Rotation Regrets: Kaladesh Edition

Regrets? Chris Lansdell has a few. He recounts the paths he’ll leave untaken with the rotation of Standard and shows how studying recent near-misses can improve tomorrow’s brewing!

Standard isn’t fun to talk about right now. The number of decks and cards being held down by the existence of Collected Company is staggering, and Bant Company of various flavors continues to put up scary metagame numbers. That stranglehold is almost over, my friends, as we are less than a month away from the most wonderful time of the year: rotation.

Generally at this point I like to look at two things before I start going deep on brews with new cards: cards that are poised to get better with rotation, and cards that I never got to build around and why they never made it. The purpose of the former should be obvious; we’re getting ready for a new set and we want to be on the lookout for cards that make existing ones better. We also want to know what’s currently not being played because something else is in its spot. A perfect example of this was Nightveil Specter, a card that saw almost no play until devotion became a mechanic. Desecration Demon was similar, as the rotation of Lingering Souls made a 6/6 flying version of The Abyss into a real threat.

The latter does serve a valuable purpose too, for a few reasons. One, reprints do happen. If we know that card X was really close last time but didn’t see play because there wasn’t a card Y to push it over the top, when card X gets reprinted, we can be on the lookout for a card Y that may now be in the format. Two, cards often don’t make it because they cost too much. Sometimes we get those cards again with additional text, or with the cost reduced. While these can often be instantly recognized as good, it still helps to have the additional leg up of having thought about what the card could do before it was improved. Plus, it’s fun to look back!

I want to start this week by looking at cards that I never got a chance to play with, or that never really lived up to the hype, that will be leaving us soon. This may get a little weepy, so have the box of tissues at hand.

I loved this card the second it was previewed, and I still do. He’s actually a very powerful card: plus to draw a card and make mana? Sign me up. Of all the cards I’m listing today, I tried to put Sarkhan in the most decks. G/R ramp splashing blue, Temur Devotion, various Four-Color Walkers decks…he was never bad, but he also was never the best option in his slot. I hate playing planeswalkers in decks where I can never use their ultimate, and Sarkhan rather needs you to play some Dragons to make that work. With the best dragons being in Esper colors and Sarkhan being almost directly opposite, this never really materialized. As only the second three-color planeswalker and the first one to cost a reasonable amount of mana, I was disappointed the support wasn’t really there for him to play with his Dragons.

I am almost certainly playing Sarkhan this weekend in a Deploy the Gatewatch shell. I’m also going to keep an eye on him for Modern, though that could be a pipe dream. Five mana is a lot to ask for a card that doesn’t take over the game, and although he does that on an empty battlefield, his threat generation is probably too slow to matter. Unless we have Doubling Season, of course.

The W/R Equipment decks never came together, probably because they weren’t as aggressive as the Mono-White and W/R Humans decks and weren’t as powerful or flexible as the more middling Collected Company builds. Both of these cards would have been key players in the deck, with Relic Seeker tutoring up whatever piece of Equipment was best at the time. Often that would have been the Sword with its ability to trim the lands out of your deck while simultaneously giving you a reasonable buff. Therein lies the problem: a reasonable buff just wasn’t enough. Equipping the Sword to a landfall creature, or playing it in a landfall deck, certainly boosted that power level, but the idea never got fleshed out because the red aggressive options were so comparatively poor.

My friend Matt is currently messing around with a Soliders deck in Modern that uses Relic Seeker along with Sigarda’s Aid to fetch up cards like Godsend and the Swords along with Stoneforge Masterwork. It’s a work in progress but the build has potential. Watch this space.

As soon as I saw Undergrowth Champion get spoiled (it may have been Omnath, Locus of Rage, actually), I went deep on Animist’s Awakening. With creature-lands in the set, it seemed reasonable that a 30-plus land deck could be viable, making Animist’s Awakening that much better. It doesn’t restrict you to putting basic lands onto the battlefield, and if you manage to get spell mastery, you can untap those creature-lands right away.

The problem here was that the card was a case of making the rich richer. You needed to have an X of six or seven to really get value, and even then you needed to both hit lands and have something to do with them. Landfall triggers are the obvious choice, but very few landfall cards ended up seeing much play. For some reason I never tried to make this work, probably because Splendid Reclamation distracted me when that card came out and was essentially better in almost every way. It’s worth remembering the card exists as the effect is a powerful one, but it needs a fair bit of help. Maybe if we had better mana creatures…

On the face of it, this card is one of the most powerful creatures that has been printed in a while. If we ignore the context of the metagame and just look at the text box, we’d be hard-pressed to understand why the card wasn’t a Constructed staple. For a blue creature, the power and toughness ratio is actually very good, and the activated ability is cheap and will always have something relevant to do. Four toughness is a great spot to be in, and she’s hard to remove anyway. So what happened?

I think it was a combination of things. There hasn’t been a conventional blue control deck in Standard for quite some time. Esper Dragons and Esper Walkers have both been successful in spurts, but neither was particularly focused on drawing cards and countering spells. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Scatter to the Winds in a high-performing decklist. This is definitely a case of wrong place, wrong time. Every time I saw the card resolved, it was amazing. That she protects herself and can give herself pseudo-evasion makes her reminiscent of Aetherling. I think maybe if the card had prowess, or if the spells in Standard were better, Disciple might have had a shot. Sadly, I never once got to cast her.

When Origins was released, Chandra was one of the first cards I built around. In fact, just over thirteen months ago I wrote an article on some of the fun things we could do with her. I built and played the Ascendancy deck and loved it. Then I never played Chandra again.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, red aggressive decks just haven’t done anything. When most of their good threats have two power and one of the most played creatures in the format is a creature with three toughness and vigilance, aggression becomes difficult. In theory Chandra could have a home in a more midrange red-based deck that looks to keep the battlefield empty, but in a world of high-toughness creatures, the red removal is often not going to cut it.

I wish I thought Chandra had a future. Modern is not a forgiving format for creatures with two toughness and no haste, especially not if they cost three mana. Could we do something with some of the fast red spells like Crimson Wisps and Accelerate to combine with Chandra and go off? There’s already a U/R deck that does something similar with Blistercoil Weird and Paradise Mantle, I don’t see why we couldn’t add this version of Chandra to the mix. Another option would be in a Jeskai Ascendancy build that is less focused on comboing off.

Not much to add here, as this card suffered from almost all the same problems as Chandra. Adding a point of damage to every red removal spell is definitely strong, but by the time the Hellion is on the battlefield, we’ve likely gone through a good chunk of our removal. I should have seen that, but I was way too interested in the text box. Recurring theme, maybe?

I picked up a set of these in foil on release day, figuring they had to be good at some point. Once we learned that we were going back to Innistrad, I was convinced we’d get more value out of this card. As it turned out, we ended up wanting to diversify the card types in our graveyard and not just jamming it full of creatures, which hurt us somewhat.

Basically the only card with Nissa in the name that didn’t make it to a top-tier deck, and I am very sad about that. The fact that the card says “scry 5” on it is by itself powerful, though not worth 5GG, of course. Fortunately we are also going to draw a bunch of cards and gain a chunk of life, both things that ramp decks are happy to do at various points.

I just never pulled the trigger on this one. I don’t doubt the power level, and I would be very surprised if this card didn’t end up being heavily played in Commander for a while to come, but for some reason the only green ramp deck I have played recently has been The Great Aurora, and it isn’t in the market for this sort of card. Had the card been an instant, thereby letting us untap with a mitt full of cards and probably eight mana to spend on them, I would have been all over it.

Did anyone ever cast this card? I don’t remember actually seeing it anywhere.

Zombies never really ended up being a thing, despite having both of these powerful cards available and the synergy between them. I tried to make it work before Shadows over Innistrad and couldn’t get a reasonable list, and for some reason I never went back to it. Corpseweft actually doesn’t lend itself to a lot of the Zombies in Shadows, as they mostly want to come back from the graveyard and Corpseweft wants to eat them. This duo should have been so much better than it was.

With Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet being a major player in Modern, maybe we can do something fun and semi-powerful in mono-black with all sorts of removal, Kalitas, and these two cards. We can add in utility creatures that we don’t mind eating from the graveyard to make more giant Zombies, like Shriekmaw and Fulminator Mage, and we could also look to add red for Tymaret, the Murder-King. That deck was a lot of fun in Standard when I built it.

This combo was quickly picked up when Dragons of Tarkir was released, and I was in love with it right away. Killing people with a surprise Dragon ambush? How can that possibly be bad? Well, it turns out that needing a six-mana sorcery to make your combo work is not great, and there wasn’t exactly a lot going on in the meantime to make Dragon Tempest itself anything other than a dead card. Much like Dragonshift when that came out, this combo always tormented me every time I saw the cards in my binder, but never to the point where I tried to make it work. Were I to do so now, it would be in Temur with cards like Primal Druid that like being sacrificed, a few Dragons for value, and Sarkhan Unbroken. Then we can kill all the birds with one combat step, because if they don’t block, they’ll die horribly. Or something.

Dragons. Rawr.

Not many straight removal spells excite me, but I really liked the look of Foul Renewal. It’s an almost guaranteed two-for-one that draws you the best creature you saw this game, and at instant speed to boot. The problem was that sometimes the spell was just a dead card, and sometimes you could get more impact from other spells. It was definitely a cool idea, but Raise Dead plus Grasp of Darkness for 3B at instant speed isn’t as playable as it sounds for some reason.

Aside from the fact that the character on the card looks like The Last Airbender, this was such a cool concept. Even with U/W and Jeskai Control (and Dark Jeskai, for a while) being so popular for much of this card’s Standard run, it’s surprising it never saw much play. I have been running one in the Puresteel Paladin Equipment Storm deck for a while, and it was very powerful there. Having it in white, though, does stop it from growing quickly in Standard, as the cantrips and cheap spells tend to be elsewhere.

It should still have been fine as a grindy card, but Dromoka’s Command is a real thing. If Collected Company suppressed creatures that cost four or more and spells in general, Dromoka’s Command did the same to burn and enchantment-based decks.

Oh this poor card. Half a mana too expensive, one toughness too little, one point of lifegain too few…just short of excellent on so many fronts. I tried to play it a few times in Hardened Scales, in White Devotion, in Naya Dragons. It was never bad, but the few times it saved or won the game for me didn’t set the world on fire either. Just a frustrating place to be for a card I was sure would be a force in a U/W midrange tapout control deck…that never existed.

No Regrets

As preview season kicks into overdrive, we will take a look at cards that are about to get better, and then the new cards and the ones we’re excited to build around. Before we close up for the week, I wanted to thank those of you who came up to me at events over the last three weekends to say you enjoyed my articles. I also want to loudly thank those who have shared their creations with me. Brewing is fun, but it’s not possible to come up with original things every week, so having help from fellow brewers is always appreciated.

That’s all we have this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. I am waiting on my last flight of this epic four-week stretch of travel so I can head home for some much-needed rest and family time. Until next week…Brew On!