It is a month before Standard changes. It’s set review season, but everyone does those. Instead, I want to look at the cards that are underplayed – perchance forgotten – in Standard. These may be the tools that win your Regionals – if you remember they exist.
Years ago, the Regionals that introduced Invasion block saw a lot of Fires of Yavimaya decks – but a couple people remembered that Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore were in 5th, and built a winning UB control deck around them. Other people will talk about the new cards – the current incarnations of Fires. I want to point out the Evil Eyes.
A few other writers, including Flores, have penned recent articles on forgotten gems in Standard. I’m not going to rehash those articles. I agree that Keiga, North Tree, and Ryusei are good cards, and that Wrath of God will see more play once UW control arrives. I’ll skip those cards and go to the more marginal stuff.
It’s food for thought time.
Ghostly Prison: Aggro decks, by definition, depend on tempo. They cannot afford to pay extra mana to get their Kird Apes through. I have built a lot of decks that rely on Faith’s Fetters, Pillory of the Sleepless, and so forth to control aggro. That can work, unless a Zoo deck gets so much damage through and pressure on the board that they just burn me out. That almost never happens if Ghostly Prison hits early enough. Ghostly Prison buys the time to get the more expensive answers online. Obviously, Ghostly Prison does little against Magnivore and Keiga, but there are other answers for those.
Yes, Ghostly Prison does die to Kami of the Ancient Law and Mortify and Seed Spark – but if your deck is running Ghostly Prison and Faith’s Fetters and Pillory, and maybe Glare or Worship or Ivory Mask or a Honden or even Searing Meditation – well, how bad is it if they waste their Enchantment removal on a Ghostly Prison? Again, just food for thought – especially since the UW guild is coming.
Worship: Speaking of enchantments, how many decks can deal with Worship and an untargettable creature? I know that a GW Enchantress deck (with Ghostly Prison, Fetters, Worship, and North Tree) absolutely destroys Zoo. Unfortunately, that’s about all it destroys. Worship is amazing, provided opposing decks do not have bounce (which Blue decks always have), or Disenchant effects (the province of Green and, to a lesser extent, White) or life loss effects (which are way too common in Black nowadays.) That said, Worship can pose a real problem for some builds, especially game 1. It probably isn’t great right now, but it could be a metagame wrecker if things play out just right.
Privileged Position: It’s sure no Sterling Grove. It’s a five mana enchantment that doesn’t really do much of anything to the board. However, imagine pairing this up with the Blue and White Hondens, Remand, Ivory Mask, Genjus, Ghostly Prison, Fetters, Wrath, maybe Worship, plus a Confiscate or two, not to mention the Dissension cards. The kill card could be anything from Meloku to Millstone to Storm Herd. The point is not to question whether this deck is good – the question is, can whatever you are thinking of playing deal with this?
This sort of thing kicks the crap out of decks in the MTGO casual room, even without UW duals, but the casual room is the home of slow aggro decks, so take that with a lot of salt. But remember that it does exist – and think about how you would fight it.
Marble Titan and Loxodon Gatekeeper: Everything of value you may have comes into play tapped, and everything with Bloodthirst or any size stays that way. This was the core of an annoying little casual deck I put together, with Icy Manipulator and Serra’s Blessing to let me attack while locking down anything large and annoying. For multiplayer, I added Seedborn Muse to give me a chance to Icy everything in sight, but that is hardly necessary in duels. I really doubt it’s worth considering, but if the metagame moves to even larger creatures, someone could try it.
Myojin of Cleansing Fire: This is very close to Eager Cadet – a card that everyone forgets is Standard legal, but is so bad no one cares. However, the white Myojin comes pretty close to working in a mono-white Urzatron deck, and it could work in a UWG Control deck with a significant amount of mana acceleration. Once again, this card is a great foil against some specific archetypes – but dreadful against several others. Just remember, if you want Wrath of God 5-9, and Final Judgment doesn’t work for some reason, this is available.
White Sideboard “Tech”
Sacred Ground: UR Magnivore/Wildfire is currently a Tier 1 deck. True, the UR decks can bounce Sacred Ground, then cast Stone Rain and/or Wildfire, but Sacred Ground can slow that deck’s disruption down a lot. Moreover, Boomerang is temporary – after it is bounced, Sacred Ground comes back down the next turn (or the turn after that with Remand.) More importantly, other varieties of Wildfire decks cannot deal with Sacred Ground as easily. RB Wildfire is going to have real problems once Sacred Ground hits the table. The only question is whether the RB deck will appear: with Wrecking Ball as an instant, it’s a question of “when,” and not “if.”
Scour: I have played around with this in a WB Dimir House Guard-based transmute deck. If you can get this to resolve targeting a Faith’s Fetters or Confiscate, you can really swing the game. That said, it is pretty situational. It is a tool – but there are tools and there are tools. In my barn, I have a tool for tightening the hoops on wooden barrels. That doesn’t see much use, either.
Leave no Trace and Tempest of Light: I also have tools for cleaning horses’ hooves, harrowing fields, and shoveling snow. Stuff like that comes with an old farm and most is almost totally useless, but sometimes snow does fall. If enchantment-heavy decks really do appear, these tools, along with Primeval Light, are available.
Pure Intentions: Tools are tools – but even if discard-heavy decks do appear, I’d think long and hard before I’d put four Pure Intentions in the sideboard.
Cowardice: This is yet another tool to control creature decks, which would be a lot more valuable if Heartbeat Combo and other creatureless decks were not quite so good. Still, Cowardice has the tools to keep creatures off the board, starting with Icy Manipulator, Gigadrowse. and so forth. You can even play silly games with Leyline of Singularity, Cowardice, and Minamo, but that’s ridiculous. Cowardice is probably going to be useless… but you might reconsider.
Mimeofacture: I suspect that this is too early for this to see much play – it won’t really shine until Kamigawa block rotates out. The problem is that the good fatties currently being played are all Legends, so replicate doesn’t work. (Technically, it works as a mana sink, but the first copy to resolve kills the original target, so all the others are countered on resolution.) In that respect, if you want a four mana, sorcery-speed 3U card to kill a Legend, you can use Clone, which also kills North Tree. Actually, almost none of the creatures currently seeing Standard play are things you want to Mimeo: Keiga, Meloku, and Ghost Council are legendary, North Tree and Solifuge are untargetable, Kird Ape and Scab-Clan Mauler are probably 1/1s, Screeching Grotesque is “unenhanced” and Tallowisp probably won’t help you much. About the only creature you could grab is Rumbling Slum – but if you are the blue player facing RG Zoo, you probably don’t want more damage every upkeep.
However, Mimeofacture can also copy lands, artifacts, and enchantments, meaning that it could conceivably kill a legend and provide a mana boost (provided you already have access to eight mana), or slap an opponent’s Faith’s Fetters or Mortifies on a lot of that player’s own permanents. It could also see some play in UR Wildfire decks: if your opponent has one land up, and you have a ton of mana, peeling several more lands out of their deck may just get the concession.
Like I said, look at this again after Kamigawa block rotates out.
Plagiarize: Stealing an opponent’s draws is a very powerful effect, especially if the format keeps running Howling Mines, but this still not good enough. To really be broken, you would have to be able to recur it every turn. The Izzet guild can’t do it… the closest I can come is Mark of Eviction, Eternal Witness and eight available mana – but that’s only legal in Extended. That said, the effect is there, if the supporting cards arrive. (Traumatize falls in this same category.)
Trade Routes: This has been discussed before, by other parties, but it is a cheap, reusable form of card drawing, especially if combined with Life from the Loam. Think of this as a Jushi Apprentice that does not die to Pyroclasm (and does not flip to become a win condition, but whatever.) If a UW control deck wants to play Wrath and splash Green, then this is probably the most cost-effective card drawing it could have.
Blue Sideboard “Tech”
Overwhelming Intellect: Adrian Sullivan destroyed Heartbeat players who brought in the “man package” with this card. It is narrow, since it can only be deployed by Blue control decks with a ton of mana acceleration. Since that might be the definition of UG decks once Dissension rolls around, this is a card to keep in mind.
Quash: This is another highly situational card, but one worth remembering. Odds are that you won’t be able to Quash a Char, any more than you could Plagiarize an opponent’s Tidings, but the thought is nice. Quash is best as an answer to Wildfire, Enduring Ideal, other any card that powers a combo. However, Cranial Extraction can do pretty much the same thing, but you don’t have to have an opponent’s cooperation to Extract a card.
Squelch: Another situational tool, but a marginally more useful one than Quash.
“Hey Mister – how come that guy sacced that creature? His Ghost Council didn’t go anywhere!”
“Shut up, kid. I gotta draw a card.”
I can’t really find any unplayed Black cards worth thinking about. Persecute, Ghost Council, and even Ravenous Rats already see play, while the unplayed cards are generally things I have trouble making work for casual play. (I mean, sure, I have a Bloodbond March deck, but it isn’t close to Tier 1. Or Tier 2.) A few cards look like they may fit well with some Dissension cards, but this article isn’t about Dissension-based builds, so we’ll go straight to the sideboard.
It’s not as if Hell’s Caretaker is going to break Standard wide open, is it?
Black Sideboard Tech:
Execute/Slay: Cantrip removal cards are always good, and not to be overlooked. The only requirements are that the opponent’s creatures be targetable and the sideboard slots not be needed for something more important – like Last Gasp.
Exile into Darkness: UB control decks are probably running Ribbons in this sideboard slot, but nothing says “hang it up, it’s over” to a weenie deck like Exile. If RB control decks appear, this will see sideboard use.
Eradicate: People keep tapping out for Yosei and Keiga, and I keep nailing them with Eradicate. Remove from the game is great, the added Cranial Extraction is sweet – but the fact that this is a four-mana sorcery is less exciting.
I keep thinking I’m missing Black cards, but between Gifts, Ghost Dad, and the various Orzhov decks, most of the good Black is already in use.
Nezumi Graverobber: I’m playing this against Moldervine Cloak decks – at least in my decks that care about beating. In control, Cremate may be better.
Blood Moon: No matter how bad some of my online, card-starved decks are, they win repeatedly when they resolve Blood Moon. “Splinter your Signet, Blood Moon” may be a total nOOb line, but it causes a lot of decks to enter their scoop phase. So many decks are multicolored and rely on non-basic lands to cast their enchantment removal that Blood Moon is amazing. Even if it will not be the core of a Tier 1 deck after Dissension, you need to think about how you handle an opponent casting one.
Flowstone Slide: RB control may not be playable – the RB guild mechanics certainly are not skewed that direction – but it does have some powerful answers. With a bit of acceleration, Flowstone Slide is pretty much a Red Wrath of God – and more, if RB is running cards like Ryusei and Godo. Hey, is Godo, fetch Tatsumasa, equip, next turn Slide for five, win, any more unlikely than seeing a Splice deck in a feature match at a Constructed GP? I don’t think so.
Rukh Egg: In another time, in another place, this was a good card. It hasn’t found a place in Standard any time since. The question is whether this could find a niche in a Flowstone Slide deck (grin) – or maybe in a guild that is all about sacrificing it’s own cards. Hmmm – block something, Shock something, get a 4/4 flier? Seems good.
Red Sideboard Tech:
Akki Underling: I have seen this played as a sideboard card against Owling Mine, but I’m not sure that this “tech” – or that the Owling Mine deck, for that matter, is still viable.
Guerilla Tactics: Apparently, I don’t draft Red much. I found that, although I had playsets of many Red uncommons, I had no Yamabushi’s Flames. I had to play Tactics in that hole, and found that they are pretty solid against Ravenous Rats and Grotesques. They are not amazing, but if your opponent is playing discard….
Hidetsugu’s Second Rite: Maybe, just maybe, people have forgotten this is around. If so, they will forget to mana burn to stay off ten – and this may steal a win or two. Better yet, if you can play it round 1 against someone with a lot of friends, word will get around. You may never need to side it in again.
Parallectric Feedback: A few decks are playing high casting cost cards. Parallectric Feedback can do a lot of damage – but whether it is enough to be significant will be a real question. Obviously, if a Heartbeat player casts Maga for twenty, you win – if that player does not have a Muddle in response. I’m not sure how useful Feedback may be – playtesting will be necessary.
Green decks are heavily played, so many of the good Green spells are already in decks or sideboards. Some are somewhat underplayed at present, and may see a resurgence – but are obvious. One example might be Birds of Paradise in five-color decks – if a five-color deck appears, Birds would be a reasonable choice. No point in dwelling on that. I want to reach a bit further.
Descendant of Masumaro: With the appearance of a UG Guild, we can expect a UG control deck – probably an upgrade of Critical Mass. Critical Mass has had a number of early drop beaters – including, at various times, Vinelasher Kudzu and Gnarled Mass. Another option, which might work if the UG deck is heavily into card advantage, might be Descendant of Masumaro. Like Vinelasher Kudzu, it starts small, but if cast midgame, it can grow larger, faster than the Kudzu. It’s a big stretch, but it’s probably worth testing.
Natural Affinity: This is another powerful effect that can be used or abused – if someone can break the symmetry. I have mentioned the infinite mana combo with Freed from the Real and guild lands that produce Blue in the past, and that effect may prove playable. One classic approach was using Spidersilk Armor or Death Pit Offering to pump your lands, then something like Pyroclasm to Armageddon your opponent, then beat for the win. This might be a playable option, and we could see a return of Roshambo decks.
Verduran Enchantress: I have a long history with Enchantress decks, most of them bad, but a UG enchantress deck has some possibilities. First off, it allows for some Countermagic to help protect the Enchantress. Next, adding Blue allows you to run cards like Mark of Eviction, which is a whole lot more fun with an Enchantress in play. Other useful options might include Dream Leash and the like – but the deck will probably need some sort of combo to be viable, or maybe Freed from the Real.
Verdant Force: Okay – probably not. Once upon a time decks could cheat this into play quickly, and the tokens would be significant. That seems unlikely now – Natural Order is gone, and a pair of 1/1s is not that special. Sure, you could play it and Glorious Anthem or Leyline of the Meek, but there are better, cheaper token producers, and better cards to couple with Glorious Anthem.
Green Sideboard Tech:
This is a tougher than usual category. A huge portion of the Green cards are already seen in decks, or in sideboards. Even Carven Caryatids are seeing sideboard play. About the only sideboard card I play, but don’t see commonly, is Splinter. Resolving Splinter against Ivory Owl Netsuke is fine, but Splinter is only slightly better than Quash. Naturalize is better in almost every case.
Artifacts and Multicolored cards:
Once again, this category would either have to simply recite cards that are already seeing play, be too deck specific, or just plain useless. I mean, I could wonder whether UG control will become powerful enough to force other decks to run Defense Grid, but that’s not very meaningful. That’s just one step above talking about Teferi’s Puzzle Box and Underworld Dreams, so I’ll end here.
Now get back to the Dissension cardlists – that’s where you’ll find the new decks. Just remember that the existing Standard card set may have some forgotten tools worth picking up.
Pete (dot) Jahn (at) Verizon (dot) net