Rather than bring a new brew into the Saheeli-Mardu world again, I want to discuss some Standard cards that are incredibly good but seeing little to no play. There might be some brewing potential in each one, or a chance to shine if any Standard cards are banned in the coming months, or if Amonkhet delivers a new environment. With ever shifting metagames, there’s always hope for these types of staple mythics that have fallen by the wayside.
Archangel Avacyn is a perfect example of a card that was seeing little play, but eventually became great again as Mardu decks shifted to a more midrange plan. Before, Archangel Avacyn was too slow, but now games revolve around big turns 4 and 5. In addition, she is well set up to attack planeswalkers and thus fits into Mardu quite nicely. Enough about her though, because there are still great cards that haven’t made their way back into Standard!
This card is ridiculous! Despite producing 6/11 worth of stats across 4 bodies, it hasn’t seen much play recently. One of the main problems was that G/B created big enough creatures that Ishkanah simply wasn’t enough. This early format was aggressive and green creature decks preferred Verdurous Gearhulk as their 5-drop of choice, but with a slightly slower format Ishkanah could make a comeback. The main problem is that tapping out for a 5-drop is tough in a Felidar Guardian world, and while Ishkanah slows down Gideon, Ally of Zendikar she doesn’t really provide a solution.
This means that brewing around Ishkanah is still possible because it bridges to the late game, but it can’t be the late-game plan itself because it doesn’t actually close games particularly well. Emrakul was the real closer, and Ishkanah just helped you to reach that end game. With Emrakul out of the format, there hasn’t been a clear reason to build decks in this way. Yet there are a variety of G/x delirium-based decks that can be built but haven’t been explored extensively. I think a G/W version with Descend upon the Sinful and Quarantine Field could be good, though tooling the numbers such that you have enough game versus Vehicles, planeswalkers, and a bunch of creatures all at the same time is a tough sell.
Ishkanah also stabilized boards much better against previous Standard cards. It held off Smuggler’s Copter better than Heart of Kiran in the cases when Ishkanah dies, had more Spell Quellers to fight against, and generally just made better use of Spider chumping and stalled boards. Emrakul was certainly a big part of this, but if green-based control (sounds weird I know) gets some new late game tools in Amonkhet, I could see Ishkanah making a strong return.
Current brewing potential: Medium-low
Future potential: Medium
We’ve seen some Kozilek’s Return thanks to its interaction with emerge on Elder Deep-Fiend, but the card has mostly fallen out of favor. I remember living in fear of the card not too long ago, so what happened? The answer isEmrakul once again. The two went together like peanut butter and jelly, but there have still been some attempts at working the card into Standard because it is so incredibly powerful. Ulamog triggers the Return as well, and Aetherworks Marvel decks can still sweep the board early with a Return and follow up with Ulamog, but unfortunately the incentive isn’t there right now. Games are controlled by the combination of Vehicles and planeswalkers, and as long as that’s the case, Kozilek’s Return will see less play. Yet even when it is the case, getting rid of a small board so that Ulamog can take out the true problem cards is valuable.
Just recently Return did see a resurgence in an unexpected way. Shota originally included it in his Temur Tower sideboard, but GP Porto Alegre champion Victor Silva took it a step further and included it in his main deck. There, the card is solely an instant-speed Pyroclasm with no way to deal 5 to everything. This is a unique use for the card compared to the usual default of Radiant Flames. Because Temur Tower wants to operate almost solely at instant speed, it gains a huge advantage with Return over Radiant Flames and can use that mana on a counterspell instead if need be.
There are still builds that can “flashback” Kozilek’s Return that aren’t currently popular in Standard. One option I haven’t seen in a while is R/G ramp. Return always worked incredibly here because the deck could ramp to World Breaker and start chaining those with Sanctum of Ugin while getting rid of the whole board with Return. The main problem is that without Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation in the format there just haven’t been enough ways to reliably get to 7 mana on time. Hedron Archive still does a good job, but 4 copies isn’t enough.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance does a good veggies impersonation, but isn’t reliable since she can be attacked pretty easily in this strategy. In addition, the abundance of cheap removal in Mardu punishes ramp creatures. You can circumnavigate this issue with Ruin in their Wake, a card that actually has a potential 16 turn-1 enablers in Standard: Attune with Aether, Renegade Map, Traverse the Ulvenwald, and Evolving Wilds. Even still, this strategy is just missing one to two cards currently. I do think a single 4-drop ramp spell would make this deck good, though.
Current brewing potential: Medium-low, though seeing play in Temur Tower
Future potential: Medium-high
Crush of Tentacles
Crush provides a pseudo-upheaval effect while leaving behind a huge body. This is extremely powerful even if the token is a bit weak to Fatal Push. Under the right circumstances, the Crush decks can continually reset the board until they find a way to turn the corner. Usually, casting Crush is enough of a swing itself to move from defense to offense. As a point of reference, here is the green-blue midrange deck piloted by Steve Rubin at Worlds last year:
U/G Part Crush Ramp
Steve Rubin, World Championships
Once again, Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation formed the backbone of a deck aiming to accelerate out these incredibly expensive spells. Without them this style of deck is much worse, but it can still function as a control deck without those pieces if the metagame is right. Crush of Tentacles punishes expensive midrange spells, but the midrange decks have to be filled with efficient threats rather than value creatures, and that’s exactly how the 4-Color Saheeli decks punish Crush. If the metagame were all Mardu and G/B, then I think a Crush deck would be the perfect metagame slayer. As is, the deck needs a shell that kills early threats but then takes advantage of the huge mana generating swing from Crush of Tentacles. I think U/R can work under this model much better than U/G and, rather than ramp, focus on getting to a later stage of the game by hitting land drops naturally.
This shift in colors is always an interesting part of brewing because cards often become associated with a certain deck or color pair, and after a deck becomes bad because of rotation or a metagame shift, it remains associated with its former shell even if that shell no longer works. This is why it’s always important to think about what a card wants to do when combined with surrounding cards and how all those components interact with the existing metagame. You might find that the old tools for the job don’t work but a new build in a new color pair does.
Current brewing potential: Medium
Future potential: Medium
Fevered Visions works best in proactive burn strategies that can punish slower decks that try to win via card advantage. That actually sounds like the perfect card right now! Mardu is slowing down and really only has Toolcraft Exemplar starts for a super punishing aggro plan, and Saheeli decks just look to value 3- and 4-drops that cantrip. This means a U/R deck like the ones that crushed G/B Delirium but could never beat Bant Company (who could?) from last year might be perfect:
U/R Fevered Visions
One nice thing about this list is that almost all of it is still Standard legal. The plan is very much the same as before, and punishes the current metagame plan of going bigger than the opponent. Its creature base is vulnerable to Fatal Push but is strong versus Shock, and it’s possible to build it with Stormchaser Mage as an additional threat that also fits under this category. Unsubstantiate is hit or miss versus a lot of Standard decks, but bouncing a Gearhulk on the stack is still a huge play so I think it merits inclusion still. A lot of games you’ll want to just keep the board clear with this type of deck, which means that moving the Bedlam Revelers main could be a good move. Additionally, with all the planeswalkers in Standard, the Nahiri’s Wraths gain extra value, though they’re still quite weak against Vehicles.
Fevered Visions also has a unique angle simply because it is an enchantment. Most decks are packing Release the Gremlins or Natural Obsolescence as answers to problem engines but those obviously don’t hit Visions. Nahiri is the only obvious problem card as of now but she is often boarded, and at least is another slow answer that plays into the strengths of Fevered Visions. While everyone is looking to go over the top, this deck just looks to deal 20 and that might actually be the perfect spot to be in the current metagame.
Current brewing potential: High
Future potential: Medium-high
There are a lot of powerful cards in Standard that aren’t seeing play. The best decks are keeping them out, but that also creates the perfect reason to find a deck that can beat the top 2. The best part is that thinking through these options to solve the current metagame is only a step in deck building progression. You’ll gain that insight moving forward and have a leg up on the competition once Amonkhet arrives.