Do Not Forget About These Standard Cards

That’s quite the warning! The best SCG Baltimore tech is hiding in tuned decks, and Brad doesn’t want you caught offguard in your events this weekend!

Well we finally have it.

The week one results from Dominaria’s exclusion into Standard are
here and boy, are they interesting. Cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
and Karn, Scion of Urza both proved they have what it takes to compete in
Standard, relatively old decks like R/B Vehicles showed that they didn’t
need new cards to continue being relevant, and even History of Benalia went
from zero to hero showing us all that sagas aren’t just something to look
at. There’s just so many things we could spend today talking about, but I
wanted to take this time to talk about one thing in particular. It pertains
to how I process this information and what I do with it.

Normally I can’t write about this when a new set debuts like this as the
Pro Tour is only a couple weeks down the road, but this time around it
isn’t for another month. There’s just going to be too many things that
change in that span of time that trying to answer the format this early
would be a waste of time. As a result, we get to just dive in!

This past weekend had multiple events one could sift through to find good
information. The SCG Tour ran both

Team Constructed Open

and a

Standard Classic

in Atlanta while

Magic Online had a Standard PTQ

. There was even a Big Magic Invitational all the way in Japan. Looking
through all the data led me these initial thoughts.

For the longest time, U/W Control centered around Approach of the Second
Sun, but it never really put up impressive numbers even though it was
always a thing. To me, the deck was flawed. I can’t yet speak to how much
better this version of U/W Control is, but it does seem like Teferi, Hero
of Dominaria is worthy of its inclusion. It might also swing the pendulum
permanently in white’s favor as the color of choice to pair with blue. This
could cause ripple effects throughout the entire format and could cause
less players to play cards like Carnage Tyrant and Bristling Hydra.

The advantages to playing these threats last season was that both U/B
Control and B/U Midrange had such a difficult time answering them. U/W
isn’t the same though, and given the rest of the format is so
aggro/combo-oriented, I could see Bristling Hydra being replaced by
something more effective.

It’s been a long time since Hostage Taker was a truly relevant card. In all
honesty it might date all the way back to when Seth Manfield won Pro Tour Ixalan. Hostage Taker was a pivotal part of the Sultai Energy deck
he and the rest of Genesis played, but the card quickly became obsolete
after that. Much of that had to do with the high numbers of Glorybringer
and Chandra, Torch of Defiance roaming around, but we still didn’t see the
card once Temur Energy was banned. That’s probably because Sultai Energy
also got hit with that very same ban, but it’s not just that either.
Hostage Taker didn’t really have a format to exploit given how much U/B
Control and B/U Midrange existed.

That’s not the case right now though. Especially if this W/B Vehicles deck
takes off like I think it might.

This would probably have to be your first Magic article of the week if you
didn’t already know of this deck. It peaked many a player’s interest ever
since the lists went public as the deck looks like it’s doing a lot of
things well. There’s a good curve, enough artifacts to fuel both Toolcraft
Exemplar and Karn, Scion of Urza, but it also looks to be a great home for
History of Benalia, a card currently poised to take over Standard.

Now what makes History of Benalia so good? I didn’t really see it the first
time I read the card. I just assumed it was fine but would never see high
levels of Standard play due to my limited understanding of sagas. Their
strength is in the fact that their abilities are gradual effects causing
things like mass removal to not be as effective as it normally is against
creatures. History of Benalia will tend not to win a game on its own, but
the unique way it operates can lead to difficult positions for opponents
and how they sequence against them.

Hostage Taker does interact nicely against it though. Once of the worst
aspects of Hostage Taker is that it’s sometimes a bad card to tap out for,
as the opponent can untap and kill it before you get a chance to play the
creature it removed. That’s not what happens when you remove tokens though,
as they’re gone forever. The body left behind is a good answer for the next
token History of Benalia can create.

Well after it got its +2/+1 that is.

Hostage Taker is also just a fine card against a format trying to get on
the battlefield and stay there. Often the number of removal spells is
limited, as it’s important to have a high density of threats to beat decks
like U/W Control so a card like Hostage Taker will gain its value more
often. Especially now in a world where people are playing Karn to crew
their Heart of Kiran instead of Chandra.

Hostage Taker also loves playing side-by-side with Blossoming Defense,
which I believe is also getting better with Dominaria’s arrival.
It’s not like Blossoming Defense hasn’t been played these past few months,
but it’s important to see how it’s potentially improving. White has gotten
many upgrades thanks to Dominaria and one of the main reasons for
that is the color’s new removal spell: Seal Away. This two-mana flash
enchantment goes perfectly alongside Teferi as it can be cast off the mana
the planeswalker gets to untap on the turn it’s cast. Many players this
past weekend used the two cards to great success as Seal Away would allow
them to untap with their freshly cast Teferi. I don’t see this combo
leaving anytime soon, making Blossoming Defense a card worth looking into
to exploit white’s conditional removal.

Blossoming Defense can also help when trying to take out Karn the turn it
enters the battlefield. Six loyalty is a lot, which is something its caster
is aware of. Blossoming Defense could be the easy way to make sure an
opponent doesn’t untap with the powerful card advantage Planeswalker as one
of its few weaknesses is its inability to protect itself.

Here’s my starting list for Sultai Energy. Be warned, it’s extremely rough
and experimental.

The first glaring concern you may have is the exclusion of Jadelight
Ranger. There’s a very good chance Jadelight Ranger is in fact better than
Deathgorge Scavenger, but I want to at least try it out rather than
assuming it to just be. Often, we as players [people?–DWest] will
get into a mindset that something is fact when that may not be the case.
I’ve personally always liked having access to Deathgorge Scavenger, and
there’s the possibility that the effect in the main deck is worth it,
especially now that Scrapheap Scrounger and God-Pharaoh’s Gift are both
playing in such high numbers. It’s also a great way to threaten these new
Planeswalkers alongside Blossoming Defense while also annoying a control
opponent’s Search for Azcanta.

The rest of the deck is still experimental. I wouldn’t assume this manabase
to be perfect, but we will get the kinks out of it as time goes. The same
can be said for Adventurous Impulse and the removal suite. Who really knows
at this point what the numbers of these cards should be, but I might as
well try them all in small numbers to start getting a feel for them.

Now going back to U/W Control, there was a particularly interesting card
Guillaume Matignon sideboarded on his way to top 8ing Pro Tour Ixalan:

Guillaume played an extremely interesting take on U/W Approach when he not
only added red into the mix but also had an unusual sideboard plan. He
sideboarded in Baral against almost everyone! Why you may ask? Well the
answer was that he didn’t have any mass removal in his main deck outside of
Settle the Wreckage. So, what would happen is his opponents would already
play around Fumigate, which would benefit Guillaume as he didn’t have the
card. Then he would almost always improve after sideboarding, as no one
would be able to get the Baral off the battlefield.

What backfired for Guillaume was the battle over information. Once he made
top 8, Seth and the rest of us on Genesis were now aware of the
shenanigans. Knowing your Sultai Energy deck can never get Fumigated was a
huge boon to our strategy against the Frenchman, especially when we had
access to threats like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Walking Ballista, and Winding
Constrictor. Seth could just sit back on those threats and send in the rest
to slowly work through Settle the Wreckage.

Things have changed now though. No longer is there turbo-powered Temur and
Sultai Energy decks that preyed on this strategy. For the most part there’s
just other control decks, aggressive Mardu-colored beatdown strategies,
Mono-Green Aggro, G/B Constrictor, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Baral might just
be a perfect inclusion to a U/W or Jeskai Control sideboard. That is if
anyone gives it a go to find out–as we all know, that person won’t be me.

There’s even these U/W Historic decks running around. I could see Baral
finding a home in one of them as well. This two mana legendary creature may
start destroying not one but two Standard-based formats, and honestly, I’m
not too happy about that.

The last card I wanted to talk about today is my favorite vehicle of all
time. Maybe it won’t find as many homes as I’d like it to, but the card is
just way too good to be seeing such little play right now. Skysovereign
wasn’t great last season, thanks to all the midrange decks, but that time
seems to be over. Right now, it’s only found in Mono-Green Aggro strategies
when it could be in decks like W/B Vehicles, U/W Historic, and even R/B
Aggro. Its sometimes been seen in a G/W brew, but that’s really about it.
Now I know everyone needs to try out the new cards, and many of them just
so happen to cost five, but it’s like everyone forgot about Dre! In this
scenario Skysovereign is Dr. Dre, an infamous rapper that everyone seemed
to forget about until Eminem reminded us not to [CEDitor’s Note: Thanks, Brad…]

Skysovereign will have an issue with Lyra Dawnbringer, but at the same
time, can sometimes help deal with the new Planeswalkers everyone’s trying
to pack into their decks. It’s also a great way to fight these new W/B
Vehicles decks that have access to very limited removal. Even when they can
hold up Seal Away, you’ll at least get to kill another creature before the
ship goes down. That’s huge compared to the days of Harnessed Lightning!
All-in-all, the cards in Dominaria are fun and exciting, but I’d
be shocked if they push this card out from being one of the format’s more
impressive cards.

Especially when it seems like the reign of The Scarab God is over…

Now it’s time for me to get into the queues and get my hands dirty! Next
week I’ll be back with my Modern findings as I prepare for this weekend’s
MOCS Playoff and another piece about my Standard findings as Grand Prix
Toronto and Pro Tour Dominaria inch ever closer. Until then, I’m
going to enjoy a weekend at home watching Todd Anderson do commentary at

For those who haven’t seen him in the booth, Todd’s calling in the game now
may be coverage, as I’ve always loved watching him when he’s done it. This
weekend will be his first big test though, as he will be in the booth with
Cedric Phillips all weekend long. Do yourself a favor and tune into
coverage this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.