Down And Dirty – The Top Twenty Falling From Standard

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Thursday, September 18th – Kyle reflects on some of the more powerful cards that are rotating out of Standard come the release of Shards of Alara. While some of the cards will fade without a whimper, others will not go quietly into the long Extended night. Kyle also looks at some of the more hyped cards from Time Spiral, cards that promised to shake up Standard but failed to live up to the hype.

It’s that time of the year again. With no big Constructed tournaments to prepare for without complete knowledge of the next set, a stale Limited format, and little more to talk about now that the Hall of Fame debate is past, it’s time for some nostalgia articles. There is no tech to be given, no ladies to be swooned, and nothing more than a list of paper memories about to pass from our Magical existence forever.

These are those memories, and this is that list.

Top 5 Hyped Flops


Blastoderm is perhaps one of the most impacting creatures on a format in the history of Magic. Flametongue Kavu, Psychatog, Tarmogoyf, Masticore. Not many creatures can make such a claim, so when Derm was Planeshifted into White, it was claimed to be the Second Coming. Yet I can’t think of a single Standard deck that has ever successfully played him. He made an appearance in that RGW Block deck featuring Stonecloakers and Kavu Predators, but other than that did he make his way into any 60-card stacks? Or 75-card stacks, for that matter? I don’t think so… this really saddens me.

Street Wraith

The hype surrounding this card prior to its release was also pretty epic. There were extremists on both sides, some going as far as to make the bold claim to include four in every deck until you can’t play it anymore. That said, no one ever played this card in a fair format. Bridge From Below was in Standard for awhile, and even those lists didn’t want to include Wraith. A well designed card, but its practical uses end right there. Including too many in a deck would present mulligan problems, since the Wraith restricted the number of hands you could keep.


I would have liked to see Groundbreaker make a comeback opposite the Fae decks, but it never happened. It’s Ball Freaking Lightning. The ultimate Red card (other than Fireblast and Lightning Bolt). And when it was brought into Green, many mages went wild. It will always be a popular casual card, but apparently dealing nearly a third of your total life isn’t as big a deal as it was back in the day. Mogg Fanatic has also been heavily played for the past year, but that doesn’t make Groundbreaker unplayable. What makes him unplayable is the same thing that makes most Green cards unplayable… They’re Green.

Whispers of the Muse

This is perhaps the biggest tragedy on this list. Whispers of the Muse had been regarded as one of the most popular draw effects for slow control decks in the history of Magic. It’s a free spell! A free card! But it costs six mana, and if you ever tapped out at the end of your turn, it was a time where Teferi would always jump into play.

Mystic Enforcer

He won a Grand Prix – in Block – but I really expected more from him. I tried squeezing a pair into multiple Relic decks, but there were simply too many other, better solutions. Triskelavus played a big part in making Enforcer unplayable. Why would you play a situational 6/6 when you could have infinite Triskelevites while keeping yourself from decking? You wouldn’t, and aggro decks couldn’t get Threshold as quickly as they could in times past.

The Top 20 List – Honorable Mentions

Krosan Grip, Shadowmage Infiltrator, Pendelhaven, Pickles, Prismatic Lens

All of these cards were more than impacting in their own right, but I couldn’t find room for them in a neat sounding “Top 20 List,” so I gave them their own little “close call” section.

Krosan Grip has been the Green mage’s silver bullet of choice going on two years now. Remember everyone’s initial reaction to Split Second? It was close to a mad hysteria, and now, when all is said and done, there are a couple of Split Second on the list, but the ability wasn’t nearly as corrupting on the format as some doomsday heralds predicted. The ability itself is quite imposing, but Wizards didn’t give us much to work with other than some extremely basic cards with SS attached to them. Sure, we got a couple of creatures, all overcosted with mediocre abilities to offset their puny size-to-mana ratios. It would have been nice to see something a little more ballsy, like a Warp World or Upheaval type effect with Split Second. Something so powerful that you don’t mind paying a plethora of mana since you know for certain it’s going to break through.

Shadowmage Infiltrator has really fit into the role of its name. It’s silently gone under the radar while Masters like Cheon, LSV, and GerryT infiltrate tournaments with him here and there, so not to arouse suspicion. Pendelhaven did much of the same. It seemed like everyone would always throw together a Green deck and forget to include Pendelhaven in the beginning, until it became standard practice to throw one in any deck that packed 1/1 guys. RB Grave Pact decks, Faeries, Rock decks, Red decks, Blue-Green, Mono-Black, all types of decks used Pendelhaven to some success at one point or another. However, rarely was there ever more than one copy in any of those lists, so just how impacting was it? Not very, but it was a cool toy to play with while we had it.

Pickles, on the other hand, had rights as the number one deck at one time, in both Block Constructed and Standard. There were all types of shells placed around the Brine Elemental plus Vesuvan Shapeshifter combo… some Green, some Black, some White, never Red, but the deck was always a challenge. You couldn’t tap out safely at any point in the game for fear that the blank-looking 2/2s the opponent has could give him a win out of nowhere. Given the slow nature of Standard pre-Lorwyn, Pickles was the best long-game tactic available. The first time I ever heard about Pickles being successful was on a train ride with BDM, Flores, and Billy en route to Grand Prix: Richmond. BDM was fool-heartedly talking about an interesting mono-Blue deck he designed and started playing around with on Magic Online. It involved Morph creatures, which no one respected at the time, and Flores was quick to back him up after he tested a few sets with the innovative combo himself. Somewhere down the line Japanese players were seen doing very well with it, so everyone hopped on the bandwagon, but credit should really go to BDM. When the hyper aggressive tribes of Lorwyn launched onto the landing strip, the slower cards of Time Spiral Block were quickly invalidated, and Standard has been a tempo-based format ever since.

Prismatic Lens didn’t have quite the illustrious history as the other cards presented, but it’s been the best and most consistent artifact mana producer over the past couple of years, and it has advanced more mages to four mana on turn 3 than any other card. The fact that it produces mana of any color is huge, since it enabled shakier manabases at the mere cost of making your color-intensive spells one more mana.

Top 20

This list isn’t in a specific order, but I tried to make the cards more impacting as you scroll down the list.

Venser, Shaper Savant

There were a host of extremely powerful Blue spells during the course of Time Spiral, which is what made Venser that much more powerful. When the opponent is putting you on Mystical Teachings, Careful Consideration, or any type of counter, and attempts to go the attacking route, Venser was the catch all that acted like Cryptic Command before it became legal. It would bounce a Treetop Village and trade with a Fanatic or chump block Tarmogoyf. It was also extremely handy at giving you an edge against Ancestral Vision, as they’d either have to deal with it by tapping mana during their turn or wait another four upkeeps while taking some Wizard beats in the meantime.

Dreadship Reef

This slot goes out to all of the Charge Lands, but Dreadship Reef is by far the flagship of the tribe. Their effectiveness was much more important before Lorwyn was introduced, with storage land battles being the key to the majority of control-on-control matchups at the time. Whoever had more mana would win, and charge lands essentially added an extra mana to your pool for every turn they were in play. But like I said earlier, Lorwyn brought forth a tempo-centered metagame which stifled the utility of the charge lands, since the object turned from mana advantage to using all your mana every turn to either deal with their threats or present threats of your own.


RG Snow has been a constant contender in the Standard metagame. It combined cheap efficient spells like Skred and fatty boom booms like Cloudthresher. But at the heart of the deck was Harmonize, and without it I doubt RG Snow would have ever become the powerhouse that it was for awhile. In hindsight, Harmonize really didn’t have as big an impact on the overall metagame as some other cards, but the fact that Green was able to Concentrate was huge from a design standpoint. I also feel like it was criminally underplayed.

Slaughter Pact / Pact of Negation

This pair should probably be much higher on the list, given the pure frustration and humiliation factor that commonly surrounded them. A new type of spell at the time, losing the game is the biggest possible drawback you can have, other than some unglued wackiness like making your opponent fetch you a drink. Their utility was only surpassed by their lore. Tales of mages losing ranged from FNM slums to PT heights, and hit many of the game’s best players when they least expected it. I’m not entirely sure about the following fact, but I’m fairly certain that the majority of the Magic community has forgotten to pay for these Pacts at one time or another. The first time I picked multiple Pacts up was playtesting a Block deck during an FNM for a PTQ the following day: Relic Control. I forgot thrice on FNM night and twice at the PTQ. It was insanely embarrassing, but I really felt like I grew from it, and that’s the kind of impact that makes them so memorable. They were also extremely efficient at their given roles… killing a creature or countering a crucial spell while you were able to use all your resources in the same set of turns.


By far the most imposing and powerful Split Second spell, Extirpate always had a role in the Standard format. At first it was used as a Mystical Teachings target to cripple the opponent in mirrorish matches. It moved on to perform a key role at attempting to neuter Dredge in Extended, all while being an acceptable answer to the absurd Reveillark decks that dominated Standard for a long time. Extirpate was a card that kept the insane cards in check, and there was nothing they could do about them. Without some kind of way to take care of Lark, it may again return to the top of the standings.

Momentary Blink

In the land of 187s, a man with Momentary Blink is king. That line proved true, as Blink took down multiple tournaments in its day ranging from GPs to Nationals as a critical role player in decks packed to the brim with “comes-into-play” ability creatures. Blink made the mediocre over-costed creatures shine. Riftwing Cloudskate, Venser, Mystic Snake, Avalanche Riders… None of these are so impressive with only a single use, and Blink enabled an additional use at half the cost while still having value thanks to Flashback. My favorite memory of Blink was when I looked to use it as a combo card at ’07 Nationals. Aethermage’s Touch would bring a Bogardan Hellkite into play at the end of my opponent’s turn, dealing them five. I’d attack on the next turn for another five, then use Momentary Blink to override Touch’s drawback while dealing yet another five. If I still had four mana after all this, I’d just Flashback Blink on the Hellkite to deal the full twenty points of damage in one big swing.

Mogg War Marshal

This guy has been under the radar since day 1, and still hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves. I remember when he would be the last cut for my Limited decks, but he always held his weight whenever he jumped into play. This may be a bit high for the little Goblin, but War Marshal really is a unique card that most people don’t understand. He’s so good at holding the fort on turn 2 through turn 20. He was never a terrible top deck, since he was usually included in decks that had multiple ways to abuse him. Grave Pact, Greater Gargadon, Mad Auntie, there have been a host of ways to abuse the little Mogg that could. He doesn’t really compare to the other cards on this list on a one-for-one basis, but it’s about team work, and he’s always brought the boys to the yard while handing out milkshakes that are better than yours.

Magus of the Moon

Ever since this card was spoiled, Red decks looked to put Magus in their 75. The Blood Moon effect is well documented as being one of the most powerful strategies to combat the greedy decks that want to play all the best spells, and Magus is equally well documented to have caused a lot of headaches. Slaughter Pact attempted to keep it in check, but I’d always rather be on the Magus side of things because they’d die in nearly every situation where he wasn’t answered. Whenever you’re deckbuilding for any given format, there are certain cards you have to keep in mind that destroy you. Magus of the Moon was one of those cards, and every deck for the past two years has needed to have some kind of answer to him just in case the opponent slammed him down. Whether it be Slaughter Pact, more basic lands, or leaving mana up to float in response, it changed the way we built our decks and the way we played our games.

Wall of Roots

I mentioned Prismatic Lens being the most widely used accelerator from two mana to four mana, but Wall of Roots was much better. Much like Magus, it restricted the types of creatures you could play for a long time. Troll Ascetic hasn’t shined in quite some time, and I give Wall of Roots partial credit for that. So potent that decks often went out of their way to base their mana around Wall of Roots, Quick n’ Toast as a good example. Rooty was also extremely important for the mana-intensive decks that looked to play creatures or sorcery spells during the main phase with the ability to leave up a potential Rune Snag or some other permission spell during the opponent’s turn. I do think that Wizards should have cleaned it up a bit and changed the -0/-1 counters to -1/-1 counters. The abusability with Quillspike is negligible, and it only seems like a natural step to take given their recent errata to negate +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters. -0/-1 counters are clunky and totally unnecessary.


This isn’t a big hit to Standard. I’ve been waiting for Snow-lands to get out of the format since they were conceived. There’s just something so annoying about having to play Snow-lands for bluffing purposes rather than being able to play APAC or Guru basic lands. Everyone and their Mother threw in Snow-lands to replace any basics in whatever deck they were playing, and it was pretty trivial towards the end. Chapin used Snow-lands as an excuse to play non-Blue decks because snow melts into water, thus making it appeasing to the Blue Gods. Yeah. And I’m the crazy one on SCG! Snow-lands have been the replacements for too long, and the only good card that they’ve ever enabled is Skred. There were a host of Skred-based decks, ranging from Mono-Red Stuffy Doll to Mono-Red Demigod to RG Snow, but I was never really that impressed by those decks due to their extremely intuitive nature.

Future Sight Lands

This one is pretty big. One of these lands has been in a literal ton of Standard decks since their release, and with all of these “comes-into-play-tapped” lands running around we are going to miss these lands perhaps more than any other card on this list. River of Tears has been the most played of the bunch, with Horizon Canopy, Graven Cairns, and Grove of the Burnwillows following shortly behind. Nimbus Maze never really had any applications except as a two or three-of in some Reveillark or UW control lists, but never really had the opportunity to shine. Manabases have been stretched further in the past two years than ever before in a Standard format, and Nimbus Maze is only usable in a solely Blue-White deck. It’s also pretty sad to see Future Sight go. Ever since its release, every new set has been that much more exciting to see which Futureshifted card would be reprinted. An extremely appealing marketing tool by Wizards, at least from my perspective.


He’s just a creature that attacks and blocks. Although he didn’t do his best attacking in Standard, he did do an admirable job and holding down the fort. I’ve always viewed Tarmogoyf as a Wall for control decks that will kill the opponent when the board levels out rather than an aggressive tool. If he’s not performing that role, I believe he’s best suited as a premium sideboard tactic to change whatever your normal plan is to a Tarmogoyf beat package out of nowhere. The scary part is that he’s Futureshifted, meaning he will most likely have another two year term coming up whenever Wizards wants to elect him.

Lotus Bloom

I could have put Hellkite or Dragonstorm on the list, but really the driving point behind any explosive combo deck for the past two years has been Bloom. Without it Mihara’s Dragonstorm, Chapin’s Dragonstorm, Aussie Storm, and Swans wouldn’t have been remotely as successful as they were. There were other decks that feature Bloom of course, but none that could harness the raw power and synergies of the card better than a base Red abusing the Storm mechanic.

Greater Gargadon

GG. Garganzola. Or simply put: Gargs. The best Red card we’ve had in Standard for the past two years. He attacked multiple angles so subtly that looking back you can see the true evolution of its greatness. He’s played key roles in combo decks, control decks, and most popularly in aggressive strategies. He counteracted Tendrils of Corruption, Wrath effects, and added a much needed sacrifice outlet to countless decks. Perhaps his most redeeming quality is the annoyance he brought to the table for the opponent. Such as those late game situations where you topdeck him and suspended him immediately, only to have your opponent scratching his head trying to respond with some type of removal spell that he should have played during your upkeep/draw phase. “Doesn’t use the stack, bruh!” is what you’d tell him, but he’d play the spell anyway out of embarrassment. Some might say I lived in the time of Teachings, Teferi, or Tarmogoyf. But I’ll always reply, I lived in the time of Achilles! Err… GARGADON!

Ancestral Vision / Careful Consideration

Let’s be honest, if you’re not playing one, you’re playing the other. Or Ponder, but those guys always lose. AV and CC have walked hand in hand through these turbulent times only to find themselves on the brink of unplayability, never to be seen by the Standard light again. It’s sad. I loooooove casting both of these spells. I really think Time Spiral spoiled us Blue mages. So many good Blue cards, where to begin? Shove them all into the same deck! It happened time and time again. Playing the best Blue cards has always been a recipe for success, but there’s something about this Blue crop that made the grazing cows much larger than before, and it’s all due to the massive amounts of card advantage given to us in Time Spiral block. Lorwyn is nearly the complete polar opposite, showing a much leaner curve and what feels like lower overall casting costs, edging out the greedy expensive cards that we all grew to love.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

King of the mound, Teferi is my favorite card ever printed. His impact on the game and how we play it has been well recorded from pretty much whoever has cast him. Teferi is the ultimate Blue creature. He’s an instant, sizable enough to avoid the majority of three-centric removal spells while able to sling a swift blow, and able of restricting the opponent more than any other card played on an End Step. Basically, Teferi is like the Tupac of Magic. The lessons we’ve learned from him will be remembered years from now, even though he won’t be around. Although Extended is the ultimate tempo format, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the term “Teferi Advantage” become popular again someday. He just has too profound an impact on the game to be ignored.

Mystical Teachings

Whenever someone says Mystical Teachings, Guacamole Waffle-Tacos comes to mind. Mystical Teachings is his card. He spotlighted it, he won with it, and he designed the deck that would inspire lists to our current day. Teachings wouldn’t be nearly as good a tutor without the Flashback backup option, but since it has that option Mystical has been the premier tutor in Standard for two years. It never really made the jump to be included in aggro or combo decks, but it was such an efficient tool for control decks that everyone who played against it had to memorize a host of singleton cards to play around. There was Haunting Hymn, Extirpate, and Pact of Negation to name a few of the versatile options. That’s not to mention the card’s resilience when combined with Teferi, also enabling Teachings to search for whatever creature you want while Tupac’s in play.

Lord of Atlantis

This probably doesn’t deserve to be this high, but it’s a huge hit for the Merfolk decks that are currently dominating. Lord did absolutely nothing until Lorwyn was released, but since then he’s played the biggest role in the best tribal deck to come out of Lorwyn Block. The fact that he’s gone will damper the Fish situation immensely, leaving them with only Merrow Reejerey to provide a pump to the pint sized poisson. The two-slot in those decks was usually full to begin with, but off loading the best of the bunch isn’t the tide that the fish would have likely chosen.

Rune Snag

This is the fairest two-mana counter ever created, in my opinion. Powerful enough to get the job done when you need it to, but fair enough to be able to maneuver around it when you felt like it. It set the standard in Standard for two-mana counterspells. Rune Snag avoided the problem that Mana Leak had in that, if they chose to play around it, all of your Mana Leaks would become dead cards or you’d be subject to waste them in two for one fashion. Snag, on the other hand, recouped value as the game went on, requiring your opponent to leave up much more mana if he wanted to make you lose value. The fact that this counter isn’t in Standard anymore means we need to find a new two-mana replacement. Remove Soul is the obvious choice right now, and a safe one given the high current creature counts, but I’d definitely like to have another option. We’ve always had multiple two-mana counters to choose from, but if Shards doesn’t give us anything, Blue decks will lose a lot of ground from not having a reliable turn 2 thwart to whatever the opponent presents.


Aw, shoot… we have to start playing White again. Boo-hiss.

As for the list on a whole, Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block went a long way to invalidate a lot of these cards. Given the three-color nature of Shards and the apparent lack of good mana fixers, I can’t see Shards comparing favorably to Lorwyn. It almost feels like we’re down powering and slowing down, but the tribes will keep the pressure on. The real problem with the tribal decks is that you can’t just add the best spells from the new block; they have to be related to the tribe to gain access to the village. And if all we have is some two- and three-colored powerful cards in the new set, I just can’t see how they are going to work their way into the grand scheme of things. Needs more cowbell.

Thanks for reading,


Top 5 Picks

1) On the Water – The Walkman
2) The Confirmation – Vakill
3) Diary of Wood – Circulatory System
4) Your Boy Al – The Alchemist
5) The Essence – The Alchemist