Standard is in a healthy place right now.
While Abzan did crush #SCGPHILLY last weekend, over the last few events there has been a healthy mix of different decks doing well across the spectrum.
Jeskai Black, G/W Megamorph, Esper Control, R/G Landfall, and even some new/odd decks like Esper Tokens, Rally the Ancestors, and various Eldrazi Ramp
Yet even while Standard weighs in light at only five sets at the moment, there are a ton of powerful cards that really aren’t seeing any play. Often this
is due to a number of factors. Some cards just never find a deck to call home, as they are good, but the support around them is not strong enough to hold
together a deck. A good example of this is any good Temur card, as there hasn’t really been a successful Temur deck since the clan’s inception. Some cards
end up being victims of the format, as they are good but don’t line up well with the other cards currently seeing play. This was especially true with
non-red one mana 2/1s during the reign of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, as they would become obsolete far too quickly. And of course, some cards
just haven’t had their chance to shine yet.
Today we are going to look at a lineup of cards that have the power level to get there, but for various reasons have not done so yet. We’ll look at why and
see if perhaps they have a good chance to show up in the future.
Dragonlord Atarka was one of the scourges of the previous Standard format. Both G/R Devotion and G/R Dragons would drop this mean mother down on you on
turn 5 or so and decimate your battlefield. Even if you killed her, recovering was never going to be easy, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon often would mean
they just would do it again.
So where did she go?
A large part of the answer is simply Ojutai’s Command. Playing a very large creature threat with Ojutai’s Command being a big part of the format is just
asking to get blown out. Also many of the format’s decks are quite adept at rebuilding a battlefield quickly. Between Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor,
Kolagan’s Command, and so on, having your battlefield wiped is not the end of the world.
Dragonlord Atarka also is lacking a home at the moment. The main ramp deck in the format is concerned with casting ten mana Eldrazi and eight mana
planeswalkers, so amusingly enough, a seven mana 8/8 Dragon just isn’t big enough. I don’t doubt that we’ve seen the last of Dragonlord Atarka.
Similarly absent has been one of the other big Dragons from the previous format, Thunderbreak Regent.
While Thunderbreak Regent tends to go in different decks than Dragonlord Atarka, it has a very similar vulnerability to Ojutai’s Command. Even if you can
play it turn 4 on the play before your opponent can cast Ojutai’s Command, Ojutai’s Command just tends to be very good against decks with expensive, four
plus mana threats.
Oddly enough, one of the biggest effects of the big Dragons not being playable is that also means Draconic Roar isn’t really playable either. This is a big
value on the format, as without Lightning Strike around, Draconic Roar is the go-to two mana for three damage removal spell. There have been some Fiery
Impulses running around, but it’s a risky card to play too many of.
Aggressive decks have had trouble beating the loads of removal and undercosted creatures in the format without resorting to some sort of gimmick like
Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage, but if they were to come back in some way, Draconic Roar could be a reasonable part of that.
It’s done some time in Aristocrat-style decks like Christian Calcano’s B/U deck from #PTBFZ or other B/G decks that have popped up a bit, and was also part
of the R/B Aggro deck that popped up early in the season, but over its entire life in Standard Bloodsoaked Champion has never really been a staple. That
really surprises me.
The biggest thing holding Bloodsoaked Champion back is that he simply doesn’t have any friends to play with that are on his level. He’s the star
quarterback on an awful team based out of some random school in Montana that no scout would ever even bother going to. There really hasn’t been a good
critical mass of aggressive black cards in a long time, so Bloodsoaked Champion is stuck looking on from the sidelines.
There’s also the mana issue in the format that makes it non-conducive to one-drops. With a bunch of fetchlands and Battle lands in your deck, unless you
are only one color splashing another like Atarka Red, it’s going to be hard to have the untapped color of mana you want on turn 1. So while B/R Aggro might
be a thing, the mana is pretty rough. This further extenuates the issue of there not being enough good aggressive black cards, as the color also has
trouble looking to other colors for help with the rough mana.
Kytheon faces very similar problems. Kytheon is also a fantastic one-drop, but most of the decks in the format are simply skipping the one-drop slot for
good mana and better two- and three-drops. Again, we have the same problem with Bloodsoaked Champion, where only a white deck with a splash can reliably
cast Kytheon on turn 1.
Man, it sure is unfortunate that there’s no B/W Battle land.
While neither of these cards is seeing a lot of play at the moment, it’s important to recognize that they exist. I took a loss at #SCGPHILLY last weekend
to a G/W Aggro deck playing Kytheon and Mardu Woe-Reaper, and it was quite surprising how quickly a few one-drops can get on the battlefield and get to
work on your life total.
One of my favorite cards in the set during spoiler season, Wasteland Strangler hasn’t done a ton yet. However, Craig Wescoe was able to take both Kytheon
and Wasteland Strangler to 18th place at #GPINDY a few weeks ago with this interesting list.
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Mardu Woe-Reaper
- 2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 4 Archangel of Tithes
- 4 Wasteland Strangler
Decks like Craig’s show that we still have a long way to go in this Standard format.
If you can get it to work, Wasteland Strangler seems absolutely fantastic. It’s just the kind of efficient card advantage that this format is known for,
and it does it at a very compelling rate.
One card I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of is Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. With the exodus of Stormbreath Dragon, it seemed like Sarkhan was poised to
jump right in as the hasted five-drop of choice. Instead he has been pretty much completely absent from the format.
Sarkhan’s weakness is definitely decks that can just attack him back, and Standard is currently full of resilient creatures. One Mantis Rider or Den
Protector that slipped through the cracks is going to make pretty short work of Sarkhan, which limits his durability. In some ways, Sarkhan is similar to
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in that he’s not that great if you are behind, but phenomenal when you are ahead.
Regardless, Sarkhan is a great answer to planeswalkers, kills quickly, and will likely see some time before the end.
If we are going to talk about underplayed cards in Standard and talk about Sarkhan, we would be rather remiss to not mention Sarkhan Unbroken. The
multicolored version of Sarkhan has spent his entire tenure in Standard completely unbroken, as he has done basically nothing.
Of course, a big reason for this is a Temur is by far the worst clan of the five. There is a reason that Anafenza, the Foremost is a format defining 4/4
for three mana, and Savage Knuckleblade is essentially a 4/4 for three mana bulk rare. Temur lacks Abzan and Jeskai’s quality removal. Because Abzan and
Jeskai have such powerful cards and good removal options, they can play a midrange game where they just out-card you. Temur can’t do that, and as such is
just stuck between being not fast enough, not over the top enough, and not interactive enough.
Despite all this though, Sarkhan Unbroken is still a pretty powerful, if awkward, Magic card.
I think the absence of Whisperwood Elemental has more to do with the absence of Elvish Mystic than anything else. Whisperwood Elemental is a great card
that can defend your team from sweepers while also creating an army, but it is at its best when it is played alarmingly early. Right now the mana
accelerators in Standard just aren’t really designed to do that.
However, mana acceleration does still exist. Rattleclaw Mystic is certainly a fine option, and I don’t think Beastcaller Savant is outside the realm of
playability. There is a lot of competition at the five-drop slot in other colors, but I think that we will be seeing Whisperwood Elemental again.
This pair is a little out there, but there are a number of quality enchantment options in Standard. Yes, Eidolon of Blossoms and Courser of Kruphix have
rotated, but the pairing of Starfield of Nyx and Sigil of the Empty Throne is still a very potent lategame combination.
Take a look at some of the most popular removal spells in the format. Silkwrap and Stasis Snare are already everywhere, and there are a few other options
like Pacifism available too. Outpost Siege is another great enchantment that isn’t seeing much play, and if you throw it all together, the ability to
answer your opponent’s threats while making a never ending stream of 4/4 flyers actually sounds somewhat legitimate.
It’s obviously a bit of a stretch, but I wouldn’t be amazingly surprised to see Sigil of the Empty Throne in an Open Series top 8 before the end of the
On the surface, Drana has it all: a great body, good stats, cheap cost, and a very powerful damage trigger that can pump your team before they deal their
damage. During spoiler season, she was one of the more hyped cards in the set, and was one of the highest priced mythics as far as preorders went.
Talk about a bust.
Drana has made almost zero impact on tournament Magic, and like Bloodsoaked Champion, it feels like it’s more a result of lack of support than anything
else. There’s no doubt Drana has good stats and is big enough to at least dodge some of the removal in the format, but she just has no place to call home.
Drana is already great with some of the cards in Standard, like Collected Company and Hangarback Walker, but the issue is that these cards don’t always
play well together.
Drana reminds me a lot of our last card for the day, Monastery Mentor.
Now Monastery Mentor has seen considerable success in Eternal formats, as it plays extremely well with all of the cheap spells present in those formats.
Clearly in Standard we don’t have those tools, so Monastery Mentor’s ceiling is quite a bit lower. Regardless, it is still a powerful card capable of
taking a game over all by itself if it lives.
However, that’s just the problem. Much like Drana, it really sucks when you play a Monastery Mentor and then it just dies. You present a great threat, but
it gets answered efficiently by an opponent’s removal spell, and that’s that. Monastery Mentor can get around that if you can also play a spell the same
turn you cast it, but that makes it into a four or five mana threat at best.
If a deck can find a way to make either card work, they both have a ton of potential, but right now that potential is not being realized.
There are many more powerful cards that are operating outside the limelight at the moment, but it is very important to keep them in mind at all times when
you are working on decks for Standard. Properly identifying why these cards are not seeing play, and then either working to solve those problems
or waiting for a time when they are no longer issues can pay huge dividends when it comes to deckbuilding.