Today I want to give my picks for the top Standard playables in Born of the Gods. Cue the quip about Born not having ten playable Standard cards, strike up the laugh track and get it out of your system now. For those who didn't give up on the set because the playables weren't firmly entrenched in the rares, you probably are like me, pleasantly surprised at the number of playables after the first look.
Just as the internet has pointed out, this card will likely go down the path of [card]Blood Scrivener[/card] and yet it cries out with the potential to do more. I think it could be a fine two-drop in BW or BR aggro, but it needs help to draw more than one or two cards so it'll likely need to wait a set and see if inspiring cards are printed to help out. Plus if the format becomes just a big attrition game between Mono-Black Control and UW Control, this guy becomes the best two-drop in the format.
[draft]herald of torment[/draft]
Owen likes it and he tends to know what's going on with black cards. It has reasonable stats for three mana and the bestow can end the game against a fair deck in a hurry. It also gives the black deck something to do if it draws more than four lands, something previous iterations have had issues with.
[draft]kiora, the crashing wave[/draft]
I mentioned a bit ago that Kiora in [card]Maze's End[/card] had real potential. My enthusiasm is still there at the moment because I think attacking will be on the downswing, but my games showed that Kiora fits in a very awkward place on the curve unless you hold her until a point where [card]Urban Evolution[/card] just does more. You need to be very aggressive with playing Kiora and that works better in a deck with blockers since her +1 can shut down the biggest threat on the table, and something like [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] can play defender.
Against decks with 0-1 likely attackers, she's amazing and fits very snugly into the core. Against everything else she's too clunky to matter and usually just gets cashed in for a single [card]Explore[/card]. Worst-case she's a viable sideboard card and I think she has a better shot of seeing play in Bant than I originally anticipated. Most of the non-[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] cores love having creatures in play and she gives those decks something that [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] doesn't.
[draft]Fanatic of Xenagos[/draft]
It's a [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] for Gruul.
10-9: Satyr Firedancer & Searing Blood
These red cards get the same spotlight since it's very likely they would both go in the same deck. [card]Searing Blood[/card] is a slightly worse [card]Searing Blaze[/card] with an awkward trigger condition against decks that only play 6/6s. So against WU this card really doesn't do all that much, but [card]Pack Rat[/card] and Gods ensure that the majority of your opponents will have valid targets to make bloody.
[card]Satyr Firedancer[/card] is tailor-made for the burn deck, if not in the main deck then for the sideboard. Decks like RG Devotion run no practical answers to it at instant speed and many of the other aggressive strategies only have 4-6 ways to take one out. If it stays in play it completely warps how the game plays as suddenly every card becomes Searing Blaze, taking out creatures while sending burn spells to the dome. If anything this could be the card RDW wanted against Mono-U Devotion—it allows them to sustain pressure and board control. Something like this would be a good first draft:
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Satyr Firedancer
4 Chandra's Phoenix
3 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Boros Charm
4 Searing Blood
4 Lightning Strike
2 Toil and Trouble
4 Warleader's Helix
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Temple of Silence
1 Stombreath Dragon
2 Toil Trouble
2 Revoke Existence
2 Satyr Firedancer
4 Boros Reckoner[/deck]
You could also make it closer to a goldfish deck with quad [card]Boros Charm[/card] and [card]Oracle of the Bones[/card] in the deck, though I think the latter is only really playable against UW Control and occasionally MBC. If you get it on an empty board, you usually get to go to town on the opponent or at least [card]Skizzik[/card] them. Otherwise it just doesn't do enough to really justify itself and it leaves you open to instant speed removal G1, which your other creatures avoid by either being dirt cheap or end-game cards.
[draft]eidolon of countless battles[/draft]
This is probably the only complete roll of the dice on the list. If I wanted to be safe I could drag out some sideboard staple or just move [card]Fanatic of Xenagos[/card] into the ten slot. However I think this card has enough potential that people should take a serious look at it. First, if there's an actual WW-esque deck and Brimaz is the centerpiece, this card is an amazing complement to it. It comes down and immediately pumps four if you have any creature or enchantment and a Brimaz on the table. Bestow, swing, get ya.
Of course the fair usage doesn't really interest me—no sir. I'm interested in how good this is against non-[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] decks when combined with hexproof.
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple Garden
4 Temple of Plenty
3 Temple of Triumph
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Hero of Iroas
3 Voice of Resurgence
4 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Eidolon of Countless Battles
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Madcap Skills
4 Unflinching Courage
Voice of Resurgence
Slamming an Eidolon onto a [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] or [card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card] with a [card]Madcap Skills[/card] or [card]Unflinching Courage[/card] already enchanting it sounds pretty amazing. It plays like extra copies of [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] that do something against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and can be played as a normal dude against aggro matches if necessary. The current Naya Hexproof decks really wanted one more solid creature and one more solid Aura to play and this may be the answer for both. Against non-black devotion plans you can suit up non-hexproof creatures without too much concern and it lets you spread out the love.
[draft]xenagos, god of revels[/draft]
Just like many of the good cards in this set, I really don't need to spend too many words talking about them. If a GR deck you want to play wants a pumped up [card]Fires of Yavimaya[/card], go cray cray. It's a little expensive for the fastest versions though and the dual cost will keep it from being a used in many three color midrange decks. The obvious spot is GR Devotion and even splashing it in the red version seems reasonable, haste [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card] and [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] certainly doesn't seem bad.
I'll be talking more about Xenagos over the next two weeks, but my immediate thoughts are that it's a very solid 2-of for GR. It'll also probably be vastly overrated against UW Control which now has access to [card]Revoke Existence[/card], but Gruul players were already struggling for truly good non-creature threats in the match so anything will help.
[draft]drown in sorrow[/draft]
Congratulations [card]Infest[/card], you got a strict upgrade this time around! Stick it into MBC as a sideboard card and move into the maindeck if we ever get back to [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] and devotion decks all the time.
[draft]courser of kruphix[/draft]
[card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] is a value-based green card that doesn't involve ramping, which makes me think it's being over-hyped for doing something green isn't typically good at. I do think the card is good and I'm very glad R&D made it 4 toughness instead of the normal 3 I'd expect for three mana. I think it'll be a solid role player in some green decks, but I'm not sure how much devotion or more aggressive green takes really want to play this card. I've seen way more early lists playing this over [card]Fanatic of Xenagos[/card] when [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is the least aggressive card they have in their entire deck.
I do love the synergy between Courser and [card]Domri Rade[/card] so that's where I want to start, just with less emphasis on aggression. Actually I'd love to be able to run [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] but I lack any non-creature ramp, so doing so in a midrange build is way too slow to get away with in this format. Instead we have to use an awkward balance of removal and creature board control to get what we want.
[deck]4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Fanatic of Xenagos
4 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Domri Rade
2 Xenagos, God of Revels
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Stomping Ground
This is by far the most obvious and less interesting shell I could have for the card and yet even here it's at least passable. I cut down on the early drops, because the more early plays in the deck, the less I want a three-drop that isn't attacking or is named Domri Rade. Since this build focused more on the beefy side of the spectrum you don't run into that tension and every card you can dig gets you closer to another card the top three decks can't ignore. One of the only nice things about the format is that it's moved away from hyper aggro and draw-go as extremes, instead everything is clustered toward midrange synergy and control decks.
I feel late to the party as thousands of words have already been written about Courser of Kruphix and for the most part we're just waiting to see how it plays out in reality. One interesting take I haven't seen anywhere is moving back toward heavy green and seeing how it plays out from there. Right now we have this as a core:
[deck]4 Experiment One
4 Swordwise Centaur
4 Kalonian Tusker
4 Reverent Hunter
4 Courser of Kruphix[/deck]
Eight 3-power creatures on turn two alongside some reasonable 3-drops and some very easy splashes for either [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] or the aforementioned red goodies. Plus we have very strong devotion ties if we eschew [card]Mutavault[/card] for Nykthos and Nylea. Still if we want to play with Gods in aggressive plans, it's hard to beat Thassa or...
[draft]ephara, god of the polis[/draft]
As far as the God cards go, this is the one I'm most interested in to actually battle with. Why? Well the idea of a recurring draw engine that's only dependent on playing creatures, of which we could easily play 28-30 of in a deck, and all of which help with the devotion requirements, seems very good. I'd give it higher praise, but unfortunately most games it'll take a turn or two to really get going. Thassa gives you value the turn after it hits play and later in the game can immediately end the game with her unblockable ability. Thassa can also attack on turn four with a good draw, while Ephara attacking on turn five is unlikely if the opponent does anything. Xenagos, the other gushed-about God from Born, can immediately give you a trigger to use.
On the flip side this provides a splashable draw engine for a number of decks who didn't have access to UU, BB, or RG. White devotion in particular seems like a big winner since it has a lot of WW, WWW, and WU options available for devotion purposes that double as good cards. Such as...
[draft]brimaz, king of oreskos[/draft]
While this card isn't [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] level "deal with me or die" it is by far one of the best threats in the format that doesn't need support. It naturally survives a bunch of removal and can beat or trade with many of the other creatures in the format on defense. With support it can end the game in a few attacks and generally only present two turns to deal with it before things get completely out of hand.
Combined with Ephara, Brimaz provides recurring draw every attack.
With [card]Spear of Heliod[/card] the minions aren't totally outclassed in combat.
[card]Brave the Elements[/card] saves it from every non-[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] removal spell commonly played in the format.
Combine the two elements and we get something like:
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
2 Vanguard of Brimaz
2 Deputy of Acquittals
4 Precinct Captain
4 Banisher Priest
3 Boros Reckoner
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
3 Ephara, God of the Polis
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
2 Brave the Elements
4 Detention Sphere
2 Spear of Heliod
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
3 Azorius Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Banisher Priest
1 Brave the Elements
1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
1 Boros Reckoner
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 Ephara, God of the Polis
1 Glare of Heresy
2 Lyev Skyknight
3 Revoke Eistence[/deck]
Why WU over Mono-U or even vice-versa on the primary color? Well I am loathe to think about playing MBD in a world where black has better removal in what was already a 50/50ish match. Playing against UW Control also seems miserable now that the deck has [card]Revoke Existence[/card], a card that kills both the biggest threats in the deck (Bident and Thassa).
So why I like white: Ephara is pretty much the nut card draw engine for this deck. While it doesn't answer the [card]Revoke Existence[/card] question, it does helpfully draw a bunch of cards even if the opponent kills your men every turn. It also gives you a nicely sized creature to punch fair decks in the face with a la Thassa.
The other reason to be white is to run [card]Detention Sphere[/card], aka: [card]Hero's Downfall[/card], aka: your only [card]Pack Rat[/card] answer, aka: devotion for 2.
I actually started off with a blue-based plan splashing white for Detention Sphere and Ephara. What changed my mind was how bad the creatures were and how my UW match changed when I could no longer count on UW only having four answers to my seven blowout spells.
So what are the upsides to picking white devotion? Well the primary one is that your creatures generally range from "eh" (Vanguard being just a WW Bear) to great ([card]Banisher Priest[/card] and Brimaz) and you actually get an end-game threat in [card]Elspeth, Sun's Champion[/card] or Brave with an army out. [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card] is also likely worth testing at some point, but for right now I didn't want it to be an all-in Nykthos deck.
What also interests me is the sideboarding plan against control. While the current iteration lacks any countermagic, that wouldn't be difficult to work in. Many of the small creatures could also be subbed out for Heliod and Elspeth, cards that can just sit in play and produce armies. Plus Heliod and Ephara can both threaten players directly over the course of the game, since it only takes a few enchantments the opponent can't kill to make every creature turn on the Gods.
Of course, the nice thing about this is you also don't need to be this aggressive or use these particular sets of creatures. I went for a heavy-devotion route so I can see how it plays out. You could easily build a better aggressive deck in general and give up on the Ephara attacking dream and just use it as a draw engine. Right now I dislike that plan because I think you have to run 7-8 tapped lands to make it happen with any sort of consistency, which means no onesies and you may whiff staying on curve later in the game. Meaning your cards need to be more powerful than two or three power and a blank text box. Ephara is definitely a card I want to explore in further detail down the line and creatures of Brimaz's caliber besides utility like [card]Lyev Skyknight[/card] and [card]Banisher Priest[/card] is a big reason why.
People will gloss over this card, and once tournaments actually start with Born, people will be really sad binning Thassa, Xenagos, and Erebos along with yet another way to destroy Detention Sphere. This card hits every major card WU cares about in the Mono-U Devotion match and destroys both card drawing engines that MBC plays. Just having access to extra ways to deal with these types of threats without relying on Detention Sphere in these matches is huge. It also can come in against other niche strategies if necessary, since a lot of cards double as enchantments now.
Every God, every weapon, [card]Boon Satyr[/card], [card]Underworld Connections[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card], and [card]Domestication[/card]* are on a short list of relevant things WU needs help with.
*These latter two are important when bringing in the [card]Archangel of Thune[/card] plan.
[draft]Unravel the Aether[/draft]
Notably green also gained a functionally similar card in [card]Unravel the Æther[/card] which will also make green sideboards a bit more interesting. While GR had [card]Destructive Revelry[/card] the other green decks were lacking in good options and this one takes out Gods.
1: Bile Blight
Yes, the top two slots on this list are an uncommon and a common. If this bothers you, go ahead and flip them with slots three and four to make you feel better about buying expensive prerelease cards. Honestly, I always feel like utility is overlooked when people talk about new sets, the cards don't have a sexy hook like Michael Bolton singing about Johnny Depp, but they'll be doing a lot of work for the foreseeable future.
[card]Bile Blight[/card] is one of those cards where the value will ebb and flow as the metagame adapts and specific problem cards for MBC switch around. If killing small creatures, [card]Pack Rat[/card] and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], is the most important strength of removal, then BB is the biggest impact card in the set. If, on the other hand, UW Control and bigger decks try to take over the format because of the removal shift, then it may go back to one of the many other black removal options.
Right now, it looks as though Bile Blight will be an easy four-of in MBC's 75, and since it solves some of the biggest issues the deck had, it's hard to say it wasn't the big winner from Born of the Gods. For now at least.
While Born of the Gods wasn't a high impact set, it certainly didn't underperform by small set standards. It feels like this got the same rap as many recent small sets and while I think a few more build-around-me rares would've been nice, it's not the end of the world. I count at least a dozen easy playables and another eight to ten with potential for at least a sideboard slot, if not upgrading a niche deck in the format.
Next week will be our first look at tournament results and I'll be interested to see if black dominates. Until then.
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