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Breaking Through – Rogue Options from Khans

Well, a new set is here and with it comes a new era in Standard Magic. Khans of Tarkir is a pretty sweet set with a lot of powerful cards in it, but more telling is the block of cards it pushes out of the format.

Return to Ravnica had some of the best cards we have ever seen in Standard. Sphinx’s Revelation is a defining X-spell that has already seen play in other formats and is perhaps the most powerful draw engine we have seen since Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Abrupt Decay, Supreme Verdict, Blood Baron of Vizkopa; the list of format warping and era-defining cards from Return to Ravnica goes on and on.

Return to Ravnica is a full block of cards. Something like 700 or 800 cards rotate out while less than 300 rotate in. This means that theoretically the range of potential new decks is much more narrow. There is simply a smaller pool to build from which limits the range of options.

Of course, some of the big cards will be replaced by new exciting cards. Nothing from Return to Ravnica quite compares to a Siege Rhino, for example. However, there was so much lost with RTR that Khans cannot make up for all of the losses with new marquee Constructed cards. Instead, you might have to dig beyond the obvious stuff in Khans. There are a plethora of tier 2 cards that can and will step in to create and enhance archetypes while we wait for better overall cards in future sets to eventually smooth everything out.

So, today I wanted to go over some of the cards I have my eye on. These are mostly rogue options that can help shape the format for at least the next three months, but certainly not all of them are going to actually prove worthwhile.

Still, if you can trade for these on the cheap at your prerelease, they might be a good investment!

High Sentinels of Arashin

This is one of the more straightforward cards on this list but it is still exciting to me. As a 3/4 flier for four mana, you are already not getting the worst rate. Restoration Angel showed that a 3/4 flier can compete just fine.

Let’s say I build around this appropriately and I play it in some g/w aggro deck with a reasonable number of +1/+1 creatures or enablers in it. When I cast this into a board of 2 or 3 creatures on turn 4, it is likely to be a 4/5 or 5/6 right away. Once I untap, I am allowed to not commit anything else to the board and still generate 2 power with haste by using the activated ability here on any creature that didn’t already have a +1/+1 counter on it.

This is the type of card that generally gets printed without evasion and then it goes by without ever doing anything, but this starts as reasonable, gets bigger from there, and gets to actually make that size matter as it connects with your opponent turn after turn. This thing is currently like 25 cents in many stores and feels more than worth the gamble.

Blinding Spray

There is not a ton to say about this one, but it caught my eye none the less. The big place for this to find a home is in some type of Fog list. Imagine having two or three of these at the top of your curve. A Fog that replaces itself is something that Turbo Fog decks have to have or else they simply die. Now -4/-0 is not a true Fog, so if the format is big enough, this might just never work and this does cost five mana, so it is not something any other decks will even be interested in. That all said, it is a dorky looking Limited common that could do something in Constructed.

Grim Haruspex

With the rotation, we lose one of the more common build-arounds from M14 in Xathrid Necromancer. That is a big loss to Human tribal decks and black/white synergy decks. Some used the card in the sideboard to fight against sweepers while others just ran the card main for value.

Gim Haruspex is the closest thing in Khans to what the Necromancer offered. Right off the bat I can tell you that he comes in a much more appealing package initially. A 3/2 for three mana is so much better than a 2/2. Morph helps you cast this regardless of that fact, but I do not expect this to be a commonly morphed creature.

Not only is it likely to be your only morph in your deck, making the surprise element all that much more useless, but you spend more total mana on the morph and unmorph combination than you do on just hard casting this. And because the card theoretically goes into black aggressive decks, the tempo gained from that extra mana just makes morphing this a bad play unless it is late and you can afford to.

In either case, this goes well beyond just helping out Humans which might be where the card gains the most. It does not work on tokens, which is a bit of a shame considering that black/white is a notorious token color combination, but it does work on everything else. That means your Warrior deck, your Zombie deck, your midrange black/X deck all get to use Haruspex and get some value out of him.

Drawing cards does not inherently present you with the same pressure that leaving some 2/2s behind will. It takes much longer to recover from a sweeper when you have to cast a lot of things.

Scout the Borders

This is important to point out simply because it is another enabler. This is Grisly Salvage but slow and 50% more expensive, but at least it exists. In the world of Dredge or other graveyard strategies, this is going to be the 3rd or 4th best enabler behind cards like Commune with the Gods, Kruphix’s Insight, and Satyr Wayfinder but if you have no desire for any enchantment synergy, then there is a real chance you end up playing this.

I find this to be stronger than a card like Taigam’s Scheming in most scenarios just because of the raw value in replacing itself.

See the Unwritten

Here we have another graveyard enabler even if that might not be where your mind first goes. This card echoes Summoning Trap from Zendikar block and even though it does not come with a way to reduce the price tag, it does have some other nifty things going on.

First of all, I think it is very important to note that the other 6 or 7 cards from this do go into your ‘yard. That means fuel for delve and that means creatures for Dredge, should you be going down that route. This is important to note because Dredge wants a very similar thing as this which is a density of creatures big enough to make sure this doesn’t whiff and hopefully enough things with 4 power that you can occasionally spike the two creature clause, even if that should not be your goal going in.

If you are not getting value out of the mill aspect of this and are only hitting one creature, it can be tough to actually get value. You are spending six mana at sorcery speed to get a creature that is probably between six and eight mana.

See the Unwritten is definitely a Summoning Trap, but you need to use all of the tools the card provides you with to actually get it to approach the same power level as a zero mana Emrakul can. (Alright, See the Unwritten will never be as powerful as a zero-mana Emrakul, but playable nonetheless!)

Villainous Wealth

Genesis Wave you, broham! As anyone who is brave enough to follow me on Twitter knows, this is one of my favorite cards in the set. Genesis Wave was an awesome card and although it required a lot more work up front to have any success, the excitement of flipping over cards to see if you win the game or not is still there.

Genesis Wave required a heavy amount of deck building and sculpting to work correctly. When I played U/G Genesis Wave (land death, obv), the only instant or sorcery in my entire deck was Genesis Wave. Everything else was a permanent to maximize the flips and impact from each Genesis Wave cast. Luckily cards like Lotus Cobra and Primeval Titan existed to help matters, but that was still a big deck restriction.

Villainous Wealth has a deck restriction of being three colors and costing a lot of mana, but beyond that, you may do as you choose! If you invest nine mana into Villainous Wealth, it seems very difficult to lose the game unless you get totally unlucky with a bunch of lands or something and I would argue that most of the time, you will be casting this for more than that.

This card is not really intended to provide any utility. You ideally want to draw probably a single copy each game and you want to draw it quite late. Otherwise, it will just be sitting in your hand waiting for a Thoughtseize to come along and kidnap it. Like it or not, this is closest thing we have to Sphinx’s Revelation right now!

Altar of the Brood

This is an interesting engine to me that really harkens back to Mesmeric Orb which I was obsessed with for a long time. Mesmeric Orb is tricky in that you don’t really have control over how much milling it does to your opponent. You can sneak it in when they are tapped out to get max value, but if your opponent is not tapping things, Orb isn’t doing things.

Instead, the best way to use Orb is as a self-mill enabler. If you are untapping your own permanents, you are dredging your own deck. If you manage to find an infinite way to untap, like an Aphetto Alchemist or a Basalt Monolith, you actually get to mill most of your deck and the combo off using one of the many graveyard kills such as Dread Return plus Narcomoebas.

Altar of Brood almost has the exact opposite thing going on. With Altar, you have direct control over how many cards your opponent mills but instead, you never get to mill yourself. This moves it away from an enabler and into the win-condition space.

In fact, in Standard there are infinite combos that can use this to kill the opponent. Imagine intrigues where I have Jeskai Ascendancy down plus any creature and a 0 cost artifact like Tormod’s Crypt. I can cast Retraction Helix, targeting my creature and bouncing Crypt. From there I cast Crypt, which allows me to loot to find the Altar for the win. I untap my creature and bounce the Crypt again. I get to keep doing this, milling my opponent to death. Ascendency is a may, so there is no risk of decking yourself.

Of course, the above combo works without Altar if you can manage to connect with your creature, but a one-of artifact allows you to win without needing combat and for only one mana.

There are sure to be other uses for this, as it is a powerful ability rolled into a cheap package.

Ugin’s Nexus

This is the type of card that comes along and intrigues me while simultaneously baffling me. Perhaps the entire story of this card can be explained with various lore knowledge, but on the surface, the design is quite weird. If you didn’t want me to legend rule these away for extra turns, why did you make these legendary?

I understand that the first line of text technically does more than stop two of these from getting you an extra turn, but its so niche and expensive that you cannot really expect it to see use as a hate artifact.

All of that said, this card does do powerful things potentially and it has me thinking about it. The first place I went to was my Modern Eggs list as I am already using Krark-Clan Ironworks and Reshape, which make for great sacrifice outlets as well as enablers, getting you the mana to cast this or the ability to tutor it out.

On the surface it is a little gimmicky, but the effect is strong enough and unique enough that I can definitely see some odd place finding a home for this. Tron is probably another candidate in Modern as well.

Wrap Up

Khans has a lot of tier one cards in it that are pretty easy to recognize, so I would expect the early environment to focus on those cards. Sarkhan, Siege Rhino, and the various Charms are not going to take much before people play them. The above list of cards is certainly secondary to those cards but I think there is some real potential here regardless.

With the Pro Tour just three weeks away, who knows what the future may hold. If only I could See the Unwritten…

Conley Woods

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