I’ve said it before, and as a member of the global Magic community I have no problem saying it again – Christmas doesn’t just come once a year. We’re already on Christmas number three – still reeling from the recent string of sweet new toys released with the first set in the Tarkir block, the annual Commander product that’s only weeks old, and more recently by the 2014 Holiday Gift Box being only a few days old; we are buried in a landslide of new cardboard. The wonderful folks over at Team Wizards have been awesome enough to send me a few bits and pieces from these recent releases so that I could share some of my thoughts and impressions with you all.

Commander #14 – Red is the new Blue

Holding the Mono Red deck in my hot, chubby, enormous man-hands the first thing I feel is familiarity with the product.

This is literally the first chance I have had to get my mitts on the C14 product. Between PAX plague and work, I simply have not had the time. Fortunately for my long-suffering wife, Uncle Kaka’s good mate Obscu came around for pizza, beverages, and to pound faces with cardboard. We decided to take Daretti through a 1V1 gauntlet of other Commander decks; I didn’t want to pitch it against only the other decks from the C14 release because Wizards designed these decks to be balanced against each other. I wanted to get a feel for how they performed outside these parameters.

As discussed in @AlexCKSzeto‘s recent Double Down, Daretti is really interesting. The first time I picked up the deck I thought “This is just like playing a blue deck, except not in blue!” The deck has plenty of recurrable and easy-to-use draw abilities. It’s quite happy to sit and develop its board state much in the way a blue deck would: slowly assembling the doomsday device, ticking up Daretti, and controlling the board with red board wipes and recurrable colourless removal, until a repeating value engine can be brought online.

Throughout our test games, I was repeatedly able to burn through the early game by digging hard and landing things like Ichor Wellspring and Mycosynth Wellspring to keep my hand filled with cards and steady land drops. From there, these early pieces made great chaff to pitch to Daretti to return the bombs I’d also pitched while filtering my hand for the early game. In the late game, once I had established a stable mana base, I could then pitch excess lands for valuable cards.

Obvious improvements to the deck would enhance the deck’s combo and control elements, such as using tools to allow the play and uptick of Daretti. Nevinyrral’s Disk and the like will be almost certain auto includes in most lists due to the asymmetrical nature of the wipe with Daretti online, along with other recursion tools like Trash for Treasure or the new Artifact Living Death. Artifact-based proliferation engines Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine, or even the great Chain Veil are important pieces to dig for once you develop the deck along these lines, as well as being pitched and reanimated to accelerate the pace at which a player can start freely pitching from their board. And if the goal is to get Daretti to ultimate faster, you end up with a backup method to set up the Mycosynth Lattice + Darksteel Forge + Nevinyrral’s Disk lock.

The biggest vulnerability of this deck is that it is singly focused on repeatedly cycling through and reusing the graveyard. It relies on wheel effects like the eponymous Wheel of Fortune. Given the artifact recursion nature of Daretti both in his ultimate and his middle ability, I can see a solid home for Memory Jar, which in itself will be an engine capable of drawing seven cards a time multiple times a turn. The vulnerability here is risking drawing the deck out, unless one also has a way to reshuffle the graveyard into the deck as needed.

Furthermore, there is literally nothing red can do to respond to instant speed removal of the yard, unless it uses artifacts for this purpose. Sure, red has tools like Chaos Warp or mass removal such as the Nuke Disk to hit a Rest in Peace that is keeping it down, but instant speed removal is harder to manage. Feldon’s Cane and Elixir of Immortality may be your best options, but you have to dig for them, play them and have them sitting there as a defensive tool.

Khans and the 2014 Holiday Gift Box

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Khans of Tarkir has been out for a little while now, and as usual the now annual Holiday Giftbox’s art is themed on this expansion. From the outside, the current product looks basically identical to previous iterations. On the inside, the box is coloured black, which has a much more professional feel than the standard uncoloured grey of previous years. The column dividers this year are more of an internally glued loop of cardboard, as opposed to a base mounted structure used in previous versions. Personally, I really like these boxes. I find them to be around the right shape and size for being wedged in a duffle bag or backpack, or one of those green reusable shopping bags. The three columns allow me to separate out and easily transport multiple Commander decks without having to fiddle around working out which deck box is which. They also allow me to keep a few additional decks readily on hand to pass to a new player or someone wanting a deck change in our playgroup. Call it a lazy way to help me want to share…because that is exactly what it is.

Most stores around here seem to be selling these at MSRP, which is good. The value of the box and its contents are solid. While it is rated as a 2000 card count, I’d describe it as more like 1200 count single-sleeved. Doing that maths, that is twelve full decks. Personally, I know I have paid more than MSRP in deck boxes to cover that amount of cardboard anyway.

My personal favourite aspect of the box contents are the plastic art box dividers. They make a much nicer divider between decks than a bent ad-card. With the number of decks that fit in the box, I do wish Wizards would include more than six dividers.

The sticker sheet is a perfect example of this. It includes options for several configurations, but some configurations require 8 to 10 (or more!) dividers. The sticker sheet does not do it for me, but my wife likes and uses them for the archiving of her cards and decks, so she inherits mine.

Also as usual, the package contains a set of basic lands and a special foil from the set. This year, the foil is one of the five new charms. Given that Khans is based heavily around working out elements of the wedges — and I know it is greedy – but as a Commander player I would have liked see a full foil set of one of the cycles. This could have been the new tri-lands or a full set of the charms. The foil Sultai Charm is gorgeous, however, and the four included packs of Khans boosters give players an excellent chance to crack additional charms as well as the tri-lands (and maybe even a fetch if you’re lucky). So consider that an opportunity missed.

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In all, if you have not picked up a Holiday Box in previous years, I’d seriously look at it this year. The overall value is solid. Nothing is ever perfect, but this is good bang for your buck – especially if you just picked up a complete set of the Commander 14 preconstructed decks like I did. I am looking for more easily stacked and transportable space for my Wednesday night play kit, and these boxes are a fantastic solution with enough bells to make a great weekend reorganising the EDH kit over a few pints.

That might be it for Magical Christmas-land installments from down undah’. It’s been a blast previewing these products and getting to offer a little early insight for our readers thanks to a bit of generous support from WotC. Enjoy!