September is such a tricky month for us would-be wordsmiths. This year, it’s trickier still because as excited as we might want to get about the next Extended format, either we can’t talk about it because we’re qualified, or we shouldn’t talk about it because it is of no interest to the other 99.9% of the population until it becomes a PTQ format. Of course, by that time a Pro Tour will have been played with the rotation of everything before Onslaught, the addition of Shards of Alara, and the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top all working its way through the format. If instead of Extended we want to talk about Standard… well, this year it doesn’t even look like we have States to look forward to, so unless we see something different pop up on the schedule there’s no competitive Standard format until Regionals next summer. And if we want to talk about Shards of Alara, well, we’ve got just the known cards, and the ability to mine the Orb of Insight for, well, insight.
And you can definitely squee about a few things… we’re seeing a polychromatic world that apparently has some tinges of Mirrodin going on in it too, so there’s all sorts of strange things going on that we just don’t understand yet. And while I am sad to see that “Sarcomite” has zero hits on the Orb of Insight, I’m willing to bet it will show up somewhere in the three-set block, if we just wait long enough. What impresses me the most about this set so far, given just a tiny slice of preview cards to look at, is THIS, bringing â€˜alternate casting costs’ a whole new world of stuff to work with that is bound to rattle formats like Extended in unexpected ways… after all, free stuff has the best price, or at least it does until they start making cards that pay us to play with them.
Having finally put Lorwyn Block Constructed to rest, I thought I would start decompressing for the upcoming format shift by having a look at Tenth Edition as if it were a newly-released expansion we were adding to Lorwyn Block Constructed, to best prepare us for the addition of Shards of Alara to Standard in a month or so. I could do it the Rich Hagon way and tell you all about the things that we now have to subtract from Standard… but I think it’s much more meaningful to discuss Block Constructed and add to it than to discuss Standard and cut away 900+ cards and expect you all to follow along. So we shall look at Block Constructed, and the addition of Tenth Edition to determine the kernel for the new Standard format.
Condemn — A potent removal spell that is highly underrated, and an excellent â€˜niche’ answer to threats like Demigod of Revenge that are especially difficult to manage with mere â€˜death’. Control decks that can afford to play Runed Halo likely will; non-control decks (you know, the kind that actually have to concern themselves with an untapped 5/4 blocker) should give serious consideration to this card instead. White as a whole either skimps on removal (just Unmakes in most lists) or is part of a five-color amalgam that’s just stealing its best cards, and I can see reason for either to consider using this card as a potent problem-solver for its incredibly-cheap price tag.
Field Marshal — This is an interesting Coldsnap reprint, that deserves some attention in its own right. Militia’s Pride, Cloudgoat Ranger, Kinsbaile Borderguard and Repel Intruders all make Kithkin Soldier tokens in bulk, while being on the right side of playable. Preeminent Captain and Ballyrush Banneret can both do crazy things with Soldiers, and works very nicely with a Lord for that creature type. Goldmeadow Stalwart and Goldmeadow Harrier are both playable one-drop Kithkin who gain a benefit from the Marshal’s presence, so it doesn’t take a lot of stretching to look at this guy as â€˜potentially playable’. As a Lord for a Morningtide class, it deserves attention.
Glorious Anthem — “A single-use Ajani for one mana less.” Don’t expect this one to make waves anytime soon. Historically speaking, we always look at wanting to play this card in an aggressive White deck, and it always ends up getting cut for something better that isn’t a dead card if your board is swept. Ajani at least can get out of hand if it’s used twice, this won’t make waves… just get talked about.
Paladin en-Vec — A hateful card to play against Red, Black or both combined, but in recent successful lists in Standard (think Tim Aten) it was the one-drop Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender who proved problematic for Red, not his three-mana big brother. Unlikely to make a big splash in a format with Stillmoon Cavaliers doing the â€˜protection from Black’ part better, and Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender doing the â€˜protection from Red’ part better. Another card we usually talk about playing in Standard, but never ever do.
Pariah — Stick it on a Forge-Tender, good game Red deck. Haven’t drawn a Forge-Tender? It’s still a Pacifism + Fog, if you drop it on their creature… removing an Ashenmoor Gouger and not taking three is an acceptable use, so this is a potential sideboard card if mono-Red is popular and Forge-Tenders main start to be â€˜how White works.’ Not terribly likely, but… not impossible, and awful hard for a Red deck to break out of.
Story Circle — A more powerful Runed Halo, for a color rather than a card (… but then it never stopped a Thoughtseize, so your mileage may vary…). Potentially a sideboard answer for a control deck, be it heavily White or just stealing the best parts of it, to answer aggressive creatures of every color.
Wrath of God — A cheaper Hallowed Burial, that misses your own Kitchen Finks. All but guaranteed to get the top nod as â€˜second sweeper’ alongside Firespout, if five-color control remains a viable strategy (and every indicator seems to be saying it should), even if it is a little strange to give White a Damnation effect.
Cancel — If all you wanted was a three-mana hard counter, you could already have it, with either Dream Fracture or Faerie Trickery depending on your definition of â€˜hard counter.’ Cancel competes for the same space, being a near-identical piece of cardboard to either of them, and so far none of them have been loved enough to find a home. Expect that trend to continue, but also to sometimes see it just once in a while… you never know.
Flashfreeze — Another sideboard-only card, unless you believe certain Nationals Top 8 competitors who played four main-deck in their Merfolk builds and were rewarded for having the read on the metagame. A potent sideboard tool as a two-mana unconditional counter… unconditional, that is, so long as the Red or Green deck isn’t getting tricksy on you and casting artifact spells, to kill your Blue men with Razormane Masticore or somesuch.
Hurkyl’s Recall — Looking at Lorwyn Block Constructed, this is a junk rare. Looking at spoiled cards for Shards of Alara suggest that this might do more than it used to do, and should be paid attention to accordingly.
Remove Soul — The â€˜counterpart’ to Negate, and against creature decks usually the one you have to worry about more. Most of the time you want a two-mana counterspell to stop a creature that is going to bash your face, not a spell, so it’s generally considered superior to the played-in-Block Negate. If nothing else the Japanese will run this in their lists, and since they’re always right, maybe you should too.
Unsummon — A cheap tempo card that frequently finds a key role to fill, generally in U/G decks that lack true removal or tempo-oriented decks. While this traditionally sees more play as a sideboard card than something played main-deck, it has been seen main from time to time, and it wasn’t even spectacularly wrong… merely suspect. Five-Color Merfolk would probably have been quite happy to have access to this, because its cheap cost makes it a powerful tempo play, and others can find a use for it as well.
Consume Spirit — Playable in bad decks, as certain other Internet pundits I can think of tend to say. There’s nothing better to do with nine Swamps worth of Black mana… but there are better things to do than to play nine Swamps. If somehow you convince yourself that there isn’t a better plan than to play nine Swamps, between this and Corrupt you should be quite set to dominate your FNM or the losers’ bracket of a major Standard tournament (should such a thing actually exist at any point).
Deathmark — Powerful color â€˜hoser’ equals potent sideboard card. See: Flashfreeze.
Grave Pact — Good luck beating a R/B Tokens deck with this in play. How to make creature battles a nightmare, let me count the ways. The more cards there are to play in the format, the lower the chances are of this being a good addition, but as one of only a very few ways a Black deck can contain a Chameleon Colossus, this deserves note.
Hidden Horror — Ashenmoor Gougers #5-8. While the card disadvantage may not be worth the â€˜advantage’ of being able to block, Hidden Horror has played a respectable role in Constructed formats of the past. Hidden Horror was a favorite of Donald Lim, later the â€˜inventor’ of Replenish at least as known about here in the Northeast, who liked to play it with Unearth to turn its â€˜drawback’ into a one-two punch of card synergythat saves mana while bringing the beats. Now, imagine instead it combines with a spare copy of Demigod of Revenge, to circumvent the casting cost on that second Demigod in your hand…
… Okay, you’re right, it’ll probably never happen. Except when you sit down first round against an eight-year-old, in which case this combo IS going to deal ten to your face-hole.
Hypnotic Specter — The flagship card of the best decks of yesteryear, Timeshifted into an uncomfortable future where it just doesn’t do the things it used to do. Who knew, the good card in the “Dark Ritual — Hypnotic Specter” combo was the Dark Ritual?
Nantuko Husk — Another card that can be quite deadly in a R/B Tokens deck, like an Abyss that happens to be a Furystoke Giant if your opponent lets it connect. A staple of interesting, techy decks like Ghost Husk from years past, and a key way to turn on Grave Pact if that’s what you want to do.
Nekrataal — Like a Shriekmaw, but worse. Skip it unless you really, really need to stretch to pad your Assassins count, in which case: remember, kids, it’s down the block not across the street.
Rain of Tears — Sometimes a second playable land destruction spell is all it takes to make a critical mass appear out of nowhere. Rain of Tears and Fulminator Mage may very well be that critical mass, that makes us look at the Black two-drops that might work with eight mana disruption spells to buy time and occasionally get free wins off land-light draws. While the chances of wanting to cast Rain of Tears are small, they are still greater than zero, and thus this demands notice.
Terror — In the previous Standard format, this won the fight between itself, Nameless Inversion and Shriekmaw. Unless black creatures are something your opponent will likely play a considerable amount of… and who knows, between Red decks having their eight most important creatures naturally immune and a polychromatic set asking everyone to at least consider three-color decks as â€˜the norm,’ this may be a real liability. But it’s an efficient kill spell that doesn’t care whose turn it is, or that Figure of Destiny is an 8/8.
Incinerate — Lash Outs #1-4 or 5-8, depending on who you ask. A powerful Constructed card, for a Red deck that might want to upgrade their Puncture Bolts and/or Lash Outs into something that costs less or always hits the face. A staple Red card.
Manabarbs — A dangerous Red enchantment, largely for sideboard use, that can brutally punish a control deck’s reliance on big-mana effects and expensive creatures by taxing their mana while they are behind on the board. One life per mana is a price you can willingly pay 19 times but not 20, and you don’t even get 19 against most Red decks… think, like, 5… then the Red spells kill you.
Mogg Fanatic — A one-drop good enough to play next to Figure of Destiny, like we used to play it next to Jackal Pup. Constructed playable by far, considering we were willing to think about Tattermunge Maniac and Intimidator Initiate with a straight face.
Pyroclasm — Either a substitute Firespout (say, for Red decks who want to kill Faeries sometimes) or a â€˜worse’ Hurly-Burly, depends on what you are trying to accomplish with it. Kithkin likely isn’t happy to see a reasonable backup copy of Firespout, even if historically this sees only a little play in Standard.
Seismic Assault — Potentially part of a kill mechanism with Swans of Bryn Argoll, if a third combo piece can appear to give the deck consistency beyond “play 40 lands”.
Siege-Gang Commander — The Goblin version of Cloudgoat Ranger, and… wow, talk about an improvement. Black/Red Tokens and/or Torrent.dec can abandon the weird concept of playing Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger, because this guy is insane. Five power for five mana is a bit less than Cloudgoat’s six… but then he starts throwing Goblins at your face for two mana each and you die a horrible painful death. Wow.
Warp World — Try it with Nucklavee. Laugh. Repeat.
Birds of Paradise — Oh, what a difference one-drop mana accelerators can make. Green decks in Lorwyn Block suffered from a lack of acceleration, with Smokebraider being the #1 cheap accelerant in the format instead of one of Green’s options, despite the fact that Green had four reasonable options: Devoted Druid, Leaf Gilder, Bloom Tender and Fertile Ground. This helps allow a Green deck to skip the less-essential two-drops, or maybe actually get good use out of Talara’s Battalion since it kind of stunk as a two-drop in Lorwyn Block. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’ll swing for one in the air… Doran’s an awesome three-drop to follow up a Birds of Paradise with, so long as it fixes your mana you might as well abuse it.
Civic Wayfinder — An Elf that does a job, and yields card advantage while it does so… small, innocuous card advantage, but a free land of the color of your choice is worth considering. Playable in Constructed, though again it’ll take the Japanese to prove it to us.
Elvish Champion — … Because we’ll all stubbornly play Elvish Champion instead, and maybe die to Forestwalking Mutavaults.
Llanowar Elves — Half of the one-two punch of Birds and Elves that let us get maximum acceleration out of our Green decks. Talk about a difference — Lorwyn Block with one-drop accelerators makes for consistent turn 3 Chameleon Colossus, probably with something good on turn 2 while we’re at it… Doran or Imperious Perfect, take your pick.
Troll Ascetic — Sometimes it’ll be right to play this guy. Sometimes it won’t. Often the results won’t really matter, as seen amongst the top lists at Pro Tour: Hollywood, where a credible argument could be made both for and against it. Sometimes even by the same people — Adrian Sullivan has, I’m told, flip-flopped on playing the Ascetic three times in the same sentence. A potent creature for staring down targeted removal, even if he can’t do anything about Hallowed Burial or its cheap skank of a cousin, Wrath of God.
Viridian Shaman — Like Hurkyl’s Recall, the cards in Shards of Alara suggest the ability to destroy an artifact for free when you come into play might get an upswing of popularity. This is the Green Duergar Hedge-Mage, which is a pretty good thing to be in a world where your opponent is likely to play an early artifact.
Dragon’s Claw — Good against a Red deck that focuses on spells instead of creatures. Solid against Flame Javelin; terrible against Demigod.
Loxodon Warhammer — The kind of thing that kills a Red deck, especially if you put it on something meaty like Chameleon Colossus. Doesn’t do a lot with Doran, but hey, it’s worth a laugh from the commentator’s booth. Awesome on a Troll Ascetic, and in fact… one of the better arguments in favor of playing Troll Ascetic. Just don’t play it with Troll Ascetic and Slippery Bogle, I beg of you. The mind can only contain so much awesome.
Mind Stone — Playable two-drop mana acceleration that anyone can use… anyone, that is, except for people who want to cast Demigods of Revenge or drop Deuses on their opponents’ lands. Solid in 5c Control styles of deck, where the extra mana is crucial in the early game and the ability to cycle it later for a card is reminiscent of Oona’s Grace… which is a good thing to be for a non-land mana source in a deck that plays Oona’s Grace to avoid late-game flood.
Pithing Needle — Sort of like Runed Halo, in that it’s a very narrow answer to very specific problems, but very potent when you have it in play. A one-mana solution to all sorts of things, like the â€˜free spell’ part of Windbrisk Heights or the â€˜leveling up’ of your opponent’s Figures of Destiny. A solid role-player that might be even better than that, if there are a reasonable number of good targets to prey upon.
Platinum Angel — An expensive finisher that wins the game is a perfect candidate for 5c Control decks of various flavors of toast or justice, and “you cannot lose” is pretty close to “you win the game” so long as you can keep the removal off its back.
Razormane Masticore — A monster against creature decks, this kills in four swings, is a bitch to try and swing past, and happens to munch a creature a turn while it’s at it. Perhaps not as broken as its predecessor from Urza’s Destiny, but still quite good so long as the opponent isn’t possessed of a Demigod or a Colossus.
Three colors get a reasonable man-land, with Green being the most powerful in a vacuum and Blue’s being the worst offender for cross-block synergy, with a 2/1 flying Faerie coming out of its Island sometimes. Red, Green, and Blue each have a reasonably playable man-land, and as Vivid lands have taught us, coming into play tapped is a minimal cost that you can generally afford to pay somewhere in your mana curve.
You can’t play them with Vivid lands, of course, but that’s why Tenth Edition also gives us a set of supporting dual lands to go with the Hybrid duals for each two-color pair and Lorwyn’s tribe-based duals. Now you can play Repel Intruders in Kithkin, off Mystic Gate and Adarkar Wastes, and even keep a straight face while you do it without having to dip into Merfolk lands or Vivid lands to play the part that makes it better than an embarrassing four-mana Raise the Alarm.
These â€˜pain-lands,’ if I might be so bold as to stick a label on the ten of them combined, fit very nicely with the existing color fixing in Lorwyn Block, and hopefully can enforce a little bit of color discipline to stick to two- and three-color decks instead of playing a dozen Vivid lands, four Reflecting Pools, and letting God sort it out. With a tri-color block right around the corner and some definite benefits for staying with a two-color deck in Lorwyn Block (… if not being outright mono-colored…), I’m happy to see more good mana-fixing that rewards you for not just grabbing up the best of everything…
… Though I could have lived with this being a cycle of nine, too, and not making Faeries better by giving them another dual land. Nice job Wizards. Thanks. Really.
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com