Four Cards That Are Secretly Excellent In Standard

Temur Energy, Temur Energy, Temur Energy. Standard’s looking pretty stale…wait, what’s this? A glimmer of hope? Turns out the format is littered with cards and decks that just need one or two more pieces to break out. Jim Davis is here to get you prepared for the release of Rivals of Ixalan!


Over here…

I have a secret.

Yes, I know that Temur Energy and friends just completely overran the #SCGINVI last weekend to the tune of an unheard-of 65% of the field. The secret isn’t that Attune with Aether is going to be banned (and it shouldn’t, but that’s another article). It’s something else.

Maybe you haven’t noticed in a while, but there are more cards in the format than Harnessed Lightning and Longtusk Cub.

I know, I was surprised too, but the truth is some of those cards are actually excellent too!

Temur was the safe place to be for the #SCGINVI last weekend and Magic players don’t like taking big risks when it comes to huge, important events. But there’s more to the format then adding two energy to your energy reserve.

The format is full of secrets, and those secrets (and their rewards) go to those who find them.

It’s unfortunate that “off the beaten path” in Standard right now is literally just “not-Temur Energy cards,” but there are a number of very powerful cards being overlooked right now. They have all experienced mild success but are one deckbuilding innovation or Rivals of Ixalan card away from jumping into the mainstream.

I wasn’t immune to the fear of risk at #SCGINVI, as we will begin with the card I should have played in the Standard portion:

Abandoned Sarcophagus looks like a stereotypical “push the set’s theme” junk rare, and for the most part it has been treated as such. It only works with cycling cards, which of course limits its scope, and there were no new cycling cards in Ixalan to give it a boost. However, while the effect is limited to only cycling cards, what you get is essentially a permanent Yawgmoth’s Will.

Yawgmoth’s Will is of course one of the most busted cards in Vintage and banned in almost every other format, but Abandoned Sarcophagus does a reasonable approximation of the same effect. Every card with cycling you’ve either cast or cycled is now fair game to be recast, giving you huge card advantage as the game goes on. Cycling cards find themselves in the graveyard early and often, which means Abandoned Sarcophagus is an almost never-ending card advantage engine.

However, it gets even better.

Because you can still cycle cards into the graveyard with Abandoned Sarcophagus on the battlefield, it essentially adds “draw a card” to every cycling spell as well! Hieroglyphic Illumination essentially becomes Jace’s Ingenuity, Cast Out becomes a cantripping removal spell, and so on. You get the advantage of all the spells already in your graveyard, and then an extra card for each cycling spell you draw as the game progresses.

Hieroglyphic Illumination and Cast Out are already premium-level control cards in the format, but the true payoff for Abandoned Sarcophagus is the unassuming Draft common Countervailing Winds.

With a Dismiss in the picture we’re really talking, and when you toss in other cyclers like Censor and Renewed Faith (a fantastic card to flash back late in the game with Abandoned Sarcophagus to put things out of reach), a great shell starts to come together. Any turn you can cast Abandoned Sarcophagus with three mana left over and a Countervailing Winds in your graveyard is a good turn.

Drake Haven almost ends up feeling like an afterthought!

I’m very disappointed in myself for not sleeving this deck up for the Invitational, as I probably would have won the whole tournament with it if I did. I’m not usually one afraid to take risks in an event, but I only started working on the deck the day before we left. Despite two 4-1s in Magic Online Leagues, I was too scared to pull the trigger with such limited testing and am left thinking what might have been.

The deck is a lot better than it looks and boasts a solid matchup against Temur, Ramunap Red, and Approach of the Second Sun control decks. It’s not great against the fringe decks in the format (I played it in the Classic on Sunday and lost to Mono-Black Aggro, U/G Pummeler, and Bant Approach Ramp), but it’s got a very solid engine and good game otherwise.

This deck is not likely to gain a ton from Rivals of Ixalan, but any two-mana white removal spell would be a huge boon.

Speaking of two-mana white cards…

Have you ever stared down a Turn 2 Adanto Vanguard on the draw and thought to yourself, “Ugh, I’m going to have to three-for-one myself to not die to that stupid thing!” Well, probably not, because all of your opponents are just playing Temur Energy, but I assure you that is what you would say if it happened.

Almost nothing in the format actually kills Adanto Vanguard at a decent rate. Fatal Push, Shock, Harnessed Lightning, Lightning Strike, Abrade, Fumigate, Glorybringer, Chandra, Torch of Defiance… the list goes on and on. If you’ve got an aggressive stance and life to play with, Adanto Vanguard is going to be attacking for three every turn from Turn 3 onward.

There are of course cards in the format that answer Adanto Vanguard, but all do so at double the cost. If your opponent is ever using their premium four-mana removal spell on your two-drop, you’re in great shape.

The problem is that Adanto Vanguard hasn’t really found a home. There isn’t really an aggressive white deck in the format and Adanto Vanguard plays very awkwardly with Vehicles, which is where white’s aggressive strength has been lately. Adanto Vanguard is only really good at attacking, and therefore needs to be in an aggressive deck that can afford paying four life two or three times to really get the most out of it.

Adanto Vanguard seems like the kind of card that is going to get a big boost from Rivals of Ixalan, as being a Vampire isn’t really that important with only one tribal set currently in the mix. Even Wilson Hunter’s Mono-White Vampires deck from Pro Tour Ixalan only had thirteen actual Vampires in it, and Metallic Mimic was set to Warrior as often as Vampire.

With help from new Vampires-matter cards, especially a good one-drop or two, Turn 2 Adanto Vanguard could easily end up being as feared of an opening as Turn 2 Longtusk Cub.

Speaking of Adanto Vanguard, there is actually one very aggressive white deck in the format that touches green as well for a Draft all-star uncommon:

When a card is totally busted in Limited, it’s often not long before it makes the leap to Constructed. I may have only played a few Drafts and a Grand Prix in the Hour of Devastation Limited format, but the power of Appeal // Authority as a game-changing uncommon was very obvious. Any reasonable battlefield state can be turned into a decisive victory by Appeal // Authority, and it even has the flexibility to be split up if need be.

Eduardo Dos Santos Vieira and the rest of the South Americans did quite well at Pro Tour Ixalan with a unique G/W Aggro deck that featured playsets of both Adanto Vanguard and Appeal // Authority:

If there ever was a deck that was “almost there,” this is it.

Very often, early versions of Tier 1 Standard decks begin to make the rounds as fringe decks before all the necessary cards are released. A great example of this is the evolution of the first Standard Affinity decks. Before Arcbound Ravager and friends were released in Darksteel, most Affinity decks were big Broodstar decks, but a smaller and more aggressive version of the deck began making the rounds on Magic Online prior to Darksteel’s release. It used filler cards like Atog and Tooth of Chiss-Goria to round out the deck and did okay, but once it got fully powered up by Darksteel, the rest was history.

Eduardo’s G/W Aggro deck gives me that feeling.

Cards like Merfolk Branchwalker, Oketra the True, and Oviya Pashiri aren’t great, but if they were replaced with, say, a Tier 1 one-drop and a Tier 1 two-drop from Rivals of Ixalan, this already (somewhat) proven deck goes from “reasonable” to “very good” in a hurry.

The deck has some great synergies, has another underappreciated two-drop in Resilient Khenra, and some true blowout potential with double strikers and Appeal // Authority. What it really wants is at least one excellent one-drop, but it’s close.

Speaking of aggressive cards that love to battle alongside one-drops, let’s look at our last card of the day.

Hey, wait a minute! Scrapheap Scrounger is a Pro Tour champion!

“Y’all know me, still the same ole Heap, but I been low-key.”

Well, yeah, but looks like y’all forgot about Dre.

Scrapheap Scrounger is one of the best and most resilient aggressive two-drops Standard has ever seen, but with Mardu Vehicles mostly unplayable and Temur Energy so ubiquitous, it’s been without a home for a while now. The control decks that Scrapheap Scrounger would normally feast on are at an all-time low, and with midrange as king, battlefield control is everything. Scrapheap Scrounger’s inability to block can make it a liability on the draw against cards like Longtusk Cub, and it really requires a very aggressive shell to be maximized.

Without Toolcraft Exemplar and Unlicensed Disintegration to party with, Scrapheap Scrounger has had to look elsewhere:

One of the most important truths about our current Energy-centric format is that one-drops are key. Aside from an occasional Magma Spray, Temur Energy and friends aren’t casting any spells until Turn 2. By being able to cast a spell on Turn 1, you can get a jump on the battlefield, and if you are able to back up this aggression with some removal and a good curve, you can often get under the Energy decks, especially on the play. This is a large part of why Bomat Courier is one of the best cards out of Ramunap Red against Temur Energy.

Mono-Black Aggro is another deck that’s right on the fringe, and all it needs from Rivals of Ixalan is one or two good aggressive black creatures and/or a good black removal spell (preferably one that can kill a Glorybringer before it attacks). If there’s a good artifact, Treasure maker, or cheap planeswalker, Mardu Vehicles could get a boost as well.

At Least They Won’t Print More Energy Cards!

The starting point for any deckbuilding exercise is usually looking for excellent cards.

There are often excellent cards in formats that never see much play because they don’t find a home, but being able to identify those cards goes a long way towards finding the exciting new decks when Rivals of Ixalan drops. Players who have already been playing with cards like Adanto Vanguard will have a leg up on the competition and be ready to adapt to the new format right away.

Also, look at the bright side: they aren’t printing any more energy cards! It stands to reason that Temur Energy can only get worse while the rest of the format gets better, so make sure you get in on the ground floor!