Flipping Standard

With Magic Origins spoilers officially hitting high gear, Shaun takes a first look at some of the Standard implications of the last-ever Core Set, examining key cards that might fit into existing archetypes or spawn new decks of their own.

It begins.

The first batch of cards from the final core set are rolling in. Magic Origins is already shaping up to be interesting and powerful, and I imagine that trend will continue as more cards continue to be spoiled.

Today I’ll look at some of the most powerful cards revealed so far and the impact they might have on Standard in the future.

Standard Now

I would say the format as we know it has Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector at the top of the food chain. G/R Devotion, Abzan Aggro, Abzan Megamorph, Whip of Erebos decks, and even Dragon Control strategies are all capable of making use of the Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector engine. Though not all these decks end up running the full four copies of each and plenty of decks don’t run it at all including Esper Dragons, U/B Control and Atarka Red. Decks that aren’t abusing Megamorph shenanigans certainly have them in mind and are often aimed at beating them. It’s difficult to go over or under the Raptors, though, since the recursion is powerful in the late game and relatively cost-efficient in the early game.

What will Magic Origins bring to the table? Will Standard receive a complete shakeup or will existing strategies simply absorb and implement the new tools? Let’s take a look at some of the new cards and predict where they might fit in.

The Non-Planeswalkers

Hot Damnation!

While this card is certainly no Damnation, it is a four-mana Wrath effect in a good control color. (Sorry, Anger of the Gods, but red isn’t winning any awards for being the Most Valuable Color in control decks.)

When I first read the title and casting cost I felt like it was going to be a powerful card, and I was certainly not disappointed. Perhaps there’s something about one-word Magic cards that suggests they’ll be more powerful.

Once again, Siege Rhino immediately spoils the fun. (Or, depending on your perspective, crashes into your opponent’s board like the Kool-Aid Man and spills fun all over the place if you’re the one casting it.) If only the picture on the card was of a Rhino skull instead of a measly Crocodile.

I suppose the good news (again, or terrible news) is then that you can happily play Languish alongside Siege Rhino as sort of makeshift Crux of Fate for not killing your own Rhinos instead of not killing your own Dragons.

But Siege Rhino aside, Languish does kill a lot, from Dragonlord Ojutai to Whisperwood Elemental and all of its Manifests, from a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion to both sides of a Wingmate Roc and even all of Nissa, Worldwaker’s Elemental lands. It’s actually probably easier listing what it doesn’t kill. All the other Dragonlords for starters, Silumgar the Drifting Death, Polukranous, World Eater, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, dashed creatures, anything with five toughness or more, plus Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector can still get value against it… you get the idea. I think Languish will see plenty of play, fits into many existing decks, and be powerful enough to warp the format a little to make all the above cards that are good against it see more play.

The main question is if it’s a full four-of or just another piece of the puzzle to complement Crux of Fate, Drown in Sorrow, and Perilous Vault.

My first thought was not bad, and a huge upgrade from Defeat, a card I think most people probably forgot even exists. It can kill a Fleecemane Lion, a Rakshasa Deathdealer, a Deathmist Raptor, a morph, or a Courser of Kruphix. It’s certainly up for consideration alongside Bile Blight and Ultimate Price for what removal to put in your deck. It is the weakest of the bunch in a vacuum I feel, especially since it is sorcery speed, but not so much that it’s a complete write-off. It is certainly the least conditional in the first few turns of the game, since it’s easier to cast than Bile Blight, and better against Abzan Aggro than Ultimate Price.

He’s big, he’s ugly, and he dies to Hero’s Downfall and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I’m imagining this dude against a Devotion deck and liking what I see, or really any deck where he survives a turn and you can smash face and start firing off removal.

There are also scenarios where you play him and Murderous Cut on the same turn or him and Bile Blight to feast on a bunch of unassuming tokens. It’s possible he is the Baneslayer Angel of value and card draw, but I doubt he’ll see much maindeck play and perhaps a little in sideboards.

Is there a cycle of the planeswalkers’ parents in card form? What’s next? Chandra’s grandma?

The immediate comparison that comes to mind is Siege-Gang Commander. The card actually looks quite nice from that perspective. You’re getting four power for four mana, half of which is flying, and it’s resistant to spot removal since half that power comes as bonus tokens.

The card also has synergy with artifacts, bounce and blink effects, plus don’t forget Jeskai Ascendancy. The Thopters can be used for chump blocking and shocking. I suppose a question is what archetype do Pia and Kiran Nalaar fit in? Jeskai Ascendancy token decks are perhaps one, but they are going to be hard-pressed to edge out the raw power of Thunderbreak Regent in other decks. Perhaps they can find a home in some sort of control deck?

I have a hard time thinking of anything to compare this to, which is probably a good sign. Chandra’s Ignition could have major applications in G/R Devotion, specifically the mirror, or perhaps more broadly as a board sweeper or Dragonlord Ojutai roaster.

Chandra’s Ignition is excellent with Polukranous, World Eater, Dragonlord Atarka, and Genesis Hydra, not only as a board sweeper, but also as a Crater’s Claws effect once you sink all your mana into the creature first.

I also imagine scenarios where you target your second-largest creature to keep both it and your largest creature around while still clearing your opponent’s board.

Chandra’s Ignition is both a burn spell and potentially one-sided Wrath effect and could easily end up being a staple in ramp decks if the mirror match is common. It’s not a card you want too many copies of, though, and it’s both expensive and vulnerable to spot removal, but it is potentially very powerful and versatile.

This is a card that does not play nice with itself. As soon as you draw a second copy, you’re probably discarding one to the other. It seems like a great curve-topper in pretty much any red deck though. Casting it with no cards left after an attrition war is great, it’s a good target for Haven of the Spirit Dragon, and it’s an efficient flier that’s potentially all upside.

So close yet so far. Not being able to target players essentially removes all the oomph from this card. As it stands, this could be a pseudo-Flame Slash in control decks, but with Roast around it really doesn’t seem so appealing.

Beware the two-mana Force Spikes! Now with this and Silumgar’s Scorn, you have a lot to think about when casting a spell into the blue mage with two mana up. The question is: will this even see play with Scorn existing? Possibly. It scales well and doesn’t require Dragons, so U/B Control is an obvious candidate.

I initially completely overlooked this card but it could this be a sideboard card to complement the Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver mill strategy. It’s a win condition on an enchantment, which makes it harder to remove for some decks, but right now the decks and the format don’t support this card.

Indrik Stomphowler 2.0. Reclamation Sage has a little bit of competition, but decks that want the effect will probably choose efficiency over chunky stats.

I have no clue if Elvish Visionary is actually powerful enough filler to fit in any decks, but it has a long reputation for being a playable card at this point and thus may have strong potential in Devotion strategies and Collected Company decks. It works well with Courser of Kruphix and soaks up Foul-Tongue Invocation as well.

My first instinct is “Nope, not efficient enough,” but upon further reflection, the card is unique and probably requires another look. Hixus, Prison Warden’s ability is very good against a certain class of cards, namely tokens and Genesis Hydra, where he outright kills anything he imprisons. He’s also very poor against creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities like Siege Rhino, and if Dragonlord Ojutai hits they gets to look for a card to kill Hixus with.

The true power of Hixus, Prison Warden is his versatility. He has flash, a reasonably powerful ability, and he has a fairly sizable body. He can be flashed in to block Fleecemane Lion or just as an end-of-turn attacker. If you have a way to protect him with Valorous Stance or countermagic, he could potentially run away with the game. Siege Rhino being pretty obnoxious against Hixus is probably the biggest strike against him, since it beats him in a heads-up romp or is happy to be exiled and re-enter the battlefield for another three points of drain.

Probably a one-of at most but worth a try.

The Planeswalkers

Last but not least, let’s look at the flashiest multifaceted new additions to our growing cardboard family.

First of all, they are difficult to evaluate, since we haven’t seen anything like them before. Second of all, they seem very undercosted and powerful in the right situations. If they were just their planeswalker sides, they would be very powerful for their costs, but instead they are creatures with strange restrictions for flipping which means their value can fluctuate wildly.

Since you have to invest barely any mana into them, they are all on the weak side as far as planeswalkers go. Still, a planeswalker is a planeswalker and even a dirt-cheap, hard-to-flip one can generate plenty of value.

Collected Company’s stock goes way up since it appears it can probably find all of them. It’s possible all the flip-walkers are powerful enough that they will just show up nearly everywhere. They all essentially require answering, which should be just the thing we need right now to shake up the Standard format.

Wow. Just wow. That is a lot of text for just one mana’s worth of investment. This easily has to be the card with best return on words per cost.

Kytheon/Gideon even undergoes a name upgrade! Talk about value.

The obvious best place to look if you want to immediately flip Kytheon, Hero of Akros is Raise the Alarm and Dragon Fodder. He also works great as an indestructible Savannah Lions with massive upside in the late game in any deck running both Plains and other creatures.

Gideon, Battle-Forged is a one-mana indestructible 4/4. We truly live in dark and terrible times that even the most pessimistic blue mage could not have predicted. Beyond that, he also has a lure effect and can give another creature indestructible – all while ticking up. Excuse me, I need to go find a blunt object.

I feel like Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh will have the hardest time finding a home. Mono-red aggro doesn’t really want her since she is actually going to be a burden when she just dies to a removal spell. Aggressive red decks don’t really want slower three-mana spells that have the potential to do no damage. The power level is here, but she fits better in a midrange deck where you are presenting a bunch of must-answer threats.

Liliana, Heretical Healer has decent stats as a pseudo-Vampire Nighthawk. It seems like you can just jam her in basically any black deck with creatures and not be too focused on getting her to flip, it will just naturally happen sometimes. When she does flip, she leaves behind a 2/2 zombie which is fairly necessary since her flipped form is pretty unexciting. The ultimate is very underwhelming and the +2 is symmetrical. Her reanimate option is nice and all, but it only works on your graveyard and requires a lot of loyalty to get something worthwhile.

For right now, I think she fits best in strategies that are just happy to have a 2/3 lifelinker with the potential to generate some more value later on. That might change if there are better options for cheap creatures you can immediately sacrifice for a decent effect. The payoff for working to flip her isn’t great, so I think the cards she would be synergistic with would already have to be powerful.

Two of the flip-walkers you can flip more easily the turn they enter the battlefield. That is one of the biggest things holding back the flip-walkers, we think they are meant to be used the turn they’re played and they aren’t supposed to be attached to dinky creatures. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is the best at subverting both of these rules, and is the least finicky to get to flip.

Her worst-case scenario is as a Borderland Ranger that only searches for a Forest and gums up the ground a little. Her upside is beyond vast. If you wait to play her until you have enough lands to flip her, you have an undercosted planeswalker with excellent abilities. You can even make sure she is semi-immune to spot removal the turn you want to flip her if you keep an uncracked fetchland in play. If you already have seven lands, just play her and search up a land, play the land and put her flip trigger on the stack – if your opponent responds to any of that with, say, an Ultimate Price, just crack your fetchland and flip her again in response.

If you are going to jam her into an Abzan deck, make sure you are aware of how many Forests you’ve milled with Satyr Wayfinder or searched out with Windswept Heath. Abzan decks are likely going to have to play at least three basic Forests if they want to run Nissa, Vastwood Seer.

Both her forms work well with Courser of Kruphix, and she’s also a decent card to hit with Genesis Hydra, Collected Company, Whisperwood Elemental, and Den Protector.

Unassuming but incredibly powerful. Low risk, high reward. Expect to see plenty from Nissa, Vastwood Seer.

Finally, here are some prototype decklists running a few of the new cards:

The spoiler isn’t even half out and we already have plenty of goodies to examine. I don’t expect Magic Origins to stop here though, there will plenty to come! I imagine the final Core Set will be going out with a bang, and I can’t wait to see what cards are spoiled next. What about you? Which of the flip-walkers is the most powerful, and what cards do you think will dominate Standard?