When a new set comes out, one of the first things that I look for are the
cycles. A common trend I have seen amongst cycles in recent sets is that
they all tend to produce Standard-playable cards. Usually not all the cards
in the cycle are a hit, but there’s usually one or two that end up having a
pretty big impact on the Standard format.
Core Set 2019
has given us quite a few cycles, and I suspect that all of them will have
some impact on Constructed formats.
Jim Davis gave his
breakdown of one of the more exciting cycles: the Elder Dragons. I’m here
to talk about a cycle that may have been overlooked by some, but one which
I suspect will have just as big of an impact on Standard moving forward.
Part of me feels a little bad for Shield Mare. How come all the other Mares
got sweet additional creature types, like Nightmare, or Elemental, or Fish?
Shield Mare was relegated to just being a plain old Horse. That’s not fair.
Luckily for Shield Mare, what it’s missing in creature type, it definitely
makes up for in power level, especially in the Standard format that we’re
living in right now. Mono-Red Aggro and R/B Aggro have proven to be
dominant forces in Standard, and we should always be on the lookout for new
tools that can help other archetypes compete against these decks.
On its own, Shield Mare enters the battlefield and gives you three life and
a 2/3 body. If your opponent wants to remove the Shield Mare with say an
Abrade or a Lightning Strike, you get to gain another three life. So,
you’re pretty much guaranteed to net at least six life and a card out of
your Shield Mare if you’re playing against Mono-Red Aggro. That can be very
instrumental in stabilizing against these hyper aggressive decks.
Anyone planning on playing white in the upcoming Standard format should
seriously consider some Shield Mares in their sideboard. The red menace is
still out in force, and we’re going to need all the help we can get to
Surge Mare has a lot of things going for it. So much so that I believe that
if it had a single point of power on its own, it would fringe on being
The body is an excellent cheap blocker, and in the world of Mono-Red Aggro
that we live in, that is a great effect to have access to. It also has the
ability to hit for a sizable chunk of damage if you have the mana to put
into it, and it survives most damage-based removal spells at a whopping
five toughness. It reminds me a lot of a similar card, back when Mono-Blue
Devotion was a dominant deck.
Unfortunately, there were a few things that Frostburn Weird had that Surge
Mare does not. One of the strengths of Frostburn Weird was that all you
needed to get through blockers was the threat of activating its ability.
After your opponent declared no blocks, you could simply be happy to deal a
damage and use your mana elsewhere.
With Surge Mare, I expect things to play out a bit differently. Your
opponent is actually more incentivized to block because of the threat of
you activating its ability and getting to loot. Additionally, Surge Mare is
less flexible and demands a higher mana cost to activate its ability, which
could make all the difference.
Because of this, I expect Surge Mare to hold back to block most of the
time, and then later in the game when you have turned the corner and have
excess mana, put on a reasonable clock and give you additional card
Hmm… this card looks familiar.
Oh right. The card that has been running rampant over Standard for the past
few months. Looks like the set designers were really scared of Llanowar
Elves after all.
Plague Mare is in an interesting spot where it would be very powerful in
any other Standard format, but all the cards that would be hit by Plague
Mare have already been hated out by its predecessor, Goblin Chainwhirler.
People are already going out of their way to avoid playing one-toughness
creatures, so I expect the utility of Plague Mare is going to be much less
than it could have been.
It might be easy to think that because Goblin Chainwhirler is so successful
in this Standard format, that Plague Mare will also be as successful.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that to be the case. Goblin Chainwhirler has
a lot of things going for it that Plague Mare misses on. The easiest to
spot is the size of the body. A 3/3 first strike creature is going to be
able to brawl much better with the average creature in Standard than a
vanilla 2/2. Additionally, Goblin Chainwhirler gains a lot from simply
being red. It fits into what was already one of the strongest archetypes in
I think that if Goblin Chainwhirler was banned, Plague Mare would fit
pretty well into Standard as either a good sideboard option or even a
maindeck card in decks that were looking for its effect. But until then,
Goblin Chainwhirler has scared away all of the Plague Mare’s prey.
In a vacuum, Lighting Mare looks very strong. It’s a three-power creature
for two mana, which is a pretty good rate for red decks these days. On top
of that, it has a firebreathing effect, which means that it’s going to
threaten a lot of damage if it goes unchecked.
The “can’t be countered” clause even has some decent utility against
control decks in Standard. Most of the time this text won’t matter too
much, but if you sequence your plays correctly, you can sometimes utilize
it on particular turns to make things difficult for the control player.
Unfortunately for Lightning Mare, it has one glaring weakness in the bottom
right hand corner of the card. That’s right, it has one toughness.
Oh boy, it’s this guy again. When are we gonna shake this one? Goblin
Chainwhirler rears its ugly head once again and likely pushes an otherwise
powerful option into virtual unplayability. I just don’t think it’s wise to
play Lightning Mare in a format full of the annoying 3/3, as Goblin
Chainwhirler has Lightning Mare beat on every front; it kills the Mare for
free when it enters the battlefield and even beats the Mare in combat every
Vine Mare is relatively unassuming at first glance, but I think that it
actually has a very reasonable niche in Standard moving forward. Remember
Bristling Hydra proved to be a house against any control strategy. Vine
Mare is similar but doesn’t have to jump through hoops to gain hexproof. It
even has a very solid body attached. Five power is quite a lot of pressure
when playing against control, and typically these hexproof threats that we
get access to don’t present quite as much of a clock, but this Horse is
going to force your opponent to use a sweeper effect pretty quickly if they
have it. That can put them in a tough spot if the green player is managing
their resources appropriately.
Mono-Green Aggro has struggled with its matchup against control recently in
Standard, and Vine Mare might be an excellent sideboard option for that
matchup moving forward.
It’s interesting to note that in my analysis of this cycle of new
creatures, I ended up talking about Goblin Chainwhirler quite a bit. This
wasn’t intentional when writing this article, but was definitely worth
considering in particular spots and came up organically.
This goes to show just how format-warping Goblin Chainwhirler has proven to
be. The fact that we must evaluate all of these cards in the face of a
single card says a lot about that card, and in my mind brings up a lot of
questions about how healthy that card is for the format. There are entire
archetypes that have become unplayable at a competitive level because of
Goblin Chainwhirler, and now we must keep a close eye on any new cards that
we could potentially want to play based on how they interact with Goblin
One of the greatest things about Magic is the wealth of options that we
have when choosing what we play. If you’re a control player, you can play a
control deck. If you’re an aggro player, you can play an aggro deck. You
get to play whatever best suits your playstyle. I think that the Modern
format is easily the most popular format because of how many different
decks there are that are competitively viable. You have so many options.
When a card as oppressive as Goblin Chainwhirler exists in a format as
limited as Standard, it feels like the options that we generally have
access to become even more restricted. Anyone wanting to play a tokens
strategy right now is at a serious disadvantage, and I don’t think that’s
healthy for a format.
Because of this, I sincerely hope that Goblin Chainwhirler gets banned, and