Magical Hack – Sights of the Future

I promised last week that I’d look into Future Sight additions for Standard and its impact on Block Constructed play, so we’ll be starting with an analysis of where Future Sight fits in with the existing Standard format and what promising new cards might spawn as-yet-unseen archetypes on their strength alone. Future Sight has a lot of cards that fit into a particular theme or niche, and a lot of different niches to fill, so we’ll look at each of those niches in turn and expand upon where you can go with that to build upon the new cards’ strengths.

This week, I’m up against some pretty stiff competition – over on the Premium side, Mike Flores is talking about the ramifications of Future Sight on the more commonly played Constructed formats, and that’s usually a pretty tough act to follow. I promised last week that I’d look into Future Sight additions for Standard and its impact on Block Constructed play, so we’ll be starting with an analysis of where Future Sight fits in with the existing Standard format and what promising new cards might spawn as-yet-unseen archetypes on their strength alone. Future Sight has a lot of cards that fit into a particular theme or niche, and a lot of different niches to fill, so we’ll look at each of those niches in turn and expand upon where you can go with that to build upon the new cards’ strengths.

Something for Nothing

Let’s face it, everybody wants something for nothing, right? Future Sight is the first expansion to tell you that you can in fact pay me Tuesday for a hamburger today, but the obvious “cycle of five” are not the only “free” cards in the set that reward those who come prepared to harness the ability to get something for nothing. The Pacts have at least some Constructed applications – it’s possible that Dark Banishing might be better if you pay for it tomorrow instead of today, and a limited Eladamri’s Call is still better than no Eladamri’s Call at all. For Summoner’s Pact at least it’s possible that the free-now aspect can more than make up for the “four mana echo” tacked onto the creature and the limitation on finding “just” a Green creature; Pact of Negation is a far worse offender, being more or less completely unplayable for those who intend to use it to play fair, and absolutely unfair when put into the hands of those who have no intention of following through.

The implications of these spells are immediate, as every format needs to be aware of its pitch spells and their potential impact. Ghost Dad may be often maligned by Mike Flores and other “serious” Internet writers, but its success at PT: Honolulu is a case in point of just how much of an impact free spells can have when otherwise people, y’know, have to pay mana for things. A zero-mana Beast Attack might just be worth playing, despite not having Flashback and despite including the rules text “you lose the game” somewhere on it, and each of these five needs to be respected as immediately powerful even if they aren’t immediately playable. (I’m looking at you, Reverse Damage!) While you could go on a bender and declare that Pact of Negation single-handedly re-defines Dragonstorm as the most broken deck in Standard, one should also respect the fact that the Pacts are incredibly blunt instruments and thus do not automatically fit into every deck. Each requires careful analysis, but four out of five of them are playable (sorry, White-mage), and one of them is patently ridiculous when put into an environment that allows its strengths to be played out to their logical extremes (read: Vintage).

Worth noting also is that the “lose the game” trigger uses the stack and is an activated or triggered ability, and thus is a valid target for Trickbind and Stifle if anyone is looking to slip one by on the down-low; 1U and two cards is a pretty fair investment for an instant-speed 4/4, so there’s a lot more creative room to play with if you want to try and bend these things to play less fair. If nothing else, playing Trickbind in the main as a four-of should help to obtain at least one solid matchup in Standard right now… so you never know quite how these might be exploited, but each one (even the bad one) has potential for exploitation: free is the best price of them all.

If we only could stop right there… but we can’t. Street Wraith also begs the question of “what would you pay for drawing one card as an instant,” answering the question with the low bid of zero mana and two life for your “bad Bauble” effect. Sometimes a bad Bauble is even better than a good Bauble, and sometimes having a critical mass of Baubles in the format is even more dangerous yet… Dredge strategies get better as you Dredge faster and faster, so the fact that you can play an effectively 52-card deck if you wanted to in Standard right now might be quite impressive. Edge of Autumn, the latest Rampant Growth variant, can also be cycled for free, but this one’s definition of “free” is a much steeper cost and thus far less immediately relevant, more of a bonus tacked onto a mana accelerant to keep it from going dead after the early game than a cycling effect with an afterthought “spell” option attached. Dryad Arbor is some strange amalgamation of a Llanowar Elf and a Forest, better in some ways than either but with considerable drawbacks as well; Forests never suffered summoning sickness before, or turned Shock into Stone Rain, but then Llanowar Elves never cost zero mana before (eating only your land-drop for the turn). Dryad Arbor so far has more or less hurt everyone’s brain when it comes to figuring out its use in a Constructed format, though decks that are looking to flashback Dread Return have more or less adopted it on sight as a land that helps go about doing that.

And then there’s the other free stuff you can get if you put the work in, Bridge from Below and Narcomoeba. These two even work together, after a fashion, because they have some synergy together (dead Narcomoebas go from being 1/1s to one or more Zombie tokens) and become “free” in the same fashion… self-milling, Dredge-style. Bridge from Below can get to your graveyard in any fashion whatsoever, including discard, and is very easy for the opponent to “Disenchant,” but only if they’re playing creatures. Dedicated control decks will likely find the Bridge not just free but uncounterable, and the large number of also-uncounterable 2/2 Zombies that flow from beneath it a very difficult threat to remove permanently. Narcomoeba is very limited – it fits in a dedicated Dredge strategy only, though it seems to fit it very well thanks to the flashback cost of Dread Return – but I suspect that many a deck in the coming months will be based around abusing the powerful from-the-graveyard enchantment. Neither require a color commitment, and I suspect Bridge from Below’s triple-Black casting cost is there not to make it hard to cast this Enchantment, but instead to put it right next to certain other ridiculously powerful engine cards that also happened to be triple-Black-mana enchantments.

Free is a dangerous number, and Future Sight’s “free” cards are present in a downright dangerous quantity: ten different “free” effects, from the patently absurd to the unlikely-to-be-used, and with the lines between those two extremes blurring further every day because free is just the best price of them all.

Self-Destruction for Fun and Profit

As noted above, Dredge-powered strategies have three or four zero-mana cards that seem to require immediate concern, all of which seem to work synergistically with each other in the framework of an already-existing Dredge skeleton. Focusing less on the “playing fair” bent, and moving more to the fast-acting combo bent, you might find that an absurdly powerful sequence of plays becomes available if you want to deviate further from the “fair” route advocated by Benjamin Peebles-Mundy in his look on Dredge prior to the release of Future Sight. Rather than trying to figure out where the wheels fall off of this strategy and whether some of these power moves should be scaled back in order to achieve a more flexible deck, we can skew the B/G Dredge deck to fit the new Dredge-related cards and see just how powerful it might get:

4 Llanowar Mentor
4 Greenseeker
4 Fa’adiyah Seer
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Life from the Loam
4 Narcomoeba
4 Bridge from Below
4 Street Wraith
4 Dread Return
2 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Llanowar Wastes
1 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Swamp
4 Forest

This list is clearly garbage – but it’s intended to get the thoughts rolling, not to be a tuned list by any means. Let’s look at the following opening hand:

Overgrown Tomb, Forest, Llanowar Mentor, Golgari Grave-Troll, Street Wraith, Bridge from Below.

Six cards, because really you don’t need more, and really this hand might just be gas with only three or four cards, you don’t even need six (just need to keep Llanowar Mentor in play). Start with a land and Llanowar Mentor, then untap and use the Mentor discarding Golgari Grave-Troll during the upkeep of your second turn. Dredge the Troll and hit another Dredge card, preferably Troll or Stinkweed Imp, as one of the six cards dredged. Cycle Street Wraith and Dredge a second time, returning Stinkweed Imp or Golgari Grave-Troll to hand. Play your second land, but like I said it’s not like you need one, just your Mentor in play. It’s turn 2 and you’ve milled 11-12 cards out of your deck, meaning you’ve accessed just about a third of your deck already… so it’d be safe to say you’ve probably hit a Narcomoeba, Bridge from Below, and Dread Return by now, maybe even a nice juicy Dread Return target. You have a Llanowar Mentor and a Llanowar Elf token, plus a Narcomoeba… sacrifice all three to Dread Return a dredged target, getting two 2/2 Zombies plus either Akroma or Bogardan Hellkite, all on turn 2.

Pretty powerful, but inconsistent. Let’s proceed onward to turn 3 instead and assume we just hit another Troll or Imp out of the dozen or so cards dredged, so you don’t need to put your Troll back, or better yet a Life from the Loam. Use Llanowar Mentor during the upkeep of your third turn, discarding Bridge from Below, then dredge your Life from the Loam and cast it using your second land and last turn’s Llanowar Elf token, getting back two “whatever” and the Dryad Arbor. Let’s assume you have dredged Troll, Troll, and Loam now, just to get some numbers down:

Six card starting hand.
Fifteen cards Dredged.
21 of 60 cards in the deck accessed in one way or the other as of turn 3.

Your permanents in play are Overgrown Tomb, Forest, and Dryad Arbor, for lands; Llanowar Mentor and two Llanowar Elf tokens, that you’ve definitely made yourself; Bridge from Below in the graveyard plus two Trolls in hand via Dredging, and Life from the Loam in the graveyard as well.

21/60 means it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to have seen one of the three Bridges left in the deck out of the fifteen cards Dredged out of the remaining 54, although it’s merely reasonably favored instead of a mathematical guarantee. Likewise you’re pretty reasonably likely to have flipped one Narcomoeba and one Dread Return in those 15/54 cards, and probably one of the three decent reanimation targets. So you’ve got a spare 1/1 in play, plus two Bridges in the graveyard, one Dread Return and one reanimation target… sacrifice the Narcomoeba, Dryad Arbor, and the Llanowar Mentor to Dread Return your reanimation target, getting 6 2/2 Zombies in the process and having your opponent take either five or six immediately, while leaving a 5/5 or 6/6 flier in play… plus two Llanowar Elf tokens. They’re at 15 or 14 facing down 19 or 20 damage worth of creatures in play.

Take out the reanimation target and you’ll still see that you profit just by Dread Returning absolutely anything, even a 1/1, trading three 1/1’s for 6 2/2’s and going from “nowhere near enough” to “attack for twelve next turn” out of nowhere.

Let’s idealize this further and go absolutely nuts with the scripted hand. Two lands, one Greenseeker and one Llanowar Mentor, one Golgari Grave-Troll, and two Street Wraiths.

Land, Mentor, go. Make token and Dredge 6 during upkeep; land, Greenseeker, go. Third turn’s upkeep, discard the Troll to your Mentor, dredging through your draw phase; discard the Troll to your Greenseeker and get any basic land, then cycle Street Wraith to dredge a second time for this turn. Assuming that any of three Dredges for six cards hits another Troll or Imp, cycle the second Street Wraith to dredge a third time for this turn, we’ll assume it was a Troll so we can look at the board and say we’ve started with seven cards and dredged 24 cards altogether… so we’ve seen 31 out of 60 cards, just over half the deck on turn 3.

With 24 cards in the graveyard and 29 left in the deck, it’s going to happen reasonably often that about half of the relevant cards are going to end up in each pile, as four-of’s… we’ll go further to say that any two of the three reanimation targets have been Dredged past, though again it’s not really too important as we could get by with fewer.

Thus, we have in play: Llanowar Mentor, Greenseeker, three lands (two tapped); two Llanowar Elf tokens (one with summoning sickness), and two Narcomoebas. We have also Dredged past two copies of Dread Return and two copies of Bridge from Below, meaning it’s about time to go absolutely freaking crazy with these effects here. Let’s say it’s Akroma and Bogardan Hellkite as well, just to give ‘em names.

Sacrifice two Narcomoebas and the Greenseeker to flash back Dread Return targeting Bogardan Hellkite. Six 2/2’s and the Hellkite come into play, dropping the opponent down to 15.

Sacrifice the Hellkite, Llanowar Mentor, and one of the six Zombie tokens to flash back Dread Return #2, targeting Akroma, Angel of Wrath (and Boobies!). One Zombie token is replaced with four more, so we have nine Zombies and Akroma… attack with Akroma dropping the opponent to nine, facing 24 power worth of creatures next turn.

And this is the less ridiculously combo version… replace four cards with Mishra’s Bauble to further speed your Dredging, and replace your reanimation targets with Flame-Kin Zealot, and we’re attacking for 20+ on turn 3 with that slightly-scripted “ideal” draw.

This deck concept gets better as you go further back in time, accessing more and more cards to break the deck design in half… go to Extended and you’ll see that Ichorid is about to be a disgusting contender, and Tolarian Winds might just be the sickest card ever in that deck, letting you dredge for thirty or more cards on turn 2 and do ridiculously stupid things right away (like attack for the kill). Go to Legacy and things get more ridiculous; go to Vintage and add Bazaar of Baghdad and Stephen Menendian is talking turn 2 kill every game so long as things don’t go horribly awry, all from just tapping Bazaar of Baghdad once.

Admittedly, the deck as listed above has an awfully hard time beating Shock. Those who know how to play G/B Dredge are advocating a more consistent deck, possessing novel things like “interactive spells” and “disruption” instead of going overboard on the Narcomoebas and Street Wraiths and Baubles… but even “just fair G/B Dredge” with Llanowar Mentor alongside Greenseeker to add to the consistency of Land + Spellshaper + Dredge Card in your opening hand and Bridge from Below to make the already-strong Dread Return play potentially even better is something to take a long, hard look at for Regionals.

Now we’ll look at the other 170 cards in the set, the ones that aren’t free and thus potentially busted in half…

Burn Baby Burn

Two weeks ago, we had a very first look at the potential implications of Future Sight, specifically being a look at Red aggressive strategies as powered up by the addition of Future Sight cards. Red Deck Theory is often misunderstood, because Red Decks don’t usually play for the same kind of win as people traditionally think of… Red decks have a certain inevitability, because a large enough number of Red cards will eventually equal twenty damage, and a win is a win whether it’s on turn 4 or turn 30. Eventually Red will grind you down and break past your defenses to torch you for the very last life-point, unless you win first or somehow manage to contain it by extraordinary means (i.e. Circle: Red or Worship, perhaps Spell Burst + Teferi). The current model for Red aggressive decks looks something like this:

8 One-Drops
12 Two-Drops
20 Burn Spells
20 Lands

Zoo fits this model fairly often, as does Boros, but their complicated manabases often cause mulligan problems and forbid the inclusion of “specialty” lands like some of the ones we’ve seen printed in Future Sight. Their rigid adherence to 20/20/20 gives them a very dense number of cards that can deal damage to the opponent… but also exacerbates the mulligan problems they can run into as multi-colored decks, because they have fewer lands to draw overall and thus a harder time finding more mana. They get away with this in the ideal situation because their spells require very little operating mana, but gum the works up a little and they’ll likely stay gummed up a lot.

Future Sight raises the bar of creature quality just that little extra bit higher, while also giving a monochromatic Red strategy potential tools to deviate from the 20/20/20 model without losing the deep threat density that is one key asset of Red decks over time… even if they didn’t get there in the early game, winning on turn 4 like they intended, enough burn spells stockpiled in hand might mean that a win on turn 14 is inevitable. Burn is dangerous, and doesn’t play by the fair rules of creature combat by giving you a chance to block it with your creature or kill it with non-countermagic removal.

One land that is being underestimated right now but which will only grow more desirable over time as we leave the excellent mana-fixing of Ravnica-powered Standard behind is Zoetic Caverns, which is either a bad land (colorless only) or a bad creature (the greyest of Ogres). The fact remains however that it can let you play more than twenty lands – thus giving you more mana to work off when you want to have mana – without sacrificing the damage-dealing potential of that slot in your deck. After the first four or so turns, when Red decks fight the lingering attrition war, all of its creatures are generally interchangeable, and all are of about the same quality of the Greyest Ogre. Before the first four turns, well, it helps smooth your mana draw and allow you to deploy your key spells on time. It may not do the best job in either role, but that it allows the role it plays to be two different modes is impressive in and of itself.

Keldon Megaliths is similar, though in this case it simulates a burn spell instead of a creature spell. Megaliths can fit harmlessly in most mono-Red decks, as even the most aggressive deck can likely plan its opening curve around finding the best time to pay the “cost” of their Megaliths coming into play tapped, be it turn 1 and skipping the one-drop or turn 3 and playing another two instead of a three. Because this cost is high and it is higher still in a deck that wants its lands to tap for two different colors, Megaliths fits in mono-colored aggro or two-colored control strategies exclusively, and its Hellbent damage-source nature more or less excludes it from inclusion in a two-color deck that fits the role of “controlling,” at least in the traditional way. In such a mono-colored deck, however, you can play four Megaliths and four Caverns in a deck with approximately 24 lands, but still draw as few non-damage-source lands as your 20/20/20 model did by using the “extra” lands as damage sources; at least as far as threatening potential goes, that 24-land deck actually has a higher threat density even if those threats are somewhat weaker… the 20/20/20 deck has 20 real lands, while 4 Caverns + 4 Megaliths + 16 Mountains has only sixteen non-damage-source cards out of 60, four fewer than 20 / 60… all with increased consistency combating the tendency those 20-land decks have of mulliganing too hard.

Likewise, with Emberwilde Augur added to the mix, you have a similarly critical mass of creatures that simulate direct damage burn spells pointed at the opponent, with the ability to use Scorched Rusalka, Magus of the Scroll, Emberwilde Augur, Gruul Guildmage and Keldon Marauders all as faux direct damage in some capacity or another. Red decks can thrive on what some have called the Philosophy of Fire: instead of focusing on card advantage, it focuses on damage advantage, with the profit or the loss being based on the increase or decrease in one’s chances of successfully dealing twenty before taking twenty. In some cases this is a matter of speed, when there is little room for interactivity; Red versus combo often plays out this way, and the matchup in modern Standard against Dragonstorm is presumably quite similar to an out-and-out race. In other cases, there is plenty of interaction even if it looks like the Red deck is losing, and the Red deck continues to lose up until it wins by nudging that last one damage across the finish line in a complicated game of play versus counter-play that sees the Red deck nearly voted off the island at every turn.

Sometimes, the Red deck even looks like it’s winning from the start, but it’s been a while since we’ve had our Jackal Pups and Wastelands or Rishadan Ports to give an early lead that punishes a slow start from the opponent.

My currently favored deck of this archetype thoroughly blends the different damage-dealing card-types, with lands that work as burn spells, land that work as creatures, and creatures that work as burn spells. (No burn spells that work as creatures… yet.) Its cards may seem weaker overall, and compared to say Zoo they definitely are, there being no three-power guys sitting in the two-slot that can attack more than the one time. But its threat density is higher, and the ability to have one damage resource turn into another over the course of the game gives it a damage-dealing potential that is surprisingly hard to contain.

4 Keldon Megaliths
4 Zoetic Caverns
1 Ghost Quarter
15 Mountain

4 Scorched Rusalka
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Blood Knight
4 Emberwilde Augur
4 Gathan Raiders
3 Frenzied Goblin

4 Seal of Fire
4 Sudden Shock
4 Rift Bolt
1 Demonfire

4 Greater Gargadon
4 Sulfur Elemental
4 Magus of the Moon
3 Ghost Quarter

Card for card, the deck is somewhat underpowered, in comparison to a powerful Dredge strategy or Dragonstorm… but it is the combination of cards as a whole that make it a potent choice, as it does what it does very consistently and with reasonable speed, with long-game inevitability against controlling strategies that do not inherently focus on life-gain. Red decks are often underestimated nowadays… but this deck is a likely favorite against most control strategies, thanks to early aggression and late-game staying power, and can exploit laughed-at cards like Gathan Raiders to win the aggro war or just win on tempo. I’ve heard a lot of talk of Gathan Raiders in Limited, since it’s basically the best common in every color in Future Sight, but few have yet made the extrapolation to realize that when used properly this guy is a 5/5 for three. He sure hits like one, and being a cheaper and better Balduvian Horde might be the difference between unplayability and Constructed quality.

Gathan Raiders isn’t a Red card, either, so multicolored aggressive decks or non-Red beatdown strategies of any stripe can use him with equal ease, and when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing (attack, stupid!) he’s basically a 5/5 for 3. This presumably hits the Constructed-quality threshold, even if it does take some work to get there… and much like Zoetic Cavern it costs colorless to use, and even works better in a deck with Zoetic Cavern, for the sole reason being that one can then be confused with the other and each Morph becomes more dangerous and harder to contain: your generic 2/2 Land is then treated like a potential 5/5, and fails to trade with other creatures its size as it cruises through the red zone to deal damage to the opponent.

If You Can’t Have Free, Will You Settle For Cheap?

Future Sight pushes a lot of envelopes. In addition to having downright free spells, and the least expensive cards we’ve ever seen in a few other cases, it also contains a lot of downright inexpensive cards… and a price-reduction mechanic that seems quite strong, and might even have a home in the graveyard-plumping strategies that can provide Bridges from Below and Narcomoebas at a very low cost. Some very inexpensive cards for what they do are:

Logic Knot – Delve as a cost-reduction mechanic for a Syncopate, allowing you to spend either mana or spent resources to help in countering spells.

Tombstalker – 5/5 flier for BB is awfully cheap, wouldn’t you say? Whether this fits alongside other Dredge themed cards or happens to work in its own new and different archetype, it’ll see play sooner or later as the cheapest Dragon you can buy at fair market prices. Put this guy alongside Psychatog in a deck of that sort; some have said that Tog would have been more fair as a vanilla 5/5 for 1UB, and here you might just have the chance to prove that prophecy right as you can get a 5/5 flier by expending one of the same resources the ‘Tog loved to eat.

Delay – Just add Teferi and it says “counter target spell” for just two mana. Add a complicated situation and it says “counter target spell” for just two mana, like countering Seething Song against Dragonstorm or countermagic in the control matchup.

Yixlid Jailer – Aggressive creature with disruptive abilities requiring no further mana investment. Awesome.

Aven Mindcensor – Aggressive creature with disruptive abilities requiring no further mana investment… and including Flash and flying in the bargain. Excellent.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade – As either a finisher or a four-of, I seem to recall there being eight copies of Urborg between the two decks in the finals of the last Pro Tour. This is another card that loves Urborg, and one that can even be a fattie plus mana acceleration if you play him as a four-of.

Quagnoth – A difficult set of abilities to work past, as it’s a quite sizable creature that is in many ways unsolvable outside of mass-kill effects. While he is being underestimated at the moment and given very little love, I suspect things will turn around for a threat as difficult to answer as the Quagnoth. This may not be the second coming of the Kodama of the North Tree, but it is incredibly potent and gifted with some very synergistic special abilities that ensure he will get into play and usually stay there.

(Okay, so this one is a stretch… six mana isn’t cheap, and this isn’t an Akroma. But you definitely get at least your money’s worth for this investment.)

Gathan Raiders – Colorless 5/5 for three, if you can do the necessary massaging to fulfill his aggressive requirements. Again a card I am seeing highly underrated for its Constructed potential, but which I suspect will be compared favorably to very powerful cards as time goes on… it’s worth the work to get him achieving his maximum potential, and he doesn’t cost a lot of mana to get to five power as he’s swinging.

Augur of Skulls – 1B = discard two cards. It’s got a time delay and a vulnerable intermediary form, but this fits very well in the discard-centered strategies that have at least some niche role in the metagame. It may be a slow-motion Hymn to Tourach, but it’s a card that compares favorably to Hymn to Tourach. Decks focusing on discard have been trying to reach a critical mass of playable effects that aren’t otherwise dead when your opponent’s hand is empty, and that sums up the Augur’s talents nicely.

Bitter Ordeal – Storm and its brood have found a way to be incredibly potent regardless of how outlandish the card may seem; Ignite Memories, Grapeshot, Dragonstorm, Empty the Warrens, Brain Freeze, Tendrils of Agony, Mind’s Desire… what each of these have in common is that at one point or another they were considered high power tournament staples, because the Storm mechanic is very powerful. Cards that close off a specific capability of a deck’s end-game or win condition, such as Cranial Extraction, Jester’s Cap, and Haunting Echoes are all likewise respected (especially by Resident Genius Mike Flores) and have a definite effect on their tournament environment, even if it’s just something simple like requiring threat diversity so you don’t get your only damage source in a 60-card deck Extirpated and have to resort to decking when you’re not only unprepared but also several cards short unless you’re opponent’s drawing or thinning more than you have been punked for.

Bitter Ordeal has Storm of a different flavor, and is much harder to abuse because casting spells is easy but killing permanents can be hard. But it hits an opponent’s deck just as hard if not harder than these very specific deck-cripplers, while also benefiting from Storm’s difficulty to counteract with a single card not named Stifle or Trickbind. While this is not the Storm you are used to seeing, it may very well be a powerful version of Storm regardless (or at least a powerful card with some distant cousin of Storm). Alongside the Cap and Extirpate and the highly over-rated Shimian Specter, Bitter Ordeal requires deck redundancy and a moderate threat density, or you face potentially losing out completely over the long-term by having all of your relevant threats removed from the game. Threat diversity and threat density will be more or less required, then… even if it may be hard to get this to fire off for a large number, as Damnation is probably the best card around to set this Storm spell up with.

Blade of the Sixth Pride – Three power for two mana speaks for itself. Yes, this will be married to Sulfur Elemental for as long as it lives… but Sulfur Elemental’s relevance will likely wax and wane over time, giving this Rebel Cat a chance to get out from underneath its shadow at least sometimes. Its vulnerability to Desert is a damning thing for Standard, and possibly for Block Constructed as well now that there are dual lands available to fix allied color manabases, but no matter how fragile a butt of one is, a power of three means this guy will have a home somewhere.

Cloud Key – This is a combo enabler. Pay attention: it will find a home.

Coalition Relic – While not nearly as good as a Signet, especially with the limitation of only tapping for mana (effectively) during your first main phase, the fact that this skips you from three mana on turn three to six mana on turn four should not be dismissed. Block Constructed plays Totems, and there is going to be a time in Standard soon when we will have to live without the Signets we have been leaning on for a long time now.

Epochrasite – A cheap creature that is capable of potentially recurring from play after a global destruction effect is bound to be able to find a home somewhere, and one that possesses some very clever rules text to boot… Momentary Blink decks now have a two-mana 4/4 if they Blink the Epochrasite, for example. Cheap and powerful are a good combination, and this under-appreciated Rare will find a home.

Glittering Wish – Two mana is an excellent price for a Tutor, and the limitations placed upon this card are a lot looser than it first appears. Green and White may seem awkward at first because no known “good” deck plays G/W together right now, but as a toolbox card in a Ghazi-Glare style deck this can fetch Giant Solifuge, Glare of Subdual, Loxodon Hierarch, Supply/Demand, Congregation at Dawn, Dovescape… essentially all of the pieces of the G/W Glare deck played at Regionals to good effect last year. Even more creativity and stretching outside of “just” Green/White will let you reach further, and the potency of Glittering Wish in a dedicated “multicolor” deck such as might benefit from the use of Pillar of the Paruns allows you to stretch and include the damnedest things to Wish for, from removal and Stupid Elephants to discard and countermagic.

Jhoira of the Ghitu – Someone will use her to suspend Detritivore and Aeon Chronicler. That person may win a lot of games on the broad shoulders of those two powerful cards, and enjoy a price discount for their trouble as that two-mana, four-counter Suspend usually costs eight mana for either of those. Anything after that is just gravy, but you can go even crazier still if you build hardcore around her and include things that remove Suspend counters such as Fury Charm or Timecrafting.

Llanowar Mentor – A Llanowar Elves machine is not something every deck wants, but the decks that will want him will use him very well, as seen in the Dredge deck above that enjoys a discard outlet for Dredge cards and sacrificial fodder for Dread Return. The mana acceleration’s probably nice, too.

Magus of the Moon – Not “undercosted,” in the way other cards discussed here could be said to be… as Magus of the Moon costs the same as you’d expect for a 2/2 with a relevant special ability, at three mana. Conveniently this is the same price you’d normally pay for Blood Moon, which is currently in the environment and relevant to the format. Magus of the Moon, however, can deal damage, and this means he is a much more worthwhile maindeck addition even if he is easier to kill. Decks that like having Blood Moon in their sideboard will probably like adding Magus of the Moon to the main-deck, to get the same free wins Blood Moon normally gets but not be completely dead if Blood Moon is not special.

Tarmogoyf – Design your deck right to use this nicely and you will find that this is often at least as big as a thresholded Werebear, and one whose size increases very early in the game and continues to increase so long as a little effort is put into it. With the potential to have five power for two mana if you put significant work into making him such, and having a butt that grows just as quickly, this is a nice build-around-me two-drop in the same vein as Quirion Dryad: it appreciates early cantrips and killing or countering opposing creatures.

And these are only the obviously powerful cards that might find a home in Standard… there are plenty of other niche cards that may fill a role, and two playable cycles of Lands as well, dual lands for the allied colors and spiffy lands for each of the five colors (though of course with varying levels of spiff, and the best one is Blue). Having written a lot about what from Future Sight is likely to start having an impact on Standard, from the cheap hoser creatures to the cards asking you to build your deck around them, it’s time to move over to Block Constructed and take a look at the Time Spiral Block Constructed of the future…

Fight The Future

Block Constructed proved to have an interesting metagame after all, and my pithy comment from “Hack To The Future, Part II” stating that the deck that wins day 3 is the deck that beats the decks that beat White Weenie proved to be both a) far too vague to pat myself on the back for, and b) eerily accurate. Identifying just what that deck was did not prove easy for anyone, and even after extensive playtesting many teams were stymied on what the Day 2 metagame would reasonably look like… among other things, what level of White Weenie would penetrate into Day 2 anyway, and thus how anti-WW the Day 2 metagame was going to be (and how to beat an anti-WW deck without falling into the same traps that cause it to beat WW in the first place).

Block Constructed post-Future Sight looks completely different, and I can say this with confidence because the underlying conditions behind the exact construction of each and every deck has shifted completely thanks to the addition of five little cards:

Grove of the Burnwillows
Graven Cairn
River of Tears
Nimbus Maze
Horizon Canopy

Alongside the charge-lands from Time Spiral, Terramorphic Expanse, and Gemstone Mine, we finally have enough good mana-fixing to try and actually build a multicolor deck without fully expecting it to explode in our faces. While just taking the Pro Tour decks and fixing their mana is one possible approach, like replacing four Islands in Heezy’s deck with River of Tears and switching his charge-lands to Calciform Pools to support the light splash of White, re-analyzing how the format works in its entirety is more or less a necessity. After all, White Weenie might be willing to play four Horizon Canopy and sacrifice them later for a bit of card-draw, and should likely try and figure out how many (if any) copies of New Benalia are worth including. Coming into play tapped definitely slows you down, but adding a bit of card selection might counterbalance that loss. Similarly, Nimbus Maze makes it so you can build a White/Blue deck, and perhaps learn that a White/Blue weenie deck is better than just a white one would be, and put Psionic Blast in as a bit of reach or figure out the strength of cards like Vesuvan Shapeshifter alongside your Calciderms.

Everything you know is wrong… not because the decks are no good, but because the limiting factor on the environment – its terrible mana-fixing – has been raised enough to allow for a wider variety of playable decks to appear. While the potency of many of Future Sight’s most potentially undercosted cards is reduced in this limited environment, there are still a lot of cheap cards that might fit well into existing archetypes and plenty of strong cards that help redefine the format. Split Second plays a very critical role, as it is a control-heavy format. The same can be said for strong board sweepers, and things like Split Second Earthquakes warp the format in a different way than we saw at the Pro Tour. For example, let’s imagine tenth-place finisher Frank Karsten’s deck with a retooled manabase thanks to new dual lands and additional options not seen previously:

Karsten R/B/u Control
4 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Urza’s Factory
1 Island
2 Mountain
3 Molten Slagheap
2 Dreadship Reef
10 Swamp

4 Prismatic Lens
4 Phyrexian Totem
4 Damnation
4 Void
4 Sudden Death
4 Stupor
2 Tendrils of Corruption
4 Aeon Chronicler
2 Plague Sliver
2 Bogardan Hellkite

4 Sulfur Elemental
2 Dead / Gone
2 Mindstab
2 Plague Sliver
2 Tendrils of Corruption
1 Detritivore
1 Enslave
1 Mountain

This deck has a strong anti-aggressive element, and a strong mana-acceleration theme as you can see with the many charge-lands, Lenses, and Totems flying about. There’s also a strong discard theme with Stupor and Void in the main-deck and Mindstab in the sideboard, making the deck more than able to fight a card-advantage battle between its numerous two-for-one’s and strong card-drawing via Aeon Chronicler. Keeping the off-color elements intact and accentuating its existing themes using cards from Future Sight, we can look at the following potential additions:

Graven Cairn (an obvious addition, as it generates double-Red or double-Black with a single copy)
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade (regenerating fat plus potential acceleration)
Augur of Skulls (additional discard plus early-game stall)

4 Terramorphic Expanse
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Urza’s Factory
1 Island
1 Mountain
4 Dreadship Reef
4 Graven Cairn
7 Swamp

4 Prismatic Lens
2 Phyrexian Totem
4 Damnation
4 Void
4 Sudden Death
2 Tendrils of Corruption
4 Aeon Chronicler
4 Augur of Skulls
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
2 Bogardan Hellkite

Karsten expressed that overall his team was unhappy with Stupor, despite it never being a bad spell, because while they needed it to maintain a sufficient level of early-game spells and the card advantage was nice, it was basically a hole-filler. Augur of Skulls fits the same hole against the decks you really want to two-for-one, and in fact might even be a little bit better as its slightly lower cost allows it to sneak in under Cancel even when you are on the draw. When the pure discard isn’t necessary you can have a regenerating blocker, and given how Stupor didn’t really seem to fit a potential replacement might just be appropriate. Replacing Plague Sliver with Korlash is reasonably obvious, as it fits the “big beater” role nicely while also giving potential for card advantage as well as fast mana acceleration, allowing it to swap two Phyrexian Totems for two copies of Korlash. Both aspects of Korlash fill the roles Phyrexian Totem is currently providing, albeit with an increased vulnerability to Damnation. Such is the cost, I suspect, of being stronger against the non-Damnation removal spells, as Korlash survives Tendrils of Corruption and should generally be immune to a single Sudden Death after turn 4 or so.

“Fixing” the mana is questionable, as we’re adding more creatures that really reward you for having a lot of Swamps in play; the answer seems obvious, as the power of Urborg was displayed quite nicely throughout the tournament until we get to a final playoff including the full eight copies. With yet another card really liking having all of your lands count as Swamps, the third copy of Urborg at the expense of a basic Swamp leaves us with enough Swamps to search out copies with one or even two copies of Korlash discarded to the Grandeur ability, and enough Swamps for Korlash and Tendrils to be useful to at least some degree without Urborg in play yet. The colored mana greatly improves – fewer Mountains not tapping for Black, and overall an easier access to either the first or the second Red mana for Bogardan Hellkite and Void. This favors Dreadship Reef as the charge-land of choice, giving you four Terramorphic Expanse plus Island, four Dreadship Reef and four Prismatic Lens for the four Aeon Chroniclers… more than enough for what is in reality a very light splash, without so much as another Blue card currently in the sideboard.

Not all dual lands are created equal, however; Karsten’s deck has access to what seems to be literally the best of the dual lands, able to use Black mana to provide double-Black, sufficient colored mana for Damnation; Red-Black, sufficient colored mana for Void; and double-Red, sufficient colored mana for Bogardan Hellkite. Drawing a Swamp, Graven Cairns, and either Terramorphic Expanse or Dreadship Reef gives Karsten’s deck enough colored mana to cast literally any of its spells, and from there it needs quantity rather than quality. Green/White’s dual land forces Green/White to match its dual land’s character, preferably an aggressive strategy that doesn’t mind a bit of damage for good mana and can get a benefit out of cashing its land in for a fresh card later in the game. Horizon Canopy is thus probably a four-of in any White Weenie deck, which doesn’t mind a bit of pain but can use a free card, and might facilitate a Green/White beatdown strategy or even work in a Green/White big-mana deck such as the Hunting Wilds into Akroma strategy I was playing with the week before the Pro Tour. Green/Red has a dual land that gives the opponent life, meaning it is of little help to an aggressive deck that would rather beat the opponent down from 20 than beat them down from 25 sometimes, but fits perfectly in a more controllish Green/Red deck such as the Big Mana G/R decks that made the Top 8 of the Pro Tour as played by Oiso, Thaler, or Carvalho.

Blue/Black is easy to place; it’s essentially a basic Island for all intents and purposes, at least as far as Herberholz or Wafo-Tapa’s decks are concerned, as it will always tap for Blue on the opponent’s turn… but can tap for either Blue or Black on your own turn, depending on your need (and how well you plan for your needs, but let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt) and helps go along with the “one Swamp” theme in Wafo-Tapa’s deck and provide you with additional Black mana on your turn more or less at no cost to help with spells like Damnation or Sudden Death. It is also highly functional in a more aggressive strategy, as it can be tapped for either color very consistently in the early game, except for Blue on the first turn… and might help to bring into existence a more tempo-oriented Blue/Black deck, bringing the U/B Pickles deck featuring Shadowmage Infiltrator as played by Mitamura further forward by advancing its ability to cast its spells early and often.

Blue/White is actually the hardest to place because Blue/White is almost the worst of the allied color combinations; White works best as a light support color in a Blue deck, for which this land is more or less crap as a basic Plains that sometimes just sometimes doesn’t work, and which will never provide Blue mana until you find your actual one Plains… playing four would be like having five Plains in the U/B deck, four of which turn into Islands finally like you want them to be when you search out that one actual Plains specifically with Terramorphic Expanse. White Weenie would be happy to have a dual land letting it splash for Psionic Blast but it really needs to focus on consistently having double White mana, which means few Islands, and which means few opportunities for Nimbus Maze to ever actually tap to provide White mana. While it may make the mana good enough to allow an actual Blue/White strategy to advance, since it works very well when the lands in your deck are somewhat evenly balanced, nothing quite like that has even seemed reasonable to date. Fortunately, there is room for improvement:

4 Looter il-Kor
4 Bonded Fetch
4 Body Double
4 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
4 Bogardan Hellkite
4 Brine Elemental
4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
4 Careful Consideration
4 Resurrection
2 Mountain
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Nimbus Maze
7 Plains
7 Island

This is much more of the kind of framework you’d want Nimbus Maze in, an even split of mana that will let Nimbus Maze be Hallowed Fountain so long as you draw (or fetch) basic Island plus basic Plains reasonably consistently. A more controlling / possibly less awful U/W strategy surely exists, perhaps as a Teferi strategy that is equipped to fight against the possibly superior positioning of the U/B decks, and such a strategy might now exist solely because Nimbus Maze makes the mana good enough for it to be potentially viable.

Before even looking at a single card from the new set besides the Futureshifted cycle of dual lands, everything that was true in Time Spiral Block Constructed has been turned on its ear based on what the mana will let you do consistently. Add the other 175 cards and things start to get downright weird.

Sean McKeown
smckeown @ livejournal.com