First brews with Magic Origins by Matt Gregory
The full spoiler for Magic Origins is finally available, and it looks as though the new set will have a more significant impact on Standard than any Core Set has had for some time.
Core Sets used to provide only one or two high-power cards that really shook up the format – think Goblin Rabblemaster a year ago, or Mutavault back in Magic 2014. Magic Origins gives us cards which can potentially provide the backbone for whole new archetypes.
The internet is already awash with speculation on how the new flip planeswalkers might best be used and absolutely rife with Elves and Goblins lists. So today I’m going to look over a few of my favourite new cards which have received less attention, and speculate on how they might fit into Standard. I’ll also be providing some rough decklists sketches, which I hope will inspire some brews of your own. Without further ado – let’s take a look at one card that has gone well under the radar so far.
[draft]Helm of the Gods[/draft]
One mana to cast and one to equip is as cheap as it gets for equipment, and the ceiling on this card is very high. Even if you only have three or four enchantments in play, the extra damage output quickly adds up, and as long as Theros block remains a part of Standard the cost of running a lot of enchantments is pretty minimal.
So which creatures should we be equipping with Helm of the Gods? Well, Seeker of the Way is a perfect starting point. When you’re casting a lot of enchantments, you’re going to be getting prowess firing most turns – getting in big lifelink swings can make racing a formality. I’m also interested in cheap bestow creatures as they can both boost the Helm’s damage output and carry them as well. Hopeful Eidolon was a high draft pick in its day and whilst it hasn’t cracked Standard yet, maybe it’s finally found a home.
This deck works on a similar axis to the current Heroic shells – it aims to create one or two giant threats, then play a game of “protect the queen”. In an unknown metagame it’s pretty hard to know the correct numbers of cards like Suspension Field and Banishing Light, and it’s very possible that this list goes a little overboard on that effect, but it’s a starting point.
Creature decks are likely to have a tough time interacting with a deck like this, because it has so many ways to make a guy too big to deal with and can use Stubborn Denial to ward off Abzan Charms and the like. Dromoka’s Command is something of a worry, as it’s close to a guaranteed 2-for-1 against us, so the chances of a deck like this succeeding are certainly going to be dependent on how many people are playing cards like that and Back to Nature.
The Blue splash would allow us to bring in countermagic for control match-ups (where the Banishing Lights will be at their weakest), but it would be important to avoid bringing the number of enchantments down too low. Monastery Siege is another interesting option for protecting our creatures in the early game and improving our draw quality later on.
I’m not sure yet whether Relic Seeker is strong enough for Constructed. Stoneforge Mystic it most definitely isn’t, and he must be pretty bad at actually finding relics if he can’t even dig up Relic of Progenitus. But egregious flavour failures aside – he gives us more chances to find Helm of the Gods and offers a reasonable body to equip it to, so he’s worth testing.
[draft]Harbinger of the Tides[/draft]
Not content with just one Blue-White list based around new cards that’s hideously vulnerable to Dromoka’s Command? Let’s try another, and for bonus points, we’ll see if we can’t resurrect an old archetype in the process.
Between the UU casting cost, the relevant text, and the ability to perform a passable impression of Venser, Shaper Savant, Harbinger of the Tides has already caused a few raised eyebrows. I’m no Merfolk expert – so I’ll leave it to wiser heads to work out whether he has a place in Modern. I do however think he has at least some chance of giving Thassa, God of the Sea and her fishy minions a second coming in Standard.
The return of Mono-Blue Devotion has been heralded a couple of times since Return to Ravnica block rotated out of Standard, but it’s yet to really happen. Part of the reason for that has been a lack of blue pips in the top-right corners of passable creatures. Harbringer of the Tides certainly helps out there. He also combines very nicely with Ojutai’s Command, encouraging me to look at that as an option, and once we’re splashing White, topping off the curve with Dragonlord Ojutai himself seems only sensible.
Without Cloudfin Raptor and with limited cheap removal, Blue Devotion 2.0 won’t be able to get ahead on board as easily as its predecessor did. But with the addition of Ojutai and Faerie Miscreant to draw cards off of itself and Bident of Thassa, once board advantage is established it should be straightforward to maintain. I’ve no idea whether Faerie Miscreant can really step into the (presumably quite unusually-shaped) shoes of former Pro Tour all-star Judge’s Familiar, but Flying Men with a trivial upside did the job before, so I don’t see why not.
The bad news for this deck (and many like it – not least of all Elves) is that there’s another newcomer to Standard which is pretty much a lock to see significant play. And it really wants to be pitched against midrange-y decks full of small creatures.
As a long-time control aficionado, Languish really gladdens my heart. A conditional Wrath at four mana is precisely what Abzan and Sultai Control decks were after – especially when the condition is “my Tasigur survives”. My first instinct is that Sultai is the best home for this card as it’s really the only effect that it felt like the deck has been lacking over the last few months.
The previous options for decks like this for catching up from behind all cost at least five mana: Crux of Fate and the like. The increased efficiency you get from that one-mana discount is huge at allowing a Control deck to fall behind in the first few turns without worrying too much about it. This card turns a game on its head incredibly quickly, and isn’t even dead against rival Control decks – given how many of them play Dragonlord Ojutai. At least at the moment.
The only reason I can immediately think of that Languish might not always be an automatic four-of in any equivalent deck is that it may end up bending the format around it to the extent that creature bases alter dramatically to adapt. The Den Protector / Deathmist Raptor package also isn’t affected very much by opposing board sweepers and that isn’t a combination that’s likely to go anywhere any time soon. Lastly, Languish may prove to be just that little bit too slow to cope with the inevitable Goblin Piledriver onslaughts, particularly on the draw.
In the early stages of the format though, I’d expect Languish to be the kind of card that Control players never leave the house without. When you’re designing your own decks ahead of GP London and the forthcoming Standard PPTQ season, make sure you have a plan to beat Mutilate’s new, Rhino-friendly cousin – or you might find yourself languishing at the bottom of the standings (sorry).
Speaking of powerful card advantage engines, here’s another card that’s caught my eye as a potential sleeper hit.
Five mana is a lot for an enchantment that does nothing immediately. But unanswered it will start spewing out a stream of 2/2s that will be seriously hard to stop. It also works beautifully with both Nissa, Vastwood Seer and fetchlands, which in turn makes Courser of Kruphix even better than it normally is. I may just be digging a little too hard for raw value at this stage, but tell me this doesn’t look sweet.
Of all the decks I’m proposing today, this is definitely the roughest sketch. It’s somewhere close to zero probability that I’ve got the right balance between ramp, fatties, and support for Eidolon of Blossoms. With a little refinement however I suspect there could be a seriously powerful engine in there. Once this gets going, the deck can flood the board with lands, which in turn flood the board with tokens and ensures that you’re drawing as much gas as possible off your Eidolon of Blossoms.
It’s totally possible that replacing the enchantment theme with the more prosaic but proven manifest engine of Mastery of the Unseen and Whisperwood Elemental is a better way to go – but I always think that if you’re going to try something completely new, there’s always some merit to diving right into the deep end and trying out as much new (not to mention dubious) tech as possible. Zendikar’s Roil might just be too clunky to see play. But once you have multiples in play and an active Karametra, God of Harvests, you’re not only swimming in value but building up a serious board presence.
If I was a betting man, I’d say I was being much too cute with that deck. But brewing is a hugely satisfying experience in its own right. When you try out something that looks absurd on paper, it’s surprising how often you find something which really works. Maybe this isn’t it, but that’s part of the fun of spoiler season – getting to put all of the new cards through their paces, try them out in shells you’d never even previously considered, and discovering what works and what doesn’t.
Speaking of what doesn’t work…
For all of the new cards I’m excited to start playing with, it must be said that there are a few that I’m a little more sceptical of. So before finishing I’d like to leave you with a few words of warning about some seemingly enticing new offerings from Magic Origins which I have a suspicion may end up being busts.
[draft]Archangel of Tithes[/draft]
You won’t get any argument from me that a 3/5 flyer isn’t a decent body, nor that the wall of text it has doesn’t have the potential to significantly impact the game. Unfortunately, for me this fails the test that all expensive creatures have to pass to make it into Constructed:
1. Does it have an enter-the-battlefield trigger that provides an immediate advantage?
2. Does it guarantee card advantage under most circumstances, even if it dies straight away?
3. Does it protect itself from opposing removal?
4. If it does none of the above, will it win the game on its own if you untap with it?
Think about all of the four mana plus creatures that have seen significant play in Standard in recent years and all of them meet at least one of those criteria. Archangel of Tithes misses on all four. Combine that with the restrictive casting cost and I fear that this isn’t going to be making waves in Constructed any time soon.
Remember what I was saying about the expensive creature test? This chap fails it spectacularly, as most of the time casting it on turn four will actually create card disadvantage, and you’ll have to pray it sticks around for some time before it buys you back the cards you gave up in the first place. For this to not lose you ground if it gets killed immediately, you have to be hellbent at the point of casting. You either need to jump through hoops, hang on to your top-end threat for a turn or two rather than trying to beat face with it, or need to draw it at precisely the right time.
Put those restrictions alongside the fact that it doesn’t even offer a better body than Thunderbreak Regent, and this is one card I’m not planning on playing with.
This looks like a classic trap card to me. It’s a bad beating stick (attacking for 1 on turn 2 and only 2 every turn thereafter) and a bad mana accelerant (only ramping you from turn 3 and even then only conditionally) wrapped up in a package which makes it look like it might be flexible enough to work.
Remember that this isn’t a split card – you can’t chose between having Elvish Mystic and Zurgo Bellstriker. You get one card that isn’t particularly good at being either, and spends at least one turn being a 1/1 with no abilities. I believe this is too inefficient in the early game and utterly hopeless as a topdeck late on.
I’m not yet sure if we’re past the point where we’ve worked out as a community that Cranial Extraction effects are bad. In case we’re not, I thought I’d do a PSA and tell you not to play this. I don’t care if your deck has a problem with Deathmist Raptor: this is not a solution. When you’re casting this you need to not only hope that they actually have a copy of the named card in hand in order not to be generating card disadvantage, you need to hope they haven’t already cast one. That’s a fairly stiff set of requirements for this card to do anything remotely relevant.
These cards do show up from time to time in Constructed sideboards, and they’re almost invariably there for matches against combo where taking one specific card out of the opposing deck wins the game on the spot. That sort of deck rarely exists in Standard these days, so unless somebody contrives some kind of all-in combo deck which can only win through one specific creature card (which I don’t think exists in any format, quite frankly), I’d advise steering well clear of this.
Well, at least reading this card through to the end is pretty hilarious, but please don’t try to actually play it…
Everything I’ve written here today is, of course, pure speculation. In a few weeks time the best in the world will have had their chance to tear the format apart and put it back together again. Whatever comes out of the Pro Tour will shape the metagame for months to come. There will almost certainly be some sleeper hits – and just as likely some expected winners that fall flat. The only thing that’s certain is that the first few weeks after a new set is spoiled are an awesome time to be a brewer, and we’ve got plenty of new material to work with. I for one can’t wait to see how the new Standard shapes up.
Community Question: What card from Magic Origins are you most eager to start testing out?
Thanks for reading,