Okay, I confess. As of late, I have been quite the hype machine. Between getting back out on the SCG Tour® and battling, and how awesome I felt the storytelling was in Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. It seems like it’s been a never ending narrative of “Hi, I’m CVM and I’m super excited for blah blah blah.” Fortunately for everyone, this hype train is not slowing down.
Awesome people Top 8ed the last Standard Open of the Collected Company season. My good friend Brian Braun-Duin just won the Magic World Championship. Kaladesh spoilers happened and it is looking great, and it seems that everyone’s favorite artificer may be back in some shape or form, as we see in the flavor text on Larger Than Life.
There is a lot to go over this week, so let’s get right down to business.
Farewell Collected Company
I know that a lot of people are extremely happy to see Collected Company be gone from Standard. The days of losing games that you can only lose to the perfect Company hits will be gone, but the creatures that have littered Standard’s battlefield for some time will not.
Collected Company may be rotating, but check out the cast of creatures that we have been seeing along with the four-mana instant.
That is still quite the A-Team, and even though Companies aren’t being Collected, I’m sure a plan can come together with all the creatures we love, or love to hate.
I’m just saying that it’s easy to bite your thumb at Collected Company when it’s tempo-ing you out of the game, but I think we’re still going to be getting just as frustrated at Reflector Mage and Spell Queller even without Collected Company.
Collected Company is going out with a bang though. We can look at the Top 8 of the Richmond stop on the SCG Tour® from this weekend and see that Bant Company won the whole thing, but it was the only copy in the Top 8 that was littered with some pretty high-profile names.
Shaheen Soorani, Todd Anderson, Noah Walker, Frank Skarren, and Cedric Phillips headlined the Top 8 with none of them on Bant Company. I suppose with it being the last weekend there was fun to had elsewhere, but when we look over at the Top 4 of the Magic World Championships, we see a different story:
- 2 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 3 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Lambholt Pacifist
- 1 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 1 Archangel Avacyn
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Spell Queller
- 2 Selfless Spirit
- 2 Noose Constrictor
- 2 Pilgrim's Eye
- 2 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 3 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 2 Wretched Gryff
- 3 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 3 Primal Druid
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Spell Queller
- 2 Selfless Spirit
Lots of Company with a sprinkle of Emrakul, the Promised End.
What really stands out to me is that it feels like we (and by “we,” I mean Michael Majors) are just now figuring out what the proper builds of these “Turbo Emrakul”-style decks are, and a lot of the shell is going to be sticking around. The biggest hurdle might be the loss of Nissa’s Pilgrimage, but maybe we will see some sort of replacement.
Brad Nelson used Bant Humans to great success in his run through the Season Two Invitational. He and BBD played the deck in the World Championships, where Brian closed the whole thing out without losing a single match with the deck.
That deck is a lean, mean, fighting machine. As all the other Collected Company decks started to shave Dromoka’s Command and up their land count, they decided to hold steadfast with four Commands and 25 land and focus instead on having more explosive draws and the ability to close games out very quickly with Thalia’s Lieutenant and Lambholt Pacifist.
Much like how we saw Bant Humans start to rise to the top at the end of Shadows over Innistrad Standard, we are seeing the same here. Most thought that Spell Queller was going to be enough to keep it from happening, but in these last couple of large events we can see the Human tribe starting to show its head on top of the heap.
It’s less relevant now, although there will be a chance in the Orlando Standard Classic to battle with whatever flavor of Company you desire, but I’m going to keep it all in mind, since the Humans will still be around when Kaladesh hits.
In with the Kaladesh
What is Standard going to look like, then? We have a handful of spoilers already from PAX West, but the first thing that I like to do is look at the cards that are rotating out that have seen a lot of play. With Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins leaving, these are the cards that I think will be missed the most.
That’s a pretty beefy list. I suspect that, unless we get something similar, Languish will be the card whose absence is most felt, but a lot of the cards that have been seen as extremely powerful for a very long time will be leaving. Dromoka’s Command has been a powerhouse for its entire stay in Standard. Nissa’s Pilgrimage feels like it’s just now being utilized outside of decks that are trying to race to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and the “flip-walkers” will be sorely missed. The power that comes from cheap, under-costed planeswalkers likely won’t be seen for some time. It really is awesome how tacking something small onto a possible planeswalker makes the card so much better. It also goes to show just how good the effects are that stood out on the planeswalkers: looting, finding a land, and being a 2/1 for one mana.
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh and Liliana, Heretical Healer didn’t see much play because the planeswalker side of them weren’t what they needed to be for the format, and they just weren’t as useful on the front side when compared to their mana cost.
Three-mana planeswalkers generally have a restrictive mana cost, like we see with Chandra and Liliana, but Nissa, Jace, and Gideon (Kytheon) all only have one color in their cost and provide great utility at their curve in the game.
Three-mana planeswalkers have the potential to end up as “four-ofs” in their respective deck if they end up being good. From Liliana of the Veil to the newest incarnation, Liliana, the Last Hope, I am always very interested in any three-mana planeswalker and like to think about them quite a bit. What better Kaladesh spoiler to start out with than the poster child for the set, Saheeli Rai.
Saheeli is an Izzet planeswalker that only costs three mana and starts with three loyalty counters. She has a plus, a minus, and an “ultimate” as we see on most three-mana planeswalkers, so let’s take a look at each of her abilities.
Most great planeswalkers have ways to protect themselves, whether from their plus or minus ability or from their starting loyalty. Saheeli doesn’t really seem to have that. Her +1 doesn’t protect her at all, and neither does her minus, really. She can go right to four loyalty at the start, but that’s not an extremely high amount. That being said, I still like this +1 ability a lot. If the battlefield isn’t too threatening, then we are free to scry 1 and ping our opponents or their planeswalkers. This is great, since we are able to use her to keep our opponents’ planeswalkers in check, especially if the opposing planeswalker isn’t actively threatening her.
If the battlefield isn’t clear, then we can get a scry out of her and save some damage. Four may even be enough loyalty for her to live through the turn. It is important to remember that if Saheeli Rai lives for a few turns and we get to use her +1, not only are we scrying to gas, but we are also pinging our opponent. There are still quite a few decent burn spells available, and there was even a U/R deck that was going around at the end of the Eldritch Moon season that thrived off incremental damage and card selection/advantage.
Her minus ability is where the real value is going to come in.
All right, so we can copy any creature or artifact we control, it gets haste, and then is exiled. This can happen the turn that we cast Saheeli Rai, which is very important. We can also cast a creature and then use her -2 to make a copy and give it haste, which is nice. It does exile at the beginning of the next end step, so while we can take advantage of “enters the battlefield” triggers, we aren’t going to get any use from “dies” triggers.
I think that we are going to be seeing a lot of sweet creatures with “enters the battlefield” abilities. In fact, with Thopter and Servo tokens being a thing in Kaladesh, we might even start to see some Smoldering Werewolf action. Could be pretty nice to copy this one, yeah?
With the copy getting haste, we can even just copy our Thermo-Alchemist and cast a bunch of spells for the turn while we get in lots of extra damage.
She even has an ultimate.
Well, if we can’t win with three differently named artifacts in our deck when we get to build the deck, then I don’t know what we’re doing. With Magic Origins leaving and there being a lack of plentiful artifacts in the Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad blocks, I am expecting there to be a whole slew of awesome artifacts for us to abuse in Kaladesh.
Get Your Butt in Gear
I am also interested in seeing what the rest of the new Gearhulk cycle looks like!
They’re likely all five mana, three colorless and NN for whatever color they are, with “enters the battlefield” abilities and being artifact creatures. Maybe the red one will deal some damage to something, or the blue one can tap things down or draw cards.
Regardless, I am quite optimistic for them considering how insane the Green and White ones are, so let’s break them down.
Wait, what? So this is at worst an 8/8 trample for 3GG with the possibility of four hasted damage if we so desire? Imagine curving Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into this thing. I can make my Thalia, Heretic Cathar a 7/6 first strike? Oh, I can also blink this with my Eldrazi Displacer?
All right, that’s pretty good.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk – 3WW
Artifact Creature – Construct
When Cataclysmic Gearhulk enters the battlefield, each player chooses from among the non-land permanents he or she controls an artifact, a creature, an enchantment, and a planeswalker, then sacrifices the rest.
Oh, wait, it’s an artifact creature. So, I get to keep this, plus another creature, and unless my opponent has an artifact creature, they only get to keep one creature?
Well, I will say that the bar is set extremely high for the rest of this cycle, and whatever the red or blue ones are have the potential to just break Saheeli Rai in half. Talk about hype!
Fast and Furious
I only have so much space each week to contain all of my hype, so to finish I want to talk about the finalized Scars of Mirrodin “fast land” cycle. With the original five Scars lands being allied colors and the enemy painlands leaving with Magic Origins, I really like the decision to include these. They are even in an artifact-themed set!
These are great! Not only will they see a ton of play in Standard, but they will also really help Modern. There are many decks in Modern that are built to interact very early and try to end the game extremely quickly that don’t want lands that deal damage to themselves. We already see the current Scars lands seeing play in decks like Jund, Lantern Control, Ad Nauseam, and differing builds of Abzan decks. Infect will love Botanical Sanctum, and I can see Blooming Marsh and Concealed Courtyard seeing some play in Abzan, Lantern Control, or possibly Jund. Spirebluff Canal will be greatly welcome alongside Botanical Sanctum in any Izzet or Temur deck.
These really do add a lot of value to clever manabase-building in Modern, and I’m excited to see where they all end up!
Comments from Last Week
As I like to do at the end of each article, I will highlight a comment or question from last week and address it here for everyone to read along with! If you would like to have your comment or question highlighted in one of these pieces, please feel free to chime in the comments below.
“Hoping for some large shakeups to the Modern format, specifically the aggro side of the table. There is so much aggro nothing gets to breathe. Would like to see things like Become Immense and Battle Rage go away, no deck should be killing on T2.”
– Chris Franks
Chris, I do agree that Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage are pretty insane, but I’m not sure if they need to go. I can see an argument for Become Immense because, let’s face it, delve is busted anyway, but I do like how Temur Battle Rage can facilitate kills. It’s not like there is zero opportunity cost for going in on a Battle Rage-fueled kill, and I like how it forces the format to try to interact at the base level – with creatures.
“A U/B Mill deck made Top 60 at GP Guangzhou, a deck that gets no love.”
– Sven Restel
Thank you for pointing that out, Sven! I have actually played against some mill strategies online, and even played against a Grixis Mill deck in the Modern portion of the Season Two Invitational in New Jersey earlier this year. Traditionally Mill strategies are popular amongst more casual players but don’t really get the respect they may deserve from competitive minds. In the current Modern format, where you can be dead on turn 2 or your opponent may have Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in their deck, I think it’s a very risky move to be playing a Mill strategy.
That being said, I always like to recommend that everyone play what they love. You are generally going to do better in Modern with a deck that you love playing and are familiar with than whatever happened to do well the previous weekend.
Mill on, my friend. Mill on.
[CVM was upset that this article was written and queued up for publication a few hours before the new Chandra was spoiled. In an effort to help Chris cope with this misfortune, I’d like to present you all with the following information: Chris VanMeter thinks Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a very good Magic: The Gathering card. – Ed.]