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Rogue Report – Hidden Potential in Standard

Alara Reborn is about to bring change to Standard. With Grand Prix: Seattle coming up, not to mention Regionals, finding a good Standard deck has become a top priority. There is still some value in testing the current Standard format as a small set isn’t likely to redefine everything, but it’s hard to build decks right now. Why create something new when something shiny is on its way?

Every once in a while, I’ll scroll through the visual spoiler of the Standard environment, set by set, to try and find a hidden gem – the card that is perfect for where the format has gone, or has power that has not yet been tapped. I make a list of cards that pique my interest at all, even just a little. Later, when I’m just looking for ideas, this list is a lot easier to scroll through than the whole Standard card pool. For today’s article, I am going to take you through some of the cards on my list (currently 10th Edition and Lorwyn block) that are particularly exciting.

*** The Big Two ***

There have been two cards that have really captured my attention lately, so much that I’ve tried to put them in a deck together.

The first is Puppeteer Clique, which looks great in this format. There are so many juicy creatures to grab: Mulldrifter, Cloudgoat Ranger, Broodmate Dragon, Siege-Gang Commander, Reveillark. Nabbing one of these creatures seems like a game-breaker, and this Clique persists! I really like what you can do to Reveillark decks, either nabbing their namesake card, or neutering their targets (and usually getting advantage along the way.)

The second card is Spitting Image. I don’t think I’ve seen this card anywhere near Constructed play, but I really like it. Not only is it great with Puppeteer Clique, but it’s good against the same creatures I just mentioned and more. Spitting Image just seems like infinite gas once you get going.

The biggest problem with these spells, so far, is that they are pretty situational. Sometimes your opponent just doesn’t have a target for your Puppeteer Clique, or they Makeshift Mannequin in response. Spitting Image is even more situational, needing a good target to be on the board. Not only that, but Spitting Image is also vulnerable to removal in response (awkward for them, but you just paid 6 mana), and it has a hard time taking a Siege-gang Commander. Still, I see a lot of power in these cards, and I want to see if it’s enough to outweigh their drawbacks.

Here is a deck I threw together to explore a few things:

Value Creatures

This is not intended to be a good deck. It’s more like a simulation of a good deck. I’ll play a few games with a deck like this to see what I like. As cards disappoint me they get cut, and cards that perform are reinforced. Sometimes there isn’t room for Cryptic Command, so that doesn’t get tested, but it will probably make the final list of a deck like this. The thing is, I’m not even sure what colors I am yet. Luckily Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool let you cast whatever you want, and let you figure out your actual mana later.

Another card on the top of my list is Primal Command. I love the idea of gaining seven against the Red deck, or putting a land on top against 5-Color, or shuffling Reveillark’s graveyard into their deck, all the while tutoring. Primal Command does it all – it even kills Planeswalkers! (Though five is a bit expensive.) Primal Command has been everything I hoped it would be, except for one small problem: what do you tutor for? There doesn’t seem to be any backbreaking creatures against any one archetype that is worth paying five to tutor for. Broodmate Dragon is good, but it’s not backbreaking enough to be worth spending your fifth turn fetching. I feel like Primal Command is a good tutor package away from being playable. Once that happens, there is still the problem of Glen-Elendra Archmage, Cryptic Command, and Mistbind Clique to deal with. These are all great against five casting-cost sorceries, so the rest of the deck has to be able to compete.

Caldera Hellion feels like it should be better than it is. He looks like a recursive Firespout to me, what with Spitting Image or Makeshift Mannequin (which could probably find its way into that deck) and can be searched up with Primal Command. The problem is that it’s hard to find a creature that you want to devour, so he’s usually just an expensive Firespout. There are ways to abuse his creature status, but none of them seem good enough yet. Still, he’s on my radar.

I’ve been surprised by Battlegrace Angel. She often has an immediate impact on the board, which is great for a five-drop to have. She’s hard for the aggro decks to race, and usually forces them to have an answer very quickly. I doubt this is the deck for her, and maybe she doesn’t fit into the format well enough, or doesn’t have a deck to live in (being outclassed by Cloudgoat Ranger usually) but there is power here. I also have dreams of turn five Battlegrace Angel turn six Spitting Image gain twelve.

I’ve had a crush on River Kelpie for a long time. He’s underwhelming in this deck, but I think there is a home where River Kelpie will find much synergy. Spitting Image happens to work well with him (I’m really trying to put it everywhere) and once you get Raven’s Crime going with him on the table you shouldn’t be able to lose. There are a few other retrace options that also happen to be on my list, like Flame Jab and Oona’s Grace. I’m looking for ways to make retrace better, like an efficient way to get a lot of lands in your hand, but I haven’t found it yet.

Luckily, River Kelpie has a few other things going for it. Unearth works positively with Kelpie, as does reanimation like Makeshift Mannequin, Reveillark, and even Doomed Necromancer. There’s also persist to try out with something like Kitchen Finks or Glen-Elendra Archmage, though I’m not sure I’m quite ready to make the jump to Quillspike yet. With so many options I feel like a deck based around River Kelpie has a lot going for it. The biggest problem is that River Kelpie is a five mana 3/3, though untapping with him should put you in a good position.

*** Token Gropin’ ***

I’ve found a few cards in my searches that seem good with or against tokens and Windbrisk Heights/Spectral Procession strategies, so I’ve grouped them together here.

Ascendant Evincar was one of the earliest ones I found. He’s great against Spectral Procession, but bad against Bitterblossom. You could always run him with your own Blossoms, but the six casting cost is a little prohibitive. He has a hard time dealing with the first Spectral Procession, but is great at keeping Cloudgoat Ranger and Siege-Gang commander at bay, as well as turning off later Processions and Figure of Destiny. He’s good against half of the Faerie deck, but bad against Bitterblossom, so I’m not sure how that one works out (not well – LSV).

Avatar of Might is comically good against tokens, but probably can’t be taken seriously. Five is a big number, and you don’t want to be running creatures of your own, so I don’t know what this deck wants to do.

Grave Pact seems good with tokens, but simultaneously weak against tokens. You probably still come out ahead against a Spectral Procession or Cloudgoat Ranger, so it might be worth testing. Triple black is pretty steep.

Does anybody remember the Warp World deck with Anarchist and Hunted Troll? That deck was crazy. Basically you cast permanents that accelerate your mana or give you multiple permanents for one spell. Then you cast Warp World. In theory resolving a Warp World should leave you with more permanents than you started, your opponent with less, and you can even keep looping if your Warp World hits an Anarchist. I don’t see that deck existing right now, but cards like Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger raise my eyebrow.

Windborn Muse looks great against Spectral Procession, though it doesn’t do a lot against Cloudgoat Ranger, or even Siege-Gang Commander. Sure, they can’t attack with all their Goblins, but they can still throw them at you. Windborn Muse does seem like the perfect counter to a Windbrisk Heights, so I’ll probably test it. Also, note the Reveillark-friendly power.

Galepowder Mage is pretty neat against tokens, just poofing them into exile, and also makes your Cloudgoat Ranger, Siege-Gang Commander, and Reveillark pretty awesome. He can even temporarily snatch a card from under a Tidehollow Sculler. Maybe a little gimmicky, but I’m willing to give him a try. Changeling Berserker does similar things to your own creatures, while also attacking for a very respectable amount.

Militia’s Pride is good with the token strategy, but seems bad with Spectral Procession. This is no white Bitterblossom, but something here still intrigues me.

I’m not sure what other Clerics are out there worth playing, but Battletide Alchemist shuts off the attacking power of an unaided Bitterblossom or Spectral Procession, much like Cumber Stone. Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile is similar, and probably does the job better. I don’t see a cleric soft-lock happening anytime soon, but I’ll try anything once.

I tried a little Blowfly Infestation in Block, but kept losing to the control decks. I think the same thing would be true in Standard, except that now you’re playing Blowfly Infestation outside of Block. Also, the ways to trigger the Infestation aren’t very exciting when you could just be casting Wrath of God. Necroskitter, anyone?

*** Etc. ***

Now we’ve reached the part of the article where I spew a bunch of disconnected ideas at you. These are the things I want to try, and maybe you will, too.

Citanul Flute is super slow, but should win the game for you if left unchecked. You could grab Wild Nacatls for the cheapest body to cost ratio, but I’m not sure what the rest of your deck is doing at that point. Grabbing faeries could be interesting, with Spellstutter Sprites and Mistbind Cliques jumping into your hand.

I find myself wondering if it’s time for Manabarbs to come back. I feel like every deck I make can’t beat a Manabarbs, but I can never bring myself to play it in my own deck. This card could at least make the sideboard of something, right? Isn’t there a sequence of plays that makes turn four Manabarbs game over? [Purity? –Riki, channeling Flores](No – LSV, channeling the Pro Tour)

No Rest For the Wicked sure is a long card name, it has to be good! This could be a defense against Wrath of God, or a way to get a lot of advantage out of some Mulldrifters and Shriekmaws. I like the fact that you can invest the mana early, and then pop your NRFTW later for free.

Razormane Masticore pops up every once in a while, so why isn’t he getting any love right now? It could be because of the massive competition at five mana that doesn’t get wrecked by Path to Exile. Now that artifacts have their own sub-theme, I’m wondering if it’s time to dust off the Masticores.

I played some Story Circles in the sideboard of Esperlark at a recent tournament, and it single-handedly won me a few games. The biggest problem Story Circle has is being overloaded by Spectral Processions, but given enough white mana you can shut off Kithkin and the red burn decks. I don’t think anybody is prepared for this kind of defense.

I want to build a deck with Countryside Crusher and Knight of the Reliquary. Scapeshift may or may not be involved. Everybody knows the Knight can grab Treetop Village, but isn’t it also exciting to stock up on Windbrisk Heights? Even Mosswort Bridge could be a possibility. Any time I see a creature as good as Knight of the Reliquary that has two power, I want to play Reveillark in the same deck.

Declaration of Naught isn’t the greatest card, but I always try to keep it in the back of my mind for when there’s a problem to be solved.

Is it time to Feudkiller’s Verdict people yet?

Wasn’t Mind Shatter supposed to define the format? Cryptic Command probably has some say in why that card isn’t breaking noses, but I’m not convinced. Mind Shatter is powerful, and it’s got to have a home. Discard was never that great against the aggressive decks, but when they’re trying to cast five-mana spells it doesn’t seem so bad. Garruk into Mind Shatter seems pretty awesome, so that might be where I start. Heck, you can even Beseech the Queen for this bad boy.

Crimson Wisps a Maelstrom Angel, anybody?

Furystoke Giant has to be hot, right? BR tokens used to be a good deck, and you still have Torrent of Souls and Bitterblossom around. Goblin Assault is probably a bit much, but I have dreams of using Furystoke Giant with Makeshift Mannequin.
Fertile Ground into Puca’s Mischief is pretty awesome. Otherwise the Puca’s Mischief decks I build kind of fall flat.

Evershrike is like four awesome aura’s away from being great. You could even tutor this up with Corpse Connoisseur if you really wanted to. Unfortunately I can’t find a single aura that excites me enough.

There has to be a deck out there that wins if Pyrrhic Revival resolves. Unfortunately it’s pretty bad against any deck running Reveillark, and probably wont resolve against the others. There’s probably a combo out there I’m missing.

Sapling of Colfenor is pretty awesome, but if he didn’t work before Path to Exile, he’ll have a much harder time now. Maybe if you can dodge the one-mana instant, the Sapling can dominate.Furystoke Giant

*** An End to the Madness ***

Sorry if that started to get a little hectic for you, but I wanted to give you an idea of the types of things I’m thinking about at this time in a format. There is a lot more to my lists; I just scraped the surface here. Maybe I’ll post the whole thing somewhere later.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found an idea here worth running with.

Jonathon Loucks

Loucksj at gmail

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