With the Pre-Release last weekend, Magic 2013 is just days away from launch and I'm pretty excited for some of the new spells being introduced, or re-introduced, to Standard. Of course, you must take the good with the bad, and this week we'll be looking at both. For each color, I'll highlight my personal favorite and my personal least-favorite, and briefly explain why I hold this opinion. Take to the forums to discuss your own top-and-bottom-picks for the new Core Set.
I see a lot of potential for aggressive White mages with this Core Set, though something about losing Timely Reinforcements and Day of Judgment really bothers me. Without Timely to buy some extra turns, and the 4-mana sweeper to clean up, I worry that W/x Control decks may simply fall by the wayside in what has been a highly aggressive format. With that said, aggression seems like it is here to stay, and the Exalted mechanic highlights that pretty effectively. As such, my personal favorite White spell has to be Sublime Archangel. Sure, Oblivion Ring is more versatile and probably more powerful as a whole, but Sublime Archangel is fun for everyone. In Limited formats, I see this being a powerhouse as long as you've got an assortment of lower-cost creatures en route to your turn four Archangel. In the right Draft or Sealed pool, I see this being an inexpensive bomb that simply ends games. In Constructed, this is going to make each of your Exalted creatures work double duty, since each instance of Exalted will trigger separately, making for some huge attack steps starting on turn four. As to the worst of White, I think it would be too easy to simply name Guardian Lions and move on, so I'll go with Angel's Mercy instead. I'm not clear on why this was printed in two consecutive sets, but sure enough, it was in Avacyn Restored and now it's in Magic 2013. On top of that, at four mana, it's not even half of what Timely Reinforcements is. RIP Timely.
The changes we're seeing to Blue are going to really shake things up, given that Standard format staples like Ponder, Mana Leak, and Phantasmal Image are all going away. They've each got slightly-less-powerful replacements coming along, however, with Index, Rewind, and Clone filling these slots respectively. I don't really see these replacements cutting it, though, and Blue mages are going to have a Mana Leak shaped hole to fill. All that aside, my favorite Blue card in isolation from the set and format has got to be Talrand, Sky Summoner, who's merits I have previously extolled. Given that he's creating a 2/2 flier, and virtual card advantage every time you cast a spell, coupled with Blue's abundance of cheap instants and sorceries, this guy is just a potential all-star in the right deck. I'd actually love to see a Blue/Red counter-burn deck featuring this guy as a win condition. Which, as it turns out, is sort of like what they tried to accomplish with the Depths of Power Intro Pack, though it could certainly use some refinement. I'd also like to give a quick nod to Switcheroo as a runner up for having a really neat effect while also having the best possible name for that effect. As to the worst of the color, I have to give that honor to Omniscience. Sure, casting everything for free is kind of nice, but let's be fair, if you've got ten mana to throw around, you've probably cast your hand already anyways, right? I could possibly see some interesting interactions in non-Standard formats, with the likes of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Progenitus, but older formats also have much cheaper ways to get those guys into play, like Show and Tell.
Black has some pretty interesting prospects, with Murder replacing Doom Blade and the glorious return of one of my favorites, Sign in Blood. I must preface my top choice from Black with the fact that Hypnotic Specter discard was one of my go-to strategies back in my formative Magic years. That should leave little room for error in guessing my choice for Black, then, Shimian Specter. Sure, it's a little more expensive than his Hypnotic cousin, but he's a Distress plus Surgical Extraction rolled up into one and slapped onto a 2/2 evasive body. Sure, I'm biased by my love of discard, but I'd love to see this guy make its way to some Top 8s. As for the worst, what about Zombie Goliath, too easy? Instead let's go with Diabolic Revelation as our sad panda in Black. Four mana for Diabolic Tutor is too much, so increasing that to six to tutor for a single card just seems like a step backwards. Sure, in theory it lets you search for multiple cards, which I guess could be fine for a slow-moving mono-Black control deck with only a couple of win conditions.
Red is going to be pretty easy here, as there's one absolute stand-out card that I expect to have a major impact on the game. No, it's not Bladetusk Boar. Check out Thundermaw Hellkite. Five mana gets you a 5/5 flier with Haste. That's pretty amazing all by itself. When you read the rest of the text, it gets even more absurd. Unless your opponent has Reach on their ground-based defenses, you're swinging for five in the air unopposed when Thundermaw comes down. Suffice to say, I expect this to be the finisher of choice for Red mages in the coming Standard format. As to the worst of Red, there are a handful to choose from, like the aforementioned Bladetusk Boar, but I think the real winner here is going to be Worldfire. I'm confident that it can somehow be broken to allow for an easy win, in as much as getting to nine mana in a Red deck is easy. But short of suspending a Rift Bolt, I just don't see much application for it. If you know how to make this card work, please enlighten me in the forums. Until then, I've got to rank this as the bottom rung of Red in M13.
Last but not least, we've got Green. Ramp has long been one of my favorite strategies in Magic, and Green is typically at the heart of any Ramp deck. I'm going to have to cheat a little bit here and award the top spot to two cards in Green, since they're both so powerful in their own right, and I will absolutely be tinkering with both of them come launch day. First up we've got Thragtusk with an immediate impact on the game by granting you five life, and then leaving behind a 3/3 Beast should they have removal for it outside of Pacifism effects. My other top honor goes to Rancor, of course, which I can only hope will bring Infect to the top tables for the next couple of months. Beyond that, Green-based aggro decks will have another powerful tool at their disposal and Strangleroot Geist just got a lot more annoying. While I'm cheating, I'd like to also name two cards as the worst in color for Green. First we've got Spiked Baloth, with just one more power than Garruk's Companion at twice the mana cost, I just don't understand how this guy was conceived. Serpent's Gift is similarly terrible. Necrobite doesn't really see any play outside of Limited, and it is infinitely more playable than Serpent's Gift.
So what are your top picks for each color? What about the set as a whole? Will their impact be limited to Standard, or will they influence larger formats as well?