Eeehhhhh....it's OK. (Link goes to spoiler list).
I'm going to gripe because there isn't a Collective cycle. Yes I am.
Now that that's done, let's go:
Mechanically, Escalate is fine. Like the Charms of yesteryear, or Entwine from Mirrodin, this is a solid way to present modal spells. Is there anything brilliant here? Sure. The Collectives (and how the *(&^^ does Green NOT get a Collective? Or any Escalate spells at all?) are good but of the eight they used those are the only standouts.
Of the ten cards with Emerge, the quality of most of them is contingent on the context where they enter the battlefield. Again; it's obvious that Decimator of the Provinces is awesome but you can really cast that without the Emerge cost and have it still be insane. The difference between 9 mana and 10 mana-given what Decimator wants to do, which is have the most creatures on the battlefield as possible-is all but meaningless and the cost reduction will range from 'doesn't matter' to 'you lose your best creature for this and if you don't win that's very, very bad'.
Really, only Distended Mindbender stands out as something that could help turn the game in your favor. Everything else is risky and has the feel of "win more" or "lose less". The cards are solid but they aren't broken, is what I'm going for.
I don't like Meld at all, and I especially do not like how Bruna and
Gisela are set at different rarities. Gisela is clearly the better
card-but my issue has less to do with card quality than it does with
quantity. Essentially, this is WotC trying to get people to play the
lottery in a pretty brazen way.
On top of this, I don't
appreciate the nonsense one has to do to get these cards to work. That
this mechanic was pushed for by Ken Nagle, someone who was responsible
for pushing mechanics he called "unfun" in New Phyrexia, has led me to
I don't like the way he designs Magic.
I didn't think they could make the Werewolf transformation cycle worse
but they did it. Good on 'em: may this mechanic cease to darken Red and
Green's color pie as it is. Other double-faced cards are meh and the
Meld mechanic is one I intensely dislike. No more of that, please.
There is one very cool reprint: Peace of Mind, since that can help enable Madness strategies. The possibilities for this aren't as awesome as I wish they were, since Green & White are lacking Madness cards but it makes for a neat splash for the RUB colors.
Providence: Great start. Give me a cycle of cards like this. Hell, give me a bunch of cards like this: I think the Chancellor/Leyline effect is a cool one.
Jim Davis predicted that U/W Spirits is going to be a deck and I'm hard pressed to disagree with that one: the last time Blue got access to cheap fliers and disruption was Faeries and this is shaping up to be similar.
Of course, he also thinks that Ishkanah, Graftwidow is going to make Delirium decks a thing, somehow conveniently forgetting how Archangel Avacyn demolishes this notion. You win some, you lose some.
Blue is getting access to the "outside the game zone" with Coax From Blind Eternities, in a way that is Green so I suppose all is right on that front. At least as far as WotC goes.
(Access to creatures from outside the game is already clearly Green. Color pie shenannigans.)
Speaking of color pie breaking: Imprisoned in the Moon, which takes a great Green card that could answer things in an extremely flavorful way and turns it into a Blue card that doesn't do any of the flavor, but has allll that answer, yo.
This is what players mean when they complain that Blue has too much stuff. They dip into every other color's abilities and can interact with the stack. Other colors don't get to interact on that level and it limits the game.
Note: If Imprisoned in the Moon was an instant, doing the Blue 'transform' thing then I'd have no objection. This has been a thing since Ovinize, at least. I'm good with this notion.
Blue also has one of the best art cards in the set with Identity Thief. That's good stuff.
I'm glad Mind's Dilation costs seven mana. The coolness of it in Commander will be great but trying to fit that in a 60 card deck? Oh, I'm interested, just for the dickery factor.
I already have a deck for Wharf Infiltrator and I am looking forward to seeing it in action.
Moving to Black:
Cryptbreaker is overrated. Good? Sure. But the stuff I've read overhyped that card big time. Same thing with Dark Salvation. 3 mana to get a 2/2 and give a creature -1/-1? This is not a big deal. Scaling it up doesn't help the card, since casting it on turn 5 at best, is still not a turnabout card. It's good but it isn't amazing, especially when compared to something like Syphon Flesh.
As a matter of fact, black seems overall pretty meh. I'm glad to see Murder come back, and Whispers of Emrakul has the potential to be another Hymn, so that's cool. I don't see enough support to make Zombies or Vampires a solid All in all, though, it doesn't seem like a very strong outing, Liliana aside.
Impetuous Devils might get my "bad rare for Cube" award. Ball Lightning was great. This is a 4 mana removal spell at sorcery speed. This card doesn't even need the "sacrifice at end of turn" clause because you have to have a creature block it. At one toughness, the Devils are not going to last and this clause was just there for historical reasons-in this case, a bad history lesson.
Stensia Innkeeper though has the potential to bring a nice tweak onto Red's land destruction ability. I can't see it being amazing at the moment but it's a good direction for Red to go in, along with it's other LD spells.
It's apparently a "big deal" that Red got a 2/2 for two mana in Falkenrath
Reaver and it does fit a nice spot on the curve in red but vanilla 2/2s
aren't that exciting, except in Sealed formats (which is what this is
for). That said; this is a very solid addition to a tribe that could use
this kind of card. Printing this as a goblin would add to a deck
that doesn't need it but as a vampire? Now there's a bit of room for
another red tribe to breathe, especially since vampires and goblins work
I think Bedlam Reveler is pretty good. With the "spells matter" theme
coming up so big in Red and Blue I think this card is going to be useful
in the mid and late game and provide an interesting boost to Red.
The Green scene:
I really, really hate Foul Emissary. Narrow, expensive, Limited oriented and luck based = no.
While I know people are happy about the legendary spider, (see Jim Davis) it's pretty
mediocre outside of Commander. If the ability triggered every upkeep,
or on your upkeep instead of an enter the battlefield effect, then you'd have a real beast.
like Permeating Mass but it's a card that someone is going to engineer
stalemates with, trying to make every creature on the battlefield a
Permeating Mass. That will be awesome one time and one time only.
The multicolored stuff isn't all that special and the double-faced cards
all took a step down, in my opinion. Being able to control the werewolf
transformations comes, apparently, at an absurd mana cost.
Grim Flayer is going to find range in a very narrow deck. It's good but without Delirium it is far from great and Delirium is such a 'meh' mechanic that WotC is willing to offer you a potential 5/4 with trample for 4 mana at common in green.
That tells me that at least WotC thinks or has experience telling them that Delirium is too
conditional and can't easily be broken or even taken serious advantage
Contrast this with Gisa and Geralf, 4/4's for 4 out of the gate with the ability to regrow Zombies for free.
The colorless cards:
Field Creeper has some fantastic artwork and I'm glad to see more scarecrows.
Lupine Prototype should find a home in Affinity decks. 5/5s for 2 with a drawback that that deck doesn't care about should work.
Soul Separator is a definite win on both the flavor and mechanical levels. Very nicely done, WotC.
Nephalia Academy has some interesting possibilities, if discard becomes a big force in the metagame.
All in all I'm not as enamored with this set as I was Shadows Over Innistrad. It feels like it really isn't bringing anything interesting to the table. The obviously good cards are obviously good and the Planeswalkers are, in my opinion, bananas but they always are.
I'd really dig it if a B/R deck rose up to compete in Standard-that's a color combo I can't remember seeing in a long long while being good. But I don't see the tools in the colors to make that happen.
As for sealed...no idea. Although I will say that I haven't had a chance to do much sealed play so maybe this will be just the impetus to get something done.