The Rivals of Ixalan Multiplayer Review
My multiplayer reviews are fairly straightforward: I look for cards that are better in multiplayer games than they would be in standard 1v1 games. Bishop of Binding looks like a great card and I am looking forward to playing with it in plenty of decks, not just Vampire decks. However, the Bishop only gets the most minimal of boosts when playing against multiple opponents, so it didn't make the list. This list isn't the best cards for multiplayer games; I'm looking at the cards that get better because of multiplayer. Then I take what I think are the best cards from those cards and talk about them here.
There are several wonderful cards I want to talk about, so let's get started!
But wait, just one more thing before we talk about the cards. Ascend is a mechanic we see in Rivals of Ixalan that gives cards certain benefits. To ascend, you need to get 10 permanents on the battlefield, then play a card with ascend. At that point you get the city's blessing for the rest of the game.
This is so easy in multiplayer games. The games go longer and there is more ramp. I would have a hard time remembering a game I played with four players where I didn't have 10 permanents on the battlefield. The only question to ask with ascend is not whether you'll get it, but when. If you are playing green ramp, I expect you'll be there the end of your fourth turn. Even a non-green deck should have five lands and a mana rock by turn six. I would expect most decks to have a couple of creatures out by turn six, or an enchantment or some other artifact. Given all of this, you should expect that your deck will be able to get the city's blessing some time during turns five through seven.
I understand that for some metas, that is too long. I understand that there are games when you just can't draw a land to save your life. What I'm saying is that with most metas, and most games, by the time the games get involved you can expect to get the ascend boost if the card is offering one.
All right, now, let's get started!
Curious Obsession reminds me of Armadillo Cloak. When I first saw Armadillo Cloak, I was so excited to put it on one of my creatures to give it trample. I would get to do extra damage and gain a bunch of life. It was great!
Then I realized the true power of the Cloak lied with enchanting my opponent's creatures. It would make an opponent's creature better, but what was the point in attacking me? Armadillo Cloak would give me life equal to the damage dealt, so the net result of attacking me was that your creature was tapped and did no damage. This would lead my opponents to either not attack with their creature, or choose to attack someone else. If they didn't attack, I basically nullified one of their creatures. If they attacked someone else, I still gained life! Armadillo Cloak became a go to card in virtually every deck that could cast it.
I love auras like this. In 1v1 games, players see auras like this as ways to give up two cards for one card when your opponent destroys the creature. That is also true in multiplayer games, but when you cast it on an opponent's creature, there is so much more value to be had. Curious Obsession offers that same kind of value. When an opponent has a creature that can't be blocked, why not gain some advantage? Admittedly, it doesn't discourage the opponent from attacking you, since you will take damage and you are getting to draw the card whether they attack you or another opponent, but it does mean that you don't need to be the one with a creature that can deal combat damage.
It also doesn't hurt that you have a way to remove Curious Obsession from an opponent's creature built right into the card!
Paladin of Atonement
I know Paladin of Atonement doesn't seem like much, but consider how your opponents will react with Paladin of Atonement out. When the first opponent attack you and does combat, on the following upkeep you'll get a +1/+1 counter. Make a show of doing this, and make it clear that when Paladin of Atonement dies, you are going to gain a life. Your opponents will see this and Think Twice about attacking you.
I know, this sounds unlikely, but it will work. If your opponents feel like you are getting a benefit when they attack you, they'll stop attacking you. This won't work once the attacks start getting huge, but stuffing all those small attacks from early in the game will save you a ton of life later on.
Oh, and this gets bigger with loss of life, not just loss of life from your opponents. Phyrexian Arena, shock lands and other cards that cost you a point or two work here. Get that first counter on it and watch Pestilence for one on each player's turn make this thing huge real fast!
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
I can see Elenda, the Dusk Rose getting very big over the course of a multiplayer game. Creatures die all the time and once Elenda is a 3/3 or so, she could grow to be huge! Elenda's problem is that she is going to need help. A big lifelink creature stops players from attacking you on the ground, but flying creatures or deathtouch creatures will swing at you with impunity. The net result is you gain some life, lose Elenda, then get a bunch of small lifelink creatures who also gain you some life until they are also dead which shouldn't take too long.
Finding a way to give her trample or flying or the ability to fight will go a long way to improving her usefulness. Seeing her die once she is a 5/5 or so should really help to ensure you get ascend or make your Vampire theme deck that pumps Vampires that much tougher to take down. Edgar Markov will happily add Elenda, the Dusk Rose to his deck!
I've already mentioned how the city's blessing is multiplayer friendly, but Radiant Destiny is here because of the vigilance. Giving your creatures vigilance in multiplayer games is huge. With one opponent, you only risk an attack from one person. With multiple opponents, there are so many opponents who are just waiting for an opportunity to break through your defenses. Any opening can be hit by usually two or three opponents, making your ability to defend that much more important. Having vigilant creatures lets you swing at opponents without leaving yourself open to attacks from multiple opponents.
When given the choice between a creature that pumps my other creatures and an enchantment, I'll take the enchantment. They are more difficult to remove and survive a mass removal spell. I might still have to replace all the lost creatures, but when they come back, they'll have the bonuses Radiant Destiny offers, as opposed to starting completely from scratch.
Azor, the Lawbringer
I can't decide if Azor, the Lawbringer is particularly good or not. For one round, opponents can't cast instants or sorcery spells during their next turn. My meta is particularly creature-heavy, so this won't be all that good. For some of you, I expect this will mean that Azor will dodge a lot of removal that first round, so is that enough to make the card good?
Then I have to decide if having a Sphinx's Revelation that you can only cast on your turns during combat is a good thing. What made Sphinx's Revelation so good was that it was an instant. You could wait until the end of your opponent's turn before casting it, leaving your mana open. Azor doesn't give you that option. If you tap out to draw the cards and gain the life, you are leaving yourself pretty wide open. On the other hand, you can use this Sphinx's Revelation over and over again!
I think Azor will be good; I'm just not sure how good.
Vona's Hunger makes the list as it hits “each opponent,” but it's a little tricky. If you play it early in the game, you'll likely only be forcing your opponents to sacrifice one creature. At this point the best you can hope for is to force them to sacrifice a mana creature or a small creature there to be an early blocker or hit for a point of damage or two. When you get to take out half their creatures, you'll have ascend, which means your opponents will likely have ascend as well. This means you'll be getting a couple of creatures from each opponent, but it will be the most expendable of those creatures. You aren't hitting the creatures that are the big problems for you; you are clearing the board of the low-end creatures.
This isn't to say that the card is useless. Given the number of creature theme decks that are currently running around, you are likely doing more than just taking out the bottom half of their creatures. You are likely taking out some pumping effect. Most games include at least one player who is waiting for their chance to produce 13 Zombies or 10 Cats or some other ridiculous number of token creatures. Taking out half of those, and at instant speed, will save you games.
Angrath, the Flame-Chained
This is a planeswalker that only gets better with more opponents, no matter which ability you use! On a +1, everyone but you is discarding a card and losing two life. This is just fine, but nothing too amazing. Discarding the worst card in your hand is rarely a fatal play and losing two of your 40 life won't faze most players either. The -3 is where we start talking. The ability to take control of the best creature in the game for a turn and give it haste gives you plenty of options. Whether you were looking to attack, get a blocker out of the way, take advantage of a special ability, or just get the creature off the board (I know Angrath, the Flame-Chained only takes out a creature with a CMC of three or less, but you are playing with sacrifice effects right? Right?!), you have plenty of options with multiple opponents in the game.
I know the -8 ability is pretty amazing, especially considering you'll have to use the +1 ability several times to get there, but I've learned to ignore the ultimate ability unless you have a way to get there beyond what the card itself offers. Angrath, the Flame-Chained is already good enough; you don't need to go to Magical Christmas Land to find reasons why the card is should be here.
Etali, Primal Storm
The good folks on the Commanderin' podcast had the chance to preview Etali, Primal Storm. They built a truly nasty deck for Etali – add it to this list as the commander and go nuts.
Ignoring the intricacies of the deck, this is a 6/6 for six who gives you cards to cast for free whenever it attacks. I love the idea of using opponents' cards against them and Etali makes that happen. With three opponents, you'll have three options to choose from. I'm confident you'll be happy to cast at least one of them.
A benefit you don't always see from creatures that let you use opponents' cards is that Etali also lets you play the top card of your library! Add a Sensei's Divining Top and other ways to manipulate the top of your library, and you're guaranteeing that you get exactly what you want from your library, all while probably getting something from an opponents' library that you'll be happy to cast! This is a ton of card advantage for doing something with Etali that you wanted to do anyway!
Tetzimoc, Primal Death
I've heard several people dismiss Tetzimoc, Primal Death because the abilities require Tetzimoc to be in your hand and that makes it a lousy commander. I get that and understand. But look at the card again, only this time, take “legendary” out of the type line. What do you see?
I see a 6/6 for six-mana Dinosaur with deathtouch. That is damn fine dino all on its own. Now add in the ability and things get crazy. How crazy?
A long time ago I played with a little card from Unglued called the Infernal Spawn of Evil. It was a 7/7 flying, first strike creature for nine mana. This meant it virtually never actually saw play. However it allowed you to spend two mana to do one damage to an opponent. In spite of only being allowed to do this during your upkeep, and only once during each upkeep, the card was great! Until you were finally able to cast it (or get it onto the battlefield in another way) it offered value in the early game by doing that one point of damage again and again. It was a lot of fun, and proved its value repeatedly.
Tetzimoc is even better. If you have it in your opening hand you can take any extra black mana you have and reveal it to put prey counters on creatures your opponents control. And you aren't limited to using it during your upkeep or only once on your turn!
That level of slow roll may not be appreciated in your meta, so an alternative is to go crazy the turn before you play Tetzimoc, Primal Death. I can see tapping five mana and sticking prey counters on five of my opponent's creatures before it comes out. Then when it hits, it will be a mini-Wrath.
The obvious downside is the warning your opponents will get, but if you are careful how you use Tetzimoc, you can minimize that. If you only target one opponent, your other opponents will not only leave you alone, but will likely help to ensure Tetzimoc hits the battlefield the next turn.
Given the warning Tetzimoc provides to your opponents, you are definitely going to want to be ready for the response. Playing Tetzimoc as a way to save yourself from Overwhelming Forces probably isn't going to work really well. Playing Tetzimoc as a way to eliminate one opponent's defenses to leave them vulnerable is the better option.
Tetzimoc also offers the political play. If you don't attack me, I won't play Tetzimoc and your creatures will live. This is a dangerous game, but it is an out you can play to if that is the best plan.
Twilight Prophet may be my favorite card in Rivals of Ixalan. A 2/4 creature with flying for four mana that lets me draw another card on each of my upkeeps is amazing. Each opponent then loses life equal to the card's mana cost and I gain life equal to the mana cost. This is so good! When you consider most Commander decks include cards where the average mana cost is just above three, you are getting to do three extra damage per turn and gaining three life! I know that this only happens if you have the city's blessing, but when you realize you need four land to cast the Prophet, and you have the Prophet itself to get you to five permanents, you only need five more. An enchantment and mana rock, along with a couple of creatures and an equipment and you are already there.
If you doubt the value of this card, just look at Bob, aka Dark Confidant. He does the same thing as Twilight Prophet, but instead of dealing damage to your opponents, it deals the damage to you! Players understood this card to be outstanding and were regularly willing to take a lot of damage just to get that card draw. Twilight Prophet offers all of the upside and none of the downside.