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Careful Consideration – Life after Lorwyn

This is the best time of the year.

Football season just started, basketball and hockey seasons are just around the corner, and baseball playoffs start very soon.

Oh, and we also get a new Magic set.

Standard is going to get a big, big shakeup, more so than last year. Lorwyn was such a powerful block that it really dominated the format for the last two years. 2007-2008 Standard was Lorwyn block flavored with Time Spiral cards, and 2008-2009 Standard was Lorwyn block flavored with Shards of Alara cards. States last year was really just an updated version of Standard with the same general deck archetypes.

Which cards got better and which cards got worse? Based on my initial impressions, here are my lists:

Ten cards that got better in Standard

Cancel
Cancel was printed in Time Spiral, 10th Edition, Shards of Alara, Magic 2010 and Zendikar. It was also just sent out in the last batch of textless rewards cards. Okay, Wizards. We get it. You want us to play Cancel. We understand. (Wizards is also cleverly setting up their new product to be released a couple of years from now, From the Vault: Canceled. Get foil versions of Cancel throughout the years! Pre-order yours today!)

Of course, there were better, non-horrible counterspells to play in Standard instead of Cancel. We’ve been spoiled with Cryptic Command, but even in Time Spiral/Ravnica Standard, we had Mana Leak, Rune Snag, and Remand. Sure, none of those were hard counters, but they were all better than the three mana counterspell that never got its due. Even in Time Spiral Block Constructed, it was run only as a one-of.

But with Cryptic Command and Broken Ambitions out of Standard, counterspells are at an all-time low. There is no universal two mana soft counter in Standard anymore. If you want to counter something on turn two, you have to play Essence Scatter, Negate, or Spell Pierce. If you want to counter a creature spell and all you have is Negate in your hand, you’re out of luck. So Cancel might actually see some play despite it being, well, Cancel.

It’s like having your food choice going from a nice steakhouse to McDonald’s. It’s better than starving, but a Big Mac is certainly no Ribeye.

Essence Scatter
Zendikar looks to be very much a creature format, and if you do want to play some sort of blue-based control deck, you’re going to have to be able to stop a turn two Putrid Leech or Plated Geopede or whatever horrors await you in the early game. I don’t know if blue-based control is really going to be viable because the countermagic is so horribly abysmal, but if you do, you probably want to be running four of these.

Divination
There are very few ways to get card advantage in Zendikar. The only card draw spell that’s playable from the set is Ior Ruin Expedition, which is pretty sad. Jace is an auto-include in the blue card draw slot unless you’re playing an Esper deck (farewell, infinite mana flexibility). So if you’re not planning on playing Esper colors, then having Divination as your secondary card draw spell may be necessary.

By the way, if a deck that contains the following is part of the best blue-based control deck and I find myself in a situation where this is the best deck to play–

3 Divination
3 Cancel
4 Remove Soul

–I will set myself on fire. Just so you know.

Moving on

Open the Vaults/Warp World/Violent Ultimatum
Decks that played big expensive sorceries the last couple of years would just roll over to Faeries and were essentially unplayable. Now with Cryptic Command out of the format, the chances of resolving a Warp World or an Open the Vaults are much greater, so you can build a deck that ramps up to that card, then do whatever powerful effect you’re trying to do.

Wrap in Vigor
This will be useful to regenerate all your creatures when someone plays Day of Judgment. You see, the regeneration clause is missing from this one, making it not a functional reprint of Wrath of God .I’m just getting word that Wrap in Vigor isn’t in the format, and that regeneration isn’t a sub-theme of Zendikar, so unless you’re playing against the River Boa deck, Day of Judgment is absolutely a functional reprint of Wrath of God. That’s Wrath of God, the card you spent $60 on for a playset.

Tendrils of Corruption
A pet peeve of mine is whenever a black card comes out, people get excited about how “Mono-black control is back!” when there’s no reason to play just mono-black. A good black card can be paired with other colors, but for whatever reason, some people want to just revert back to a single-color deck when there’s not a lot of benefit for doing so. Mono-black control hasn’t been a real archetype since Cabal Coffers left the format, but with Tendrils of Corruption and Mind Sludge, maybe there’s some merit to the idea. If Damnation were in the format, I’d definitely be inclined to give it a go. Black did pick up enough good cards to go with Tendrils and Mind Sludge to make the idea of playing just Swamps a not-terrible idea.

Volcanic Fallout
Initially I thought Fallout would take a hit because Faeries is no longer a deck, but there are a lot of cheap, efficient creatures with toughness of two or less in Standard right now, and although I don’t think the “Can’t be countered” clause is going to be relevant, the instant speed two damage will be. Although it’s entirely possible that Pyroclasm will serve essentially the same purpose and if that’s the case, then replace Fallout with Pyroclasm.

Planeswalkers
No Faeries means that Planeswalkers are more likely to resolve. Planeswalkers are obviously very strong cards, but their sorcery-speedness (and vulnerability to small creatures that would just fly over and kill them) was thwarted by the flying menace. With Faeries exiled to the land of Extended, Chandra and her buddies can come out and play again.

Wall of Denial
There was some debate over whether or not the card was actually good, but Wall of Denial plays very well with Luminarch Ascension. Ascension I think is going to be just bonkers good, and Wall of Denial does a great job of holding the fort down while those counters on the Ascension build up to the point where the 4/4 angels can rain down on the opponent.

The creatures are fast and efficient, so in the absence of Plumeveil, Wall of Denial fits well in a Luminarch Ascension deck, whose goal is simply get to four counters on the Ascension.

Vampire Nocturnus
There wasn’t a vampire deck before Zendikar because there weren’t really any vampires to speak of, but there might be a good vampire aggro deck now. If that deck ever becomes tier one and I’m playing it, I’ll be sure to carry around a copy of Twilight and try to incorporate glitter somewhere. I think it’s illegal to put glitter on my sleeves, but hopefully I’ll find some terrific way to channel my inner 14-year-old teenage girl. Also, Sorin Markov is dreamy.

Five cards that got worse in Standard

I was initially going to go with ten cards on this one, until I started scouring decklists and realized just how ridiculously dominating Lorwyn block was. Relatively speaking, there just weren’t that many cards from Alara block or M10 in the format seeing play, and of those that were, a lot of them stayed the same (Lightning Bolt, Jace, Garruk, Maelstrom Pulse, Doom Blade, etc.)

Anathemancer
Farewell, Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool. People will have to play reasonable mana bases, and the fetch lands can only grab basic lands in the current format, so I expect to see many more one or two-color decks with a lot of fetchlands and basic lands, rather than the 20 or so non-basic lands some decks were running (or in five-color control’s case, 24 non-basics).

[card]Banefire[/card]/Great Sable Stag
Maybe I’m overstating the death of control decks, but I really don’t see how they’re going to be nearly as competitive and/or good with the diminished tools they have. So cards like Banefire and Great Sable Stag, with their “can’t be countered”-ness, will not be the rage. Stag might be a sideboard card against any black aggro deck as a roadblock, but Stag was obviously designed to hose Faeries, he had his moment in the sun for one Nationals tournament, and his moment seems to have come and gone.

Merfolk Sovereign
This one’s pretty easy to see. There’s not a Merfolk deck in Zendikar that looks to be of any quality, since all the good Merfolk were in Lorwyn block.

Path to Exile
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the card because I don’t like giving them a tempo boost while spending a card to do it, even if it means getting rid of a threat. Sometimes that’s what you have to do and it’s worth the risk. But now with landfall cards, you not only have the drawbacks that were already part of playing Path, but you now also trigger their landfall condition.

(Unless you’re playing the Archive Trap deck. In which case, Path is terrific. Get a card out of their deck and zing! Mill them for 13! Or 26! Or 52 if you have all four Archive Traps in your hand.)

Alara might go down in history as a very weak block for Constructed. Zendikar looks to be quite powerful compared to Alara (minus the cascade mechanic), and Standard might end up looking like Zendikar block flavored with Shards of Alara.

Unfortunately, States won’t be held this year until December 5th, which is much later than it’s usually been held. The nice thing about States is that it was the first big tournament after the new set came out and was held before people could figure out the format via Magic Online. I thank Glenn Godard for putting together States in the absence of the Wizards support that’s been there the last few years, and I’m certainly not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the timing is unfortunate.

Two days until the set’s released and I can get my hands on essentially unlimited product, which will lead to many, many drafts. I can’t wait. Zendikar has been a terrific set so far, and R&D continues to make quality products that make Magic enjoyable.

Yours excitedly,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Twitter

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