Narset Transcendent prices (but then, I don't think Narset should be Narset prices), because I don't think anyone is under the illusion that the RUG planeswalker has a home in Modern, let alone Legacy. This said, it seems likely Sarkhan Unbroken will see just as much, or maybe more play in Standard because you can stick him in pretty much any deck that can cast him, while Narset Transcendent's plus ability is quite restrictive.


Unfortunately, that's all for today. There was a bunch more big news to come out of PAX East including double-faced planeswalkers in Magic Origins, Tarmogoyf and Karn Liberated in Modern Masters 2015, and a return to the plane of Zendikar in the fall, but if I don't stop writing I'm not only going to miss my deadline, but end up with a dissertation. So instead, I plan on being back very soon (possibly even over the weekend) to cover the rest of the happenings. Until then, you make sure to check out all the spoilers here on MTGGoldfish.

I said a few weeks ago that this might be the most exciting time ever to be a Magic player, and if today is any indication, I'm pretty sure I was right. Enjoy it Magic fans, the multiverse might not be perfect, but we have a very healthy game that's heading in a very exciting direction. Until next time, leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 


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