Once again we find ourselves in the grasp of the non-stop hype train that is spoiler season. As Battle for Zendikar sees us not
only returning to a popular setting but also getting huge creatures and incredibly beautiful full-art impossible-to-find wallet-busting shocklands and
fetchlands, the hype is magnified. Add on the excitement around rotation and the fact that we’re losing annoying cards like Goblin Rabblemaster,
Thoughtseize, Stoke the Flames, and Courser of Kruphix and…well, the hype train is heading for Hypeville.
The hype is largely manufactured early on, as it’s often a mistake to try and assess the power levels of cards when you have only seen a small fraction of
the set. This is even more true at rotation time when the temptation to assess cards based on existing decks is higher and the impact of incoming cards is
going to be higher than usual. Rather than gush about all the new cards, I would rather look at some existing cards that aren’t rotating that could (maybe
even should) get better once October comes around.
One of the phrases I use a lot when evaluating cards is “objectively powerful.” Cards are never played in a vacuum, but if a card can be powerful without
considering anything else, it has a better shot at seeing play. This doesn’t always equate. For example, Reaper of the Wilds has suffered through almost
its entire time in the format from being the second best option in its colours and mana cost. Our white Dragon friend is not seeing any play, but the
reasons for that aren’t linked to it not being good.
At time of writing, we have seen very little in the way of red spells being previewed. I’d be shocked if we didn’t get some form of direct damage spell in
red, but right now they are sorely lacking. Regent dies to Stoke the Flames, which is both omnipresent in red and rotating in October. It also doesn’t
enjoy Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Stormbreath Dragon, which are also going away. Of course, there are still ways to kill the Regent, but as so many answers
leave the format, it’s natural that its stock will rise.
Control decks looking for a resilient finisher could do a lot worse, especially factoring in the lifegain. Although Dragonlord Ojutai is still around and
has the whole card selection thing going for it, you can play multiple Regents. While Dragonlord Ojutai will always die to a Languish, Sunscorch Regent
gets out of range with the first non-Languish spell the opponent casts. If for example there is a B/W Control deck to be built, discard spells can make
sure our opponent has to dig for answers, thus making Regent harder to answer.
Even if it hadn’t been confirmed, expecting landfall or some form of “lands matter” mechanic in the plane characterised by its mana roils and “Adventure
World” moniker was a safe bet. Now that we know that we are getting both landfall and creature-lands, I am even more excited about this pick.
Unlike Sword of the Animist (which I think is also going to be good), Awakening doesn’t care if the lands it reveals enjoy a pumpkin spice latte or not.
Battle lands, creature-lands, fetchlands, you name it. If we also happen to have spell mastery, the last line of text becomes very relevant. Unlike many
spells with similar effects, it puts the lands onto the battlefield and then untaps them, negating the drawback on any lands that would normally
enter the battlefield tapped.
Of course that doesn’t negate the drawback of hitting two lands on average on an X=5, which is a poor return. We’re going to need the right deck to make
Awakening good, no question, but when it’s good I feel like it can be great. Heavy land-count decks are going to be more viable with a Sultai or Temur deck
being able to play eight creature-lands as win conditions, and powerful landfall cards like Omnath, Locus of Rage and Undergrowth Champion already being
previewed. We’re also ramping at the same time, so having a top end like Dragonlord Atarka or Oblivion Sower is also possible. I know I’ll be trying to
make this work, but the principle at least is a solid one.
When you can destroy a planeswalker for 1BB, nobody wants to play 3UB to do the same thing. Silumgar’s Command was the least touted of the cycle when it
was revealed for Dragons of Tarkir, and it remains so having only seen play in the Sultai Demonic Pact decks that some have tried. Much like the
Charms, Titans, and other Commands, however, even the weakest (on paper) of these cycles is still very powerful.
I’ve been playing around with a Sultai brew recently and every time I cast this spell, it impresses me. The variety of modes available really let you deal
with most any combination of threats, often in blowout fashion. With Hero’s Downfall rotating, Silumgar’s Command will be one of only two instant-speed
planeswalker removal spells in the format unless another one is printed in Battle for Zendikar. That seems unlikely.
I think the most likely place for this will be the hard control deck that needs to protect its one threat late in the game. The way people have beaten
those decks is to overload their countermagic with threats and then removal of their threats, but in Silumgar’s Command, we have a spell that can counter a
removal spell and blow up a planeswalker or bounce a creature. The -3/-3 to a creature is likely the least powerful mode, but it can buy time or sometimes
kill those annoying creatures that sneak through the countermagic. It’s important to note as well that the bounce mode does not have a targeting
restriction, so lands are fair game. That guarantees we’ll be able to cast it if we only really need to kill a planeswalker, and bouncing something like a
creature-land or a charged-up Mage Ring Network is often valuable. And of course in the mirror, blowing up Ugin and countering Dig Through Time for five
mana is just a dream come true.
We all knew Eldrazi were coming, and it was very likely that the big ones were going to be indestructible. Know who doesn’t care about things being
indestructible? Your average Mardu mage. Foul-Tongue Invocation will also get better, but Crackling Doom’s unerring ability to nuke the biggest thing on
the other side of the board is where the money is. Hexproof? Don’t care. Protection from coloured spells, instants, red, white, black, everything? Don’t
care. Just go away.
The Mardu clan looks to be doing quite well out of this rotation, as it also keeps Utter End. The word “exile” is going to be very important in the
upcoming Standard format from what we can see, and Utter End plays both sides of that coin. A reliable instant-speed removal spell that not only ignores
indestructible but can also feed your Eldrazi Processors? It is a little worrying that we cannot target creature-lands, but we should have plenty of other
ways to kill those.
Sacrifice effects seem to have lost favour in Standard right now, with Mardu Dragons falling from one of the top tier decks to a virtually unseen archetype
in recent weeks. Utter End has been a one- or two-of in a few different archetypes, but at four mana, it’s been seen as a little unwieldy. If the format
does slow down (and I don’t see how it couldn’t with all these high-end spells we’re seeing), that cost will become trivial and Utter End becomes the
removal of choice. Which suits me and my full-art promos just fine. Those things are gorgeous.
One of the biggest weaknesses of a ramp deck is that sometimes you ramp into nothing. Those games often leave you with a battlefield full of mana
accelerants and lands and very little that actually threatens the opponent. Right now those ramp decks are able to mitigate that by playing Courser of
Kruphix, Xenagos, the Reveler, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx as ways to both increase their mana and also provide a threat. They are all rotating and although
we are getting a truckload of ramp targets, none of them is as flexible as Genesis Hydra or Polukranos. We’re also in an environment where the green
devotion decks really only run Polukranos and Atarka as “good hits” for Revelation, making it somewhat unimpressive. There’s also the argument that it’s a
lousy topdeck after a sweeper because you lose most of your mana generation too.
What if we’re ramping into Ulamog and Void Winnower though? We’re losing Genesis Hydra so one of the biggest misses for Revelation is gone. The most subtle
thing that I think brings Revelation into the metagame is that ramp decks will likely be moving away from creature ramp to spell-based ramp, meaning that
after we get blasted by a Planar Outburst, we can still cast this to recover. Digging five deep to find something huge is great, but we also have the
ability to find two things and put the smaller one on top, making sure they don’t know about the bigger one. Oh, and we can gain some life too. That
Not every giant Eldrazi tentacle monster is indestructible. The downside to playing these enormous creatures with such huge mana investments has always
been that the removal for them is far cheaper. With the big Eldrazi creatures they have tried to mitigate this by giving them on-cast triggers, assuring
you at least get some value if Disdainful Stroke is the response. Although having your nine-mana spell destroyed by a three-mana spell is only slightly
less frustrating, you do at least have the ability to protect your investment. At the worst it’s a one-for-one trade that leaves you hurting for tempo.
Hidden Dragonslayer changes that. Although it is vulnerable to cheap removal itself, we’ll be able to play and morph it on the same turn in many cases to
kill the big beefy threats that ramp decks will be looking to throw down. In contrast to spells like Murderous Cut though, Dragonslayer leaves behind a
relevant body that can throw in the beatdowns after taking out the creature they spent their turn (and probably resources in ramp spells and Eldrazi
Scions) casting. With the pro-white Stormbreath Dragon going away, one of the biggest annoyances for our creature slash removal spell is out of the way.
Possibly my favourite thing about the Dragonslayer though is that we can play it face up on turn 2 against red or other low-to-the-ground aggro decks and
not feel bad about it. The lifelink plays a big role there too, although very often it will just eat a burn spell.
If we’re going to be encouraged to play more lands, both for ramp purposes and for things like creature-lands, we will occasionally get flooded. When each
land draw is a Shock though, we won’t mind that too much. The card is powerful now, especially in red aggro decks that can afford to pitch lands, but the
prevalence of other enchantments has meant that a lot of enchantment removal is getting played. With these decks only really playing Eidolon of the Great
Revel as enchantments, Dromoka’s Command is likely to claim the Vortex.
With Courser of Kruphix, Banishing Light, and company all rotating, I would expect that we’ll see less enchantment removal getting played. If we’re going
to get more utility lands, we can certainly make use of Vortex to throw them at the opponent’s face. In the event we get anything resembling Life from the
Loam or Terravore (oh please give me Terravore back), I won’t be able to buy these fast enough.
If I am wrong about Silumgar’s Command becoming good, Sarkhan will easily slide in to the five-mana red spell void created by Stormbreath Dragon’s
rotation. With Stormbreath being immune to the omnipresent Abzan Charm, there are few reasons to run Sarkhan, as we probably don’t want that many
five-drops. Even if we do, black gives us access to Kolaghan, Storm’s Fury and white gives us Wingmate Roc, both of which are better right now. Ruinous
Path is also a good weapon against Sarkhan.
The lack of a cheap instant-speed way to take out Sarkhan ensures that he will hit for four at least once in the majority of games. With red decks possibly
moving away from burn strategies and into a more permanent-based pseudo-advantage role, something like Sarkhan (and possibly Avaricious Dragon at four)
start to look more appealing. Four toughness is looking like an important format-defining characteristic, and Sarkhan can come down and immediately nuke an
x/4 without killing himself. If everyone is trying to ramp into huge stuff, topping a solid curve with Sarkhan seems like a great way to slide in
underneath them. Besides, keyword flying is still pretty darn good.
There are undoubtedly a bunch of cards not mentioned here that will start to see play in October. Mardu Charm, Temur Ascendancy, See the Unwritten, and
Relic Seeker all have decent shots of making it to the upper echelon of Standard.
Bonus Decklist Hype!
“But Lansdell, what if I want a brew to take to FNM before rotation?” Not to worry friends, I thought of that. I spent a significant amount of time over
the long weekend working on this deck, and I am very happy with how it plays. It has a little trouble with the hard U/B Control decks with twelve maindeck
counters, but it does have game against a lot of the field.
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 3 Doomwake Giant
- 4 Riptide Chimera
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Herald of the Pantheon
I really enjoy this take on Sultai Demonic Pact. Riptide Chimera is actually a very powerful card that both resets Pacts and draws you more cards with
either Nylea’s Presence or Eidolon of Blossoms. I have actually decked myself once with this deck (and come close multiple times). However, I have only
lost to my own Demonic Pact once.
Reviving Melody has been insane in the deck for sure, often getting back two creatures for three mana. Herald of the Pantheon is the real hero though,
gaining a ton of life and making Doomwake Giant a lot more viable as an answer to red decks. Font of Fertility seems weird, but it’s a cheap bounce for the
Chimera and a good way to fix mana that isn’t vulnerable to burn. Lategame, it still has utility as a thing to sacrifice to Dromoka’s Command and a way to
trigger constellation cheaply.
Out of the board I have been very happy with both Sphinx’s Tutelage against control or Wayfinder decks, and Fate Unraveler against Tutelage mill decks. If
you’re looking for something very fun to play, this definitely fits the bill.
Thanks for stopping by, folks. Feel free to sound off if there are cards you’re excited to see getting better in a couple of weeks.
Until next time…Brew On!