Jan 11, 2013
There weren’t any major Standard tournaments the last few weeks, but with the Starcity Games Open Series returning last weekend there are new lists to examine. Red Deck Wins took first place amidst a Top 8 with four different versions of a WRG list. In this installment of Key Cards of Standard, we’ll take a look at cards important to the Standard Metagame. After all, there are a mere three weeks left in the Return to Ravnica Standard format before a new set shakes things up. Being the last few weeks of the format, a single card strategy can be the deciding factor in a matchup.
White – Fiend Hunter
Fiend Hunter draws comparisions, and rightly so, to Faceless Butcher. After all, they have the same ability but with different costs and stats. Fiend Hunter scours the scourge of enemy monsters for a mere three mana. Having the same body as Augur of Bolas creates the same problems for small zombies, vampires and devils attempting to attack into Fiend Hunter. Being a human, Fiend Hunter fits well into decks looking to exploit Champion of the Parish or relying on Cavern of Souls for a bit of insurance against countermagic.
Restoration Angel can flicker Fiend Hunter to change what creature is exiled, should a more relevant threat present itself. An interesting thing occurs if the leaves-the-battlefield trigger (the one that returns the exiled creature to play) resolves before the enters-the-battlefield trigger: there won’t actually be any exiled creature yet, so the creature will be exiled permanently. So if you have a sacrifice outlet, bounce spell or way to flicker Fiend Hunter, you at least have that course of action open to you, should you need it.
Blue – Think Twice
Think Twice is the kind of incremental card advantage that accumulates value over the course of a game. It might seem as though Divination would be a superior card, since it nets both cards up front for three mana. The beauty of Think Twice is that it can draw one card right away and another later, or both right now if you have enough mana. Instant speed keeps mana open for those ever-so-important Dissipates, Azorius Charms, Unsummons and Sphinx’s Revelations. A blue mage, when on the play, often doesn’t have a relevant threat to bounce or counter on turn two, so drawing a card is a fantastic way to spend your time and mana.
Cantrip effects (as spells that replace themselves with a card draw are known, for those not in the know) are powerful because they effectively reduce the size of one’s deck. That turn two Think Twice might not seem like much, but it effectively reduced your deck size by one and increased the odds of drawing your other spells, however slightly. Flashback works nicely with Thought Scour to further increase card advantage, and if you are ever forced to discard (be it from Liliana or because your hand is overfull from a Sphinx’s Revelation), Think Twice is a great choice.
Black – Cremate
There are a lot of options when it comes to exiling cards from graveyards. Cremate is probably the correct choice, if you have access to black mana. What puts Cremate above Vile Rebirth or Deathrite Shaman is the combination of versatility, instant speed, and drawing a card. Because Cremate is an instant, it can catch an opponent unaware, certainly more so than a Deathrite Shaman conspicuously active on your side of the table. Cremate can target any card, whereas Vile Rebirth can only exile creatures.
Sometimes the 2/2 zombie token will put rebirth above cremation as the funerary rite of choice. But when Cremate allows you to draw a card and that card is likely to be a zombie of comparable size or better, it is the superior option. When your opponent announces the target from their Snapcaster Mage, you can calmly spend a single black mana, ruin their day, and draw a card. Same thing goes for the target of an Unburial Rites, or even an Angel of Serenity trying to target the graveyard. Pay careful attention to priority so that you don’t inadvertently tip your hand, and you’ll be burning graveyard cards for fun and profit.
Red – Pyreheart Wolf
At three mana and without haste, Pyreheart Wolf can seem a little slow for a deck that wants to win really quickly. Don’t let that dissuade you, as the Undying wolf is a key component of that plan. Typically, fast red decks have trouble pushing through the last bits of damage and end up sitting around waiting to topdeck enough burn to finally finish what they started. Pyreheart Wolf makes your creatures essentially unblockable, since it will take two creatures to block even a single one of yours and four to block two, so on and so forth. This in turn makes your other creatures that much more deadly, and lessens your dependency on topdecking and burn. And that initial impression of slowness is mitigated by the inclusion of Lightning Mauler!
Undying makes most removal short of Pillar of Flame irrelevant for the wolf, and with soulbond haste anything less than a board wipe isn’t going to faze you. Pyreheart Wolf is most effective when you have a reasonable board presence, so it pays to critically evaluate whether or not to play it on turn three. If it will help keep your turn four Hellrider alive, it’s probably a good idea. You needn’t fear a flashed-in Restoration Angel nearly as much when you have Pyreheart wolf on your side, like so much dire wolf pups for the Stark children.
Green – Deadbridge Goliath
I’ve had some long-time Magic players tell me recently that those of us who currently play are spoiled by what we expect from creatures. Deadbridge Goliath is one such example, as a 5/5 for a mere four mana used to be a hell of a thing. This giant beetle doesn’t even have a downside like Juzam Djinn, instead offering five +1/+1 counters from a six-mana Scavenge cost. Angel of Serenity is the only thing with a body big enough to stand up to the Golgari beetle and live (that’s consistently seeing top level play anyway).
Due to the low mana cost, Deadbridge Goliath consistently hits the table on turn three or four and proceeds to make its presence known. Rancor is ridiculous, so enchanting the mighty insect with it just seems proper somehow. For what it’s worth, I like the regular art better than the promo. But as long as there are Standard-playable bugs, I’m happy.
Multi – Dreg Mangler and Sigarda, Host of Herons
I mentioned way back in my first article for 60cards.com that I love plant zombies, because they make me think of things like Day of the Triffids and the original Resident Evil game. I still avoid arboretums during celestial phenomena, and worry that I won’t mix the chemicals properly to kill the roots. Dreg Mangler is the only plant zombie making an impact in Standard (at least until Dragon’s Maze, I hope).
I’ve also mentioned before that haste is incredibly relevant in the format, and that’s a big part of why Dreg Mangler is mangling… uh, dregs? Wait no, opponents! A 3/3 body is bigger than most other early creatures, and accelerating into Dreg Mangler on turn 2 or with Rancor on turn 3 is very powerful. GB Zombies made Top 8 in the Starcity Games Invitational a few weeks back and a GB Aggro list did the same in the most recent SCG Open, and both featured full complement of this thrashing undead flora. The mana costs associated with Scavenge are usually prohibitively expensive, but when games go long those extra +1/+1 counters will ensure your creatures stay relevant.
A 5/5 Flying Hexproof Angel is usually worth five mana, and Sigarda, Host of Herons goes further and prevents your creatures from dying to Barter in Blood, Liliana of the Veil or Tribute to Hunger. Granted, neither of those black cards are making appearances at top tables of large events these days but it’s worth noting. Sigarda has been seen in many sideboards, and given the popularity of white and green at the moment, she seems like a natural inclusion. There are times when having a large and hard to kill creature soaring over your opponent’s blocker will be exactly what wins the game. And in those circumstances, having access to one or two copies of Sigarda in game two (and Avacyn forbid game three) is a welcome edge.
Supreme Verdict and Terminus don’t target, so those both clip Sigarda’s wings pretty nicely. The good news is that Mutilate for five isn’t likely to happen for five until Gatecrash brings more dual lands. With the multitude of constructed-worthy mana fixers such as Borderland Ranger, Farseek, Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Arbor Elf, getting that one white mana to summon Sigarda isn’t difficult at all.
Colorless – Gavony Township
Gavony Township makes combat math a pain. Since every creature you control gets a counter, the Township gets better and better with your growing board presence. Because the activated ability works at instant speed, you can keep your mana up for Restoration Angel or Selesnya Charm if need be, and then add counters to all your creatures at your leisure. Instead of pushing in for one point of damage or sitting around waiting to die miserably while blocking, mana creatures grow more powerful and trade with more valuable threats while getting in for significant amounts of damage.
Gavony Township also ensures that your creatures will break through any stalemates or mirror matches; your identical creatures will always be one point bigger. This assumes of course that your opponent doesn’t have access to a Township of their own, but even if they do you will at least be able to keep up. Quite simply, Gavony Township makes all your creatures better.
Since Gatecrash previews are upon us, I wanted to say a bit about it in closing this week’s article. As I pore over the previews, I’m already trying to size up which cards will have an impact in the new Standard. Skullcrack is sure to see heavy play, but I’ve also got my eye on Experiment One. Will Dimir Charm help UB Zombies rise from the grave? Is Battalion a viable strategy? Have I already begun agonizing over which Guild to play at the pre-release? I can answer that last one; I’d never pass up a chance to worry endlessly over Magic. That’s part of the fun, after all.