Streets of New Capenna Set Review - Obscura and Blue

(Void Rend | Art by Rovina Cai)

Obscured Motives

In its first formal debut as a major theme within Magic: the Gathering, blue, black, and white was introduced as the blending on artifice and life on the fractured plane of Esper, one of the shards of Alara. Nearly a decade later, we return to the Streets of New Capenna with a new take: the Obscura. The Obscura family are a mixed bag of seers, con men, and spies, led by Raffine, Scheming Seer. They're a conniving bunch, and they are always keeping their eyes and ears open for information to stay ahead. This family focuses on drawing cards quite a bit as well as a healthy dose of control to stay a step ahead of the competition. Welcome to the fold. Let me introduce you to our newest batch of conspirators.


Connive's Collective Cooperating Components


Connive is the signature mechanic of the Obscura. This keyword is featured on many cards, but ultimately it functions similarly across them all. When a creature Connives, its controller (typically) draws a card then discards a card. If the discarded card was nonland, you put a +1/+1 counter on the Conniving creature.

This mechanic is actually very flexible and will fit within many popular archetypes. Draw triggers, like Chasm Skulker's, will trigger more often, and draw modifiers, like Teferi's Ageless Insight, generate additional card advantage. Discarding from Connive triggers cards like Drake Haven, Bone Miser, or Containment Construct, while the counter aspect of the ability may fit within commanders like Vorel of the Hull Clade. While each card may bring a twist, these commonalities will remain.


Multicolored Mythics


Raffine, Scheming Seer

Raffine, Scheming Seer has grown on me the most among the new legends. An evasive body with Ward 1 for blue, black, and white is a solid start. Raffine comes with built-in card selection that encourages attacking and going wide. Early into Raffine's arrival, resident podcaster Dana Roach mused on Raffine as a potential Obscura-shifted Edric, Spymaster of Trest. So far, we've seen Raffine's earliest deck entries use Connive to both draw into and discard the necessary parts for a strong reanimator presence. These early ideas are why my gears have continued to turn despite other spoilers. Attacking, drawing, and discarding are conditions that these colors love, but they're not often combined. If we look past the Zombie synergies, Varina, Lich Queen pioneered this space. Teferi's Ageless Insight, Reconnaissance, and Faith of the Devoted can benefit all three of Raffine's offerings: draw, attack, discard.

While I have neglected to mention it thus far, we can't dismiss the fact that Connive also allows us to modify one of our attacking creatures with +1/+1 counters. Chasm Skulker and Toothy, Imaginary Friend generate bonuses from becoming larger, and there are even abilities that trigger off of drawing, like Nadir Kraken, that can feed Raffine's ability even further.

Frankly, as I'm typing this review, I'm realizing Raffine is the second-card-drawn commander I've been hoping for in order to synergize with cards like Minn, Wily Illusionist or Ethereal Investigator. I could ramble on and on about directions, but Raffine isn't the only darling of the family.

Raffine's utility and versatility is going to make them one of the most compelling choices going forward for Obscura-colored decks!


Multicolored Rares


Aven Heartstabber

While this isn't Baleful Strix, the fact that Wizards of the Coast was willing to call back to the owl is incredible. Getting access to deathtouch requires careful curation of our graveyard, but I'm already sold on trying this for its death trigger. Milling two and drawing a card is respectable for a two-mana throwaway. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant in particular might be very keen on trying this new bird out.

Obscura Ascendancy

At its maximum, Obscura Ascendancy is both generator of bulky Spirit tokens and a hefty tribal anthem. Without other synergies or acceleration, the hurdles for this are too great for me. Needing to draw and play this, followed by sequential casting of five specific spells, is too much work for a limited payoff. This could be more interesting in Proliferate-focused builds, like Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, or a Raffine, Scheming Seer deck that focuses on Connive's counters while sadly leaving Millicent, Restless Revenant wanting.

Obscura Interceptor

I want to like this card, but it just falls short. I like Unsubstantiate effects to get around the occasional uncounterable threat, but Obscura Interceptor's casting cost feels prohibitive. Not only that, but the Unsubstatiate effect is tied to its reflexive trigger: if the Interceptor is killed in response to its Connive trigger, the secondary effect won't resolve. That's unlikely to happen often, but when it does....

Between that possibility, the fact Venser, Shaper Savant exists, and my preference of harder counters, the only thing this Cephalid will be intercepting is my bulk rare box.

Despite those critiques, I still love the design of this card. Decks that can get incidental advantage from theĀ Connive trigger might elect to play this to generate extra value on top of their counter spell suites.

Scheming Fence

Normally I pass on these effects immediately, as they often serve as "checks" in Standard and other constructed formats. However, this is easily the most playable variant for Commander in many years. Shutting off activated abilties might be useful, but often you may ask, "Why am I not removing it instead?" This new hate card literally fences the ability! At its simplest and its floor, we can steal away the ability from a rock, like Thran Dynamo, or from the classic Birds of Paradise. Not only are we denying resources to our opponent, Scheming Fence also ramps us, and that's just the floor. I'm not sure any strategy in particular wants this more than other with how versatile it can be, but blink decks and Clone decks can certainly magnify or pivot this to maximize its value.

Lastly, even if our opponents try to protect their key pieces via hexproof, the Fence gets around it: there's no mention of "target" in the text!

Toluz, Clever Conductor

While not quite Conspiracy Theorist or Containment Construct, Toluz plays a similar role as one of the new Obscura legends. While they might be more akin to a legendary Bag of Holding, Toluz, Clever Conductor gives us a new avenue to explore. Being able to bank cards off Chart a Course, Frantic Search, or Windfall should be enough to start your brewing engines. We do need a sacrifice outlet, but that's hardly an issue given we have access to black. Notably, Toluz also fits in the magic range of having a mana value of 3, for many of white's recursive options.

If we look to other legends for inspiration, Rielle, the Everwise might be a good place to start, as it's another deck to benefit from discarding first. Scuttletide gives us access to discarding cards for a bit of value, and Tormod, the Desecrator and Syr Konrad, the Grim allow us to double dip on Toluz's exile ability. Speaking of which, Toluz's triggered ability shares the same timing point as Necropotence. Yes, we can draw to our heart's content and circumvent the downside as long as Toluz sticks around. While Toluz doesn't speak to me, I know I'm going to be impressed by this commander the first time I run into it.

Undercover Operative

There are over 30 different Clone variants in the game at this point. Hopefully we don't need to cover how loved this effect is. The newest wrinkle on the time-tested formula is getting a shield counter on the Operative if we choose to copy our own cards. This gives a flexible protection plan, which is welcome to help keep key creatures around. Falco Spara, Pactweaver, as you might expect, looks forward to their new partnership. The pair of Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend, as well as Vorel of the Hull Clade, may elect for this variant as well. Being able to duplicate shield counters for layered protection is certainly something I'd consider.

Void Rend

Every part of me wants to just say, "This is a good removal spell, and Obscura-colored decks should be running it," and call it a day. Void Rend matches format all-star Anguished Unmaking in terms of efficiency for the mana. Being uncounterable may not always matter, and an extra color may make it difficult to cast and limits the decks it can be played in. However, none of these deter me greatly from slamming this into any deck with these three colors. There's an argument that it actually becomes more difficult to cast in five-color decks, but we do have a subset of decks that care about the number of colors in a spell, e.g., Ramos, Dragon Engine. Otherwise, this is just an efficient and powerful new tool for players.


Multicolor Uncommons & Commons


Exotic Pets, Metropolis Angel, Tainted Indulgence

Exotic Pets: Creating two tokens for three mana is a tad high, but not unheard of. These two Fish being unblockable makes the buy-in much easier. Duplicating counters is a powerful tool, but many keyword counters aren't in blue and white. Still, these tokens will connect, so decks running Bident of Thassa will take it. The new Brokers legend, Rigo, Streetwise Mentor, might need to be in the market for some new pets.

Metropolis Angel: For the decks that will play this, this is an extra card per turn. A 3/1 flyer isn't the most impressive statline for four mana, but I can't say "no" to drawing cards.

Tainted Indulgence: Drawing two cards for two mana? Sign me up. Getting additional from discard? Even better! And it's an instant? This almost feels like it'll be overlooked at uncommon, but I'm sure it'll be a solid role-player going forward.

Obscura Charm

Charms in Commander are hard for me. Having options is vital tool, but efficiency often wins out. That might not be the case with Obscura Charm. So what modes can we choose? Countering an instant/sorcery is quite expensive to many popular counters. Creatures with a mana value of three or less often aren't what we want to pack removal for, and planeswalkers of that mana value are rare in Commander to begin with. Spending three mana to recur a permanent is often on-rate, but being limited to multicolored cards narrows the field. Despite the last few sentences, I actually like Obscura Charm. These are the right type of niche pieces of interaction that make a Charm worthwhile to consider. Having a card that can function as removal, a counter, or recursion shouldn't be underestimated even if the targets are narrower than its focused counterparts. Plus, this can recur two of the newest Obscura-colored legends: the new Raffine, Scheming Seer and a personal deck of mine, Sefris of the Hidden Ways. Beyond those, Oops-All-Charms and other multicolored decks are probably watching this Charm carefully.

Queza, Augur of Agonies

Our resident clairvoyant is also our resident combo engine. While I might not be a combo-focused player like many, I recognized a few: Drogskol Reaver and Lich's Mastery both allow us to draw through our deck while pinging individual opponents. This adds a level of risk for killing the table as we won't have enough cards, but, with the proliferation of Laboratory Maniac effects, I doubt winning from that position will be an issue. Those lines open up further when we add in more pieces, but I'll leave that to the Commander Spellbook team.

Beyond that, Queza can also act as a new lead for lifegain strategies. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic has truly lived up this title, and I'm curious to see how many people take a draw-focused lifegain strategy. Overall, Queza strikes me as one of the stronger uncommon legends from Streets of New Capenna, and their power level feels appropriate rather than overbearing.


The Blue Mythics


All-Seeing Arbiter

I don't know if they're outdated, but mimicking the classic Titan template, i.e., Frost Titan, will never not grab my attention. Drawing two cards is always welcome, even if we need to pitch one; sometimes the pitch is upside as well, given that Toluz, Clever Conductor is in the set. That's not even where this card stops. Any time we discard, Arbiter's second ability has a chance to neuter an attacking creature until our next turn. These effects usually expire end of turn, so having the flexibility to hit targets at any point is great. While this card is certainly powerful, discard-focused decks will get the most of it. Varina, Lich Queen, Rielle, the Everwise, or blue reanimator decks might take a look at this. One stealthy home for this might be Hinata, Dawn-Crowned, specifically the 345 decks (15%) of decks that run Dismiss into Dream. I love the idea that our innocuous effects that discard suddenly become removal.

Even the Score

These style of X-costed draw spells are popular as we keep getting variants, but it's not often it ends up in the main set. Blue Sun's Zenith sees play in a respectable 6% of eligible decks. How does this iteration stack up? One critique, at a glance, is that it does not target. That immediately removes the kill-potential many of its brethren carry (forcing target opponent to draw 200 cards).

If our opponents walk into Even the Score's condition, it unlocks the ability to draw cards at a one-to-one rate. I hope I don't need to explain how rare and powerful that rate is. The problem is meeting that condition. Waiting for an opponent to draw four or more cards in a turn is usually problematic, and control-heavy decks may elect to counter that draw spell instead. Otherwise, we might keep this in hand waiting for and holding mana open to get the most from this spell. While we can manufacture this condition via Windfall and other effects, those decks are unlikely to want this in lieu of other wheels. I like this an option, but I'll leave it to Zaxara, the Exemplary to pump this higher.


The Blue Rares


Cut Your Losses

This is a new tool in the arsenal for Phenax, God of Deception and Grolnok, the Omnivore, and it's a double-kill for Bruvac the Grandiloquent. Traumatize costs one less than this, but this comes with the potential to mill a single player for 75% of their current library, or two players for half. I don't have the experience with these decks to truly evaluate this... so let me know in the comments! Is six mana too steep for this? Does Casualty 2 make this worth running? My gut says that this feels overpriced by one mana, but I'd love to hear from more veteran voices regarding it!

Errant, Street Artist

What a quirky set of abilities for a mono-blue legend! Flash, haste, defender? Copying spells that we... didn't cast? Let's look at what we can do with Errant, Street Artist!

First, we need to understand what Errant can copy. Until it becomes more fleshed out, Errant as a commander is mostly going to be limited to copying instants and sorceries. This pushes us towards using Twincast, Swarm Intelligence, and their family of cards. It does let us include Lithoform Engine, but again, copying permanent spells comes at a mana premium. Spells that copy themselves, like Echo Storm, are also eligible for her ability.

Be careful, though, as some powerful effects that specifically "cast" the copies won't be eligible (e.g., Isochron Scepter, Mizzix's Mastery)!

As a member of the 99, options really open up to her. All of our usual suspects for the spellslinger in blue-red and more can become great patrons of the arts. Adding red alone gives us access to other passive copy effects, like Thousand-Year Storm and Double Vision. For mechanics, Magecraft gets an every-turn boost from Errant as well, which will give extra triggers to the likes of Veyran, Voice of Duality. My favorite deck she fits into is Volo, Guide to Monsters, though. While she isn't copiable for several reasons, being able to create a third copy of any creature in Volo's menagerie for two mana is incredible. We can even include her in another mono-blue contender: Donal, Herald of Wings!

Ledger Shredder

While not flashy, Ledger Shredder strikes me as a card we'll be raving about in the months to come. By the stats alone, a 1/3 flying blocker is pretty stellar. That's not enough to make a card playable in Commander, but being tacked onto a two-mana body will add value.

I'll state the obvious: Magic players cast spells. Sometimes players will cast multiple spells each turn; if you've played with or against Mangara, the Diplomat, you'll be aware of that, and Ledger Shredder does a great impression of the Human Cleric, and incidental card selection can't be understated. How many extra cards will this let you see? How many do you need to see before this makes its value back? Even seeing three or four extra cards will be great, and that's before you start factoring the subset of cards that I listed in my Connive disclaimer.

Reservoir Kraken

While Desecration Demon may have been a powerhouse nearly a decade ago in Standard, these effects scale terribly into multiplayer. Reservoir Kraken's best case scenario is attacking into an empty board or into a board that has somehow been completely tapped down. Even then, a gracious opponent should tap down a token to neuter this ability. While this nets us an unblockable Fish token, I don't think that's what I would want to spend mana on. It's still a low-cost sea monster, so the likes of Runo Stromkirk might enjoy it, but even that's a stretch.

Wiretapping

On average, around three members of each new cycle in a set new tend to find footing in Commander. Okay, I shouldn't say that without supportive data, but that's typically my gut feeling.

Math aside, Wiretapping falls on the wrong side of that assumption. Drawing an extra card each turn is great, but five mana is steep for that effect. The iconic Phyrexian Arena faces poignant criticism in a color that's slightly worse at drawing cards while costing two less. While Hideaway does add additional value, positioning yourself to start with seven cards in hand can prove to be difficult outside of the most cloistered control decks. I subscribe to lower-cost burst draw, like Chart a Course or Painful Truths, so I'll personally pass on this.

Some potential homes could be Vega, the Watcher, who bolsters and buffers than hand size by casting from beyond it... or maybe a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur pilot who's trying to tone down their deck.


Uncommons & Commons


An Offer You Can't Refuse

One of the most common comparisons that has been drawn to this is Swan Song. That comparison is quickly met by the rebuttal that giving an opponent two Treasures is much worse than a 2/2 flying token. While that's true, An Offer You Can't Refuse is going to be $15 cheaper than its competitor. The fact that our new counterspell can also hit artifacts and planeswalkers at the cost of missing creatures is also a win in comparison to Swan Song. Counterspells for one mana are very good, but on first read, the power level of your meta will determine how impactful giving up two Treasures will be in that exchange.

A Little Chat

I don't often run Anticipate, as I tend to value bulk card draw over selection at the same price point, but I actually like what A Little Chat brings to the table. Mostly, this card selection is tied to a sac outlet as well, although there's few cases where I would want to cast this without Casualty. Once we sacrifice a small creature, this actually becomes very efficient by drawing two cards from our top four. Decks like Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver, Sefris of the Hidden Ways, or Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth will at least eye this as a way to sacrifice creatures for advantage. While those decks will prefer having a sac outlet on board, there's value in being a way to gain extra value from playing into our gameplan in unexpected ways.

Public Enemy, Slip Out the Back

This is a great way to force attackers towards a single player that you deem a threat. It's also a good way to kill off creatures that normally steers clear of the combat phase. There's a lot of potential political game with this, and I need to find a home to at least try it.

Slip out the Back is too intriguing for me to simply ignore. I think the new March of Swirling Mists will still oust this card from the 99, but if your deck cares about +1/+1 counters, there's a strong argument to play this one instead. It can even phase out an enemy creature, if you need to temporarily avoid lethal damage, or clear out a blocker! Phasing is a very clever way to avoid almost every type of removal out there, so if your Marchesa, the Black Rose deck needs a quick rescue, or a quick counter, consider this sneaky card!


Commons


Case the Joint: We've seen variants of the "four-mana draw two" plenty of times over the year, but this one has shenanigan potential by giving us a peek at every deck at the table. While this is great for Lantern of Insight-styled decks, the lack of real upside will hurt it.

Witness Protection: Is this the best mix of theme and mechanics in the set? Possibly. Transmutation Auras are effective at shutting down individual creatures, and they often stick around, as it's hard to justify precious spot removal to get a creature back. Still, if you're in an Aura-focused builds, having access to a new, cheap Aura for removal is a big win.


Revealed Truths


That's it for the Obscura! This review is a dense one, and there are many cards I know I had to leave hanging. I have plenty of favorites from these colors, but the greatest success already for Streets of New Capenna is how many different styles of players it caters too. There's a bit of love for everyone! So let me know in the comments what cards have inspired you to build new decks or make changes to existing decks! Until the next set review, and thanks for reading!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64