October has been an exciting time. We’ve finally shrugged off the oppressively powerful cards from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor that have been dominating Standard for so long. Add to that the rush of an exciting new set chock full of enticing new cards, and it all makes for a wild ride for Magic players as we try to figure out what to play now. However, in the midst of this out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new fervor, I thought it might be helpful to remember we had a really cool block that came out between Lorwyn/Shadowmoor and Zendikar, and it had a lot more going on than just Cascade.
“What are you talking about, Bennie?” you might be protesting. “An Alara-enabled archetype pretty much dominated the recent StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open! I don’t think we’ve forgotten about Alara.” It’s true that Jund appears to be the deck to beat in the new Standard, but it was the lone non-Lorwyn-based archetype that was able to hang with the big boys of old Standard, so it makes sense that it would be the go-to deck for a lot of players while the format is in flux. As the format settles and matures, most Magic pundits are of the opinion that Jund will just be another Tier 1 deck.
This is a great time for deck builders who like to spring unexpected strategies on their opponents that will often bring victories. We have a pretty good sense of where the metagame is today, lots of aggro led by Jund’s quality card mix and Cascade, so with an eye on what we can expect across the table from us, let’s take a look at some cards we may be overlooking from Alara block.
Knight-Captain of Eos
Despite the Lorwyn rotation, we’ve had a fair number of quality solider cards come out, both in M10 (Captain of the Watch, Elite Vanguard, Veteran Armorsmith, Veteran Swordsmith) and Zendikar (Conqueror’s Pledge, Kor Aeronaut, Kor Skyfisher), along with army boosters like Ajani Goldmane and Honor of the Pure. Knight-Captain is another “instant army” card that can also “Fog” when you need to – helpful when trying to race a Baneslayer Angel or getting some quest counters on your Luminarch Ascension.
I’ve heard a few people who’ve played the new Standard complain that 4 “Wraths” (or Day or Judgment) was just not enough against the aggro decks… and they’ve been turning to Martial Coup for help. Unfortunately, you’ve got to spend 7 mana for the Coup to be a Wrath for you, so may I suggest you consider Scourglass as a cheaper alternative? Sure, your opponent will get one more hit in, but it will stop him from playing more creatures and it will give you a clean slate during your own turn. Let’s not forget you can break symmetry too by playing artifact creatures.
Everyone’s complaining about the lack of good counterspells in the new Standard, when you’ve got one staring at you… just kidding! Just kidding!
Explorer’s Scope is awesome in Zendikar Limited – how does it play in Standard if it just costs zero? Blazing Torch for zero when everyone’s trying out Vampires? What about Eldrazi Monument for four? Eternity Vessel for five? Platinum Angel for six?
I always found the living Twiddle a very interesting creature that could see a lot more play than it does. Granted, there is a ton of creature removal out there, but for a deck that already has a lot of quality creatures overloading an opponent’s removal (and perhaps some mana acceleration to bring the â€˜stitcher out a little earlier), he might be just the ticket. Untap lands to get more mana, untap things that tap to do stuff (Merfolk Sovereign, Royal Assassin, Master of the Wild Hunt), tap opponent’s lands or creatures — nice Baneslayer you have there!
This is the land set; let’s not forget that there’s a card that’s a perfect enabler for upping your land count to much higher levels than you normally would. Sure, seems unlikely, but did you see Ad Nauseam/Seismic Assault coming either?
I’ve been totally grooving on Bloodghast, and while so many people have been down on the little recurring machine because he can’t block, I’ve been trying to figure out how to maximize his ability. Some of the Vampire decks run a single Eldrazi Monument figuring they can feed it Bloodghasts, and that’s a great start. The problem of course is if you lean too heavily on Bloodghast and then you never draw Bloodghast. That’s where Corpse Connoisseur comes in – yes, finally a good use for that card! There might also be some funky tutoring you could do with Grim Discovery, or possibly splash Black into a deck built to go wild with Emeria, the Sky Ruin?
With Bloodghast – and ways to tutor for additional copies – it’s probably not a bad idea to look into Devour creatures. If you do not want to play all Swamps to power Mind Sludge, Tar Fiend is another option if you want to annihilate someone’s hand.
This one’s a stretch, since six mana for a 4/4 is quite a price in today’s era of hyper efficient creatures. I just figured I’d remind everyone that she is a Vampire with an interesting special ability.
Non-White mass removal tends to stop at two toughness (Pyroclasm, Fallout), so creatures with three toughness may think they’re pulling a fast one on the metagame especially since Firespout is gone. Caldera Hellion is poised to prey on that overconfidence, munching on Bloodghasts along the way.
The “fixed” Bitterblossom certainly paled in comparison, but now it can step out of the shade and try to shine. There are enough quality Goblins to at least attempt to pull together a tribal deck, so why not add a steady stream of Goblin tokens to the mix?
Even though the Visionary was reprinted in M10, I can’t help but think people have stopped thinking about this card since the rotation took away the Green/Black tribal Elf toys. In a super-aggressive metagame where quality card-drawing is scarce, you can do worse than to play a cantrip chump blocker on turn 2.
Gift of the Gargantuan
I think I’ve only seen this card featured in Mike Flores decks, but again – quality card-drawing is scarce so it pays to look around for card advantage engines where we can find them. If your deck has a lot of creatures and land, give this a look.
Mycoloth has seen some sideboard action in Standard the past year so I can’t help but think it’s a card we should keep an eye on, especially if you’re feeding Bloodghasts to it, right? Of course this dies to everything a Baneslayer Angel does, so you’d need to make sure you have plenty of quality creatures early on give it a good chance of sticking to at least one upkeep.
I was never very fond of this Devour creature even though it was Green and it offered at least some promise of card-drawing. Seems to me that this might be an interesting splash in a deck with Bloodghasts and Corpse Connoisseurs…
With a dearth of good counterspells, now seems the perfect time for Armageddon man, right? Well, unfortunately for the Razer we still have the problem that there are a ton of super-cheap removal spells and all of them easily deal with the Razor, so even if you catch someone with their pants down odds are pretty good they can top deck a land and a way out of the problem pretty quickly. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make use of this guy – in fact, I’m thinking he could be quite interesting as a reset button for landfall decks. What if you’ve got an Emeria Angel on the board when you drop the Razer? If your opponent kills the Razor you get five or six 1/1 fliers. What about Ob Nixilis? What about Rampaging Baloths? Of course you have the problem of being a reset button for your opponent’s landfall shenanigans, but it doesn’t look like people are doing too many dangerous things with it so far.
Sharuum the Hegemon
Esper still has a lot of really powerful artifact synergies available that didn’t seem to be able to break out of Tier 2 in the old metagame (outside the occasional Time Sieve combo), but the tools are still there and we’ve got artifacts in M10 and Zendikar to consider.
Don’t you think the metagame might be just about perfect to dust off this gem? With some high quality Walls, Scepter of Dominance, and Sleep you should be able to seriously slow someone’s roll.
Wall of Reverence
Speaking of high quality Walls, let’s not forget about this fine fellow, perfectly happy to hold the fort while your Baneslayer Angel roams about.
Especially if you shave off a mana with Etherium Sculptor, this is another great weapon against hordes of fast, aggressive creatures.
While Baneslayer is the gold standard for five mana creatures, this powerful gem can dominate the board given time and mana. Another potent tool for an Esper comeback?
… and another potent tool for an Esper comeback? If you’ve ever seen this card in action you know there are all kinds of tricks you can do, though removing damage from the stack diminishes its value a tad.
Blue got the best of the basic landcyclers, though it took Cryptic Command rotating out before anyone would give it a second look. And people really should give it a second look.
Duress, Blightning, the Black Scepter, and people wanting to play out their lands all converge to make this card something to strongly consider. Would Bloodbraid Elf Cascading into this fellow be a bad thing?
Another thread of the discard tapestry, you can break the symmetry by discarding — say it with me now — Bloodghast, or Unearth dudes.
You might be tempted to gloss over this fellow as a five drop (I mean, you’re gonna be running Baneslayer or Malakir Bloodwitch at five mana, after all), but think of it as a six-drop instead, leaving a mana open to activate one of his numerous abilities, and he starts to look a little more appealing. He can trample or be hasty when you need him to be. He can’t be Bolted, and for 1 Green mana he laughs off Doom Blade or Day of Judgment. Sure, he gets nailed by Path to Exile, but so does everything else.
This 6/6 dragon has been tickling the back of my mind for a while now, and I can’t help but wonder if now is his time to shine. I mean, what else would you want with the cards in your hand but free Diabolic Edicts to clear away any pesky Baneslayer Angels in your way? I could see a deck built with Malfegor providing an interesting dilemma, with early discard forcing your opponent to play out his creatures quickly, and then down drops the Demon Dragon to sweep them away. Of course, if your opponent rips a Baneslayer off the topdeck you’re going to be very sad…
Behind Baneslayer Angel, this is the card I most want to dig up on a Summoning Trap, especially if you can do it while your opponent is attacking with something smaller than a 6/6. When I first saw this fellow I was pretty excited, because he’s very much like a Moat that can swing for six points of trampling damage. Does your opponent counterattack when he’s going to lose a creature and take six? With a converted mana cost of six, this guy is a very efficient package of abilities especially in a metagame where creatures are crawling through the Red Zone.
Sprouting Thrinax has been getting a lot of love in the current metagame, and you know I’ve been tooting Bloodghast’s horn as well. Both are very sad to be on the wrong end of a Path to Exile, which is why I’m figuring cards like Scarland Thrinax and Vampire Aristocrat might be worth tossing into some decklists. Scarland Thrinax works particularly well with a Bloodghast in play, basically giving you a free +1/+1 counter whenever you play a land.
I just thought I’d remind everyone that Meddling Mage is still around and still pretty good, even without Reveillark recursion. Duress and Tidehollow Sculler are around to leave you less likely to whiff on what card you call.
I’ve seen a deck or two of late that have used a couple cheap cyclers (such as Architects of Will), saclands, and Grim Discovery to recover and use again. Soul Manipulation seems like a natural in such a deck, especially given how many creatures are being played.
Defiler of Souls
Notice something about the Top 16 decks from Phili? There are a lot of monocolor creatures, so if you can play Defiler without playing monocolor creatures yourself, you’ve got a free Edict every turn, starting with your opponent’s very next turn. I figure you’d combine with Pyroclasm and pinpoint removal, and let your Defiler mop up the bigger guys.
Maybe it’s because, if you’re playing White already, you’re running Baneslayer Angel, and now that Lifelink no longer stacks what’s the point of the Sledge? Well, what’s better than a 5/5 Baneslayer? How about a 7/7 trampling Baneslayer? With all the aggression of this metagame, I’d think 1-2 Behemoth Sledges would still be worth running.
Lord of Extinction
The Bloodwitch is flat out better in this metagame because she doesn’t eat a Path to Exile like Lord does, but Lord of Extinction is gigantic and can kill a lot quicker. I’d like to see what a deck with heavy hand destruction could do splashing Lord of Extinction as a finisher.
Sages of the Anima
This is a truly exciting unexplored source of card advantage if you build your deck to exploit it – basically, once Sages is out there you won’t draw any more non-creature cards, so you’d want to make sure you didn’t need more than five mana and not have any creatures that cost more than five. Can we build a U/G/x all creature deck? It hurts to have lost all the nifty Evoke elementals since they could duplicate a lot of spell-like effects. We do have Ancient Ziggurat to help on the mana fixing.
This card has a very powerful effect that we have not yet been able to harness. I had originally kicked around the idea of pairing this with bounce effects on lands, then playing the land out of their hand to both allow you to play their spells and to make it more difficult for them to play their own spells. Exotic Orchard would be a natural for the deck.
Again, in this parched card-drawing environment, we ought to look closely at cards like this, which offers raw and chaotic card drawing. You can again ease the random drawback by running cards with Unearth and Bloodghast.
Uril, the Miststalker
Alright, Uril’s got that trollshroud ability that is so awesome, and if your opponent is relying on direct creature removal he’s going to be struggling to contain this fellow. If you want to go the Aura route, there are a couple of interesting ones in Zendikar – Celestial Mantle (talk about winning a race), Gigantiform (giving Uril that all important trample), and even Predatory Urge for creature removal. Sovereigns of Lost Alara could be used to tutor up Auras.
Jenara, Asura of War
Jenara is still a cheap, super-efficient flier that dares your opponent to use his removal before you drop your Baneslayer Angel. What about Lightning Bolt? If you smell a Bolt don’t bother pumping Jenara, just smack for three.
I’m looking forward to hitting tonight’s FNM and giving the new Standard a try. I’ve got to build two decks, one for me and one for Josh. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna build Josh a Vampire deck, but I don’t yet know what I’m going to rock and roll. It will probably have four Baneslayer, but where do I go from there?
I was listening to this week’s Monday Night Magic podcast (#174), and they mentioned my column from last week, but Tom called me “Benny Hill.” Now, the way he said it off the cuff and the non-response from his cohosts had me figure he didn’t even realize he said it, and that his cohosts were too young to even know who Benny Hill was.
Growing up with the name Bennie, I would always hear people singing Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,” so it was a bit of relief when a new “Bennie” hit the pop consciousness – English sketch comedian Benny Hill. When I was a kid, TV consisted of three network channels — ABC, CBS, and NBC — and then the public PBS. Then one day an independent channel came to Richmond, way up the dial on channel 65. We couldn’t get a sharp picture on that channel, it was a little bit fuzzy, but I loved the channel. It showed movies and then, late at night – the Benny Hill Show. Only 12-13 at the time, I was mesmerized by the scantily clad women that would run around and torment ol’ Benny. What a great show! Keep in mind, this was before the Internet or cable movie channels, so my young eyes had not much experienced those womanly delights.
As I was finishing this up, I got an IM from Josh declaring he was retiring his enchantment EDH deck since it had the obnoxious habit of constantly beating everyone and was starting to spoil some of the fun. I asked him to send me his final list to post here in case any of my EDH readers play with a more Spike-ish group of fellows – this deck is consistent and resilient, so give it a whirl if you don’t mind winning by going infinite with a bunch of squirrel tokens. The general was Pheldagrif but he said he’d never actually cast it.
1 Argothian Enchantress
1 Mesa Enchantress
1 Verduran Enchantress
1 Mischievous Quanar
1 Platinum Angel
1 Chromeshell Crab
1 Fountain Watch
1 Celestial Ancient
1 Femeref Enchantress
1 Eternal Witness
1 Gilded Drake
1 Spike Weaver
1 Aura Thief
1 Enchantress’s Presence
1 Decree of Silence
1 Privileged Position
1 Ivory Mask
1 Force Bubble
1 Solitary Confinement
1 Sylvan Library
1 Meishin the Mind Cage
1 Dueling Grounds
1 Squirrels Nest
1 Trade Routes
1 Spiritual Asylum
1 Dream Leash
1 Steal Enchantment
1 Thought Reflection
1 Vernal Equinox
1 Treasure Trove
1 Parallel Thoughts
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Cloud Cover
1 Sigil of the Empty Throne
1 Rhystic Study
1 Copy Enchantment
1 Vedelken Orrey
1 Skull of Orm
1 Crystal Chimes
1 Ivory Tower
1 Scroll Rack
1 Second Sunrise
1 Open the Vaults
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Time Stop
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Time Spiral
1 Idyllic Tutor
1 Sungrass Prairie
1 Skycloud Expanse
1 Thawing Glaciers
1 Kor Haven
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Elfhame Palace
1 Cephalid Coliseum
1 Serra’s Sanctum
1 Terrain Generator
1 Treetop Village
1 Krosan Verge
1 Treva’s Ruins
1 Temple of the False God
1 Simic Growth Chamber
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Seas
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Maze of Ith
1 Lonely Sandbar
Until next time!