This week I’ll be reviewing the Standard Constructed additions we’ve received from M12. I’ve separated them by cards I like and think will make an immediate impact, cards I’m unsure of, the planeswalkers and finally a few cards I think are overrated. Let’s get to it.
Cards I Like:
[card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] – Incremental value cards usually aren’t worth it in Standard, but Sad Robot does just enough that I feel it deserves a place in Valakut and perhaps BU or WU decks. Just like when I had [card]Mortarpod[/card] in Caw Blade. it’s difficult for me to describe exactly how good the card is or how much value you’ll typically get from the card. Think of it like this though: Aggro decks have proven to be quite viable going by MODO results and Solemn can get full value against them. Jens is effectively a [card]Viridian Emissary[/card] that gives you the two most important parts up-front (Land + 2/2 body) and then gives you that little bit of extra value when it dies which pushes it over the top.
For control I actually like it in BU control just to have something else to do on turn four while accelerating my six-drop a turn earlier, plus the ability replace to itself makes it far more appealing than many options. Even in a match like the mirror it basically does everything you want from a four-drop and blocks [card]Calcite Snapper[/card] or [card]Neurok Commando[/card] all day, two cards that are becomingly increasingly popular mirror tech. In other control decks I don’t see it being quite as useful in terms of what it can do outside of being sweet with Venser. Though if a tri-color deck such as Bant or Esper becomes viable again I would imagine it would be packing a couple of these to help with late-game double costs.
[card]Rampant Growth[/card] – I shouldn’t need to point out why this card is good, by giving Valakut 12 good two-drops instead of garbage like [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] life is good for Valakut players. Honestly I think they needed the help anyway, it’s downright pathetic to not have [card]Flashfreeze[/card] or [card]Spreading Seas[/card] in your 75 and still beat them quite handily most games. For many people, Valakut finally hits the mythical tipping point of good accelerators and we can see if anything actually changes in the format. Of course some very good players like Patrick Chapin and Zvi Mowshowitz both suggested that [card]Rampant Growth[/card] may not be good enough for current day Valakut you should sit up and take notice. I personally like the 2-4-6 approach to acceleration and spell drops, but powering above and beyond sixes into Avenger and large GSZ’s is certainly not unreasonable.
As for other uses of [card]Rampant Growth[/card], outside of a potential Turboland comeback I just don’t see much happening here. Tri-color decks are barely worth it without JTMS and still hurt very badly by the amount of [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and [card]Spreading Seas[/card] seeing play right now.
[card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] – Congraulations Red, you now have two of the top five Red one-drop creatures of all time*, arguably one of the best one-drops in any color. [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] isn’t exactly a tricky card to manage so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Don’t snap play [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] on turn one or two and then complain when he does less than [card]Raging Goblin[/card] would have. There seems to be this condition that many red players are afflicted with that when they see a one-drop they absolutely have to play it as quickly as possible. Remember that [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is going to do much of his work after you’ve started grinding for a bit, letting the opponent kill him in a package deal early defeats the point of the card.
*[card]Goblin Lackey[/card], [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], [card]Goblin Welder[/card], [card]Goblin Guide[/card] and [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card] pre-damage change
[card]Incinerate[/card] – Another good burn spell for red, moving on…
[card]Manabarbs[/card] – Yeah this is a real card, I remember hating life with a variety of slower decks when having to deal with [card]Manabarbs[/card] and this card alone makes a strong case for WU to make a come back as the control deck of choice. If you play UB you have to plan around this card because once it hits play your only options are racing it (GOOD LUCK) or bouncing it with [card]Into the Roil[/card] and then using disruption to deal with it ala [card]Duress[/card] or [card]Flashfreeze[/card]. While I think [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] is a better anti-control threat in general, [card]Manabarbs[/card] is particularly brutal against UB and even WU only has O. Ring to deal with it unless they pack Purges. This is definitely right up there with [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] in terms of cards I don’t want to see when I’m playing Blue and might be the biggest addition from M12 when all is said and done.
[card]Oblivion Ring[/card] – UW Control with Venser and UW Control with [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]s and [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] were already real decks, and with [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] they just fixed the biggest problem I had with the deck. For those who haven’t tried post-ban UW, in large part the other issues I had were the lack of good anti-PW options unless you hit early [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and the lack of good ways to beat a six-drop. Sure you could jam a bunch of Days and [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card], but that always felt real loose and made me prefer the simple removal of UB. Now we get the ultimate catch-all and I see very little stopping UW from returning in force to the metagame.
[card]Goblin Grenade[/card] – Yet another red card worthy of addition, but this time to the overlooked and underrated Goblins deck. At first glance it may feel like Goblins is simply a weaker RDW, but while being softer to removal having a bunch of redundant and repeatable damage sources can make playing against it an entirely different challenge.
[card]Ponder[/card] – Only playable in Splinter Twin, Pyromancer Ascension or other combo decks, please stop posting 2/2 splits or other such nonsense in your control builds. Have you played with [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Ponder[/card] before? I can’t say anyone I’ve ever met that has played both would recommend [card]Ponder[/card] over [card]Preordain[/card] in anything outside of a dedicated combo deck. [card]Ponder[/card] is at it’s best when you’re looking for a key combo piece in your deck and have a fetchland at the ready to shuffle away the remaining garbage. The reason [card]Preordain[/card] was widely adopted into other types of decks while [card]Ponder[/card] wasn’t comes down to how often you want to keep one or no cards and filter the garbage off the top. With [card]Ponder[/card] if you see one good card and some blanks, you’ll be stuck with those blanks and to top it off if you hit stone nothing you’ll be shuffling that back into a random position in the deck. While possible to hit blanks off the top with [card]Preordain[/card] as well, you’ll at least know that two of those are on the bottom of the deck even if the 3rd was a lame duck as well. In general though I feel like the best way to judge [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Preordain[/card] is intuitively once you actually play with both cards in a variety of deck and get a feel for it. It’s a powerful reprint because it puts a high number of playable cantrip / filter effects into the metagame at one time and with blue combo in the format with minimal tutoring that’s a pretty big boon.
Cards that I’m unsure about:
[card]Skinshifter[/card] – I really want to like this card, but effectively having an upkeep cost of 1 to use makes it a bit unwieldy since the same types of decks that want this creature also want to stay on curve. Perhaps using it more as a defensive option makes it a viable choice, but as it stands I just can’t see leaving mana open to use my two-drop creature when I’d really like to bash or use my Survival Stick.
[card]Stormblood Berserker[/card] – Initially I was skeptical of the card and then came around to it looking awesome, once I started trying it out the initial skepticism crept back into my mind. My issue with the card is that Berserker is a three-drop about as often as it’s a two-drop in the deck. If your initial creature dies or you lack a one-drop, you can’t play this card on turn two which makes it feel very clunky in the deck. Certainly if you land it with Bloodthirst then it’s a very efficient card that can get around the usual gamut of blockers, including [card]Kor Firewalker[/card], thanks to its nifty evasion clause. What I’m afraid of though is that the card is more [card]Plated Geopede[/card], something that’s amazing when firing all cylinders, but terrible a fair portion of the time when you aren’t goldfishing your opponent. What also worries me is the additional play [card]Mental Misstep[/card] is sure to see as M12 introduces [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], [card]Goblin Grenade[/card] and [card]Ponder[/card] back into the fold. Misstep was already fine against [card]Goblin Guide[/card], [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisition[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and a strong weapon against Vampires and RDW in general. I’m cautious with this card since the condition attached for it to be a monster may not be the sure-fire bet people think it is.
[card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] – A possible sideboard card methinks, it reminds me, in a good way, of [card]Vishano Sandstalker[/card]. You have a reusable evasive damage dealer that has a very easy to meet recursion condition and helps solve the issue of running out of gas against control. It also gives red a decent way of fighting [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card] with a creature that dodges [card]Wall of Omens[/card] and [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] and you can potentially kill in response* to [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] or [card]Celestial Purge[/card] and trigger again later.
*Yes I’m quite aware this is a rich man’s play, but if you aren’t dumping burn at their dome, what else are you doing with it exactly?
I don’t know if RDW necessarily wants to spend time or resources on this card when it has an embarrassment of riches in the current format. However it does do something that can’t be replicated by any other red card, so I think it’s at least worth trying out.
[card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] – I’m reasonably sure this Jace was developed as a skill-tester card in the vein of such classics as, ‘That cool five mana artifact that never did anything.” and ‘Every white lifegain spell that wasn’t [card]Martyr of Sands[/card] or [card]Gerrard’s Wisdom[/card].” I kid, but Jace is closer to the classic definition of a skill-tester in Standard then his [card jace, the mind sculptor]now-banned future self[/card]. Playing [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] means you are accepting the fact that you are playing a 5cc planeswalker that doesn’t affect the board, cannot defend itself in any fashion, and actually doesn’t do anything relevant for multiple turns.
First person who honestly wants to pay five to get his draw-three or draw-four drawn out over that many turns can feel free to do so while the rest of the class casts [card]Jace’s Ingenuity[/card] or [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card]. His milling ability is definitely the highlight of the card and at some point in time having the ability to mill 10 multiple times may be a relevant ability. Just not in this format. Jace would need two activations of his +0 ability just to beat an [card]Archive Trap[/card] or match a [card]Traumatize[/card] on a 40 card deck. In a strong milling deck, Jace 3 actually just feels weaker than Jace 1 and other strong milling effects one would consider.
His ultimate is an illusion, never to be used outside of Commander or kitchen table games due to lack of interest. So with that sort of ringing endorsement on his three abilities you can already guess what I recommend. Buy them all now for 35 dollars before they hit 100 like old Jace. Especially ChannelFireball’s and my own… EBAY auctions available upon request. In all seriousness, there’s no way this card is worth what it’s fetching right now and it’ll swiftly drop as people get over the Jace moniker. Some people have suggested people are being too harsh on it because they expected it to be another amazing planeswalker. OK, let’s see how this looks then:
[card]Chandra, the Firebrand[/card] – There’s two reasons why I’m not throwing Chandra off a bridge quite yet. The first is the fact that you can add her to basically anything thanks to the huge amount of mana fixing available to us and single red mana in her cost. This is of interest if only because decks that couldn’t realistically use PW in the past now have the capability to do so. Slamming a Chandra on turn three in what would otherwise be a straight UG deck gives it an angle it could have never had previously. Still the power level and speed of Standard is still very high at the moment and I don’t expect this to be a huge factor.
Being able to Twincast is the other fresh ability on her and just like the first I don’t think it’ll do enough per-rotation to warrant much notice. However the ability is so strong and unique that it warrants a good look before writing it off. Obviously with Proliferate cards the ability suddenly becomes free and makes [card]Tezzeret’s Gambit[/card] or [card]Volt Charge[/card] into some of the best things you could be doing in the format. Past that obvious usage comes her ability in things like UR Control, Twin or Valakut. The ability to copy draw spells shouldn’t be underestimated and for a deck like Valakut getting a double [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] or [card]Summoning Trap[/card] is living the dream.
Chandra’s real problem comes back to her plus ability, which despite being a strict upgrade to the her first version just isn’t all that relevant in many games. Killing [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] and [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] aside, there just isn’t a lot you can do with a [card]Hornet Sting[/card] outside of annoying a [card]Jace Beleren[/card] or pinging a UB opponent with no Tar Pit’s on the field. That’s what worries me the most with Chandra, because only one other planeswalker* I can think of has seen a good amount of play without leaning on two or more of its abilities.
So while I hold out hope to see a truly playable [card]Chandra Nalaar[/card], I don’t think this iteration will fulfill that request. Maybe post-rotation when the power level (presumably) drops dramatically.
[card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] – Garruk is the planeswalker I think can stand on its own and feel it actually has the best design of all the planeswalkers in the set. It has two relevant abilities it can use as soon as it enters play, can clog up the board and defend itself and its utility power is actually relevant unlike milling. My problem with Garruk as a card is simply that he costs 2GGG which is one green mana too much for widespread playability in various formats. Costing five is a strike against it, but it can be overcome with a bit of effort, [card]Gideon Jura[/card] and currently Venser show this to be the case. On the other hand at 2GGG Garruk is pigeon-holed into effectively mono-color or base green archetypes and has to essentially carry whatever deck he’s in. I simply don’t think that Garruk is capable of bearing that kind of weight.
What does [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] do in the current metagame? He’s effectively a blank against Valakut, Splinter Twin and RDW; all decks that don’t care about the vast majority of five-drops, especially one that just pumps out a 3/3 durdle. Against non-red aggro is really varies on case by case basis since a deck like [card]Tempered Steel[/card] or [card]Puresteel Paladin[/card] Aggro doesn’t care in the least about Garruk, but a deck like Vampires could have a very difficult time beating a never-ending stream of 3/3’s. How about control though? Surely it’ll reign supreme against decks that had issues against the original Garruk, let alone one that gains loyalty for making 3/3’s and draws cards!
Well… It isn’t bad, but I think it just shows how far control finishers have come that I’m not exactly cowering at the prospect of this type of permanent. Untapping into a [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card], [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] or [card]Grave Titan[/card] take a big bite out of the threat level Garruk can bring to the table. Where as a card like [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] could use its second ability to put tokens or other creatures on the offensive, Garruk has no such way to break through. Even the original Garruk could power up into Overrun status and force action from me or I would risk just dying even with my six-drop on the table. The Primal Hunter can just draw more mana dorks or cards that are good against UW or UB without Garruk in the first place.
I believe if six-drops weren’t as brutally powerful and efficient as they are today, not to mention the ease in which decks can hit six on turn five with [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] and [card]Everflowing Chalice[/card], Garruk would be a game-changer. Instead I look at cards that already exist, my [card]Vengevine[/card]s, my [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] and even the original [card]Garruk Wildspeaker[/card] and I wonder if this new option is really worth my time. If you take a look at what you get for just a scant mana more at six-mana, five mana planeswalkers become a very hard sell unless they can do things no other card can match. Unless Inistrad completely warps the format, I’ll be one of the first in line to sample [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]’s wares. Until then though I find little reason to recommend the new take on Garruk.
If you were hellbent on playing a couple of copies though, my recommendation would be to play it in a deck fundamentally similar to RUG, Mythic or UG Vines. Cards like [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], [card]Rampant Growth[/card], Explore and [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] will do the best job of powering Garruk out early and by including other colors you can actually take advantage of drawing cards. The problem with most two color shells I’ve seen is they gain practically nothing by playing Garruk and using it as a draw-3/4 while a deck like RUG would gain plenty. Even better if you could drop Garruk, protect it for a turn and then slam a Titan and activate the draw ability. Then you’d actually be drawing relevant cards to throw around and you justify it as more than a slow army generator.
[card]Visions of Beyond[/card] – Do you realize how difficult it is to consistently fill a graveyard to 20 or more? Either you play a bunch of bad mill cards to it or a broken mechanic which doesn’t care about having this card in the first place.
[card]Crimson Mage[/card] – I’ve seen this mentioned by a few people and I have no idea why. I think the Berserker has a fair shot of clearing its hurdles and becoming a mainstay but what is anyone hoping for in this card?
[card]Azure Mage[/card] – Costs a ton to get going and is going to die a lot in control mirrors where people like to pretend people are sideboarding out removal, only they really aren’t. Ten mana to start getting ahead with this card is not where I want to be in the control mirror or with Splinter Twin.
That’s all for this week, come back next week when we return to our regularly scheduled program of decklists and top ten lists!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom