10 Cards That Have Impressed Me In Standard

As Sam Black has tested for the upcoming Pro Tour, he’s turned up some Standard surprises! Did a small mono-white creature really make his Top 10?

I’ve been playing a lot of Standard this week. I’ve mostly been playing my own build of Izzet that focuses on getting to large amounts of mana for Explosion and winning counter battles, but I’ve also explored some Golgari, more in the “trying weird stuff” department than playing normal Golgari Midrange decks that have been successful. This certain colors which cards have impressed me, so a lot of this list will be cards I’m played with, but cards I’ve played against or watched will also make the list. Before I get into it, for those curious, here’s where I’m currently at with Izzet:

Now, on to the cards that have stood out to me:

10. Rekindling Phoenix

Golgari Midrange is currently around a quarter of the Standard metagame, and because their deck uses Ravenous Chupacabra so well, they play very small numbers of Vraska’s Contempts. They rely on sorcery-speed destruction effects like Ravenous Chupacabra and planeswalkers, which means that it’s extremely hard for them to answer Rekindling Phoenix. Meanwhile, Rekindling Phoenix is excellent at attacking their planeswalkers.

Given that, it’s honestly kind of surprising to me that more of the metagame isn’t just Rekindling Phoenix crushing Golgari and them being pushed out or forced to adapt.

Part of the question is where to use Rekindling Phoenix. Mono-Red is the obvious home, but the Golgari creatures match up well against the red creatures, and Wildgrowth Walker is extremely hard for the red decks to beat. It’s possible to build a bigger red deck with Treasure Maps and both Rekindling Phoenix and Experimental Frenzy, and to minimize the small creatures, but it would probably get run over and burnt out by the smaller red decks.

There are some Gruul decks that try to do essentially this with green acceleration despite the lack of Stomping Grounds, and the mana mostly works because green is decent at fixing anyway. I don’t have a lot of experience with them, but they seem reasonable.

Rekindling Phoenix can also go into any of the Izzet-based control decks instead of or in addition to Crackling Drake. Personally, I think which you should play depends on how you’re planning to use the card. Rekindling Phoenix is better to slam on Turn 4 because you don’t have to worry about Golgari answering it with a permanent that leaves you way behind on the battlefield. Personally, I’m still playing Crackling Drake because I’m just planning to pass the turn on Turn 4 most of the time so that I can counter something and then I want to cast my threat when I can do it while leaving mana up, and I like that, at that stage of the game, Crackling Drake can end the game in a turn or two. That said, Rekindling Phoenix is probably better overall against Golgari specifically, which is why I have the card in my sideboard.

9. Fountain of Renewal

There aren’t really that many great ways to gain life in Standard right now. As much as lifegain gets a bad rep as being something that appeals to new players but doesn’t really help win the game, historically, a surprisingly large portion of midrange and control decks have had ways to gain life. It’s a pretty important thing to be able to do, especially in a format with as much burn as there is in Standard right now, with Banefire being especially noteworthy.

Red decks are probably the second-most-popular archetype right now, and a lot of them are basically trying to count to twenty with small fast creatures and burn spells that they want to send at players. They have some backup plans, like Experimental Frenzy, but burn is a huge part of what the decks are doing. Repeated lifegain can shut down a game as soon as you answer their creatures, which is relatively easy, and Fountain of Renewal is the cheapest, most versatile way to get this effect.

Above, I discussed the possibility of trying to play a bigger red deck, but that it would be weak against smaller red decks. The first thing I would do to try to correct that is to play four Fountain of Renewals in my sideboard, which I think should likely be happening a lot more than it is in any deck with a lot of removal.

8. Find

This one hasn’t really surprised me, as it’s a card I’ve had my eye on and included in my Golgari decklists from the start, but it feels like the glue that’s holding these Golgari decks together to me.

Coming at it from the control side, I’ll often just counter and remove their threats as they play them, and then sometime between Turns 5 and 7 they’ll make a play with two mana untapped, I’ll counter it, and they’ll cast Find. At that point, I’ll need to have established some clock or good source of card advantage or the two extra threats will bury me.

Both halves of the card seem like the best thing in the Golgari mirror outside of sticking a planeswalker.

When I read through a list of cards in the Golgari Midrange decks, it’s a bunch of creatures that are basically fine but not impressive, some planeswalkers, and Find. I really think Find is the exceptional part of this deck, which makes me think Selesnya and Dimir are likely not playing the card enough and that there might be builds or both that could do a lot better if they found the right ways to use it.

7. Cleansing Nova

I think this card is a little underplayed in Jeskai. I’ve seen some other three-plus-color green decks with assorted sweepers, and I think one of the best things those decks have going on is that they often have a bunch of Cleansing Novas. There are a lot of decks that are just filling the battlefield with creatures, and not very many of those decks are trying to play the absolute cheapest and fastest creatures because those creatures line up terribly against Golgari. Further, some people are trying to punish the lack of enchantment and artifact removal being played right now (outside of expensive planeswalker activations) by leaning on those card types, and Cleansing Nova offers great insurance against those strategies.

The biggest problem with this card is that it doesn’t answer planeswalkers, and it leaves you tapped out so that the opponent can resolve a planeswalker, but that’s what Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is for.

6. Star of Extinction

I really never expected to be into a seven-mana sweeper and certainly read this card as “cute flavor” rather than a player in Standard, but here we are.

Unlike Cleansing Nova, this actually deals with planeswalkers, so I’ve found this to be exactly what I need to turn things around against Golgari, as their end-game is often just “have Vraska, Relic Seeker on the battlefield” and Star of Extinction just fixes everything. I fully expect some kind of ramp deck with sweepers including Star of Extinction and The Immortal Sun to win an event at some point by going way over the top of Golgari and burning control out with Banefires. This could easily be the week for that if someone could get the list right.

I think Gabriel Nassif is on the right track with his list:

I’d like more focus on Azor’s Gateway rather than Treasure Map, Rekindling Phoenix rather than big Dinosaurs, and maybe Fountain of Renewal in the sideboard, but I think something like this could be a great way to approach this format.

5. Adanto Vanguard

I don’t really know what deck this should go in or whether there are any good aggressive white decks, but as a pilot of an Izzet Control deck, this is about as scary as it gets. There’s very little removal that actually kills Adanto Vanguard around. The problem is that there’s no real shortage of creatures to block it with, and it’s hard to pay life to keep it around if it keeps getting in combat, especially against red decks.

On the other hand, it’s so good at staying alive that I have to wonder if it’s reasonable to just try to stick a Squire’s Devotion on Adanto Vanguard and start churning through blockers.

The other white creature I’m most interested in is Tocatli Honor Guard, which plays well with Adanto Vanguard in that Adanto Vanguard doesn’t care about triggers, but it’s always a little awkward to play 3/1s and 1/3s in the same deck.

This doesn’t strike me as a great time for small white creatures, but this one in particular can make it tempting.

4. Spell Swindle

I’m still into this card. Yes, it’s too slow against red decks, but against basically everyone else, it’s exactly where I want to be. Even if my opponent is casting a Carnage Tyrant, I’m not particularly disappointed to slam six Treasures and start looking for a sweeper. It’s really easy to underestimate how much you’re getting out of this on top of countering a spell, but these Treasures feel like what turns a corner for me.

I’m really curious about leaning on Treasures a little more to play cards like Niv-Mizzet or Explosion in decks without red mana, but I still haven’t actually tried it yet. Despite my best efforts, this card still seems really underplayed to me. I probably just don’t respect Teferi enough, so I’m willing to play other five-mana spells.

3. Treasure Map

Treasure Map has felt acceptable, but a little too clunky against Golgari. You fall behind or can’t take time to activate it, and they can keep up with you after it flips, and if flipping it lets you cast Star of Extinction, that can make up for a lot of clunkiness in getting there. Meanwhile, against control decks, I’ve been pretty happy to have this instead of Search for Azcanta. Search for Azcanta is scary in that it provides so much inevitability, but the games aren’t about grindy inevitability when Niv-Mizzet’s around. They’re about getting ahead on mana and using it to slam the door, which Treasure Map is much better at than Search for Azcanta.

And, of course, any deck can play Treasure Map, which also gives it a significant boost.

2. Risk Factor

Risk Factor is another huge nightmare for control decks. It’s gotten to the point where if my opponent has a creature on the battlefield or my life total is below around fifteen, I’ve been experimenting with just letting them draw three cards. That’s a pretty unreasonable card advantage engine for a burn deck.

There really isn’t a choice you can make that isn’t just fantastic for the red deck against this card, and there’s really nothing you want with punisher cards more than additional punisher cards, which is exactly what the Jump-start provides. I’m seriously starting to wonder if this is a reasonable sideboard card for Modern Burn.

Simple, effective, great at what it does.

1. Explosion

Expansion’s nice too, but let’s be real, I’m looking to explode close to 90% of the time. Comparing it to Sphinx’s Revelation, I thought it seemed like I’d probably be willing to draw one less card to deal damage instead of gaining life, since it’s kind of like drawing a removal spell and casting it for free, but I also feared I might be underestimating just how expensive that made it.

As it turns out, if you want extra mana, this format has a lot of ways of providing it, and the burn is even better that I expected, as I’ve just exploded people’s heads to end games when they’re at fifteen or more life a remarkable number of times.

Is it better to kill a 3/2 and draw two cards, or draw three cards and gain three life? Who cares? We don’t have the option to play Sphinx’s Revelation and they’re both great.

This card’s good enough that I’d play it if Expansion didn’t exist, but I might have to play two copies instead of three or four, but as is, this is the card I want to be optimizing my deck around.