Sometimes, we don’t know what we’ve got until we see the big picture.
Growing up, my family would celebrate Christmas gift-giving in a unique way. You see, Santa had a habit of using certain presents as a hint, rather than being presents in and of themselves. His intention was to keep us guessing with a mundane item, giving us something to hint at the future without necessarily giving it away.
One year, I got a huge sleeve of AAA batteries. Well, that’s not much of a present.
What a rip-off!
A couple of presents later, in a box Santa had cleverly hidden near the base of the Christmas tree, I opened my green Game Boy Pocket, which used AAA batteries! Good one, Santa!
Another year, my sister followed Santa’s example, giving me an empty toploader and plastic sleeve as part of my stocking gifts, which we open first. Obviously, that wasn’t the present, but rather, an envelope with four Arid Mesas waited for me at the end of the gift exchange.
Of course! This last year, my mother gave my dad a display that spelled one of his favorite phrases, but one letter at a time, each individually wrapped in separate boxes that were opened throughout our yearly exchange. It wasn’t until there were only a couple of letters left that he knew what she was giving him, and that made it all the more fun. Anticipation is a key part of both giving gifts and receiving them; seeing that reaction when the pieces come together is worth waiting for.
Magic has a funny way of following a similar pattern: sometimes, cards that we can’t find a home for might just have a part to play. We just may not see the other pieces yet.
There’ll be plenty of time to talk about Aether Revolt and the huge impact its best cards will have on Standard. However, I’d like to talk about the cards in both sets from that oldest Standard-legal block that have the highest potential going into the new set. We know about Sylvan Advocate; Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. What else from Battle for Zendikar block might spring up after when we open our belated holiday present in a few weeks?
First, let’s start with two colorless-matters lands.
One of these lands has seen tons of play, while the other has been relegated to the back of your binder since its printing in Oath of the Gatewatch. Oops, gave it away.
Kaladesh and, presumably, Aether Revolt have a heavy artifact theme. As currently seen, artifacts are colorless creatures and spells, so these kinds of effects can impact either. Although they’d be in very different lists, each has the potential to explore some new space now that Aether Revolt is on its way.
As it is, I feel like a Ruins of Oran-Rief deck is close. I like the idea of a turn 2 Bomat Courier (or any after that) having an additional power, and there are many cards already that would love to have this bonus, from Scrapheap Scrounger to Electrostatic Pummeler to Reality Smasher. The colorless-only mana can be made to not matter; it’s entering the battlefield tapped that has me the most skeptical. Still, this card’s already near the floor, and the ceiling for a fun, aggressive, +1/+1-counters-matters deck is there.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods’s power is solely dependent on the efficiency of one’s ramp and the target that player is aiming for. No one cares if you have a pain-free Ancient Tomb if the colorless spells you can cast aren’t great or if the ramp to get you seven lands is inconsistent. Still, we could live in a world where Skysovereign, Consul Flagship isn’t the biggest bird in the sky, and some mightier Vehicle, even one that may not otherwise be very interesting, could come into reach with this new set.
Speaking of artifacts, Aether Revolt gives us another chance at one of their hallmark subtypes: Equipment.
If you’re like me, you were pumped up to see Stone Haven Outfitter spoiled. An aggressive white creature that pumps itself from being equipped, while also pumping and insuring other equipped creatures. Pretty rad, right? Short of reprinting a Sword of Feast and Famine or its ilk, though, it would still have to be a powerful Equipment to make this creature playable. I experimented with Captain’s Claws in a R/W Equipment deck but always found the removal plan coming up short, and ultimately I shelved the deck a few times too many to pull it out again. While Kaladesh leaned towards the Vehicle novelty, there’s still a chance for a bang-up piece of Equipment to bring this Kor to the fore.
Together, these two mythics from Battle for Zendikar threatened to take over the game when they were previewed last summer. Drana, Liberator of Malakir had a great rate, and connecting once meant your team would hit harder and harder, making it a must-kill threat. Undergrowth Champion, combined with the fetchlands and Hardened Scales from Khans of Tarkir, pushed its presale price to over $20 here on StarCityGames.com.
Neither did anything when they entered the battlefield, though, and Drana herself barely passed the vanilla test where you ask, “Would you play it only for its combat stats?” Both are one color, though, so if black aggro gets a boost or +1/+1 counters can be moved or otherwise start to matter, either of these could be the backbone of an exciting new aggro plan. Drana, Liberator of Malakir has the most to gain, but both bear mentioning. Just in case.
So, what happened to red spells?
Each of these spells was recently a part of our cadre, but since the best we’ve got is Incendiary Flow these days, I’m hopeful that Aether Revolt can jump-start red’s game. Red-based burn decks occupy a weird place in the Magic zeitgeist. Too powerful, and burn is touted as the newbie’s deck, taking little or no skill and/or money to acquire and pilot effectively. Too weak, and people start getting greedy with their mana, playing a smattering of good cards that would crumble under the pressure of a red deck.
Red should always be playable, and Stormchaser Mage and friends might have what it takes to do it. This evasive prowess creature picks up where Monastery Swiftspear left off, and I’d love to see a deck leverage the sheer velocity of this creature. Fingers crossed, Santa.
Tears of Valakut falls in line with the metagame. This two-mana uncounterable instant can kill any unprotected Selfless Spirit; Archangel Avacyn; Smuggler’s Copter; Skysovereign, Consul Flagship; or even a Dragonmaster Outcast’s Dragon token. Tears of Valakut answers some of today’s best threats, but there hasn’t been a red spells deck in a bit, so it was usually just an efficient, conditional one-for-one. If we can get more value out of it, it might start to dot sideboards and the occasional starting sixty.
Converge was a neat mechanic. I use it in my multicolor-emphasis Cube, and I find its potential considerably untapped. Beastcaller Savant had all the makings of a champion. In fact, during the first week of Battle for Zendikar Standard, I started a playset of it. The Ally synergy, combat potential (thanks to its haste), and its ability to both ramp and correct color in the absence of the recently rotated Sylvan Caryatid was enough for me to sign up. Its low stats and low top-deck potential made it ultimately an easy cut, but if the ability to produce lots of mana colors becomes relevant, we’ll know where to turn.
Bring to Light continues to hold my attention, and I always keep it in the back of my mind for its potential to offer an interesting tutor target a platform to convince regularity and reliability it’s here for the long haul. It’s always on my radar. Finally, Unified Front is still an incredibly efficient token producer if you’re on the converge plan. Four mana for four 1/1s is a great rate these days, especially as Declaration in Stone and sweepers start to take a backseat to instant-speed, targeted removal.
While I think the others have hope, it almost feels like Matter Reshaper has an oath.
Some of the few Aether Revolt spoilers we have seem to point towards converted mana cost being important, meaning there might be some high-powered, undercosted goodies waiting in the low-cost area. That offers a perfect opportunity for everyone’s favorite value 3/2. This creature, which would otherwise just cantrip, excels in a deck where casting free spells that you didn’t have to waste your draw step on will get you ahead in the battle. If cards like Yaheeni’s Expertise are any indication, Matter Reshaper has a bright future.
Hedron Alignment has to be one of my favorite cards, both from a flavor and from a wacky deckbuilding perspective. While the days of exiling Hedron Alignment easily with cards like Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise left us over a year ago, any easily activated exile effect can put this card back on the map. The idle scry ability may also interact well with the set’s cards that care about what’s on top (or near the top) of your library. My eyes are always open.
Any of these cards could have that special something to make Aether Revolt an exciting addition to Standard. As you celebrate the holidays this weekend, what cards linger in your mind, waiting to be tapped for their potential?