The end of the year is often a time of reflection and introspection. Right now we’ve got what many are hailing as the most exciting and diverse Standard environment in years, in no small part because of an apparent lack of a handful of overwhelmingly powerful Tier 1 cards. I think this might be a good time to take a look at the “forgotten” mythics and rares of Standard that might be worth a second look, if not now then maybe as the next two sets release. These cards are often “pushed” in power level by R&D so maybe we’ve overlooked some of these in the frenzy of excitement over Innistrad.
When Magic 2012 came out, the gold standard for removal was Dismember, so having a “titan” with five toughness was pretty awful—spending six mana for a creature your opponent could spend one mana (and 4 life) to remove was a massive blow to tempo. Nowadays it seems to be all about killing X/1s, so creatures like this might deserve a second look. The question of course is—what other permanent do you want to be indestructible? Since this is a big evasive clock, it strikes me that you’d want to protect something that can hold the defensive line. You know what might be the perfect complement to this? My good buddy Spellskite, a card I’m still surprised doesn’t see more play in a world with a half-dozen varieties of Kessig Wolf Run decks.
After M12 came out, I remember seeing some buzz about a mono-green “Spider” deck that was being played by a couple higher-level players as their “fun” deck. It was actually more of a Dungrove Elder deck (which has gone on to become the Wolf Run Green decks), but Arachnus Spinner is certainly a powerful spider worth keeping in mind. With lots of ways of finding it (Green Sun’s Zenith, Birthing Pod), adding one to your creature mix can be relatively painless, and Arachnus Web isn’t terrible removal in a world where there are a lot of smaller creatures running around. Let’s remember that one of the “must deal with” creatures in Standard is Hero of Bladehold. She conveniently has a power of three, which isn’t large enough to break free of the web. Of course with a Spinner in play you can pretty much negate any creature you want, outside of something like Mirrodin Crusader or something equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine. Just tap the Spinner during their upkeep, and the Web keeps them wrapped up until their end step (pretty handy Titan control). Keep in mind the Spinner’s ability has “haste”—you can use it immediately upon casting.
Of course, things would be a bit more exciting if there were a few more decent Spiders running around to play. Stingerfling Spider has been getting some love in sideboards lately, but I’m not sure if he’s maindeckable. I’m actually pretty shocked that Innistrad doesn’t give us a couple scary—and powerful—Spiders considering how scary a large Spider is naturally. Let’s keep our fingers that Dark Ascension might feature a fierce and playable Spider lower down the curve that can complement Arachnus Spinner and Arachnus Web!
This is a very powerful effect to have when played to a nearly empty board, especially since the enchantment has “haste,” taking effect on your opponent’s next upkeep and nicely handling problematic creatures with hexproof or protection from black. Of course, in today’s Standard there is very likely going to be hordes of creature tokens that will severely blunt the short-term effectiveness of Call to the Grave, so you’d want to back it up with creature-sweepers of some sort like Ratchet Bomb or Day of Judgment (Call to the Grave is easily splashable). You can break the symmetry by playing Zombies or creatures you want sacrificed… which brings to mind some of my old ideas with Glissa, the Traitor (a Zombie). Hmmm…
Djinn Of Wishes
Here’s another card that has never broken through for Standard but has a potentially powerful effect that has never been taken advantage of. The special ability is actually quite powerful, letting you effectively draw a card, play it for free (kinda), and play it at instant speed (even if it’s a creature, sorcery, enchantment, or planeswalker). The downside is that you don’t know what you’re getting for your wish unless you can stack your deck or otherwise know what’s coming. But hey, wait a minute—there’s a creature everybody’s playing that likes to know what’s coming on the top of the library—Delver of Secrets! Would a couple Djinn of Wishes not be worth playing as well? Ponder is the go-to card to manipulate or look at the top of the library, but there’s also Garruk’s Horde, Reclaim, and Noxious Revival, Druidic Satchel, and even Frantic Salvage or Brutalizer Exarch.
One idea that’s likely no better than a fun FNM deck concept: with an Inexorable Tide out, each activation of Djinn of Wishes—assuming a spell is cast—puts back another Wish counter on the Djinn (so long as one remains), so you can just keep on wishing, over and over and over and over…
There’s no doubt that this card can do some crazy things… but if you rip it off the top of your deck and your opponent has cleared the board, it’s a blank. There are creatures that your opponent tends to go out of their way to not kill—things like Viridian Emissary and Solemn Simulacrum—that you can use as Doubling Chant insurance. I was also thinking of Charmbreaker Devils, which can let you cast that Doubling Chant over and over again. Of course, any creatures with sweet “enters the battlefield” abilities makes the Chant doubly good—Fiend Hunter, Phyrexian Rager, Entomber Exarch, Glimmerpoint Stag, Stonehorn Dignitary, and Acidic Slime. Village Bell-Ringer might be something interesting to pair up with creatures that tap for mana.
Some folks have messed around with this card in Necrotic Ooze decks, and I’ve written my opinions on that before, but I think Jace’s Archivist is more interesting to consider in a deck that is loaded up with tempo-stealing cards, especially ones that put opponent’s cards back in their hand. Unsummon, Silent Departure (with flashback!), Steel Sabotage, Vapor Snag, Disperse, Aether Adept, Lost in the Mist—there’s a lot of bounce in the format!
We saw a little bit of activity with Quicksilver Amulet when there were Eldrazi to cast, but since they rotated out, QA has totally vanished from sight. Still, there’s something to be said about playing creatures at instant speed even if they aren’t gigantic monsters, and with Grand Architect, the mana cost can easily be achieved. Blightsteel Colossus is still around and is certainly something you wouldn’t mind cheating in.
What’s nice about this Howling Mine variant is that you yourself can actually get a jump-start on one of the benefits by playing an extra land yourself the same turn you play the Rites. Of course, this is a pretty sweet casual Commander card, but it’s always tickled my brain as an interesting ramp spell in a deck that wants to accelerate to the late game fast.
I loved Warp World, but it was hardly a format-dominating spell, so it really seems weird that they went out of their way to make a “fixed” version that’s clearly so much worse. Still, the Timmy in me loves to chew on this card and ponder what the heck a Scrambleverse deck would look like. Ideally, to break the symmetry, you’d want to have fewer permanents than your opponent does, so odds would be you’d end up gaining permanents while your opponent would be losing out. Or load up on cards with global effects where it wouldn’t matter who controls it. The high cost would suggest using cards that let you convert permanents into mana. Odds are pretty slim that a Scrambleverse deck would ever be competitive in Standard, but it’s such a strange and potent effect that it might be worth turning over in your mind whenever a new set comes out.
The last time Sutured Ghoul was around there was a combo deck that could power out a hasty, trampling, lethally large creature based on chowing down on a lot of creatures in the graveyard. What’s nice to have in those situations are creatures with sliding-scaled power and toughness that key off creatures in the graveyard, and we have that in Boneyard Wurm and Splinterfright, so if you’ve got a way to dump a ton of creatures into the graveyard, stitch those X/X creatures into Sutured Ghoul to make him really gigantic.
Historically, “draw 7” cards have been extremely powerful and dangerous, so it’s interesting to an old-schooler like myself that Time Reversal hasn’t registered on the radar at all. Seems like a pretty sweet card to cast at instant speed off Djinn of Wishes doesn’t it? As we dig deeper into Innistrad block and its “graveyard matters” theme, the fact that this card shuffles graveyards back into decks might just be the right answer to the puzzle at hand.
When this came out, we were still in the throes of easy mana-color-fixing, and even now it’s still pretty easy to pull together multi-color decks. However, there has still been some movement back towards providing some potent reasons to go monocolor with cards like Lashwrithe. Of course, any of the colors might have crazy powerful things to do ramping from 6 to 12 mana… it would certainly complement a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger deck, and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur would be a pretty backbreaking use of ten mana.
Holding up four mana for something that may or may not happen (creatures of yours dying) is not something you typically want to be doing, but as fast as these token decks are, I can’t help but wonder if a couple copies of Fresh Meat might not be bad to have in your deck, especially with cards like Gavony Township that give you something to do with that mana you were holding up.
When this first came out, people kicked around the idea of pairing this with Melira, Sylvok Outcast to provide a soft-lock that was pretty soft considering how easy Melira is to kill. However, now we’ve got Tree of Redemption around as yet another way to climb out of the life hole you’ve dug for yourself and one that is much more resilient (and green, for consideration with Green Sun’s Zenith). One hurdle remains—Phyrexian Unlife is an on/off switch, so drawing multiple copies is as good as having drawn a blank card, so if we can find a way to get around that downside there might be something interesting here.
Standard certainly seems defined by creature battles, and as such graveyards quickly get filled up, so it seems to me that a colorless Lhurgoyf that, if killed, leaves his shell behind for subsequent creatures to suit up should be seeing play, especially with such a reasonable equip cost. Even so, we can’t ignore the fact that Moorland Haunt blunts its effectiveness (which suggests to me that Acidic Slimes should be part of any deck featuring Bonehoard).
The new-school token decks are particularly resistant to sweeper spells, being able to quickly reload and flood the board with little guys. Seems to me that any deck packing Day of Judgment wouldn’t be poorly served by also including a couple Phyrexian Rebirths to sweep the board while putting a potentially decent clock out there at the same time.
I’ve seen Karn Liberated popping up in decks and sideboards here and there, and there’s no doubt he’s quite a potent force, but something always keeps dragging me around to Spine of Ish Sah… cards like Phyrexia’s Core, Throne of Geth, Piston Sledge, Kuldotha Forgemaster, sacrificing Spine and replaying it over and over… something deep inside me feels like there’s got to be something there, you know?
SCARS OF MIRRODIN
This powerful piece of equipment demands a gigantic investment of mana—twelve is just insane, and something we don’t really see being worth paying even in Commander. When we had Quest for the Holy Relic, Kor Outfitter, and Stoneforge Mystic around, it was worth running one since you could circumvent some or all of the mana investment. Without those cards, Argentum Armor has certainly dropped off the radar… but now we’ve got Puresteel Paladin around to cut out the equip cost, and we’ve still got Treasure Mage around to search up a single copy (perhaps alongside Grand Architect).
There are a lot of token decks running around. Tokens that are returned to owner’s hand go poof. Hmm…
When I was doing work on Heartless Summoning, one thing I kept an eye out for were creatures where having a smaller size was negligible compared to the benefit of casting it for less mana. In the black/green versions, I thought about Glissa, the Traitor—even though I couldn’t cast her cheaply off the Summoning due to her not having any colorless mana in her casting cost, I realized that a 2/2 first-striking deathtouch creature was still just as lethal to most all creatures as a 3/3 version. Engulfing Slagwurm impresses me similarly, considering its ability doesn’t care how small the Slagwurm might be. A 6/6 for five is perfectly fine, thank you very much.
In early 2011 I kicked around pairing up Ezuri’s Brigade with Glissa, the Traitor. Glissa can help ensure metalcraft, which makes Ezuri’s Brigade into a huge threat. I really miss Basilisk Collar, which certainly loves to be equipped on a trampler. I’m not sure that Glissa and the Brigade can’t get the band back together with the right mix of artifact support.
We had some fun with Genesis Wave back when the Elf tribe had some love (and we could Wave into some protection for them with Eldrazi Monument). Elves and the Monument went away, and we Waved goodbye. There are still ways to generate crazy amounts of mana, and there’s no doubt this card can do some really powerful things so let’s not forget about it as we stumble across big mana scenarios.
I was going to dig into some uncommons for this exercise, but I think it’s gone long enough. So I’m wondering—what do you think? Are any of these cards worth dusting off and trying out again?
I won’t be able to make FNM tonight, but I do plan on hitting Richmond Comix for some Commander a little bit later, maybe I’ll see you there?
Take care, and Happy New Year!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)