The premise of this article: Chris Romeo, the previous owner of this budget column, used to review each set from the viewpoint that, despite our best intents to keep our cash flow down to maintain our hobby, there are going to be rares in each set that are going to be necessities if you want to play this game at any kind of competitive level. Therefore, these should be the cards that will have the most impact on Standard, and that you should concentrate on trading for in your local area.
A quick word about Jace, the Mind Sculptor before we begin. There’s just no way that I can advocate spending cash, cards, or future children in the pursuit of this card. If you absolutely MUST have a planeswalker who draws you cards, Original Flavor Jace is only ten bucks, and will probably drop depending on just how extensive the use of the New Jace is. He’s still perfectly serviceable – and now he kills your opponent’s sixty-dollar mythic too! Nor will I include Abyssal Persecutor – half as much as New Jace is still too much for this column.
Comet Storm: At some point, players are going to figure out that this is better in most cases than Earthquake, and start adjusting accordingly in the Red-based control decks. It has the ability to hit flyers, it (should) only hit your opponent’s creatures and your opponent, and it’s instant speed. The price is going to be kept way down because of the presence of the Prerelease promo version, but much like Ajani Vengeant, the price will start to pick up as it starts to see increased play. If you currently rely on Earthquakes as mass removal, I recommend picking up a set now rather than later. Four of these will only run you twelve bucks.
Anowon, the Ruin Sage: I know Anowon is getting something of a mixed reaction from Vampire players, but I really like him as a win condition in a mostly-creatureless (or mostly-Vampire) Black control deck. I may be a little more fixated on Mono-Black Control than the average player, though. If you can turn this guy into an Abyss on wheels, then your remaining removal picks up a lot in value. In any event, he’s perfectly serviceable at the top of the mana curve in Vampires – probably as a two-of.
The Manlands: There’s two possible ways this could go. Either these will stay undervalued (right now Raging Ravine, which I think is the most usable out of the gate, is $6.99) which means that you’ll be able to trade for what you want, or the M10 dual lands will start to drop in price as these go up. (With my luck, they’ll balance out right in the middle at about eight bucks apiece – which wouldn’t be the worst either.) These are great color-fixers, especially in two-color decks, that provide a nice reach into the mid-to-late game. If you stalled on picking up the M10 lands figuring there would be a set of allied-color lands in Zendikar, then now is the time to start looking to trade for these.
Joraga Warcaller: Great in a dedicated Elf deck, where Elvish Archdruid can pump out enough mana to loft him up to “ridiculous” levels. The fact that he can be fetched out by Ranger of Eos isn’t lost on me either, although I think that a Green/White aggro deck might be a little too diverse in its creature types to really get a huge benefit from all those counters. You can very quickly see how Eldrazi Green might shift away from some of the top-end mana producers and instead focus on making those 2/3s that Nissa Revane fetches out into, say, 5/6s.
Lodestone Golem: This could be seen as a pre-emptive pick, what with the swirling rumors that the fall’s upcoming “big set” will feature a return to Mirrodin and a focus on artifacts. If that’s the case, then I look like a genius if I can convince you now to pick these guys up at $3 a shot. But I really think he might be worthwhile in Standard now. Did we forget that all of Esper’s creatures are, in fact, artifacts? I want to try him out in an Esper Aggro deck, with Tidehollow Scullers (artifact!) and Tower Gargoyles.
Marshal’s Anthem: White Weenie fans should pick these up to complement the Honor of the Pure already in the deck. A couple at the top of the curve allow you to get back some board presence, rather than continuously sacrifice it to keep an Eldrazi Monument on the board. The high casting cost is an issue, sure, which is why I think two is the right number to pick up if this happens to be your cup of tea.
Wolfbriar Elemental: You know, looking at Leatherback Baloth, I realize that saying “a 4/4 for four mana!” is now officially BELOW the curve, but Wolfbriar Elemental scales up from there, providing an increase of 2 power for each additional mana you pump into it. Add in the interaction with Master of the Wild Hunt, and I believe a dedicated Green aggro deck could see some play.
My rare recommendations: 2x Anowon, the Ruin Sage; 4x the appropriate manland for the color combination you play most; 3-4x Joraga Warcaller; 4x Lodestone Golem; 2x Marshal’s Anthem; 4x Wolfbriar Elemental. Total cost: $90
Bestial Menace: Would you have paid two more mana to make your Spectral Procession tokens a 1/1, a 2/2, and a 3/3? Cloudgoat Ranger found a place in just about every base-White aggro deck during Lorwyn block, and even Marsh Flitter eventually had its time. Bestial Menace is, I think, on a pretty close power level to those cards. There are plenty of base-Green aggro decks that will try it out, at least.
Everflowing Chalice: Control decks have always enjoyed an artifact accelerant, from Grim Monolith to Mind Stone to the Ravnica-block Signets. Everflowing Chalice’s ability to scale upwards as a later draw might be beneficial to any deck running X-spells, but even as a simple two-drop, it still pushes forward to turn 3 Ajani Vengeant or turn 4 Mysteries of the Deep.
Kor Firewalker: I don’t know if you’re going to need this guy, or if the simple threat of his presence will be enough to run Red decks off altogether, but in the event that your metagame hasn’t heard about this guy, or possesses one of those stubborn guys who won’t play anything OTHER than Mono-Red, you definitely want four of these guys. Go ahead. Make that threat.
Leatherback Baloth: A 4/5 for three mana won’t sit around in an unused commons box for long; his power and speed (because you know he’s coming out on turn 2 in Mono-Green) will be hard to race, which means that he’ll anchor a deck that curves up into the other mono-green beaters like Wolfbriar Elemental and Ant Queen. Eldrazi Green will probably schism – one version will focus more on the Elf component and Joraga Warcaller, and another version will forego the Elf action (that doesn’t ramp on turn 1) and put out the big natural beaters that Green has now. And Leatherback Baloth will be a big part of that.
Loam Lion: Even if he doesn’t inspire a new slew of White/Green aggro decks (and I’m not sure that he won’t), Kird Ape’s not long for Extended, and this guy makes a natural replacement in Zoo. I think he’s also a pretty nice one-drop in Bant.
Smother: If you don’t have old Smothers lying around with that cool flies-eating-a-dwarf artwork, it’s time to pick up a set of Smothers with the weird-facesucker artwork. Splashable and capable of killing all sorts of creatures in Standard and Extended, and doesn’t require you to run Red for Terminate.
Four of each: $24
Bojuka Bog: Not a lot of recursion in Standard today – really Bloodghast is the only pain in the neck. Ha! Pain in the neck! I kill me. Anyway, this land is great in Knight of the Reliquary-based decks, where it can be fetched out with ease when it’s most damaging to the opponent. And I’d seriously consider siding them in against Vampires if I was playing Black-based control, because short of Nemesis Trap, how DOES Black deal with Bloodghast?
Calcite Snapper: Already getting a ton of press as probably the second or third-best common in the set. Convertible Turtle here evidently fills a lot of slots: high-toughness defender, unremovable by conventional means, and a potential high-power attacker when the need arises.
Dispel: Most likely good sideboard material if all these SuperJace-based control decks start popping up, as all the pundits are proclaiming. Control-on-control matchups used to be all about who would win the counter war; that might not matter in today’s mostly-counterless type of control decks, but it still stops every targeted removal short of Maelstrom Pulse, all for one mana.
Halimar Depths: Needs to be paired with a way to shuffle away the dreck, but there’s a fair amount of that in today’s Standard. I’ve been testing it out in Extended and I really like it; it’s a great way to give yourself an extra piece of information to set up future turns.
Mysteries of the Deep: Blue will take pretty much any card draw it can get its hands on now, even this five-casting-cost beastie.
Quicksand: Any mono-color deck should consider Quicksand, I think. It has the capability to kill off a number of regularly-seen attackers (such as Bloodbraid Elf) without grossly impacting the manabase. In multi-colored decks, it might be a little reckless to fit them into the manabase, especially since more than one color will offer a more varied suite of removal, but I really like it in even Mono-Red, to keep that nasty Kor Firewalker at home.
Treasure Hunt: The dicussion around this card-drawer is unavoidable. Is it exactly what Blue needed to pull back into power? Is it an overhyped two-drop that is most likely to only draw you one card? In any case, this is what we’re looking at for Blue card-drawing, so it should be a part of your collection, as it will see play in Standard until a consensus can be reached.
Four of each: Eight measly bucks.
The Running Tally
$136 for everything. Over and above the cost of a box, sure, but by buying or trading for these cards, you’ll set yourself up for a decent competitive run through your local FNM. And not to mention that you avoid giant vanilla flyers in the rare slot. Dang, I hate that Goliath Sphinx.
If you think I’m missing anything, speak back in the forums!
Until next week…
dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at facebook and twitter