Down And Dirty – Standard Implications With Spoiled Shards Cards

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Wednesday, September 24th – Shards of Alara is shaping up to be one of the strongest Constructed sets in recent history. Today’s Down And Dirty has Kyle Sanchez trawling through the spoilers to find a selection of cool cards ready to smash through the Standard metagame. He also looks at those Shards cards he believes to be overrated… including an eleven-for-one sorcery that promises to “change everything.” Warning: contains spoilers.

Today, I’ll give you two lists of cards. Those on the “Ups” list are cards that I feel could excel by being added to the current Standard metagame, and those on the “Downs” list represent cards that I believe are good but need a little help.

For a reference of the cards I’m talking about, refer to the Mothership’s official Visual Spoiler section.


Ethersworn Canonist
Artifact Creature — Human Cleric
Each player who has played a nonartifact spell this turn can’t play additional nonartifact spells.

This card is insane. Arcane Lab with legs? And to my surprise, I haven’t heard nearly the amount of hype for this guy over bad cards like Sarkahn Vol… more on him later. Ethersworn’s immediate utility will be in Extended Affinity decks as an answer to the usually troublesome storm decks. There are a couple of cards already spoiled that would seem to be Affinity’s bread and butter, but this guy is the best of the bunch.

As far as Standard applications go, I’d need the entire set in front of me, but given that the Esper cards are the only ones with artificial tendencies I could see him making a decent run at it. Too bad these Artifact Creatures weren’t around when Tarmogoyf was around. Arcane Lab for the opponent only? Seems much too strong not to see play… preorder your four today at the SCG store!

Qasali Ambusher
Creature — Cat Warrior
If a creature is attacking you and you control a Forest and a Plains, you may play Qasali Ambusher without playing its mana cost and as though it had flash.

Murmuring Bosk and a Plains doesn’t seem too difficult to do in a GW control/aggro deck. But then you’d be playing with a G/W awkward aggro deck, or an even more awkward control deck. Not to say that the tools aren’t there, but let’s be honest with ourselves: other colors are better at doing it, and this little 2/3 with Reach isn’t going to break the archetype. Spice it up with some Gaddock Teeg, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, and Wilt-Leaf Lieges, and we can talk about some fatties very early that cause tactical problems for the opponent. He can’t sneak in through the air and he can’t Wrath your board. Support it with a splashed Doran or removal, and there could be something there.

Cunning Lethemancer
Creature — Human Wizard
At the beginning of your upkeep, each player discards a card.

While this guy doesn’t exactly jump off the page as a staple rare, I really wanted to include him solely for his artwork. It’s awesome… you have the perspective from behind a rack of bones, most likely being from some dumb animal like a Wooly Throctar. As for Standard applications, this guy presents a unique way to attack the midrange mirror. With potential Unearth synergies, he could very well become a staple.

Nothing to write home about, but his art really reminds me of the gun salesman from Resident Evil 4.

Ad Nauseam
Reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost. You may repeat this process any number of times.

The universal opinion of this card is that it’s good, but no one has bothered to put it into context. There aren’t any existing decks that demand its immediate inclusion. Faeries is losing AV, but this card presents a problem in the life department with Bitterblossom already taking a fair chunk. Doran decks will be happy to include a few, now having an upkeep effect to negate Mistblind Clique’s effectiveness. It could be the kind of addition that puts that archetype over the top, assuming you have a deck that tops out at Ad Nauseam along with Chameleon Colossus as the only four-drop.

This combined with Raven’s Crime is another neat synergy. Drawing a handful of lands and low casting cost spells, the first maneuver to take would be to discard the excess lands to make your opponent discard his hand before you lay him out with all the cards you just drew. Damnation rotating out is a slight chink in this card’s armor, since it would be awesome to have the ability to dig until you get an on-color Wrath effect.

Battlegrace Angel
Creature — Angel
Exalted. (Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, that creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.)
Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, it gains lifelink until end of turn.

My only complaint about the Exalted mechanic is that it plays right into Cryptic Command. Exalted puts an emphasis on playing creatures pre-combat, which we’ve learned isn’t a very effective tactic in a Commanding environment. Still, this card compares more favorably to Exalted Angel than any others we’ve seen in awhile, and it would be an excellent surprise sideboard card that can turn the tide of any aggro mirror. On her own she’s attacking as a flying 5/5 Lifelinker for five mana. That’s clearly right on par with where you want to be on turns 5 or 6.

Executioner’s Capsule
1B, T, Sacrifice Executioner’s Capsule: Destroy target nonblack creature.

The Capsules remind me a lot of the Seals from Nemesis, and I like that. This one is accessible to Auriok Salvagers, although we haven’t seen good Salvager decks in Extended for awhile now. I really like this card, as it’s effectively a Seal of Doom. It’s nothing spectacular or particularly enticing; it’s just a neat card that will be our Terror substitute for Block Constructed.

Bloom Tender

This is not a Shards card, but hopefully it will spike in value given the three-color studs in this set. Turn 2 Bloom Tender, turn 3 Rhox Pancake Flipper (War Monk), tap Bloom Tender for another Rhox Pancake Flipper. The same is true for Sprouting Thrinax, so maybe this little Tender will finally get some love. He’s one of the most unique and potentially powerful mana producers we have right now, and definitely worth exploring. He can also drop a pair of Woolly Thoctars on turn 3, giving your opponent two turns to deal with the squad. He’s also the best accelerator to a quick Ultimatum, enabling a potential turn 4 Violent with a pair of Woolly Thoctars in play…

I imagine this Tender shooting through the stratosphere. Get ’em while they’re a nickel apiece.


This one was spoiled by our friends over at MTGSalvation.com… and boy, I hope it’s really back.

The first Block format in which I designed my own deck was Onslaught. It was a WB deck, featuring Infest and Akroma’s Vengence to deal with the numerous Elf, Goblin, and Zombie decks of the time. To deal with Bidding, my dagger was Head Games and my kill condition Exalted Angel. I made Top 16 at two PTQs with it, all thanks to Infest being the cheapest effective Wrath effect at the time. We lose Damnation, but we gain Infest. Unfortunately, I can’t see Infest being as good as it was back then, especially with Firespout being more versatile (given you can choose a desired mode to potentially save your lower toughness ground pounders or air attackers).


Goblin Assault
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a 1/1 red Goblin token with haste into play.
Goblin creatures attack each turn if able.

Why couldn’t this make Merfolk? And give each token Islandhome? I don’t know what it is, but every time I see what could clearly be a powerful card that’s been edited to unplayability I tend to alter its casting cost and abilities until it becomes broken. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card making some weird Goblin deck, but it’s clearly no Bitterblossom, and it’s not even a Goblin.

Woolly Thoctor
Creature — Beast

This guy is good, but, he’s “just” good. Tarmogoyf was falling in popularity during the tail end of the current Standard, and this guy is a three-mana dude that’s smaller than Goyf after turn 4 or so. He does share colors with two of the best Lieges – Boartusk and Wilt Leaf – so maybe this guy is the three-drop that will send those two-color aggro decks over the top. If so, it becomes a matter of casting him. And that’s not such an easy a task when you consider the high volume of comes-into-play tapped lands on which we currently have to lean.

It’s not that he’s not a good creature… he’s a revolutionary three-drop in those respects. Previous five-powered three-drops have always had some kind of drawback, from Phyrexian Negator’s sacrificial tendencies to Doran’s legendary status. But his place in the format isn’t based on his stats, although it’s kind of scary how fast creatures are replacing spells. It used to be that a good well-timed spell would trump whatever army your opponent has accumulated.

It feels like all these bomb vanilla creatures started with Watchwolf.

Knight of the White Orchird
Creature — Human Knight
First Strike
When Knight of the White Orchid comes into play, if an opponent controls more lands than you, you may search your library for a Plains card, put it into play, then shuffle your library.

This guy is ill enough to be admitted to the hospital, but I just can’t see his utility in this format. For aggro decks he’s not a Kithkin, and for control decks his body isn’t beefy enough. The control mirror, however, could see this guy making a big splash. But how many serious control mirrors will there be?

Given the extreme five-color manabases to which we’ve all become so accustomed, the format will have a host of powerful multicolor decks, and the superior mono-colored aggressive options from Lorwyn Block have a pretty clear line drawn. The variance will come in between with the midrange decks, but honestly, it looks like the mono-colored decks have nearly all the tools the midrange decks will have. Figure of Destiny goes a long way at giving the mono-colored decks a consistent threat to which the multicolored decks don’t have access. Brilliantly balanced by Wizards, it’ll be fun to see how the format evolves.

The main theory that everyone needs to keep in mind is that the aggro options from this set aren’t as good as the ones from Lorwyn Block. Exalted isn’t the kind of mechanic you want to build around, since it leaves you vulnerable to spot removal and Cryptic Command, but the tri-colored cards from the new set are very powerful. Particularly the UGW ones.

Shard Lands

These lands would be much more awesome if we didn’t have access to Vivid lands already. They are an excellent upgrade to the Invasion comes-into-play-tapped lands, but when compared to Vivid Lands there is really no place for them, for at least a year. There are just too many lands that come into play tapped. Wizards need to think of a different drawback, since running more than eight or nine is suicide. The real crime here is that manabases are important enough that the Hideaway lands will become less popular.

Windbrisk Heights will continue its dominance, but those one-of Mosswort Bridges and Spinerock Knolls that I’m a fan of won’t be around anymore. The Hideaway lands in general are much more powerful than a lot give them credit for. They go a long way at smoothing out your land-heavy hands by providing you some utility with whatever game plan you’re looking to execute.

Panorama Lands

Vomit. Would it have been so bad to remove the “basic” drawback from these? Is fetching Leechridden Swamp and Murmuring Bosk that big a deal? They still wouldn’t be that good, and they’d at least have some neat flavor to them.

Sarkhan Vol
Planeswalker — Sarkhan
+1: Creatures you control get +1/+1 and haste until end of turn.
-2: Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste until end of turn.
-6: Put five 4/4 red Dragon creature tokens with flying into play.

The hype around this guy is a touch ridiculous. When I look Mr. Vol square in the eye, I don’t see a ravaged Planeswalker full of fury. I see a useless piece of cardboard that will take too many circumstances to become good. His +1/+1 and haste ability is a joke, and there’s no way you’re going to want to get off two of those to set up a fleet of Dragons. His Threaten ability is nice, which is where I can see him gaining utility if the format doesn’t include too many tokens. Vol’s first ability is good with mass-produced creatures, but that’s where it ends. Four mana for +1/+1… we still have Garruk, and he hasn’t seen play in months. All of his abilities are more useful and have more room to be abused, so I really can’t see Vol finding a home in the current metagame.

Cruel Ultimatum
Target opponent sacrifices a creature, discards three cards, and loses 5 life. Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. Draw three cards. You gain 5 life.

Eleven-for-one is nice and all, but it still costs seven mana and doesn’t technically “win” the game. It’s extremely Cruel, but you also have to have a creature in your graveyard for the whole she-bang to go off (boo-hoo, big drawback, right?). If you could reliably cast it on turns 5 or 6, it could be a very powerful spell, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth the trouble. There are too many good aggressive strategies right now for a seven-mana sorcery that doesn’t straight up win the game to be dominant. That’s my take on it. It definitely redefines how we should think of bulky sorceries, but it’s still a sorcery, and one that you can’t run too many of in fear of drawing multiples at critical early stages in the game. An excellent miser’s card in the decks that could realistically cast it. The term “Cruel Ultimatum will change everything” is a little extreme, in my honest opinion.

How awful is it to run this out against an Elf deck or Mono Red deck that already has their armies laid out? They discard their Nameless Inversion/Garruk/Flame Javelin, and sacrifice an Elf token or Mogg Fanatic. On their turn they bash your face in, and you’d need an answer to the real creatures from the three you drew.

Even opposite Kithkin and Merfolk, this spell isn’t that exciting. It just doesn’t deal with creatures well enough to be considered as a true player in our creature-filled metagame.

I really wish Coalition Relic was still legal, since you could swing this thang down on turn 5 with almost any combination of lands. It’s a powerful enough card to build around if we get enough tools to play it without paying full price. It’s also a Red sorcery to be paired with Nucklavee, which will rise to be one of the best creatures in Standard pretty soon. It’s criminally underplayed right now, and it’s going to really show what it’s made of this upcoming year.

See you in the forums!


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1) Industrial Revolution – Immortal Technique
2) Misunderstood – Common
3) Alchemy – Aesop Rock with Blueprint
4) Heard ‘Em Say — Kanye West
5) Swang On ‘Em – Bun B ft. Lupe Fiasco