Hard to be believe, but we are just two weeks away from the M12 Prerelease! Yeah. I know, right? Everyone has been so focused on Jace, the Mind
Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic that the M12 Prerelease has just sort of snuck up on us. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 has been a primary source of
spoilers, but preview season is already underway. In fact, I have an exclusive preview that will appear on the free side on Wednesday (a card that
makes me very “happy…”).
Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic being banned has shaken the very foundation of the format. However, like the Death Star blowing up
Saturn, we have to wait a week and a half to see the effects first hand. This past weekend, the final SCG Standard Open event with both cards still
legal was won by Jason Ford/Ali Aintrazi playing Twinblade, with a top sixteen consisting of 11/16 Caw-Blade variants (69%).
With just over half the top sixteen being Twinblade, it appears the metagame is alive and well. After all, it’s not a one-deck format when Caw-Blade
and Twinblade each take over 30% of the slots, right? Twinblade players say that their deck is worse than Caw-Blade in every matchup except the
pseudo-mirrors, which means it is the best deck in the format. I say, “Enough about Blade decks until Extended season.”
There is a crazy amount of brewing going on now that both pillars of the format are gone. However, it seems so silly to me the amount of focus people
are paying to non-M12 post-ban Standard. Yes, it is fun to brew, and there will be two weeks of this format, but this is very much a format that will
come and go in the night with remarkable haste.
How many formats have we ever gone into that we knew were only going to be legal for two weeks? I am not knocking deckbuilding for this limited time
only offer format. I am just reminding everyone that M12 will be legal in two weeks after the bannings take effect, so keep that in mind as you start
working on replacing/updating whatever you were playing. Both M10 and M11 radically impacted Magic and its metagame. It would be quite a surprise if
M12 didn’t do some big things, too.
All five Titans are confirmed at this point (well, not Sun Titan, but if Primeval Titan is in, Sun Titan will surely follow). This doesn’t immediately
impact legalities, of course, but it does mean we are going to have at least fifteen more months of Titans, which is always important to keep in mind
for evaluating cards both in this set and Innistrad.
While this does not thrill me in the least, at least Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is rotating out, as are Tectonic Edge, the manlands, and the Eldrazi.
Hopefully this keeps Primeval Titan under control. Meanwhile, Grave Titan, and to a lesser extend Inferno Titan and Sun Titan are still obnoxious, but
I certainly hope that the card pool makes the Titans a pale shadow of their former selves, the same way Baneslayer was in M11. What I do know is that
as much as the Titans have already lost a lot of value, they are going to lose a lot more once M12 hits. Remember Baneslayer Angel? That was a $50 card
at one point…
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Today, I’d like to focus on Standard decks with M12. There are no SCG Opens before M12 is legal, and US
Nationals takes place after the set is released. That format will be around much longer, and besides, who doesn’t want to look at new cards!?
Most of the decks I work on today are going to be a bit more interesting, but to understand some of the basic constraints of the format, we should
start with the twin mountains that define the new format (at least at level 1). First of all, guess who’s back…
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 2 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 2 Avenger of Zendikar
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
The rich get richer! Valakut, already one of the two boogiemen of the format, gains just about the best card it could possibly hope for. Rampant Growth
is at the perfect spot on the curve and does exactly what Valakut wants. With access to both Explore and Rampant Growth, not to mention Overgrown
Battlement and Lotus Cobra, if they want it, Valakut is more consistent than ever. Green Sun’s Zenith is likely to make a big comeback, as the amount
of countermagic in the format will surely plummet.
There are a lot of possible ways to build Valakut, now, as you already had more good options than room and Rampant Growth only adds to this. In
addition, it is far from clear what support spells to use. Traditionally, Lightning Bolt, Pyroclasm, Slagstorm, Nature’s Claim, and Beast Within have
all seen play in this slot. I have gone with Dismember, to try and regain some much needed percentage against Splinter Twin.
I only use one Lotus Cobra (to Green Sun’s Zenith for), but it is possible that it’s better to go over to a four Cobra build. The fact that Lotus Cobra
can produce black for Dismember is simply adorable. I have replaced the Khalni Heart Expeditions with Rampant Growths, but it is very possible that
something else needs to go instead. Time and testing with tell. Finally, when sideboarding in Summoning Trap, we must remember to have enough threats
to actually take advantage of it.
As for Splinter Twin, there is no shortage of suggested U/R lists floating around on the web right now. Personally, I’d rather wait until my preview
article to suggest the list that I like…
Okay, time to get to a juicy M12 spoiler, the long-awaited and highly controversial new Jace:
I’ve heard everything from “New Jace is just as broken as Jace, the Mind Sculptor!” to “New Jace is straight terrible in Constructed, seriously spikes,
don’t play with this.” Not surprisingly, both of these extreme views are extremely wrong.
To begin with, Jace, Memory Adept is not in the same league as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He isn’t now and won’t be even with Innistrad. Jace, the Mind
Sculptor was the best card since Skullclamp. Yes, Innistrad is rumored by some to be a graveyard based set, so being able to mill yourself a bunch
would be sweet with it.
Still, people have a tendency to overestimate how much changes like this will actually change things. For instance, look at Steel Overseer. Did
Mirrodin block actually improve him? Yes, no question. He was unplayable, but eventually saw some fringe play (just ask Kibler). Voltaic Key was
unplayable, but now that Divine Offering will be less popular, it is likely to appear in a lot of Birthing Pod decks as a Trinket Mage target. The
point is, a graveyard block would help JMA, but it won’t have nearly as radical of an impact as some people would guess.
On the other hand, calling Jace, Memory Adept straight terrible in constructed is like saying Michael Jordan was straight terrible when he came back to
the Wizards. He was barely a shadow of Michael Jordan in his prime, but he wasn’t a bad role-player. Over the hill Jace can’t compete with the league’s
superstars, but I’d like to think he knows better. While many will surely ridicule Jace for making such a comeback, you can’t knock his love of the
Will Jace see play before Innistrad? It’s tough, because he still has to compete with Jace Beleren. That said, he does have some advantages. What kind
of a home might we find for him? Well, I want to avoid White out the gate, as Gideon, Venser, and Elspeth is an awful lot of competition compared to
Liliana and Chandra (a much more fitting contest).
While it’s possible that JMA is just not strong enough to compete with cards like Grave Titan and Consecrated Sphinx, it is worth giving him a shot
here. Even if the Beleren in the board goes to the main and the Memory Adept goes to the board, he is a fine threat against spell decks. He may be
slow, but at least his loyalty lets him live through modest attacks and direct damage (which helps, considering he can’t impact the board at all). I do
like the natural curve of turn three: Jace Beleren/draw a card, turn four: draw a card, turn five: draw a card/upgrade to JMA.
By the way, the mixture of Consecrated Sphinx and Grave Titan is a debate that will surely take place over and over. I tend to err on the side of a
mixture, out the gate, as there are a very real number of times you draw two and having one of each gives you more good options. You may have also
noticed the Divinations, which are back in M12. I have an unnatural love for Divination, I know, but I really like that card and think it will see
Another possible route to go with Jace, Memory Adept is to actually take advantage of his talents, rather than trying to force him into a role similar
to his previous one. JMA can mill like crazy? What about using him with Vengevines, Hedron Crabs, and Bonehoard? I don’t have a list yet, but being
able to drop Jace and immediately mill yourself for ten is pretty sweet. Even just drawing a card and milling yourself could be strong, especially if
you can order the top of your library at all, such as with Halimar Depths. Another way to take advantage of JMA’s propensity for milling is to combine
him with Haunting Echoes or Surgical Extraction. While this is probably more of a sideboard type of thing, it is kind of sweet to drop him, immediately
mill ten, then Surgical Extraction for zero a key card (like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Primeval Titan).
Summary: A fine role-player, for the time being. It could change in value with Innistrad, sure, and could even end up legitimately great, though never
like his prime. I plan on using this guy in a lot of decks, but beware the inevitable over-hyping of planeswalkers (a phenomenon that you can read
about here). Obviously I write for
a site that sells cards, but at the end of the day, you are premium subscribers and my obligation is to give you the best possible information I can.
Is Karn Liberated a fine card? Yeah, even though he was a bit over-priced out the gate. Jace, Memory Adept is a fine card, but I would just consider
holding out for a better deal.
Angelic Destiny is one of my favorite new cards, as it has more raw power than any similar card previously has had. Yet it is a type of card not
traditionally pushed, so there is no immediate and obvious home. This makes it a very exciting card to work with! Now, it is possible that the format
just isn’t right for such a card, especially if people play too much spot removal; however at least you don’t have to worry about people dropping a
Mind Sculptor and bouncing your guy. Here is the first deck I built using Angelic Destiny:
- 4 Elite Vanguard
- 4 Student of Warfare
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Hero of Bladehold
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 4 Inquisitor Exarch
- 4 Vault Skirge
While this build is very rough, it does feature the fun combination of Mirran Crusader plus Angelic Destiny. Consider the curve of turn 1 Elite
Vanguard, turn 2 Inquisitor Exarch, turn 3 Mirran Crusader. Already, the threat of Angelic Destiny is lethal, even if they can tie up the ground.
Additionally, Vault Skirge makes an exceptional target for Angelic Destiny (Build my own Baneslayer? Don’t mind if I do!)
Blade Splicer, Hero of Bladehold, Student of Warfare, and Mirran Crusader are four perfect examples of the types of creatures that have gotten much
better as a result of the Jace test no longer being standardized. Inquisitor Exarch is another interesting animal to consider, as I think he is better
than first glance would suggest. After all, a two-power haste creature for two would be pretty reasonable in a monocolor aggro deck. His ability is
like that, except he is unblockable that turn (and with vigilance). Additionally, he has the ability to gain some life, which is especially nice to
help offset Dismember, at times.
I don’t have a list yet, but another interesting way to use Angelic Destiny is with infect creatures. Lost Leonin looks a lot more exciting when it is
attacking as a 6/5 flying, first strike, infect creature on turn four! A good rule of thumb for working with Angelic Destiny: look to get paid extra.
Whether it’s with double strike, or infect, or lifelink, the key to abusing this card is to find a way to get paid “extra” for buffing your guy.
What will aggressive Mono-White look like in the days to come? Between Tempered Steel, Puresteel Paladin with Swords, and Angelic Destiny, it would
seem that aggressive White decks are to be defined by the way they enhance their creatures.
While there are not many Illusions in Standard (or all of Magic, for that matter), perhaps this is a taste of things to come with Innistrad.
Regardless, Phantasmal Bear is the most alluring of these, as it is a far better and more aggressive cheap creature than blue normally has access to.
Here is a possible starting point. Though this list is such a radical departure from current strategies, it surely needs some serious work to mold it
into a competitor.
- 4 Cosi's Trickster
- 4 Coralhelm Commander
- 4 Scroll Thief
- 4 Phantasmal Bear
- 2 Phantasmal Dragon
- 4 Lord of the Unreal
Twisted Image is a card that I think we are going to see a lot more of. After all, Overgrown Battlement and Spellskite are likely to appear in the two
most popular level one strategies. Additionally, Birds of Paradise, Cunning Sparkmage, Signal Pest, Wall of Omens, and more ensure plenty of fine
targets. Besides, sometimes you attack with your Scroll Thief and they block with a Deceiver Exarch. After combat, you Twist, and life is good.
Okay, this one is pretty obligatory. The addition of Grim Lavamancer and Incinerate has given red decks a serious boost in quality. Additionally, the
threat of Lavamancer is going to be a pretty important component of the format, as these U/G decks can’t just show up with no removal and expect to
survive. Notice how many of my decks are using Dismembers in the main. I have replaced Spikeshot Elder instead of Furnace Scamp, as Patrick Sullivan
speaks highly of the card. Still, testing needs to be done to make sure this is the direction we want to go. I consider the Rainmaker’s most current
Red Deck to be the starting point for whatever RDW I am working on at the moment.
As you can see, I have replaced the Arc Trails he was not happy playing with Incinerate. Finally, Ember Hauler became Kiln Fiend, a change he was
already considering that I think has only gotten better with the banning of Stoneforge Mystic ( shooting guys at instant speed is now less relevant).
Here is another possible take on Grim Lavamancer:
Not much to say about this one, other than I think that Grim Lavamancer is going to have some strange and unforeseen consequences. Strategies like this
are only possible when unnaturally strong support cards exist and Grim Lavamancer is one such card. This is very much a Scroll Thief deck that tries to
clear the way and get paid. Whether this is the right mix of interactive cards remains to be seen, but it feels like there is something there. It
should be noted that while these decks are often called “Tempo Decks,” a better name is probably “Value Decks.”
- 4 Grim Lavamancer
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 3 Warren Instigator
- 4 Ember Hauler
- 4 Spikeshot Elder
- 3 Goblin Wardriver
Goblin Grenade is a reprint, but it is a big one. I have listed two very different directions you can take such a card to illuminate a few points.
First, Grim Lavamancer is really, really strong. As a result, he will see play in a lot more places than many players realize, at the moment. For
instance, despite not being a Goblin, why not play him? He is way better than any of the Goblins! As for the Kuldotha Red deck, now we are talking
about a deck that is so fast that it actually doesn’t have time to activate him!
Goblin Grenade isn’t just a finisher; it is also an interesting value card when combined with any of the Goblins that do things when they die, such as
Tuktuk the Explorer or Goblin Arsonist. Additionally, like Fireblast, it just gives you so much reach that it will inevitably change the face of the
format. One probable change is the heavily increased incentive to play Mental Misstep. Goblin Grenade is such a perfect card to Mental Misstep, it
While this is certainly not the long-awaited Mono-Black Control spoken of in the prophecies, it may be part of the temple that must be rebuilt before
the prophecy can come true. Already the Mind Sculptor is banned and there will be far less copies of Sword of Feast and Famine running around. Now that
Distress has been spoiled, we see that Black continues to prepare for judgment day. Why do I like Distress, when part of the charm of cards like Duress
and Despise is that they cost one? Well, this build doesn’t actually use its second turn that well either.
Sometimes, I don’t even want to use my discard spell on turn one, instead waiting until the turn before my opponent’s fundamental turn (the turn they
do whatever their deck does). If you can afford to wait, Distress is a more flexible solution that may be better suited to a world where you want to
hit Primeval Titan and Green Sun’s Zenith, Consecrated Sphinx and Splinter Twin, Tezzeret and Forgemaster, Puresteel Paladin and a Sword.
What Mono-Black will look like is very much going to be a function of how the format shapes up. Options to consider:
Discard: Inquisition looks best to me out the gate, but we surely want more. Distress, Despise, and Duress are all good options, and Mind Rot could
return to favor now that the Mind Sculptor is gone and we will see less Squadron Hawks.
Four-Drops: Lashwrithe is all around good, Obliterator is the best Baneslayer, Entomber Exarch is the best Mulldrifter but the least powerful of the
three. What type of four-drops you need has a big question mark next to it.
Removal: Go for the Throat, Dismember, Geth’s Verdict. Whatever mix you choose, they need to be able to deal with Deceiver Exarch and Overgrown
Battlement. Additionally, whatever support spells you run should probably go in after loading up on four Gatekeepers, who is just head and
shoulders above the rest of these.
Card Advantage: Sign in Blood is a must if you are truly MBC, and not just Vampires. What additional card advantage you play is up in the air, but it
is very tempting to just rely on badasses like Obliterator, Nighthawk, Lashwrithe, and maybe Grave Titan, Batterskull, Wurmcoil Engine, and more. Other
possibilities include Liliana, Mimic Vat, Sorin, Phyrexian Rager, Mind Rot, and any number of other mediocre black-two-for-ones.
All right, that brings us to the end for today. I realize I didn’t get to Tezzeret yet, but that guy is a tricky one. It would be easy to just throw
together a list of U/B Forgemaster (add Wellsprings!) or an updated version of my Paris Grixis build (add Wellsprings!) but I want to do a little more
work in testing, rather than just talk theory before bringing him up. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is one of the most powerful cards in the format, but he
is also one of the hardest to build around.
Additionally, his specialty, what he does best, is to beat the tar out of other Planeswalkers. Now that Jace is gone (the guy he loved to hurt more
than anyone), he is not necessarily what the format immediately calls for. After all, he isn’t at his best verses Twin or Valakut. That said, I have
trouble imagining that the new (and not yet spoiled) Garruk isn’t going to be totally amazing and an ideal target to bully. Additionally, Chandra is a
planeswalker that really missed with Chandra Ablaze, and I suspect her new version will be quite sweet.
Tell you what? Let’s table the Tezzeret talk until next week. Hopefully, by then we know one or more of the other new planeswalkers. Additionally, it
sure would be nice to know what answers to planeswalkers are in M12. Is Oblivion Ring in? Pithing Needle? Something else?
Okay, I admit it. The real reason I can’t talk about Tezzeret is that any list I would suggest today would be silly, since there is absolutely no way in the world you aren’t using my preview card from Wednesday…!