Shifting Ceratops And Passing The Teferi, Time Raveler Test

Teferi, Time Raveler’s strict rule for when to cast spells puts a heavy constraint on any new card entering Standard! Andrew Elenbogen looks at how Shifting Ceratops measures up to Teferi’s test!

Long ago, before the Magic community knew cantrips were broken, before the beloved plane of Innistrad existed, before Modern was a sanctioned format, there was a planeswalker…

This planeswalker was so powerful, so brutally effective, that he warped all of Standard around him. Untapping for a single turn with Jace, the Mind Sculptor was often game over, and in just a few activations he could turn a close game into a rout. Jace is a fine card now in Modern and Legacy, but in Standard he was outright broken. Eventually, Wizards of the Coast realized their mistake and banned Jace, but before that was a dark time. Casting a four-drop, only to have your opponent bounce it and guarantee an untap with Jace, was backbreaking to the point of being oppressive. As a result, no creature could see play unless it traded favorably with Jace’s minus ability or cost less than four. For the most part, this meant all playable creatures had to either be cheap or have an enters-the-battlefield ability.

The Teferi Test

In the present-day world of smartphones, the MPL, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Standard is once again ruled by a blue planeswalker. Like Jace before him, Teferi, Time Raveler is the best card in the format in no small part thanks to his bounce ability. At worst, Teferi functions as a sorcery that bounces a creature, draws a card, and gains a couple of life points. At best, he blanks a whole class of opposing interaction, draws multiple cards, and keeps the battlefield clear while other planeswalkers take over the game. He is the embodiment of cascading advantage and all of Standard revolves around him.

In light of this, allow me to introduce The Teferi Test. To pass The Teferi Test, a creature must cost two or less, provide some value when it enters the battlefield, have haste, or be somehow immune to Teferi’s bounce ability. Virtually every playable creature in Standard passes this test. Most creatures in Mono-White and Mono-Red Aggro pass the test by virtue of their cost. But the only expensive creatures that see play nowadays are cards like Gruul Spellbreaker, Hydroid Krasis, Basilica Bell-Haunt, and Skargaan Hellkite. What do these creatures have in common? They all do something when they enter the battlefield or have haste.

This brings me to one of the strongest Core Set 2020 cards previewed so far: Shifting Ceratops.

Shifting Ceratops is an amazing four-drop. It’s large enough to attack through a Basilica Bell-Haunt and its trample ability prevents it from being chumped to oblivion by Hero of Precinct One tokens. In addition, its haste ability provides some insulation against Kaya’s Wrath, as it will typically allow you to get a hit in before the Ceratops is removed. But the most exciting aspect of this card is the way it interacts with Teferi, Time Raveler and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Neither card can remove Ceratops and both uptick to five loyalty, allowing them to be taken down by a single Certatops hit.

It passes the Teferi test in the best possible way – by ignoring and one-upping the best card in Standard.

Shifting Ceratops’s Impact

In the wake of Ceratops, Esper Hero will be forced to adapt or go extinct. It will no longer be possible to rely on Teferis and Tyrants Scorns for removal if this card sees as much play as I expect it will. Hero lists, as they are currently constructed, have almost no way to answer the card. Esper lists with Kaya’s Wrath and Cast Down will have an easier time dealing with Shifting Ceratops, but it will still be moderately effective against them. It will almost always be possible to let the Ceratops remove a planeswalker or get in some crucial chip damage before it bites the dust.

That said, I do think the card’s presence will cause even more Esper players to move from Hero of Precinct One to Kaya’s Wrath. Esper players who stay with Hero might move towards Ugin, the Ineffable or Lyra Dawnbringer instead of Command the Dreadhorde in order to have more clean answers for the 5/4.

Against Izzet Phoenix, it’s important that Shifting Ceratops can gain reach. This allows it to play defense and keep back any pesky Crackling Drakes, God-Eternal Kefnets, or Arclight Phoenixes. It’s far from a foolproof plan due to Phoenix’s abundance of maindeck Lava Coils, but I can definitely imagine some games hinging on Ceratopos holding off a ten-power Drake while your other creatures finish off your opponent. I don’t think this card is going to push Phoenix out of the metagame or anything like that, but I do think it will help green decks gain percentage and make Phoenix marginally worse.

Homes for Shifting Ceratops

I think it is beyond a doubt that Shifting Ceratops will see Standard play. Teferi isn’t going anywhere, and as long as that is true, Shifting Ceratops has a niche. By far the most obvious home for the card is in Gruul, as the deck has long thrived on large, resilient, hasty creatures, and Shifting Ceratops fits right in.

For curve purposes, I think Ceratops is somewhere between a four-drop and a five-drop. Thus, I removed a mix of four-drops and Skargaan Hellkites to make space without disrupting the curve. I have long felt Rekindling Phoenix is a necessary evil because it lines up so poorly with Teferi, Time Reveler. As a result, I have trimmed to three copies here. Ceratops is pretty reasonable against the field in Game 1, but it lines up poorly against the large number of Lava Coils and Fight with Fires Mono-Red typically sideboards in. Thus, I think swapping it for Ripjaw Raptors for Games 2 and 3 of that matchup makes sense.

The other place I think Shifting Ceratops has a shot is in a dedicated Dinosaur deck alongside Marauding Raptor. The Raptor wants both Dinosaurs and proactive four-drops, so Ceratops seems like a perfect fit.

I don’t think it’s worth going all-in on the Dinosaur theme when the only real payoff is the aforementioned Raptor. However, I do think the potential to have a two-mana 4/3 Llanowar Elves is worth making some concessions. As a result, my list contains no copies of Dire Fleet Daredevil or Legion Warboss.

Growth-Chamber Guardian is slightly awkward with the Raptor, but you can still cast it on Turn 4 and activate the ability in response. Additionally, Growth-Chamber Guardian helps to mitigate flood while curving out and provides some much-needed Wrath resilience. Overall, I think it is simply too important to cut. Llanowar Elves will typically come down before the Raptor, and if it ends up being locked out later, it’s probably not the end of the world.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger in the sideboard might be utter nonsense, but I felt that winning the green mirrors could be worth a couple of slots. Also, haste is a good combo with twelve-power tramplers. This deck has a slightly higher curve than the more traditional Gruul lists, and between that and Ripjaw Raptor, it’s possible a third Domri is correct. That said, with no Legion Warboss to maximize the pump effect and with Esper decks being so low on targets nowadays, I ended up standing firm at two copies.

I have not chosen to include any copies of Reckless Rage in the maindeck. Spot removal spells that cannot hit planeswalkers are close to unplayable in the current Standard environment and I doubt Core Set 2020 will change that. In the sideboard, I can imagine a split of Reckless Rage and Lava Coil being correct, depending on our exact sideboard configuration in the relevant matchups and the popularity of Rekindling Phoenix in Core Set 2020 Standard.

As a four-mana beater, Ceratops is unlikely to see play in decks without mana acceleration of some sort and Command the Dreadhorde is totally uninterested in this sort of effect. That means the only remaining decks that might play it are Bant and Simic Ramp. I suspect that no matter how popular Teferi is, Bant Ramp will simply have superior options by virtue of its third color. However, Simic Ramp decks have historically struggled to find strong options for their last few slots and Frilled Mystic is not a playable card in a Teferi world. I’m not saying it’s likely, but I can imagine a small number of Shifting Ceratops slotting into Simic. This presupposes that players move back to Simic from Bant, which seems possible but not incredibly likely.

I will leave you with this heuristic for playing games with Shifting Ceratops: Given the choice of two threats on four mana, you should hold back Ceratops. But if times are desperate and you have no other play, make them have the Wrath! Sometimes, they simply won’t.