Thus far into the season I’ve seen more than a handful of cards that could impact Standard and many of them are more that simple upgrades to existing cards. Next week we’ll do a prerelease roundup and then get into full-on spoiler breakdown mode, but for now here’s my initial impressions of the 60 or so cards we have.
Drown in Sorrow
So far the most impactful card to be previewed is Drown in Sorrow, which fixes one of the few holes in Mono-Black Control. By giving it an Infest upgrade, the deck now has a cheap solution to any weenie rush deck, making these strategies far less palatable than they were pre-Born of the Gods. There’s very little to say about the card other than the format really didn’t need a cheap sweeper to be in black.
On the flip side of things, if you do want to play with cheap small creatures, then Pain Seer may be right up your alley. While it isn’t anywhere near [ccProd]Dark Confidant[/ccProd] level, I certainly think it’s easier to make use of than [ccProd]Blood Scrivener[/ccProd]. One major point in its favor is that it has become very difficult for aggro decks to draw cards in the current environment. Other than leveraging planeswalkers, aggro plans have nearly zero ways to draw cards or gain a long term advantage. If you kick it up to midrange, then you get [ccProd]Bident of Thassa[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Thassa, God of the Sea[/ccProd] herself, but otherwise the ship has sailed for you.
So how does it stack up against the other two-drops in these WB and other black aggro decks?
First let’s look at [ccProd]Precinct Captain[/ccProd] and how Pain Seer compares.
Upsides of Captain: It’s a two-drop.
It has 2 power and a combat relevant ability.
Can cascade out of control if not dealt with.
Downsides of Captain: Gets obsoleted by any larger creature.
The majority of relevant decks are running more spot removal now than since rotation with one or two obvious exceptions.
Ability largely becomes irrelevant after turn three/four, because everything except UW Control has something to block with and 1/1s lose value rapidly.
Doesn’t play well with 1 land + [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] openers.
If we look at the upsides of Captain, Pain Seer shares two of the same upsides, it costs two and can quickly get out of hand after a few triggers. It lacks a combat relevant ability though, so it can’t actually win a combat, it’s just going to trade. Of the drawbacks it shares almost all of them with one big exception—it can be cast off land-Mutavault and makes those hands far less shaky. I also think the potential upside from a 1/1 vs. drawing a card is weighted heavily toward the latter.
It’s not like I don’t play Captain, and even post-Born I may find it’s right to keep him in there. However, I always want to try new creatures out whenever they resemble what’s in a current deck and others would rather stick with the known quantity. Even if that quantity is only there because there’s no capable replacement at the time.
There are clearly some drawbacks to throwing Pain Seer into a deck willy-nilly, but drawing a card is just so powerful, especially when non-Jace decks struggle to net cards in any reasonable way. So even if it shares some of the some things I hate about Captain, the upside seems way higher. If there’s a good tap card other than [ccProd]Springleaf Drum[/ccProd] that can get it activated without forcing combat, then so much the better for the Seer’s chances. Moving on to a card that I’m almost 100% sure will see play in WW decks…
Of all the cards most likely to live up to their name, Brimaz, King of Oreskos may just end up being the king of the castle. Closely resembling [ccProd]Hero of Bladehold[/ccProd] in spirit, while the execution may differ slightly, it’s still a very powerful aggressive plan at the three slot. The fourth toughness is huge as it allows him to battle through the majority of two-drops and [ccProd]Lightning Strike[/ccProd] no longer kills it. Exchanging vigilance for any ability that may have helped the tokens themselves pushes it more toward being a midrange jack-of-all-trades card that can help you stay alive while pressuring. [ccProd]Hero of Bladehold[/ccProd] was amazing at what it did, but if you weren’t attacking with it, you weren’t winning.
What also pushes it toward being good at defense is that the token triggering happens upon blocking as well, an ability I’ve never actually seen on a card before. In essence the King has a makeshift bushido power, giving it another point of power and toughness to play with, but not actually buffing the base stats. This does let it block up and with [ccProd]God’s Willing[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Brave the Elements[/ccProd] in the format this can be a solid proposition.
Realistically, this is the best reason to stay with a white core and [ccProd]Brave the Elements[/ccProd] that we’ve seen to date. Brave the Elements right now feels like I have a full-on RNG card in my deck where I’m 40% for it to be amazing, 40% for it to do nothing, and 20% for it to haumph a 1-1 trade with a removal spell or block. So if WW with a light splash was going to succeed, well then this is the kind of card we need to see more of.
Vanguard of Brimaz is an interesting weenie card if bestow cards end up viable. As we hit a critical mass of Constructed-playable heroic creatures, suddenly the goal of finding reasonable heroic triggers doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Vanguard and the King are both making strong cases for why [ccProd]Phalanx Leader[/ccProd] looks playable and why Drown in Sorrow is such a massive kick to the pants for these plans short-term future.
Here’s a sample list for such a deck with what we have now:
[ccDeck]4 Soldier of the Pantheon
3 Nyxborn Shieldmate
4 Vanguard of Brimaz
4 Phalanx Leader
4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
4 Triton Tactics
4 God’s Willing
4 Ordeal of Thassa
4 Ordeal of Heliod
3 Spear of Heliod
4 Temple of Enlightenment
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Azorius Guildgate
Alternatively we can just go the Matt Nass route.
[ccDeck]4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Favored Hoplite
3 Vanguard of Brimaz
4 Phalanx Leader
4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
3 Fabled Hero
4 God’s Willing
4 Warrior’s Lesson
2 Common Bond
4 Reap What Is Sown
2 Brave the Elements
4 Temple of Plenty
4 Temple Garden
2 Selesnya Guildgate
On the other side of the creature spectrum, Xenagos, God of Revels is all about pushing out one massive beast a turn and watching it become an even bigger threat. The God of revelry threatens to make every [ccProd]Polukranos[/ccProd], [ccProd]Arbor Colossus[/ccProd], [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Kalonian Hydra[/ccProd] into a creature capable of killing in two shots. If a deck like GR Devotion or some sort of midrange deck leaning toward wrapping the game up ever wanted a really impressive [ccProd]Fires of Yavimaya[/ccProd], here you go.
It does, however, cost five mana, and instant speed removal still takes the wind out of the sails a bit. It also doesn’t play well with smaller creatures on the spectrum, though [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] dealing 4 damage a turn is a scary proposition if they’ve already spent a pair of spot removal spells on other creatures. This card screams inevitability and wanting to play with either a threat that can be recurred a la [ccProd]Chandra’s Phoenix[/ccProd], or a [ccProd]Domri Rade[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd] feeding it fresh blood every turn to replace any creatures that get killed.
One fun synergy is with Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, a card that’ll always enter play as a 5/5 unless [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd] is on the field. With Xenagos, this play suddenly becomes much worse and unless they plan on snap killing it with a [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd], odds are you’ll be getting a 3/3 (that’ll be pumped to six) and gets bought back. Really red decks with more [ccProd]Chandra’s Phoenix[/ccProd] cards seem pretty scary since one of the best methods for beating them is to force them into a ground game and to finish with a limited burn suite. In RG biggums, you can now have Flame-Wreathed Phoenix and [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd] as a one-two punch to force them into action.
As with all the Gods, I’m unconcerned with ever turning it on, because that’s not the point of the card. We’ve seen that Gods with strong abilities are the ones that are playable and not the pipe dream that they’ll be able to attack or block with any regularity. For almost every deck, even the heavy devotion builds, that’s simply a pipe dream against competitive control decks and too slow against aggressive plans.
That’s all I’ve got for today, though I will mention that Kiora, the Crashing Wave is very close to being the missing piece for Maze’s End and it really just needs 1-2 more solid role players (or one great engine card) to make it into a full-on contender. Before signing off, I’d like to thank everyone that made it out to GP Sacramento and a congratulations to Philip Yam and Eric Pei for their finals and Top 4 finishes. They’ve been battling locally with success for a while now and it’s nice to see their skills translate to a premier level finish. I’d congratulate Martell as well, but it’s Martell… OK fine, congratulations to Tom Martell for taking down Sacramento. See everyone next week.
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