Rising From The Ashes

Magic Origins is set to shake up Standard, and Matt is excited to see it coming – but he also wants to take one last spin with the old format and make Deadly Wanderings finally work out.


…Oh! Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Oh, I was looking at the Magic Origins spoiler. Yeah, it looks pretty good; see, I’m a brewer so a lot of these spells really… the building’s burning down? Eh, well, I’ll just put on a fire blanket if that’s OK, I’ve almost memorized them all. Thanks, Mr. Fireman.”

Ever feel like that? For me, I hang on new spoilers like paparazzi clings to a B-list celebrity. I can’t wait to just catch a glimpse. It’s madness, really; a spoiler is released on your preferred site and even though it’s out of focus, smudged, or even in another language, we scramble to figure out what it says, what it really does for the game, and how it might affect Standard for the next eighteen months. As Magic fans, we just can’t help ourselves.

So far, Magic Origins has been a funny spoiler. There’s no honest-to-goodness planeswalkers, i.e. you have to work for them all to get their spark, so everything becomes a little trickier. However, all the planeswalkers, once flipped, are a great deal for their mana cost. Now that they’re all spoiled in their official form, I wanted to look each one to see their potential in our future Standard.

So Gideon was born Kytheon on the plane of Theros, huh? Part of me has to wonder if this was the plan all along, that when Gideon first appeared in Rise of the Eldrazi, if they knew his home plane. Regardless, Kytheon, Hero of Akros is a super card. Along with all of the other mono-white goodies spoiled from the set so far, Kytheon is everything you want in a one-drop: efficiency, durability, and late-game potential. Kytheon’s ability to flip means that racing a 2/1 just got a lot more complicated. The fact that he has indestructibility is outstanding; late-game, you can’t kill him, so you’ll be better of targeting the creatures that would attack alongside him. With cards like Raise the Alarm or even a pair of Ornithopters, he can easily transform. Right now he carries a $24.99 price tag, and a 2/1 for one with indestructibility is great, but that price comes with the assumption you’ll flip him regularly enough to make a long-term impact. As a tricky player, I dig his second ability more than either his first or third one. The fact you can untap and semi-permanently protect a creature is both exciting and flavorful. I can’t wait to figure out all the ways we can use that.

As usual, Jace’s newest iteration is drawing criticism, but It might easily be the best planeswalker in the new set. Everyone loves Merfolk Looter, and considering that M15 gave us Research Assistant, any “free” looting ability is nice. People are concerned about the need for five cards in the yard to flip, but there’s a fair number of Standard decks that can do that without much adjustment. Two fetchlands, a Thoughtseize on turn one, and a Hero’s Downfall on turn three is all you need to turn that Jace frown upside-down. You can even flash the Thoughtseize back then. Jace is very easy to activate, and moreover, in the late game he’ll always be able to flip. And remember, he’s getting rid of the worst card in your hand while he’s at it! Maybe my preference for Jace comes from my love of two-mana planeswalkers, but I’m a huge fan of Jace. All it’ll take is to see one pin down your solo attacker once to see how great he is. Get yours now, y’all.

We’ve known about Liliana for a while, and while this is no Liliana of the Veil, she’s definitely interesting. Broadly phrased text makes me happy; any nontoken creature dying, no matter how, can trigger her ability. I’ve seen plenty of forum posts about her implications in Modern where free sacrifice outlets like Viscera Seer abound, but absent that, where does she belong in Standard?

Honestly, I see her in mono-black Humans. Can’t you picture her coming in alongside Bloodsoaked Champion? The fact that she has lifelink makes Obelisk of Urd or Hall of Triumph all the juicier. You can always throw a Mardu Shadowspear or Bloodsoaked Champion headlong into a fight with her out, threatening the flip. And if your opponent lances Liliana the moment you cast her, all the better – you’re still beating them to death with 2/1s! You can offset the discard with Pain Seer, and being able to return low-cost creatures means she could come out, recover three one-drops and bite the dust. Some have written her off, but I think that, like every necromancer, you have to work with what you find.

Chandra gets a bad rap; most people think that, when compared to other flagship planeswalkers, she has gotten the short end of the stick. Even now, Chandra, Pyromaster has only seen a marginal amount of play as a one- or two-of in some Mardu decks, while cards like Jace, Architect of Thought or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion have seen plenty of play since being released. No matter: this is a whole new Standard.

The fact is, she untaps at the drop of the hat: really, you’re going to play her in a red deck, so she will untap frequently. Red is the color of haste, too, and with lots of haste generators in the format it’s not hard to hit with her, cast another cheap red spell and flip her. While most Chandra +1s have been underpowered, Chandra, Roaring Flame will kill someone in a hurry. If someone cast a Chandra with you at eight life, most people aren’t worried. What if they cast it while you were at four life? Scarier then, huh? Her -2 is underpowered, in my mind (Flame Slash is hard to come by, these days), but her ultimate makes even the durdliest of Mastery of the Unseen decks nervous. There’s a lot of potential here, and literally every red spell spoiled over the next eighteen months makes her better. Sign me up.

Hailing from our next stop in Standard, Zendikar’s own Nissa unsurprisingly returns with a land theme. However, she’s the first one that I actually like as much as a creature as I do as a planeswalker. Lots of people think her “seven-land flip” clause is asking a lot, but I beg to differ. You only need to draw six land, first of all. Plus, with cards like Explosive Vegetation (which I still can’t believe is both Standard legal and seeing no play), the seven land cap is a snap. Once she’s flipped she becomes Courser of Kruphix’s best friend, powering up her +1 as definitive card draw; no surprise what you’re getting. While making unlimited 4/4s with Nissa, Worldwaker was a bit better in my mind, making the odd 4/4 with Nissa, Sage Animist will sometimes be the right play. Regardless, she’s a Borderland Ranger with upside, and while potentially the most pigeonholed of the planeswalkers, she nevertheless is a critical role-player in big green decks, much like her alternate form that’s currently Standard legal.

Dozens of other cards have been spoiled, but I wanted to get my two cents in about the format’s newest planeswalkers before moving on to the deck of the day, which itself hearkens back to the past.

Yeah, this card again.

After a crushing defeat at the SCG Open Series in Indianapolis two weekends ago, I decided to shift the deck around a bit. Several weeks ago, while brewing with Deadly Wanderings, I’d actually started with a blue and black Haunted Plate Mail version of the deck for nostalgia’s sake.

I played it at a Wednesday night event and went 3-0. It was full of all the removal, lifegain, and planeswalkers necessary to close a game down. So why didn’t I cover that version?

I’m embarrassed to say it, but it was actually a bit of a bore to play. Turns out that when I need two cards to take control of the game, it feels a lot less exciting to draw those two. “Okay, I’ve got this creature you can’t target and something that lets me gain life every turn. Oh, you’re holding dead Ultimate Prices? Game two?” That just wasn’t very fun and, in the end, it led to fairly linear games that weren’t very exciting or inspiring. So, dare I say it, but: Haunted Plate Mail was not really what I wanted.

So in casting off the most ideal of candidates for this deck, where does that leave us?

Homicidal Seclusion, in my mind, is a far superior card, but the newest version does bring something novel: deathtouch.


Dragons that deal damage (and thus gain life), combined with supportive cards and even an overpriced Rakdos Keyrune? Spicy!

Now we’re cooking!

Whip of Erebos is superior to Homicidal Seclusion and Deadly Wanderings in most every way, but if we can augment its already-considerable power we can make something truly interesting and fun. Thunderbreak Regent, which is already plenty strong, gets a lot better when its trigger also gains you three life. Similarly, Stormbreath Dragon’s monstrous ability can gain you plenty of life, both with the damage trigger and by making your lifelinking Dragon downright huge. Dragonlord Atarka, when cast alone with Deadly Wanderings, can decimate a board and gain you five life thanks to that quite-peculiar gift of deathtouch, while Atarka, World Render, can deal eleven to an opponent even if they block thanks to the fact that deathtouch allows you to trample the rest of the damage past the first right over. Harbinger of the Hunt is perhaps the funniest. With 4RG, you can annihilate the board, gaining life for each creature you kill, and no matter what your opponent plays, you can kill it dead on the spot thanks to deathtouch. Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury allows you to create the single creature from nothing, retreating at the end of turn to emulate the spirit of Haunted Plate Mail. Moreover, if you happen to have several Dragons out, Kolaghan will flat-out win you the game. Ashcloud Phoenix also has a cute interaction: when turned face-up, you gain two life (you smack yourself for two and them for two, gaining four life and netting two.) The fact that the Phoenix is hard to kill also earns it a place in the sideboard for removal-heavy decks. Add in some Dragon-matters spells and Anger of the Gods and you got something fun on your hands!

I played this over the past week at a casual Standard event and tested it out with my friends. I found that, except maybe against mono-red when I didn’t draw Anger of the Gods, there weren’t many matches I was losing. The creature base was durable, and even when I didn’t draw the “combo” the Dragons were powerful enough to handle the job themselves. Dragonlord Atarka is really good, after all, and is perhaps the nastiest Whip of Erebos target ever. Mob Rule was great, as it also was in the Open Series event, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker found a very cozy home here. He’s been overlooked these days, but Sarkhan still comes to play.

The MVP for this deck surprised me, though:

That’s right, the mana rock. When playing the U/B Haunted Plate Mail version, I often found that the fact that the Plate Mail activated for zero was not important. By that point, I had tons of mana. Thus, paying for the evasive version while having a mana ramp artifact on the side was really critical. Lots of cards in this deck cost five mana, and even the four-mana ones proved difficult to hit sometimes. I wasn’t sad to draw extra Monuments as they just let me get to the point where I could animate and attack and still have a spell up. It even becomes a Dragon, and while I only did it once, I did activate the Monument defensively once just to cast Foul-Tongue Invocation for value. The reason G/R Dragons is the best form of Dragons is because it reliably hit its flyers on-time or early, and the Monument helped me emulate that. Otherwise, the mana was perfect in this configuration and it was a lot of fun to play. It felt dense, powerful, and if I had it to do all over again, I would have played it at the Open instead of the pile I sleeved up.

Even now, the Magic Origins spoiler is growing, and soon it’ll be time to head to a Core Set prerelease, the last of its kind, and although I’m sad my favorite kind of prerelease will be disappearing, I’ll savor it one last time.

Out of the new planeswalkers, which ones do you think are being overvalued? Which are break-out ‘walkers that will dominate the next three months of Standard? Are all of them trash, or does every one have a special place in the future of the game?