I knew that Wizards had a lot of pressure on them to deliver a sweet core set with M15. Many times it feels like there are just too many cards being reprinted, and the new core set doesn't feel that different from the last one. With M15 however I believe that the Soul cycle, much like the Titan cycle from a few core sets back, will set this core set apart.
Besides the fact that players want new and cool cards to be printed in general, M15 is the only new addition to Standard before the M15 Pro Tour in Portland. As a competitive player myself, this was another aspect of M15 and the Soul cycle to think about. Certainly the cycle of Souls will attract casual players, but are they ready to become Standard staples?
This is a tough question to answer as it is hard to compare the Souls to other cards played in Standard because of how unique the Souls are. My initial thoughts is that certain Souls will see play in Standard, though I don't expect this cycle to make much of an impact on other competitive formats like Modern. If compared to the Titan cycle they do seem slightly less powerful, but that doesn't mean these guys can't be abused in the right deck. The Soul cycle is unique as a cycle though, as it is a cycle of six rather than five.
I would like to talk about each Soul individually, so let's start with Soul of Theros. This is a creature that has a built in Dictate of Heliod type of effect. Like each other Soul, Soul of Theros is of course a limited bomb, but beyond that I do see this card seeing play in casual formats. The main format I am looking at is Standard though, and I'm not sure that Soul of Theros will have a major impact on Standard.
It is not like this isn't a powerful card, but there are very few decks that would actively look to play this card as Standard stands right now. Perhaps we will see some brews focused around Soul of Theros, but my initial impression is this card won't see much play in Standard. Anthem type effects like we see here are traditionally strong in token based strategies, so perhaps there will be some sort of sweet hybridized token deck?
I already compared Soul of Theros to Dictate of Heliod and I think that is a good starting point for comparison. Dictate of Heliod doesn't see a ton of play, but I think many decks would rather have Dictate of Heliod in their deck than the white Soul. Dictate of Heliod costs one less mana, flashes in for a surprise effect, you don't need to continually sink mana into it to have the effect, and it isn't vulnerable to creature removal.
I expect removal spells that exile creatures to see more play, especially if the Souls catch fire in Standard. Banishing Light is certainly the first removal spell that comes to mind, but even cards like Reprisal, Gild, and Silence the Believers are likely to see more play because of Souls. The main reason is of course that if you exile a Soul, the bonus effect from the graveyard can't be used.
I would like to move onto the blue Soul, which of course is the Soul that has the ability to provide a ton of card advantage. Soul of Ravnica is a card that can certainly be a machine in the lategame. What Standard deck could play this card? Well six mana is certainly a lot, but that doesn't mean six mana cards can't be played or added to decks that otherwise wouldn't play a card so expensive, if the card added makes enough of a difference. Certainly it is true that in most cases if a Soul is going to be played it won't be a four-of, as drawing two copies of a Soul seems like it could be quite awkward. This particular Soul is a card that I really only seeing making an impact on casual formats.
If there were a Five Color Control deck in the Standard, that is where I would see Soul of Ravnica fitting in. Soul of Ravnica fits in with cheap permanents of various colors, so as to make it a card at the top end. While it seems like the game should end after Soul of Ravnica is activated even just one time, a seven mana activation is a large price to pay. I like the idea of playing this guy and untapping with Counterspells in hand, and merely having the option to activate Soul of Ravnica at the end of the opponents turn, if necessary.
Large blue creatures typically are a tough sell in competitive formats, as Frost Titan was the Titan that saw the least competitive play. Maybe Soul of Ravnica could fit into a two or three color control deck that simply wants a big creature with a Divination type effect attached to it. My overall evaluation though is that Soul of Ravnica will be sweet in casual formats but doesn't have a good place to fit outside of that.
At this point the question could be posed: well do you expect any of the Souls to make an impact on Standard? The answer is yes. Remember that there are already graveyard based strategies in existence, which play cards like Satyr Wayfinder, Grisly Salvage, and Commune with the Gods as ways of putting creatures in the graveyard. One way to get an effect out of a Soul is simply putting it in the graveyard. Soul of Innistrad is a card that could provide a ton of value in this type of strategy.
I like the idea of dredging a ton of creatures into the graveyard, and then having the choice of a whopping three creatures to bring back. This effect reminds me of when I would use Angel of Serenity targeting creatures in my own graveyard, and it wouldn't be a big deal if Angel of Serenity died because of the card advantage gained by bringing those creatures back to your hand. Bringing back three creatures is a lot of creatures and is almost excessive. I think I would rather be paying three mana to bring back one creature, than five to bring back three creatures.
I would like to see Soul of Innistrad see play and I think it could see play in some sort of black/green shell to provide additional card advantage. A deck like Blue/White Control that doesn't put pressure on you will have a very difficult time dealing with Souls especially when coming out of the graveyard. If you put a Soul into the graveyard right away it can't be Banishing Lighted or Detention Sphered and the control player won't be able to prevent the effect from the Soul. Right now graveyard removal isn't being played in Standard, and Souls are threats that may force this to change.
Soul of Shandalar is simply a good card for Magic in general. A big creature that has first strike, unlike the other Souls, and has a sweet ping effect sounds like a card people will want to play with. Paying five to deal three to both your opponent and one of their creatures is a perfectly reasonable cost. Souls can be seen as pure value creatures and that is what Soul of Shandalar is.
In Standard, like some of the other Souls, pinpointing exactly what deck wants to be playing with this card is more of the issue, when thinking about how much play it will see. This is not a creature that should be played in a Burn or aggro strategy. That of course leaves some sort of control or midrange strategy which is likely multiple colors. This guy can just be a big value creature and could also be played alongside graveyard enablers. One of the reasons why I am somewhat worried about how much impact the Soul cycle will make on Standard is once again the quality of removal spells that exile creatures from the game right now. It is hard not to think about the fact you could just play this card and trade him off one-for-one with your opponent without gaining any card advantage.
Personally I was initially the most excited by the green Soul. While it is true that green has access to plenty of big, powerful, and expensive threats, I think Soul of Zendikar has what it takes. This is the Soul that I expect to eventually become the most popular Soul. Making 3/3's is no joke, and this guy does that quite well. Not only that but having reach is relevant when attached to a 6/6 body in a format with Herald of Torment. This is a card I could see at the top end of a devotion strategy.
Devotion is one of the best ways to abuse the Souls. Making a ton of mana is great when you have a huge creature that you can just continually sink mana into. I expect devotion strategies will make use of the Soul cycle quite nicely. Soul of Zendikar is a card that I am simply excited about getting a chance to play with and it has the potential to be the best of the Souls.
The last Soul is perhaps the most unique, mostly because it means that the Soul Cycle is not a traditional cycle. A cycle is traditionally a cycle of cards that are very similar to each other, share part of their name together, and there is only one card in each respective color. Not all cycles are the same though, and while we don't see artifacts in a color cycle that often, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. There is a Soul in each color, but there are six Souls which makes Soul of New Phyrexia the Soul that stands out the most.
Soul of New Phyrexia is a tough card to evaluate, as it can of course fit into a deck of any color. Right now it is the highest priced Soul, as having a six mana 6/6 with trample and a relevant effect is nothing to joke about. I have the feeling that unless artifact based strategies return this guy will have a tough time seeing much play in Standard. That said that doesn't stop Soul of New Phyrexia from being one of the biggest cards coming out of M14.
I expect this card to be highly sought after, as it will see play in a number of formats outside Standard, as it is a versatile artifact creature, though inevitably it will be compared to Wurmcoil Engine. Moving beyond the constructed applications of Soul of New Phyrexia, I expect this guy to be the card people will most want to open in sealed or first pick in draft. The reason is that it is a bomb that allows you to stay flexible and will make the deck no matter what colors it is.
So overall my analysis of the Soul cycle is that these are creatures that won't see as much play in competitive formats as some players would like, but that doesn't mean these aren't unique creatures to watch out for. The Soul creatures are new to magic which make them difficult to evaluate, and so to a certain extent only time will tell how much of an impact they will have.
Thanks for reading!