You Lika The Juice? – Shadows of Standard, Part I

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Wednesday, April 9th – I can’t help it; now that we’ve started getting serious previews of the upcoming set Shadowmoor, I’m totally bored of current Standard. I want to make decks for future Standard, the Standard of the upcoming $5K Mega-Magic Weekend tournament that Star City’s holding in my backyard on May 10th… Warning: contains spoilers.

Warning! Here be spoilers!

I can’t help it; now that we’ve started getting serious previews of the upcoming set Shadowmoor, I’m totally bored of current Standard. I want to make decks for future Standard, the Standard of the upcoming $5K Mega-Magic Weekend tournament that Star City’s holding in my backyard on May 10th (and I suppose it’s the Standard for some Pro Tour over on the Left Coast too…) Of course, without the full spoiler – which we won’t have for sure until prerelease weekend – we can’t know completely what the new Standard will look like.

But that’s not going to stop me from trying to catch an early glimpse. After all, there’s only one week from Shadowmoor’s release and the $5K, so there’s no time to screw around.

One thing that seems clear from the cards we’ve seen so far – there’s a ton of -1/-1 counters running around in this twisted reflection of Lorwyn. And my buddy Jay reminded me that they recently changed the rules so that -1/-1 and +1/+1 counters negate each other like charged ions (see Mark Gottlieb’s Too Cool for Rules); if your permanent finds itself with one or more of each, two of ‘em go poof as a state-based effect.

One of the infinitely fun things about Magic is how new cards and new mechanics make you go back and reevaluate older cards that suddenly have new relevance. It’s like in the movies — notably in Sixth Sense — when the twist at the end makes you go back to the beginning of the movie and see many of the events in a whole new light. I’m going to go all Mark Rosewater-esque on you now and talk about screenwriting for a second. I may not have written for the Roseanne, but there was a point in my life where I spent a lot of time studying screenwriting, and one of the best books out there for hard-core screenwriting theory was Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee. A key takeaway from the book is the principle of writing for “the Gap” — where the character or the audience perceives something they assume is correct, but then later on reality is revealed, giving you that “ah-ha!” moment where things click into place.

With that in mind, when seeing the new cards that utilize —1/-1 counters, think about older cards like Llanowar Reborn, Clockspinning, the Reinforce cards and even Spike Feeder.

Okay, let’s move on to the officially spoiled cards as of this writing:

Augury Adept — 1{wu}{wu}{wu}
Creature — Kithkin Wizard
Whenever Augury Adept deals combat damage to a player, reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. You gain life equal to its converted mana cost.

This is interesting as the exact opposite of Dark Confidant, where you don’t mind having higher-cost spells revealed and drawn, though it’s not as reliable as Bob since you’ve got to charge into the red zone and connect, something that’s not always easy to do for a 2/2. Still, I remember the days when Ophidian decks continuously removed blockers and sent the card-drawing snake on the attack, and it wasn’t even dealing damage (and some point you had so many cards that you actually started dealing damage with the snake instead of drawing).

Ultimately though, what sinks this card is the pricey mana cost; 4 mana for a 2/2 is very pricey for something that only gets you a benefit if it survives to attack and gets through to deal damage. If this were a Kithkin Soldier it might make it into a Kithkin/Preeminent Captain deck.

Shield of the Oversoul — 2 {gw}
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
As long as enchanted creature is green, it gets +1/+1 and is indestructible.
As long as enchanted creature is white, it gets +1/+1 and has flying.

There certainly seems to be incentives for playing aggressive Green/White in the new set, and Shield of the Oversoul is a candidate for that list. The problem with any Auras is how good bounce spells (or, heaven help you, control-magic effects) are in the environment, and right now they’re pretty good, with Riftwing Cloudskate, Venser, and Sower of Temptation all very popular and potent cards. Still, making a creature indestructible is pretty sexy, so this might make a juicy Glittering Wish target. And of course, how nice would it be to slap this puppy on a Troll Ascetic?

Drove of Elves – 3G
Creature – Elf (Uncommon)
Drove of Elves’ power and toughness are each equal to the number of green permanents you control.
Drove of Elves can’t be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.

Hmm, speaking of Troll Ascetic, the Drove also has that nice “mostly untargetable” clause and could certainly make use of Shield of the Oversoul, making Drove of Elves a 3/3 indestructible, untargetable beatstick. In an Elf deck this fellow could get out of hand quickly, but it’s nice that he’s not tied down by tribal constraints, making him a possible inclusion for any deck that plays lots of green permanents, like Wall of Roots, Birds of Paradise, or Seal of Cleansing.

Jaws of Stone — 5R
Jaws of Stone deals X damage divided as you choose among any number of target creatures and/or players, where X is the number of Mountains you control as you play Jaws of Stone.

Whoa – this is like Corrupt on steroids, letting you potentially take out multiple creatures and deliver any remaining damage to the face! Still, the Red decks I’ve seen lately have been designed around Countryside Crusher, which means operating off 3 lands so I don’t see this card making much of a splash in Standard at this point.

Rosheen Meanderer – 3{rg}
Legendary Creature – Giant Shaman (Rare)
{T}: add {4} to your mana pool. Spend this mana only for costs containing {X}.

As a four mana 4/4, he hits the generally acceptable power to cost ratio, and his ability to generate a mass amount of mana is intriguing. So what X spells out there would we want to abuse with this guy? Hurricane and Squall Line leap to mind, as does Disintegrate and Molten Disaster, but let’s dig a little deeper. What about this fellow with Spell Burst? Counter everything! He pays the buyback cost and adds 1 to the power and toughness of Wurmcalling tokens. It can really juice up Profane Commands. What about Magus of the Candelabra for untapping four extra lands? Add 4 to all creatures’ power and toughness off a Mirror Entity activation. Help Linessa, Zephyr Mage pretty much bounce any creature out there. Go nuts with the suspend costs of Aeon Chronicler, Detrivore, or even Fungal Behemoth (hm, tossing around +1/+1 counters could be interesting!). What about Citanul Flute? Kick Verdeloth 4 more Saproling friends.

Not to mention the silly things you can do with Scryb Ranger or Thousand-Year Elixir to untap the fellow and add 8 mana to your mana pool…

Wasp Lancer – {ub}{ub}{ub}
Creature – Faerie Soldier (Uncommon)

Does a Faerie deck want to tap out on turn 3 to play a beater? Probably not; they’re not even playing Oona’s Prowler at two mana for goodness sake! On the other hand, if a mono-Black Bad Moon beatdown deck is to come together, I could see this getting some play for its size and evasion.

Knollspine Invocation – 1RR
Enchantment (Rare)
{X}, Discard a card with converted mana cost X: Knollspine Invocation deals X damage to target creature or player.

I do like how you can choose the card you discard, since the randomness of Stormbind was always a pain in the ass, and I also like the scalability of the damage, though I’d probably just keep paying 3 mana for Squee each turn. Make note of the X activation and add Knollspine Invocation to your Rosheen Meanderer list.

Beseech the Queen – {2b}{2b}{2b}
Sorcery (Uncommon)
({2b} can be paid with any two mana or with {B}. This card’s converted mana cost is 6.)
Search your library for a card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of lands you control, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

As a Black tutor this is pretty pathetic, and compares unfavorably with Diabolic Tutor, a tutor card so well fixed it rarely if ever sees play. For shaving off a single mana cost in a monocolored or at least primarily Black deck, you get a conditional tutor that may not be able to get what you need until after you’ve played out enough lands. I suppose there’s some argument to be made that, as a cheaper tutor, you increase the chances of being able to tutor for a card and be able to play it the same turn.

On the slightly more intriguing side, for enough mana any deck can make use of this spell to tutor up whatever you may need, since if you can pull together six mana you’ve likely got enough land in play so that the mana cost restriction doesn’t really apply. Green jumps to mind since it’s got mana acceleration out the wazoo, but then again Green has a few specialized tutor-like effects anyway. I wonder if some non-black, non-Green Gauntlet of Power decks could come along and utilize the power of the Queen?

Sunken Ruins
Land (Rare)
{T}: Add {1} to your mana pool.
{ub}, {T}: Add {U}{U}, {U}{B}, or {B}{B} to your mana pool.

The cycle of hybrid, Graven Cairns-style lands are a welcome addition to all good mages looking to fix their mana, and if the rumors of Reflecting Pool are correct — and according to the Orb of Insight, it’s likely true — two color decks that make use of spells with heavy color concentration will certainly be very viable.

Ashenmoor Gouger – {br}{br}{br}
Creature – Elemental Warrior (Uncommon)
Ashenmoor Gouger can’t block.

“I don’t want my three-drop 4/4s blocking anyway.” — Jay Delazier. I was tempted to let this stand since, really, what more is there to say? But then I took a look at the creature type and wanted to point out that, in addition to aggressive Warrior decks cropping up, I’ve also seen some pretty fast and aggressive Elemental decks running around.

Fulminator Mage – 1{br}{br}
Creature – Elemental Shaman (Rare)
Sacrifice Fulminator Mage: Destroy target nonbasic land.

This card is bound to be sad times for those players who push the mana envelop to the breaking point, and even if your opponent is the mono-est of monocolor, a vanilla grey ogre still swings for two. Against 90% of the field, he’s going to make manabases suffer, and I could see a Red/Black Mannequin deck springing up with this guy and Avalanche Riders brining the pain… with maybe Siege-Gang Commander batting cleanup.

Morselhoarder – 4{gr}{gr}
Creature – Elemental (Common)
Morselhoarder comes into play with two -1/-1 counters on it.
Remove a -1/-1 counter from Morselhoarder: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This is obviously designed as a fatty for Limited, but what’s nice about the card is that you can tap out to play it and then have two mana on tap to cast something else, like a two-drop creature, a cheap removal spell or a combat trick. I imagine there must be ways of adding —1/-1 counters that could make this fellow into a mana engine of sorts.

Crowd of Cinders – 3B
Creature – Elemental (Uncommon)
Crowd of Cinders’ power and toughness are each equal to the number of black permanents you control.

With Bitterblossom becoming the new Tarmogoyf, there should be no shortage of Black creatures that can block this fellow all day. Still, likely a fearsome foe in Limited.

Merrow Wavebreakers – 4U
Creature – Merfolk Soldier (Common)
{1}{U}, {Q}: Merrow Wavebreakers gains flying until end of turn. ({Q} is the untap symbol)

Ah, here we come across Q, the simple yet mind-melting new mechanic – untapping as a cost! Unfortunately, Wavebreakers is some more Limited fodder, so nothing much to look at here.

Dramatic Entrance – 3GG
Instant (Rare)
You may put a green creature card from your hand into play.

I’ve got some copies of Lure of Prey from Mirage in my collection, and I’ve tried playing with them on occasion, and man they just don’t work out. You’re investing two cards in hand to put a creature into play, and even for the benefit of instant speed and (maybe) a mana discount, it just doesn’t seem worth it. The biggest Green monster I can think of wanting to cheat into play at instant speed can already do so — hello, Cloudthresher!

Blue gets Teferi, Green gets… this. Ugh.

Scarscale Ritual – 1{bu}
Sorcery (Common)
As an additional cost to play Scarscale Ritual, put a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control.
Draw two cards.

This feels like a quality card, though spending mana and a card to draw two cards isn’t so impressive. Most of the playable cards that trade a card and mana for some number of cards seems to start at drawing three cards, even if you don’t get to keep all three. In conjunction with creatures that don’t mind getting the counters or are expendable, it should be worth the effort.

Cragganwick Cremator – 2RR
Creature – Giant Shaman (Rare)
When Cragganwick Cremator comes into play, discard a card at random. If you discard a creature card this way, Cragganwick Cremator deals damage to target player equal to the discarded creature card’s power.

Evan Erwin mentioned pitching a Greater Gargadon to this guy, and while you’d need to craft your hand near perfect (or be the luck sack) to pull that off, wouldn’t that be a sick beating? That said, very rarely has a card that forces a random discard been very good, even if it’s got an efficient power to mana ratio.

Tower Above – {2g}{2g}{2g}
Sorcery (Uncommon)
({2g} can be paid with any two mana or with {G}. This card’s converted mana cost is 6.)
Until end of turn, target creature gets +4/+4 and gains trample, wither and “When this creature attacks, target creature blocks it this turn if able.” (It deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters.)

And here we have our first card with Wither, and boy is it a doozy! Unlike Beseech the Queen, I could totally see running this in an appropriately mono-colored deck. Tower Above is made to practically guarantee killing a problem creature or making it so insignificantly small as to be as a gnat the rest of the game.

I like how Wither makes damage “permanent” so that even smaller creatures become threatening as attackers or blockers when fighting larger creatures. Whereas a large enough Tarmogoyf might be able to hold off two smaller attackers, if they have Wither they’re likely to just come on in.

Dusk Urchins – 2B
Creature – Ouphe (Rare)
Whenever Dusk Urchins attacks or blocks, put a -1/-1 counter on it.
When Dusk Urchins is put into a graveyard from play, draw a card for each -1/-1 counter on it.

I cannot lie, seeing this card had me break out in a grin. I’ve always had a soft spot for this creature type since cracking open my very first Brown Ouphe in Ice Age. Sadly, the little fella didn’t really do much, even when he came back in artifact-heavy Mirrodin. Ouphe Vandals and Spellwilde Ouphe didn’t exactly fill out the Ouphe tribe with quality, did it? Now we have what I think will be a real superstar, a decent-sized creature that eventually trades in for one or more cards depending on whether it gets to attack or block. Cashing this guy in with a Scardale Ritual will probably feel like cheating.

Kinscaer Harpoonist – 3U
Creature – Kithkin Soldier (Common)
Whenever Kinscaer Harpoonist attacks, you may have target creature lose flying until end of turn.

Maybe it’s me, but Blue Kithkin feels… weird. This is Limited chafe, so let’s move on…

Wilt-Leaf Liege – 1{gw}{gw}{gw}
Creature – Elf Knight (Rare)
Other green creatures you control get +1/+1.
Other white creatures you control get +1/+1.
If a spell or ability an opponent controls causes you to discard Wilt-Leaf Liege, put it into play instead of putting it into your graveyard.

They’re setting up G/W Elves to be a straight-up ass-whuppin’ aren’t they? My buddy Jay told me that this might be the chance for me to tap into my much-neglected inner beatdown player. I love playing creatures, but I usually play them because they do cool and interesting things, rather than simply and efficiently lay the smack down. Will Shadowmoor Standard be the time I break out of the box?

Scuzzback Marauders – 4{rg}
Creature – Goblin Warrior (Common)
Persist (When this creature is put into a graveyard from play, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, return it to play under its owner’s control with a -1/-1 counter on it.)

Ah, and now we come to my most favorite mechanic, Persist! Many of you know my love for creatures that never die, and while Persist isn’t technically persistent, getting to bring them back for another go-round makes me smile. Talking with Jay about Persist, he’s concerned that the ability will be nerfed by developers, who’ll make the body it’s attached to not worth playing. In the case of the Marauders, five mana is a lot for a 5/2 body, even with trample. Still, when I built the first Dredge deck and made Top 8 at Champs some years back, there was much joking about it being “a good draft deck.” Yes, Greater Mossdog and some of the other Dredgers weren’t impressive by themselves, but with the right synergies cooking in the deck, they proved surprisingly good. One thing’s for sure – I’ll at least pull together and test a Persist deck to see if the synergies help Persist rise above the mediocrity of the cards it’s attached to.

Grief Tyrant – 5{br}
Creature – Horror (Uncommon)
Grief Tyrant comes into play with four -1/-1 counters on it.
When Grief Tyrant is put into a graveyard from play, put a -1/-1 counter on target creature for each -1/-1 counter on Grief Tyrant.

This is a very interesting design, pushing a player in two directions – either you want to remove those -1/-1 counters to make this an undercosted 8/8 beatstick, or you want this fellow to die so it can take down other creatures (and maybe you even load it up with more -1/-1 counters). A final other option is to use him as a source of -1/-1 counters for fun and profit for the more positive uses of counters (i.e. Dusk Urchins above).

Unless there’s some way to easily pull a bunch of -1/-1 counters off, I don’t see the viability of trying to get an undercosted 8/8, and as a creature-killing machine he seems to be a poor version of Shambling Swarm (though granted Swarm was a rare and this fellow is an uncommon). I suspect this to be pretty much Limited fodder or as a source for -1/-1 counters (perhaps sacking to Greater Gargadon or Nantuko Husk).

Woodfall Primus – 5GGG
Creature – Treefolk Shaman (Rare)
When Woodfall Primus comes into play, destroy target noncreature permanent.
Persist (When this creature is put into a graveyard from play, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, return it to play under its owner’s control with a -1/-1 counter on it)

On first blush, this seems like another ridiculously expensive Treefolk card that will never see play, so what’s the point? Then you squint and see some comparisons with Angel of Despair – an expensive fattie that destroys something when it comes into play. Then you grimace at the comparison, since the Angel was a mana cheaper and could kill creatures (and the Green mages among you cry to the heavens, remember Desert Twister could kill creatures!). But let’s take this apart; for eight mana, you get a 6/6 trampler with a non-cantrip Rootgrapple attached, and if it’s killed you get a 5/5 trampler with a non-cantrip Rootgrapple attached. That’s actually a very efficient package for eight mana if you can reliably get to eight mana without losing first or somehow cheat this fellow into play. Keep an eye out for this guy, if Big Green makes a showing this might be a big part of the puzzle.

Thought Reflection – 4UUU
Enchantment (Rare)
If you would draw a card, draw two cards instead.

Very cleverly worded so that multiple copies are not cumulative, I expect a copy to jump into everyone’s Elder Dragon Highlander deck that can play Blue, and the rest to go into the junk rare box. Of course, I don’t have a mind for combo sickness that doesn’t involve creatures so I’m probably missing something important here…

Mossbridge Troll – 5GG
Creature – Troll (Rare)
If Mossbridge Troll would be destroyed, regenerate it.
Tap any number of untapped creatures you control other than Mossbridge Troll with total power 10 or greater: Mossbridge Troll gets +20/+20 until end of turn.

Okay, how many of you saw this card a week ago and thought for sure it was an April Fool’s joke? *raises hand* Anyone else? I don’t know, it just seemed way too weird to be true, but I suppose since it’s been sitting on the Shadowmoor card preview page for the past nine days it’s real. It seems to me pretty obvious this card was not made for the tournament players out there, but instead to appeal to the Johnnies who want to delight in hitting someone with a 25/25 (or 45/45) Troll.

No doubt, that would be fun, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t help me for the big $5K…

And yeah, it’s cute to have “bridge” and “troll” in the title.

Grim Poppet – 7
Artifact Creature – Scarecrow (Rare)
Grim Poppet comes into play with three -1/-1 counters on it.
Remove a -1/-1 counter from Grim Poppet: Put a -1/-1 counter on another target creature.

The fact that this is a rare artifact makes me think there is totally going to be lots of good things you’ll want to throw around —1/-1 counters on outside of trying to mow down weenie creatures.

Rhys the Redeemed – {GW}
Legendary Creature – Elf Warrior (Rare)
{2}{gw}, {T}: Put a 1/1 green and white Elf Warrior creature token into play.
{4}{gw}{gw}, {T}: For each creature token you control, put a token into play that’s a copy of that creature.

Does anybody else out there think they kinda did Rhys wrong? The Lorwyn block version of Rhys was underwhelming, and I’m pretty well under-whelmed by Rhys here. Sure, he’s got a lot of abilities for a one mana creature, but each of the abilities are soooooo slooooooowwww and potentially rather… well, underwhelming. Compare to Imperious Perfect and it’s just sad. This guy is supposed to be a Legend?

Alright, I just realized that the word count is getting rather long here, so I think I’ll break it into two parts, adding this week’s cards to the list for next week. So what do you think of the officially previewed cards so far? I’m always excited about a new set, so I’m always a bit suspicious of my impressions since they are almost always positive.

See you next week!


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