As you may already know, the new Magic the Gathering expansion, Dark Ascension is very close to release, with prerelease tournaments going on this weekend. The cards in the whole set are already spoiled by Wizards of the Coast, and we received extensive articles about the set, including an article about the mechanics, the regular prerelease primer and the first card by card article by Mark Rosewater. Overall, I think now we have all information we can, and it’s the time to take a look at the set ourselves.

Now we can take a look on how Dark Ascension changes the playing field during limited tournaments, what new things it introduces and what threats it’s hiding to unwary players.

Endless hordes

  The first lesson we must learn with the new set : death and the graveyard matters even more, and killing creatures often won’t mean less opposition than before. There are several mechanics (old and new) and individual card abilities to emphasize this.

  Dark Ascension introduces a new keyword, Undying : When an undying creature with no +1/+1 counters on it dies, it’s to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. Basically it’s not only comes back, it’s come back stronger! Flashback is also returning with the new set, giving some of our instants and sorceries a way to come back. and there is even more, since there are several card abilities returning cars from the graveyard, like the Loyal Cathar who comes back as a zombie, and the Gravecrawler.

  Also, there are many ways to put tokens into play, be there simple 1/1 humans, 1/1 flying spirits or 2/2 zombies, and several ways to return them to the game, which means you will face (and also summon) an endless horde of creatures, and you must grasp every single card which helps to stop the onslaught.

Look at the sky ! At everywhere else…

  Another thing to keep in mind is to looking at flying creatures. I know it’s true for most sets, but for Dark Ascension it’s even more true, since there are an increased quantity of fliers in the form of vampires, spirits and other creatures, with many of the boasting additional abilities.

In comparison, the set contain very few really big creatures (above 4/4), and even those are uncommon and rare, meaning that many battles will be decided by evasive creatures. While most of those are flyers there are also several creatures and a common equipment with Intimidate and even a creature with Forestwalk.

So I think don’t pass any card what could remove creatures outside of combat, no matter how weak it seems.

Other thing to look at : Tribal mechanics and direct damage

There are also several cards with tribal mechanics in the set, including a circle of 4 different multicolor “boss” creatures at uncommon and some rare cards, which could be extremely powerful in the right deck. So keep an eye if your opponent plays almost exclusively zombies!

Another thing to look at is direct damage, as there are several new cards to push this strategy. Thankfully the most powerful ones are rare, but common instant burn with flashback,dealing one damage for every attacker or dealing damage for every Undying and resurrected creature could ruin many player’s day, especially if the damage could be doubled.

Honorary mentions

I guess most of you could decide which rares are the real “bombs” of the Dark Ascension set, so I decided to take a look at the second line : cards at uncommon or common slots which could change the game. I won’t write about cards I already mentioned in the article nor about obvious ones (like creature removal)

Thraben Heretic – in a set filled with Undying and graveyard manipulation this nice lady could ruin some plans if you could defend her

Artful Dodge – a very simple but powerful common which could win a match for 1-2 mana out of the blue. (sorry for the bad pun)

Undying Evil – it is a really cheap black spell, which could negate your hard work to kill any creature

Chalice of Life – above providing cheap health to you, if combined with other healing effects it could change int a quick clock to win the match. see here.

Overall I think that while there won’t be many cards in the Dark Ascension set what will appear in Standard or Modern tournaments, but there are really good and interesting cards for Limited and casual play. But I guess that won’t tournament players too happy.

Oh, and really don’t forget to check out the cards here.

Zoltán “Cain” Mészáros