Tribal Thriftiness #41 – The Mourning Period: Saying Goodbye to Standard Staples

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Wednesday, September 24th – Big October sets don’t just mean a flurry of new cards and new ideas – it also means we need to say goodbye to the cards that are rotating off to Extendedland.

It just dawned on me, while thinking about what’s rotating out, that this column probably needs a name that’s more… something. Either timely or timeless. Something to think about.


It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of emotion surrounding new sets. The buildup is palpable – for the three or four weeks preceding a new set, people are scouring the Internet, looking for a peek into the future of this game we all love. It’s easy, therefore, to forget about the other side of new sets. The side that changes formats more than adding another 150 or so cards into the mix.

It’s been three sets since the last time we lost cards. I had almost forgotten about it.

This, then, will serve as my farewell to the great commons and uncommons that will move off to greener pastures (in Extended, of course) with the release of Shards of Alara.

Time Spiral

I started playing Magic when Tempest came out. I remember thinking Phyrexian Splicer was about the coolest card ever. It could take one of your opponent’s creature’s abilities, and put it onto your guy! Shadow? YOINK! Flying? Yep, I’ll take that too. Now, looking back, I realize that a modern-day Phyrexian Splicer would have about forty-five lines of rules text because of all the abilities you might want to steal. I’m reminded of that every time I think of Time Spiral, with its overwhelming number of throwback mechanics.

Time Spiral probably did what it was intended to do: bring back people who had played the game five years ago and had gotten over it. Wizards was able to twist up old mechanics like Storm and Flashback to make them relevant again in modern-day Standard – Grapeshot and Ignite Memories fueled more than one Storm deck, and Momentary Blink and Mystical Teachings both anchored decks that dominated Standard.

But Time Spiral did more than just reinvent old mechanics – it also gave us new mechanics as well. Suspend let us use time as a means of investment and gave us a whole different way to pay for spells and creatures, and in retrospect is one of the more interesting things that Wizards has done in recent years from a game design standpoint. The common Suspend guys like Ivory Giant and Errant Ephemeron all were solid guys (even if they only showed up in Limited), but the real poster child of Suspend was probably Riftwing Cloudskate, whose presence will be sorely missed in whatever becomes of the Reveillark deck. And who could forget Split Second? There’s nothing I hate more than having my stuff countered, so I played the heck out of Krosan Grip and Sudden Death.

In regards to the Timeshifted cards … it’s hard to quantify them. If you came into Magic with Time Spiral, you had never seen most of these cards before, and so maybe you didn’t have a dozen Tribal Flames lying around your house somewhere. But for those of us who have been around the block a few times, cards like Soltari Priest and Willbender and Stupor and Browbeat and Gaea’s Blessing and Wall of Roots or Serrated Arrows or Tormod’s Crypt or Pendelhaven have been lying around our bulk boxes, waiting to see something interesting happen. Time Spiral gave them all a second life, one that was arguably better than their first time around.

Other commons that will be missed: Empty the Warrens, Mogg War Marshal, Rift Bolt, Search for Tomorrow, Tendrils of Corruption.

Other uncommons will be missed: the storage lands (like Calciform Pools), Griffin Guide, Primal Forcemage, Scryb Ranger, Urza’s Factory.

Planar Chaos

Planar Chaos’s claim to fame was the shifting of abilities and cards around the color pie. Where Ravnica had made it okay to run three colors in just about every deck, Planar Chaos offered us the ability to actually pare down the number of colors we were using by giving us similar functionality in more than one place.

Perhaps the single biggest card I will miss from this entire block of cards will be Harmonize. Up until Planar Chaos, Green’s limited card drawing had either been reserved for creatures (Wall of Blossoms, Carven Caryatid, Masked Admirers) or dependent on creatures (Collective Unconscious)… even Green’s classically “good” card drawing is more card selection than anything else (Sylvan Library, Preferred Selection). Harmonize was just straight card drawing, and went into almost any midrange Green deck I built – and I built quite a few of those.

Other “colorshifted” commons and uncommons made a splash in Standard as well; cards like Blood Knight, Calciderm, Essence Warden, Fa’adiyah Seer, Mana Tithe, Seal of Primordium, and Simian Spirit Guide all saw tournament play.

And Calciderm reminds me that Planar Chaos had the Fading update, Vanishing, as a keyword mechanic. Bennie Smith beloved Deadwood Treefolk will be rotating out, as will the best Rebel to never be used in a Rebel chain, Aven Riftwatcher, and the burn-spell-in-mortal-form, Keldon Marauders.

Other commons that will be missed: Brute Force, Sinew Sliver, Sunlance, Uktabi Drake, Whitemane Lion

Other uncommons that will be missed: Kavu Predator, Riptide Pilferer, Stonecloaker, Sulfur Elemental

Future Sight

The nice thing about reminiscing about Future Sight is that there is the possibility that some of these cards might come back, since they were “pre-printed” from their “original” source. And in all fairness, most of the more notable cards from this set are making a bigger splash in the more-open formats anyway, like Narcomoeba in Extended Dredge (and Yixlid Jailer AGAINST Extended Dredge) – for instance, the whole block played with the Sliver theme, but none of the Slivers made the impact that Virulent Sliver did, acting as the kill in early versions of Hulk Flash in Legacy and Vintage.

I think the overwhelming number of “new” mechanics really prevented anything from taking hold in Standard. It might have been interesting to see a deck based around Fleshwrither’s Transfigure keyword… if there had been a couple more of them. I personally would have been interested in seeing more cards built around Ghostfire’s “colorless”-ness.

One rotation that is noteworthy is that the loss of Dakmor Salvage completely ruins the Swans combo, which never really had a long time in the sun.

Other commons that will be missed: Augur of Skulls, Edge of Autumn, Lumithread Field

Other uncommons that will be missed: Delay (if only because we won’t be able to snicker at the French version any longer), Haze of Rage, Riftsweeper, Street Wraith


And lest we forget, we’re also losing the hanger-on from three summers ago, the long-lost-and-forgotten third set in the Ice Age block. Coldsnap may have been a big heavy-handed in its “storyline” discovery, but it acted as a fair continuation of the Ice Age sets, and gave us a glimpse at the nostalgia that would be coming in Time Spiral.

Obviously the big card from Coldsnap to rotate will be Skred. Given the appropriate manabase (and why wouldn’t you play Snow lands?), Skred was practically Swords to Plowshares in Red, capable of handling nearly any creature on the other side of the board, including some creatures that would normally have taken two burn spells to dispatch. Skred has been anchoring Red decks since Coldsnap was printed, even despite its inability to be directed at your opponent.

Number two is Rune Snag. The two-mana “soft” counterspell of choice since Mana Leak rotated out last summer, it’s actually been argued that Rune Snag is better than Mana Leak, simply because they don’t become quite as useless in the mid- and late-game. Splashable countermagic has been the trademark of aggro-control decks like Faeries (and, even further back, Madness/Threshold) – the Fae will be hard-pressed to find a reasonable replacement for Rune Snag.

(Not that I’m crying, mind you, I’m really quite sick of Faeries.)

Luckily the color-hosers, like Flashfreeze and Deathmark, were reprinted in Tenth Edition and should become staples of the base set, as they’re all reasonably well-designed and most of them have seen play. Except the Green one, of course – sorry, Karplusan Strider, but you suck.

Other commons that will be missed: Grim Harvest, Martyr of Ashes, Martyr of Sands, Rite of Flame, Ronom Unicorn

Other uncommons that will be missed: the snow dual lands (like Arctic Flats), Coldsteel Heart, Counterbalance (which never did really take off in Standard), Jotun Grunt (more for Vintage), Mouth of Ronom, Phyrexian Ironfoot

The Verdict

When Shards of Alara becomes legal in October, Standard will officially be the smallest it’s been since Coldsnap was introduced into the mix. Faeries will undoubtedly continue its tournament dominance as it seems to lose the least – and its opponents at the top lose a number of weapons against them. But with Shards of Alara bringing (seemingly) not one but five potentially linear models into Standard, who knows what will step up and fight its way to the top? Already it looks like super-aggressive Zoo-type decks could find a home in Standard – and with States on the horizon (and traditionally favorable to aggro decks), we could actually see Faeries become more controlling. Or will the artifact deck come out strong? Or will giant dragons rule the skies?

Okay, maybe not giant Dragons – that may be a thing of the past.

In any event, I will have to cut my mourning short. It’ll be hard not starting Green decks with four-by Harmonize, but somehow I’m sure I’ll muddle through – and so will all of you. Nothing lessens the feeling of sadness as much as getting those new cards in your precious little hands, so this will serve as the last reminder to hit a Pre-Release near you, whether it be at your local store or one put on by one of the “BIG” TO’s, like Star City. I’ll be up in Denver next weekend at our own local “BIG” Pre-Release, and I’ll be back next week with (hopefully) some interesting stories from there!

Until next week…