Every fall, it seems like we have the same discussions. The new cards from the fall “big set” get people all worked up and excited. What’s going to be big? What will plug into existing decks? What will everyone be playing coming mid-October? But the bigger impact to the format is not what’s coming … it’s what’s leaving.
The Roaring Twenties
The big elephants in the room. The 600-pound gorillas. The four cards that dominated a lot of Standard while they were available are going to be rotating out: Cryptic Command, Reflecting Pool, Bitterblossom, and Thoughtseize. What’s bad is, I labeled this section “The Roaring Twenties” because each of these cards was over $20 at one point during its heyday in Standard… but the rotation and other conspiring events have driven all four of these cards down under $20. (Maybe it’s a sign of the economy, maybe it’s a sign of the upcoming change in Standard, but there are only two cards currently over $20 — Baneslayer Angel and Elspeth, Knight Errant.)
I’m not sad to see these cards go. Did they warp the format? I can’t say I believe that to be the case, despite them being so prevalent. They were just really good. People are always going to want to play with the really good cards.
But what I’m wondering is… is it the time to pick these up? If you’re so inclined to have one for your EDH deck, or if you want to play them around the kitchen table, is the price going to drop enough after rotation for us to call the price “reasonable”…?
Somehow, I don’t see them dropping enough for us to start using Thoughtseizes as coasters. Probably all four of these cards are going to see play in Extended, and that’s the next PTQ format coming up. Maybe Reflecting Pool is the oddball out, thanks to the new fetchlands and the still-legal Ravnica dual lands. But as we move into the Zendikar Sealed qualifier season, I think you may be able to get these at a decent price. I mean, Bitterblossom is already down to $10, which was unthinkable back when Faeries were dominating Standard last year.
The Tribal Element
I think it’s a little odd that, on the heels of Lorwyn’s tribal focus and complaints of “linear deck design,” we still are getting a bit of the tribal thing through M10 and Zendikar — or at least, from what’s been revealed so far. And you can just take a look at last week’s column to see how linear that Vampire deck is turning out (and we had another auto-include… we’ll get to that later). But the bulk of the base of the tribal decks that have been peppered throughout Standard for two years will now be gone.
And while it means that Faeries will move off to Extended, it also removes a number of inexpensive options for budget players. Kithkin and Merfolk continue to be a factor in Standard, and budget versions of those decks can still be viable even without the big-sticker rares. And Elementals, Treefolk, Elves, and Warriors all provided a good linear option for deckbuilding.
Uncommons like Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Wizened Cenn, Merrow Reejerey, Shriekmaw, Cloudgoat Ranger, and the Vivid Lands, and commons like Mulldrifter, Spellstutter Sprite, Broken Ambitions, and Nameless Inversion have provided a power infrastructure to both budget players and Pro players alike.
It’s more, thought, than just losing the strongest tribal core that we’ve had since Onslaught’s Goblins. Due to the unique big-small-big-small nature of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, we’re actually losing the largest number of cards in a single shot ever in rotation history.
I personally really like the hybrid mechanic. It’s a great variation on the multicolor mechanic, and the hybrid block proved that the mechanic can be the focus of a block without making the entire block seem like a gimmick. And we got great hybrid cards like Boggart Ram-Gang, Ashenmoor Gouger, Flame Javelin Beseech the Queen, Murderous Redcap, Plumeveil, Giantbaiting, Unmake, Spectral Procession, and Guttural Response. Shadowmoor started the power creep that we see in Alara, pushing the amount of strength that can be offset by merely giving a card a weird casting cost.
I do think I’m going to miss the filter lands. They were a prevalent part of Standard for the year-and-a-half we had them, allowing a lot of flexibility and diversity in deckbuilding. If you had a favorite color pairing, it was very easy to hook yourself up with a playset and smooth your mana out. Unlike the Big Twenties up above, I don’t see these filter lands making a huge impact on Extended (thanks to Ravnica duals and the new enemy-colored fetchlands making up so much of mana bases), so wait to pick them up until after rotation, where they should drop from their current price ($5-7) to around the same price as the Future Sight rare lands ($2-3).
Okay. Enough wistful longing looks. As my grandma would say, “There’s new sh** out there.”
So the rumor mill is starting to guess at possible reprints, thanks to the power of the Orb of Insight. It looks like Cancel will be available to all those people who want to run countermagic in Limited — yay! And it looks like we might get River Boa and Demolish. But the one that has me most interested is the possible reprinting of Mind Sludge.
Back when Mind Sludge was originally printed in Torment, as part of that set’s Black-centric gimmick, it actually had a lot of power — and a lot of Swamp-related buddies, making Black-based control very appealing. Cards like Mutilate and Cabal Coffers gave a lot of power to black, and rewarded you even more if you resisted the urge to dilute your deck with another color.
A reprinting of Mind Sludge starts pushing us back towards mono-colored decks. You can’t use Mind Sludge effectively if you’re only running four Swamps in a deck. But it’s not just Mind Sludge … there are a lot more cards that are pushing us back towards mono-color.
Or, at least, forcing us to choose between the triple-colored power in Alara, or the strength of a single color in M10 and Zendikar.
Yeah, this all started in M10, I think. Knowing that the color-smoothing filter lands of Shadowmoor were rotating out (as well as Reflecting Pool), it was a little curious that M10 had heavy color requirements like Ball Lightning, Overrun, and Planar Cleansing. So now we’re starting to see casting costs in Zendikar spoilers like Roil Elemental’s 3UUU and Elemental Appeal’s RRRR. And now cards that care about how many of a basic land we have in play, like the new rare land cycle and Mind Sludge?
What exactly is Wizards trying to do to us? We’re used to just taking whatever cards we want!
So what do you think? Which will you pick once Zendikar comes around? Still stuck on the power of whatever Shard you inhabit? Or are you going to dive into Zendikar and go back to your favorite single color?
Stomp Through Zendikar
River Boa was in the very first Stompy decks I built back, geez, back when Tempest first came out. And when I saw this preview from PAX, I thought it would be fun to re-explore the deck type.
This new version of Rogue Elephant definitely took me back. And, of course, it reminded me that the downside to Rogue Elephant was, well, basically any kind of removal — even something as simple as Terror was a two-for-one against Rogue Elephant. Scythe Tiger gets around that with Shroud — although it now dies to Volcanic Fallout and Infest. But the tradeoff for blanking Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile is pretty good — and I think maybe good enough to make it into a deck.
… and I’m out. We’ll need more help from Zendikar in order for this archetype to make a comeback. Scute Mob might be a worthwhile addition, even though you probably hope to never have to lean on his ability too much:
It kind of defeats the idea of having a land-light aggro deck. Nice to have a one-casting-cost 5/5 or bigger, but it also doesn’t really work with the land-sacrificing Scythe Tiger.
After last week’s exercise in building “the Vampire deck” that appears to be easy to build thanks to JUST the cards already spoiled in Zendikar, early last week Wizards revealed another doozy that belongs in the deck.
Gatekeeper of Malakir – BB
Creature – Vampire Warrior (U)
Kicker B (You may pay an additional B as you cast this spell.)
When Gatekeeper of Malakir enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, target player sacrifices a creature.
A 2/2 for BB is already pretty decent, and in a relevant creature type as we are talking about the Vampire deck here, but that Kicker ability is really very good. It gives the Vampire deck a way to deal with Great Sable Stag (which would give it fits until you got Vampire Nocturnus sending all your fangs into the air) and is just great utility on a guy you might play anyway.
Hopefully we’ll start getting some more of the commons and uncommons spoiled – right now it appears to be mostly rares and mythics, as Wizards wants to showcase the flashy “big effect” spells. As you can imagine, I’m more interested in the lower-rarity cards. And so far, Zendikar doesn’t seem to be skimping on useful commons or uncommons, much like Alara block previously.
I’m getting excited! The Prerelease is only two weeks away! Hope you have already made your plans to find the type of Prerelease you prefer and get your hands on what is shaping up to be a great set.
Until next week…
dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at twitter and facebook