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Utter Beatings – Undervalued in Standard

Apparently Luis has no qualms with writing a conclusion for me. I wonder if I can get away with not writing introductions as well.

Hi, I’m Josh Utter-Leyton. You might remember me from such articles as “Why Pump Spells Are Awesome in Limited” or “Mono-Red, my Favorite Deck”. Today I’m going to talk about some cards that people aren’t using in Standard, and why they should be played more. By looking at such cards, even you can get an edge in this exciting Standard format! (I couldn’t resist – LSV)

I apologize in advance for the Fae bias in this article, but I wouldn’t be giving you my honest opinions if I tried to avoid it. In no particular order, I believe that the following cards are undervalued and/or underplayed in Standard:

Bituminous Blast

We all know this card is good, but it is not often you see a deck running four of these. Make no mistake, this is one of the premiere cards in format, and it is being criminally underplayed. A tame Bituminous Blast will do something like kill a two drop and cascade into a two or three mana spell – basically, you get your five mana worth of action, but are also up a card for free. That’s towards the lower end of what Blast can do, and it is still completely busted. At the other end of the spectrum, you could be killing a Wilt-Leaf Liege and hitting a Bloodbraid Elf. No matter how you look at it, Blast is not fairly costed. It is not necessarily wrong to be playing less than four Blast if you can cast it, but you had better have very good reasons for not doing so.

Look at how much the Block Constructed format is warped around Blast. The Jund midrange decks go pretty far out of their way to present no good targets for Blast (other than Bloodbraid), running Enlisted Wurm over Broodmate Dragon and playing no Putrid Leeches.

When 5c Blood passes with five mana open, the Cryptic Command / Bituminous Blast dilemma is perhaps even more difficult to play against than the dreaded Cryptic Command / Mistbind Clique.

Bramblewood Paragon

I don’t think that Paragon makes as fine a two drop as Putrid Leech, but it is close enough that you have to really consider why your elf deck is playing black instead of Bloodbraid Elf. Gilt-Leaf Palace, Maelstrom Pulse, Thoughtseize, Profane Command? All pretty poor reasons in my opinion. The cards you play instead of these in a red elf deck are only slightly worse, while Bloodbraid is leagues better than anything else.

Two toughness may be a bad place to be in the format, but Paragon actually makes your deck much better against Pyroclasm effects. Protecting Imperious Perfect, Civic Wayfinder, and Bloodbraid turns any potential sweepers into little more than overcosted removal for Paragon.

Esper Stormblade

It’s pretty crazy that creatures have been pushed to the point that nobody even bats an eye at a two mana 3/2 flyer. Though obviously requiring another multicolored permanent weakens the card, the condition is easily satisfied with cards you would want to be playing regardless: Figure of Destiny, Meddling Mage, Sygg, River Cutthroat, Kitchen Finks, etc. The card is very close to being a straight up 3/2 flyer for two, and that is very much worthy of note.

Jund Hackblade saw a fair amount of hype and is enjoying some play, and it’s significantly worse than Stormblade. The choice of flying versus haste in constructed on a typical creature is debatable, but flying is clearly better given the blade condition, as you don’t need multicolored one drops to optimize Stormblade. Stormblade hasn’t happened to be a good fit in any Standard decks yet, but it is highly Standard playable on power level alone.

Loxodon Warhammer

Warhammer gives all of your creatures so much added value that over a longish game few cards can compete with its power. It’s also not like the card is slow. Though certainly on the higher end of the curve, when it hits it has immediate and immense impact. Warhammer is sick at racing, and sick at trading. It dominates the very same attrition-based games it facilitates in entering.

Looking around at the late-game cards being played, I can’t help but wonder if they are really better than Warhammer. I don’t think Warhammer is better than Cryptic, but does 5c Blood really need to stretch its mana base when Warhammer could probably fill the role adequately? What about Profane Command in Elves? You can expect to get more value out of Warhammer than killing one guy and getting one back. Other than against Reveillark, where is the reach of Profane going to win you games that Warhammer would not? (I imagine that these points also apply to Behemoth Sledge in decks that can cast it – LSV)

Agony Warp

This is not just a Terror for small creatures, nor is it a mere UB Lightning Helix. Agony Warp is a blowout-inducing on the board two for one as often as it is one of the previous two cards. Like Maelstrom Pulse, you can pretend that Agony Warp is just a removal spell with a bonus that pops up every now and then, but that isn’t how it plays out in games. Early on [card]Agony Warp[/card] does exactly what you want it to do, in killing some random beater, and come mid-game the boards tend to develop such that it is very easy to kill two creatures with a Warp. I have been pleasantly surprised at how effectively Faeries can handle Bloodbraid Elf, and Agony Warp plays a big role in doing so. You hit the nuts of Bloodbraid into Ram-Gang? Block Bloodbraid with Mutavault, Agony Warp them both, thanks for playing!

Quick aside: if Bloodbraid and a relevant cascaded spell both resolve against a Faeries player with cards in hand and, say, Secluded Glen, double Island, Mutavault untapped, why would you ever attack with Bloodbraid? If they have anything at all, how is it possibly going to end well for you? Agony Warp, Plumeveil, Mistbind Clique, etc. And if they have nothing, they are just dead regardless, so it doesn’t hurt you to play as if they have something. Haste does not mean must attack the turn it comes into play, but that is how I always see Bloodbraids being played against Faeries.

Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique, as a disruption spell, is not very powerful in Standard. I’ve talked before about why I don’t like Thoughtseize in Standard: most of the decks don’t have key cards, they do have lots of redundancy, and they don’t tend to run out of threats. Cascade has changed this to some extent, as obviously Swans is a giant exception, and Bloodbraid and Blast are scary enough that trying to stop them with hand disruption is enticing. For the most part my view remains unchanged, though, and the same applies to the value of Vendilion Clique as hand disruption.

Vendilion targeting yourself, on the other hand, is awesome. It straight up draws a card so often, as at least in Faeries you commonly end up with excess Bitterblossoms or Ambitions or whatever that are just worthless. As tempting as it is to know your opponent’s hand, you get more value out of targeting yourself the majority of the time.

I think it is mostly inertia from when there were nothing but Bitterblossoms, Processions, and Fallouts being played that is keeping Vendilion down. Now, with so many green animals and cascade spells around, it is time for Vendilion to shine.

Puppeteer Clique

Obvious Anathemancer, Cloudthresher, and Cloudgoat Ranger blowouts aside, this is just such a sick value card. Five mana is a little pricey for a flying Finks, but the comes into play ability upgrade is usually worth the two mana it costs. Despite Fae’s aversion to sorcery speed spells, you can safely tap for Puppeteer Clique knowing that your opponent isn’t going to have something more powerful to play. It comes down, gets some hasty damage in, and presents an awesome blocker. Few creatures can profitably swing into Puppeteer, and it hoses attackers that are problematic for Faeries like Treetop Village and Kitchen Finks. What’s especially awesome is how poor (non-Path) removal is against it, as through a removal spell it is going to probably fog an attack by unearthing a blocker, get in lots of damage, and leave behind a 2/1 flyer.

And then of course there are the times you do grab a creature with a comes into play effect. If you get your money’s worth just taking boring targets like Leeches and Bloodbraids, it is not hard to imagine how insane Puppeteer can be when it is taking something saucy. There is no reason the card should only be getting played in Faeries, and really Faeries isn’t even the best home for it.

Puppeteer Clique is the best way to combat Anathemancer. Other options must be done preemptively and are pretty awkward, whereas Puppeteer actually punishes your opponent for having Anathemancer. The decks playing Anathemancer are all quite vulnerable to it themselves.

Be careful puppeteering persist creatures, as they will persist back into play for your opponent if they die before being removed. I have personally botched this, attacking with a Finks and letting my opponent turn his in-play Finks into two 2/1s.

Sower of Temptation

It was cute that R&D could print Control Magic and make it worse by adding a 2/2 body, but that doesn’t mean it was a good idea. A Sower that sticks is absurdly unfair and provides a near insurmountable advantage. Creatures tend to die a lot in Standard, so it is not actually beyond an acceptable power level, but it is too swingy.

I’m not the biggest fan of Sower in Faeries because of its high variance. When you tap for it and they have the answer, they are usually far enough ahead that short of another Sower sticking you probably can’t catch up. On the other hand, if you untap with Sower in play, the game is basically over. When you can protect a Sower, and reduce its variance, the card is pretty disgusting. Sower is awesome when you can rely on Scion protecting it, but that isn’t the most exciting plan with so many Pyroclasm effects being played.

UW Lark makes a much better shell for Sower than Faeries. Between Archmages and Reveillarks, it is very difficult for opponents to keep Sowers off the board, and Lark has Wrath to play catchup if it does fall too far behind. Pretty much any deck that can reliably stick a Sower is going to crush creature decks.

Terramorphic Expanse

God I hate Underground River. I feel like I win fewer games thanks to Underground River than I lose because of it, but that does make sense as the games you lose to painland damage are far easier to notice than the games you win thanks to the fixing, or having your land come into play untapped. Still, Arcane Sanctum / Crumbling Necropolis have been very, very close to replacing some Rivers, and Terramorphic Expanse might be even better. While Terramorphic Expanse is significantly worse at casting Cryptic and Plumeveil, the benefits against Anathemancer may just be worth it. I don’t think Terramorphic Expanse is correct right now, but at some level of Anathemancer popularity, Expanse should start seeing play, and not just in Faeries.

Where Terramorphic Expanse begins to get really exciting is with Ponder. Ponder sans shuffle effect has pretty marginal impact on card quality, and has been largely deemed not worth the cost in Standard. Throw in a shuffle effect, though, and you get a card that is pretty on par with [card]Impulse[/card] in terms of effect, for just one mana. Suddenly those Ponders of one awesome card and two blanks become insane. Ponder does have some tension with extra comes into play tapped lands in the form of Expanse, but overall the interaction makes both cards much more alluring.

It will be interesting to see if Terramorphic Expanse is in M10, as it could see a ton of play courtesy of the new duals.

(I guess that’s that – LSV, who draws the line at writing an intro and a conclusion)

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