Buzzfeed-esque title aside, I do think these cards are underplayed in contrast to their power or role in the current metagame. These choices are specifically aimed at a metagame full of the Caryatid/Courser strategies (Mainly Monsters and Green Devotion) followed by Jeskai Burn, a smattering of Mardu midrange, and then a whole lot of who knows.
We’ll kick off with an easy one. Until further notice, this is the end game of the format every single deck needs to respect and have a plan to effectively deal with. No deck can just ignore Hornet Queen, but green decks in particular absolutely need a plan to work around this card.
Whip of Erebos
Endless midrange mirrors abound and yet people are jamming zero copies of this card in their otherwise durdley Abzan decks. Reanimator pilots already got the memo, but even if all you do is buyback Polukranos, Siege Rhino, and Herald of Torment, you can gain a whole lot of life and jam some respectable damage. If you are lucky enough to start recurring Hornet Queen, well the game should just be over shortly. This is one of the best ways to break serve in a close match and provides some much-needed stabilization against Jeskai decks looking to dome you. There are few things sadder than watching one player slam this, casually gaining 9 life on an attack, and looking at the opponent’s lone Stoke the Flames as a tear rolls down his cheek.
Bow of Nylea
Just like Whip, this God weapon is one the best ways to break green stalemates. Bow of Nylea makes every creature a 1-for-1 trade at a minimum when you end up on the offensive. It also happens to make Polukranos and any other fight cards incredibly dangerous and the +1/+1 counters make trading harder every turn the Bow is out. Even the life gain is crucial, I know it can be easy to underestimate just how much damage the slower burn decks can do, but believe me you do not want to lose a game that was all wrapped up because somebody got you into double-4-point-burn range. Bow means that’ll never happen in games you’re neutral or ahead in, and provides a life gain source which has other uses in the main deck. What gets it on the list though is that it can do all of this for 3 mana.
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Again this is all about breaking parity in the green mirrors, and Purphoros puts a pretty big damper on the sit-there-and-twiddle-thumbs plan. It absolutely forces your opponent to become the aggressor and makes your mana dorks and random two-drops into legitimate threats capable of punching through 4- and even 5-toughness creatures. I also think it’s one of the best justifications to play with tokens, as it translates every Raise the Alarm or Hordeling Outburst in the late-game into a legitimate burn spell.
Self-explantory really, the card is just so utterly powerful that I have a hard time not seeing it going in fair decks as well. I ended up cutting the Jace I was trying in the Jeskai deck for one of these instead and was very impressed at how it played out. While the delay means that I have a hard time justifying multiples in the Jeskai Burn deck, there’s a lot to be said for running one simply for looting while pumping up Brimaz and friends. I suspect in the future we’ll see a token heavy-build taking advantage of this card in the future since it turns all the cards into potential loots and it provides a useful Anthem effect for the strategy.
Right now the biggest thing holding it back in Standard is the lack of cheap cantrips and slightly higher tax on relevant business spells, meaning that everything takes one turn too long to be truly effective. Add another dead turn in to cast Ascendancy in the first place and it isn’t difficult to see why players haven’t flocked around fairer ways to take advantage of the card. Still I think it’s potent enough that down the road someone will find a good home for it outside of pure combo.
Nissa is one of those cards that made her impact known early on when she was released and then took a backseat post-rotation when everyone was playing giant green durdles. The key isn’t to just jam her in those decks, as no number of 4/4s will get through Siege Rhino or Hornet Queen without help and she dies to Mantis Rider or Sarkhan the same as everyone else. Where Nissa should be looked at is in BGx decks where you can couple her with the copious amounts of removal needed to protect her. It’s the same concept as slamming an Ashiok and protecting it, except in this case she defends herself well and can quickly make an army capable of ending the game. Breaking through Siege Rhino and company is a lot easier when you back your army of 4/4s with Charms, Hero’s Downfall, and other control components.
The biggest problem I’ve had with control is that I was too stuck in survival mode, the key isn’t to just survive and roll them with superior resource management in the late-game. That no longer functions when everyone has haymakers or runs 20 burn spells, there’s too much risk being at a low life total and you may not have enough good answers to stay in the driver’s seat. No, what you should be doing now is slamming a threat that ends the game and just crushing the opponent while they’ve fallen behind. It reminds me a lot of Modern where having all the answers is well and good, but unless you can pressure them, eventually they’ll get back up and punish you while you wait around for something to happen.
Keranos, God of Storms
I’ve gone over the many reasons Keranos should be played before, but here’s the tl;dr version:
- It’s one of the few kill conditions that’s difficult to kill, so a topdecked Hero’s Downfall won’t bail the opponent out.
- It keeps you ahead of the opponent when it’s out and is one of the few ways to widen the gap even when you both run low on resources.
- It teams up with burn spells to kill anything in the format short of a very large Polukranos, Narset, or Sagu Mauler
- It’s one of the only good anti-flood cards available.
Slamming Keranos into Jeskai burn decks or more controlling iterations of it is an easy decision to make. However there’s also potential with Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time and the burn complement we have to simply go deep.
Chained to the Rocks
This is one of those cards that everyone knows is powerful and what needs to be done to access it. Right now the question is whether it’s worthwhile to make these sacrifices to actually run Chained to the Rocks. First, let’s look at what you need to do successfully run the card in a deck. You need access to white mana and at least 10 Mountains to make it remotely castable, and honestly it probably isn’t worth playing unless we have 12 or more. We don’t actually need 12 Mountains of course thanks to the wonders of fetchlands, but even then it puts a pretty hard strain on your mana base compared to when we had shocklands. Still, Bloodstained Mire and Evolving Wilds help mitigate the damage done to the mana.
As you can see we’re pushing the mana quite a bit using this configuration and while you can make concessions like omitting Hero’s Downfall, it is the premier removal spell of the format. I also think BB spells are just very reasonable coming out of the sideboard and so I’ve adopted a slow manabase that tries to make up ground by having the max set of Anger of the Gods and a wide array of destroy and exile removal.
If everyone is going to keep playing four Courser of Kruphix midrange decks, Boon Satyr is a much better choice. Obviously on a Siege Rhino or Herald of Torment the game can just end in a few attacks. However part of the reason I recommend bringing down the boom is because it makes all your creatures into threats. Turning an Elvish Mystic into a creature capable of trading with an X/5 or bashing through Courser and Caryatid is huge. You can also simply end step Boon Satyr and overwhelm planeswalkers against fairer BX and Jeskai decks.
While it still can’t singlehandedly solve the issue of Hornet Queen, it does a long way toward bashing through the usual suspects. It also really helps your clock when an evasion creature is allowed to roam free and get in at the opponent. Much like the above options, Boon Satyr is a strong card that gives you options and right now having options is one of the best ways to break free from the metagame.
Obelisk of Urd
Normal aggro decks can’t do anything in this metagame without being built in a way that avoids just dying to the Caryatid/Courser/Rhino squad or twenty burn spells backed by planeswalkers. Obelisk is an interesting way around both of these, especially at a Grand Prix or higher-level event where small-ball aggro decks are less likely to be a big part of the metagame. Resolving an early Obelisk on the play also completely negates Drown in Sorrow and at least some creatures can survive an Anger of the Gods.
Here’s one take on such a plan from MTGO player touchthevoid.
That’s all for now—next week we’ll see how the metagame will change in the wake of the Pro Tour, right before Grand Prix Los Angeles!