At the release of a new Magic set, one of my favorite activities is
my list of the top 10 cards in the set
for the GAM Podcast. When we record the episode, the new cards exist in a
beautiful state of raw potential, unburdened by context.
And then reality hits. Formats will always have self-imposed limitations.
Sometimes these limitations manifest in the form of oppressive strategies
or single cards.
Other times, promising cards simply won’t receive the support that we would
There are many reasons why a card that has an appropriate, or even
intimidating, power level for Standard might fail to see play. Context is
everything, but the great thing about the context surrounding Standard is
that it’s constantly changing. We’re currently amid the biggest context
change of them all: rotation. What better time to review the cards that
never found a chance to shine in older iterations of Standard? And let’s
not mess around with the cards that saw sporadic play. I want to delve into
the true disappointments of the past year. Let the airing of grievances
10. Legion’s Landing
4. Ruin Raider
has spent its time in Standard in the very long and looming shadow of Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks. Kaladesh andAmonkhet blocks combined to produce an almost unfathomable six banned cards, and the cards that survived
banning were of a power level that made much of Ixalan look quaint
by comparison. Five cards on my top 10 list stand out for having seen
almost no play.
Having done a bunch of these top 10 lists now, I can confidently say that
planeswalkers are the most difficult card type to evaluate. In the case of
Jace, Cunning Castaway, I let dreams of Modern combos with Doubling Season
and tempo-based blue Pirate decks trick me into believing Jace was ready
for the big stage once more. He wasn’t. He still isn’t. None of the modes
of this card do enough, even with jump-start spells in a deck. It’s telling
that a mono-blue deck ultimately came to fruition, and Jace, Cunning
Castaway still didn’t get in the mix. Let’s let this version of Jace sail
away in peace.
I want to talk about these two cards together, because I still believe they
are destined to produce a worthwhile archetype. Compare Tishana to Regal
Regal Force is a card that has dominated multiple Eternal formats. Tishana
is almost certainly a better card. While Goblin Chainwhirler has
ceaselessly prevented us from going wide, its support staff is at an
all-time low. I’m currently singing the praises of linear Izoni,
Thousand-Eyes decks, as you can see in today’s edition of What We’d Play.
Perhaps with Tishana and Growing Rites of Itliimoc in the mix, our deck can
start to do some comboing.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Druid of the Cowl
- 3 Tishana, Voice of Thunder
- 2 Elfhame Druid
- 4 Elvish Rejuvenator
- 2 Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
- 4 District Guide
- 4 Beast Whisperer
Unclaimed Territory fixing for both Izoni and Tishana is a nice get, and
when this deck explodes, it will be a thing of beauty. I’m sure this shell
needs refinement, and probably a better payoff, but there’s something here.
The path forward for Ruin Raider is not quite as clear. Raider continues to
have the potential to shine in a low-curve aggressive black deck, but the
other pieces for such a deck are not forthcoming. I have a feeling this is
a card which must sit on the sidelines for one more set. Once the Rakdos
guild arrives on the scene, we can return to Ruin Raider.
This is the card that I’ve been dreading talking about since his article
first gestated in my mind. Number one card in the set. Really me? It helps
my conscience that I was not alone in overvaluing this dumb Dinosaur, as
the Magic community at large was expecting big things. A lot of my ranking
was drawn from a belief that WotC wouldn’t wait almost 25 years to
introduce Dinosaurs to Magic: the Gathering only to see them arrive with a
thud. This was silly for a few reasons.
First, it assumes that internal playtesting can accurately predict
metagames. This is not meant to be a knock against anyone associated with
the design process; it’s just a simple reality that no small group of
people, no matter how talented they may be, is going to be able to mine and
extrapolate data as well as the hive mind.
Second, this could just be a false statement, and WotC was fine with the
chips falling where they may, knowing that a huge portion of their player
base was going to enjoy the presence of Dinosaurs in Ixalan
whether they were Tier 1 in Standard or not.
Regardless of the reason, I was just way off base here. Walking Ballista
had better things to do with its counters, and a four-mana creature without
an enters-the-battlefield ability was not cut out for Kaladesh
Fast forward to the present day, and this card begins to look more
appealing, but it’s still competing with Steel Leaf Champion and Nullhide
Ferox. Both cards seem more in line with what green aggro currently wants
to do. We need an incentive to float towards the midrange end of the
spectrum, and while Sarkhan’s Unsealing is a nice start, I have a feeling
we will have to check back when the Gruul arrive.
Rivals of Ixalan
It seemed like Rivals of Ixalan was destined to be the set that
paid off tribal promises first made in Ixalan, and this colored my
thinking throughout the composition of my Top 10 list.
4. Blood Sun
The premium exile-based removal has been dramatically reduced with the
departure of the Gods from Standard. If things truly are shifting towards
midrange battlefield stalls, Tetzimoc, Primal Death still has time to make
its presence felt. Consider the following deck from the first round of
Magic Online results.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Thrashing Brontodon
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 3 Knight of Grace
- 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 3 Doom Whisperer
- 4 Knight of Autumn
If a deck like this becomes a large portion of the metagame, Tetzimoc,
Primal Death might find itself primed to play the role of lategame mirror
breaker. Getting multiple uses out of a Tetzimoc with Find also appeals to
my inner desire to grind.
As I mentioned, I convinced myself that it was impossible for tribal
strategies not to get a boost from Rivals of Ixalan. These were two of the best Vampires, therefore
they must be two of the best cards in the set, right?
Both cards suffer from the double whammy of 1) reading much more powerful
than they actually are and 2) occasionally failing the Goblin Chainwhirler
test. While I think Paladin of Atonement is just not a very good card in
most instances, Elenda, the Dusk Rose would have been tremendous in several
decks throughout history. Basically, any strategy that looked to lean on
reusable sacrifice outlets like Falkenrath Aristocrat or Nantuko Husk would
have loved to see Elenda, the Dusk Rose on their side of the battlefield.
Such an outlet does not currently exist in Standard. If this changes, I’m
coming back to this card immediately.
This made the list as a Modern card and has failed even in that role.
Remember: easy to overcome speed bumps don’t stop Karn.
If we’re willing to buy into the premise that Goblin Chainwhirler’s
metagame share will be decreasing, is it possible that this deck is just
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 3 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
- 1 Seafloor Oracle
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 4 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
Maybe? Good draws seem on par with the format, we’ve gained a way to
mitigate flood and get more lords in Quasiduplicate, and we’re not the only
deck dealing with a hamstrung manabase. Being removal-light is always
painful, but the creatures in the format are a lot more “ball of stats” ala
Nullhide Ferox, and less “card advantage on a stick” like The Scarab God
and Glorybringer. Stats are something our ball of Merfolk are going to be
able to produce in spades, so I like our chances in that world. I’m going
to give this one a few games before I write it off, and any reasonable
Simic card in the next set could get us to the top of the metagame.
10. Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle
3. Cast Down
Teshar took a speculative tenth place on this list based on the possibility
that it might be able to cobble together an infinite combo. While Teshar
popped up from time to time, the pieces never quite came together, and it’s
hard to imagine that there will ever be a better opportunity to do
something broken than there was with Kaladesh in the format. That
being said, Mox Amber is still around so who knows what the future may
I played Unwind to decent effect in early builds of Pull from
Tomorrow-based Azorius Control, but the card ultimately proved to be worse
than Negates one through four. Unwind was a card looking for a specific
purpose. How about the following?
Consider this more of a proof of concept than an actual working deck. By
adding Unwind, you gain means of early interaction while preserving access
to an actual combo kill in the lategame. I don’t know how many slots you
need to give to win conditions, or if you can just successfully Dispersal
your opponent into nothingness in most matchups. While I don’t think this
is ultimately what will carry Unwind to playability, it’s a neat project
for dedicated combo tinkerers.
See the Tishana section above for a sample of what can be done with Song of
Freyalise. Anyone who has played Dominaria Limited knows what this
card is capable of and with District Guide and Elvish Rejuvenator in the
format, we’re approaching a critical mass of cards that ensure reliable
access to large amounts of mana. I still think this card is destined for
Core Set 2019
10. Nexus of Fate
3. Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
2. Graveyard Marshall
Core Set 2019
felt like a set with a reigned in power level. Several of these cards felt
like stabs in the dark, and I can’t say I’m surprised they’ve struggled to
find footing. Is there anything here worth a second look?
Abrade is gone. Want to exploit a powerful artifact?
- 4 Reassembling Skeleton
- 2 Deadeye Tracker
- 2 Squee, the Immortal
- 1 Plague Mare
- 3 Dark-Dweller Oracle
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 3 Midnight Reaper
- 3 Burglar Rat
- 4 Plaguecrafter
A Standard where this style of deck is good would be a beautiful place
indeed. I don’t know if our cards are good enough to get away with zero
removal, and our manabase is strained to say the least. Oracle is an
absolute house here, virtually assuring that we will never run out of gas
in the lategame. I still buy that Oracle is the right type of value for a
very specific style of deck. It just remains to be seen if the supporting
cast is up to the challenge.
Here is the list of new Standard-relevant activated abilities on creatures
and lands in Guilds of Ravnica:
I do see Runic Armasaur as a valid sideboard option against Boros,
especially given its impressive size, but it’s hard to believe it will ever
be the best option. Still passing for now.
Is it finally time for Resplendent Angel to soar above the battlefield
without repeatedly running into a wall of Rekindling Phoenixes and
Glorybringers? Bertram thinks so.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Knight of Grace
- 4 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 3 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
Going full Angel tribal with Lyra Dawnbringer playing team captain, Bertram
leaned on the quirky Deafening Clarion to hold the fort until the giant
flying beaters showed up. Deafening Clarion also has the notable upside of
allowing your Resplendent Angels to begin token production nice and early
in the game. It’s hard to envision losing a lot of games where Resplendent
Angel gets to make even a single token. Resplendent Angel also is thrilled
to see the departure of Abrade from the format. Three toughness feels just
a little safer these days and maybe that’s all this Angel needed to take to
It’s great to see so many cards getting a second chance at life, and many
more just chomping at the bit for the right print. Make no mistake about
it: Kaladesh block was oppressive. Otherwise great cards were lost
in the shuffle of many a Glorybringer; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Heart of
Kiran; and Scarab God. Now’s our chance to right those wrongs and dig back
into these four lost sets. I can’t wait to see what resurfaces next.