Essence Scatter? Throw Me A Frickin’ Bone Here!

Jim Davis is one of those players that just loves a good counterspell! So he gets a very good one this time around! It counters Saheeli Rai and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar! What’s that? It doesn’t? Well, Jim is going to build cool decks with it anyway!

I wasn’t always a control player.

My Magic career officially started with only playing Limited for the first few years, and when I eventually moved into Constructed, it was all aggro, all the time. White Weenie, Affinity, Zoo… you name it. If there was a good aggressive deck in the format, you could bet that I’d be battling with it and in contention for the Top 8 of the Neutral Ground PTQ.

It didn’t matter the format, Block Constructed, Extended, or Standard. I was looking to attack early and often with whatever the format’s best aggressive deck was.

Then one day I picked up a Mystical Teachings control deck for a PTQ and that was all she wrote; I was hooked. I’m always willing to play whatever I think gives me the best chance to win and think I’ve got a pretty wide range when it comes to deck selection, but I’ll always be looking to build a control deck if I can.

Yet while I was gunning endless drafts and Sealed Deck PTQs at the start of my Magic career, I was missing out on one of the most distinctive control decks of all time:

If you’ve been playing Magic for a long time, you will probably look at this decklist in fond remembrance. If you haven’t, you’re probably wondering what the hell is going on. A W/R control deck?

While W/R Astral Slide lacks both a way of drawing cards like Glimmer of Genius or Sphinx’s Revelation as well as any sort of countermagic, it was one of the premier control decks at the time of the format. With Lightning Rift and Astral Slide, every time you cycle one of your many cycling cards, you gain card advantage while drawing another card.

Well, cycling is back in Amonkhet, as there’s a new Astral Slide-type enabler:

Drake Haven compares very favorably to Lightning Rift. Getting a 2/2 flying creature is going to outperform a Shock most of the time, and Drake Haven can win the game fairly quickly all by itself, whereas Lightning Rift would require at least ten cycles. Drake Haven seems to have the edge in power level, but the difficult part is parsing how well it lines up with the power level of current Standard. Tapping out on turn 3 to not do anything is a fairly big cost, especially in a format as aggressive and tempo-oriented as current Standard.

It is still very early in the Amonkhet preview season, so we don’t know yet if there will be a cycle of Drake Haven-style enchantments for each color. The pairing of Lightning Rift and Astral Slide really allowed you to push the cycling theme to the max, and we currently don’t know if that is something we can do yet.

We also don’t know the full extent of cards with cycling in the set, but I bet we know one of the best:

Even without cycling, this card would be very reasonable in Standard. Standard has been experiencing a major lack of universal answers, which has let threats of various types run rampant. Planeswalkers and Vehicles are much more difficult to answer than creatures, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been a thorn in the side of anyone trying to build a reactive deck for what feels like far too long.

This card is effectively a mono-colored Utter End, a card that saw light play in a much different format. Considering players have gone as far as playing Flame Lash in their control decks, the need for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar removal could not be higher; Cast Out fits the bill and does the job cleanly at instant speed.

But what’s even more exciting is that cycling cost… only one white mana!

Looking back at Gabe Walls’s Astral Slide deck, you can see he played the full four copies of Spark Spray, a rather underpowered common from Scourge. I can assure you that Standard in 2003 was not filled with a never-ending stream of one-toughness creatures, but rather any card that had a somewhat reasonable effect and cycled for only one mana was a very serious consideration. Cycling for one mana is phenomenal and opens up a world of synergies.

So when you put one-mana cycling on a card that is already just what the format has been asking for, you end up with what is likely to be one of the most impactful cards in the set. The opportunity cost of putting Cast Out into your deck is so comically low that I can’t imagine there will be many white decks in the format that won’t be playing the full four.

Cycling cards, and Cast Out in particular, also work extremely well with delirium.

Putting a card like Terrarion in your deck for the sole purpose of getting delirium has proven to be too inefficient in Standard, as you end up having too much air in your deck. Even cards like Vessel of Nascency are at times too slow, as the tempo you lose to set up your fast delirium ends up not being worth it unless you are working towards something like Emrakul, the Promised End. This is why the best delirium decks achieve delirium by playing Magic and just casting their spells. Cast Out fits this mold perfectly, being an already great card you’d be happy to draw in the late-game while putting a unique card type in the graveyard for only one mana.

Cast Out may not be the most singularly powerful card in Amonkhet, but I promise that it will see a ton of play.

When we are looking for sweet cycling cards to play, we don’t have to go any further than Gabe Walls’s deck once again. Renewed Faith is another card that doesn’t necessarily look like much but does a bunch of things very efficiently while also being a cog in a larger puzzle. Lifegain is always a valuable tool for a control deck, and once you start mixing in bonuses for cycling, Renewed Faith becomes an attractive option.

It’s nothing fancy, but don’t overlook Renewed Faith.

They’ve already been discussed by other authors a good amount so far, but add my voice to the chorus about how great the cycling duals like Irrigated Farmland are. These lands are fantastic at face value, as I’ve played enough Submerged Boneyards and Coastal Towers in my day to know the value of an “enters-the-battlefield-tapped” dual land. Cycling allows us to mitigate flooding in the late-game and play more lands on average in our decks overall so we have fewer troubles in the early-game.

Once you start getting positive effects for cycling, these lands go from good to great very swiftly. They are not nearly as powerful as the single-colored cycling lands like Forgotten Cave when it comes to synergizing but are still nothing short of fantastic.

Unfortunately, that’s all we have for cycling cards so far, but there is another somewhat exciting counterspell reprint for us to consider as well.

It’s odd how one could be happy about what amounts to a Remove Soul, but I guess that’s just where we are when it comes to counterspells lately.

Essence Scatter comes to us at a very odd time, as many of the best threats in the format are not actually creatures. Essence Scatter does nothing to Vehicles or planeswalkers, and those are the types troubling control players right now. Horribly Awry has been seeing light play as an Essence Scatter-lite, and given the lack of five-mana-or-more creatures and the prevalence of Scrapheap Scrounger, it may even just be better than Essence Scatter.

I’m happy to have Essence Scatter back, but I don’t think it is going to have a huge impact right away. Come on, Wizards of the Coast, can’t we just have the humble Clash of Wills back?

So we have these new tools for our control deck. What are we to do with them? Let’s give it a go.

This decklist is obviously both a rough draft and lacking in a critical mass of cycling cards, but it offers us a pretty good look at what a Drake Haven control deck could look like. One can only assume there will be more good cycling cards in the set that fill the basic removal and control roles, and we can swap those in and out with the more basic cards in the deck like Negate and Disallow.

The deck moves away from Torrential Gearhulk and Glimmer of Genius as the main focus, as it is probably more important to focus on the cycling engine. Every turn we are casting Glimmer of Genius is a turn we are not cycling and maximizing our Drake Haven. Only time will tell if there are enough tools in Amonkhet to support this sort of all-in cycling strategy.

The other important thing to note about Drake Haven is that it triggers on any discard, not just cycling. While there are other possible paths to go down to take advantage of this (Haunted Dead, Key to the City, etc.), this deck uses Nahiri, the Harbinger. Being able to make a 2/2 Drake token every turn when you plus Nahiri is fantastic, and Nahiri is already a solid planeswalker by herself. If Drake Haven gets popular, she can even remove your opponent’s copy of it!

I’m very excited to see what other tools this deck gets as the set is revealed further.

Of course, Wizards of the Coast couldn’t give us Essence Scatter without giving us…

Don’t worry, fellow control mages; not only are counterspells not prevalent enough for this card to even make an impact, it’s also not like we don’t already play a bunch of removal spells. This is the kind of knee-jerk card that makes people go crazy and isn’t actually very good beyond just being a four-power creature for three mana; don’t fall for it.

Also, you get to hear your opponents try to pronounce “Serpopard” every time they cast it, so make sure you ask them to repeat it before you chuckle and kill it with Harnessed Lightning or Grasp of Darkness.

We’ve hardly scratched the surface of Amonkhet and I’m already very excited for new Standard. Cycling is a fantastic mechanic that should probably be evergreen, and Exert also seems like a very skill-intensive and interesting mechanic as well. Best of all, both mechanics seem to promote longer games. Standard has been extremely snowball-oriented lately, and I for one look forward to hopefully not just getting run over by a good curve into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on the play every other game.

Let’s hope for more great cycling cards!