Apologies for the absence of an article last week, I’m currently in the final throes of arranging a U.S. visa, and the morning of my writing/submission day I got the bad news that my passport needed renewing as soon as possible. I spent a lot of the day in panic and on the phone and just couldn’t face writing after that. On the plus side, I got everything sorted, and should receive my visa any day now. I’m planning to move state-side by the end of the month! I’m terrified, but it’s going to be a really exciting chapter in my life. I’ll be based in New York so, if anyone wants to recommend their LGS, shoot me a message on Twitter.
Spoiler season has finally started. I feel like it has been forever! Article writing over the last 3-4 weeks has been really hard: No magic happened over Christmas, Standard was so old everyone was bored with it. likewise with Theros Limited. I wasn’t really playing any other formats so it left me rather high and dry on topics until spoilers started. That being said, I was pretty happy with how the last two articles came out so I’ll try to write more like them soon!
I was wondering what to do with the slew of spoilers that have come out. Should I pick one to write about and brew a deck for? That is the classic approach, but this week I want to try something a little different. I want to talk about the cards that have caught my eye for Constructed, what sort of decks they are going to be seen in and cards that could potential spawn new decks in the upcoming Standard season. Rather than feed you specific decks I want to discuss ideas and possibilities to hopefully inspire (no pun intended) you to go brew a deck with.
Spirit of the Labyrinth is an easy starting point. An aggressively-costed creature like this is always going to catch the eye. The question is, is the ability useful? “Each player can’t draw more than one card each turn.” Note this effect is double-sided, almost unusual for white cards although [ccProd]Thalia[/ccProd] was similarly designed. So this won’t be some hilarious mirror breaker in UW control. The thing with double-sided cards (like Thalia) is it’s only double-sided if you have a deck that cares about it. Take the old GW Maverick decks from Legacy. They played cards like [ccProd]Gaddock Teeg[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Thalia[/ccProd] because most of the time (the exception being [ccProd]Green Sun’s Zenith[/ccProd]) the deck itself did not care about these effects. Their opponent, on the other hand, could be completely stifled by an inability to cast [ccProd]Force of Will[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/ccProd] or other similarly irritating cards.
A card like Spirit of the Labyrinth can be very strong in the right deck in the right meta. Currently I think this card could be a very strong addition to Death and Taxes in Legacy. If you [ccProd]Aether Vial[/ccProd] this in to play in response to a [ccProd]Brainstorm[/ccProd] or a Jace activation, your opponent is going to look very sad. On top of this, once it’s in play they can’t use any of their aforementioned spells or similar effects to try to find a solution to the card. On top of that it also provides a nice chunk of damage.
Does Spirit of the Labyrinth have a space in Standard? There are a bunch of white weenie decks already using a 3/1 for 2 in Standard. Namely [ccProd]Daring Skyjek[/ccProd]. I suspect that Daring Skyjek is going to remain the more common choice at the moment. Why? Think about the utility that these two cards bring. Being able to make a flying 3/1, even if it involves sacrificing some other creatures, can be enough to push the last points of damage in against many decks. The only decks that run card draw effects (post-board) at the moment are the decks with [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd]. These decks need to play [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] before they can Revelation anyway, as they often die to the initial assault. If they are getting off large Revelations then you probably already lost. As such, Spirit of the Labyrinth might occasionally provide some utility in your best matchup. There just isn’t enough other card draw in Standard to warrant choosing Spirit over Daring Skyjek—of course there might be another card in the White Weenie decks that this wants to upgrade or the meta might shift. Never say never.
I want to talk now about inspired. As someone (can’t remember who now, sorry!) pointed out, it’s almost a remake of the old untap mechanic, although in this case the cards themselves don’t have the ability to untap without help from other cards, or naturally in the untap step. While the inspirational cards spoiled so far haven’t exactly excited me, I am interested by the mechanic because it means [ccProd]Ral Zarek[/ccProd] might finally get his place in the sun. I really like [ccProd]Ral Zarek[/ccProd], but finding a home for him at the moment has been tricky. His +1 just isn’t that great in a vacuum. However, Inspiration is a mechanic that might reward decks that have additional ways to untap creatures. I’m really hoping for some cards to enable a sweet deck for Ral.
Looking at current decks, I am really disappointed that Mono-U and Mono-B are both getting new cards. I don’t feel like these decks needed more, and it might push them over the edge into full domination of Standard. I guess the true reason for my discontent is that mono-colored decks just aren’t that exciting. You can’t innovate that much with them. Magic tends to only have a small number of Standard legal cards that are constructed quality and when you want a mono-colored deck you tend to just play the best ones with little room for variation or tuning. In general, this results in weaker decks, but with devotion rewarding this practice, we are getting stuck into very static lists.
Anyway, my personal boredom of Mono-U/B aside, what are they going to be using from the new set? Well, so far the obvious card for MonoB is Drown in Sorrow, as this gives them a much-needed sweeper. Mono-B had two “bad” matchups: swarm decks and blue-based control. Swarm decks are decks like Orzhov aggro with lots of little, aggressively-costed creatures. They overwhelm the black deck’s ability to trade 1-for-1. Drown in Sorrow is a depressingly good card against these decks, as their creatures tend to have 1 or 2 toughness, so everything will die. You can’t even use [ccProd]Rootborn Defenses[/ccProd] to save them! The fact that scry 1 is tacked on as well just seems rude. I am genuinely saddened by the implications of Drown in Sorrow as it puts black into a stronger position when it has already been seeing a high amount of play. In a similar vein, they may also make use of Bile Blight as a removal spell with occasional additional value especially, as it could well help against [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] in the mirror (assuming only moderately sized Rats).
But don’t worry, Mono-B still has a bad matchup in the form of blue-based control right? Because they don’t care about all the removal spells, have counters for their threats and better card draw. Well, now Mono-B definitely has some better sideboarding options for this matchup. Pain Seer is a really nice card against control—the inspiration will be able to happen, as there won’t be blockers. It comes down before counter spell mana is available on the play and also provides a clock. [ccProd]Underworld Connections[/ccProd] is a very important card for Mono-B in this matchup, and now it just got another source of card advantage with accompanying clock. I think Pain Seer is more likely to see play than the other anti-blue card, Fate Unraveller. Fate Unraveller removes the life gain effect of Sphinx Revelation but I don’t think that is enough for this matchup. In general, it’s the card draw from the Rev not the life gain that proves the most important, and otherwise this guy is just a 3/4 for 4 if it even gets to resolve. I probably won’t bother with it.
Mono-U is getting less than Mono-B currently but, at time of writing, it has had two fewer total cards spoiled so far so let’s not get too hopeful. First up is Thassa’s Rebuff. If Mono-U wants to run a maindeck counterspell then this is it. I expect it runs about 2 copies of this, but as Mono-U reminds me of Merfolk in Modern/Legacy I think it’ll appreciate a cheap counter. It is a dead card if they have fallen behind, but then the deck doesn’t recover well from falling behind anyway. This way the deck can support its more aggressive starts of multiple [ccProd]Cloudfin Raptor[/ccProd]s with some disruption.
The other card that Mono-U might run is Fated Infatuation. I can see benefits to this card. Sometimes the Mono-U decks have to play out a [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] when they only have 2 or 3 devotion (including the Master) and this doesn’t make for an impressive bored state. However if you have a Fated Infatuation to follow it up on the subsequent turn then you have a significantly improved chance of winning. Fated Infatuation also gives you an instant speed way to protect a Master’s tokens from spot removal. If they try to remove the first Master you make another in response: the first one still dies but its tokens are persevered along with a bunch of new ones. Alternatively, this could just be a win-more card. I would definitely be looking to test it though, again as a 2-of to begin with.
Aside from Pain Seer the only other inspired card to inspire me is Satyr Nyx-Smith (Smith, seriously, like John Smith? Or Smith as in Blacksmith?). This card is awesome for a Mono-R or BR aggro deck. A 2/1 for 3 with haste isn’t all that impressive, but assuming you are attacking (of course you are, it’s an aggro deck), then you can respend your three mana every turn to make a 3/1 with haste to join it. This is perfect for the aggressive deck. It allows you to continue to add to your board state and increase the clock without committing more actual cards to the table. This should make the deck less vulnerable to sweepers which are a big factor in an opposing deck’s potential to stabilize. Yes, inspired requires the creature to have attacked so this isn’t going to work against bigger creature decks, but these weenie aggro decks don’t tend to beat those decks anyway. I like this card a lot and I expect to see it in play somewhere.
Speaking of BR aggro, I am also excited about Mogis, God of Slaughter. This card provides some serious reach to decks like BR aggro and is annoying to remove. It’s a punisher effect, but both modes are pretty excellent. Against a control deck, they will have to take 2 most of the time; and even against a slower creature matchup you should be able to put down enough pressure and remove most of their more problematic creatures to the point where Mogis will finish the job. Probably only a sideboard card though. I do wonder if a swarm deck might produce enough permanents that it’d be active…
Anyway those are my thoughts on the set so far. I’ve not touched on Kiora as I think she’s probably been done to death at this point but needless to say I’m looking at her too, mostly because I always love the potential a new ‘walker brings. If you’ve noticed something cool in the set so far that I haven’t touched on then feel free to share it in the comments below on Tweet them @onionpixie. Until next week.