Be Kind, Rewind: How Blue’s Newest Counterspell Impacts Core Set 2021 Standard

Two counterspells, one set of lands? Sign Todd Anderson up! He’s hyped for the return of Rewind to Standard, and he’s here with two possible builds.

Rewind, illustrated by Dermot Power

I think I’m living in a parallel universe. In the one I come from, Maro ran a poll around 2008 or 2009 and let people vote for certain cards into that year’s core set. In the universe I’m from, I’ve been casting Dismiss for the better part of the last decade. The rest of you were somehow given Rewind, one of the most disgusting tempo cards of all time, and its lasting legacy has led us here, to this nightmare.

Dismiss Rewind

Where I’m from, Magic is a Utopia Tree kind of game. We have creatures that function both early and later into the game without being dominant. We have spells that answer those creatures and leave both at parity for mana spent. We also got rid of planeswalkers a long time ago, as they were too complicated for newer players. They left a bad taste in the mouth of those who kept playing the game, and they still exist somewhat in Legacy and Vintage, though Jace Beleren isn’t getting banned or restricted anytime soon. We also have the Berenstein Bears.

Oh what a thought, a wonderful world where Dismiss was reprinted instead of Rewind all those years ago. I remember getting hit with a Rewind into Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir back in Time Spiral Standard. Now that was some brutal stuff. But now? I think Rewind might have a home in the best deck in Standard.

Think about that for a second. Rewind might have a place in the best current Standard deck. It fits like a glove in the same lineup as Wilderness Reclamation. In fact, I’d argue that the existence of Wilderness Reclamation is what singlehandedly pushes it over the top. Normally, something like Rewind’s extra mana would be difficult to capitalize on. It should be hard to use mana at instant speed. That used to be the entire point!

But these days, if you know anything about Wilderness Reclamation, you know how easy it is to gain a significant advantage on your opponent’s turn, or your end step, or whenever else you need to use that extra mana. Rewind was originally used as a free counterspell. One of the hardest parts of playing control was trying to counter two spells in the same turn. Rewind allowed you to do that with ease, but you did have a few ways to utilize that extra mana. After all, that was the same era as Accumulated Knowledge and Stroke of Genius.

Rewind was also a little clunky, though. In a world with Dark Ritual in every block, Rewind was mostly overshadowed because the rest of the field was too strong. By the time stuff settled down during the Invasion era, Rewind was gone and forgotten. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that anyone remembered Rewind even existed. For me, it was about casual play and building a wall full of countermagic that was tough to bust through. It was a free “nope” to your buddy’s Craw Wurm. If you wanted to play a counterspell like that, like a hardcore expensive counter with a big upside, you played Dismiss.

I’m honestly having trouble imagining anyone ever beating Wilderness Reclamation into Rewind. I don’t know if it’s possible. Having a free counterspell in your instant-speed only deck, on top of it pairing perfectly with your marquee card Wilderness Reclamation, has to be something else. But I know that cards like this need to be used in small doses. When Teferi, Time Raveler exists and punishes you beyond belief, having your piece of protection cost four mana is rough. Mystical Dispute seeing a lot of maindeck play is also a bit awkward, but Rewind isn’t really for those matchups. Rewind, and expensive counterspells in general, are pretty lackluster in blue mirrors. Cryptic Command is notoriously heinous in a lot of Modern matchups because you get it countered so often for so much less mana. I would regularly use it to bounce my opponent’s lands so I could gain a mana advantage because I knew how difficult it could be to connect with the ever-so-sweet Counter/Draw.

Rewind is your way to dumpster midrange decks. Against an opponent who isn’t playing Mystical Dispute or Jackal Pup, Rewind will be a dagger to the heart. It will give you one of the most outrageous feel-good turns in the history of Magic. If all you do with that extra four mana is cycle a Shark Typhoon or cast a Growth Spiral, you’ve already won. You countered your opponent’s spell for free, on the third or fourth turn, after casting one of the most busted mana batteries of all time.

In the odd games you don’t draw Wilderness Reclamation for quite some time, it becomes imperative to find alternate ways to generate extra mana. The most common way is to cast Growth Spiral (or similar) and hope that extra mana results in a medium-sized Explosion that eventually finds you the deck’s marquee cards. Now imagine doing all of that, but on the turn where you Explosion you also got to counter Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Elder Gargaroth. That one turn where you gain a free counterspell can make up for the time lost without a Wilderness Reclamation. Suddenly, you’re back in the game.

With all that said, this situation calls for a light touch. One or two Rewinds in any Wilderness Reclamation deck will lead to some lopsided games in your favor, but drawing too many in a given setting will increase your curve. That leads to stumbling. That leads to clunky draws. That leads to losses.

Here’s where I’ll be starting:

Rewind is exceptional against the Yorion Orzhov Control deck that popped up last weekend, giving you a free spell once you enter the middle turns of the game. As it is seemingly the only true midrange strategy in Standard, I’d like to have a few cards in my 75 that stand out against them. While I do know the matchup is in your favor as a Temur Reclamation player, that could change in the blink of an eye. While Temur Reclamation is currently the best deck in Ikoria Standard, we’re about to enter a brand-new format.

There’s not a lot else to say. Wilderness Reclamation is nuts and pairs pretty nicely with most four-mana instants. We’ve been doing that for the last year and change! But what I’m looking for is a format beyond this one. I’m wondering how Rewind will look in three months. Where will it land without Wilderness Reclamation? Both Nightpack Ambusher and Frilled Mystic are leaving with it.

We’re obviously omitting an entire set, but I could very easily see something like this existing in a few months. This is my style of deck! I love playing that tempo game, putting my opponent under pressure while I attack them with a bunch of small birds or whatever. Putting the screws to your opponent while drawing a card or three off Sea-Dasher Octopus ain’t so bad, either.

Barrin, Tolarian Archmage Sea-Dasher Octopus

What I’m most hopeful for right now is a format where Rewind can shine. This shell is just a placeholder, an idea, something we can come back to later when we see what Zendikar Rising brings. Rewind is currently being hosed by Mystical Dispute. I won’t sugarcoat it. It will take a huge shift away from blue in Standard so that your opponents won’t feel the need to play it in their maindeck. I had enough trouble beating Shifting Ceratops and Veil of Summer last time around!

Teferi, Time Raveler leaving the format will also unlock the superpowers of the rest of the color blue. I had so much trouble trying to get these archetypes off the ground when Teferi was running rampant. Losing Curious Obsession was likely the nail in the coffin, but this style of deck seems to rear its ugly head every once in a while. The most recent successful iterations were playing green for Nightpack Ambusher and such, but we don’t have that luxury!

Teferi, Time Raveler

Instead, we’ll rely on flash creatures and Shark Typhoon to do most of the heavy lifting. Mono-Blue has traditionally had trouble beating hyper-aggressive decks. Your bounce spells like Unsummon or Stern Dismissal don’t actually kill the creature, so you’re losing card economy. If the creatures start getting re-cast for cheap, you’ll start to notice that it just feels like a useless effect. On occasion, you can snag their powerful Torbran, Thane of Red Fell with an Unsubstantiate, but you’re going to look rather awkward spending two mana to bounce a Scorch Spitter.

The truth is Rewind is a powerful effect given the right flash elements around it. I currently think there are enough tools that exist after rotation that we can already build a functional, monocolored strategy. I tried to keep it simple, but there could be a plethora of splash-color options to dip into removal. Those combinations and their reliability will depend entirely upon the multicolor lands we have access to. I mean, you can’t expect us to play Dimir for Slitherwisp without a healthy amount of multicolor lands.

Rewind isn’t the flashiest card in Core Set 2021, but it’s a card I like, and I hope you like it too. My saving grace in Magic lately is seeing those one or two cards every set that tug at my deckbuilder heartstrings. I just want to tempo people into the dirt. While Rewind has mostly been in control shells, I think that’s mostly due to the nature of Magic over the last two decades. There are few times in that stretch where a blue-based aggro deck was viable. In the last ten, I can only think of three such instances, but it’s one of my favorites.

Maybe the Fall will bring a fresh new Standard where Rewind can shine. One can only hope. I’ve actually been quite impressed with Core Set 2021, and the direction of design. It feels a little less powerful than some of the more ridiculous stuff in the last few years, but I definitely feel like that’s a good thing. No one wants cards to be banned. We just want more than three or four decks to be viable, with their own identity, and a perfect sideboard plan for every archetype. Oh, and a sideboard guide.

Maybe they’ll reprint Torrential Gearhulk in Jumpstart 2!

One thing you can’t forget is that adding Rewind to Standard also makes it legal all throughout the formats between here and Modern. Pioneer and Historic are both gaining a new tool against midrange. Wilderness Reclamation just so happens to be legal in every one of those formats, for now. Rewind might show up. Or maybe they’ll reprint Cryptic Command.

“I dreamed a dream…but now that dream is gone from me.”

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