So now that a new set is coming upon us, I figured it might be a fun time to take a last look at the (current) (soon to be different) Top 10 cards in
the Standard format.
Briefly, they are:
1.Â Â Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2.Â Â Stoneforge Mystic
3.Â Â Preordain
4.Â Â Mana Leak
5.Â Â Lotus Cobra
6.Â Â Squadron Hawk
7.Â Â Tectonic Edge
8.Â Â Tumble Magnet
9.Â Â Primeval Titan
10.Â Â Sword of Feast and Famine
A note on the order…
The first two are the first two. Number one is “better than all,” and number two is maybe the most dominant creature in Standard since
Disciple of the Vault.
More-or-less everything that was said last month about the ubiquitous Top 8-ness of Jace, the Mind Sculptor is 100% transferable to Preordain and only
slightly less applicable to Mana Leak. That leaves Lotus Cobra at a “lowly” number five (are you happy now?).
How insane is this format’s two-drops that Squadron Hawk is the third-best and way down in the #6 position? Squadron Hawk is the ultimate
un-mulligan and a notable Sword-bearer. Lotus Cobra only got the nod over Squadron Hawk due to its nigh-Flagship status in RUG and other decks, and the
fact that when you ask a Caw-Blade player what he is scared of, he says “a second-turn Lotus Cobra” more often than “any other dude
playing Squadron Hawks” (though maybe they should).
Tectonic Edge is just an awesome card that probably should have gotten Top 10 recognition earlier. You can tell how great Tectonic Edge is because all
the Caw-Blade players have gone back to straight U/W and cite Tectonic Edge as a key edge against three-color versions of the mirror.
I ran this list past StarCityGames.com ace Patrick Chapin (and the whole of the Indomitable Twitter Army â”¢); Patrick had the same cards in his
Top 10 but insisted that Primeval Titan be third and that Sword of Feast and Famine get the nod over Tectonic Edge and Tumble Magnet.
That is, this:
1.Â Â Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2.Â Â Stoneforge Mystic
3.Â Â Primeval Titan
4.Â Â Preordain
5.Â Â Mana Leak
6.Â Â Lotus Cobra
7.Â Â Squadron Hawk
9.Â Â Tectonic Edge
10.Â Â Tumble Magnet
I mean shrug.
As far as I can tell, Jace is the best spell, Stoneforge Mystic is the best man, and everybody else from 3-10 is good but on a different level than the
tops of the tops. I mean Caw-Blade plays a good number of the cards in the Top 10, but Caw-Blade is in a sense just the best Jace deck, and the reason
it outperforms other Jace decks is mostly my man, Stoneforge Mystic.
Before we go on, a few words about the losers:
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Ironic, especially given Jon Sukenik’s Caw-Blade—crushing performance at the New York National Qualifier, but big Tezzeret has just not put up
the numbers of last-round snub Lotus Cobra or for that matter the two-drop’s fiery sidekick, Inferno Titan.
Will Tezzeret end up a Top 10 card once again? Heck, it may very well assume a future Number One position! But not today and probably not any time
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Oh how the mighty have fallen!
Some months ago, the misguided pundits among us were declaring Valakut some kind of Standard boogeyman, but the big R/G deck turned out to be just
another deck. Valakut may actually be the most broken single card in Standard (yes, possibly outstripping a certain planeswalker by that measuring
stick… Just look at Valakut’s sustained and varied Extended performance), but the cardâ€”and its home Standard deckâ€”have just been
unconditionally outperformed in recent weeks and months.
Less than a year ago (and concurrent with Jace in Standard!), Spreading Seas was probably the highest drawing blue card in the format; but with no
Savage Lands to spit on, the aforementioned plummeting of Molten Pinnacles, and a crowded two between Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, Mortarpod, Mana
Leak, and even Kor Firewalker, and Celestial Purge or Flashfreeze after sideboarding, Spreading Seas has found itself, increasingly, suffering from
lack of work. Still a great card, more than likely to make a future appearance in Extended or some Eternal format, Spreading Seas has probably passed
its window in terms of Standard Top 10-Dom.
At least over Twitter when we were discussing this topic, the subject of Lightning Bolt came up, possibly substituting for Tumble Magnet. My sense is
that Tumble Magnet is just loads better at beating up the creatures you need to fight, whether we’re speaking about a gigantic Sun Titan or a tiny 1/1
or 1/2 with a nice pointy sidearm. The only exception might be Lotus Cobra, and even then, we have Mortarpod as the answer of choice.
Really, Mortarpod might be the MVP of U/W Caw-Blade, the Lee Majors, that unknown stuntman who makes Redford such a star; the Pau Gasol, if you will,
to Stoneforge Mystic’s limitless Lakers-like laurels.
Now instead of talking about numbers and ten cards with soon-to-be-past pedigrees only, I figured it might be fun to discuss how the values
might change come the dawn of New Phyrexia.
Sword of Feast and Famine
On the one hand, Sword of Feast and Famine should remain a staple to the tune of one copy, maindeck, in Caw-Blade variants. The issues for this card
1. How good is Caw-Blade going to be?
2. How will Sword of Feast and Famine access stack up to other options?
The first question will not be easy to answer before we see some more Open Series events.
But assuming Caw-Blade is going to be good, I assume that a big chunk of that is going to fall on Sword of Feast and Famine… Yet it might lose a bit
just because of some weight being potentially shifted to Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace.
Last summer, when Titans were brand new and players were exploring how to win the Titan wars (more Titans in RUG / Destructive Force, Slave of Bolas in
Jund, even U/W getting into the game with Sun Titan), I suggested that the right way to go would be to not fight a Titan war at all, but to sidestep it
(then again I knew about Jacob Van Lunen Pyromancer Ascension deck)… that was the week Guillaume Matignon finished second at French Nationals
with Pyromancer Ascension.
The problem, and the prediction, is that everyone is going to know about Pyromancer Ascension this time around, and for anyone super sick of
mono-Caw-Blade dominance (so, like players other than AJ Sacher, Edgar Flores, etc.), you probably have Pyromancer Ascension / Splinter Twin
dominance to look forward to.
And while Primeval Titan is almost by definition the best “The Rock”-type card in the formatâ€”midrange, big creature, super
good-but-ultimately fairâ€”cards suffer in the face of, you know, the old turn four kill.
Tournament Winning Pyromancer / Splinter Twin (from magic-league):
…and the best thing that happens to me, over and over, is people playing Tumble Magnet.
I mean, nothing wrong with Tumble Magnet… Heck, it is a Top 10-quality cardâ€”and a nail through the big taloned toe of a Squadron Hawk carrying
a Sword of Feast and Famine evenâ€”but when you’re playing a creatureless U/R combo deck, Tumble Magnet against you is basically a dead draw.
A few weeks from now, unlike right this minute, the population of all players marking out over the prospect of a turn two Pyromancer Ascension
is going to be a heck of a lot bigger than just YT.
And no, the new version of Pyromancer Ascension might not be creatureless, exactly; and Tumble Magnet isn’t irrelevant (you know, you can
conceivably tap down a Deceiver Exarch in response to Splinter Twin)… But for all its virtues, Tumble Magnet suffers the sin of “having a giant
neon sign flashing over its head” … So points to the Lightning Bolt crowd, other than the fact that Lightning Bolt can’t actually
interact with a Deceiver Exarch profitably, at least without help.
So noâ€”your Tumble Magnet might not be completely irrelevant, but noâ€”it’s also not going to get anywhere given the fact that the
opponent is just going to tap it down at the end of your turn with his Deceiver Exarch before killing you anyway.
Ultimately, probably still one of the best cards in the format against equipment-bearers; but certainly going to lose position due to the expected rise
Don’t get me wrong, Tectonic Edge is still going to be awesome, and important primarily in the kinds of decks-slash-matchups that it is important
today… But when one of the most popular decks has essentially no relevant targets (that is, maybe just Halimar Depths, which is itself a
flaccid target), the card is definitely going to lose a bit of value.
Don’t worry, so long as people will plan to kill each other with turn one hundred Celestial Colonnade swings, Tectonic Edge will always have a
place… But it is going to go from like 75% relevance to maybe 66% (something like that).
Outlook: Unclear, likely better
Tension here is 1) more stuff to do / more equipment to carry in its crooked dinosaur hands… but 2) if the strategy overall loses value to combo, it
is ultimately impossible to make an unambiguous improvement argument.
Pyromancer Ascension has always (or should I say “always”â€”that is, at least so far as this matchup has existed in some form) been
able to play enough Bolts to kill every Caw-Blade Sword-bearer, and that isn’t going to change with an increase in popularity of the eight Bolts
Outlook: Unclear (but probably worse)
Lotus Cobra re-entered the Top 10 with the mid-season resurgence of RUG, and RUG proving itself to be the second-best Jace deck (and the second-best
deck overall). Again we’re going to need a good bit more Open Series action to make a judgment on Lotus Cobra. While in the abstract I don’t see
this card falling from the best-or-second best-two-drop status, the kinds of decks it is good in may shift or fall with such a large expected shift
towards combo, and obviously no format where the number of decks playing 8+ Lightning Bolts / Burst Lightnings is good for a one-toughness card that
absolutely, positively has to untap on the third turn to be truly great.
Here is a deck that I have been playing to great tournament success on Magic Online the past couple of weeks:
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Wall of Tanglecord
Theory on this list was based on the following: 1) “If MWC can do it, can’t green do it faster?” and 2) “if Valakut can go that
way, can’t a deck with eight Misty Rainforests do it better?”
So, lots of tournament wins on this one, few losses… But ultimately not super interesting due to 1) impending new format and 2) my opponents’ being,
inexplicably, Vampires over and over :)
No one is perfect!
Are you happy yet?
Lots of early-game action for this card (counterspell your Pyromancer Ascension, counter your Deceiver Exarch… just more good decks that want to play
four copies)… Plus, the games are going to go more quickly. Looks to be pretty straightforward, this one.
Same as it is right now (third-best card in the format), except it will be played in even more awesome decks.
And while Preordain is a snap four-of in the two best decks in the format, as AJ Sacher and others have argued, it isn’t actually strategic in them; like Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Mythic… It’s awesome, you play it, but you are really a deck about hitting someone
with 10/10 enchantments.
Outlook: Better, way better.
Already the second-best card in the format.
Enter: Sword of War and Peace.
Not close here; the only thing close is going to be the margin between #1 and #2.
As with Squadron Hawk, the expectation for Caw-Blade is not 100% clear, but a difference here is that the fortunes of Stoneforge Mystic, with
its new tools, is much more closely aligned in terms of improvement, whereas Squadron Hawk’s movement is derivative.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
We can’t really say this card is going to go specifically up or down, yet; but my guess is it will probably still be “better than
Pretty soon we will have an all-new Top 10.
And how cool is that?