If I can channel Evan Erwin’s enthusiasm for just a second, this might be one of the most exciting Core Sets for brewers in history. Since spoilers began for M15, I’ve been glued to my devices’ screens at midnight each night, hoping to go to sleep with the new cards in my mind and wake up with an exciting brew. Though I’ve mostly only woken up with a panic that I’ve overslept for work, I’ve been at the grindstone nearly every day since spoiler season began, chipping away at the new set’s potential, waiting for missing puzzle pieces to be spoiled.
Summer is the most thrilling brewing season of them all; our current Standard pool, upon the release of M15, will expand to around 1,650 unique cards, the largest it will be throughout the year, compared to around 1,100 cards at its smallest point in early fall. This means we have half again as many choices when we’re looking to flesh out a deck for the first time.
Although I am excited about lots of the mythics and rares, including each new planeswalker and the Chord of Calling reprint, there’s a bunch of other cards to get excited about, too. I’ve picked my favorites from the current spoiler (210/269 spoiled) to start working on. Let’s go!
Convoke is one of those mechanics that I enjoyed in practice when it was first around, but I hated using it with the guild it was designed for. Selesnya was never my preferred color pairing, but the idea of using your creatures like mana dorks still enticed me. All three of my favorite convoke spells were reprinted in this set, the other two being Devouring Light and Chord of Calling, but Gather Courage offers us a new (albeit narrow) application.
Gather Courage, which gives a free pump on demand, might be right where we need to be. How can we leverage it?
How ’bout, I dunno, a Tribal build?
- 4 Guttersnipe
- 4 Wild Beastmaster
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Young Pyromancer
Summon the pain!
Elvish Mystic, the only non-Shaman in the deck, is a necessary part of any plan filled with three-drops, but I also want to point out something important. Elvish Mystic can’t be killed by a Shock or Magma Spray on turn one if you have a Gather Courage in hand. Forest, Elvish Mystic, tap it to cast Gather Courage if your opponent goes for the tempo play; it’s that simple.
Burning-Tree Emissary, which I’ve realized is the most disruptive card in Standard next to Thoughtseize, features prominently as a Shaman that provides fixing and color for other powerful creatures like Young Pyromancer. Guttersnipe lets us leverage our cheap instants into pain either for planeswalker or your opponent’s life total.
Wild Beastmaster is really where it’s at. With a Gather Courage, your entire team of Pyromancer Elementals, mana dorks, and other sundry 2/2s gets a +3/+3 boost. If you’ve tapped out to Shock or Boros Charm your opponent, just tap a Burning-Tree Emissary to finish the job. This deck when functioning correctly will have you pulling every possible resource out of each crevice, forcing you through for the win. A single Deathrite Shaman helps eliminate the pesky reanimation targets of that increasingly-popular archetype, and those same decks often have a land to spare. If you need to, he can Grim Lavamancer your opponent off one of the Mana Confluences in the deck.
The spells are all cheap, high-impact numbers that can disrupt control and aggro plans alike. Destructive Revelry is one of my favorite versions of Naturalize. Kill that Detention Sphere and ping your Jace, Architect of Thought to death. It almost feels like you’re saying “how dare you interact with me, U/W Control!” Similarly, it’s great at blowing up a Whip of Erebos, Courser of Kruphix, or Unflinching Courage. Two Obelisk of Urd, another one of my favorite new cards, is the only nod I can practically give to the tribal build, but your Elementals from Young Pyromancers can help cast it. Tap them down (they’re just 1/1s), then cast it naming Shaman, smash with your enormous team pumped by Wild Beastmaster and call it a day!
Chasm Skulker at first glance looks like a poor man’s Master of Waves, but there’s a couple key differences. First, Skulker does pretty well early on and doesn’t rely on other cards (read: devotion) to reach its full potential. Instead, you just play Magic. Draw your cards, attack with an ever-growing Squid Horror and, when the time comes for the Squid to retire to Davy Jones’ locker, you’ll have little baby Squids that can’t be blocked by a large number of decks. Also, unlike Master of Waves, Chasm Skulker provides value post-Supreme Verdict. Even an aggressive deck doesn’t want to kill it for fear of little proto-Squids gumming up the combat math.
Although Chasm Skulker is a little less build-around-me than some other cards of its ilk, it doesn’t hurt to give it a nudge.
Although they curve backwards into one another, Master Biomancer allows you to get an insta-3/3 with Chasm Skulker. Moreover, when Chasm Skulker dies (say, if you leave it back as a blocker), you’ll get at least two 3/3 Squids! See? You just made a blue Voice of Resurgence!
My partiality to pelagic flavor and themes notwithstanding, the Squid might have what it takes to do something neat.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 2 Gyre Sage
- 4 Master Biomancer
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 2 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Chasm Skulker
The mono-green aggression shell gets a hint of blue synergy to give it staying power against the longer-running decks. Experiment One hasn’t gotten much love lately, but I still love getting in the red zone for lots on turn two. Boon Satyr is one of my favorite Evolve enablers, too. After one of your baby Squids spawns, this can Bestow one of them into an unblockable nightmare. Both the blue and the green Gods complement the aggressive suite; Thassa sneaks us past any troublemakers, and Nylea can add bulk to an Elvish Mystic or anemic Squid token. Normally I might not play four Master Biomancers, but Elvish Mystic and the fact that they can overlap (unlike, say, Polukranos) I feel fine with a full set.
Military Intelligence is the kind of card I enjoy playing. It feels good to draw cards just for attacking. This will trigger all the time with Squids out, and Burning-Tree Emissary and an Elvish Mystic can do the job too. This increases your Skulker size, too. I think of it like a mini-Bident of Thassa which, all things considered, does a similar task a lot of the time. Give // Take is a nice one alongside the Skulker, too. If you Give, you’ll have more tokens set aside for later. If you take, you’ll draw some number of cards and replace the counters you took from Chasm Skulker with its draw trigger. Neat! I’ve loved Bow of Nylea lately, and the more valuable you can make your 1/1s on the attack the better. Adding +1/+1 counters is a convenient upside, too.
In the land department, we get another bonus for being an enemy-colored aggro deck: Yavimaya Coast, a near-perfect upgrade over the painful Mana Confluence. As a side note, I’m thrilled painlands are back. These were the dual lands right alongside the Ravnica duals when I first started playing, so I have a lot of memories of sleeving up Karplusan Forest, Llanowar Wastes, and Shivan Reef. Glad to see they’re back! Because of the draw power present in this otherwise color-hungry deck, I feel safe putting in a set of Mutavaults, but that could be incorrect. I know there’s nothing really to Nykthos into, so I’m not concerned on the devotion plan.
Finally, we get to my actual favorite:
Chief Engineer and Every Artifact in this Set
I’m not even joking; every artifact.
Chief Engineer leaped off the page. As it is, I need very little reason to sleeve up an artifact deck, so I’m elated to get a chance to use a card like this in Standard of all places.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Izzet Staticaster
- 3 Volatile Rig
- 3 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 4 Chief Engineer
- 1 Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient
- 3 Scuttling Doom Engine
It’s no exaggeration that I have written up no less than a dozen Trading Post brews since this card was spoiled of every imaginable color combination, but this is the one I believe will exert the highest pressure most consistently.
Chief Engineer, paired with Ornithopter, effectively ramps you into big spells; it’s this deck’s Burning-Tree Emissary. If you cast Chief Engineer on turn two, you can drop Ornithopter on three, tap both, and cast Trading Post with mana up to activate it (assuming you make your third land drop). Trading Post’s only disadvantage is basically costing five mana, so resolving the Post that early lets you start gaining life, cycling Ornithopters, or making Goat tokens to add to your Convoke count. Volatile Rig can blow up tons of things (including your own guys, sadly), but it can leave a major dent in your opponent and their team, too. It’s a Mizzium Mortars that Master of Waves can’t avoid! Flipping a coin is admittedly the sign of a bad card, but frankly I don’t care. Also, if you’re concerned, you may use it to Convoke something out, preventing it from having to attack every turn.
Scuttling Doom Engine was spoiled late in the game, but it is that missing piece of the puzzle. Chief Engineer needs something to power out, and Scuttling Doom Engine is actually what I want to be doing. The set’s other powerhouse, Soul of New Phyrexia, is certainly strong – but it requires five additional mana to protect your investment prior to untapping. Scuttling Doom Engine gives you value promptly upon death while offering the same power and toughness.
Izzet Staticaster is a flashy Convoke helper that also has the ability to block a two-power creature and kill a one-toughness creature outright. Pack Rat will still be a thing for a while, so it’s important to have repeatable removal to take out the swarm while it’s small. Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient is a flavor home-run: an ogre spirit who assumedly “lives” in a temple fiddling with artifacts all day? Awesome!
Shrapnel Blast is back, and with nine free artifacts in the deck, there’s plenty to throw at opposing faces. Naturally, tossing a Scuttling Doom Engine is pretty exciting and fairly easy, assuming you can Convoke it out and still have mana to cast the Blast. Ensoul Artifact is also pretty exciting with free artifacts. While some decks won’t be able to kill a 5/5 anyway, putting this on Darksteel Citadel is a no-brainer, protecting the 5/5 from creature-based destruction. Also rest assured that given such a choice, a Detention Sphere, Abrupt Decay, or Banishing Light can only hit the enchantment, not the land. Five power is a lot for two mana, and I think Ensoul Artifact will be the cornerstone of any Standard blue-based artifact deck. Astral Cornucopia is neat because of its interaction with Convoke. Tapping three creatures gives you one durable mana, six gives you two, etc. I also like the option to play it for free if you just need ammo for the spells mentioned above – cast it for zero on turn two and make it a 5/5! Hammer of Purphoros lets our larger artifacts brawl immediately, giving Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia a Thundermaw Hellkite feel. It can be Convoked out with the help of Izzet Staticaster and Kurkesh, too! Bident of Thassa is very easily cast with Chief Engineer. Moreover, you can Ensoul Artifact it to bash them with a 5/5 and draw a card! With the lifegain offered by Trading Post, forcing the attack might also result in a clear board for you to make your more powerful backswing.
Trading Post and Ral Zarek are a match made in artifact heaven, allowing you two activations a turn while also tapping down blockers, potential counter mana, or the occasional Spear of Heliod. Experience with him in the past has shown that I often use him as a double Lightning Bolt, so having three might be better, but it’s a close call.
Land for this deck gives you a lot of flexibility. I for one am a huge fan of Radiant Fountain, both in artifact decks and in slots otherwise occupied by Mutavault, particularly if the deck doesn’t plan to win in combat. In this list, I’ll still have sixteen blue sources to get my Chief Engineer online in time. Packing eight free life into the deck might be exactly what I need to survive a fast red or green aggro deck or that one extra Grey Merchant trigger.
I also had a nagging inclination to include a deck that involves Hellkite Tyrant, so I’ll just leave this here.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Gargoyle Sentinel
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Prophet of Kruphix
- 3 Guardians of Meletis
- 3 Pillar of War
- 3 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 4 Chief Engineer
Ring of Three Wishes is the real ringer; you can get it out early enough to use its tutor in a timely fashion, getting anything you need from Darksteel Forge to the Hellkite itself. Lose something? Codex Shredder it back, or shuffle the whole thing away with Elixir of Immortality. It can’t lose!
This set seems to open us up for a very powerful fall; tutoring is back with a vengeance, and it won’t be long before new cards are flying all over the place in crazy brews. These brews are decidedly light on black and white, but I’ve got my eye on them too.
This weekend I’ll be Prereleasing with you guys, and I’ve been considering which Prerelease rare is best, but I think there’s a pretty clear frontrunner. Regardless, let’s look at each:
Resolute Archangel is pretty cool, actually. In the late game, when someone’s pounding you down, resolving an Air Elemental that resets your life total could be relevant. If it’s your only creature, maybe not, but otherwise it’s a great tempo play and it can conditionally win the game for you. Sorry, but I think Mercurial Pretender is a non-card; how bad is it to cast this and get your only other creature killed in response to the spell? Not for five mana. If it copied any creature and not just yours, it’d be a perfectly fine Clone; if you choose blue this weekend, watch out for that!
Indulgent Tormentor, on the other hand, is a real winner. It’s no Bloodgift Demon, but it is all upside. Basically, your opponent has a choice every turn: grant you a card, lose three life, or sacrifice their worst creature. It’s tough to get a card while you’re down, but even then it’s still a 5/3 flier for five mana, which is not bad at all; if you just play him as that, you’ll do fine. You have no control over your opponent’s decision, so you just occasionally get a random bonus, though it sometimes will be obvious what they will do. His aggressive cost and ability to trade up with each other Prerelease rare is great.
I do believe Siege Dragon, the red one, is a close second. Destroying Walls may or may not be relevant, but a one-sided Rolling Temblor is. Even late in the game, this can let your little guys trade up or force your opponent not to block at all. They may not even have blockers after the trigger. This helps red stay aggressive if the board state doesn’t typically allow them to, so this is a winner in my book. That flavor, too! Break down the wall then, when there’s nothing to protect them, scorch the city guard! I think the green creature, Phytotitan, is way too expensive and slow to be relevant. Continually blocking this with a 2/X first strike critter seems like bad news. If it came back ready to fight each turn, you’d be on to something – but as-is, I’ll pass. I think it could be a relevant combo piece, maybe for Rescue the Underworld or something.
Even with black having the best rare, I’m not sure it’s the strongest color. Its removal isn’t as solid as it has been previously and some of the rares are oddball ones for Sealed play, like Necromancer’s Stockpile and Stain the Mind. Black paired with blue or white could be good, as could green with red or white. In fact, many of green’s rares are very powerful; Yisan, the Wandering Bard; Hornet Queen, and Genesis Hydra are all vicious pulls, not to mention the mythics available in this color.
Despite the bad rare, I think I’ll pick green on Prerelease day.
Which are you planning to pick? What have you thought up working on the cards we looked at?