New Standard, New Hype!

Brennan DeCandio is a kid in a candy store right now! Amonkhet slow rolled him, but now he’s all over the set! What will The SCG Tour star be rocking come SCG Atlanta?

This past weekend I got to enjoy playing Magic in what many believe to be its purest form: Legacy.

In a whirlwind of an event as far as games and adventures to the Northeast, I found myself barely making the Top 32 and locking up six more points, putting me back in the lead as the Season One points earner… that is, until Eli Kassis decided it was finally time for him to get a trophy!

I met Eli at the end of last year, where I had to play him in the finals of the Open at SCG Atlanta. Since then we’ve become quite friendly at events, having the occasional chat about the format at hand as well as upcoming events. It was at the previous Modern Open I attended at SCG Indianapolis that I watched him win the Standard Classic when he mentioned he had never won an Open before. Honestly, that had come as a surprise to me from the level of play I’d seen from him. However, Magic is a game of luck as much as skill, and it seems that those two finally coincided for him this weekend!

As of now, I believe I still retain my position in second place in the Season One race, with Eli having a six-point lead and Todd Stevens close on my tail, just two points back! Jim Davis also picked up six points this past weekend, and if I know former Players’ Champion Jim Davis, he’s going to give us a run for our money in the closing weeks. There are still plenty of points to be had and it’s really anyone’s game!

Moving right along, it’s preview season! It’s virtually Christmas in April! Christmas comes four times a year for us Magic players, while the rest of the Muggle world only gets it one time! Amonkhet certainly felt like it was going to be a letdown to me after the first week of seeing cards in it. There were certainly some role-players but nothing hitting it out of the park like we’ve seen in the past few sets. That being said, Wizards of the Coast definitely saved some of the heavy hitters for us for later in the season.

I want to briefly mention that my favorite Magic card of all time is Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Just putting that out there for reference, for today and all days to come.

While Nissa, Steward of Elements isn’t the same as Nissa, Vastwood Seer, it is the card in this set that has me the most excited for new Standard. This card is extremely hard to evaluate, as we’ve never had a planeswalker with “X” in its mana cost. That puts Nissa, Steward of Elements in a category entirely her own when it comes to planeswalkers, and I’m sure it will cause a lot of people to both underrate and overrate her as a card.

As a card in a vacuum, I’m in love. I’m picking one of these up as soon as I can and slamming it into my Sidisi, Brood Tyrant Commander deck (not Sidisi, Undead Vizier, just a heads-up) and it’s never coming out! The ability to set up your draws and occasionally draw an additional card is fantastic, giving a very Domri Rade feel to her. Unfortunately, Wizards will likely not print an Elvish Mystic effect for a very long time, and that may influence how much play Nissa, Steward of Elements sees since the earlier you can jam a Planewalker the better!

Now let’s look at her “ultimate.”

That’s a doozy of an ability.

While it looks like it’s something you have to build towards with the Nissa, Steward of Elements you cast on turn 3 of the game by scrying a bunch, I don’t think that’s how the card will play out. My theory is that it will be similar to how Nissa, Vastwood Seer was, where it has an effect early in the game and might trade off or get killed, but if you happen to draw her late in the game, it’s insanely powerful. Dealing ten damage for eight mana is an absurd amount of reach for any deck sporting blue and green mana. It can just serve as a Fireball to finish games against opponents without any kind of air defense or just a huge card advantage engine as a personal Howling Mine / Dark Ritual effect, putting whatever lies on top of your library onto the battlefield turn after turn!

The shape of the format might dictate if that style of deck exists in Standard, but there are certainly plenty of tools for a deck with Nissa, Steward of Elements to exist in. Building off a strategy Michael Majors mentioned on Premium earlier this week, Nissa, Steward of Elements seems like it could slide right into a Crush of Tentacles variant.

The deck certainly has legs. Awakening a Part the Waterveil into a Nissa, Steward of Elements is a ton of damage out of nowhere and could certainly be a contender with the right early-game defense. In tandem with Sylvan Advocate, those lands are a full fourteen damage in the air that few decks have answers for, not to mention what are likely to be 4/5 Sylvan Advocates coming their way as well!

My long spew about Nissa, Steward of Elements certainly is warranted. I will be testing her a ton for SCG Atlanta at the end of this month, where I’ll try to keep the trend of first-week Standard events going by breaking it!

That being said, where would I be if I didn’t look at the highlight reel of cards that could potentially be good in a B/G variant? I did say the odds of me registering Grim Flayer were very high and I stand by that. What new tools have entered the Delirium realm?

That’s quite a few cards that I could see registering in Atlanta! I’m going to hit some of the cards that I believe are home runs for any Delirium deck.

First off is the Queen of Delirium herself, Liliana, Death’s Majesty. I’m a huge fan of this card. It’s one of the more busted five-mana planeswalkers we’ve seen in recent times.

While she doesn’t play as nicely with the more aggressively slanted Delirium decks that I’ve championed in this Standard format, being able to find her off a Vessel of Nascency and then cast her and reanimate an Ishkanah, Grafwidow seems insanely powerful, as you instantly lock up the battlefield and produce a Planeswalker that can start churning out creatures to keep pace with something along the lines of a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Even with an empty graveyard, she can help build toward delirium while protecting herself with an army of the undead, as she’s grown accustomed to making these days.

Next, a pair of cards I wouldn’t mind drawing or sending to my graveyard via Grim Flayer. Never//Return as a card has clearly made me believe that this set wasn’t designed with Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch being legal in mind, as it’s clearly a replacement effect for Ruinous Path, which, under the old system, would be rotating (along with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which unfortunately we still have to deal with).

That being said, Never//Return is a card I’m sure I’ll have somewhere in any 75 mainly because of its ability to exile a card in your opponent’s graveyard. While that doesn’t seem like much, taking out a card like Scrapheap Scrounger for good can mean all the difference in a game.

Honored Hydra is the Roar of the Wurm for the Modern age! Not only is it uncounterable when Embalmed, it’s also cheaper on the front side! Having trample is a great pickup when trying to fight a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and friends, and the potential to get this as an added bonus if flipped by a Grim Flayer or Mindwrack Demon is insane. This even makes a card such as Sinister Concoction much more appealing, as flipping over cards and discarding has even more value than ever!

Embalm isn’t quite Flashback, but it certainly feels that way! Reducing variance is something I’m always a fan of when it comes to Magic, and having more things to do with your mana, even at a slightly over-costed rate, is better than not having anything to do.

Manglehorn is the answer we’ve been waiting for. I didn’t think it possible for as long as Kaladesh and Aether Revolt were legal that we would get a Viridian Shaman effect in Standard, but we got one that’s even better! I touched on this card a bit last week, so I won’t dote on it too much, but boy am I thrilled it’s here!

One card I’m not sure how it will play out is Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons. On first glance at the mana cost, the stats, and the fact that it’s a legendary creature, I thought we were in for a Golgari dream come true! However, upon further inspection I’m not sure this holds up to what I’d wanted from it.

Its first ability only works when it deals damage to a player and affects a creature on the battlefield that they either decided not to block with or they attacked with. That scenario doesn’t really seem like it would come up too often, since the drawback of them letting your Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons hit them is very high. While a cool card if you love the “Snek” tribe, it’s not one I think will see a ton of play despite being in my favorite color combination.

Cycling is a busted mechanic. It allows you to play a more situational card in your maindeck that you otherwise would be hesitant to have. Archfiend of Ifnir and Dissenter’s Deliverance are such cards where, without cycling, I wouldn’t think twice about ruling them out of my maindeck. As is, they’re at worst a slight tempo loss if we just don’t want them in our hands for the given matchup.

Cycling is going to warp the format, even if nothing is to be banned. Consistency and variance really define some decks, and increasing consistency and decreasing variance is just what cycling does. I could go on for hours about how much I love that cycling is back, but the fact that there is no B/G cycling dual (yet, I hope) makes me a little sad.

With all those cards being taken into consideration, I could see myself starting with something like this for the upcoming Open at SCG Atlanta. Mind, you this is as of when I’m writing this, so if something insane for this color combination is released after, I’m sure I could adjust accordingly.

While the exact removal configuration isn’t quite clear to me yet, Manglehorn alleviates much of the job that Grasp of Darkness was there for in killing Heart of Kiran while also being able to blow up the ever-troublesome Torrential Gearhulk. I want to see how well having Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana, Death’s Majesty would work. They each have their own merit in this style of deck and are uniquely powerful enough to make me want to give them both a try.

This is much more the controlling end of the Delirium spectrum, mainly because I think it’s the version that got the most help from the set. I can certainly see a world where Honored Hydra is the four-mana 6/6 trample creature it’s printed as and, when paired with a Verdurous Gearhulk, can give an opponent some serious trouble.

As with any new set, it’s likely best to be proactive; however, I’m not sold on the green and black aggro decks just quite yet. Perhaps with more of the set being revealed, we’ll be able to solidify what the correct build is for the new format. Until then, I’ll remain glued to the cards being revealed, much as all of you are, and be back next week with all of the remaining cards to give us some perspective on what the format is going to look like in what will be the largest card pool for Standard in a few years!