Abzan

Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist

There are two cards that stand out from the rest as potential additions to the best decks in Standard. One is Nissa, which has been discussed plenty at this point, as she is one of the most hyped cards coming out of Origins. In Abzan Aggro there’s an argument that she doesn’t provide a worthwhile body up front. A fair number of games will end before you hit the requisite number of lands, and she forces you to run otherwise unwanted extra Forests in your deck.

Without a widely agreed list, it’s hard to talk about specific cuts to make to the deck. Some builds are focused purely on the core creatures and supporting them. For the lists built around Warden, Lion, Deathdealer, Anafenza, and Rhino it’s hard to make cuts to get a lower-impact creature in the mix. If you run more creatures, such as Brimaz or Surrak, then there’s more room to mess around with the lineup. Another point to keep in mind, however, is that it may be time to look at those core creature slots and ask how they’ll perform in a post-Languish world. As it stands, all of them are pretty badly positioned against Languish and lose a lot of value against any black deck. Nissa may be worth trying just because you get something from her even if she dies to a sweeper the next turn.

In Abzan Control and Megamorph, on the other hand, she perfectly fits the theme of providing utility early and a good draw later in the game. Flipping her is easily worth the sacrifices and you really want to get to the six-and-up land range in every game. It’s a slam dunk as far as I’m concerned—she gets you closer to Elspeth and Ugin mana, and then becomes an extra planeswalker to threaten your opponent with. Her planeswalker abilities do a good job of providing pressure or card advantage, and Den Protector means you can use her pretty liberally and still get her online later. These decks also have a very good chance of protecting her with sticky creatures and a bunch of spot removal. Considering how mana hungry a deck like Abzan Control is, it shouldn’t be surprising that any sort of Borderland Ranger-type of card is a real contender.

Languish

One card I didn’t expect to see printed is a mix between Mutilate and Damnation. Languish is the sweeper I didn’t know I wanted. It kills nearly everything in GR with the exception of Polukranos and Dragonlord Atarka. It is pretty much the perfect mix for a deck like Abzan Control where you may have some board presence, but still want to sweep the board to avoid being overwhelmed.

Here’s an easier way to think of it: of the 30 most-played creatures in Standard on MTGO, Languish kills all but 4. Even if you count the ones like Deathdealer that could technically survive it in the hands of a very mana rich and careful opponent, the number is still 23 dead creatures. Languish is a powerful addition over Crux of Fate in the main deck and actually an interesting option post-board where you could run sweepers at the 3, 4, and 5 slot if you really wanted too. It gives true Abzan Control a way to clear out the board from Abzan Megamorph without risking their own creatures or leaning on Ugin. Oh and it wipes out every non-Rhino Abzan Aggro plays from Fleecemane to Surrak. Suddenly all the resilient creature talk is thrown out the window, and trying to force Abzan into an awkward situation with their spot removal is now a thing of the past. My new plan is to tap 4 mana and wipe your board.

Languish removes Dragonlord Ojutai and Stormbreath Dragon, which removes any real reason to run Crux unless you’re particularly worried about massive creatures—in which case End Hostilities may actually fit your needs a little better. I’d start with a pair in any of the slower Abzan decks and see how they perform.

Gilt-Leaf Winnower

This card is close to how I felt about Shriekmaw whenever I hardcast it. Winnower may not be as versatile as old Shrieky, but it kills a good chunk of the format upon arrival and a 4/3 menace isn’t bad. Just the potential of having Hero’s Downfall, Bile Blight, or Abzan Charm makes double-blocking a real risky proposition for most decks. Winnower is probably just under the curve for where players want their 5-drop to be without the Elf synergies, but killing a Rhino and getting a 4/3 is worth taking a closer look at.

Esper Control

Clash of Wills

Power Sink this ain’t, and Syncopate isn’t impressed with its baby brother either. We don’t have either of those, though, so let’s focus on what Clash does for Standard. It lets you play an early-game counter that you can hold up for only a single blue, and while it loses some effectiveness toward the end-game, it doesn’t have a shelf life (Mana Leak). Odds are good that if you draw this on turn 10 you’ll be able to counter anything you’d like to—if you’re willing to keep the mana open. This is a potential 1-of to help cover the opening turns and remain useful later, though I think between Dissolve and Silumgar’s Scorn there’s not a huge need for it. For players piloting creatureless UB Control, they’ll probably have room for a few of these.

Languish

See everything I said about the card in Abzan Control and apply it here. You get a 4-mana board wipe which has always been important in Standard and lacking until now. It may not play nicely with your Dragonlord Ojutai like Crux of Fate did, but coming out a full turn earlier is huge. Being perfectly set up against the usual creature suite from Abzan Aggro is also a big game. Every 75 will likely pack 3-4 of these to start with until we find the proper ratio of sweepers.

Demonic Pact

Why even look at Demonic Pact? Well, Perilous Vault is already in the running for a starting spot, and frankly if you can get even the deal 4/gain and draw 2 worth of resources out of Pact before sweeping it away I’d feel good with the trade. Utilizing all three modes is quite the mana savings and it does a good job of building you up if you need to tap out or otherwise assign your mana each turn to dealing with a problem. A lot of this card’s success hinges on two factors: the first being whether the format is slow enough to let you get away with getting full value, the second is whether you can stand being forced to run 3-4 Perilous Vault in your deck to get rid of the Pact. That deckbuilding concession may be too much, especially when you can run a mix of Languish and Crux instead. Pact’s probably too cute for play right now, but I’d keep an eye out if any decent way to sacrifice or blink Pact gets printed.

Dark Petition

How good is Dark Petition in a fair deck? Obviously in an unfair deck there’s a lot that can be done with a tutor that generates mana. What about in a control deck? Having active spell mastery is a given in these decks, and once upon a time Diabolic Tutor was close to playable. Times change, but let’s think about some of the possibilities for our petition at change.org.

Six lands lets you Petition and cast a Languish, Perilous Vault, or Demonic Pact on the same turn.

Seven lands lets you Petition and cast a Dragonlord Ojutai, Silumgar, the Drifting Death, Crux of Fate, or Dig Through Time.

Eight gets you into Dragonlord Silumgar or Dragonlord’s Prerogative.

It comes down to whether you think a singleton Dark Petition for the late game is worthwhile. You can even use it on a small scale if you need a Foul-Tongue Invocation or Hero’s Downfall to survive at that moment. It definitely doesn’t hurt against a deck like Abzan or GR Devotion, where instead of digging and hoping you hit what you need, you can either find a closer or the best answer for a given situation.

GR Devotion

Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist

Blah, blah, Nissa is a good card in ramp, blah blah, we played Civic Wayfinder with zero expected payoff before.

Gaea’s Revenge

Well this is fun—Esper Dragons is limited to Crux of Fate and Foul-Tongue Invocation with some setup to deal with this card. 7 mana is still a ton and the card doesn’t have a good enough rate to play anywhere else, but if you live in a control-infested metagame, the card still has enough oomph to get it done. Do note that Dragonlord Ojutai trades with him, so the Revenge probably isn’t going the whole way without help.

Nissa’s Pilgrimage

Mixing noncreature and creature ramp can be done, but for the most part you are better off sticking with one or the other. Unless all of them are just fetching lands for you, you want to be able to run sweepers, and if you only run creature ramp it’s because you want to curve into something gigantic on turn 4. A narrower Cultivate may be good enough if you want to ensure you hit a certain mana point every game, but I’d recommend tweaking the deck a lot if that’s the plan.

Nissa’s Revelation

Frank Karsten could probably come up with some reasonable math for how often this makes you happy for 7 mana. For my money I’m pretty disappointed with anything under drawing five cards and 5 life, which means I’m only happy with 7-8 hits in the deck (Dragonlord Atarka and Polukranos). Not my cup of tea, though if Interpret the Signs can make it, I’m sure some people will give it a shot.

Woodland Bellower

I love the design of Bellower in general, but I’m not impressed at getting a 6/5 and finding a Deathmist Raptor or Reclamation Sage. Right now there’s not a great toolbox available and the nonlegendary restriction really hurts it. This Standard format just isn’t very friendly to the ability—we need more utility cards like Eternal Witness, Scavenging Ooze, Kitchen Finks, or Knight of the Reliquary. Right now I’d rather jam a Genesis Hydra or wait to cash in an Atarka or Hornet Queen.

Animist’s Awakening

This card could have merit if a good cycle of manlands comes back in Battle for Zendikar. Right now you just don’t get enough value out of grabbing a bunch of lands and if I’m tapping out for five or more I’d rather just jam a threat. There’s no Eldrazi to reward you for going way over the top for pure mana purposes, so just tuck this away and revisit after Battle for Zendikar hits or start looking at it in Modern.

And with that, plus the bit about red last week, I’ve covered the primary top-tier decks with Magic Origins. Languish is a game-changer in the metagame and can shift it dramatically for these final three months. Otherwise, the best cards in the set mostly lend themselves to fringe strategies. GB Constellation is probably worth another look, Goblins is going to be popular regardless of how good it is, and someone will try the UR Artifact deck again.

A few comments last week asked why I didn’t cover Elves—the reason is that the entire set had yet to be spoiled, and most of the cards in the deck come straight from Origins. Now that the entire set is spoiled, here’s my initial deck list.

Elves

Looking at this I see a weaker version of the BG Midrange Elves strategy from back when Faeries was in charge. Without a true mana engine or overabundance of lords to pump out Elves, we have to think about how we actually plan on winning. Right now it seems like getting in some early damage and chaining Shaman of the Pack is the way to go. The other way is to establish a board and then drop an Obelisk. Languish and Anger of the Gods are both massively punishing and a big reason why neither of these plans excite me. You do gain access to Thoughtseize and Duress, but those have their own limitations. They may be a necessary evil depending on how the metagame breaks post-Origins.

You could also go heavy on the Shaman of the Pack plan by including Woodland Bellower to find even more of them alongside Chord. As it turns out, a drain for 5 on the opponent may be good enough to make you play Bellower.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, good luck at your prereleases and I hope to see many of you at ChannelFireball’s prerelease this weekend!