Friends, Romans, countrywalkers, lend me your eyes! Because you probably can’t hear a blog post. And if you can, that means you’re either a.) synesthetic, b.) using some sort of text-to-speech program or c.) on a ton of drugs, and I’ve got some serious issues with all of those.

I’m here to talk today about some of the standout cards from Magic 2014 Core Set — Blue Gets the Shaft Like You Can’t Even Imagine OKAY FINE THAT’S NOT THE ACTUAL EMDASH-SEPARATED DESCRIPTION OF THE SET BUT IT’S VERY CLEARLY THE SUBTEXT HERE.

Ahem. Anyway, because I like easy symmetries and weak themes, I’m going to spend this blog post talking about 14 cards from M14 that I think are worth drafting, trading for, investing in, etc. Please do bear in mind that a lot of this is purely speculative, and I will not be held responsible for you forking out several hundred pocket clams for Archangels of Thune if they eventually end up in the dollar bin (though let’s be honest, they’re a silver bullet in modern Birthing Pod lists so they’ll probably retain decent value).

Since there’s a pretty significant disproportion between colors, I’m just going to run down the list alphabetically (you can tell I’m not being biased with this particular organizational schema because a white card tops the list and there’s no blue cards in the top three).

Oh, and for those who don’t know/don’t care (SHAME ON YOU), Evolution — the biggest fighting game tournament of the year — is this weekend. And in honor of that TOTALLY HYPE occasion, I’ll be revising my FGC tier card rating system from my last set review for this article. Tiers are as follows:

SAGAT TIER – Completely bonkers and OP. PICK SAGAT HE’S TOP TIER.
Akuma Tier – Pretty damn insane, but not quite as godlike as SAGAT TIER.
Bison Tier – Solid normals, lots of bad matchups. A thoroughly decent card all around. Also, PSYCHO CRUSHER.
Chun-Li Tier – This isn’t Third Strike, so Chun Li stands for C-GRADE. Passable, but often just barely.
Dan Tier – The SHIT TIER of this review. Poor lil’ Dan…

Archangel of Thune

Archangel of Thune

Oh joy, life gain cards! Most mechanics/mechanical themes in magic that revolve around life gain are nigh-universally maligned by competitive players, and for good reason: Gaining life doesn’t actually do anything inherently; if your board and hand are empty and you’re at 27 life, you’re roughly just as dead as if your board and hand are empty at 20 life, or 15 life, or 10 life… you get the picture.

Fortunately Archangel of Thune is much closer to Timely Reinforcements than it is to Angel’s Mercy, which means it falls squarely in the camp of Good Life-Gaining Cards (TM), since its life gain-related effects advance your board in a pretty ferocious way. Gaining life and growing all your durdles is a pretty disgusting effect to tack onto a not-completely-horrendous evasive body, and since it triggers on ALL life gain, its inherent synergies are pretty absurd. Kitchen Finks have a new BFF, as if those accursed Ouphes needed any more help in Modern.

Constructed Rating: Akuma Tier
Limited Rating: Akuma Tier

Chandra, Pyromaster

Chandra, Pyromaster

So first and foremost, I’m not actually certain Chandra is playable in constructed. I think she’s the most playable Chandra yet, but when you bear in mind that Chandra Ablaze is a real card that is real, that isn’t saying so much…

That said, I at least have some semi-solid reasoning to back up my “playable” claims about her. Her +1 is a nice ability for the top-end of an aggro deck, and when you couple it with things like Firefist Striker, I can see her falter-ping being a source of some massive life swings. It doesn’t hurt that the ability puts her at a solid five loyalty, which is nothing at all to scoff at.

In more midrange-y/controlling decks, her +0 is a fine little Future Sight effect, digging you past lands you probably don’t need and getting you closer to action every turn. I can see her being a fine inclusion in some sort of RUG control deck, where you have sweet durdles like Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk to hold the line while Chandra exile-draws you a bunch of cards.

Oh, also, her ultimate says CAST CRUEL ULTIMATUM THREE TIMES FOR FREE. Or at least that’s what I read it as. What could possibly be better?

In terms of limited, she’s a beefy walker with reasonable effects. Seems like a pretty easy first pick to me.

Constructed Rating: Bison Tier (???)
Limited Rating: Akuma Tier/High Bison Tier

Chandra’s Phoenix

Chandra's Phoenix

Chandra’s fine feathered friend saw some fringe play the first time it was printed, but I’m hopeful this little bird can sing a bit more in the RTR-M14-Theros constructed environment. Chandra Mk. IV seems to give this card a little more oomph than Chandra, the Firebrand did, and I’m pretty sure bloodrushing a Ghor-Clan Rampager on a Phoenix is one of the dictionary definitions of a BIG GAME (TM).

It’s a decent card in limited, too. Maybe not first pickable in some packs, but it’s fairly resilient and efficiently costed, so you can’t really complain too much about picking one up as a repeatable threat in your red-based draft/sealed deck.

Constructed Rating: Low Akuma Tier/High Bison Tier
Limited Rating: Akuma Tier

Doom Blade

Doom Blade

Ohai, one of my favorite removal spells of all time. Doom Blade slices, dices and splices onto arcane (okay, fine, it doesn’t do that… BUT CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW AWESOME THAT WOULD BE?????). There’s a reason why they bumped it to uncommon; the little Blade that could was pretty sickening in limited when it occupied the common slot. I mean for fuck’s sake, the card has a Twitter account based on it! You can’t really go wrong with a more-or-less-all-purpose removal spell for two mana in limited OR constructed (it saw fringe Modern play until Deathrite Shaman was released, if that tells you anything).

Constructed Rating: Akuma Tier
Limited Rating: SAGAT TIER

Elvish Mystic

Elvish Mystic

Llanowar Elves has been a staple in constructed since the construction of constructed (YOU’RE WELCOME FOR THE WORDINESS), so it’s nice to see it (functionally) reprinted after a year-long hiatus.

Granted, I’m in the camp that thinks WotC’s desire to break away from the lore of Dominaria is kind of really stupid, but functional reprints are always fine in my book, and they typically make for sweet cube inclusions since they usually offer effects that you WANT to be redundant.

I don’t have much else to say about Llanowar Mystic; it bumps you from one mana to three mana in constructed and it’s been a four-of in many, many, MANY green decks since 1993, so clearly its track record is pretty goddamn proven at this point.

Constructed Rating: SAGAT TIER
Limited Rating: Bison Tier

Kalonian Hydra

Kalonian Hydra

WAIIIIIIIT A MINUTE. Did Wizards just slip a constructed-playable Hydra into its mix of Core Set staples?

Anyone who knows me knows green is my least favorite color in magic (Tarmogoyf is a blue card, y’all!), but I’m willing to admit this Hydra-bro has some serious potential. Zvi Moshowitz wrote a sweet article on Star City Games about combining Kalonian Hydra and Corpsejack Menace for maximum hilarity/GIGANTIC DURDLE BEATDOWNS, and even the creature-hating soul that is mine can admit that there is an appeal in the interactions to be had in that deck. To quote Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.

Oh, and obviously this card is ridiculous in limited. Good luck beating anyone who untaps with it!

Constructed: Akuma Tier
Limited: SAGAT TIER

Lifebane Zombie

Lifebane Zombie

So, THIS is a hoser card. If you’ve ever heard me talk about Thragtusk, you know Señor Tusks and I aren’t on fantastic terms… and I fully intend to finish the arduous process of burning that bridge by packing a bunch of Lifebane Zombies in every black deck I play from now until October. A 3/1 beater with intimidate that lets you loop Gravecrawlers is already pretty sick, and its nasty little Ostracize effect is some pretty insane added value on top. He’s like an ice cream sandwich in zombie form. Which I realize sounds absolutely disgusting, but I’m not great with metaphors while I’m drinking, so cut me some slack here, okay?

Constructed: Akuma Tier
Limited: Bison Tier

Mutavault

Mutavault

I could talk about how this is one of the top three manlands ever printed, but instead I’ll just say this: Thank you, Wizards of the Coast, for cleaving the price on Mutavault by making it a basic rare in a Core Set. My wallet almost doesn’t hate you, but then it remembers what you did with Voice of Resurgence

Constructed Rating: SAGAT TIER
Limited Rating: Bison Tier (Clarificatory note: You’re probably not going to pass $15 very often, but it’s not a particularly exceptional card in limited outside of its ability to pay for your draft.)

Ratchet Bomb

Ratchet Bomb

Just like Powder Keg before it, Ratchet Bomb is a card that does just one thing… but goddamn does it do it well. I can’t tell you how many Lingering Souls I scattered with Ratchet Bomb when I was playing U/W Delver. For that matter, I probably can’t tell you how many Delvers I exploded with Ratchet Bomb when I was playing Delver (I boarded out my own Delvers a lot… but that’s a story for another time).

Ratchet Bomb is a sweet sideboard card. Situationally asymmetrical sweepers are always interesting and almost always very balanced, so the card is likely to do limited good to the coming standard format without harming it in any way. And if you ask me, that’s exactly what a universally accessible sideboard card should do!

Constructed Rating: Bison Tier
Limited Rating: Low Chun-Li Tier/Dan Tier

Scavenging Ooze

Scavenging Ooze

Much like with Mutavault, I’m ever so grateful to Wizards for giving us a price drop core set reprint of Scavenging Ooze. I’m also curious to see what effect it has on Modern, if any. It’s always been a nice soft counter to Tarmogoyf, and I’m hopeful that it will give the “fair” decks in the format a decent main deck tool to fight the menace that is Pod. It will also be interesting to see how it fights for Graveyard munchies with Deathrite Shaman. Prepare for some griiiiiiiiindy games, Tarmo-Bob-Lili-Deathrite shell players.

As for limited, I really don’t know how good the card is going to be. I imagine solid is a decent answer. I’m pretty sure I’d pass it during a day two draft at a Grand Prix in terms of power level/pick order, but just like with Muta, I’ll never ship it at a casual draft because dolla dolla ooze, y’all.

Constructed Rating: Akuma Tier
Limited Rating: Bison Tier

Shadowborn Demon

Shadowborn Demon

Now this is a demon. Almost unconditional removal on a stick, and the stick happens to be a fat flyer for a reasonable mana cost? I’m sold. I’m also a sycophant, so you can bet money on the fact that I’m going to try cramming this bad boy in a deck with four Restoration Angels, because, well, VALUE.

As for limited, well, it’s a gigantic flying 187, so I don’t really have much else to say about it in that regard.

Constructed Rating: Akuma Tier
Limited Rating: SAGAT TIER

Tidebinder Mage

Tidebinder Mage

Let me be clear here: This card is pretty much only on the list because I think it’s the best blue card in the set (outside of Jace, Memory Adept, but he’s old hat at this point), and I felt like it would be unfair to include a total of zero blue cards in this list.

That said… goddamn Wizards, you REALLY didn’t want to cut blue any slack in this set, did you? Domestication at rare? A middling sphinx with only three power AND a seven mana price tag? That’s just cold. Cold like Frost Breath, which is probably just straight-up way better than Tidebinder Mage in limited (and is COMMON), but I’m hoping Tidebinder’s constructed playability makes it worth including here. I’m not actually convinced it IS constructed playable, at least in main decks… but I’m a blue mage filled with hope, and Jackie Lee did point out how it has “synergy” with Turn // Burn

Constructed Rating: Bison Tier (at best)
Limited Rating: Dan Tier?

Witchstalker

Witchstalker

I think my friend Tim Trendall said it best about Witchstalker: R&D punted by not naming this card Dire Corgi.

But let’s get serious about this cute little rug-hugger for a second. It’s nowhere near the “hoser” Lifebane Zombie is, but it will be a solid addition to Bant Hexproof until October rotation (as if the deck needed another solid playable…). It’s triggered ability is a very minor upside, but it’s still an upside, and I can see it screwing with combat math at an FNM near you already.

In terms of limited… well, this set has an enchantment sub-theme, so I’m pretty sure this guy will be just fine in the format. I still wouldn’t snag him up over a Doom Blade or whatever, but I’m also bitterly biased against green creature cards, so clearly I’m not the best person to judge his limited efficacy.

Constructed Rating: Bison Tier (Akuma Tier in Bant Hexproof)
Limited Rating: Low Akuma Tier/High Bison Tier

Young Pyromancer

Young Pyromancer

This is far and away my favorite card in M14. Like I said above, I’m a goddamn sycophant, but COME ON. This is the kind of dinky little Johnny-Spike card that just screams “BREAK ME!” Young Pyromancer’s effect is like a baby Talrand, Sky Summoner, but you can’t complain about the downgrade on the dudes it makes when it costs half as much and has a comparable body. It’s a super synergistic build around me card, and you can bet I’m going to build the hell out of a deck that takes advantage of Young Pyromancer’s youthful pyromancy (you’re welcome for the redundancy, by the way).

Constructed Rating: SAGAT TIER (not really but LET ME DREAM GODDAMN YOU)
Limited Rating: Bison Tier

Well, that about covers things, I think. Core sets are rarely inspired, but this particular core set seems even less inspired that usual. I’m somewhat excited to force mono-black at every draft table I sit down at, but that’s because I’m a bad person who can’t say no to Nightmare.

What I will say in M14’s favor: Core sets are like the summer vacation of limited formats, and after the never-ending clusterfuck that was Dragon’s Maze (specifically at Gamma Ray… yeah, I said it!), it will be a nice brain break before we jump into whatever kind of fresh, sweet expert set hell triple Theros limited is going to be.

Thanks for listening to me rant about how blue gets no love anymore in (core) sets. May you all open Memory Adepts in your prerelease pools (unless you’re in my prerelease, in which case please don’t mill me out because that’s just utter bullshit and I’ll hold it against you forever).

Oh, and with EVO in mind, always remember this Magic/gaming/life lesson: It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about being the Daigo Umehara to your opponent’s Justin Wong in your very own EVO Moment #37.

Margot is Gamma Ray’s resident Magic snob. Follow her on Twitter and Google+!