Specters, Elves, and Jesters: 9th Edition in Standard

How big of a change will hit us on August 20? Let’s start off looking at each color, covering their gains and losses. Then we’ll look at the biggest changes overall, see how some of the popular archetypes are affected, and maybe even come up with a meaningful answer.

On August 20, 9th Edition becomes legal and the Standard format as we know it will change. Then on October 20, Ravnica replaces Mirrodin block. I’m going to focus on the first change to the format, occasionally mentioning some 9th Edition gems that will be significant in the longer run.

How big of a change is August 20? Let’s start off looking at each color, covering their gains and losses. Then we’ll look at the biggest changes overall, see how some of the popular archetypes are affected, and maybe even come up with a meaningful answer.

White Gains

Gift of Estates

A one-shot Land Tax is still pretty impressive and shuffle effects are always welcome with Sensei’s Divining Top at large, but what kind of deck can really abuse this?

White Weenie can play a low land count and would like to have more consistent draws, but casting Gifts rather than playing a threat is bad for your tempo. If you do include Gifts, then you’d want something else to do with those extra lands, like some sort of expensive spell. Then you end up playing a deck with a low land count, Gifts, and expensive spells, making your big spells conditional on resolving Gifts. “Conditional” is a code word for bad in beatdown decks.

Control decks would love to nail down the next three land-drops with certainty, but how do you make sure that you end up a land down from your opponent? If you’re on the draw, this may be easy, but surely you don’t want to skip a land drop.

Maybe this is one of those cards that you only sideboard in when you’re on the draw. Sideboard space is valuable, though, and wouldn’t you want to bring in a card that has a more dramatic effect in match-ups?

Leonin Skyhunter

This is a staple in all White Weenie builds, so it’s worth noting that it will stick around after Mirrodin block rotates out.

Soul Warden

Back in the day, this was a fantastic one-drop for White Weenie. Now, it’s not as exciting, since white Flying Men, Hounds, and Lions can also be summoned for the same mana cost. If your opponent can’t destroy the Warden, you’ll have one hell of an edge in any damage race, but Red decks are quite popular now, so Auriok Champion is a much better choice.

The Thinking Man's White creature.

Weathered Wayfarer

This is exactly what White needs to become more interesting and diverse: A creature with brains. This could be great sideboard material against the Mono-Blue control decks, allowing you to thin lands out of your deck and improve your draws. Like Gifts of the Estate, it’s Top friendly too. Don’t forget that this Cleric can search out non-basic lands too. While Green and Blue are dominating Urzatron engines now, after Mirrodin is replaced by Ravnica the return of Urzatron White Control might be possible.

White Losses

White loses next to nothing in 9th Edition. The only two noteworthy cards I see are Intrepid Hero and Karma. While the Hero hasn’t seen play in some time, it represents one of White’s precious few interesting creatures and gives White the extremely rare ability to repeatedly destroy creatures.

Karma hasn’t been popular either, but it was a silver bullet lying in waiting for the time that Black decks once again appear in force. With all the great black cards in Saviors of Kamigawa, along with the return of Hypnotic Specter, that time might not be far off.

Blue Gains


When this is one of Blue’s best additions, you know that 9th has been unkind to the mages who like to say “no.” Is this better than Shifting Borders? Annex is card advantage, but you can’t steal lands with it at instant speed. Plus, Tooth and Nail has an answer thanks to Oblivion Stone. Annex is an option, but overall it seems blah. Blue has better things to do, such as ridiculous combos with Twincast and Uyo, Silent Prophet.

Battle of Wits

Wow! I didn’t expect this. It’s five mana and says “I win.” Thanks to 9th Edition, 250-card decks are once again viable.


I am so psyched to see this card reprinted. It’s one of my favorite Blue cards ever. Beyond its innate cool factor, this card ensures that Proteus Staff style decks can continue to exist once Mirrodin is gone.

Sleight of Hand

Gradually, the base set has been reining in the power of Blue’s card drawing. Apparently Inspiration and Concentrate were too good to include in 9th Edition. Good card drawing may be a thing of the past in base sets, but at least Blue gets an efficient way to manipulate its library. However, for the immediate future Sleight of Hand will be overshadowed by Serum Visions, since the latter lets you dig deeper and has better synergy with Sensei’s Divining Top.

Blue Losses

Blue loses tons of cards. Topping the charts is Bribery, a once effective weapon against Tooth and Nail and a constant threats against any deck that likely fatties. Next up is Hibernation, the mass-Unsummon that punishes Green mages. Then we have two uniquely aggressive cards: Curiosity and Spiketail Hatchling. Originally, I thought those two spells might herald the return of an aggro-control Blue build, perhaps similar to Blue Skies or the Mercadian Masques era. So much for that idea. Finally, we have Intruder Alarm, which has always left Blue with an interesting potential combo engine.

Black Gains

Consume Spirit

The improved Drain Life won’t disappear after the Artifact block rotates away, so Mono-Black Control will retain the card drawing engine with Phyrexian Arena and Consume Spirit.

Hypnotic Specter

If I had to list the creatures that would never see the light of day in 9th Edition, this one would be pretty close to the top. Random discard is back, starting as early as turn 3, courtesy of Chrome Mox. Whether you’re following controlling or aggressive strategies, the Specter will probably find a home.

Black Losses

Unlike the other colors, I can’t think of a single important card that Black loses. There are some solid, if specialized creatures, like Phyrexian Plaguelord and the Paladins that leave the format, but nothing really important is going away.

Red Gains

Boiling Seas

This is really a loss, because Boil is strictly superior. Was Boil overpowered? Maybe a little bit. After sideboarding it was hard for MUC to do anything in the early game when it always had to leave counter mana open against Boil. Even tapping out for Thirst for Knowledge at the end of the Red Mage’s turn was dangerous. Thus, Boil becoming a sorcery represents one of the few breaks for Blue mages in 9th Edition.

Form of the Dragon

Here’s another card I’m very happy to see. What Weathered Wayfarer does for White, this spell does for Red. It adds diversity. As a Moat and a win condition, it opens up interesting possibilities for Red control decks.

Kird Ape

Turn 1: Mountain/Karplusan Forest, Kird Ape

Turn 2: Forest, swing for 2

Two-power creatures for one mana are among the most precious assets for Red mages. Think of how long Jackal Pup ruled Constructed and Extended. With Kird Ape returning, this opening may define the next generation of R/G Beatdown.


Another oldie but goldie returns. No doubt, you have to construct an entire deck around this Lhurgoyf, but I’m willing to go that route for a fat, hasty Red creature.

Rathi Dragon

This card features some of my favorite art ever. Thank goodness Wizards didn’t pull a Serra Angel and “update” the artwork. Remember how bad the 8th Edition art was that replaced Serra Angel’s classic look? At least the 9th Edition version is an improvement.

Ye be talking like a Py-rate or ye be walkin the plank, may-tey.

Seething Song

The Red Ritual has been powering out big spells in a variety of decks since it first appeared in Mirrodin. Having a solid mana accelerator in the core set represents an important addition to Red repertoire.

Shard Phoenix

Though the Phoenix is extremely slow, it is also an extremely powerful tool for board control. It can’t go to the head like Hammer of Bogardan, but the Phoenix crushes weenie decks, so it seems like the latter will be more popular in Standard.


This is another great addition to the color of impulsiveness and explosions. Threaten lets little Red decks cheat, stealing the fatties that are supposed to allow opponents to stabilize and it can also punch through Circle of Protection: Red.


Another classic Red control spell returns. Being able to wipe out hordes of creatures and destroy lands with the same spell is quite powerful, making Wildfire good against both aggressive decks and more controlling ones. It seems like Magnivore would work very well with Wildfire, too.

Red Losses

Hammer of Bogardan and Obliterate were both nice anti-control spells. They were, however, pretty specialized, since the former required large amounts of Red mana and the latter needs an entire deck built around it. Next up on the chopping block is Seismic Assault, a strange spell that is difficult to break. Finally, there’s the Dragon that Zvi made famous in Chevy Fires: Two-Headed Dragon. While all of these spells are pretty good, none of them are staples for the Red mage.

Green Gains


It’s expensive, it’s situational, and you have to build entire decks around it, but none of that changes the fact that this is Green direct damage capable of knocking an opponent from infinite life to one. This is a great addition for a color that often gets one-dimensional.

Early Harvest

With Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama’s Reach, and Heartbeat of Spring at large, it seems like there might be some ugly combo requiring massive amounts of mana lurking over the horizon. Early Harvest is yet another way to crank out broken spells.

King Cheetah

It’s about time a creature with this mechanic made it into the base set. Green always welcomes more tricky creatures.

Llanowar Elves

The return of the Elves means two things: aggressive Green decks get better and making five-color Green work will be harder without Birds of Paradise. At least the Birds are supposed to return in Ravnica.

Seedborn Muse

This tricky, combo-oriented creature adds a little spice to the usual collection of dumb ground-pounders.

Verdant Force

The Best Fatty Ever returns shortly after Jamie Wakefield picks up his Magic cards again. Coincidence? I think not. Now if only I can get that Reanimator deck of mine working…

Viridian Shaman

Now one of Green’s best utility creatures ever won’t get the boot with Mirrodin.

Green Losses

Green takes a hard hit in this category. At the top of the charts are Birds of Paradise, Vine Trellis, and Plow Under. The Birds have been a staple forever, whether you’re powering out threats or playing Five Color Control. Plow Under’s will apparently cripple Green’s ability to fight the various Urzatron decks that are popular these days. While Vine Trellis isn’t quite as spectacular, over the last few months people have discovered that it is Tooth and Nail’s best defense against Slith Firewalker.

Then we have two odd little cards that have a tendency to promote combos: Fecundity and Vernal Bloom. Though neither of these cards has received much attention lately, they have been lurking on the sidelines, waiting for the right companion spells.

Artifact Gains

Booby Trap

Maybe I’m too romantic, but ten colorless points of damage for six mana is an awesome deal. Unfortunately, with Sensei’s Divining Top as a constant fixture of the format, it seems like many decks will be able to avoid setting off this Trap.

Fellwar Stone

Before there were Mirage’s Diamonds and Mirrodin’s Talismans, there was Fellwar Stone. While the Stone may be the most consistent mana source out there, it’s timing is excellent considering the mana fixing of Green spells and the return of all the pain lands. Five Color Green is looking better and better.

Jester’s Cap

One of the most (in)famous artifacts ever printed returns. The obvious comparison is Cranial Extraction. While the Cap is slower and doesn’t hit an opponent’s hand, it seems like this is a pretty fair price to pay to never have to worry about missing.

Slate of Ancestry

For the first time ever, Jayemdae Tome leaves the base set, and this appears to be the replacement. While the Slate is less wieldy, it’s a much more efficient way to draw tons of cards. It’s also kind of interesting that the Slate is a beatdown player’s friend, whereas the Tome likes control players.

Storage Matrix

Part Static Orb, part Stasis, this could combine with other cards like Ghostly Prison to form some sort of a lock deck.

Artifact Losses

Ensnaring Bridge

Burning Bridges is no longer a possibility and that’s fine by me. While there is no doubt that the Bridge is very powerful, after all, it lets you break the rules of the game and eliminate attack steps, but it’s also a really annoying and cheesy cards. Hiding behind the Bridge to win games just isn’t satisfying. It’s ever worse for the poor victims on the other side.

Land Gains

Allied Painlands

Enemy Painlands

Voilà, easily the most significant change with 9th Edition, and it’s about time. More colors in decks means more freedom for innovation. Seeing the allied painlands is not that much of a surprise, but having their Apocalypse brethren too! Damn, I’ll be spending even more time than usual designing rogue deck prototypes.


Since Mirrodin gave us Stalking Stones and Blinkmoth Nexus, Quicksand will probably be under the radar for a little while, because decks that can load up on colorless lands usually prefer win conditions rather than creature removal. Once Ravnica rotates in, though, expect Quicksand be very popular.

Land Losses

City of Brass

I know I’m getting greedy, but I wish that the City stayed I 9th Edition. If you’re going to push multicolor decks with all the painlands, why not go all the way and include a fine rainbow land as well?

Alright, with 2200 words behind us, what changes are going to have the biggest impact on pre-Ravinica Standard?

Biggest Gains


Llanowar Elves

Hypnotic Specter

Jester’s Cap

Biggest Losses

Plow Under

Birds of Paradise



What about the gains and losses by archetype?

Tooth and Nail and Beacon Green

Gains: Jester’s Cap

Losses: Vine Trellis, Plow Under

Aggro Red and Big (Flores) Red

Gains: Threaten, Boiling Seas, Magnivore, Rathi Dragon, Wildfire, Form of the Dragon

Losses: Ensnaring Bridge, Boil, Hammer of Bogardan

White Weenie

Gains: Soul Warden, Weathered Wayfarer

Losses: Karma

Blue Tron and MUC

Gains: Jester’s Cap, Sleight of Hand, Annex

Losses: Hibernation, Inspiration, Concentrate, Bribery

Rats and MBC

Gains: Hypnotic Specter

Losses: Zero

Obviously, I’ve left out some archetypes here and skipped some of the less important cards, but I think it paints a pretty clear picture.

No more Plow Under is an incredible boon for Tooth and Nail. Not only does Tooth not need to cope with opposing Plows anymore, it doesn’t have to maindeck them for the mirror. Losing Vine Trellis hurts Tooth’s game versus Mono Red, but there are reasonable solid alternatives, like Rampant Growth and Sun Droplet.

On the other hand, Beacon Green-already an archetype on life support if U.S. Nationals is any indicator-gets hammered by the loss of Plow Under. Creeping Mold is the closest “replacement.” No Plow Under means no game against Tooth and Nail, which means Mono Green needs to tap into other colors to stand a chance in Standard.

Red decks gain quite a few new tools, but they are all very specialized. You can’t just throw Form of the Dragon or Magnivore into any old deck. The old aggressive and burn-laden Red decks will remain strong, but perhaps the new cards will make Mono Red Control more viable.

White Weenie doesn’t really change at all. The two new one-drops are powerful, but they can’t compete with the more aggressive Hounds and fliers. While losing Karma may be a bigger deal with Hypnotic Specter on the loose again, White can trouble Black with other spells like Worship and Sword of Fire and Ice.

Blue decks take a bit of a beating. The new additions don’t seem to make up for the losses. Bribery allowed Blue control to suddenly harness the strength of opposing fatties. It’s also worth noting that the new U.S. National Champion used Concentrate in his U/b Tron build.

Black changes the least of all, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Though many of the good old beaters-Serra Angel, Sengir Vampire, and others-have returned to the format and made zero impact, I think that Hypnotic Specter will live up to the hype. The Specter seems especially powerful as long as Chrome Mox is legal. The Specter can tangle with White’s little fliers, soar over Tooth’s groundpounders, and force Red mages to waste burn on the Specter rather than your dome.

To sum it all up, it seems like 9th will make Tooth stronger, leave Beacon Green unviable, and strengthen all Black decks thanks to one flying 2/2. Of course, I’m leaving out a major area of analysis. How do the painlands affect decks in Standard? That’s a huge issue that deserves a column unto itself. Maybe next time.

Take it easy and thanks for reading,


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