New Cards, New Rules

While CVM may not be making it to #SCGCHI, his G/R Dragons deck is updated for this weekend and ready to battle. He also shares his thoughts about the rules shift to be more lenient when penalizing unintentionally-drawn extra cards.

The Magic Meowigins prerelease is over and everyone is getting ready to unleash their brews in battle this coming weekend. There will be plenty of Magic to be played, whether you’re making the trip to Chicago to join Patrick and Cedric for eighteen rounds of Magic Origins Standard or hitting up one (or two) of your local IQ’s.

What am I playing though? Honestly I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet that it has Elvish Mystic in it.

I actually think that this is a very exciting time for Standard. Usually the last set to come out in an eight-set Standard format doesn’t really have the potential to shake things up very much. They are usually Core Sets and they don’t usually have that many cards of sufficient powerful to make an impact on a thoroughly-established format.

The last time this happened, we saw Goblin Rabblemaster and Stoke the Flames as the main cards from M15 to make an impact on Standard. Before that, it was Mutavault, Scavenging Ooze, and eventually Young Pyromancer from M14.

Magic Origins is a whole different beast. There are five brand-new planeswalkers who all seem like they are quite playable in addition to powerful new Mythic creatures like Archangel of Tithes, Erebos’s Titan, Avaracious Dragon, and Woodland Bellower.

Magic Origins breathes life back into two of the most popular Tribal strategies of all time. Elves gain a slew of new Elves with Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, Dwynen’s Elite, Gnarlroot Trapper, Gilt-Leaf Winnower, and Shaman of the Pack in addition to reprints of Elvish Visionary and Sylvan Messenger. Goblin lovers really only get one card to go along with the Rabblemasters and token generators that they have already been playing, but boy is it a doozy. Goblin Piledriver was once format-defining during the dark days of Psychatog and Repulse, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact it will have now.

There are even a handful of cards that just scream “build around me!” These are headlined (in my opinion) by Starfield of Nyx and Demonic Pact. Reading about everyone’s thoughts on these cards and seeing the different lists being brewed up is quite fun, and I look forward to seeing how these cards pan out in the near future. Sadly, I don’t really think Starfield of Nyx will have much life in the Theros-lacking Battle for Zendikar world, but you never know.

There are quite a few other cards that will augment existing strategies: Languish, Exquisite Firecraft, Clash of Wills, and Reave Soul are all cards that I expect will actually see a decent amount of play. There is one card, however, that I think might end up being very good that hasn’t gotten a lot of press.

Instant-speed card draw is something that has been getting nerfed and nerfed as the game continues to grow and our understanding of card advantage and tempo evolves. Artificer’s Epiphany does a lot of things and strikes me as similar to Thirst for Knowledge, a card that was so powerful that it ended up getting restricted in Vintage (though, granted, context is everything). Being used as a dig spell, and as a way to discard cards when you want is something unique, and Artificer’s Epiphany does these things admirably. I can imagine that there will even be times that we might have an artifact in play (maybe from Foundry of the Consuls) and then it’s just a straight-up instant-speed Divination, which has itself been seeing play in Standard recently from time to time.

This isn’t even taking into account that we are also just fueling Delve with the discard or getting rid of excess lands in the mid/late game, or getting rid of cards that aren’t relevant in the current matchup. Playing a control mirror? Let’s get rid of these Bile Blights. Playing against a hyper-aggressive deck? Let’s draw into more removal (hopefully) and get rid of these spare Dragons.

I know that I’m not the best mind when it comes to building control decks, at least right now, but there was a time when I sleeved up only the most bluest of the blue spells. Force Spike and Dismiss were my best friends. Floating mana and casting Upheaval used to be my jam. Times are different and I have grown to love Elvish Mystic and Stormbreath Dragon, but when I see things coming together like they are now with Dissolve, Clash of Wills, Silumgar’s Scorn, Languish, Dig Through Time, and now Artificier’s Epiphany, I have to imagine that Shaheen Soorani is coming up with something ridiculous.

Also, Sphinx’s Tutelage is totally sweet and I really want to kill people with it!

Now, I will admit that I had Languish-phobia. I’m sure that the card is going to see plenty of play but I don’t think that it’s going to be the end of the world, and it’s really not going to be that much different than End Hostilities or Crux of Fate. In fact, there may even be some times that we get to Draconic Roar a Siege Rhino when our opponent gets tricky and tries to wipe our board while leaving themselves with a Rhinoceros.

I think that Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector, Ashcloud Phoenix, and Xenagos, the Reveler are going to be the ways to keep up against Languish decks. G/R Dragons still seems like it has some fight left in it, and we even get a shiny new burn spell in Exquisite Firecraft and a sweet sideboard card against control in Gaea’s Revenge.

Here is where I am at currently.

This is something that is very close to the deck that Eric Rill won the Open Series in Indianapolis with. The big change is moving away from Crater’s Claws and trying out Exquisite Firecraft. It’s definitely going to take testing to verify if the card is going to be better, but what Exquisite Firecraft offers is the same rate as a five-mana Crater’s Claws with no Ferocious. Crater’s Claws is clearly better when we are way ahead and get to attack with some Dragons and then burn our opponent out, but I feel like Exquisite Firecraft is a good happy medium.

I like how Exquisite Firecraft plays very well with Den Protector. Being able to flip up a Den Protector and get back your Exquisite Firecraft and recast it all for only five mana seems pretty sweet, and when we are bringing back dead Deathmist Raptors too we can put a lot of pressure on our opponents.

Without Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix in the deck I feel like we may be a bit weak to the Atarka Red or Mono-Red Goblin decks, but we have some nice ones in our sideboard to help out with that. Being lower to the ground with Deathmist Raptors and Den Protectors over Xenagos, the Reveler and Dragonlord Atarka also helps, but it may still be a struggle now that Goblin Piledriver will likely fuel a resurgence of “going wide” with all of the Goblin token producers.

There have been a lot of articles with many decklists posted in the last couple weeks. Brews upon brews. Tried-and-true archetypes being augmented. What’s the best place to be for the new format? While Week One of a new Standard format always has some surprises, I tend to follow these guidelines when trying to figure out what to play:

  • Be proactive. Threats vary from format to format, even from week to week. Answers to the different threats are narrow, therefore I prefer to be the one asking questions rather than the one trying to have all the answers.
  • Have a plan. It doesn’t really matter if you have an exact plan for the exact strategy that your opponent is beat you with, but having plans for overarching strategies is where you want to be. Aggro, control, midrange: we should have plans for these types of decks and then adjust as we gain more information about what exactly is being played. Special consideration can be given in cases like right now with Goblins. People love Tribal strategies, so having a plan for Goblins and Elves this coming weekend is a must.
  • Know what to do against the big decks from the last Standard. Whatever you’re playing this weekend, be it a new brew or a standard Abzan Control deck, know what’s going to be important against the giants of the Pre-Origins. Abzan (Control, Megamorph, Aggro), G/R Dragons, G/R Devotion, Esper Dragons, Atarka Red, U/B Control, Bant Megamorph, and G/W Collected Company. While not complete, this is a pretty good list of decks that we should at least know what we’re doing against.
  • Don’t feel like you are forced to play with the new cards. They are new and shiny and pretty, but you don’t have to play with them. If you’re comfortable with exactly what you have together right now and don’t feel like any of the new cards will benefit you, then don’t play them.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to Chicago to play in the Standard Open this weekend, but I will be battling in a Standard Super IQ and a Legacy IQ grinding points to try and qualify for the Players’ Championship yet again… but also because I just love to play Magic. Last year, even when I was qualified, I still traveled all over for just IQs because I love to battle. Make sure to stop me and say hi if you run into me this weekend, and good luck to everyone heading to the Windy City.

Before I sign off though, I want to talk about the Magic Origins Policy Changes to the Drawing Extra Cards. Previously if it was determined that you drew any cards above what you should have drawn at any point in the game it was a game loss. This included having an opening hand of eight cards if any game actions had been taken (if caught before any game actions then it would be improper draw at start of game, which is handled differently). With the new rules, it is now a warning (that is upgradable) and then you reveal your hand to your opponent and they get to choose a number of cards that were drawn extra and they are shuffled back into your library.

I have mixed feelings on this ruling. Overall I think that it’s a big win, as its main goal is to try and protect players from receiving penalties that are extremely harsh for the impact that the infraction is having on the game, but I feel like there will be some opportunists that will try to take advantage of this.

The risk versus the reward for trying to draw extra cards previously was quite high, which did a lot towards preventing people from intentionally doing this. Now, I understand that if the judge suspects you of intentionally trying to draw extra cards then it won’t be a warning and you get Dairy Queened out of the event, but there have been and will continue to be a lot of people who will try this and get away with just a warning if they are caught.

Take an example where they are losing a game and try to draw an extra card to try and get out of it. Say it’s with a Brainstorm or a Ponder, or anything else that allows them to manipulate the top of their library. Previously it was a flat game loss with no wiggle room, which was a pretty steep risk. This prevented a lot of people from trying something like this, but even then there are still stone-cold cheaters who just didn’t care. With the new rulings, the worst-case scenario is that it’s caught, you get a warning, and your best card gets shuffled away and you likely go on to lose the game that you were already losing before – but it’s still just a warning.

Overall I really like the new rule and think that it’s a huge win for Magic, but it’s also going to necessitate that judges are vigilant in looking into the context and determine if it was intentional or not.

What do you think about the new rule?