Honorable Mention: Living Tsunami
With Blue control on the back shelf for now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see something like the old Blue Skies deck from Masques Block come back around. There are good conditional cheap counterspells to provide defense against Day of Judgment and targeted removal (to some extent), and you might be able to get some mileage out of cheap high-powered flyers like the Tsunami and Illusionary Servant. Windrider Eel might have a home as another (essentially) 4/4 for four, as the Tsunami always guarantees your land drop.
He’s not good enough on his own to be Top 10, but MAN, I want him to be good. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the artwork.
Kazandu Blademaster is the new Muscle Sliver. To me, anyway. I played Muscle Sliver in Stompy with no other Slivers, simply because a 2/2 for two was okay, and if you got more than one, they just got better. Kazandu Blademaster is actually better in many ways: he comes with First Strike and Vigilance out of the box, is in a relevant creature type, and if you get more than one, the bonuses don’t disappear if one of the Blademasters bites it. I’m not sure that Ally-centric decks will become hot in Standard, but I have played against them online, and it gets a lot harder to deal with them when there are Oran-Rief Survivalists triggering them. I might use both in a GW Aggro type of deck, if I were to build one.
The vamps got all the good toys in this set, didn’t they? Vampire Hexmage seems to be mostly sideboard material to off troublesome Planeswalkers, but as a 2/1 first-striker for BB, he’s definitely not overcosted for the body. Vampires! will like this guy maindeck better than Child of Night, assuming they have extra room in the two-slot. I’ve seen him popping up maindeck online, so at least one person agrees with me. But since I can’t see sacrificing this guy to remove the counters from a Khalni Heart Expedition, it seems like his uses are relegated mostly to ‘Walker cleanup. Which is still pretty solid.
Conditional Mystic Snake… but sadly it makes this list because it’s about the best countermagic most of us are going to be able to play with nowadays. Sure, you could fill your four-casting-cost counterspell needs with Mindbreak Trap ($15), but from what I can see, this is shaping up to be a creature-driven Standard at the outset, which means that this counterspell will be live most of the time. It still sucks when compared to the counterspells of old (heck, of last year’s Standard), but no one is going to start playing Cancel, so you take what you get.
Two power hasty guy, in a potentially relevant creature type (we can judge better as the format shapes up), and the potential to blow up either a color-fixing triple land, or one of these obscene rare lands from Zendikar. I’ve seen Oran-Rief, the Vastwood do some pretty stupid stuff. He only loses a point of toughness to skip paying Avalanche Riders’ Echo cost, but it shouldn’t matter, because no one’s playing Seismic Shudder when Pyroclasm is in the format.
6. the Refuges
If you ask me, every big set needs uncommon mana fixing. Budget builders are in a real decent state when it comes to fixing mana right now, what with the Shards triple-lands and the Zendikar lifegaining lands and Terramorphic Expanses. I’d really prefer to see something that didn’t come into play tapped; that seems to be Wizards’ standard “we can give this downside to uncommon lands” response since, heck, Invasion. Even the Vivid lands came into play tapped! (Sorry, “entered the battlefield.”) Still, the Refuges are fine color-fixing for the two-colored decks that don’t need the third color from the Shards lands, which means you get the one life as a bonus.
… I don’t ask for much, but untapped two-color lands in uncommon would be worth some pretty solid downside. But now that Wizards is avoiding “losing life” as a downside for lands, I doubt we’ll see them any time soon.
This pick is so conditional. It requires (1) a deck packing White creatures in bulk and (2) things that the deck will necessarily be afraid of. That means it’s probably going to go into a token deck using Conqueror’s Pledge or Martial Coup, or a Bant deck with a bunch of White(ish) creatures like Rhox War Monk and Deft Duelist. Mostly the White token deck will want it to survive Pyroclasm or Volcanic Fallout; the Bant deck already can do that based on sheer backside. And that’s saying nothing about the fact that it doesn’t help against Infest or Day of Judgment. But it can also be used to alpha-strike, so I think the multiple uses will be enough for someone to give it a shot.
4. Mind Sludge
In its second tour through Standard, it looks like Mind Sludge has found an even more receptive environment, if that’s even possible. Countermagic is at a low point, and creature decks are more interested in curving out into powerful creatures rather than dumping multiple spells in a turn, meaning that a turn 5 Mind Sludge is very likely to empty your opponent’s hand completely. I’ve been running it in Mono-Black Control to great effect, but I’ve also seen it used in Vampires! – it’s almost like Winter Orb in Stompy. You get a couple of creatures on the board, and then Mind Sludge makes sure that those creatures go all the way.
Yes, I’m building MBC – after all, so many of the old pieces are around. Duress, Mind Sludge, Haunting Echoes? It’s like I’m back in Odyssey block. And that’s not even considering the rest of the list…
Here’s what I’ve discovered about Vampire Nighthawk: Man, is that guy tough to deal with. Sure, he dies to Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, but doesn’t everything? But he avoids all the Black removal short of Tendrils of Corruption, lives through Disfigure or Burst Lightning, provides decent offense and lifegain, and can take down bigger creatures on defense. I don’t want to say he’s the new Wren’s Run Vanquisher, but you can see the similarities. I think he might be good enough to roll in MBC, which means that he’s ridiculous in Vampires! where he’s got a Vampire Lord potentially backing him up.
I was playtesting against Vampires! one afternoon this week, and my opponent played turn 1 Quest for the Gravelord. I scoffed; by the time his token becomes relevant, I’ll have neutered his board position and been in control of the game. That’s because I’m dumb. (Regular readers have now headed to the comments section to voice their agreement.) First of all, three is a lot less than five, which is how I read it the first time. (It was probably the 5/5 creature, distracting me with the 5’s.) Second of all, how the heck are you going to contain a 5/5 zombie token once he’s in play? There’s no real bounce being played, which means you’ve gotta point two burn spells at it, or Path it or something. And, to boot, the Quest triggers on any creature, meaning that if you regularly kill your opponent’s guys, you should be able to put together a 5/5 zombie in no time flat. Good in aggro, good in control. That’s the kind of uncommon I can get behind.
Black usually doesn’t have any trouble dealing with opposing creatures, but there are a couple of problematic guys, like Great Sable Stag or White Knight or, I don’t know, Deft Duelist or something. Mainly those first two guys. Forcing an Edict effect through can deal with them, and this one avoids Negate and Spell Pierce, which makes it even better. Throw in a decent body for the cost (2/2 for BB) and, yet again, that relevant creature type, and you again have a guy that will see play in any deck with more Swamps than other basic lands.
Now, you may say, “Dave, you’re obviously biased. You’ve been talking about Black control since episode one of this column.” And I would say, okay, maybe a little. I like the Black cards, what can I say? Here’s what I’ve been testing around the online world. You be the judge.
Rare Cost Summary:
Gargoyle Castle ($1.99 x 4 = $7.96)
A steady stream of removal, a handful of hard-to-deal-with or utility creatures, and the awesome power of Mind Sludge. Not much more you can ask for from a Black control deck. I’ve been testing out a deck like this online over the weekend and getting good results. My friend Rick Ashby (who is categorically NOT playing Magic any more) suggested testing out Wretched Banquet, but I think you might need fewer two-power guys to make that effective. Plus there’s no Infest in there either. Let’s face it, Black is flush with options, and the Vampires don’t NEED Vampire Nocturnus to be great.
Rares you could add, if you had them: Malakir Bloodwitch is just a great finisher for this deck. A 4/4 flyer with protection that nullifies Path to Exile means that, in most cases, your opponent is going to have to spend at least two cards to deal with her. She’s like a big flying Ihsan’s Shade.
Next week! We have one of the early PTQs here in Denver, so I might talk a little about Zendikar Sealed Deck. But Zendikar offers a lot of deckbuilding space – and I still want to go back and see if the reprinting of Harrow and the printing of Khalni Heart Expedition makes me want to play Domain.
Until next week…
dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at twitter and facebook