Last week, we had the early streamer event on Magic Arena, which was my first opportunity to put in practice with many of the ideas I had. It was also a good opportunity to see what other people were working with. In today’s article, I’m going to talk about some of the cards that turned out to be significantly better or worse than I expected, both from my side and from my opponent’s side.
Judith, Scourge Diva
Judith was a card that completely overperformed in the early stream weekend. Some of that has to do with the fact that sweepers were a bit underplayed (most people wanted to try new strategies, and the new cards are mostly proactive. There wasn’t a Deafening Clarion in sight), but even accounting for that, Judith is probably going to be a big player in the upcoming Standard.
The most interesting Judith deck I saw was Matt Nass’s Goblins build. It combined Judith and Midnight Reaper with a bunch of sacrifice effects and Gruesome Menagerie. Here is the list Matt Nass played:
Personally, I think this list is a bit too “streamlined”—it’s going to be great at combo’ing off but I’d like a bit more interaction when things are going badly for me. I had games, for example, where my opponent played Spawn of Mayhem very early and I realistically could not win after that. I’d probably try to fit a couple of copies of Bedevil (something like -2 Dusk Legion Zealot, +2 Bedevil), or perhaps even Lava Coil. Carnival // Carnage is also a great interactive card but I’m unsure if it does what you need it to. Overall though I thought the theme of the deck was really strong, and all the cards worked together to create something that was much better than the sum of their parts.
Hero of Precinct One
When Hero of Precinct One was spoiled, some people said it was the new Young Pyromancer. I don’t think the comparison really holds, as the two cards are fundamentally different—you can play Young Pyromancer and easily make two tokens in the same turn, or you can untap with it and make three, whereas with Hero of Precinct One you’re usually only getting one (though some of the hybrid spells can be played in the same turn). If my Young Pyromancer lives for two turns, I win the game. If Hero of Precinct One lives for two turns, I get two tokens.
This was a comparison that was often made, and since I thought it was flawed, I extrapolated it to mean that the card wasn’t very good, which was a mistake on my part. It’s not Young Pyromancer, but it doesn’t have to be Young Pyromancer to be good. It works on a very different axis and in very different formats.
There are many potential shells for Hero of Precinct One (for example, Bant), but the one I like the most is one that many streamers were playing—I saw Huey, Autumn Burchett, and Tiffany, to name a few—which was a Mardu build that also incorporated Judith. Here’s my take on it:
Wilderness Reclamation was the card that most people asked about before the set was released. My answer was always that it was quite clearly going to be powerful in a Nexus of Fate archetype, and I wanted to play with it to figure out if it was going to be good in a regular control deck. After playing with (and against) it, it’s pretty clear to me that the card is good. If you have enough instants, it effectively costs zero and then doubles your mana every other turn, which is an incredible advantage.
It’s unclear to me what the best deck to play Wilderness Reclamation is—I think U/G, Bant, and R/U/G have all shown promise. You can try to make it work with cards like Chemister’s Insight, Blink of an Eye and Frilled Mystic, or you can go big with Expansion // Explosion and Nexus of Fate. Both approaches work, and the best one is likely a mix of both. I’ve also had some success using Wilderness Reclamation to cast Dream Eater, which is a pretty good flash threat.
One of the cards I was eager to try was Hadana’s Climb, and it didn’t disappoint. The combo with Incubation Druid is incredible (you just play it for free on turn 3), and it’s incredibly easy to flip with Growth-Chamber Guardian. On top of being very easy to flip, the card also breaks any stalemates that you have, and I found that green decks got into stalemates very often. Whenever I played against a Gruul deck, we’d kind of just stare at each other until I eventually drew Hadana’s Climb and that would win the game immediately.
Of the Hadana’s Climb decks I’ve tried, this was the one I liked the most:
This deck is pretty cool, and has the potential to beat all types of decks. Wildgrowth Walker and the explore creatures were key versus the aggro decks (especially with Incubation to find the missing piece), a decent clock plus Frilled Mystic was good versus control, and then Hadana’s Climb was good enough to beat the green mirrors. This is definitely a style of deck I’m going to be exploring in the future.
Carnival // Carnage
I thought Carnival // Carnage was going to be good, but it ended up being even better than I expected. There are a lot of cheap creatures that are worth killing (Llanowar Elves, lots of stuff from mono-white, mono-red, and mono-blue), and the 1 damage to the face part is surprisingly relevant for triggering spectacle. Then there is the fact that your removal spell doubles up as one of the best cards you can have against control, which seemed especially important in the best-of-one environment we were in.
Light Up the Stage
When this card was originally previewed, I didn’t think it was going to be very good. The main issue was that I simply misunderstood how it worked. I assumed you had until the end of the turn to cast the spells, which would be in line with what we’ve seen from this type of card before. It turns out that you really have two turns to cast the cards (since it’s until the end of your next turn), which makes this very close to a 1-mana draw two for an aggro deck. Thoughtcast was great in Affinity in a lot of metagames, and the red decks of today can abuse the draw spell more than it ever could since they have cards like Electrostatic Field, Runaway Steam-Kin, and Ghitu Lavarunner. There are many ways to build Burn, but this is the approach I’ve liked the most:
It might seem weird to not have Runaway Steam-Kin in a mono-red list, but I think you really just want to be more burn-focused right now. Having a 1/1 for 2 is a bit of a liability in a world of Shocks and Carnival // Carnages.
Spawn of Mayhem
Spawn of Mayhem was another card that was clearly going to be good, but turned out to be even better than expected. In a Wizard’s Lightning/Skewer the Critics world, having 4 toughness is optimal, and is a good enough blocker versus the aggro decks while being quite a fast clock against the slower ones. If you’re playing a green deck, there are some games in which you just can’t beat this card on turn 3. Even at 4 mana it is serviceable.
You can play around with Spawn of Mayhem in B/R decks, but it also felt really good in mono-black:
I like that this deck has a very fast clock, and also two strong pieces of disruption against the slower decks (Freebooter and Drill Bit). It’s also got some resiliency with Gutterbones, Graveyard Marshal, and Midnight Reaper. The one card I don’t really like is Knight of Malice—there’s a chance something else should be here, but so far it’s the next best 2-drop I’ve found.
All these cards impressed me and I think they have the potential to be good in Standard. So, what did not impress me?
When I saw the set, I assumed Gruul would be the best guild. I was wrong. The format is too polarizing. Decks are either much faster than Gruul (mono-black, mono-red, mono-white), or go way over the top (Wilderness Reclamation or Prime Speaker Vannifar). A card like Nullhide Ferox just doesn’t have a place in a metagame like this, and I felt like my Gruul decks could not compete if I didn’t draw Llanowar Elves, which also had a way of dying every single time.
A lot of games also turned into board stalls, which the Gruul deck had a hard time breaking. Eventually I added four Rekindling Phoenix and some Dragons (Demanding Dragon and Skaargan Hellkite), and I noticed that my green mirror matchup got significantly better, but these cards still weren’t very good against the two extremes of the spectrum, and I felt every deck fit in one of the extremes.
Merfolk has some extremely explosive draws, and all the counter synergies you get are very good with Benthic Biomancer, but the deck just felt too weak against removal, and there’s a lot of cheap removal right now. You cannot rely on getting multiple creatures in play before you die, and Chainwhirler is also often a problem. I think the Merfolk deck has potential, but not in a world where people are playing all these red spells and creatures like Judith. Maybe if the meagame changes, then it can be good, but right now my impression is that I would avoid it.
Originally I wanted to build a more midrange-y version of B/R, but I think the more aggressive version is better right now. It wasn’t even that my deck was bad, but just that it felt like a worse version of something that already existed, so there was no reason to play it.
In the end, most of the things that were tried seemed like they had at least some potential, which is great. Mono-Red has an early foothold on the format, but I think that’s mostly a combination of “best-of-one rewards speed” + “it’s cheap to build” + “aggro decks are always better tuned early on.” I think the format can definitely move to a place that is very healthy, and I’m looking forward to playing it.