Douglas Linn brings us an overview of the latest Magic: The Gathering set: Khans of Tarkir!
Rumbling across the dusty steppes is a monumental horde of riders, united around their fearsome Khan. The mystical monks descend from their monastery, and the snake people arise from deep of their fetid swamps. In the far reaches of the dim and dark forests, the savage barbarians sharpen their axes and the clannish traders of the plains circle their weary caravans, preparing for the impending chaos.
The Khans of Tarkir Have Arrived
Khans is the newest expansion for Magic: The Gathering. The 65th set showcases new monsters and classic mechanics on the faraway plane of Tarkir. The dragons have been extinct for a thousand years. Sarkhan Vol, a powerful sorcerer who can step between worlds (Planeswalker), hears the murmurs of those dead dragons in his mind, calling him back home to Tarkir. The battles are never-ending. Peace is never close. Five clans of bitter, hardened warriors rally around aspects of the extinct dragons.
The Mardu Horde embraces the wings of the dragon, sweeping in with fast-hitting attacks. Meanwhile, the far-seeing monks of the Jeskai Way look to the eye of the dragon for insight and finesse. The Sultai Brood will stop at nothing for power, taking the vicious fangs as their sign. Ripping through their adversaries, the Temur choose the brutal claws of the extinct dragon, while the Abzan Houses hunker down; their sign is the scale and they intend to Outlast (more on that below) their rivals.
Each clan is represented in abundance across the 269 cards in Khans. The clans are aligned among the five colors in Magic and each represents a triad. Magic sets rarely focus on “enemy colors.” Khans of Tarkir’s design focuses on what are classically “enemy” colors. For example: White, the color of law, order, purity, and selflessness, normally teams up with Green and Blue. Those colors emphasize nature and knowledge, respectively. Here, players will find White aligned with Black, the capricious and greedy color, as well as Red’s chaotic and disorderly destruction. The result, the Mardu Horde, is nothing short of amazing. The mechanic for the Horde is Raid, which rewards a player who has made an attack that turn. The Mardu save the best for their warriors who go out and fight!
The other four clans are no slouch either. Blue finds itself paired with Green and Red, its historical enemies, in the Temur Frontier. There’s no room for the weak here. Their Ferocious mechanic gives excellent bonuses to the player if they command large monsters and fearsome fighters. They are not without their tricks. A well-timed Winterflame will chill one enemy creature and incinerate another. The Abzan Houses have no need for such trickery. They depend on Outlast, an ability that allows their creatures to grow in size over time. The long game definitely favors the Abzan and their inexorable growth and endurance.
The Jeskai are the kung-fu monks you know and love. They gain benefits from Prowess, which rewards your creatures every time you cast a non-creature spell. In short, they turn into flying kicking machines as long as you get the magic flowing. Red’s love of the immediate and temporary pairs up with Blue’s mastery of sorcery and White’s martial supremacy to make a legion of truly scary warriors.
My favorite clan is the Sultai Brood, with their cunning and ruthlessness, what’s not to like? They take hold of your very deck of cards and turn it into a resource. The more that you throw away, the more powerful spells you can cast. You will forsake your longevity, give up your future choices, all to seize the power that the Sultai have to offer to you now. Their Delve mechanic reduces the mana cost of your spells dramatically. Provided, of course, that you can feed them the spent cards that they require. Each card that you remove from your graveyard will lower the mana cost of a spell by one. This means that with enough cards, you can reduce Dead Drop from ten mana to only one! The Sultai feed from your graveyard and promise great reward. But while they manipulate the opponent, they extort you along the way.
Each clan has a cycle of cards in it. They rally under Banners that provide mana for their spells and support an Ascendancy, which are powerful enchantments that feed into each clan’s power. Sultai Ascendancy, for example, allows you to look at the top two cards of your deck at the beginning of your turn and put any number of them into your graveyard. This gives you excellent selection, getting rid of useless cards and speeding you to your cunning tricks. It also fills the graveyard for Delve so that you can cast those spells faster. Meanwhile, the Temur Ascendancy grants all of your creatures Haste, so they can attack as soon as they enter the battlefield and surprise the opponent. If you cast a monster with a power of four or greater, you also get to draw a card. I think of this like a big brawler calling in his friends. No hulking warrior can resist a good fight!
The clans are each led by a Khan who is simply the biggest, baddest, most devious, and cunning bruiser in the whole lot. Surrak Dragonclaw bashed his way to the top of the Temur, while I have a feeling that Sidisi, Blood Tyrant helped her competitors to an unfortunate end. Narset, Enlightened Master is the fastest monk around. She’s untouchable, and she moves so fast, she pulls free spells out of your library with her when she attacks. Each of these Khans have powerful and cool abilities that are right in line with the rest of the clan’s power. On a good day, you can attack with Narset and cast four free spells, triggering Prowess four times. Zurgo Helmsmasher, head of (who else?) the Mardu Horde, is an indestructible attacker. He removes the downside of having to attack to trigger Raid, because nothing is going to kill him anyway! Throw small creatures in front of him to block, and he only gets bigger and madder.
Khans has an overwhelming number of gold cards, those multicolored spells with two or more different kinds of mana required to cast them. Many of the set’s best creatures are solidly in three different colors. For example, Siege Rhino is a 4/5 creature that costs only four mana. The downside? It needs green, black, and white to be cast! When you resolve it though, you immediately gain three life, and your opponent loses three life. Talk about a grand entrance! Players will have to be very careful about how they build their decks to make sure that they can reliably cast all of their coolest cards.
There is a way to sidestep the color requirements. The keyword Morph returns. Certain creatures with Morph can be summoned face-down for three mana. They are unnamed 2/2s, and the opponent has no idea what they could be. For a cost, they can turn face-up and typically have an awesome ability tied to them. For example, the Ponyback Brigade packs a mighty surprise. When you flip it up, it makes three 1/1 Goblins, ready to cause trouble. The Morph creatures make each attack phase a game of bluffing and betting.
What I love most about Khans is that there’s no clear “best card” or trump strategy. It is solidly balanced to reward you for trying different things. It interfaces well with the Magic 2015 set and the previous Theros block. For example, the new spell Hordeling Outburst summons a trio of little red Goblins. Those Goblins can help cast Stoke the Flames from M15, burning out giant creatures and putting the heat on the opponent. You’ll love finding these little cross-block interactions on top of the synergy already built into Khans itself.
Khans of Tarkir is a phenomenal set, and I’ve just scratched the surface of it. It’s got reprints of old chase cards like Polluted Delta and new all-stars to try out. Take a chance on Sarkhan’s mad dreams of his homeworld. Pick up a sword, get on that horse and ride off to Tarkir!